Presbyterian – Anglican, There Are Differences

In a comment to the post “What Now?” Malcolm Duff makes some interesting and important points. One in particular deserves further unpacking.

“The “centre” ground that used to encompass past moderators has been lost and these men have much to answer for. They have implied that this is a storm in a teacup like women’s ordination that will soon blow over.”

The Church of Scotland has become eerily similar to the Church of England. Only recently has the CofS began to be referred to as a “broad church.” Until the 80’s we wouldn’t have seriously considered this. We were a Presbyterian church, even a Reformed church, but not a broad church. The Anglicans were a broad church, and proud of it. We were a confessional church, and proud of that.

Anglicanism has at its core a centripetal force. Accommodation and compromise for the sake of the unity of the communion is written into its ecclesiastical DNA. How else could it have survived?

Until very recently, the CofE had been composed of two wings and a broad centre. There is the Anglo-Catholic wing which sees the pre-Reformation tradition as being the defining characteristic of the communion and would welcome increasing accommodation with Rome. At the other end of the spectrum are the Protestant wing who, in varying shades from Pentecostalism to Puritan see themselves as Bible centred.

Between both wings lay the broad mass, the followers of the Vicar of Bray. Whichever wing predominated they would go part way with them until the pendulum swung and the other wing predominated, and they would accommodate the new regime. Meanwhile the work of the church in parishes throughout England quietly muddled on.

Recently there has been a new element in the mix, an increasingly strident progressive wing who have no concept of tolerance. The broad mass in the centre are increasingly coming under the sway of progressive theology and mores. The Anglo-Catholics cast glances towards Rome as a safe haven, the Protestants mutter amongst themselves, and the progressives reshape the church in the image of its scriptures, the Guardian and Independent.

There will be no mass break up of the CofE, they appreciate accommodation as a theological as well as social virtue. A few will go off to Rome, but not many, a few will go independent, but not many, and the church will have a new progressive face. The new centre will not be as tolerant as the old, they will demand obedience and the wings will be gradually squeezed to eccentric irrelevancy.

Not so in Scotland. Admittedly we have seen the anglification of the CofS due to increasing standardisation of viewpoint courtesy of the influence of the media, and a drastic weakening appreciation of and understanding of theology courtesy of our method of training ministers. However, there is a core difference in denominations.

As Malcolm points out the centre no longer holds. That viewpoint which evangelicals could once deride as Auld Kirk, traditional, cautious and always seeing problems with anything new or enthusiastic, the view represented by the ex-Moderators in the play pen at the Assembly, has gone. Progressives, always more adroit politically and with greater access to and sympathy from the media have, as with the CofE, taken over the centre ground.

The big difference in denominations is that we have a centrifugal force at our core. In our history principle has usually come before compromise. At times this has been self destructive hair splitting, at other times it has meant awe inspiring faithfulness. The neo-Protestant progressive centre has little understanding of our history. They look south today and see that nothing terribly dreadful has happened or will happen, the CofE will continue under progressive management and a few trouble makers will have disappeared.

They assume the same will happen in Scotland. It won’t, we don’t have the same tradition of compromise, and evangelicals have been pushed too far.

There is no turning back now, the important thing is that we manage the split in a way which does not damage those congregations who want to leave. Once again I quote Malcolm:

“I hope evangelicals can show a maturity and unity that we are not always good at, and that we can keep congregations together as we work out the implications of leaving. I would like too, to see an understanding approach from the Law Dept and General Trustees so that congregations could take buildings with them. But don’t hold your breath!”

This is no temporary upset which will blow over as others have in the past. For many of us this is not a case of “Will we, won’t we?” This is a case of how we manage the split.

This is something we have to do together. We should have been preparing for this moment earlier. We must do so now.


3 thoughts on “Presbyterian – Anglican, There Are Differences

  1. I have refrained from any public comment on this issue, as I did not wish to be seen in any way to be stirring things up. I served 19 years in the ministry of the CofS, and left in 1995 over the very issue of homosexuality – its promotion within the denomination by those in positions of authority without fear of discipline.

    I simply want to say this – I have found a welcome home since returning from the USA, (where I served with the OPC), within the Free Church of Scotland. It is by no means perfect, but it seeks to be biblically consistent in doctrine and practice. To those in the CofS I would say, “Come over and help us, if you will!” The last thing we need is another denomination, so join the FCS, or the UFC, or the APC. The FCS needs ministers; it needs the leavening of good evangelical fellowships. May God guide my many friends who find themselves having to make difficult decisions at this time.

  2. Campbell – brilliant post as always. There are big challenges ahead for all who are currently in the CoS and who believe in the authority of God’s word. As you say, the issue is ‘how we move away’ not ‘will we move away’. One question I have been mulling over is whether the majority of the commissioners to the Assembly, who voted as they did on Black Monday, actually understood what it was that they were voting for, and the implications of that vote. Watching it online, it was apparent that many there seemed confused about the procedure and direction of the debate.

    It is written across all change case studies, that a small committed band of vocal individuals will bring about a ‘tipping point’ influence on a malleable majority. In this case, the fact that the majority is malleable is not so much testament to the pernicious influence of the progressives, but rather to the complete ignorance of the majority on scriptural truths. We are reaping the whirlwind of weak, or no, biblical teaching which has taken place in our parishes over many years now. However, we have to recognise the reality of where we are; it’s time to start afresh with what we have left, with those who haven’t bowed the knee to Baal.

    Just a final thought – how about a motion to next year’s GA asking for ordained ministers to be allowed to hold position whilst living (in their manses or elsewhere) with unmarried or adulterous partners? That would really flush out where the CoS is on this issue.

  3. Just picked this up yesterday Campbell. I think your analysis is spot on. I suspect confessional evangelicals have not been valued in the CofS in recent years for two reasons. Firstly we are seen as some kind of sect, akin to those who left in 1843. We have been tolerated if we play by the (establishment’s) rules and never rock the boat, but although we have had many Board and Council conveners in recent years the nearest things we’ve had to an evangelical moderator were Tom Torrance, Hugh Wylie and Sandy McDonald. Secondly everyone wants to claim the word evangelical to define themselves, and today that includes many who are “revisionist”. The word evangelical, even in some independent evangelical circles, is used to define those who believe in sharing the gospel (evangelism) and who value an experience of knowing God in some way. The vague, indefinable neo-orthodoxy of many of our leaders refuses to say what it believes – except that it believes in Jesus (but which Jesus?) and what it doesn’t believe – except that it’s against “intolerance”.

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