I don’t agree with this. OneKirk are liberals who think they are superior. They critiqued me and asked me to go on. I did and as a result received a level of abuse that has been horrific. I have tried to deal with their arguments and then they play the ‘hurt’ card etc….
But let me take you up on your invitation, to smite in kindness (and fully expecting a few blows back, although hopeful we can stick to the Queensberries) , because there is much in what you write here (and by the way I envy your prodigiousness, in terms of word count, this is half way to being a Masters thesis) with which I want to enage.
There are problems for me. The biggest problem I have with you what write is it that too often it doesn’t seem to listen for subtlety and complexity: it simplifies and distorts and then it smashes, it misrepresents and than destroys the misrepresentation.
I would hate if that were the case – and the reason I wrote such a lengthy piece was to avoid such misrepresentations and distortions. The best thing would be for you to let me know where that happens.
And those are the bits that are not helpful to me. I want you to help me think as an evangelical brother. But instead I find myself going “that’s not what I meant…”, “no, that’s not why he said that…”, so we never get to the substance because I am too busy wanting to clarify, and if I’m being honest, if I am with someone who distorts what I say and the destroys that, I ask the question “are they just trying to destroy me?” Those are the questions that I find myself asking too frequently when reading your writing, and they don’t help.
You know the bit down below when you criticise the idea that anyone is saying “come and join our pure Church”, and you get upset because no one you know has ever said that I agree with you. I have never heard anyone say that, so it’s wrong to suggest that such an idea is out there. But I plead with you, think about that emotion, that annoyance of being misrepresented, because that’s how I feel so often when I read your writing.
Just let me know where that happens and I will publicly repent and apologise for it and set the record straight.
There are bits where you do represent correctly, and then you criticise, and those are the bits that are far more helpful for me (like the point you make about subjectivism – see below). In other words, you don’t have to do this distortion. I urge you, please criticise the thing as it is, in all its complexity, even try to present it in a nuanced and sympathetic light, and then critique. You know that thing “until you can represent my view in terms I am happy with, you cannot disagree with me”, it’s that thing I am getting at.
When you do this, and there are several times below, those are the parts that sting the most, because I think “he’s got me there, I have to listen here, this is where I might be wrong.”
So with those preliminaries, can I respond to a few points you make:
I read this apposite quote this morning just before sitting down to write. There is a time to be silent, and I was kind of hoping that time had arrived. But after listening to four talks over the past few days and preaching God’s Word on Sunday evening, I feel obliged to put into practice what I preached. I hope that people will forgive me if I say anything that hurts, and I hope God will forgive me if I say anything wrong. I think my desire is simply to see the Gospel flourish in Scotland, but God alone knows my heart. Anyway to the matter in hand.
Everyone has a strategy. A mission statement. A plan. But it is surely Gods plan we should be concerned with discerning – “Many are the plans in a man’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” Proverbs 19:21. This article is written in the conviction that God is shaking up the whole church in Scotland today, and that we need to listen to what he is saying. It is also written with the belief that Christ is the head of the Church and that we need to listen to, obey and follow him.
The saga continues. After the extraordinary decision of the Church of Scotland Assembly, the dust has still not settled. Several congregations have announced their intention to leave, some ministers have already left and there have been individual members and elders who have had enough. From a personal perspective the church we work closest with, Logie and St Johns Cross, have publicly announced that they are leaving; St Peters has had visitors each Sunday since the Assembly from a C of S background, and I have spoken to several elders who either have resigned or are in the process of resigning. I doubt that Dundee is very different from the rest of the country.
In order to counter this, some 350 evangelicals (ministers, elders and members) gathered in Perth in mid-June and issued a statement encouraging fellow evangelicals to remain within the Church of Scotland, representing over 100 of the 900 (or 1400 depending on whose press release you believe) congregations
I can help you here – we have approximately 900 charges and approximately 1400 congregations – as you know one charge (to which a parish minister is appointed) can have more than one congregation (i.e. a linkage).
in the Kirk. It is for many a confusing picture. But this latter gathering provides us with an insight into the state of evangelicalism within the Church of Scotland today and so it may prove useful to examine what was said. Perhaps some might think that having the Crieff Fellowship and Forward Together plus a number of other evangelical groupings, the last thing that is needed is yet another evangelical group. But this one is clearly different. It is far broader than the other groups
I think the choice of the word “network” is to imply that it can be a contact point for other networks; so Kenny Borthwick made the point that that the existence of this network did not threaten his membership of another evangelical grouping (at which point I think he may have been referring to CLAN).
and deliberately seems to have a very limited agenda. On the one hand there is the motherhood and apple pie truism of ‘working for reformation and renewal’ within the Church. On the other the more specific agenda seems to be to counter the tide of congregations and individuals leaving the denomination.
I think the thrust here is towards the former – it is actually to focus on mission and regeneration, and not to spend too much energy on the specific part of the agenda.
Thus the appeal was made to be as broad as possible. The three speakers at the Perth meeting included a representative of charismatic evangelicals, another from the more broadly evangelical, and another from the more Reformed evangelical. Their talks were fascinating and worth reflecting on. You can hear them here – http://www.thesteeplechurch.co.uk/church-of-scotland-evangelicals/
I was most impressed by the charismatic representative, Kenny Borthwick, who preached from John chapter 7.
I was extremely impressed by what Kenny said.
He spoke with clarity, humility and a sense of real spiritual devotion and commitment to evangelism. He pointed out that God would say, “the only trajectory that matters is my trajectory”. Therefore we need to listen to what the Father says, and determine what His timing is. We need to repent of our divisions and seize the window of opportunity that God has for us today. Kenny questioned why he should let the agenda for his congregation be determined by a vote for immorality, or even by other evangelicals. That was his weakest point – because Kenny is not minister of an independent church. His congregation belongs to a Presbyterian church, which does give oversight of doctrine, discipline and government of the church, and to which he has sworn obedience. To that extent by agreeing to remain within that denomination, then the agendais being set by the votes of the Assembly. That is the price of Presbyterianism. The question is when does that price become too much?
