The morning after the night before. I woke up this morning with a heavy heart and a mind incredulous at the futility of human thinking when it turns away from the Word of God. Several people have written and asked what the decision of the General Assembly to allow the ordination of people in same sex relationships means for the Church of Scotland and the church in Scotland. The BBC and others of the secular news media have reported it as an historic day in the church, when it changed forever. I think they were right.
The official line is that, as the moderator declared, âthis is a massive vote for the peace and unity of the churchâ; that this is a third way in which the two sides represented in the report of the theological commission have both conceded ground and come a position which both allows the Church of Scotland to retain its historic Christian position and yet come into the 21st Century. How has this miracle been wrought? The Assembly basically rejected the two years work of the theological commission and chose a motion made up over lunch and presented at the last minute by the former moderator, Albert Bogle and another evangelical, Alan Hamilton. The liberals who reject the Bible as the Word of God, are delighted, declaring that this is the Holy Spirit speaking through the Church. Stonewall are delighted. The self styled âEquality Networkâ are delighted. The metro elites are delighted. But many of us who love the Church of Scotland are devastated. Why? Because yesterday, and it pains me as I write this, the Church of Scotland wrote its own suicide note.
Itâs sad but in writing this I have to first genuinely affirm (insofar as that word has any meaning this morning) my desire for the Church of Scotland to flourish. I do not write with any degree of Schadenfreude, I have too many friends within the C of S for that to happen. I also spent a couple of years of my life looking at how the Free Church could come back into the Church of Scotland. We did so because we take seriously the unity of the Church. At that time we could not do so for one reason only â the attitude of the General Assembly to the Bible. That has been now come home to roost. The turning away from the Scriptures has resulted in the official mess that we are now in. Let me explain.
The General Assembly were given a clear choice by the theological commission. On the one hand there was the biblical case presented by those such as Dr Andrew McGowan which affirmed the Churches historic position not to allow those in same sex relationships to be ministers of Word and sacrament. David Randall put will perfectly âThe basis issue is whether the Church stands by the teaching of Scripture or whether we think we know betterâ. On the other there was the trajectory away from that. It was clear. I was pleasantly surprised and thought that at the very least we would get a clear decision. But then up came this compromise motion, which has managed to take the worst of both worlds, rather than the best. Despite the best efforts of men such as David Randall and women such as Fiona Cameron, who both spoke so clearly and powerfully, the General Assembly has voted to a) Affirm the historic position, practice and doctrine that those in same sex partnerships are not allowed to be ministers and b) allow those in same sex partnerships to be ministers. Only in the absurd and surreal world of church politics would this be seen as anything other than a Monty Pythonesque skit. It is a basic rule of rational thinking that A cannot be Non-A. It would have been wonderful if when Albert Bogle stated so passionately that he wanted to stand with his Greek Orthodox brethren and say that the Church of Scotland affirms the historic position, he had left it there. But instead he committed the Church of Scotland to this confused and dishonest contradiction. On the one hand the Church will say to the Greek Orthodox, we affirm the historic position that same sex relationships are wrong and therefore we do not allow our ministers to be in same sex relationships, on the other hand we do allow our ministers to be in same sex relationships. It is breath-taking nonsensical hypocrisy that makes the Church a laughing stock. It would have been better for the Church to have one chosen one position, rather than have two mutually contradictory positions.
The liberals of course are laughing all the way to the vestry. People spoke movingly of the pain that was felt by so many. Apart from the pain of those of us seeing our national Church going down the tubes and hearing John Knox turning in his grave, there was no pain. There is a reason that John Cairns withdrew his uber liberal motion, there is a reason that the Equality Network and Stonewall have welcomed a decision that in theory says that being in a homosexual partnership is sinful. That reason is that the decision is all smoke and mirrors. They recognise that the Church of Scotland AssemblyÂ doesn’tÂ mean what it says; that in reality it does not in any meaningful sense uphold the historic position, doctrine and practice. In fact it is specifically going against that position, doctrine and practice and now allows congregations to call ministers who are in sinful relationships that go against the Word of God that they are supposed to be teaching. It is as though I said to my wife, I would like to reaffirm our marriage vows and promise that I will forsake all others, but I intend to sleep around with as many others as I feel like!
Ah but, some will say, you are misrepresenting the position. You are being extremist and unkind and unloving. You donât get the nuance and the subtle balancing act. Donât you realise that this is the genius solution which will allow congregations to make their own decision? No, I donât. And it would be cruel and unkind and unloving of me to let my sister Church make such a fool of itself without saying so. The Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian church, not a church of independents. One evangelical commissioner went so far as to state that the position was âif they want to do it up there and they feel sure about it, we shouldnât stand in their wayâ. Does that apply for everything? Or is homosexuality such a special case that it is the only area where this kind of leeway is given? The Church of Scotland will not allow congregations to decide they can choose to call ministers who are atheists, racists or Jedi Knights. They will not even allow them to call Baptists. The Church of Scotland will not allow congregations to disobey Presbyteries, or to refuse to send up money to â121â. Only in this will the Church say that it officially holds to one position but grant congregations to go against that position. The Church of Scotland officially says it is against Same Sex Marriage. It is against people being appointed ministers who engage in sexual activity outside marriage, and its official position is now that those who go against its official position are welcome to become ministers and swear vows to uphold its official position. It is beyond parody.
So where do we go from here? Is it the case that as another commissioner said âGod is doing a new thing?â. No. God is doing what he has always done. Letting those who think they can do without Him and his Word, go their own sweet way. Romans 1 warns us that Gods wrath is revealed by letting us have our own way. He allows those who know him, but do not glorify him as God, nor give thanks to him, to have their thinking become futile and their foolish hearts darkened. He gives them over. They exchange the truth of God for a lie. Since they do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, they are given over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They approve those who go against what God has said is wrong. The worst thing that God can do to us, is let us have what we want and what we scheme for.
I think the shocking thing here is that we cannot blame the liberals. They were consistent, except they (laughingly) even swallowed the pill that the Church of Scotland is âofficiallyâ against homosexuality. It is the soft centre evangelicals who have put the unity of the church above the truth of the Scriptures. How on earth did that happen? I honestly think that the fear of disunity overrode any other considerations.
So where do we go from here? I doubt the Church of Scotland will split, but it will fall apart, or gently fade away. The decision yesterday means that this will come back to the Assembly in 2014 in the form of an overture, and then through the Barrier Act to 2015. So this is going to go on for another 2 years. Who has the stomach to continue the fight? I suspect very few.
Why stay? Evangelicals need to realise that they are being played as fools. When the Equality Network are rejoicing at this âcompromiseâ then you realise how much ground has been lost. The work of the commission was wiped out in one afternoon. The whole cry about unity was to ensure that evangelicals would stay in the Church â but why should they? Some of the traditional arguments no longer apply. The notion for example that the Church of Scotland is the national church and a great boat to fish from or in, has largely gone. The Church of Scotland has around 2% of the population attending its services. It continues to lose the equivalent of 100 churches per year (15,000 members) and has not offered any coherent challenge to the increasing secularisation of society â that mantel has been taken on by the Roman Catholic Church.
Loyalty to the denomination of our fathers is also a much weaker reason. Why? Because that denomination has changed. Not just decline in numbers but also increasingly change in doctrine, and as of yesterday, a diminution of Presbyterian Church government. If congregations can pick and choose whatever they want in terms of doctrine, then in what sense can there be any church discipline? And given that church discipline has always been one of the marks of the Reformed church in Scotland, is this not a fundamental change? In fact it is worse than that because it seems as though churches are being asked to accept laxity in doctrine, but nonetheless still maintain and belong to the whole bureaucracy of a centralised Church structure. We will find that our money and time is being used to support a church structure that both encourages sin and stifles evangelism and initiative.
But there are still good reasons to stay. There are ministers and others who feel a loyalty to their congregations and who know that if they leave the congregations may split, and may be left without buildings and assets. To provide pastoral care and continue to serve the congregation you have been called to is surely a good reason. It may be that in the new spirit of independency, individual congregations will be able to continue to act as Christian churches with biblical doctrine, worship and discipline, without undue interference from the centralised church courts. My fear is that with the continual decline of the church even these congregations will come under increasing pressure to give their resources to congregations and centralised structures dying from the poison of incipient liberalism. And there remains the small matter of us being at least formally Presbyterian â in which we submit to one another and to the âsuperiorâ courts of the Church.
Another good reason to stay is because even in our increasingly secular society there are still great opportunities through the parish system. Some, particularly in the housing schemes or small rural charges, will be reluctant to leave situations that on their own would be unsustainable. Those who are in established self-sufficient evangelical congregations may find it a lot easier to set up as an independent church, than those who are already in subsidized supported congregations.
Why go? Am I trying to do a Lloyd Jones and issue a clarion call to all evangelicals to come out? No. I am nowhere near the stature of Lloyd Jones and this is not 1967. But I do believe that the evangelicals have been played and that they have been outmanoeuvred. We are welcomed in the Church but only as long as we agree to play the game. The âbroadâ church needs us to provide finance and people, so that they can have a âpoolâ to fish in. Perhaps we should decide that we are no longer âplayersâ and that in contemporary Scotland we need a much more radical vision than just maintaining the remnants of a dying national church in an increasingly secular paganised culture. Even more so the reason for leaving is that the superior court of the Church is about to pass a proposal that distances us from the doctrine of the Bible and from the worldwide church. Have evangelicals really become so weak that on the one hand we can profess loyalty to the Word and will of God, but on the other we are prepared to allow others in our church to go against that Word? Is that the price of unity?
How to go? There are already individuals who have had enough and are walking away. There are other individuals and congregations who realise that the game is up and for whom the question is not âifâ but âwhenâ. Can I plead that where it is possible that congregations (or significant proportions of congregations), will leave, then people do not immediately walk away as individuals? However that does not mean that I am arguing that they should just hang on and wait for a better day. Surely it would be a better tactic for evangelicals to announce the intention to leave, unless the Assembly of 2014 or 2015 reverse the decision, and to ask if their congregations are prepared to go with them? Individual members could ask their own Kirk Sessions what their intentions are (and please donât be satisfied with the vague âwe fight onâ â ask what they are actually going to do). Ministers and Kirk Sessions could ask their congregations if they are prepared to leave. If an individual discovers that their congregation as a whole will not leave then there is not really much point in prolonging the agony. If the congregation can be persuaded and prepared then spend the next year doing that, let the wider Church know what you are doing, and if the Assembly of 2014 (or if you can stand the wait 2015) continues âthe trajectoryâ walk away weeping with your head held high, knowing that you have done what you can to prevent the church you love walking away from Christ.
Is this the death of the Church of Scotland? Perhaps. But in the Christian church we believe in resurrection. And who knows what may yet come out of the ashes?
âHear us O shepherd of Israel…
…Awaken your might; come and save us.
Restore us O God;
Make your face shine upon us,
That we may be savedâŚ
Your vine is cut down; it is burned with fire;
At your rebuke your people perish.
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
The son of man that you have raised up yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you;
Revive us, and we will call on your name.
Restore us, O Lord God Almighty;
Make your face shine upon us,
That we may be savedâ
(From Psalm 80).
(After I wrote this article I read something much better – this very moving and clear letter from Louis Kinsey, an excellent Church of Scotland minister. You can read it here -Â http://coffeewithlouis.
Humble pie time. In previous articles I was somewhat critical of the commission set up by the Church of Scotland to conduct an inquiry into the issues raised by the appointment of ministers in same sex partnerships. I thought they would achieve nothing and end up with a fudge. I was wrong. So apologies to Dr Andy McGowan and his colleagues for ever doubting their ability to get the Church of Scotland to make a clear decision. Although the report is over long and in places quite turgid, and although it offers nothing that was not known in 2011, it is quite clear in the choices that it offers the upcoming Assembly of the Church of Scotland. It is a job well done.
Let me offer a defence of the position taken by the âtraditionalistsâ, better known as the biblical position. Thatâs basically it. Itâs biblical. And no church should be advocating or proclaiming anything that is unbiblical. Indeed that is the beauty of the report. The Church of Scotland as a whole will be making a clear decision next week (unless someone attempts to come up with another fudge). Is it as a Church going to follow the biblical teaching set out in the report, or is it going to declare that the Bible is wrong and that the Church must just go along with whatever the contemporaryÂ ZeitgeistÂ is? Does the Church of Scotland wish to remain part of the Church of Christ throughout the world, or does it wish to go its own route? All the major branches of the Christian Church, through all the centuries, have held to the view that marriage is between a man and a woman, that sexÂ out-withÂ that context is wrong, and that therefore those who engaged in homosexual relationships cannot be married, or ordained to the ministry of word and sacrament. The report sets out clearly that the Assembly can choose to remain within that Church or to leave. There is no middle ground in that respect.
Despite all the best efforts of liberals and liberal evangelicals like Steve Chalke and Rob Bell, no-one has managed to come up with anything other than âits not nice/lovingâ to be against same sex marriage and homosexual partnerships. This is always stated with such authority, usually backed up by a couple of stories about nasty homophobes and nice homosexuals, that is seems unquestionable. Without rehashing all the details again, let me just question that whole premise. To go against the Makers Instructions is not loving, kind and Christlike. It is destructive, stupid and suicidal for society, church and the individual. One aspect of this that is almost delusional is the way that the more âliberalâ position is often portrayed not only as being more loving but also more radical. It is neither. What is loving about going against Christâs teaching on marriage? What is radical about meekly going along with the current trends of the ruling classes and metro-elites within Western society? What kind of radicalism will get you ostracised by polite society, banned from the BBC, shut out of many jobs and probably prosecuted? Not the liberal agenda which is promoted endlessly by the elites out-with the church, to their allies within it. Rather it is the biblical position which goes against the flow, challenges the culture and calls for a costly and radical discipleship. In this respect by the way, watch out if you are an evangelical within the C of S and the liberal trajectory continues. Right now you are wanted, but although you will not be required to obey the Bible, you will be required to obey the Assembly. One of the more chilling aspects of the report is that it calls forÂ yet another ban on Church courts, councils and committees of theÂ church discussing this until 31 May 2014.
