Ask the Church?

The greatest problem facing the Church of Scotland today is the question of the ordination of practicing homosexuals. A controversy which could easily split the denomination.

At a recent meeting of concerned elders in Glasgow one minister proposed that instead of consulting just Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions there should be a referendum of the entire membership of the Church. I was asked if this had ever happened before and replied that I knew of no instance of this happening. My response, whilst I believe factually accurate, was not as thorough as it could have been.

Re-reading the Scots Confession of 1560 I was forcibly reminded of what I consider the most important sentence ever written in Scotland.

In the Preface to the Confession we find:

“If any man will note in our Confession any chapter or sentence contrary to God’s Holy Word, that it would please him of his gentleness and for Christian charity’s sake to inform us of it in writing; and we, upon our honour, do promise him that by God’s grace we shall give him satisfaction from the mouth of God, that is, from Holy Scripture, or else we shall alter whatever he can prove to be wrong.”

Here we have the Scots Parliament, an undemocratic institution in the midst of a political and cultural revolution, as well as a religious reformation, setting out their ideological manifesto. Doing so they ask the general populace of Scotland to read and judge it, and if anything is found to be unscriptural Parliament solemnly undertake to amend it.

This power was given, not only to teaching and ruling elders, not only to nobles and landowners, but to the generality of the populace. Everything of course had to be judged by Scripture, but the people were encouraged to fully engage in the process.

I realise that this is a complex question involving the nature of Presbyterian church government, but I admit to feeling bad about dismissing the proposition out of hand.

One argument against asking the Church as a whole to make up their mind could be that it would be asking too much of a Christian population appalling badly educated in theology and biblical understanding. Unfortunately this is true, but if we look at the past 450 years the only generation with a poorer theological background would be the generation of 1560 which was slowly emerging from gross superstition.

Perhaps one reason for the abysmal level of theological education in Scotland today is that we don’t encourage real, meaningful participation in the decisions of the Church.

This leaves us with three questions:

  1. Should we encourage greater participation in the decision making process of the Church in this way?
  2. If we did how would it mesh with Presbyterian church government?
  3. Is this a politically astute move?

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