I think this is a good point you make here. In congregations we have to be influenced by the wider whole. But I think also Kenny was saying, “Why does the good thing in my congregation have to suddenly stop – which is what would happen if we left, because someone else is doing something I don’t agree with.” And this particularly relates to the motion that the assembly voted for. It said “we give permission for someone, somewhere else to do something else.”, it permits but also distances the behaviour we regard as errant.
If Kenny was saying that I would disagree with him, because if he was saying that the good things would stop because they could only happen within the C of S he would be showing a lack of faith and of understanding. How does he know that?
There is a spectrum that runs from autonomous congregationalism to undifferentiated collectivism; Kenny is suggesting that the congregational nature of Presbyterianism can get us away from the influence of the some of the decisions of the collective. We are shielded to an extent by our congregational structure. The question I want to ask is how much of a shield is that? We must still at some point incur some of the associations mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5. How do we deal with that? What are the options?
These are good questions – but a bit of a smokescreen. The collective is very important. As I pointed out before just try not sending money to 121 or refusing to baptise infants, or refusing to ordain women and see what happens to you!
I was particularly impressed by his desire that we should go for the bigger visions wanting to see salvation out of every tribe, people and language. Kenny talked about evangelicals getting their ‘tic’ back, so that they became evangelistic rather than just being a dwindling evangelical constituency within a dying church. He suggested that just setting up an alternative evangelical synod without being evangelistic would just be another form of slow lingering death, the only difference being that we would be surrounded by friends! Personally I thought it was a brave and visionary statement – with a wonderful emphasis on listening to God and evangelism. However I would like to suggest that although his vision was big, brave and sincere, it seemed to me to be a little naïve and a little out of step with the smaller vision that seemed to be at the heart of the new grouping – which seems to have moved from an evangelicalism which is trans-denominational to one that is quite narrowly denominationally specific.
You are right to suggest that Andy later took us into a specifically Church of Scotland territory, but I don’t think that Colin did to nearly the same extent, and I don’t think that the gathering (which is why it is a network) would make that move. After all, Colin Sinclair, in his association with SU and Spring Harvest, has lived in the trans-denominationalism you advocate for his whole ministry, and most of those in the Evangelical Network would be of the same mind. This is not a new move from one place to another, if anything there is perhaps a desire to capture the importance of our denomination, that it is not incidental, that there is something important about the Church of Scotland which should not be lost. You might think that that’s still wrong, but it’s not a new idea.
I have listened to Colin’s talk again and he is saying precisely what I said. He went very deeply into C of S territory – we need to support 121, to get stuck in etc.
As the other two speakers evidenced.
First up was Andy McGowan, who preached a shortened version of a talk he had given earlier in this crisis. Andy gave seven reasons for staying. I mention each one – with some comments afterwards.
Nothing has changed and so it would be premature to leave at this point. Every time there is a vote this is what we are told. Nothing has changed. It will all be reversed. The fact is that the General Assembly when presented with a choice of following the Word of God (which Andy and others had so ably presented) or going against it, chose the latter.
I am always wary of sentences that begin with “The fact is…” – it over-simplifies something that is more complicated. What the Church did, I think, is to say this is what we believe about the word of God, but if others have a different interpretation (and the revisionist writers in the Special Commission’s report – unlike other defenders of the Revisionist stance in previous years – were clear that they felt they were basing their opinions on the Word of God) then we will let them go their way.
I’m sorry but the fact is that what I said the fact is, is true. A decision was made. It was incoherent and nonsensical. The C of S upholds the traditional position that those in same sex partnerships cannot be ministers, but the C of S will allow those in same sex partnerships to be ministers. The Assembly was presented with a clear choice, and despite all the machinations of the spin doctors (who would make Alice-in Wonderland look coherent), that choice was made.
The choice that you characterise as “follow” or “go against” the Word would have happened had 2b (“follow”) gone against 2c (“go against”).
Everything has changed.
Now I think you exaggerate. “Everything has changed” – really? How about this for a more complex reading, “some things have changed.”
Of course not everything has changed in the sense that the buildings havn’t fallen down. My evangelical minister up the road will still continue to preach the Gospel. etc. But in the context it was clear what I was saying – I was countering Andys view that on this subject nothing has changed. In my view everything has changed. The context makes the content clear. To imply otherwise is what I would call misrepresentation.
This was not just an aberration of some liberal theologians stretching the meaning of the Acts Declaratory to Alice-in- Wonderland proportions. This was the final decision making body of the Church choosing deliberately to go against the Word of God.
Not “Final decision making body” since no General Assembly can make final decisions (except in judicial cases). Probably the “highest decision making body” would be more accurate. Unlike the analogy with the parliament below (which is why the analogy doesn’t work), future Assemblies can reverse previous decisions. This is actually what this one did – the 2011 Assembly set us on a path to 2a, and this Assembly took a step back (amongst other things, dropping the liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships). I can anticipate you arguing that effectively it didn’t but there are subtle differences – for me those are important, I am guessing for you they may be mealy mouthed window dressing.
That is playing with words. The General Assembly IS the final decision making body of the Church of Scotland because there is no higher court, as you know!
Now Andy is technically correct in pointing out that we have to go through the whole process again in 2014 and then in 2015. But no one seriously expects the ‘trajectory’ to be reversed. It is at best myopic and at worst playing with words to say that ‘nothing’ has changed.
Andy’s point still stands. Nothing on the ground has changed. I would argue that it is playing with words to suggest “everything has changed.”
Remember how all the evangelicals were told – wait, wait , wait until 2011, then 2013. Now they are being told nothing has changed wait until 2015. Is it any wonder that so many people do not believe that?