I put aÂ question-markÂ on this one. If, and I accept it is a big âifâ, the General Assembly rejects the new âtrajectoryâ and decides to stick with the Bible, there is a great opportunity. The battle is not over, it will have just begun. The Church of Scotland needs to be reformed root and branch. Homosexuality is not the issue. Adherence to the Bible as the Word of God and the only rule of faith and life for the Church, is the crux issue. If the Assembly goes along with theÂ ZeitgeistÂ of the time then whilst I am sure that some will feel called to stay in and continue the battle, the bottom line is that the fight is over. It is difficult to see how one could remain within the C of S and continue as a Presbyterian, submitting to a Church which defies the Word of God, and yet at the same time submitting to the God whose Word it is. Doubtless some will square the circle by becoming de facto independents and will do a good job looking after their flocks, but surely even they must realise that the game would be up. Perhaps we all need to recognise the new situation. Christendom has gone. Christian Scotland has gone. Welcome to the Brave New World of a secular Scotland, in theory diverse and pluralistic, in practice governed by a ruling secular metro-elite.
The concept of a national State Church has gone. The concept of the Church of Scotland as a national church of any description is rapidly disappearing into the history books. The Assembly reports that membership has fallen another 15,000 in the past year (thatâs equivalent to 100 churches closing in the year) and is now down to 403,000. Some estimate that fewer than 125,000 people actually attend a Church of Scotland on a regular basis. A church which has only 2% of the population attending it, cannot claim in any sense to be the national church, never mind the only game in town. The remnant trappings of civic religion, and the applause of the liberal elites for accepting their agenda, are no substitute for the church being the pillar and foundation of the truth.
I read today Muriel Armstrong, a former editor of Life and Work and an elder of the Kirk, making a plea in the Herald, both for the Assembly to go the liberal route and, in a case of wanting to have her cake and eat it, also urging the evangelicals to remain â âTo the evangelical wing of the Kirk I would say go if you will be happier and you think it will further the Gospel of Christ in the world. To those of you within that grouping whose Christian faith allows you to be gracious to those who interpret the Gospel in more so-called liberal ways, please stayâ we need your contribution of preaching and pastoral care. Who knows, you may yet be led to change your mind on this particular issue.â Once again theÂ patronisingÂ tone of liberalism is set out â if you are gracious, tolerant and open-minded you will stay, and if you have any sense at all, you will overcome your prejudices and come to see the liberal light. But her first sentence is spot on. Evangelicals who stop fishing within the Titanic and instead get on with fishing in the wider ocean of society will find that they will be much happier and the cause of Christ will prosper.
If I was a prophet, which I am not, I would suggest that what will happen if the Church of Scotland Assembly does not change the trajectory, is that only a handful of churches will leave (not the 50 suggested in the press). Most evangelical ministers will stay because they will not be able to take either their congregations or their buildings with them. However many individuals will leave and the decline in the C of S will be accelerated. I suspect that most people know that and that this past couple of years have not really been about deciding what trajectory to take (that was done and dusted some time ago) but rather seeking how many evangelicals can be persuaded to stay.
This is of course not just about the Church of Scotland. Those of us out-with (especially in the Free Church) might be tempted to indulge in some Schadenfreude. But that would be both ignorant and self-defeating. We have our own problems to deal with as well. Evangelical Christians are far too divided â especially evangelical Presbyterians. It is almost beyond parody that some who will leave the Church of Scotland will find it so impossible to have the prejudices of the past, the intransigence of the present and the fears of the future (on all sides) overcome, that yet another Presbyterian denomination in Scotland will be set up. I understand why some cannot and will not join the Free Church, but another Presbyterian denomination in Scotland? Please. I think I would just remain independent rather than go through the whole rigmarole of setting up a new denomination in Scotland which will probably end up having an âecumenical relationsâ committee to cultivate Christian unity!
It is all very frustrating but hopefully in the future we will be able and prepared to work together for the sake of the Gospel. At the end of the day what really matters is that we have good biblical churches in every community in Scotland â whatever the denomination.
What about the Free Church Assembly?
I suspect it will be a quiet Assembly. The Free Church has major financial and structural difficulties, but overall the Church is in as good heart as I have seen it in 27 years of ministry. There are several new initiatives, churches that are growing and new church plants beginning. The key issue for the Free Church Assembly is to get the College sorted. It is very weak and struggling to get students, funding and to provide what the church needs. At a time when ICC in Glasgow is downsizing and other theological colleges are struggling, it may seem that now is the time for the Free Church College to restructure and reduce its expenditure considerably. Is it insane to suggest that we should do the opposite? At a time when the Church in Scotland is faced with turmoil and we need to train more church planters, ministers, elders, deacons, youth workers and evangelists, in order to take the opportunities available in a failing secular humanist culture; now is the time for a radical root and branches reform for the College. The choice of principal, a change of curriculum, renaming, involvement of other churches, co-operation with HTC and other European seminaries, training missionaries (both out-with and within Scotland) and bringing in other lecturers are all essential. Otherwise the College would be as well closing. The Free Church could certainly not afford to keep it going. In a sense the Free Church College is analogous for the whole Church. We either retrench and huddle up hoping for revival, or we seize the day and, together with other biblical churches, get on with the task of revitalising and replanting the hundreds of churches that Scotland so desperately needs.
Whatever I am assured of this â the Lord will build his Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her.
David Robertson â Dundee, May 15th 2013]]>
(A popular rhyme at the time of 1843 Disruption)
The Tron situation has moved on. And we need to move on too. But because of the importance of what has happened in recent days and what it reveals about the state of the Church in Scotland today, I want to continue to examine what has been going on. I do so with a great deal of trepidation not least because of my own inabilities, lack of knowledge and sin.
There are many reasons for not going here again but I simply feel constrained to do this because there is so much gossip and misinformation that I believe it is now essential to set out the situation as it now is. Again I am very open to new information, correction and rebuke. I do not intend to write on this situation again but if there are any corrections that need to be made, or anything I write that is wrong let me know and I will make sure they are corrected. The following is based upon press reports, press releases from the Church of Scotland and the Tron, and personal correspondence from a number of people.
For those who are not yet aware, one of the main evangelical congregations in the Church of Scotland, St Georges Tron, decided to leave the Church of Scotland after the denomination had agreed to accept ministers who were in same sex relationships. In October the Glasgow presbytery voted to remove the congregation from the Tron building that had recently been refurbished at a cost of ÂŁ3.1 million. They also voted to evict the minister, Dr William Phillip from the church manse. The congregation were preparing to leave the building on December the 9th when things took a somewhat nasty, if not surprising turn. The Wednesday before this the prayer meeting of the congregation attended by 100 people was interrupted by Messengers at Arms who on the instruction of the Church of Scotland, removed the minister from addressing the meeting, and served him with a citation demanding that various items such as the organ, hymn books etc. be handed over to 121 George Street. The following day the same citation was again served on the minister and his wife at their home. On Sunday December the 9th the congregation held their last meeting in a packed church and that evening held their first service (again packed) in the Bath Street Halls. Since then both sides have given their point of view.
The âOfficial View
The Church of Scotland released a couple of press releases including background for journalists who might not know the relevant facts. It is pretty damning stuff. The Church of Scotland only engaged in this reaction reluctantly. It only acted the way it did because it was clear that property belonging to the church was illegally being removed from the building. In addition to this the Church felt compelled to write to the Charities regulator OSCR, raising a number of concerns about the action of various persons whilst they were still trustees of St Georges Tron; in particular the charge that many assets of the congregation, including a large sum of money, âmayâ have been transferred from the congregation to a separate trust called the Epaphras Trust. The Church was especially disappointed because it is still owed ÂŁ1 million by the Tron.
In addition to these charges the press release asserted that they had only taken action because of the lack of co-operation from the Tron. And that they were set on establishing a new evangelical congregation in the Tron building. The background notes helpfully pointed out that the Church of Scotland has taken no legal action against the Tron; that they are willing to negotiate about the occupation of the Manse (but not to hand it over to the Tron); that the Messengers at Arms did not âstormâ (the word used by the Tron) the prayer meeting but had a amiable discussion outwith the meeting; and repeats the claim that the Tron owe ÂŁ1 million and that the Church of Scotland has gone the extra mile.
There it is. Theft, fraud, failure to pay debts and intransigence. Little wonder that the Church of Scotland had to act. Except, as we keep being reminded, there are two sides to every story. So I decided to investigate both.
The Tronâs View
The Tron denies all of these charges and whilst not necessarily endorsing every action or decision taken by the Tron (I always find it amazing that, because of the personalisation of everything, people think that you either agree with everything or nothing), I have to say that the truth is quite shocking. It is not just that there has been enough spin to make Alastair Campbell dizzy, but that there has been a great deal of what in parliamentary language is called âbeing economical with the truthâ and what if the Tron were so inclined, could be called libel. In fact the Church of Scotland communications department has clearly developed ecumenical press relationships with Pravda! Lets just go through the main facts:
1) The ÂŁ1 million owed. This consists of ÂŁ500,000 of a building loan and an alleged similar sum in unpaid contributions. As regards the charge is that the congregation owed the money because of the percentage âtaxâ system operated by the central funds. The only trouble with this allegation is that it is false. The congregation more than paid their way (they were in the top 25% of givers for the whole Church of Scotland). The âunpaidâ contributions is not money the Tron had, that was given for central funds, it is what â121â (the administrative centre) wanted. The Tron could not give what they did not have. They did set up a separate fund called the Epaphras fund that was used to fund local workers and city outreach. There was nothing illegal or wrong with this. In fact it was a wise move designed to enable the multi-ministries of the congregation to continue. What is important to note here is that this fund was set up in the time of Sinclair Ferguson with the approval of the Glasgow Presbytery. If I were a member of the Tron I would not have given to the congregation unless I had been assured that my money would not be used to fund works that I regarded as unbiblical. There would be a concern if money which people had given for the Church of Scotland was then transferred without their knowledge or support to another organisation (incidentally in St Peters we quite often give money to other organisations which share our aims â otherwise there would be no missionary support and goodbye to donations to Tear Fund, SU, Bethany and UCCF!), but I have been assured by the minister that this did not happen and that he in fact welcomes OSCR looking into the finances so that some of the rumours can be dealt with. It says a great deal when a Christian minister would prefer to be investigated by a government department, rather than the church!
The second charge is even more astonishing. The refurbishment of the building cost ÂŁ3.1 million. The Tron took a loan of ÂŁ750,000 from the Trustees and paid the rest themselves. They had paid back ÂŁ250,000 of this, and were on track to pay back the remaining ÂŁ500,000 by the agreed date of 2015. To now claim that they are guilty of not paying back ÂŁ500,000 and imply that somehow they are guilty of fraud is about as illogical and Alice-in-Wonderland as you can get. Itâs like having the bank foreclose on your mortgage, take back the property and then accuse you of theft because you no longer continue to pay the mortgage for a property you no longer own! If the Church of Scotland wanted to have the ÂŁ500,000 back then all they had to do was sell the building to the Tron. To take back the building and insist that the congregation should have continued to pay for it, is really beyond parody. To issue a press release saying that the congregation owe ÂŁ1 million is just simply a lie. In fact if the Church of Scotland really believes what it says about the need for retaining the building, they would do the honourable and just thing and give the congregation that has left, the ÂŁ2.6 million they have spent on the building. Instead they not only take the building, refuse to compensate the congregation for what they have spent, but have the nerve to claim that the congregation owe them ÂŁ1 million!
2) Refusal to negotiate â The Tron deny this. Willie Philip writes
âWe had hoped for a peaceful and amicable exit, like other denominations offer in similar circumstances, and we made numerous attempts to engage constructively so that all outstanding issues relating to the building and finance could be resolved. Regrettably all we have faced is contempt and hostility throughout every step of this process whether that be freezing our bank accounts so we can’t use our own money, or launching civil court actions against individual members of the congregation.â
In fact the Tron were prepared to pay the ÂŁ500,000 they still owed the Trustees and to pay an additional sum to buy the building. The C of S did not want to do that â and it cannot have been for financial reasons. In refusing the Tronâs offer it has cost and will cost the denomination millions. As well as taking on the ÂŁ500,000 loan and refusing a large sum to buy the building â they have now advertised for a ÂŁ39,000 per year minister who they want to support with a âteamâ. What all members of the C of S should be asking is why the denomination is planning to close 30 churches in Glasgow because of falling numbers and finance and yet spend a couple of million seeking to establish a new congregation in the Tron building, when the old one could have continued, albeit outwith the Church of Scotland? Does this better serve the Gospel and the Kingdom? Or is it not the truth that this is a case of denominational politics seeking to serve as a warning to any others who might be contemplating the same thing? And how frustrating is it for the Kingdom that money and time is being wasted in this way? Imagine you are in a Church of Scotland in a Glasgow housing estate (a work by the way that the Church of Scotland has often done very well) and you have been told that your church has to close (along with many others) because the denomination can no longer afford it. And then you hear that the denomination is prepared to spend a couple of million to try and fill a building which already had a good congregation doing a good work! What would you feel?
