Letter from Scotland 1 – The Church of Scotland – the Final Nail?
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It’s a joy to be back in my native land – the most beautiful country in the world! But there is also a sadness and sorrow. Not just because I tested positive for Covid on landing – and now have the most miserable man flu! The main sorrow I had was reading the following in The Courier on arrival – as the Church of Scotland prepares to hammer the final nail into its own coffin.
“Just this week, the Church of Scotland announced that 29 of its presbyteries were in favour of ministers and deacons conducting the ceremonies of same sex couples should they so wish. The Church is a democratic institution so the final word will go the General Assembly next month. But assuming it’s a Yes, the words “I do” could be said by same sex couples in churches by the summer….” These were part of an article written by Kezia Dugdale, former Labour leader in Scotland. She went on to exult “That is absolutely phenomenal social progress by any measure.”
That’s an interesting but not unsurprising perspective from an atheist, who has no love for the Gospel. However, the truth is precisely the opposite. This is not progress. This is the Church of Scotland aiding and abetting Scottish society as it reverts, not just to pre-Reformation days, but to pre-Christian days. My beloved nation is regressing back into the pagan world. What used to be the National Church is meekly following whatever path the Regressives lead us – it would be inaccurate to say that they are leading – they have neither the initiative nor courage to lead.
I am not surprised at the Church of Scotland going this route – despite all the lies from leading clergy about how this would not be the case. I remember when John Chalmers, clerk of the General Assembly stated: “We had a debate which made very clear that we were not interfering with our theological definition of marriage and were not going to the place where ministers or deacons could themselves conducting same sex marriages.”. He lied. Plain and simple. He knew that this was a step on the road to conducting same sex marriages, and that the theological definition of marriage was being changed. And no one called him out on it. Although yours truly tried – and was roundly castigated for being ‘unChristian’ – https://theweeflea.com/2016/05/23/a-rubicon-has-been-crossed-the-church-of-scotland-assembly-decision-on-saturday/
I always thought that it was the deceit and misleading the Lord’s people that was unchristian – not pointing out that deceit. Indeed, Christ himself was not averse to pointing out to some religious leaders that they belonged to their father the devil, when he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
Kezia Dugdale also confirmed what we all, (except some gullible evangelicals), knew – that the purpose of the C of S leadership all along was to recognise same sex marriage – but to fool as many evangelicals as possible into thinking that we were being listened to, so that they could keep us on board. (I use ‘us’ because I identify with evangelicals as my brothers and sisters – whatever the denomination). Dugdale speaks about how she had conversations with Rev. Lorna Hood moderator of the General Assembly in 2013, who promised her that SSM would come.
“I just couldn’t understand it, especially as all the Christians I knew supported it. They believed in marriage as a union of two people rooted in love, respect and commitment and wanted it for everyone.” This shows both the limited understanding of Christianity and of marriage. If marriage is for everyone why limit it to two people? And does that include incestuous marriage – if for example two sisters love, respect and commit to one another, why shouldn’t they get married? It is telling that Lorna Hood was unable to help Kezia with her understanding – except to point out that some people were more ‘traditional’. No, Lorna – it has nothing to do with tradition – and everything to do with Scripture. But therein lies the problem for the Church of Scotland – it has rejected the Bible as its authoritative standard. I recall sitting in the Assembly as the Bible was openly and publicly mocked – to laughter from the commissioners and not a word of rebuke from the leadership.
A Lost Battle
I have been involved with this issue for many years. And I have to say that I now feel completely vindicated. But it is a battle that has left many wounds. I think of Dominic Smart – a Church of Scotland minister who paid a massive price for his faithfulness. He was truly a prophet without honour in his own land. I miss him. I recall an amazing anonymous letter from 15 Glasgow presbytery ‘evangelicals’, who attacked me – and Willie Phillip – another faithful minister who paid the price. I think of Jeremy Middleton who gave the best speech I have ever heard at any Assembly and gave me a faint hope that things might be turned around – only to have that hope dashed by a couple of evangelicals running round, persuading others to play the political game and go along with the establishment. I think of Albert Bogle’s ‘compromise’ motion, which was not a compromise at all – and which gave the progressives everything they wanted. I think of John McPake promising me that the evangelicals had a plan – and that if I just kept quiet, I would see them work it out. Part of that plan was for Angus Morrison to become an evangelical moderator. That worked – in that he became moderator. But he ended up being honoured by the University of Glasgow for ‘changing attitudes to same sex relationships in the Church of Scotland”.
David Randall, a former Church of Scotland minister explained it well in his book ‘A Sad Departure. He, like many faithful ministers have paid the price. There are those who I believe are faithful ministers, in that they love Christ and his Word, and want the best for their flocks, who have remained in the C of S. But their hopes of renewal and reformation are long gone. Instead of evangelicals taking over a declining church, the declining bureaucrats have largely taken control of the evangelicals. The latest ‘super parishes’ are just another example of technocrats replacing theologians.