A more honest interpretation would be to say that technically nothing has changed but that we should expect the change to be complete by 2015 and prepare for that.
Yes, I’ll agree with that. This is the stuff that I appreciate best from you. It’s accurate, and now let’s disagree.
It is analogous to the same sex marriage bill going through parliament just now. Parliament has voted for it, although it is not yet law because of all the procedures that have to be gone through – but it will be.
See reasons above for why this is not analogous.
It is directly analogous. Just as SSM is not yet legal, yet Parliament has voted to make it legal (and it will happen). Just as being a minister in a same sex partnership is not yet legal in the C of S (although that seems to be being ignored) yet the Assembly has voted to make it so. There could not be a more direct analogy.
God and the nation. There is nothing in the bible about denominations. The Bible talks about nations. Neglected the place of Gods corporate dealing with nations. Establishment principle remains vital for our self-understanding. Scotland as a covenanted nation under God with one true Kirk. The Church of Scotland provides pastoral care, worship, and bible study in every corner of the land. If you want to reach the whole country the C of S is the only game in town. The kirk is the mother kirk of the whole Presbyterian Church in the world. I have heard this several times and every time I hear it I am still stunned by it. The notion that God converts nations or that the New Testament intended to set up national churches, specific to each country, is just an extreme example of eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than exegesis (reading out of the text) that one would be surprised at any Christian making it. I think the bottom line is that we find no mention of this at all in the New Testament and indeed we find the opposite. The Church of Jesus Christ is not divided into national churches but is instead one indivisible body, of which local congregations are a part.
The second massive error here is to consider that the Establishment Principle has any relevance at all in a secular Scotland. I hold to the Establishment Principle, but it just does not apply in a secular state where only 2% of the population attend the ‘national church’. Scotland has long ceased to be a national covenanted nation in which there is only One True Kirk.
From irrelevance we move into the realm of fantasy. The Church of Scotland does not provide pastoral care, worship, and bible study in every corner of the land – at least not in any meaningful Christian sense. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote this of the Church of Scotland in his day – “It is confessed that many of our ministers do not preach the gospel –alas! Because they know it not. Yet they have complete control over their pulpits, and may never suffer the truth to be heard there during their whole incumbency. And yet our church consigns these parishes to their tender mercies for perhaps fifty years without a sigh! Should not certain men be ordained as evangelists, with full power to preach in every pulpit of their district – faithful, judicious, lively preachers, who may go from parish to parish, and thus carry life into many a dead corner?” If McCheyne could write that in a pre-Disruption Scotland where the vast majority of the population attended the National Church, how much more is it true today when only a tiny percentage do? When the Church has voted to allow those in sexually immoral relationships to teach ‘the Word of God’ is that not negating the provision of gospel ministry to every area of Scotland?
That’s an interesting point. Is the allowing of sexually immoral relationships so contagious, so poisonous that it is powerful enough to “negate the provision of gospel ministry to every area of Scotland?” By the way, what did you mean by that last sentence (I ask in a spirit of genuine enquiry), did you mean “in every area of Scotland, the provision of gospel ministry is negated, even where there is a gospel preaching Church?” or did you mean “there are now some areas where the gospel ministry is negated, and therefore it can no longer be considered to be happening in every area of Scotland?”.
The McCheyne quote should have made that obvious. It is the latter. There are many areas of Scotland where there is a C of S parish ministry where there is not a Gospel ministry, nor Gospel churches.
To claim that the Church of Scotland is the ‘only game in town’ for reaching the nation is a fatal combination of wishful thinking and arrogance.
Andy has a theology of nations here. It appears to be biblically based. He said there is nothing about denominations in the Bible, but there is a lot about nations. I was arguing for a collectivist idea of salvation, I don’t think it’s one I wholly agree with, but I want to think about for a while. I don’t think it’s right to accuse Andy of “wishful thinking and arrogance”, no worse than accusing others of schism which you describe as “one of the most destructive and divisive things” you have heard. He is arguing that for the salvation of the nation as a whole, the Church of Scotland is the one which covenanted to do this.
If it appears to be biblically based perhaps he, or you, could provide the biblical basis. I have heard him make this statement twice now – without any biblical basis. The view that the C of S is the only game in town for bringing the Gospel to Scotland IS fanciful and arrogant.
Sometimes this arrogance can have real damaging effects for the Gospel. And not just in the fact that evangelicals often leave souls at the mercy of those who would deny the basics of the Gospel but also in how the Church of Scotland seems to think that if it is not spreading the Gospel then no one else can. Take for example St Andrews where the Free Church and the Baptists are both experiencing growth and development. When the Free Church started there I was told by the then minister of Martyrs Church that we were the future, and that she expected her church to close. Her prophecy came true. When Martyrs church was put up for sale, rather than sell (or heaven forbid, give) it to the Free Church or the Baptists, it was sold for as much money as possible to the University for a library. It seems as though the charitable purposes of the Church are making money rather than advancing the Gospel, unless it is assumed that only the Church of Scotland can advance the Gospel?! It has been suggested that the Trustees of the Church of Scotland are limited by the Charities body, OSCAR so that they have to sell their buildings to the highest bidder. As someone involved in several charities I know that is not true. They could give the buildings away as long as they were fulfilling the stated charitable purposes of the church – to spread the gospel. And this is where we see the danger of the delusion that the Church of Scotland is the only game in town. Because at this point the Acts Declaratory are usually referred to, in particular that the Church of Scotland is duty bound by law to provide the ordinances of religion in every parish. So you can have the situation where the vast majority of a congregation decide to leave, but the Church of Scotland refuses to sell or hire them the building because a handful of people who could not possibly do anything other than maintain the shell, are considered to be fulfilling this legal ‘mandate’. It is a charade, and a damaging one for the Gospel. And if evangelicals believe that the gospel of the Kingdom is more important than the denomination we must not go along with it.