There really are no winners in this. The Tron have lost ÂŁ2.6 million of their own money (much of it given sacrificially), the Church of Scotland because of its intransigence has lost ÂŁ1 million (the ÂŁ500,000 loan that the new non-existent congregation now has to take on plus the money that the Tron would have paid â taking their total investment up to ÂŁ3.6 million) and is going to lose a lot more. The rhyme at the start of this article seems so appropriate.
Again from Willie Phillip –
“The Church of Scotland has chosen confrontation over compromise and persecution over peace. Our lawyers have told us that they have never in all their career come across such aggressive and unreasonable dealings in any dispute, and that whatever such behaviour is, it is anything but Christian. Hearing that I felt utterly ashamed for the Church of Scotland, and the many decent people in the pews who would be shocked at what is being done in their name.â
3) Lets talk about the storming. Of course the language used is hyperbolic. It does not mean that the storm troopers of the Messengers at Arms abseiled down the steeple and burst in through the doors with their machine guns at the ready! But to have Messengers at Arms appear at your prayer meeting, without warning and demand that you come out of the meeting to face them is not exactly pleasant – Perhaps again Mr. Philip describes it best.
“It is shameful. Having law officers disrupt a church meeting and intimidate a church is something we associate with China or former Soviet dictatorships but is the last thing we expected from the so-called national church. My family is now living in fear that the Manse will be stormed in the same way to force us out of our home onto the street before Christmas. It is horrible.â
This is the nub of the case. The Church of Scotland sent law officers to disrupt a prayer meeting. It was not as their press release states âan amicable meetingâ. Again amazing how they can send out a press release when there was no one from the Church of Scotland there. Instead lets hear the witness from a couple who were and wrote this account to the Herald newspaper â
âAs we arrived at the meeting we saw two men who were clearly not there for the meeting, who were asking to speak to a number of people, and handing over some papers. One member of the congregation, who was helping an elderly and frail lady negotiate the ice and snow outside to get into the building, was stopped from proceeding into the meeting so that this member could be spoken to and given papers.
About 15 minutes into the meeting, our minister was forced to leave the meeting to also receive papers from these two men. We then became aware that the Church of Scotland had instructed these men (Messengers-at-Arms) to serve a court action on a number of individuals, and must have told them to do so at the time of the church prayer meeting. It would have been possible for the Church of Scotland to serve this action at a different time, but our view they intended â and succeeded in â intimidating the members of the congregation, some of whom are frail and vulnerable. Our minister was visibly shaken.
The whole meeting was aware of the disruption and, when told what it was about, felt shocked and intimidated; some of more vulnerable members were frightened. Our Iranian members who were there were particularly troubled, having fled Iran to avoid this type of intimidation and persecution. It was utterly disgraceful.
We understand the purpose of the papers was to prevent us from removing items from our church building when we are evicted â items we have bought over the past few years with our own money â chairs to sit on, the organ, our Bibles and so on. The Church of Scotland is currently closing 30 churches in Glasgow, and already has 17 churches for sale. It has ample supplies of the very items it is seeking to snatch from us. Why would it want to prevent us from having chairs, Bibles and hymnbooks? The Kirk is already taking our building, with ÂŁ2.6 million of investment which we have paid for.
We can only conclude that the Church of Scotland hierarchy is using every method at its disposal to destroy the work of St George’s Tron, and damage both the health, and the reputations, of its leaders. Shame on them.â
From these and other accounts I have pieced together the series of unfortunate events. After receiving a series of anonymous letters (notice how the pattern of anonymous letters keeps repeating itself) accusing the Tron of being about to trash the place, 121 decided to send in the law to make sure that hymn books and other things were not being removed. The fact that the law officers turned up at exactly the time of the prayer meeting is to say the least very suspicious (unless they make a habit of attending prayer meetings). The minister continued the prayer meeting and left others to deal with the law officers, but because they threatened to go to his house and wait there until he returned he had to leave the meeting and deal with them. What is also intriguing is that the Tron had received a number of calls from journalists for several days beforehand asking about the ânew legal actionâ being raised against them. Who tipped them off?
The legal action itself was to prevent anything being moved from the building â none of which was paid for by the denomination, and much of which was owed by the Epaphras Trust â the independent trust that is used to pay the evangelists and city workers who have been doing such an effective work with the Tron. The whole thing comes across as intimidating and petty.
This was repeated the following day. Rebecca the ministers wife had the horrible experience of the Messengers at Arms turning up at the Manse to serve exactly the same papers as had been served the night before. I know how bad this was for Willie because when he phoned me afterwards he was still shaking. The whole thing had got to him. Matters were made worse when during the phone call he had to rush off because a photographer and journalist had come into his garden. And yet the C of S communications department say that it was all âamicableâ.
For other accounts and the BBC news clip have a look at the following:
4) Whilst the press release from the Church of Scotland is less than careful in its accusations about the Tron and its language, they are very careful in justifying their own actions stating that âno legal action has been taken to force the former congregation out of the St Georges Tron buildingâ. That is sophistry of the worst sort and certainly did not fool the press. Of course formal legal action had not been taken, but it had been threatened. The congregation was actually preparing to move without that action â although 121 were not to know this they were planning to move on December the 9th anyway. But it is sadly typical of the ânewspeakâ that the press department uses when they issue a statement like this (even more so when you realize that in this statement they are also accusing the Tron of financial dishonesty!).
Let me add one more thing about the Tronâs view. Although it has clearly been tough (especially for the leadership) I hear very little bitterness in their responses (both public and private) instead the overwhelming emotions seem to be ones of sorrow and hope. They are now free to get on with what God has called them to do and be. I hope that the desire for self-justification and revenge will not result in a continuing campaign of vilification, innuendo and court action against them.
Let me also say in conclusion that this is not just a simple case of evangelical vâs non-evangelical. Some non-evangelicals I know have been appalled at the way this has been handled considering both unchristian and incompetent. To send in the bailiffs on the basis of anonymous letters when the congregation were about to slip quietly away anyway, thus resulting in headline news and a plethora of bad publicity, was to say the least incompetent. To then put out a press release that came across as petty, threatening and vindictive was even worse. In PR terms it has been a disaster for the Church of Scotland and one entirely of their own making. And some evangelicals have not exactly covered themselves in glory either â amazing how anonymous letters and absurd justifications have come from some in this group as well (see the appendix). And let us not forget that it was an evangelicals name on the court order, and an evangelical who signed the notorious press release.
All in all it is a mess. And one sadly that has been coming for a long time. I would however like to end on a positive note. I said earlier that there were no winners in this. Maybe that is wrong. Maybe the winners in this will be those who hear and believe the Gospel because they hear it from a revitalised and renewed church â one set free from the shackles of church politics and press releases, and released to get on with the work that God has called us too. I believe that God is shaking up his church in Scotland and that this is part of it. This shaking is not for our destruction but rather for our up building. I believe that the Tron will flourish and grow under the blessing of God. And it may be that a new church in the old building might also flourish and grow with biblical preaching (it was interesting that when I asked Willie about this he said his attitude was that of Paul in Philippians â that he would rejoice wherever Christ was preached, even if the motives were to cause him harm!). Doubtless there are faults and wrongs on all sides (although in saying this please note that I am not advocating the new doctrine of equality in which people piously state that we are all âequally sinners and because we are all to blame then in effect no-one is to blameâ) , but the stance that the Tron has taken in an increasingly militant and fundamentalist secularist hostility towards the Gospel, is one that all of us one day will have to take. We too need to hear the cry to stand, and do no other. Whatever the denomination (or non-denomination) we belong to, let us all seek to stand together for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Appendix: Evangelical Excuses.
I have heard a number of justifications from evangelicals that to my mind just completely muddy the water. Others have of course used them but what astounds me is the extent to which some evangelicals seem prepared to join in the attack. Of course others have acted in a more honourable manner â take as an example this excellent blog by Louis Kinsey – http://coffeewithlouis.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/an-independent-inquiry-is-needed-over-the-matter-of-the-presbytery-of-glasgow-and-the-tron-church/
For a number of years I have been uncomfortable with the term âevangelicalâ. It sounds good but I am increasingly confused as to what is actually means. The evangel is of course the Gospel, the Good News. An evangelical is a Christian who lives, believes and communicates the Good News. And there was my first problem â surely every Christian does that, and if they do not in what meaningful sense can they be called a Christian? But evangelical has been used in the past couple of hundred years to refer to those Christians who would hold to the centrality of the Bible, the centrality of the Cross-, the necessity of evangelism and evangelical good works. Many churches would call themselves evangelical; numerous inter-denominational organisations such as Tear Fund, SU, and UCCF are evangelical. So what is the problem?
Money, Money, MoneyâŚ
The main difficulty is that I donât wish to be identified with a lot of people and groups that call themselves evangelical. As I write this I have just been reading about another one of these TV evangelicals â The pastor with as couple of private jets â expanding his domain in the UK. I watch people attending his kind of church and feel ill. I donât think that he is my âbrother in Christâ â just because he holds to evangelical doctrine and calls himself an evangelical. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2220833/Laughing-private-jet–93m-pastor-accused-exploiting-British-worshippers.html
This is very similar to most of what I see on God TV. I watch it not for personal edification but with the kind of fascination one watches a train wreck in slow motion. Missions Week seems to have lasted a year; the preachers (from Joyce Meyer through to Benny Hinn) vary from ShowTime celebrities to the completely heretical â united not by Christ but simply a desire for money. They are âevangelicalsâ and I am not supposed to criticise them â but to be honest I find their money grabbing showmanship in the name of Christ, totally nauseating.
But then even in writing that I am aware of something else amongst those of us who style ourselves as evangelicals which really is off-putting- judgementalism. Are evangelicals not the people who spend most of our time thanking God that we are not like other people? That is of course an overstated caricature but there are elements of truth within it. The first time I had the dreadful experience of thinking that I just did not want to belong to the people of God, was in my own church, the Free Church. We had a dreadful decade in the 1990s. It almost destroyed the denomination and at a personal level it almost finished me. The details are not necessary but let me share one example. I attended a Church committee meeting where papers were solemnly handed out and we were informed that they had to be returned. The papers were numbered and we were instructed not to repeat anything in them or what went on at this private meeting. All of that was fair enough. It was a delicate issue we were dealing with and I thought it of course made sense to stress that we would not gossip about it, although the numbered papers did seem to be a little over the top. Later that evening I was getting a lift home with a couple of men, one of whom had not been at the meeting. The other man spent much of the journey recounting what had happened at the meeting, what was in the papers and how they were going to âgetâ the person being discussed. He was the person who had been stressing in the meeting how we were to keep things private! The hypocrisy was breath taking. When I got home and lay in my bed I was unable to sleep, because I realised that this kind of behaviour was perhaps more common than I had thought and it was being done in the name of Christ. And it is only one example of the politics, pettiness, and power grabbing which I though I had left behind when I was no longer involved in the smoke-filled rooms of Labour party politics.
Speaking of politics, I have never really understood the association of evangelical Christianity with right-wing politics. I was kind of used to the opposite point of view (âJesus was the first socialistâ) â but have always thought that whilst the Gospel has profound political and social effects, it is not a political program and we should never equate the bible with one form of 21st century politics. But sadly the American church in particular seems to have confused the fact that Christianity has had a major influence in the USA, with the non-fact that the USA equals Christianity. Evangelicalism in particular has become a powerful, if not the most powerful, force in American politics. Thatâs why evangelicals have been so quick to grab on to the likes of Dinesh DâSouza who despite not being an evangelical nonetheless ticks all the boxes when it comes to the Culture Wars and right wing politics. Evangelicalism then runs the danger of being seem more as a political movement than a movement to spread the Good News. The Good News is not that America is great. It is not even that Christianity is great. It is that God is great, that we are sinful and that in his great love he has sent his Son to live, die and rise for us. God so lovedâŚ.is the Good News.
When I read Billy Grahamâs biography I was (and remain) so impressed with him. I was however more than a little surprised that much of the initial funding for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association came from a funder whose aim was not so much to spread the Gospel, but who saw the Gospel as a bulwark against communism. I was reminded of this when I saw that, after a visit from Mitt Romney, the BGEA removed from its website a reference to the Mormons as a cult. Is preventing President Obama getting a second term really so important that the Gospel has to be compromised?
Comfortable Middle Class
Another thing that I have noticed over the years is that whilst I am told in the Bible that the gospel is good news for the poor, it does seem to be particularly popular amongst the middle class. Is that correct? Is that a wrong impression? If true there could be many reasons for it. One I have often heard is that once you are converted then your lifestyle improves and you become better educated, more socially mobile and thus by implication more middle class. The problem with that of course is that it is partially true. Here is my fear â we are far more influenced by our culture than we would like to admit. In particular our culture is an increasingly atomised one wherein we can choose the people we want to be with, and (if we have the money) where we would like to live, the schools we go to etc. What happens in the church is often just an extension of that. Forgetting that the Gospel breaks down barriers we end up creating churches which are gatherings of PLUS (People Like Us). Sometimes we even justify this in terms of mission. I have been in what are effectively âwhites onlyâ churches as I have been in âblacks onlyâ churches. I have been in âHighlandâ churches and âEnglishâ churches. And I have been in lots of evangelical churches which are gathered congregations of people who are mainly middle class. They are the ones who can afford the separate buildings, extra staff etc. It was a problem that Thomas Chalmers foresaw when he gave his six lectures on the establishment of religion. He realised that a completely âvoluntaryâ system would result in a situation where the wealthier suburbs of our cities would have a plethora of denominations to choose from, whereas the poorer areas would struggle to have a church at all. Let me put it another way â is the Holy Spirit really calling lots of people to plant churches in St Andrews and central Edinburgh, but not Paisley, Methil and Kilmarnock?
