This months Evangelicals Now column
Evangelicals and the fall of the Church of Scotland
Though it was an inevitable outcome, there is still deep sorrow for the decision of the Church of Scotland at its General Assembly to allow ministers and churches to conduct same-sex marriages.There are many lessons for the wider evangelical church to learn, not least the role that evangelicals played in this decision.
There were, and are, those who spoke out boldly in favour of the Christian position. For example, the Revd Phil Gunn, minister of Rosskeen Parish Church in Ross-shire, asked the Assembly: ‘A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed, what kind of gospel is that?’ But overall, the weakness of the evangelicals and the lack of leadership meant that the opposition has been ineffective and fruitless. Indeed, some evangelicals even facilitated the change in doctrine – apparently more concerned about keeping their fellow evangelicals on board than they were for the truth of God’s word.
The moderator of the General Assembly, himself an evangelical, admitted on the BBC that the reason the change had taken so long (around 15 years from when it was first raised in a controversial discipline case – which the evangelicals lost); was 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.
Most of the moderators in recent years have been evangelicals. One evangelical moderator was even honoured by the University of Glasgow for advancing the LGBT cause within the Kirk!
Twenty-five years ago – it all looked so different. Evangelicals were up to one third of ministries – their big city-centre flagship congregations were thriving, and it seemed that the wider church could not do without them. Now many of the people have left, the large congregations have disappeared, and once solidly evangelical congregations are being swallowed up in the amalgamations that are occurring in a church that is in freefall. The Trustees report to the Assembly put it starkly: ‘A 34% reduction was seen between 2011 and 2021, with no indication of this trend reversing from 2021 congregational data.’ In other words, as the Church has moved over the past decade to a more ‘progressive’ position, its decline has accelerated. Evangelicals used to argue that this was just getting rid of the dead wood, thus resulting in a purer church, but the reality is that the evangelicals are fading away just as quickly.
There are many reasons why it has come to this sad state of affairs. The Revd Ian Hamilton, former Church of Scotland minister – summarised the situation well in a recent address entitled ‘The History and Theological Declension of the Church of Scotland’.
I have been following and involved in this for the past 20 years. I knew that evangelicals were in deep trouble when in response to the situation surrounding the Tron Church in Glasgow, I received an anonymous letter from 15 self-styled evangelicals bitterly criticising both yours truly and the Revd William Philip, who had led his congregation out of the denomination. I can understand the sensitivity to criticism, but it did appear that some evangelicals were so wedded to the denomination, that any criticism, never mind departure from it, was considered more serious than the denomination’s departure from the Word.
The tactic of quiet infiltration has spectacularly failed. As Thomas Manton points out: ‘We must bark when we see a wolf, though in a sheep’s garment; our silence and negligence does but give them an advantage.’
There are many other lessons for evangelicals to learn from this debacle. Failure to see the bigger picture; adopting the politics of the world in the ways of the church; taking a seat at the table without getting a say in the menu; the refusal to recognise the importance of church discipline and doctrine; a lack of courage, leadership and prophetic proclamation; and disunity amongst evangelicals; were all contributing factors to the progressives’ triumph.
But even in the debris there is still a remnant. Although the gates of Hell may have prevailed against the Church of Scotland, they will never prevail against the church of Christ. As Manton observed in his own troubled days: ‘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.’
Here is also the June ‘Letter from Australia’ for EN – (I do these every two months – and an opinion piece on the alternate months).
Letter from Australia: Confused Australian bishops obfuscate
The Australian Anglican General Synod met for the first time in five years in May. It was the first Synod since same-sex marriage was legalised in Australia.
The Synod revealed a number of things about what is happening in the Australian Church. The largest diocese is in New South Wales where Sydney Anglicans are almost uniformly Biblical Christians. The importance of Sydney Anglicans for the worldwide evangelical church means that what is going on here is important for elsewhere.
Archbishop Kanishka Raffel of Sydney brought a motion supporting the Anglican and Biblical doctrine of marriage being between a man and a woman. The laity voted 63–47 for the motion. The clergy 70–39. And the bishops 10–12 with two abstentions. And so, despite the vast majority of the Synod being for the Christian position, the bishops prevented it passing.
Ironically, a second motion supporting chastity and the Biblical view of marriage was passed.
The bishops were certainly confused – because their decision on the second motion directly contradicted their decision on the first. How the bishops could vote for the one but not the other is beyond mortal man to determine!
The following day, Archbishop Kanishka Raffel presented a petition which was passed, calling for the bishops in effect to repent and to affirm the Biblical teaching.
Where does this leave the Anglican Church in Australia? In a confused and divided state.
The behaviour of the bishops was reprehensible. Ignoring the clear will of the Church, and more importantly, the clear teaching of the Scripture, they deliberately put the Anglican Church into a confused and divided state – so that they could continue to proclaim their heresies.
The ending of the pretence of unity (despite lots of fine sounding words) means that those dioceses who are out of step with the Scriptures, will now be more confident in embracing the sexual philosophies of this age. They know that they cannot be dealt with.
However, the majority of the Synod is clearly Biblical. The results of the elections to the standing committee of the General Synod showed that the Biblical Christians are now in almost complete control of the Church. But they need to be careful. Generally, the regressives prefer bureaucracy and they seem to have infinite patience. They will continue to chip away at the orthodox and seek to gradually wear them down.
Despite all the talk of a split, I suspect that the vast majority of Biblical Christians in the Anglican church will not leave. They are too strong and numerous. They are also well organised, and most are determined to continue their fight for Biblical truth.
Meanwhile, the unity of believers is more important than ever. Those who are outside the Australian Anglican Church should pray that the Lord would prosper, revive and renew that Church. We seek the unity and peace of Israel (Ps.122)
The Attack on Sydney Anglicanism – AP
Letter from Scotland 1 – The Church of Scotland – the Final Nail?