Speaking of arrogance I think our brothers and sisters in other Presbyterian churches will be delighted to know that they are mostly in sin because they do not follow the example of their ‘mother’ Kirk and have national state churches!
A good point.
The Reformed doctrine of the church. There is no such thing as a pure church. Calvin’s church was a 1000 times worse than the state of the Church of Scotland! The church is a covenanted community. We should not pick and choose our denominations. I am really curious as to why Dr McGowan thinks that Calvin’s church was 1000 times worse than the Church of Scotland. Were there ministers in it who denied the Trinity (remember the recent vote of Glasgow presbytery where only by a vote of 83-80 did the Presbytery affirm that the Trinity was at the heart of Christianity)?
This is a distortion. I can check the Presbytery minutes, but I am confident the motion was more complex than that (this is a common theme, I am defending complexity and subtlety). If you had spoken to the 80 that voted against that motion, I doubt they would have said “I don’t’ believe the Trinity is at the heart of Christianity.”
I have the wording. I was actually being very mild – it is worse than I portrayed. There were two amendments – one which said “However since we worship one God in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we will only share joint worship with those who do likewise”. This was not accepted. The second amendment to which I refer “However in accordance with our first article declaratory, we will worship only the one God in the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and no other” was accepted by 83 to 80. Christian worship IS at the heart of Christianity. Christian worship is the worship of the Triune God. To have 80 people vote against that was horrendous. You are a member of the Presbytery so you must know what was involved.
Or the resurrection? Did the Church in Geneva ever declare that ministers in sexually immoral relationships could continue as ministers? Andy’s views are so extreme that it means he must regard the rest of us as being sinners who have broken away from the covenanted community. Of course the logic of his position is that not only those who leave the Church of Scotland now are wrong, but also those who took part in the Disruption, and ultimately even the Reformation was wrong. No one should leave Mother church.
As if to prove that the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network is heterogeneous, those were the very thoughts that were going through my mind when I listened to Andy. But I also remember thinking “this is interesting, I must go and think about this”, I don’t remember getting as upset as you appear to be.
It is the illogicality of someone saying that you should never leave Mother Church, whilst supporting staying out of the RC Church which got to me…Not least the view that the present day C of S is 1000 times better than the church in Calvin’s Geneva – the fantasy non-historical aspect really got to me!
The Sovereignty of God. There are those who claim to be Calvinists but deny that God can change things. He is able to do whatever pleases him. The whole of the Soviet Empire fell in 12 months; the C of S is not such a big task. This is a classic example of putting two and two together and making five.
I don’t think this is quite right, but there is some difference here.
If A is “God is able to do whatever pleases him”
B is “the Soviet Empire fell in 12 months”
C is “reforming the Church of Scotland is not such a big task”
I don’t think we have a “2+2 = 5” error here (which would be of the form A & B => C). Rather, I think Andy is saying something like
A => B;
A => C because B>C;
And you are disagreeing, partly because you are not so sure B>C, and partly because you are not so sure that C is so evidently a part of the will of God as B was.
I have no idea what the will of God is as regards the C of S. The things that are not revealed do not belong to us. But the things that are revealed do. And that is what we should stick to. At best Andy’s misuse of doctrine was special pleading.
Of course God is sovereign. And I doubt there are any people who deny that God can change things in the Church of Scotland (although given that Andy has told us that nothing has changed in this covenanted national church, one has to ask why should he?).
I don’t think Andy believes that in April 2013, the Church of Scotland required no reform. Even if one thought “nothing has changed” that is not the same as saying “nothing needs to change”.
God is able to do whatever pleases him. God can please my preaching if I don’t prepare. He can overrule my laziness, sin, arrogance etc. He can. But will he? And should I presume that he will do so and acting on that presumption, continue in my sin? God can bless the preaching of those who don’t bother going to study theology, but does that mean we should close down HTC?! The comparison between the Soviet Union and the Church is an interesting one – some would suggest that reforming the Soviet Union is easier! The bottom line is that using the sovereign power of God as a justification for inaction or an excuse for sin is not Calvinism.
I don’t think that Andy is urging inaction (he later argues for “firewalls”, and the whole point of the gathering was refocus on mission) and neither is he excusing sin (surely we can agree on that, after all he wrote the traditionalist section of the Theological Commission’s report). This is another distortion which distracts from the good point you make which is that there are places where an argument from sovereignty is inappropriate, and and we have to ask the question “is it right to use a sovereignty argument in this situation?”
I think in effect he is urging inaction. There was nothing in his talk that indicated any specific course of action – other than stay in. The dual synod idea, as he knows is a non-starter and was already rejected by 121 and the powers that be – at least twice (one of these I was involved in – the other happened during this latest commission). For Andy to hold his out as a possible carrot was just wishful thinking.
The providence of God. God has been doing a remarkable work in the C of S over many years and I see no reason why he would stop now. If the present crisis had not divided us we would have been on our way to a majority. It takes that bit longer for everyone who leaves. This is again both fantastical and dangerous talk. Is it really the case that if the handful of congregations had not left then there would have been a majority of evangelicals at the Assembly?
I think this is a distortion. Andy did not say “if a handful of congregations had not left we would have won the vote”. He is saying “if, in the next few months, many congregations leave, it will be harder to gain a majority at future assemblies.”
Again that is what he said. I don;t think it was a distortion at all. He specifically blamed the congregations who HAD left (he used the past tense).. He has often said this – we are nearly there – 400 ministers….one more push and we will be in the majority.