My problem with all of this is that whilst evangelicals pay lip service to the gospel being good news for the poor (and love to hear stories of work in Africa, or that foreign country called the past), in reality we are too busy and too pre-occupied with our own lifeâs, to allow our churches to become that Good News. Church is where we are fed, where our families are looked after and where we are comforted by the knowledge that our church is doing well and growing. I was in Dundee 18 years before one middle class evangelical family started attending St Peters. I heard the same story many times â people liked the teaching, they were not too keen on the worship but the primary reason for not coming was that we did not provide enough for their children and circumstances. The consumerist mentality combined with a false application of the teaching about grace and a very âmeâ centred self-sufficiency has wrought havoc with the whole idea of churches being missions announcing, living and sharing good news through thick and thin with all, but especially to the poor.
So for all these reasons I have begun to question whether I really want to be called an evangelical. The word has become either too meaningless or too tainted. Anyway I was thinking all of this when the recent storm in evangelicalism within the Church of Scotland came to light, and it has caused me to reflect even more. I am not going to go over the whole scenario again but on the basis of the responses I have received let me make the following observations about the state of evangelicalism within the Church of Scotland.
The Tribes of Evangelicalism
There is no such thing as an evangelical movement within the C of S. I am not saying that all true evangelicals either have left or should leave the Church of Scotland. There are many fine bible-believing Christians within the Church of Scotland, probably far more than in any other denominational or non-denominational grouping within Scotland. What I am saying is that there is no one movement, no one grouping. Evangelicals within the C of S are divided, confused and sadly lacking leadership. Because of that many people are really hurting and drifting. And yet there are many fine leaders. So why is there such confusion and division? I donât know the answers but perhaps the following might at least be a partial explanation.
Different understandings of what the church is (ecclesiology) combined with different personal and pastoral experiences have resulted in conflicting visions. On the basis of 26 years of interacting with C of S evangelicals, reading the various histories and to a greater degree or other working with evangelicals of many different hues, I would suggest that the following are the main âtypesâ of evangelical ecclesiology within the C of S. I apologise for the generalisations and labels and I realise that many people will not fit in exactly with these groupings but bear with me.
The National Covenanted Church Evangelicals â these are men and women who sincerely believe that ultimately the Church of Scotland is the only realistic show in town. This is a deeply ingrained point of view most explicitly expressed by Andrew McGowan at a gathering of evangelical ministers in Inverness. http://sermons.invernesseast.com/21-46-post-assembly-meeting-19th-august-2011.mp3 In this extraordinary sermon Dr McGowan attacks the notion of denominations and extols the virtues of a national church. I say extraordinary because of the well meaning but totally unrealistic views of the state of the church in Scotland today. Dr McGowan believes that no door in the parish is closed to the parish minister, and that the establishment protects the parish minister from political correctness! He teaches that the Church in Calvinâs day was a 1,000 times worse than the Church of Scotland today. That the Church of Scotland is not a broad church and that the evangelicals in the Church are increasing all the time and getting closer to the âtipping pointâ where they will take over the church. To Dr McGowan in terms of evangelising the nation of Scotland, the Church of Scotland is really the only game in town. To leave is to commit the sin of schism, to do the work of the devil and to delay by ten years the coming takeover. Evangelicals who are waiting for the decision of 2013 or 2014 (or 2025) are wrong â whatever happens evangelicals must not leave.
The Charismatics â There are a number of ministers who have welcomed and experienced charismatic renewal and feel that they can best serve and bring the gospel in their communities through the parish churches which they serve. They hang fairly loose to the idea of a national church and are generally much happier to work with people of different denominations, notably through CLAN, which may yet with all its faults turn out to be really significant in the re-evangelisation of Scotland. In general there is a sense of looking for spiritual renewal and a fairly hang loose attitude towards denominations. This group are much less likely to leave.
The Independents â These are people who operate like the Australian Anglican evangelicals, regarding the denomination as little more than a property manager, and acting as de facto independents within it. There tends to be a strong emphasis on bible teaching and subsequent practice and an emphasis on building up an evangelical congregation. The difficulty with this position is that it is harder to be a congregationalist in a centralised Presbyterian set up than it is in the Anglican order. It is for that reason that this group is likely to provide most of the churches if not people who will leave the Church of Scotland. And one suspects that they will not be keen to join up with other Presbyterian groups â given their understandable fear of what they perceive to be centralised bureaucracies.
The Traditionalists â Again I am not using this in a derogatory manner. By traditionalist I mean people who have been brought up in the Church of Scotland tradition and who, as believers want to serve and love the people in and through that church. It is the church of their fathers and of their communities and congregations. Their emphasis tends to be strongly pastoral. To leave the Church of Scotland would be for them almost an abandonment of their flocks as they suspect (probably rightly) that many of their flocks will not come and that they will not be able to take their buildings. In general they are not of the view that they ought to stay whatever, but they do want to be more cautious.
These groupings are not formal or even informal groups but they do reflect particular ecclesiologies. The attributes I have suggested of national vision, parish ministry, Spirit-filled, Bible teaching and pastoral care can be stretched across the various styles and groups.
The trouble is that we are all sinners and that personalities and politics come into all of this. Maybe there is an historical residue of the clan system whereby we often act in a tribalistic manner â seeking only what is best for our tribe. And we are all inclined to the tyranny of the immediate rather than looking to the longer-term outwith our own particular boundaries. For the National Church people the real opposition is not the liberals but rather those evangelicals who may be tempted to leave. Their aim is not really to counter the false teaching about sexuality (although they do want to do that) but rather to prevent other evangelicals from leaving. For the Independents they too have a mentality which de facto results in them too often perceiving the battle as against other evangelicals. They see the fight against the liberals as being already lost and therefore in order to justify their leaving, the temptation is to attack those who intend to stay as at best naĂŻve, and at worst compromisers of the Gospel. And many are just simply fed up and discouraged and want to be left in peace to get on with the work God has called them to. I am sure that there are others who are confused, spiritually backslidden and who have lost confidence in the Gospel as well as those who are arrogant, self confident and certain they, and they alone have the answers. There are some who are experiencing great blessing, spiritual renewal and the power of Word and Spirit in their ministry. And most of us probably have a mixture of almost contradictory experiences and emotions. Such is the nature of biblical ministry in modern Scotland.
The Elephant in the Room
The responses I have received to my two earlier articles as well as many others over the past few years have convinced me that there are major problems within the evangelical movement in the Church of Scotland â not least the lack of integrity, the lack of reality, and a lack of maturity. Now I have to be really careful here. The trouble is that far too many people do not read what is being said and instead read what they want to hear or even what they do not want to hear, but rather to condemn. I repeat again that there are many fine evangelicals within the Church of Scotland and equally the comments I make here apply to my own âpureâ denomination and others as well. Plus what makes things more complicated is that both good and bad exist within the same groups as they do in individuals. I donât want to focus just on the bad but we must face up to this and deal with it.
Lack of Reality â So much of this discussion seems to be taking place at an unreal level. It seems to me to be a fantasy world â at all levels. Those who think that leaving the Church of Scotland will create a brave new world where they will be free from previous restraints and sins are to my mind equally as guilty as those who think that by staying they are going to usher in the new reformation. Of course the vast majority of people donât go to either of these extremes but there are temptations. I think the biggest and most dangerous fantasy of all is to think that somehow we can rescue Christendom in Scotland and maintain the concept of a national established Protestant Reformed church. We may maintain the concept but only as a concept. The reality is that that battle for Christendom has long been lost. Even non-evangelicals like Harry Reid recognise this- writing in The Herald on 23rd October 2012 he stated – âMy ideas were predicated on the notion that the Kirk was and should continue to be the national Church of Scotland. Candidly, I now wonder whether it has the energy, the will and the resources to fulfil that role. Perhaps, more realistically, it should be a loose federation of congregations, engaged and committed at local level. Some of these congregations, big and small, can and will achieve much. Right now, as a national body, the Kirk cannot cohere. It has lost its way. It can’t even speak to the people of Scotland any more; the Catholic Church is much better at that.â
We have to face up to our new circumstances. Rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic, or fighting over which lifeboat to get into, is not where we should be at. Itâs time to build a new boat.
Lack of Maturity â This astounds me. I have always assumed that Christians should be able to disagree passionately, openly and freely without personalising everything and taking everything personally. But that does take a certain degree of maturity. I have lost count of the number of people who have written, phoned, and even visited to warn me that lots of âevangelicalsâ were hurt by my remarks. I can understand that people disagree. I can understand that people are angry, disappointed or surprised at my ignorance. But hurt? What was there to hurt? The language of hurt is increasingly being used to stifle debate and to prevent discussion. It allows the one who is hurt, or even better the person who wants to be the nice guy and speak on behalf of those who are hurt, to dismiss the arguments of the person who does the âhurtingâ, because anyone who hurts is nasty. It is the immaturity of the child crying âI donât like you, youâre not niceâ. It is the evangelical equivalent of Section 5 â the British law that makes it a potential crime to say anything that could possibly offend someone. Yes â sometimes we all (myself especially) use language that is at times too robust. And yes we can all be wrong (again especially yours truly). But please donât try to kill of any discussion by playing the hurt card. It is a sign of childish immaturity and we should be beyond that.
Another aspect of immaturity is when everyone is forced into taking sides. There are those who think I have become a mouthpiece for the Tron â receiving all my information from one side and ignoring anything from the other. I donât know how many times I have heard the old âthere are two sides to every storyâ, usually said in a knowing tone. Itâs rubbish. At least in this case. There are far more than two sides! And the strange thing is I find myself believing people from many different âsidesâ. It is a question of perspective. I wrote my articles because I was fed up of the rumours, innuendo and pettiness I was hearing and I greatly admire the work the Tron is doing. Despite lots of accusations of my not knowing the facts â not one person has provided me with something that was not already known â either for or against â with one exception which I mention below. Itâs not a playground fight. And we donât have to pick sides. I wrote what I knew and I stand by it. I think it is shameful that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the behaviour of the Tron, Christians are going to court against Christians and a vibrant and biblical work is being undermined and attacked by Christians. And it is unbelievable that people think this is somehow excusable.
Having said that I do have to genuinely apologise for any who have been hurt by any remarks I have made. That was not the intention. I am after all supposed to speak in love.
Lack of Integrity âIf we speak, we are indeed to speak in love, not with the intention of hurting or wounding. But we are to speak the truth in love. We are to be honest and not say one thing in public and another in private. It is one thing to be wrong or mistaken. It is another to cover up, deceive or even lie. As I stated in the previous articles it is not good to be an evangelical with evangelicals and something else with others. I got in a lot of trouble for suggesting that there might be those evangelicals with a degree of schadenfreude about the Tron situation and even those who might be glad to see the action being taken. How dare I say that? The irony is that there are plenty of evangelicals who believe that other evangelicals within the Church of Scotland have written to the Trustees and in the words of one correspondent, told them to âthrow the book at the Tronâ. If that is true then it is disgraceful. Those who have acted in such a way should admit it and publically repent and apologise. I can understand your determination to keep as many evangelicals within the Church of Scotland and I do not question your motivation, but the methodology does indicate a lack of integrity. This particular fama either needs to be nailed on the head or repented of. And if you think the Tron should be disciplined and the building removed from them, and if you asked the Trustees or anyone to do that â be honest and say so in public. Donât speak about respect, love and the Gospel in public but then play church politics in private.
Another example of the lack of integrity comes from something else I said which was considered over the top, unloving and false. I had stated that some evangelicals (please note again not all) had behaved in a way, which was spineless. This apparently has caused great upset. So be it. Iâm afraid that I was presented with abundant proof of this last Saturday. Unusually for me it was not a day off and so I was down at the church office getting ready for Sunday, when through the letterbox came an innocuous looking letter (by that I mean it was not what I call a RED LETTER â written in red ink capitals which I occasionally get sent for my edification and humiliation). It was an anonymous letter from 12 Church of Scotland evangelicals. At least thatâs what it said â being anonymous it could have been the Glasgow Secularists mischief making. But I am inclined to think that this did indeed have the hallmark of a brand of evangelicalism today. It was full of gossip, innuendo, illogicality, pseudo-spirituality and most astonishingly of all it was anonymous. Anonymous? Does one get more spineless than that? (I will not extend this lengthy article anymore but I will respond the 12 apostles of anonymity in an appendix to this). If I was political I could thank you for confirming my statement but somehow it just makes me depressed to have been proved right.
So where to now?
The trouble with writing as I have done is that it is all too easy to give the impression that I am suggesting there are the bad guys and then there are those who agree with me. It is all too easy to take the mote out of other eyes and miss out the beam in my own. One thing I have learned in 26 years of ministry is that it is always good to see and acknowledge the guilt in oneâs own heart. I recognise lack of immaturity, unreality and lack of integrity because they are my sins as well. I did not write my articles to defend a friend, advance a particular group or cause upset. I wrote (whether wisely or not) because I care about the Gospel in Scotland. I am part of the problem as well as part, I hope, of the solution.
At University I attended a lecture in New College, Edinburgh in which a well known evangelical spoke of evangelicals as being âpart of the churchâ. The more I thought about it the more I was uncomfortable with it. It seemed to me then that it reduced evangelicalism to being one party within the church. Maybe that was right and maybe that is why I no longer want to belong to that group â not least because it has split into several different factions. I am inclined now just simply to call myself a Christian â a follower of Jesus Christ. If I am pushed I will suggest that I am a biblical confessional Christian. I love Jesus. I love his Word. I love his Church. I love his World. I love the Triune God. And I love to tell a lost and dying world about the One who came to seek, find and give life. That is the core. Everything else stems from that.
