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Thomas Manton and Ian Hamilton on Why the Church of Scotland Went Wrong

Thomas Manton and Ian Hamilton on Why the Church of Scotland Went Wrong

Today was a sad day for the Church of Scotland – and for the Church in Scotland.  The C of S General Assembly voted 274/136 to allow ministers and churches to conduct same sex marriages.  This was not a surprise – it is a ‘trajectory’ they have been on for 20 plus years.  The reason it has taken so long, was not the oft given one, that the Church needed to have ‘a conversation’.  Rather it was, as the Moderator admitted on BBC Radio Scotland today, an attempt to keep the Church together.  In other words, to prevent the significant minority of evangelicals from leaving.  In general, that tactic worked – but at an enormous cost to the Gospel.    Although some evangelicals left, the majority have, and will, go along with it.   It was depressing listening to evangelicals saying that they disagreed and thought this went against God’s word, but nonetheless they spoke in high terms of those who disagreed and promised their obedience.   One man even assured the Assembly that though he disagreed, they could be assured of his acceptance of the decision.  The progressives view that the evangelicals lacked the backbone and the organisation to make any kind of fight has proven to be correct.

In fairness I should point out that there are a few who have remained faithful and who are not ashamed to say what Christ says.  None more so than Rev Philip Gunn, from Rosskeen parish church – who told it as it is.”God has called us as his followers to be bold and make a stand for what is right in his eyes,” “If we choose to turn our back on scripture how can we stand up and say we are ministers of God’s church if we then change what God says?”  Well done brother, you were a light in the darkness!  And there are of course others….may the Lord bless them!

As a result the Church of Scotland is dying.  Watching the Assembly today I got the impression that I was attending a funeral.  It was so dated, elderly and unrealistic.   This was a play, a sham, and an utter irrelevance to the people of Scotland.   This was the Church closing the lid on the coffin which they have so painstakingly constructed.

Most of the moderators in recent years have been evangelicals.  The liberals have no need to fear us – because we have become toothless.  One evangelical moderator was even honoured by the University of Glasgow for advancing the LGBT cause within the Kirk.  The current moderator, Rev Iain Greenshields, is an evangelical.  As I was driving down the A9 from Inverness, I heard him being interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland news.  The journalist came out with the incredible statement that the Church of Scotland was in decline because it had taken so long to accept SSM – not realising that it is the Church’s following the culture which has killed it.  GK Chesterton’s quip is apposite: “He who marries the spirit of this age; will be a widower in the next”.

I was intrigued how Iain would respond.  I was grateful that he denied that the decline of the Church was due to not accepting SSM quicker and I dreamt of his explanation.  “I am the moderator and I moderate the debates.  However, I have to say that I am deeply disappointed at the result of this debate – because God’s word is clear – and the Church does not have the right to go against the Word of God.  As moderator I will do my utmost to call the Church to repentance and to return to the Lord.  Otherwise, we as a Church are finished.  I would also like to call the nation to repentance, renewal and to return to the Christ of our foundations!”   That would have brave, prophetic and awesome.  Instead, we got the wettest of wet responses.  The church prayerfully came to a conclusion, it was a good and full debate (it wasn’t), and we are all united in seeking to keep the church united.  Who cares what the Head of the Church wants?  He is irrelevant in this discussion – only to be used as a sound bite and prop for our views.  What we want, Christ wants.

But never mind the SNP tweeted its congratulation and the BBC approved.  What else does the Church need?

How did we get to this?   Rev Ian Hamilton gave this masterly address recently, in which he explained the reasons for the decline.  This is well worth listening to…it is courageous and perceptive.  I agree entirely about not relying on individual leaders.


I was so depressed that I turned to Thomas Manton.   What does a 17th Century English Presbyterian Puritan, have to say to this situation in the Church of Scotland today? JI Packer said about Manton – ““Anyone who means business with God will find that Manton grabs, searches, humbles, and builds up in a quite breath-taking way”

I was astonished to read these quotes from Manton’s sermon on Jude 4. “For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

“Wicked man may creep into the best church; God permits it not only for our own hardening, but for our trouble and trial”


We think to fill the church, but we do but fill the house with thieves: wicked men ever prove a trouble.”