Even if that were true there is no guarantee that a biblical position would have been voted for. It was after all an evangelical who proposed the motion that congregations should be allowed to call ministers in same sex partnerships – and many evangelicals have lauded this as a brilliant compromise that brings peace. Peter Neilson in a passionate, articulate and confused sermon after the Assembly declared that things were handled well. He stated, “the church retains its stand but not in a hard judgemental way but with what we might call a generous orthodoxy – this is a complicated matter – not black and white.” It is interesting that none of the speakers mentioned the illogicality or wrongness of the Assemblies decision or made any kind of call for repentance of those evangelicals who voted for this. There was talk of those evangelicals guilty of the sin of schism, but not of any other sin. This does not bode well for whatever is meant by reformation and renewal. I also really question this ‘remarkable’ work that God has been doing in the C of S over the years which Andy believes will just continue. Whilst there have been some great congregations and some wonderful faithful ministries, the overall picture is not quite so bright. Yes – the change from the late 1940’s where outside the Highlands there were very few evangelical ministers, to the 1970’s was remarkable. But that has not been a steady trajectory and although the number of evangelical ministries (in the broadest sense) is now about 400 (out of 1200) that is not the whole story. One leading C of S evangelical told me that he thought only 100 ministers would be accepted in the PCA (hardly a hyper strict Presbyterian church) and that the big mistake they had made was to equate evangelical ministries with evangelical congregations.
The C of S is losing 15,000 members per year. Last year only around 1300 people became new members in the Church – and we have no idea how many of them are believers. This is not the picture of a church in which a remarkable work is occurring. It is the picture of a church under the judgement of God, albeit one in which he still has the 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal.
It’s telling you quote the Elijah story, because the thrust of that is to affirm the remnant, and also to chastise Elijah who refuses to recognise it (“I am the only one left” he says to God, when he knows about Obadiah’s 100). Also, I think you are saying that the Church of Scotland is not like Israel because it is not God’s only chosen vehicle for God’s salvific purpose in our current age, but it is like Israel because it is under judgement.
The Church of Scotland is NOT Israel. In the NT sense it is part of the New Israel – =or at least those who believe in the Gospel who belong to the C of S are.
The sin of schism – We are not in that extreme situation today. We must be careful in the language that we use and the situation in which we find ourselves. “Those who are calling our people to leave and join them on the grounds that they are a pure church need to reread their bibles’! The Church of Scotland is recoverable. Those of us who are true to our orthodox reformed heritage should not walk away from the Church of Scotland. This was even more disturbing than the other points. Why? Firstly it is a dishonest straw man argument. I
Honestly, I think there are more than a few of these in your article.
Please point them out. It is one thing to accuse another to evidence. I need the evidence before I can apologise and correct.
challenge Andy to let us know of anyone who is calling on C of S evangelicals to join them because they are a ‘pure church’. I suspect he had in mind the Free Church. But I know of no one in the Free Church who thinks we are a pure church.
I agree with you here.
We do actually read our bibles and we all subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith (without Acts Declaratory or crossed fingers!) which tells us that no church is without error. I think to accuse Willie Philip, Robin Sydserff, Peter Dickson, Pete Humphries, James Torrens, and Dominic Smart etc. of being guilty of schism is one of the most destructive and divisive things I have heard. Evangelicalism used to be across denominational barriers, but it seems as though Dr McGowan wants to take us back to the bad old days of a uniformitarian and authoritarian view of the Church.
I don’t think he does. I think you are exaggerating his position. But even if he did, I doubt that many others there would think that.
I was interacting with what Andy says – not with others. And I think I was mild in summarising his position. It is one of the most extreme I have heard.
Whether one belongs to the Church of Scotland seems to matter more than whether one belongs to the Church of Christ.
I guarantee you that the number of people in Perth who thought that was zero. I guarantee you.
Thats strange because a minister who was there came to St Peters on Sunday night and told me that he was disgusted with the whole thing – he was told by a colleague ‘I would die for the Church of Scotland’. His response was that this chilled him to the bone because people who will die for a denomination might kill for one as well. I told him that that was a bit extreme but nonetheless I could see that people with that degree of denominational loyalty would be prepared to let it affect all their actions. I know that no evangelical in theory will say that the Church of Scotland is more important than the Church of Christ, but in practice? That is a different matter.
The lessons of history – disruptions rarely achieve anything. Four ministers in one place – do we want to make it five? We need to be liberated for mission. The C of S are like Israel – God kept his covenant promises. You don’t leave the family when the family gets into trouble…This is a very skewed view of history. One could just as easily argue that staying in corrupted state churches rarely achieves anything. It would be interesting to hear of one example of a corrupt state church that has actually been turned around by evangelicals staying in.
There are some good arguments about various parts of the Church of England being renewed, in particular the Diocese of London, in the book “Church Growth in Britain.”
That’s interesting – because we have just appointed an Anglican vicar from that Diocese to be Free Church minister in St Andrews. He tells me that there is great work being done through a) Holy Trinity Brompton and Alpha, b) St Helen’s Bishopsgate and Gospel partnerships and c) African immigrants coming in. But he also says that the Anglican church is falling apart. It is certainly not an example of a corrupt state church being truly turned around.
In terms of Scotland the Disruption actually achieved a great deal of good. Admittedly not for the national church – but it certainly did for the Gospel and the Kingdom. The evangelisation of Scotland in the latter half of the 19th Century was quite extraordinary. And the missionary impact on many countries in the world was equally extraordinary. I also think Andy is somewhat out of date with his four ministers in one village scenario. That disgrace is largely part of a bygone era. Most churches can’t afford that. The real problem is the vast number of places without any clear, vibrant gospel ministry. Perhaps if evangelicals actually did get together and act together we might be able to do something about that. This is not going to happen when a significant number believe that the Church of Scotland is the only game in town. I suspect though that where Andy is right is that in some instances we will end up with yet another denomination, rather than more gospel unity.