Scotland is at a crossroads. Our society has secularised rapidly in the past decade. Christendom has gone. We are no longer âthe people of the Bookâ. The Church of Jesus Christ is being shaken up. Many good things are happening but perhaps the best is almost the most uncomfortable â we are being judged. Scotland as a nation is being judged, in the sense of Romans 1 â we are being left to our own devices which is resulting in chaos. The Church is I fear being judged in the same way. We have been left to our own devices and now we are beginning to reap what we have sown. My great concern and fear is not that God would speak to us in judgement but rather that he would be silent. My own view is that the best thing that can happen is God calling us to repentance, to reformation and to renewal. He is calling. Are we listening?
David A. Robertson
St Peters Free Church
Appendix: Letter to the Twelve Anonymous Evangelicals.
Brethren (forgive me for presuming you are all men but somehow the tone of your letter lacked the feminine touch),
In one way I can thank you for your letter, because it at least shows you cared enough to write. But of course I cannot because it was one of the most depressing and cowardly things I have read in a long time. I know you will read this and since I donât have an address for you I am sorry that this reply has to be in public. If only you had been more honest I would not have had to write in this way.
You âsignâ your letter as being from a âgroup of Church of Scotland evangelical ministers, around twelve of us to be preciseâ. As soon as I saw that opening line I knew I was going to be in trouble â anyone who says they are being precise and then states that there are âaroundâ twelve of us is clearly having trouble!
I find the reason for your desiring to be anonymous fascinating. You state that you do not trust me to keep this confidential because I regularly name people in my blog without agreement. The first thought I had was why do you want to keep it confidential? This is a discussion in public. Are you concerned that some of the things you say will hurt people, or is itself a breach of confidence? In that case why tell me? And you will forgive me saying this; I suspect I am not the only person you have shared this âconfidentialâ information with. There is a word for what you are doing â âgossipâ â and it is something which we all indulge in and which we need to repent of.
The second thought was âoh dear, do I really do that?â So I went back through my two articles and checked every single name. Was there anyone I named who had spoken to me in confidence? No. Not one. The only people mentioned in a critical context were Willi Phillip and David Lunan â and the latter was only mentioned because of his public statement in The Herald. Why did you then make that statement which is so demonstrably false? I donât believe that you deliberately lied but you have to admit it was not the most intelligent thing to make a statement that is clearly false. I suspect the atmosphere of fear, conspiracy and church politics has really gone to your head and caused the confusion. The whole of your letter was thus based on gossip and a lie.
Perhaps I should also admit that one of the articles was in response to a named person, Louis Kinsey. You will forgive me mentioning his name again (without his permission!) only because I wish to commend him as an honest man who is a credit to the ministry of the Church of Scotland and is able to disagree with me, without personalising or taking the huff.
You give me eight âfactsâ. I will not repeat them all because most of them are gossip and allegation without evidence and much is opinion and perspective, not fact. But let me summarise them and help you think through the issues.
Fact 1 â I have taken most of my information about the Tron from the minister without corroboration from any other source. The minister is biased and unreliable. Itâs always a good idea to ask someone first before you make a pronouncement so definite. Or you could have said you âseem to have takenâ. The reality is that my information came from a wide variety of sources, not least the gossip attacking the Tron (this is what prompted me to write in the first place). I have friends who think the Tron have done no wrong, others who think they have behaved really badly but still support them, and others who think they are the devil incarnate.
Fact 2 â The congregation of the Tron is not 500 strong. The number of members has dropped from 900 plus to under 300. The capacity of the new building is much less than 500. I am not sure what your point is here. I have never heard the Tron make a big deal of numbers so this kind of comes across as somewhat petty and trivial. I was also amazed at how wrong you get this. Having been in the Tron several times I knew that the building could easily seat 500 plus. And again I am astonished that you just seem to be plucking figures out of the air â I guess this is what happens when gossip is your currency. If you look at the C of S yearbook for this year the membership in the Tron is 396 â and this after a fairly strong pruning. You do realise that in terms of Christianity most C of S rolls are fictional (my personal favourite was the Session Clerk who told me that his role was 1100 although only 100 managed to attend on a Sunday morning!). An official census of the Presbytery had the Sunday attendance at 500 plus (with the building still not full which is really quite miraculous given that you state the building seats much less than 500!). In addition that are around 200 people who come to the midweek service, 20% of whom do not come on Sunday. So at a conservative estimate there are around 700 people who worship in the Tron every week.
Fact 3 â Willie Philip had set his heart on refurbishment and asked for ÂŁ2 million â when the pledges and gifts came they were only ÂŁ1 million. The minister âlambastedâ the congregation afterwards. This is fascinating. When I first heard the proposed plans for the Tron I thought they did not really make sense – ÂŁ3.1 million for digging out a basement and refurbishing a church. But then what I felt and knew was limited and I was wrong. I went to investigate (by the way that is always a good thing to do â investigate before sending anonymous letters purporting to be full of facts â at least it may help you get your facts right) because I really like the Tron and think it is key to the spread of the Gospel in Scotland. I discovered that the building was magnificently transformed, that in its key location it was perfectly suited to reach out to the hundreds of thousands who walk past the door every day. And they were doing that. And this is the church building that you want to throw the congregation out of. I cannot comprehend any âevangelicalâ who wants to the evangel to be proclaimed in the city centre, being prepared to behave in such a manner.
And since you are interested in facts. The proposal for redoing the Tron was there before Willie Philip came to the congregation. When he came he was initially opposed to it. The Session however were unanimously for change. The pledges did constitute only half the amount required and Willie did, at the request of the Session speak to the congregation about this after the sermon (not as part of it). Maybe he spoke wisely or unwisely â I donât know. I was not there. But I do know that your lack of information and prejudices do not make you fit to comment. I suspect that you would have regarded Paul as being a wee bit too strong and goodness knows what you would have done with Jeremiah (thrown him down a pit?!).
Fact 4 â Willie encouraged application to the Trustees for a ÂŁ600,000 loan. The Trustees want the money back and The Tron are refusing to give it back unless they retain the building. One of the Trustees said, âI have been in business all my life, and now and again people have tried to bribe me. But it has always been with their own money. This is the first time that anyone has tried to bribe me with money that belongs to me as a Trustee.â Again your fact is wrong. The congregation actually borrowed ÂŁ750,000. They have paid back ÂŁ250,000 and are not behind in any of their payments. The sum was not due to be repaid until 2015. The Kirk Session looked at the possibility of getting loans from elsewhere but because the building belonged to the Trustees they had to go to them for a loan. The Trustees then loaned the money at an interest rate of 5% and refused to reduce that when the national interest rate fell. Leaving aside the questionable morality of one part of the church charging usury to another, the most extraordinary thing is the illogicality of yours and the Trustees statement. I have a mortgage â if I default on the payment and my house is repossessed I do not continue to pay the mortgage. You seem to think it is horrific that the Tron are not willing to continue to pay for a building which has been taken from them! So not only do the congregation lose the ÂŁ2.6 million of their own money which they have put in, but they are to be condemned because they do not pay the remaining ÂŁ500,000 for a building they are banned from using. It is a strange kind of justice you demand. I can only pray that your theology is better than your economics!
Fact 5 – There was a particularly rowdy meeting where one elder was told he should find another church and on which Willie commented on the following Sunday âat least you did not castrate themâ. You ask me if I admire that kind of statement from an evangelical pulpit and warn me that I really have to be careful about who I am supporting. You then go on to name the elder involved (very brave of you to name him but continue your own anonymity). I was not at the meeting concerned but I will take your word that it was not a pleasant meeting and things were said that probably should not have been said. I am inclined to accept as well that Mr Philip does not always speak with the greatest wisdom and that he can say things that are wrong. But then I am inclined to accept that I do exactly the same â and given the pressures of the situation I understand why this could have happened. But I like to take these things to the Word of God and there I find a little thing called âforgivenessâ. If you have something against a brother you go and tell him (not write anonymous letters about him). You then forgive. And forget. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
I also cannot share your faux pas sense of outrage at the castration remark. After all it was the apostle Paul who made the original remark. According to Mr Philip he was simply thanking the congregation for getting through a very difficult meeting and pointing out that no one was castrated or driven out with whips.
Fact 6 â This is a variation of âfactsâ three and four. The congregation owes a lot of money. Various evangelicals have urged the Tron to repay this for the sake of honesty and integrity. They have refused unless it is tied to the surrender of the building. See my answers above. But what a nasty and snide little trick to try and suggest financial impropriety when the congregation are going to lose their building and ÂŁ2.6 million which they have personally invested. Do you care nothing about the people who have sacrificially given so that they can support and maintain a ministry in Glasgow City centre? It is also incredible that you castigate the congregation for not paying back money when at the same time you have frozen their bank accounts!
Fact 7 â People were told they should seek another church. Again I am not sure what your point is here. If a congregation is making a decision about leaving a denomination it is only proper and right that the leadership ascertain whether the congregation are on board or not. Again as I am not an apologist for the Tron and have limited knowledge of everything that happened I cannot go into every detail. But I put your accusation to the minister and he denies your version and states that he asked the small minority who disagreed with the decision to leave the Church of Scotland, to nevertheless stay in the congregation and work together for the Gospel. I actually donât doubt that some people were told by others that it might be best for them to leave. Maybe that was good advice, maybe not â but your prejudices do once again seem to be leading you to make the worst possible conclusions out of the limited knowledge you have.
Fact 8 â I have been less than just in my references to Dr David Lunan, mocking him as the âVery Revâ when he never gives himself that title. He is a fine Christian man who has spent endless hours over this and one day I will have to answer for my words. There is a little bit of hypersensitivity here. I referred to Dr David Lunan as the Very Rev because that is how the article I was quoting did so. It was not intended to mock. Furthermore I did not and do not question his Christianity or his love for Christ and all the other attributes you establish. I simply disagree with the way that this has been handled, (for example I was shocked that as convenor of the committee set up to look into the Tron he and the committee never visited the congregation on a Sunday) and his astonishing quote in The Herald. But I âm afraid that you are looking for insult where there was none. I suspect because you want to personalise things and avoid the real issues.
I leave it there for you and ask both for your forgiveness for the way I seem to have provoked you to such a stupid action, and to ask you to repent of your gossip and politics in the name of Christ.
And for all of us I ask simply what are these real issues? Perhaps the best way to bring this home is to think about last weekend. On the Saturday a member of st Peters attended a wedding at the Tron which is described as wonderful and Christ centred. It will probably be the last wedding the Tron are able to hold in their own building. And last Sunday the reports I heard were of a packed church, vibrant worship and again Christ-centred preaching. The fact that this is all to be taken away is bad enough â the fact that some evangelicals are justifying this and have even asked for it, is stunning.
The Church in Scotland is facing a real crisis at the moment, and the Church of Scotland is facing its own version of that. Evangelicalism within the Church of Scotland is in a perilous state â as I suggested about much of it is immature, unrealistic and lacks integrity. Iâm afraid that the anonymous letter only provides the evidence of my claim. So what can we all do.
I think the Tron need to repent of anything they have said and done that is wrong, to apologise to any they have unnecessarily offended and seek again to come to some kind of arrangement where they can lease or purchase the building. And not just the Tron but all of us, from all sides of evangelicalism? Do we preach repentance but not practice it? Meanwhile all those who claim to be for the Gospel first and denomination second (or preferably 22nd) should prove that by standing up for the Tron and its city centre ministry. I am told that 68 people (including non-evangelicals) in the Glasgow presbytery did vote for the Tron to retain their buildings and for the matter not to be dragged through the courts. Any evangelical who went against that should hang their heads in shame. Whatever your personal opinions about Willie Philip and the leadership of the Tron, it cannot be denied that a vibrant and living witness to Jesus Christ is being carried on there. There is little doubt in my mind that the ultimate reason for this hard decision on the Tron was to discourage other evangelicals from going the same route. All evangelicals in the C of S should just simply stand up and say â this is not going to be done in our name and should oppose it all the way through to the General Assembly. Can someone not suggest just leasing the building to The Tron â or do you really want the book to be thrown at them?
As for me. I will continue to stand by and support Willie Philip and the Tron. I admire him and the work that they are all doing (and yes I am not unaware of some of the problems). Cornhill is one of the best things to happen in Scotland for years. I will also stand by those good and faithful men and women who feel they cannot leave the Church of Scotland yet. And I will support anyone who puts the glory of God first, the evangelisation of the people of Scotland second and like a good Protestant acknowledges the Bible as the sole and sufficient authority by which Christ governs His church as its head. I too have to repent but I would need to write another 10,000 words to list all the things I have to repent of and apologise for. Right now I am just going to trust in the mercy of Jesus and go and lie down in a dark room.
Yours in Christ,
St Peters Free Church
October 24th 2012
Thanks for the link http://coffeewithlouis.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/so-where-is-presbyterian-evangelicalism-in-scotland-today/ I am more than happy to post it on my âtimelineâ. I appreciate both the tone and the passion of what you say. And let me say without any hint of flattery that I love your blog and that what I know of your ministry is very positive. I really donât want to get into some kind of personal attack or defence and so I wonât. I think your blog has opened up several issues that it would be really profitable to discuss. So lets try it and see how we get on. I think the best way for me to open up these issues is to respond in sequence to your blog.