And sadly, it’s not just the progressives but also some evangelical leaders – who have sold their inheritance for a mess of potage. I find Ezekiel 34 a particularly appropriate and challenging word. The leaders clothe themselves with the legacies of the past – and let the sheep perish in the present. The people are scattered because there is no shepherd. We can only look to the Lord to shepherd his people – because many of his undershepherds have failed.
One of the weaknesses in the Scottish Church is tribalism (although that is a weakness not confined to Scotland – I’ve seen plenty of it in Australia, England and the US). That tribalism results in people getting very defensive about their tribe – even when what is being said is true. I remember visiting one church where we sought to do a joint venture with the local evangelical Church of Scotland – but I was warned that many wouldn’t come because they hated me for my debate with Scott Rennie (see link below) – which they attributed to my desiring to embarrass the Church of Scotland, rather than seeking to expose fundamental error! I’m afraid that the old adage about evangelicals – that their loyalty was primarily to the Gospel, not the denomination – is, in many cases, no longer true.
That tribalism also causes people to suspect that you are only saying something about another denomination out of a desire to promote your own. I can honestly say that that has never been my aim. I don’t believe that the Free Church, or indeed any other denomination in Scotland has the answer. In the Lord’s mercy we may be part of it – but in his judgement we might be left out. To some extent it depends on us realising our own weaknesses, sins and faults – and whether we repent and seek renewal. And none of this is to say that everything is hopeless – it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed. There are churches and Christians who are faithful and flourishing in today’s Scotland. But we need many more. And we need to be realistic about the desperation of our situation – nothing else will cause us to fall on our knees and cry for the Lord to have mercy.
Incidentally I feel I should share something with you. I was so serious about the Church of Scotland that I was once part of an official group which was looking at how the Free Church could re-join the Church of Scotland. The aim was for us to be our own Presbytery within the denomination, with our own finances, theological college and discipline. It was a long shot but for anyone who is serious about Christian unity it was worth trying. I remember the discussions, enabled by a professional facilitator. Although they eventually came to nothing (the C of S were never going to let an evangelical Presbytery become the biggest in the Church – they loved their own power, and hated the Gospel, too much for that), one interesting aspect was the facilitator at one point saying to me that the Free Church delegates were all united in their theology – and two of the C of S were the same – the others seemed to believe in a different religion. Indeed.
And Now the End is Nigh…
The adoption by the C of S Assembly later this month of same sex marriage is inevitable. I also think the demise of the Church of Scotland is now inevitable. We hope and pray that something will arise out of the ashes. My own view is that the Lord will have to do a completely new work or works – if my beloved Scotland is not to regress into its pagan past.
My heart aches…
Yours in Christ
As I look back over my writings in the past couple of decades, here are a few which seem to me to be as relevant now as they were when they were written. At the time I did not know if they would prove to be accurate – but they have. Just put ‘Church of Scotland’ into the search and you will get lots – but these ones stand out for me.
2013 – In 2013 I wrote this response to Eric Alexander’s letter saying why he was staying in the C of S (a pastoral letter which unbeknown to him was being used all over the C of S seeking to persuade evangelicals to stay in) It seems that the hopes of Mr Alexander have been cruelly dashed. https://theweeflea.com/2013/08/27/alexander-leaving-eric-alexander-on-leaving-the-church-of-scotland/
In 2014 we looked at the challenges facing the Church of Scotland – https://theweeflea.com/2014/10/10/the-church-in-post-referendum-scotland/
IN 2015 – Ten reasons why the Church of Scotland is in decline.
And this was for me the most revealing – https://theweeflea.com/2015/10/06/the-scottgate-tapes-a-revealing-insight-into-the-current-state-of-the-church-of-scotland/
2017 – Or this article on a report in The Times July 2017 – https://theweeflea.com/2017/07/03/the-decline-of-the-church-in-scotland-the-times-report-and-response/ Once again the world offered the church its advice….“If the kirk is able to push through liberalising measures such as allowing ministers to oversee same-sex marriages ceremonies, it is possible that its appeal may broaden to younger, more socially liberal Scots”. And once again the church listened – and accelerated its own demise.
2018 – https://theweeflea.com/2018/09/07/faith-no-more-the-continuing-decline-of-the-church-of-scotland-the-herald/
Iain Montague of the Scottish Centre for Social Research suggested that by becoming more liberal in social attitudes the Church could arrest its decline. “It will be interesting to see what impact liberalising measures, such as the Church of Scotland’s efforts to allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages, have upon these numbers in the future.”
Peter Kearney of the Catholic church had a good reply. His line “Decline is most catastrophic amongst Christian denominations who have embraced secular liberalism”. He was spot on. The Church of Scotland is in freefall…it’s recent vote will only accelerate its demise.
I used to pass this statue of John Knox in the courtyard of New College – en route to the Assembly Hall. It’s now in St Giles – I guess Ichabod – the glory has departed!