“It is an easy matter to fill the church by remitting the rigour and severity of discipline; But heaven is never the fuller, but the emptier, for wicked men are hardened and confirmed in their own security; and the church never fears the better, it loses in strength what it gets in breadth, as a river does, and zeal is lessened the more the number is increased; yea, wicked men usually prove a trouble, and we come to wish afterward we had been more strict. “

“It is good to be strict, lest by promiscuous admissions we bring in such a mischief to the church as we cannot easily get rid of. “

“They enter under a colour or show of profession, or their invasion of the office of preaching – not being duly called. Or ‘their creeping into the people’s hearts and affections by plausible pretences and insinuations, instilling their errors drop by drop before they could be observed, and pretending themselves to be friends of truth or piety. “

“The origins of heresy are like the foundation if the Nile, obscure and hidden; a man may lose himself in the labyrinth of antiquity before he can find them out. “

 “Satan, when he would set any error on foot, he makes choice of the most subtle instruments, that they may put a varnish on it.”

 “We must bark when we see a wolf, though in a sheep’s garment; our silence and negligence does but give them an advantage.” 

 “We admire the persons, the gifts, and so easily swallow the doctrine… “

 There is a solemn warning for those who pervert the Scriptures. “No man ever perverted the truths of God but to his own loss.  They were ordained to this judgement, that is, that by their own sins they should come to such a ruin.  We play with opinions, but do not consider that damnation is the end of them; the way of truth is the way of life, but error tends to death.

 And then there is real encouragement for those of us who are discouraged by the apparent success of heretics.

 “Nothing can come to pass without his will, and nothing can come to pass against his will.” 

 “There is nothing so small that the Lord takes cognisance of it; nothing so evil, but he turns it to good.”

 “Corrupt nature stumbles in God’s plainest ways; the word is clear enough to them that have a mind to understand it, and yet difficult enough to them that have a mind to harden themselves into a prejudice.”

 “Here is comfort to those that regard the affairs of Sion; all the confusion and troubles that are in the church are ordered by a wise God; he will bring some good issue out of them, some glory to his name, wherein the saints observe as much in their own welfare; some good to the church.”

 And then there is this reminder of the importance of evangelical unity. When the church is rent into so many factions, men fool it, as if there were no God, and the whole gospel were but an imposture and well-devised fable; that is the reason why Christ prays.  John 17:21

In the whole spiritual battle round this, in my debate with Scott McKenna; despite the depressing disunity of the evangelicals; the caving into populist culture; and the ongoing collapse of the Church of Scotland, I have been strangely encouraged.   I have been forced to look up – to see the truth and beauty of Christ in his word.  Once you see that – you don’t care about the politics, the defeats, or the personal abuse, or the darkness that the devil places over the church.  You see the Light shining ever more powerfully.  I leave Manton with the last word.

And never is there so much of God and beauty of truth discovered as when errors abound.

The Slow Death of the Church of Scotland – Accelerates



  1. And in other news…….

    “Situation is ‘urgent and critical’ for Church of Scotland amid falling membership and financial challenges”

    God will not honour an apostate church, as the UK Methodist church is beginning to discover. Turn your back on God’s Word and you turn away from Him. Reinterpreting scripture to mean the complete opposite of its teaching, is about as close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit as you can get.

    And then, the institutionalised churches wring their hands in pious anguish when the wheels begin to fall off…….. blind fools!

  2. I am usually so proud of anything Scottish, but absolutely disappointed in this decision by the Church of Scotland. It’s only a matter of time until that particular denomination goes farther downhill. God cannot honour them!

  3. Thanks David for your concern as ever. I did contribute as best I could in the debate.

  4. thanks for putting the link to Ian’s historical reflection. I had not seen it before. thought provoking.

  5. Why do we continue to describe these people as evangelical? It demeans the term. At least say they call themselves evangelical. Greenshields used to be a solid evangelical. He studied at BTI and we were good friends, studying under Geoff Grogan and Sinclair Ferguson and the like. The Greenshields I knew would be horrified at what he has become. If he is an evangelical I renounce the label.

  6. How many Kirk Elders will resign over this mistake ?

    My late father was an Elder and would probably have quit the role while remaining a member of the Kirk ; but I would have considered his position half – baked and hypocritical while refraining from comment out of filial respect.

  7. How many true believers will remain as members of this apostate church? How any of them, Elders or members, can remain is beyond me?

  8. Thanks for this post David, very informative for someone like me who has only lived in Scotland for 3 years. I’ve read “a sad departure” and listened to the Ian Hamilton talk you’ve put on here, which was helpful.