I agree you don’t leave the family when you get into trouble…but you need to ask who the family are! The Mafia? (I have visions of those who leave ‘the family’ finding donkeys heads in their pulpits! The Godfather certainly gives a whole new slant to the concept of the Fatherhood of God!) Or the family of God? I personally regard all believers of whatever denomination, as being part of the family of God, even if they don’t have the sense to go to the church I belong to! When someone leaves the Free Church to go to another biblical Church I don’t think they have left the family. And this may be breaking news for some – but neither the Free Church nor the Church of Scotland is Israel. I do however agree that we need to be liberated for mission. We need new wine. Was there not someone who taught about new wine in old
I think this is common ground between me and you. And many who were at the Network’s meeting are still asking the question “Does this require a new wineskin?”
wineskins….! They don’t go. Perhaps the new wine of the Gospel will be better served in new wineskins?
After these seven points, which as you will have gathered, I found to be almost totally unconvincing, Andy suggested that evangelicals should have another look at the structure of the Church if the current ‘trajectory continues. His suggestion of a measure of ‘separation’ after 2015, involving not separation from the Church but from the prevailing party in the Church, by means of a dual synod was interesting, but unlikely to be allowed or work. I was unconvinced by his argument that sexual immorality was an insufficient reason to separate, not least because no one who has left has given that as the reason. It is the attitude to the Word of God that is the key issue. Which is why I welcome his remark that if the Church of Scotland denies the uniqueness of Christ then that would be the time to leave. Although again this was more than a little surprising. Those who advocate same sex partnerships in general do deny the uniqueness of Christ. Life and Work has carried articles by ministers who deny the uniqueness of Christ. The Assembly last year refused to discuss the issues of a Church of Scotland being used for Hindu worship. But I welcome wholeheartedly Andy’s commitment to leave the Church of Scotland if it does continue its trajectory and end up even more explicitly denying the uniqueness of Christ.
In some ways I found Colin Sinclair’s talk the most disturbing of all. Colin is a fine servant of Christ whose warm and gracious manner in teaching the Word of God has been a blessing to many. Which is precisely what made his talk so disturbing. He cited George Philip stating ‘when God gives up on the Church of Scotland we will leave’. He declared that God was not worried about His reputation. God had called him to the Church of Scotland and until that call was lifted he would remain. This was all hopelessly subjective.
This is where your critique is at its most challenging. When does the language of call move into “subjectivism”?
How do we know when ‘God has given up’? How do we know that the call is lifted? Do we really have that direct access to God telling us our every move? Much of the argument here reminded me of the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day who too said they would not leave, because they believed that God would not judge them and destroy Jerusalem. It is very easy for us to reassure ourselves, stay where we are and claim the sovereignty and call of God as our justifications. And to declare that God is not interested in his own reputation is to go against all of Scripture – God really does care that we hallow his name and honour him. God is jealous for his honour.
But then Colin got quite specific and urged a new form of evangelicalism. At least it is one that I have not heard explicitly stated before in public, although I have seen it in practice. We are to work for the peace and unity of the Church. Commitment begins only at the point of disagreement. Staying in the Church of Scotland is not enough you have to get stuck in or you will be a negative influence. Evangelicals must not be the elephant in the corner. We have been concealed Congregationalists and must be more committed to what the Church of Scotland is doing. There are more senior people from councils and committees in the gathering that afternoon (identifying as evangelicals) than had ever been before. We should not write off 121. We are Presbyterians not Congregationalists. We must get involved. My son is going to New College and my God is big enough to look after him.
It is hard to know where to begin here. Again the idea of the majesty and bigness of God being used to excuse foolishness, is foolish.
You have just accused Colin Sinclair of foolishness. Is this not also divisive and disturbing?
Yes. But true. So justified. We could play the game that saying anything someone says is wrong, is divisive so therefore to say it, is itself wrong. To me that is post-modern semantics – not biblical faithfulness.
My son is going to study theology and I would plead with him NOT to go to New College, not if he wants to be trained in the Word and for Christian ministry. Why do evangelicals think we are immune from the poison of false theology? Of course there are in the theological faculties of Scotland’s universities, including in New College, good men and women who teach the Word of God and train others to do so. A couple have even preached in the St Peters pulpit! But one wonders what Colin would say to Dr McGowan, the founder of HTC. Why bother starting another theological college if the ones that exist are already adequate and fine for training? My God is big enough that if I drink poison he can prevent any harm. Does that mean I should drink poison? Mind you there is more scriptural warrant for drinking poison than there is for sending the lambs out to be taught by the wolves!
What was new here for me though was this explicit commitment to working for, rather than in, the Church of Scotland.
What is this? That there is something intrinsically bad about working “for” the Church? Is working in a Parish not also working “for” the Church? Or does Parish work have a necessary distance which means it is not “for” the institutional Church (which Kenny Borthwick’s description of Presbyterianism might have allowed, although I don’t think Kenny meant that)? Is working “for” the Church, in Fresh Expressions, in selection and training of ministers, is all this especially bad, an unacceptable collaboration?
Yes – there is. We work for Christ. We work for the Gospel. We don’t work for the denomination except insofar as it goes along with the first two. It is ridiculous to say that you are going to work for reformation and renewal within the denomination and then say that you are going to work for the non reformed and renewed denomination. That to me was one of the major errors of the Perth meeting. You cannot have your cake and eat it. You either recognise that the denomination is corrupt at the core and pledge to work for its reformation and renewal, or you get out. What you cannot do is say we want reformation and renewal but meanwhile we are just going to go along with things as they are.
This raises an enormous problem. And it does bring out the elephant in the room. What is the church? Who do we regard as belonging to the church? Are those who say that the resurrection did not happen, or the Bible is not the Word of God, or the Trinity is not essential to the Christian faith, our ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’? Are we bound to work together with them, rather than against them as false teachers? I noticed that the liberal OneKirk group were largely very welcoming of this new evangelical grouping – not seeing it as a threat to their position but rather an ally. One comment expressed it clearly “What struck me very strongly today as I worshipped in Letham St. Marks this morning (a conservative evangelical church) as a visiting minister from St. Matthew’s (a more progressive, liberal evangelical church in the same town) was that in so many, many, many ways we are exactly the same and would do well to speak well of each other and do even better to work well with each other. I dream of such a day and I hope others will join me in praying for that day.”. Take heed to Augustine’s warning – But if one who errs praises you, he confirms your error. When fellow evangelicals who actually believe the Bible are condemned as schismatics and you end up being praised by those who do not, then something has gone far wrong. C of S evangelicals are at a crossroads. Which is going to be more important – working with fellow evangelicals in the Gospel (whatever the denomination) or putting the denomination first? The message of the new Church of Scotland Evangelical Network seems to be the Church of Scotland Alpha and Omega.