1) Divided and Wounded – Firstly I have to agree with you. Donât be too surprised – I agree with a lot of what you have written in your latest blog. In particular I think you are correct to point out that Presbyterian evangelicalism is more divided and wounded than it has been in a long time. This is true of the smaller Presbyterian denominations and sadly is true of the various strands of evangelicalism within the C of S. One prominent evangelical told me when I asked him what the evangelical view was in a particular Presbytery.âDavid, we had a meeting of ten different evangelicals, and ended up with twenty different opinionsâ. When this current debacle began in the C of S began I remember discussing with someone of a more âliberalâ persuasion who predicted that all they would have to do is light the touch paper and just watch evangelicals destroy themselves. He was pretty accurate. In fact I have now reached a stage where I suspect that speaking of evangelicalism is increasingly meaningless. Iâm not even sure I know what it means any more. (of which more later).
2) Can we agree on the facts? I was intrigued by your remark that the Presbytery of Glasgow are to start a ânew congregation in the church itself in an effort to continue a city centre ministry along Buchanan Street. The Presbytery of Glasgow and the congregation of St Georgeâs Tron have not been able to agree.â. Was there even any attempt to agree? Was there any discussion or negotiation? Any attempt to allow the congregation to leave and to keep or at least use their buildings? Of course we do not know the full story, but can that be said of anything? You and I write many things and I doubt that we know the full story of anything that we discuss. In reality I fear that making a statement like that hints at the idea that there is something more amiss and we just have to trust the Presbytery. There is also the clear sub-text, âkeep quiet, you donât know what you are talking aboutâ. My comments however were on the facts as we know them. Let me list them and if any of them are wrong or there are additional âfactsâ which would change any of these.
There are other factors which are relevant, such as whether this is the right time to leave, perception of the minister etc., but these are generally matters of opinion and as you will note from my article, I was happy to state that they existed.
Having established these facts. I now need simply to ask â in what possible world can it be justified to remove that congregation of some 500 people from such a key position in the centre of Glasgow? I have not seen one single fact which would justify that. Plenty innuendo, opinion and assertion, but not one fact. Several âevangelicalsâ have written and spoken of the arrogance and intransigence of the Tron â but you will forgive me saying that that is more a perception rather than a fact and even if it were true still does not justify the action taken. I accept I may be wrong but I would like to go with the adage of Anthony Flew â âfollow the evidenceâ.
2) TINA and TAOLA
I am sorry that you think I was having a go at all evangelicals within the Church of Scotland. And even more sorry to think that my words got your dander up and that you think I have a complete lack of understanding of C of S evangelicals. Its funny but I have written several articles on this subject and in general C of S evangelicals of various shades have agreed that there was at least some degree of understanding. Although again I accept that there is some element of truth in your statement. Of the numerous responses I have received from C of S evangelicals to my article â only a handful have expressed any kind of even grudging support for the Tron. In fact the schadenfreude and general sense of comeuppance has astonished me. I did not expect it and it really puzzles me. One man wrote of this situation like being a death in the family. I canât help but wonder what that means. Is the Tron congregation now dead? Did it die a natural death or was it murdered? Or perhaps does it reflect the attitude that there is no real life outside the Kirk and to leave is in effect to commit suicide? Are you aware of the Thatcherite acronym, TINA – There Is No Alternative? For years in the Free Church I have heard this said. Where can we go? What else is there? TINA. It is a very powerful deterrent to action. For me personally overcoming that, and realising that my life and ministry did not depend on the denomination I served was a liberation. Without becoming cynical or serving the church any less, it was great to know that TALOA is true (There Are Lots Of Alternatives). I suspect that for many evangelicals within the C of S they cannot see an alternative and ironically this debacle with The Tron only reinforces that.
3) Donât Hurt me Now! I was even more astonished that you played the âhurtâ card. âI think, too, that his blogged remarks today have caused hurt and damage to relationships with Church of Scotland evangelicals that will take some considerable time to mend.â Have you read Carl Truemanâs remarks on this whole subject? In a post-modern touchy feely society the hurt card is a pretty powerful one to play â there is almost no way it can be answered without increasing the hurt. If my remarks about the Tron today have caused hurt and damage to relationships that will take some considerable time to mend, then I can only respond by saying Iâm sorry for any hurt caused, perplexed that you think C of S evangelicals are so sensitive and unforgiving that they will be traumatised by this for some time to come, and confused to the extent that I think you have read too much into what I said. When I speak of evangelicals in the article I generally do not mean only C of S evangelicals but evangelicals in general, including myself. I am sorry that that was not made clear.
Let me give you an example of where you pick this up wrong. You write, âChurch of Scotland evangelicals are not âfantasistsâŚwho seem to have an incredible ability to avoid facing up to uncomfortable facts in the name of the Gospel.â But I never said that they were. I was trying to say that I find evangelicals in general are far too prone to confuse faith with fantasy especially when combined with pietism. There are many examples of this I could give from the Free Church, Baptists, Charismatics etc. but let me stick with this current discussion. It is fantasy to think that the Church of Scotland can get rid of a 500-member congregation and just parachute in another âconservative evangelical congregationâ and be as effective in outreach. One man even suggested to me that this would be a cause for rejoicing as now there would be two congregations instead of one! That is what I mean by evangelical fantasists. Thankfully there are many fine brothers and sisters in the Church of Scotland who have a bit more wisdom and suss than that. But my point is please donât accuse me of saying things I have not said. By doing so you muddy the waters and allow those who are already pre-disposed to dismiss my comments, to do so with a sense of outraged grievance and hurt.
If you have read anything I have written you will know that it is grossly unfair to lump me in with those who believe that all Kirk evangelicals are cowardly, supine and lack integrity. I do not. I have defended and will continue to defend those who feel it is their calling to stay in and protect their flocks. There are men in the C of S whose shoes I am not worthy to untie and I would never dream of dissing them. I donât just mean the men of the past â but men like Martin Allen (who spoke up for the Tron), Martin Fair, David Scott, Robin Sydserff and others whose courage, integrity and ability are way beyond my own.
Let me return to this idea of hurt. I accept that sometimes my language is a wee bit too ârobustâ. But lets go into this in a bit more depth. One man objected to my using the term âkicked out of the buildingâ as being too âemotiveâ. Ok. Lets rephrase it â how about âthey have been instructed to vacate the premisesâ? Does that make it any less emotive and more palatable? Maybe for over sensitive evangelicals who feel their own pain! But what about for those who are actually involved? What about the little old lady who gave up some of her savings because she had bought into the vision of a contemporary city centre ministry? Or the children who gave of their pocket money? Or the minister being forced to leave his home? Is it ok for them to be âemotiveâ about seeing what they sacrificed for going to someone else? Doubtless they will accept âthe spoiling of their goodsâ, but is it not a bit disproportionate when people get hot under the collar because of my âemotiveâ language but seem to have a great deal less emotion about those who are really hurting? I get emotional, not about the Church of Scotland or the Free Church or the Church politics involved (at least not usually), but I do get kind of worked up about the thought of that fantastic city centre ministry is just going to be booted out â sorry a bit too emotive â I mean removed from the premises!
4) Time to Leave? I note your comments about leaving the C of S. I think it would be fair to say that there are those who think the game is over and you should be planning to leave now, those who think that there may come a time but it is not yet, and those who to be frank, regard it as treachery and sinful to even consider it. For your information I am not one of those who thinks that every faithful minister should leave the Church of Scotland. I accept that there may be good reasons for staying and that each person has to make such a decision in accordance with their faith and circumstances. My fear however is that once again you are muddying the waters. By implying that I belong to a group who think that all ministers in the C of S are unfaithful if they stay, it allows those who stay to feel hurt and aggrieved and gives them plenty justification for dismissing my comments as those of a self righteous Pharisee who does not understand where you are coming from. The issue is not whether you should leave but what happens with those who do. In all the correspondence I have received from evangelicals in the C of S over my article, hardly any have expressed support for the Tron. Really? If a congregation decides in good conscience that it cannot stay then it should be punished and its assets taken?
5) Imagining Grace – You write âwhether one agrees with it or not, it could never be imagined that the Church of Scotland would allow a congregation to secede from the denomination yet hold on to its buildings, its church and manse, and to carry on as before. If the denomination were to agree to that, who would be able to count the number of congregations queuing up at the front door of 121 George Street requesting to be allowed to do exactly the same. What a superbly attractive proposition that would be to so many ministers and churches. How could it possibly be a surprise that the Presbytery and the denomination would not agree to that?â
I would ask you to read that over and over again. What it says to me is that the fellowship within the Church of Scotland is only held together by money, property and the fear of legal action. What basis is that for fellowship? It certainly explains a lot in terms of peopleâs reactions, but is that really it? Let me suggest an alternative. What if the denomination was genuinely concerned for the Kingdom of God and whilst being saddened at the loss of a congregation, recognising the work it was doing, was prepared to find some way for it to continue? I can accept that the Church of Scotland is very jealous of its perceived territory as âthe churchâ. I remember one of my office bearers buying a former Church of Scotland manse and one of the conditions being that he would not hold a bible study or any religious meeting in it â presumably lest it interfere with the âparishâ ministry! What I find more surprising is why some evangelicals seem to share that perspective.
Is it really impossible to imagine some grace in all of this? Yes, be critical of the Tron for the way they have behaved if you think it is wrong; yes discourage others from doing the same if you are so inclined. But why acquiesce in and defend punishing them and removing their witness from Glasgow city centre? To paraphrase John Lennon â âImagine thereâs no Denomination, it isnât hard to do, nothing to sue or fight for, and no religion too. Imagine all the brethren, living life in peaceâŚyou may say Iâm a dreamer, but Iâm not the only one, perhaps some day youâll join us, and the church will be as oneâ!
And again this is not a dig at the C of S. It applies to the Free Church too. I think the biggest mistake in our history was the 1904 House of Lords case. We got it wrong then and to some extent we paid the price for almost a century. Itâs taken us a long time to learn the lesson!
6) Both Sides of the Story â I appreciate your comments about not hearing both sides of the story. Believe it or not that is why I wrote my article (suspecting the backlash I would get) â in order to allow the other side of the story to be told. There is a kind of game that is played here. I have heard numerous versions of âthe storyâ from people who profess to be âin the knowâ. From that I have garnered the impression that things are not quite right in the Tron, that Willie is not quite âone of usâ, that they have acted arrogantly, refused to co-operate with other evangelicals, that they think they are the big church who can just do whatever they want. I heard of people who had left because they did not agree with how things were being run. There was so much more. In biblical terms I think this is called gossip. Itâs almost never done in public with both sides of the story. It is usually of the nudge, nudge, wink, wink variety. To be honest I went along with much of the gossip. To my shame. And then I went through to the Tron and got involved with Cornhill. I saw for myself what they were doing â and I loved it. Here was a church right in the centre of Glasgow, having the vision to reach out and to impact way beyond their own borders. Even if all of the gossip were true it would not negate the good that is being done. And so I decided to speak up for those who were being condemned behind closed doors. So yes. Lets hear both sides of the story. That is what I have attempted to do. There are those who have contacted me to say that I donât know, that I am speaking from âoutsideâ and I need to hear the âother sideâ. Yet not one has provided me with one single fact that is different from those I have listed above. Impression âyes; opinion â yes; but fact? No. Not one. On the other hand I contacted Willie Philip about each of the allegations and accusations made and he answered each one politely and clearly. Quite rightly he does not want to get into a public slanging match and so I will not repeat what he has said â however I am happy to point out that he believes the facts are very different and I have no evidence whatsoever to suggest otherwise. He cannot speak for himself because to do so only invites more brickbats, abuse and accusations of self-interest. I have no axe to grind here. Therefore in order to redress the balance I am happy to present the other side of the case.
7) Gods Call – Again I can completely empathise with what you say on this. Many people are in a difficult situation and are asking âwhat is God saying?â And it is not right to throw brickbats at people who are doing what they believe to be right and faithful. But that leads me on to ask more questions â how do we know what is right and faithful? How do we know what God is saying? What if God has NOT planted them in an uncomfortable and exposed position? What if that has been either self-inflicted or something that has come from the structures and restrictions of the Church? All I am saying is that the situations are much more complicated than we seem to be allowing for.
I have noticed something about some liberal Christians which surprises me. They are quite happy to dismiss much of the Bible and yet are certain about âthe Holy Spirit is saying to the Church todayâ. Is it just coincidence that âwhat the Holy Spirit is sayingâ matches exactly what they feel? Is there not a danger that we can fall into the same trap as well? I may be really old-fashioned but I have to stick to the adage â that God speaks to us through His Word. Lets just apply that to this situation â I cannot conceive of any thing within the Word of God which would encourage us to support The Tron being deprived of their buildings and finance. Can you?
8) Passive/Aggressive – You ask âis it really the case that âthere were also some âevangelicalsâ who were just as prepared to stick the boot inâ? David says so, but I canât think of a single Church of Scotland evangelical who would be ready to do such a thing.â You will forgive me saying but that is just wishful thinking. I was of course using a metaphor. You know that I was not saying that the Presbytery were sending round âthe boysâ to give Willie a bit of a doing. However there are and have been those who do âstick the boot inâ. In different ways. I have already mentioned the gossip and criticism. But let me add another. Very few people have spoken up for the Tron in public these past few days. The silence has been deafening.
You are of course right that people are entitled to disagree without being accused of âsticking the boot inâ. But it is a bit of a strawman to imply that this is what I was saying. I love the fact that Christians can disagree and still get on with one another. I regard that as a mark of Christian maturity. I do not however regard speaking behind closed doors or some evangelicals voting to deprive the Tron of their buildings and finances as being anything other than âsticking the boot inâ.
But let me say something about the passive side of this. You state that every evangelical in the Church of Scotland you know has felt deeply about the Tron and its minister and that all have prayed long and hard. I would love that to be true â of myself and my colleagues as well as you and yours. But is it not a wee bit rose-tinted to suggest that that is the case? I am sure many have. I am also sure that some have not. I canât say that I have prayed long and hard.