  9. This was never a matter, *up for discussion*. It never had any scriptural warrant; plain and simple.
    But it is dressed in the appointed righteous robes of office, where we are exposed, stand naked, uncovered. The Emperor’s suit of clothes, as filthy rags.

  10. One thing that puzzles me in all this is the question is marriage a public ordinance?

    If it is and it is now the case that same sex marriage is now approved by the Church of Scotland how does this place both ministers and elders who have signed the formula of subscription that says

    “I believe the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith
    contained in the Confession of Faith of this Church.
    I acknowledge the Presbyterian government of this Church to
    be agreeable to the Word of God, and promise that I will
    submit thereto and concur therewith.
    I promise to observe the order of worship and the
    administration of all public ordinances as the same are or may
    be allowed in this Church.”

    Notice what has been promised. Not only on the day it was signed but the future element.

    The proposal to alter the standing of the Westminster Confession have not changed the last sentence of the formula.

  11. Approval of same-sex marriage may be a sign of accommodation to the spirit of the age, but it is not necessarily evidence of a commitment to theological liberalism v evangelicalism. In the CofS and other like-minded mainline denominations, this comes at the tail end of decades of undermining the authority of Scripture and toleration of unbiblical views on central issues like the deity of Christ, justification by faith etc. But I know plenty of evangelicals (some of them quite prominent ones) who would balk at the idea that they were theological liberals. They subscribe fully to evangelical and Reformed distinctive, including sola Scriptura, but would argue (much as they did with the ordination of women) that the Pauline prohibitions are culture-bound and reflect promiscuous pederasty rather than committed same-sex relationships between believers. In other words, they would say it’s a question of biblical interpretation rather than authority. They would also say that general revelation (by which they mean the way people are apparently born) supports their position. This may be a slippery slope, but it’s entirely different from a wholesale rejection of biblical authority and involves folks who are otherwise quite aggressively evangelical.

    1. It is however a rejection of biblical authority – once you say that the Bible can mean whatever you want it to mean and you use spurious concepts like ‘ born that way’ you are rejecting the Bible.

  12. Dear Brothers and Sisters of a Free Church Persuasion,
    Your harsh words of discouragement and contempt do little for those of us who still feel God’s call to remain in the C of S to be salt and light in our Parishes and to our fellow Christians in the C of S who wrongly interpret the Scriptures in matters of sexual morality.
    Is it really apostate to remain in a Church organisation to influence change from within, regardless of how long that might take?
    Should the Apostle Paul have stood back and gloated over the misinterpretation of Scripture in the Corinthian church rather than remaining with them to affect change through prayer and loving rebuke?
    Our Lord said that he who is without sin should cast the first stone. Is the Free Church going to be remembered as stone- throwers vis a vis the errancy among many but certainly not all in the C of S or will you be remembered for being loving rebukers and warriors of prayer for a sister church in her time of need?
    Yours in Christ,

    1. Gavin – I wonder if you would consider the words of John the Baptist, Elijah, Jesus (ie. to the seven churches in Revelation ‘I will spew you out of my mouth’) and Paul – (if they preach another Gospel let them be accursed!) to be ‘harsh’. They are certainly far harsher than anything I have said.

      I would suggest that you don’t play the denominational card. This is nothing to do with the Free Church (and it is somewhat petty of you to suggest that that is the motivation). This is about the Church of Christ – many Christians are disturbed, distressed and hurt by what is going on in the Church of Scotland.

      It is not apostate to remain in a church seeking to influence change from within. But it is not wise – especially when that has spectacularly failed. I don’t think evangelicals within the C of S are apostate. But the C of S most certainly is. Why stay in a denomination that is dying and will be extinct within 20 years?

      The point about Paul with Corinth is that he dealt with the situation. There was church discipline. The man was put out. It is not remotely comparable to the C of S situation at all. In fact most of the C of S evangelicals I have heard keep going on about how they respect their apostate brothers. The last thing on their mind is church discipline….and then you come to Paul’s view of the Galatian heretics!

      Your misuse of Christ’s teaching is appalling. The Free Church is not casting stones – as explained above this is not about the Free Church. I know of no church that would claim to be without sin. But the idea that someone who has sin, cannot make any comment about sin in the church is a ridiculous one. And yes we are seeking to be loving rebukers and prayer warriors for the C of S. The problem is that no one seems to be listening to the rebukes – instead they respond with more vehemence against their fellow evangelicals, than they do against the heretics and blasphemers in their own denomination.

