On his Facebook page Joe Carvalho has started a thread on Should we save the Church of Scotland? Just in case anyone might be in doubt concerning his position Joe has given it the sub-title Not me!
It is interesting that most of the responses to the thread are in support of Joe’s position. This of course may be because either Joe has friends who share his theological position, or many of his friends do not belong to the CofS and have little emotional attachment to the institution.
I am in the position of having been converted whilst attending a liberal CofS congregation, I have never been a member of any other denomination and have been a CofS minister for more than thirty years. Yet I find myself in the uncomfortable position of responding to Joe’s question ”Should we save the Church of Scotland” with another question: Why should we?
On an emotional level I want to be convinced that remaining in the CofS and struggling for its reformation is the right thing. This is the position held by many of my friends and people I admire. Unfortunately the arguments for staying usually fall into two groups. First, it is still possible to recover the CofS for biblical Christianity; and second, Scotland doesn’t need another denomination.
It may be possible to transform the denomination and see it return to the proclamation of biblical Christianity with verve and confidence. It’s just that the experience of thirty odd years in the ministry indicates that evangelicals are unable to seriously influence the direction of the Church. We have people of considerable ability, people of total dedication to the gospel, people willing to work hard to change the Church. But the simple truth is we couldn’t organise a panic in a doomed submarine.
The present situation concerning ordination of practicing homosexuals illustrates the point perfectly. Nearly two years have gone by since the decision to bring the matter to the Assembly of 2011. We have Forward Together, Confessing Churches, Crieff Fellowship, hordes of concerned ministers and members; yet we have failed to mount a coherent, organised opposition to this flouting of biblical and confessional standards. The situation is recoverable, just. But I seriously doubt that we are the people to do it.
The argument that Scotland doesn’t need another denomination is true, but does it address the situation? It assumes two things, that the CofS as it is at present would continue ad infinitum, and that those leaving the CofS would form another denomination.
Membership figures for the CofS are falling off a cliff, if it continues as it is within a couple of decades it will be in the position of the Free Church today, faithful to their ideals and totally ineffective in the spread of the gospel. It will be the shell of a denomination. The only difference being that this time it would be a refuge for rootless neo-Protestants instead of federal Calvinists.
Why would those leaving the CofS form another denomination just like those we have today? Is this model the only one possible and is it so good that we must constantly replicate it?
There are a couple of possibilities. We could join with others in Scotland who share our vision and create an organisation dedicated to church planting and the growth of new Christians. Or we could develop a new more fluid response to today’s culture. Perhaps what is needed today is a looser and more adaptable structure which allows greater freedom for men and women to follow the leading of the Spirit and which was not priest ridden as the CofS is today.
These are just some initial ramblings. However, I am serious when I say I would like to be persuaded that it was possible and we should try to save the CofS. Perhaps you could help persuade me.