And there is another aspect of your faith in our fellow evangelicals which appears to be a wee bit misplaced. You write âIt is primarily about discerning what God is saying and how God is leading, and about placing loyalty to him and obedience to his voice above all other loyalties. I feel confident that Church of Scotland evangelicals in the Presbytery of Glasgow did just that when the Presbytery met,â. But canât you see where that leaves us? Some evangelicals in the Presbytery voted for the Tron to keep their buildings, others voted against. Are you really confident that both were discerning âwhat God is saying and how God is leading?â. Were both being loyal to him and obedient to his voice? Or have we been reduced to the tyranny of conscience, where each does what seems right in their own eyes? Is there no king in Israel? Is there no Head of the Church?
Another accusation you make is that I accuse those who have a different perspective of being âspinelessâ. Again that is putting words into my mouth. If an evangelical really believes that the Gospel is best served by throwing the Tron out of their building and acted according to those convictions, I would not call them spineless, although I would question their discernment! However if an evangelical really does believe that this is wrong and then refuses to act upon it, yes â that is spineless. And it is not an accusation that one throws around flippantly. You of course have heard of the rather trite âevanjellicalâ â so called because we are supposed to lack backbone. Sometimes that is all too true.
Again I repeat that I will not yield to anyone in terms of admiration for the courage that I have seen many C of S ministers show in the teeth of fierce opposition â the way that Dominic Smart stood up to Aberdeen Presbytery for example was heroic. I also cannot sufficiently express my admiration for people like David Scott, Kenny Stott, Colin Brough and other C of S men and women in my home city of Dundee who to my mind lead courageous and faithful lifes. However you have to admit that for some reason this has not always been the case. Sometimes I have watched in horror as single evangelicals have been hung out to dry and others have just stood passively by, or even worse, been the instruments used to hang them out. Let me list only three that I know personallyâ and to spare their blushes I will not name them. One divinity student in the Glasgow presbytery got âcaught outâ when on a placement his senior discovered that he had the âwrong viewsâ on womenâs ordination. When the subject came up at Presbytery he told me that not one evangelical stood in his defence and he was forced to leave. Another man in a different presbytery faced losing his job over the same issue but instead of receiving support, found himself denounced as a âtroublemakerâ by fellow evangelicals, and again was forced to leave. Another young man beginning his career as a minister, having given up a good job to train and prepare for the Church of Scotland ministry, found himself in a congregation where he felt compelled to challenge a relationship that was unbiblical and sinful with one of his elders. Instead of receiving support from his presbytery and the evangelicals within it, he too was told to either keep quiet or leave. He left. What all of these have had in common with the current situation, is that in each case as well as knowing the people involved â I also heard âthe other sideâ. And in a strikingly similar pattern to the Tron situation each involved the following: an implication that there was more to this than meets the eye, an insinuation that the person concerned was not quite up to the job and more than a hint that they were really troublemakers. Any attempt to question why they did not get support from fellow evangelicals was also met with cries of âyou donât know because you are an outsiderâ, âwhy are you being so self-righteous and condemning fellow Christiansâ and of course the âwhy are you hurting me â watch out or you will disturb relations for evermoreâ! It is a familiar pattern.
I often hear the justification for staying in the Church of Scotland as being âwe have to fight from withinâ. I agree with that. But we really need to know what that means. There is the quiet infiltration, the subversive preaching of the Word of God without fear nor favour, and the standing up for righteousness within the courts of the Church. Where I struggle is with what I would call the âsurrender from withinâ â in particular the phenomenon I have observed of people who are evangelical when they are with evangelicals and something different when they are with others. I am not at all sure that when Paul spoke of being a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles he really intended us to say âI have become an evangelical to the evangelicals, and a liberal to the liberals, that I may win allâ! Sometimes actually the liberals can be more consistent than some of us evangelicals. I remember speaking at a Church of Scotland event, where a Muslim evangelist had just announced that if you are a Christian, then you are a Muslim and vice versa. I was approached by a liberal minister who knew I was speaking next and she told me to get in there and sort it out! On the other hand a card carrying evangelical thought the whole event was wonderful and did not seem to notice anything wrong. Sometimes evangelicals only get a seat at the table providing we do not interfere with the menu!
9) Doctrinal or Heart Unity? You fear that our unity is merely a âdoctrinalâ one and not one from the heart. Actually I think it is worse than that. I wish it were a âdoctrinalâ unity. My fear is that it is not even that. It is an ecclesiastical one â based largely upon a common perceived ethos and an understanding and acceptance of the status quo. As a result when anyone dares to challenge that status quo, it gets blown apart. Perhaps we need to be much more radical and actually get to a doctrinal unity â the doctrine of Jesus Christ and all he is, says and does. All our attempts at cultural, national, ethical unity have failed. Maybe we need to go back to something a bit more biblical?
So whether Scottish Presbyterian Evangelicalism? Actually let me rephrase that. As I said at the beginning I was less and less convinced by the label âevangelicalâ. If we are talking about the Good News of Jesus Christ communicated through the Word of God, then yes I am all for that. But if the term evangelical has become devalued merely to that of a party label then perhaps we should forget about it. Can I suggest an alternative? How about confessional Christianity? Anyway let me ask again â whether Christianity in Scotland today?
We do need a renewal and revival. And I do see some straws in the wind. The work of UCCF has been revamped and revived, Scripture Union is doing some great stuff in schools, the Trussel Trust and other social justice Christian organisations are demonstrating the power of the Gospel, Solas CPC are seeing more and more openings in the media and wider community, and there is of course much good work going on in many churches of all denominations. One of the most encouraging signs has been the Cornhill Trust and the work done through the Tron. Evangelicals within the Church of Scotland may rightly be mourning the âdeathâ of the Tron because it has left the denomination. But my mourning is slightly different. I think the Tron will continue its work and ministry for many years to come. In 15 years time if we are still around, I fully expect the Tron to be alive and flourishing. I am not so sure about Glasgow Presbytery â I expect itâs rapid demise to continue, unless there is a spectacular divine intervention.
Anyway Louis â I hope and pray that your work and ministry for the Lord will thrive and prosper. I do again apologise for anything I have said which has been untoward and wrong. I do think however that it is good to talk. And prayâŚ
Your brother in Christ
Soli Deo Gloria
The Scandal of Glasgow
The great city of Glasgow has a motto – âLet Glasgow flourishâ.Â Actually the full motto is or was, âLet Glasgow flourish through the preaching of the Wordâ.Â One can understand how in an increasingly aggressively secular society the latter phrase has been dropped, what still manages to shock is how a Church which supposedly seeks to follow Jesus Christ can also, and perhaps in a more aggressive and dangerous manner, undermine that motto.Â This week there has been a stark reminder of just how much a church can move from its roots.Â It is to this sad tale that I now have to turn.
There is a time to speak and there is a time to be silent.Â There are those of us who are far to quick to have a knee jerk reaction and pontificate with outrage and passion on almost any subject that takes our fancy.Â There are others who are so cautious that they would still demand an inquiry into âthe full factsâ before they could condemn Adolf Hitler.Â Surely wisdom is to be found somewhere in between these extremes?
Whilst in the great scheme of things what I am about to write about is not of the same scale as some of the much deeper and wider injustices in our society and world today, nonetheless what is going on is indicative of a deep malaise within the church in Scotland in general and the Church of Scotland in particular.
I was somewhat astounded to read a letter this week from Rev. Dr William Philip, the minister of one of Scotlandâs largest and most influential churches, St Georges Tron in the centre of Glasgow.Â There was also a letter sent from the Session Clerk to the Presbytery of Glasgow â as this latter letter is public I feel free to share some of its contents and to comment upon it.
But first of allÂ – some background (for those of you who are not aware of what is currently going on in Scotland).Â For many years St Georges Tron has been a flagship church of the evangelical renewal within the Church of Scotland â something that has been going on since the 1950s.Â Â Tom Allan, George Duncan, Eric Alexander, Sinclair Ferguson and now Willie Philip (the son of one of the original stalwarts of the evangelical movement, James Philip of Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh) have all had ministries which have been noted for faithful Bible teaching, evangelical commitment and evangelistic outreach.Â Those of us who were not able to join the Church of Scotland nevertheless admired and prayed for their faithful and fruitful stand.Â Â Willie Philip has continued that tradition but he has brought an added dimension â the Cornhill Trust.Â Cornhill is a superb programme teaching people to exegete, teach and preach the Bible â it is growing into one of the most significant and influential movements in Scottish Christianity.Â In addition to this the congregation have recently completed a ÂŁ3 million refurbishment of their City centre building.Â As anyone who goes into the centre of Glasgow can see it is truly a church building at the heart of the city, reaching out to thousands every day.Â And yet it looks as though this is now going to end â not because of persecution from outside, nor decline within, but simply because the Church of Scotland has decided to destroy this work.
It stems back to the decision of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to permit the induction of a minister living in an openly sinful and unbiblical relationship. Â This was further reinforced by a later Assembly and is likely to be backed up again, after yet another âcommissionâ (one suspects it has been largely designed on the theory that if conservative evangelicals are kept talking, then they will give up/fall out amongst themselves/or be won over to the more âliberalâ view) due to report in 2013. Â The Tron rightly or wrongly decided that enough was enough and they were not going to wait. So they left the Church of Scotland.Â There are those who would question the wisdom of such a move, including many evangelical Christians who would have preferred there to be a more united action taken at a later time.Â Be that as it may the Tron took the view that the cause was lost and they could no longer submit to the doctrine, discipline and government of a Church which was prepared to be so cavalier with the Bible.
Although leaving the denomination, the congregation wished to continue with their city centre ministry in their newly refurbished buildings â largely paid for by themselves. The leadership of the Tron visited the Chairman and Secretary of the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland to assure them of their desire to have a peaceable and reasonable settlement of outstanding issues.Â As an act of good faith they handed over a cheque for the then outstanding loan repayment. Â They made contact with the Presbytery committee set up to investigate the matter and met with the convener several times.Â They also invited this committee to attend the Sunday and Wednesday services to see how the congregation was getting on(an invitation which interestingly enough was not taken up). Whatever one thinks of the decision to leave surely no one could deny that these actions were in the best interest of the church and the cause of Christ?
And yet it was met immediately with a heavy handed and brutal response. The bank accounts of the Tron were frozen, despite a proper court order not being obtained.Â This means that the collections of the congregation, given by their own members, have not been able to be used to pay the running costs of the congregation. Â In addition to this the minister and his wife received a letter at home stating that they had no right to remain in the manse, despite the fact that the manse belongs to the congregation and not the denomination. More recently, court proceedings have now also been launched personally against the minister, the treasurer and the Session Clerk by the new âInterim Moderatorâ and âKirk Session of St Georgeâs Tron Church of Scotlandâ â a group set up by the Presbytery claiming to be the trustees of the congregation and using their charity number. The summons received claims that the action is raised with âthe full concurrence of the Presbytery of Glasgowâ although several members of Presbytery say they know nothing about this.
As I write this I have just heard that the Presbytery last night rejected the congregations plea and instead are intending to remove them from their building and the minister from the manse. Â What does all of this mean and why is it important?
1) Â Â Sacrifice – Firstly for the sake of the Gospel it is incredibly disappointing that the powers that run the Church of Scotland have decided to sacrifice the Tron.Â Once again a denomination dominated by âliberalsâ in theology are far from liberal when it comes to dealing with any who dare to disagree with them.Â The Presbytery have spoken of a desire to have a conservative evangelical Church of Scotland congregation in the Tron building.Â The jutzpah of such words is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. As Willie Philipâs reaction to the decision points out âThere were some who spoke up for us, but the desire to punish us and make an example of us for daring to stand up against the denomination’s public apostasy was overwhelming. Â Accordingly, they have resolved to evict us from our church building, and from our manse without undue delay. They will then ‘rebuild a vibrant evangelical ministry in the St George’s Tron building’! Â With whom this miracle will be performed, we are not told.â
2) Fantasy – The congregationâs letter to the Presbytery stated, âIf we are forced to move out of our building, it is hard to imagine another ministry will be easily replicated in the building, given the fact that there is not one member of our congregation who wishes to remain in the building as part of a Church of Scotland congregation.âÂ And yet the Presbytery apparently think that they can reestablish a city centre evangelical ministry with ÂŁ30,000 per year and no people! This is the kind of fantasy that bureaucracies seem to thrive on.Â The only worse fantasists I know are evangelicals who seem to have an incredible ability to avoid facing up to uncomfortable facts in the name of the Gospel.
3) HypocrisyÂ – It is worth quoting from the congregations letter â âthose who are hurt most by this will not be our core church family; it will be the outsiders to whom we are ministering from the building as a baseânot least those caught up in addictions, those far from home as asylum seekers, students needing a spiritual family away from home and others, often destitute and hopeless, who come through the church doors regularly day by day, and week by week.âÂ The Church of Scotland hierarchy are prepared to sacrifice all of that for the sake of what? Â I have noted a tendency amongst those who call themselves more âliberalâ in terms of the theology to be the opposite when it comes to practically dealing with those who dare to disagree with them. Liberal, in the best sense of the word, to my mind means open, generous and kind hearted. The actions taken against the Tron are closed-minded, petty and mean. Â Mind you I need to be careful here not to blame all of this on âliberalsâ. At least one non-evangelical spoke out of a sense of fairness and justice in favour of The Tron.Â Apparently there were also some âevangelicalsâ who were just as prepared to stick the boot in.