  13. There’s a group of forgotten people here (straight or other) who opt for celibacy as Christians, rather than traditional marriage or having a same-sex civil agreement. The liberals have contempt for people in these categories and evangelicals can inflict horrific pain, too, by working on the assumption of recreational sex occurring when it does not (e.g. Some couples decide against traditional marriage and reproduction, on the basis of health problems being present which make pregnancy highly inadvisable).

  14. An interesting read – I’m an Aussie but grew up in Glasgow and loved seeing my Uncle Angus striding off to the Kirk in his kilt! He was a man with a mission!

    With the video, I’m not sure about the ‘goats and sheep’ analogy (when comparing the people who flocked to hear the gospel spoken on Sat nights). They were referred to as goats whereas those that came on the Sun am were sheep. As a youth worker on Sat nights, it can be hard to do a ‘double shift’ and turn up at church the next am to serve the kids at Sunday School, but you do it because you’ve been given so much. You don’t start calling some people goats and some sheep (when, in the end, they gave up their Sat night instead of going to the pictures;) and maybe as a minister you maybe just need a break. I don’t remember Jesus calling those who followed Him to hear Him teach goats, but had great compassion for them.

    WRT the women ordination and gay clergy analogy – not sure either. The opening the floodgates arguments is an important legal one but I don’t think it stands the test here. The Bible is ambiguous at times about women’s role in the church – think of Deborah (priest, leader and judge); think of MaryMagdalene, the first at the tomb, when all the others were hiding. Jesus was giving us a new way of doing things – there is no Jew nor gentile, male nor female in Christ Jesus. BUT, there are extremely clear statements about homosexuality and that we are made in the image of God in the Bible, created to be man and woman and I think it’s more helpful to base our arguments round these rather than strange reflections about women. I was in one church that tried to argue that women’s hair should be shoulder length to differentiate themselves to men (and went to enormous lengths to compare the word scarf in the bible to hair to try and make it biblical). A new lady came who was studying at a PhD at the local Uni – suffice to say she didn’t come back, and I keep my hair pixie short length now! The church likely shrugged their shoulders and decided she was a goat and I’m a shorn sheep maybe, who hopefully will see the error of her ways – but goodness, short hair is so much better in a hot climate!

    1. Emma, with respect you are not comparing like with like. Deborah and Mary were no leaders in the local new Testament church. The Scriptures are not ambiguous in this regard – 1 Timothy 2:12 – written by the inspired Apostle and set in the context of the creation ordinance of male headship. Still on the theme of context, the comment on “there is no Jew nor gentile, male nor female in Christ Jesus” is about no differentiation in terms of salvation, not ministry roles.

      1. Could I also respond to this comment (above) wrt Timothy being a greater apostle and my perceived misinterpretation. Yes – the ‘no male nor female, no slave nor freeman’ comment I agree refers to our salvation. But, the Christian movement made real differences to the lives of men and women, slaves etc from very, very early on in Church history. Church leaders didn’t say, oh, well, they’re a slave and this verse only refers to salvation; no, they got on with the job of working through what it meant to be created in God’s image (often paying to have slaves freed). This didn’t happen just with Wilberforce but with the early church. An early letter from Pliny describes women slaves being tortured, yes, tortured to work out what they believed and the threat it posed. He described them as deaconesses (so they were obviously leaders of some sort) and said that the information he got out of them was that they took moral vows, worshipped Christ like a God and took some kind of love meal together. He was trying to work out the threat and was unsure what to exactly accuse them of – sound familiar? Yes, I agree, women and men are created differently but even when Paul was discussing how women and men should cover their heads (I believe to affirm their sex so they weren’t seen to be cross-dressing) men and women were both, in the church, prophesying and praying.

    2. Emma, I am not disputing that women had influential and leadership roles in the early church. My contention is that they were not, and not allowed to be, Pastors and Elders because that was a role that involved spiritual authority over men. And because the prohibition is grounded in a creation ordinance it still stands. With regard to head coverings in church (whatever they were, the Scripture itself gives the reason. It’s nothing to do with cross-dressing but with an expression of submission to authority.