This is probably the worst distortion. To take your language, you are saying that we are saying “the Church of Scotland is Christ (who is the Alpha and Omega)”. If the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network really felt that, it would be urging members of other denominations to leave and join the Church of Scotland. It isn’t doing this. If anything, its message (although I admit Andy McGowan’s “the Church of Scotland is the only game in town” went further than this) is “remain where you are.”
But at heart I think that is what Andy did say and is saying – and I think it is what many evangelicals practice. They resent Baptists, charismatics, Free Church etc taking ‘their’ people. Only ‘their’s because they are in ‘their’ parish. The whole message of the Perth meeting came across as it is the Church of Scotland first.
It is denominationalism at its most destructive.
Colin Sinclair told the oft-cited story of Martin Luther’s wife, Katie, coming down dressed in mourning clothes. What is wrong with you? God has died. What do you mean woman? Well if he has not died why are you so miserable? Colin asked – has God died? That of course is a nice story but the wrong question.
I thought it was quite a good story in this context – the point being that we should always be hopeful because God is not dead.
A pointless truism. Because who said he was. The question is whether a particular denomination is dead or not.
The real question is, does God need the Church of Scotland for his name to be honoured in this land? No. He does not. Nor for that matter does he need the Free Church, Baptists, IPC, APC, or any of the other denominations. But in his grace and mercy he has given us His Church. As his people we must stand together, even if we are in separate denominations. Even if the Church of Scotland is dying.
Just after I finished listening to the three talks from the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network, I returned to Peter Neilson’s sermon. In it he summarised the position of the new evangelicals…
Interesting use of the phrase “new evangelicals” – are you suggesting we are a little like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett et. al?
No. I am suggesting that evangelicalism is losing its grip, and is becoming very confused. And that this new group exists for one primary purpose – to keep evangelicals within the C of S.
“We have moved the debate from the power struggles of truth to some understanding of how we operate in grace to allow other people to find their way”. Once you untangle the nice sounding jargon that is a poisonous message. Of course people don’t want to be involved in power struggles and would prefer to ‘operate in grace’. But it is a false dichotomy. Truth and grace are not opposed. Jesus is full of grace and truth. Truth does not necessarily mean power struggles.
I would suggest however that the move away from truth as the criteria by which we base our judgements leads precisely to the type of power struggles that Peter wants to avoid. Indeed this new network is primarily about power struggles
Is that really what it is “primarily” about. You might say it is perceived that way by some. I think the Network is “primarily” about contending for two ideas – 1. The primary focus for evangelicals must be mission; 2. Evangelicals can remain in the Church of Scotland with integrity.
Both those things are true. I don’t believe that the new group evidenced that. In fact you should rephrase the second one to Evangelicals should remain within the Church of Scotland and those who leave are betraying the cause.
– trying to maintain the position of evangelicals within the C of S. Those who have been offered a seat at the table on the understanding that they will deliver the evangelical constituency are terrified that they are going to lose their position in the pond (forgive the mixed metaphors).
David – this is harsh. I think this is passing judgement in a way that is unwarranted. I don’t think many evangelicals are particularly desirous of a seat at any institutional table.
Yes it is harsh. But it is warranted. I have been involved with this at quite a high level for some time. I won’t name individuals but this is the game that is being played. You can come and be part of the committees etc in 121 providing that you a) play the game and b) keep evangelicals on board. It is part of the political and bureaucratic structure of the C of S. I could say a lot more but I will leave it there!
If you want to see power struggles then Albert Bogle’s motion and speech at the General Assembly was a classic example. It was a clearly political power play. This was no last minute deal. Anyone who has been involved in politics knows how this works. You meet with your alleged opponent (and the supposedly neutral ‘officials’). He presents an extreme motion on one side, you come up with your compromise, he withdraws and everyone rejoices at the consensus and the ‘middle ground’. I was really puzzled why, given the incompetence of Albert’s motion, the clerk and moderator did not rule it out of order, but I suspect it was because they were in on the whole deal. In fact the spin coming from the C of S establishment afterwards made it abundantly clear that this was their angle all along. So why the politics? The whole intention was to keep evangelicals on board (who after all is going to pay for the church?). They were played in a somewhat clumsy way and they fell for it. How else do you explain evangelicals voting for a motion that allowed ministers to be in same sex partnerships? When both Stonewall and the Equality Network praise evangelicals then Augustine’s warning again applies.
Here’s another interpretation – it was pragmatism. Now you can criticise that as well. But if it was guilty of anything it was pragmatism. The accusation of wanting a seat at the table is unwarranted. What table exactly does anyone want to be a part of?
It was not pragmaticism. It was cold calculated politics that borders on the deceitful. Giving the impression that it was something that came to him last minute when it was something that was worked out well beforehand. Evangelicals were played – and the sad thing is that it was other evangelicals who did the playing. What table? The establishment – the decision making process etc.
So where does this leave us all? In a confused mess. I do not think that it is sinful to stay in the Church of Scotland. However it is sinful to stay, talk of reformation and renewal and yet not fight for it.
I think the Church of Scotland Evangelical Network is attempting to do precisely that – fight for reformation and renewal.
How? There is at yet no sign of fight. I am not a prophet but I will prophecy that most of the time will be spent fighting other evangelicals who don’t agree. There is a reason that OneKirk generally welcomed and expressed appreciation for the Perth gathering.