4) Money – The congregation made this plea to the Presbytery â all to no avail â âWe would plead with you, therefore, when deciding about our church building not to think that this is about us and our comfort. Rather, the focus must be on those in the city centre who need the gospel of Christ, and on how a living and effective ministry can be resourced, sustained, and developed without a large, committed congregation there. You will not be surprised at us imploring you to allow us to continue our 7-days a week ministry in Buchanan Street. Our folk have a real vision for the gospel in the city centre, and a real commitment to the building as a vehicle for that mission. Within the last 5 years they have backed that up by already giving over ÂŁ2.6 million of their own money to fit the building for its missionary purpose (some elderly members going without holidays, some families re-mortgaging their homes and children giving their pocket money to make what contributions they could). They did this because it provides us with so many gospel opportunities day by day.â
It is true that the congregation still owe ÂŁ0.5 million to the General Trustees in the form of a loan.Â Why could the Trustees not have agreed a means to pay that back instead of grabbing the ÂŁ2.5 million the congregation have spent themselves?Â Again I have noted that those who enjoy talking about how âradicalâ the Gospel is in taking on the materialism and greed of our culture are often those who are most hardline when it comes to money.Â The Free Church and the Baptist Church in St Andrews for example would have loved to buy the Martyrs Church of Scotland building when, because of congregational decline; it came up for a sale.Â Would the Church of Scotland be willing to sell it to another Christian church who could not pay as much as the University of St Andrews?Â Not at all.Â When it comes down to the wire, keeping a gospel ministry going seems to come second to mammon.Â The Glasgow decision is further evidence of that hard-nosed materialism. Â Scottish Presbyterians seem to have a particular penchant for going to law about property.Â I had hoped those days had gone.Â When the FCC departed from the Free Church and took millions of pounds worth of manses and buildings it was very tempting for the Free Church to take them to court.Â After all just think what selling the odd manse, church building or caravan site could mean for the St Peters deficit or the on going need to cut ministries.Â But we resisted the temptation â despite the FCC wasting over ÂŁ1 million of the Lordâs money on trying to get a civil court to declare they really were the Free Church (a case they lost).Â In an increasingly militantly secular Scotland I had hoped that these days of church fights over property had gone and we could in future have a more mature Christian approach.Â Sadly someone seems to have forgotten to tell Glasgow Presbytery.
5) Evangelicals â Two of those named on the summons the Tron received, as pursuers are ‘evangelicals’ in the presbytery. Â It is interesting that we have been told for years that once evangelicals were in positions of power then things would change.Â Â Here are a couple of evangelicals in power and they are the ones taking the Tron to court!Â There have been those who have criticized evangelicals within the C of S as being evangelical second, denomination first.Â I have always felt that was an unfair and over sweeping generalisation. I still do. Â But I am beginning to have my doubts. Now is the time for evangelicals within the Church of Scotland (whether they agree with what the Tron have done or not) to make a stand against the hard and vindictive behaviour of their denomination.Â Surely it cannot be right that they are taking this church to court, seeking to remove their building and their manse from them.Â And they cannot hide behind..âit is the lawyersâ.Â No â the lawyers are acting on behalf of the denomination to which they belong and which they serve as office bearers.Â Surely now would be a good time to speak up in defence of those who are not allowed to speak for themselves?Â At this point I should point out that there were those on the presbytery who spoke up for the Tron and made a good case.Â They even included one man who could not be described as an evangelical but just had that quality which seems to be in such short supply, a sense of fairness!
This whole business is a really sad mess that makes me want to pull out whatever hair I have left. Â I am intrigued at the number of âevangelicalâ brothers who keep silent in public and/or are not slow to âdissâ the Tron in private.Â âWillie is an empire builderâ, âthey did it all wrongâ, âan unfortunate manner you knowâ etc.Â Let us suppose for the sake of argument that all of this were true and that The Tron had got things wrong and that we did not like the leadership or their manner.Â Would that justify us keeping silent when such a manifest injustice is being done?
Maybe I have got this all wrong.Â But what I see is a bible teaching bible believing church, faithful to the constitution of the Church, more importantly faithful to the Bible that the church professes to be based on; I see that church being forced out of its key position in the centre of Glasgow, the money donated by its members being stolen by religious legalists, and the name of God being blasphemed amongst the Gentiles because of the actions of the church. I am ashamed that the following was reported of the Presbytery -Â âit was a disgraceful report, and a disgraceful debate, with innuendo and so called ‘confidential information’ being cited to damn us with smears and falsehood.âÂ If that is true then the Presbytery of Glasgow should be ashamed.Â If it is false then they should provide the evidence and I for one would have to admit that I was deceived by the evil brilliance of Willie Philip and the Cornhill Sinners.
I have just read the following in this mornings Herald â
A special committee headed by the Very Reverend David Lunan decided on the legal move. He said:
“It gave us little joy to bring this report to [Glasgow] Presbytery; there are no winners in this and all we can do is approximate to that which honours our Lord.
While I am not filled with joy, I am content, I am at peace, that this is the only outcome that will bring closure, and by the grace of God bring healing.”
If this is an accurate report perhaps the Very Reverend could tell us just how taking the building away from a congregation which is doing a great work âis honouring to our Lordâ (I am struggling to think of a more blatant disregard for the third commandment)?Â And whilst the convenor may be at content and at peace in closing down such a vibrant congregation, perhaps he can tell us why taking ÂŁ2.5 million off a congregation and removing them from their building will âby the grace of God bring healingâ.Â Once again the capacity of ministers to avoid plain speaking and use an Alice-in-Wonderland version of the English language is astounding. (to translate what the Presbytery have done into the vernacular â we donât like the Tron, we think Willie Philip deserves his comeuppance, and we sure as heaven are going to discourage any others from having similar notions of daring to challenge us). Â The only part of the statement that rings true is that the Presbyteries actions will bring âclosureâ.Â Indeed it will.Â Closure of the Tronâs work in their own building and I suspect the continuing closure of other Church of Scotlandâs throughout the city as it continues its freefall into irrelevance and oblivion.
I admire and support fully the work that Willie Philip and The Tron are doing through Cornhill and through the local congregation.Â Let me demonstrate the scale of it – Cornhill is training 39 people this year. The stats for the C of S (from the GA report) show the entire C of S, across all years in its 5 colleges, is training 41. Â The first year intake to Cornhill this year is 50% larger than the first year intake of the whole C of S.Â Is it jealousy, a fit of pique, insanity or just hatred of the Gospel that inspires a presbytery to seek to punish a church which is doing so much for the sake of the Gospel? Maybe there is something cultural here as well â we would rather see something destroyed than allow anything creative to be done by an entrepreneur for the Gospel.
Is it not about time that all like-minded brothers and sisters stood and identified with The Tron?Â Or are we just going to turn the other cheek (theirs), nit pick, indulge in schaedenfreude and just wait to see who is next?
I believe that the Lord will honour the faithful stance of the Tron and that ultimately losing the manse and the church will also turn out for good.Â I do not believe that the Lord will honour the spineless behaviour of those who refuse to stand by and help brothers and sisters in need.Â We may not want to choose sides.Â We donât have that choice.
St Peters Free Church
The following is the statement that was given to the congregation the Sunday before the Presbytery decided to evict them â it speaks for itself.
Â âOn Wednesday evening at the prayer meeting we were asking you to pray for the forthcoming meeting of the presbytery of Glasgow which will take place on Tuesday night, and for the expected report of the special committee, under the convenorship of David Lunan, which will be reporting with recommendations about the future of our building here; and I do want to ask you all to pray for that meeting.
Since Wednesday, we have now seen the report which will go before presbytery on Tuesday, and Iâm afraid I have to say to you it is very disappointing indeed. Itâs a report marked by falsehood, fantasy and enmity. Falsehood – repeating all kinds of evil against us falsely. Fantasy â making the grandiose claims to what wonderful, vibrant ministry will be able to flourish in this building if only we are removed from it. And enmity. We sang a hymn last Sunday morning about “smiling foes” and this report waxes eloquent about how greatly they respect the tradition of conservative evangelical preaching at St Georgeâs Tron and yet concludes that the only way of preserving such a tradition is to eject this congregation from that building. They adore the idea of having a vibrant, living evangelical ministry here within the Church of Scotland but when faced with a real ministry and congregation like that in practice it seems like they are determined to destroy itâ like the religious leaders that Jesus spoke of who venerated the tombs the prophets but flogged and murdered the living prophets.
Now friends, none of this should surprise us. Since the day that most of you were faced here with the delegation from presbytery and from 121 George Street, you have seen and you know what weâve been dealing with – a perpetual enmity that rails against the living Gospel of the real Jesus Christ and his true Church. We only need to open Bibles and read to recognise that.
Now, we mustnât pre-judge the issue, presbytery on Tuesday night can reject this report, but I have to tell you that I think that seems extremely unlikely. And so, barring an intervention of God, that means that we must be prepared for the fact that we must soon be forced out of this building where we meet and where we so delight to share the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It may also be that the family and I are forced to leave the manse and that we as a Church may lose all of our other assets as well. (These things are more complicated, we may have a better legal defence there, although it does seem that the Scottish charity regulator has tended to side with the Church of Scotland view. But as I say, these things are complex.)
Nevertheless, the deliverance being urged upon presbytery on Tuesday night includes taking further legal action without delay to dispossess us of these things. As you know, there is already legal action underway personally against myself and our Session Clark and our treasurer.
Now none of us can find this easy, and I think I can fairly say that there wonât be too many that find it harder than I do. But let us just together consider this: we are discovering together what real Christian discipleship means, because we are learning to tread where our Lord Jesus Christ trod.
âIf anyone would come after meâ He said âlet him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.â (Matthew 16:24) Â But he also said, âEveryone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for my name’s sake will receive a hundred fold and will inherit eternal life.â
Now we believe that donât we? And weâre going to test it in a very tangible way it seems.
It may surprise you therefore, for me to tell you that our Elders meeting yesterday morning, where we considered this report and its implications, was, I think, the most encouraging elders meeting that we have ever had. Of course it began sombre as we read the report together but I must tell you that it ended with our hearts full of hope and joy, and our minds focused on the future, and our hearts thrilled at the prospects of the future because the Lord is opening up great opportunities for us through this for the advancement for our gospel outreach, for the expansion and the growth of our ministry and not for itâs decline. And we hope that over the next month or two we will be able share in much more detail some of that excitement with you.
We truly believe that this opposition is Godâs opportunity for the next stage of our corporate mission together as a fellowship. It was the persecution, do you remember, against the Church in Jerusalem in Acts Chapter 7 that was the birth of the spreading missionary Church. “Saul was ravaging the Church” we read, âtherefore those who were scattered went about proclaiming the Word.â And it was through that the Kingdom of God advanced and grew mightily.
So âFear not, little flock, for it is your Fatherâs pleasure to give you the Kingdomâ – that is what the Lord Jesus said (Luke 12:32). We donât need to be anxious about what we are to eat or drink or where we are to live or indeed where we are to meet. Our Heavenly Father knows that we need these things. Instead, âSeek first His Kingdom and these things will be added to youâ says the Lord Jesus (Luke 12:31). And we know, donât we, that we can trust Him.
So letâs draw near to Him now in the quietness of this moment and just lift our hearts, together, to Him â our Lord and our Saviour and our King â in prayer.
Let us pray.
Â Lord our hearts are sad and heavy, not so much with our loss but at the dreadful hatred and enmity of people who want to shut the Kingdom of Heaven in peopleâs faces â neither entering themselves nor wanting to allow others to enter, people who love the form of godliness, the trappings of religion, but deny utterly its power and therefore deny its person – the real and living Lord Jesus Christ.
Have mercy Lord, have mercy on those who would refuse to minister even to the least of your brethren and so will find that they have been heaping scorn and abuse upon You who loves everyone who bears shame for the sake of Your Name.
And have mercy on us Lord we pray in our distress and in our pain. This place is dear to us! It is dear to us in a myriad of ways, and we have poured out our substance these recent years to fit it for your service. And yet, Lord, that which we have lavished upon this place was not for us; it was not for this building even, but it was for you – our Lord and our Saviour, and it was out of love to you. And if now that should seem but a waste to so many, remind us Lord that like the ointment poured on your feet by Mary, nothingânothingâso done out of love to You is ever a waste to You, but remains a beautiful thing in your eyes.
So receive our love O Christ our God, and help us through whatever path we now must tread, and help us to love you more, not less.
And remind us Lord, constantly, of your words of strength and of power when you say to us,
âBlessed are you when others revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you, falsely, on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in Heaven for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
So, O Lord, look upon, us as men do whatever Your hand and Your plan has predestined to take place. And grant us, Your servants, to go on speaking your Word with boldness while You stretch out Your hand to do wonders through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. For you alone are the King and the Judge of us and of all men. And in that truth we rest our souls in peace and we look to you for our salvation.
And this we pray in Jesus Christ, our Saviourâs name,
AM: David Robertson – Hebrews 13 (MP3 download)
PM: David Robertson – Ephesians 6v14 (MP3 download)
AM: David Robertson – John 10v1-21 (MP3 download)
PM: David Robertson – Eph. 6v10-13 (MP3 download)
AM: David Robertson – Eph. 5v22-33 (MP3 download)
PM: David Robertson – Eph. 6v5-9 (MP3 download)
AM: David Robertson – Eph. 6v10-13 (MP3 download)
PM: David Robertson – Psalm 39 (MP3 download)
AM: David Robertson – Eph. 4v25-28 (MP3 download)
PM: David Robertson – Eph. 4v29-32 (MP3 download)
AM: David Robertson – Eph. 5v1-7 (MP3 download)
PM: David Scott – John 11 (MP3 download)
AM: David Robertson – Ephesians 5v8-14 (MP3 download)]]>