      1. It’s interesting because the suggestion in David Robertson’s article (given he included the video) is that women being pastors has started the chain of events that is leading to falling numbers and extinction of the church. What do you think about women being pastors in the Pentecostal movement (the fastest growing movement in the world)?
        I’d hate to think you were ‘barking up the wrong tree’ and find your own church goes extinct because you weren’t honestly looking at other reasons why churches may be dying – for example, that we might not, in some churches, really believe in the life-changing power of the Gospel (as those in the early church did)? That we are have become comfortable in our pews, view ourselves as some kind of elitist elect, who are the true believers, and doing nothing to really proclaim the gospel.

      2. Also, out of interest, what do you mean by ‘spiritual authority.’ So in the passage about women wearing head-dresses and men not (the reverse of the Jewish custom), do you think the women who were wearing scarves (or had long hair – whichever was the case), where, the Bible says ‘praying’ and ‘prophesying’ alongside men, did they have no spiritual authority at that point? And don’t go back to Genesis for your arguments, because you wouldn’t let me go back to Deborah or Mary Magdalene.

  15. The following is addressed to the two apologists above – the one denying Scripture, the other accusing wrongly.
    I am deeply grieved by these events. How many years have we heard “evangelicals” in the CofS say that “we will work for change from within?” as if any man or minister has the power of himself to do so. The continuing downward spiral only confirms their powerlessness.
    Robert Bruce’s Sermons on Hebrews 11 shines a light on the present from the past. “Even though there were at the beginning very few in the Kirk, nevertheless, one was a hypocrite. So today, in the Kirk, the evil will always be there among the good: this will always be so until the Lord of heaven himself makes that full and final restoration. Learn then that within the Kirk there will always be cunning men, harassing the godly, inventing mischief, perpetually busy with some kind or other of nastiness against the faithful…..It is not your lip service nor your outward act of attending the Kirk that will please God, rather it is a reformed heart, made right by faith, that is pleasing to the living God. When the affections have been mortified and the will subdued to the living God, then our worship is pleasing to Him. Faith cannot exist alone in a person’s heart. Faith must be active in offering obedience to God. It stands as a clear principle, that when there is constant rebellion against his laws, there is no real faith in his promises. Genuine faith will be marked by physical obedience. (Preaching without Fear or Favour, Sermon 3 on Hebrews 11:4).
    I would also recommend that the evangelical wing in the CofS read James Durham on 2 Timothy 3:5 – “Men do far more ordinarily and readily take up the form, than seek after the power of godliness, and desire more to seem to be religious and godly than to be so in very deed. The form like oil smoothes the sore a little, whilst it is in the meantime under-curing and putrefying.” And that is what has happened while waiting for you to effect change from within.

    1. Do you really believe I’m denying Scripture and that I’m ‘oil on a sore’? Those are tough words when I’m just trying my best to teach kids at Sunday School, am no theologian and am trying to make sense of all this and work out what to do. Should I just not bother then? Am I just a hypocrite and not a true believer? I love my Minister (who is a woman) , whose husband is also a minister in the church I now attend and it breaks my heart to think that the ills of the church wrt homosexuality are being blamed on women being allowed to be leaders (the slippery slope argument) and that I am being called ‘oil on a sore.’

  16. Apropos Kirk history , the 1929 ( ? ) reunion of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland was marked by an assembly in the only Edinburgh venue sufficiently sizeable to accommodate the attendees , viz. the Industrial Halls , now a bus garage.

    “O Tempora , o Mores “

  17. “The progressives view that the evangelicals lacked the backbone and the organisation to make any kind of fight has proven to be correct.”
    The relevant text for the evangelicals who didn’t make any kind of fight is Prov.25:26 “Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked” (NIV1984)

    “…the word is clear enough to them that have a mind to understand it, and yet difficult enough to them that have a mind to harden themselves into a prejudice.” [Thomas Manton]
    The critical distinction is whether someone wants to obey God. If they do, then the word of God will often be clear. Those who do not want to obey God will use every opportunity to apply the tactic of deliberate misunderstanding to the word so as to avoid having to obey it. Jesus’ statement in John 7:17 applies: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (NIV1984)

  18. The twin dangers to the Church are
    (1) assimilation; Christ warns against this (ssm etc! )
    (2) forgetting its Him we worship, rather than how we worship.
    Most damage happens from these. I don’t know of many thriving liberal churches. If you ask visitors from China, Brazil or the Middle East, its not liberal biblical teaching that has brought them to faith.

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