Tuesday, 26 May 2009

More on the church of Scotland

In my last post I asked what happens next in the Church of Scotland after the decision to uphold the induction of minister who is a practicing homosexual? What will the evangelicals do?

Here are some hints.

Willie Philips of the Tron Glasgow announced the decision to his congregation the next morning. He speaks with impressive calm and resolve and then leads the congregation in prayer. He deplores the precedent which the Church of Scotland has set. He says that they will not recognise the authority of a church court to call holy that which God has called sin. He affirms his love for Christians who struggle with homosexuality.

He also explains why they are not going to leave the Church of Scotland and gives two reasons. One reason is that they would lose an opportunity to proclaim the gospel from the building in the centre of the Glasgow. That is a claim that has some merit. I can understand that their ministry would be impaired by losing their building and their status as a congregation of the Church of Scotland. Though I wonder if it is already impaired by being part of a denomination which has moved so far from the truth.

More interesting is his claim that "the denomination is not the church". That is a theological issue which the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland will have to wrestle with. It is certainly not a classic Presbyterian view. I'd agree with him that the visible church is fundamentally congregational, but I don't think that the questions they face can be resolved simply by saying that wider denominational structures are not the church. Later on in the statement he asks the congregation to pray for the churches in the Presbytery of Aberdeen whose position is more difficult than that of the church in Glasgow. Perhaps he means that their problem is simply 'political', but it sounds as if he thinks they have a 'theological' problem. I am not sure why the problem arises at Presbytery level but not at the level of the whole church of Scotland.

He announces that there will not be an offering that Sunday since that would be an expression of fellowship with churches with which they can no longer be in fellowship. He says that the central church authorities take a percentage and I'm sure he said 80%! He says that the session will be considering further steps in the next few weeks. I assume that withholding funds is going to be a major way of protesting.

He also warns the congregation that they can expect to be criticised and mocked in the media. In the Scotsman article reporting the decision the Equality and Human Rights Commission Scotland was quoted as being "delighted" with the decision. Alyson Thomson, head of communications for the Commission described the Church of Scotland as "a modern church for a modern Scotland" which had "decided that the values of fairness, equality, dignity and respect are of more worth than those of ignorance and intolerance." So the evangelicals know where they stand in the public discourse, they are committed to "ignorance and intolerance". It underlines how out of step the evangelicals are with their socety (or at least the elites) over this issue. I'm sure there will be more to come along these lines. (I have trouble imagining an Australian government authority making a statement like this about a church decision, but perhaps I am being naieve!)

David Meredith suggests that the way forward would be for evangelicals to join the Free Church and for the Free Church to make accommodation in its worship for that.

The position in which the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland find themselves is very difficult. Let's keep praying for them and asking the Lord to give them immense wisdom and courage.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Within the Presbyterian Church of Australia theological committment to our sub-ordinate standard has seemingly been considered as a much higher order than theological committement to our polity (the Presbyterian form of church government being agreeable to the Word of God.)
There can almost be discerned some sort of pride attached to being ignorant of the responsibilities of being part of a church whose congregations are mutually accountable.
Many of us begin our pastoral careers well equipped in our understanding of the Scriptures and skilled in preaching, but have never sat through a General Assembly, or been introduced to its workings? (The same could be even true of Presbyteries) How does that make an informed subscription to ordination vows possible?
It seems there are those within the Church of Scotland with whom we share much in our understanding of the Scriptures relating to salvation. But the decision spoken about in your post is the position of someone whose ecclesiology is not Presbyterian, but Congregational.
While having sympathy for their situation, the degree to which their position, as presented in your post, is applauded by Australian Presbyterians would be indicative to me that many within the PCA hold to a view of Church government that is Presbyterian by name and independent in function.
And the failure in Scotland is a failure that stems from a collapse in their theology of government as their theology of morality.
Gary Ware.