We must not hide behind pietism, truisms, or a distorted view of history. We really do have to get ‘stuck in’ – not in the sense of co-operate with, but rather take on, those within the Kirk who go against the Gospel. If not then the danger is that, instead of fighting those within the Kirk who oppose the Gospel, this new organisation is really going to be used to fight fellow evangelicals who are perceived as schismatics. Those who have left or will leave should be regarded as brothers not enemies, traitors or apostates.
I quite agree. And many in the Network speak of working hard to keep their relationships with those who have left, and those who have left speak of working hard to keep relationships with those who, at the moment, are staying in.
I am glad that was the case. But it was not what I was responding to – which were the public statements released and the talks on the internet.
Just as those of us who cannot in all conscience join the Church of Scotland should not regard all within it as enemies, traitors and apostates. If evangelical unity is to mean anything then it must transcend denominational boundaries.
Is it possible that this form of blogging harms the attempt at such evangelical unity?
What evangelical unity?
My fear is that the new evangelical network, whilst paying lip service to the idea of gospel unity across denominations, is in practice about putting the denomination first.
I don’t think it is, and I would like to allay that fear.
Time will tell.
I realise that there are those evangelicals who will throw up their hands in horror, talk in public about my lack of grace and demonise in private
This is the biggest reason I am going to put this up on the web – I am not going to criticise your writing in private.
No problem with that at all..
(I still have the bruises from my brethren after my earlier attempt to defend the Tron – doubtless the twelve anonymous evangelicals who sent me that letter ‘in love’ will be rejoicing in the new network!). But we do need to wake up to what is happening, be more realistic and grow up. Church politics is not the answer. Yet another evangelical network is not the answer. Yet another denomination in Scotland is not the answer. Everyone joining the Free Church is not the answer.
Open our eyes – We must look with wider eyes at what God is doing in Scotland. Whilst we are secularising faster than any nation in history, the work of the Lord is on going. Whether it is through the work of Baptists like Paul Rees in Charlotte Chapel, church planting in urban housing schemes like Mez McConnell, the wonderful work of the Trussel Trust led by Euan Gurr, Bethany Christian Trust, Banchory Evangelical Church, Smithton Free Church, Kilmallie Free Church, St Catherine’s Argyll C of S, St Columba’s Free Church, Solas CPC, the Cornhill Trust and the Tron….and many others from a wide variety of denominations (including the Church of Scotland) there is a work of God going on. I am very encouraged by the return of leaders like Dr John Nicholls from London City Mission and Dr Sinclair Ferguson to our land. I am also intrigued at the number of young men that God is raising up. Surely this is for a purpose that includes greater blessing? I note that very few of these young men currently in training are training for the ministry of the Church of Scotland. They will all be looking for places to serve. Is it not time for us to recognise that God is doing a new thing and for us all to work together in church planting, church revitalisation and church based evangelism?
Preach the Word – I have noticed that one thing some of the more extreme charismatics and the liberals have in common is that they both claim to be able to hear Gods new Word to the churches today. Of course I believe that God speaks to us through providence and circumstances and through nature. And personally I don’t doubt that He can use visions, dreams etc. He is after all God. But his special revelation is His Word. So why do we neglect it? Why do we ask, what is God saying and then ignore what He is saying? I think Peter Neilson’s sermon was a classic example of that. He gave an overall summary of Romans to show how we are to ’accept one another’. But in the context it was so filtered as to be ludicrous. It really does depend who the ‘one another’ are. Does anyone really think that Paul was suggesting that those who approve of and encourage homosexual practice should be accepted as part of the Church? Romans 1 is part of Romans and without a great deal of special pleading and twisting it is impossible to read Romans as saying to the Church of Scotland today that it should just ignore or approve of those who want to be ministers of the Word, whilst living in defiance of that Word. If evangelicals really believed that the Bible is the Word of God (rather than just ‘contained’ it), we would preach it with all our hearts and minds as if it were God speaking freshly to us today. Because it is God speaking freshly to us today. Every time we try to add to, or take away from, the Word of God we are diminishing it. We are suggesting that God got it wrong, or more likely that the early Church got it wrong and the Holy Spirit is now speaking more clearly to us today. We need to repent of this and let Scotland flourish by the preaching of the Word.
Apart from what you say about Peter Neilson, I agree.
You think Peter was right?
Pray for the New Wine – As I finished listening to the Andy’s talk on my iPhone, the next song up was ‘In Christ Alone’. My hope is not in the Free Church, or the Church of Scotland, or my own understanding and wisdom. It has to be in Christ alone. I share Kenny Borthwick’s passion for reaching out to the lost. If he can do that most effectively within the Church of Scotland I rejoice and pray that he and others like him will prosper and flourish as we work together for the Gospel. My concern is that the Church of Scotland will increasingly become chains around that mission rather than enabling the freedom of gospel ministry through and in gospel churches. I also share his concern about Gods trajectory. To me it is away from the concept of a national State church with all the trappings of civic religion in a secular society and towards a renewed New Testament style church in a post-Christian paganised culture. These are days of great threats and great opportunities. I think we have a window of opportunity in Scotland for the Gospel and for a renewed church. Its time for the new wine. And the new (or renewed) wineskins.
And that is why I need to listen to you David, because you prevent me dropping into a myopic view of ourselves, and from allowing a love of the institution to put chains around the mission. May God lead us to “one mind”.
Agreed…thanks for your input and sorry for wasting so much of your time!
Later David Added:
You state that I misrepresent views and that is your major concern. If it were true I would totally agree. There is little point in arguing against what people are NOT saying. I like to deal with what I read. Having read your comments I don’t accept that you have demonstrated any misrepresentation, with the one possible exception of the Church of Scotland Alpha and Omega which I accept is hyperbole – but the point that this new grouping is primarily about keeping evangelicals in the C of S still stands in my view. Still at least you did not accuse me of being unloving!