How did It Happen?

As we attempt to work through the crisis facing the Church of Scotland today and wrestle with where we go from here it is important for us to ask how we have arrived at this position. The reasons are legion. From the three areas of the theological, the structural and the political there are typical examples which show how we have failed in the past some and warn for the future. Most readers of this blog are not C0fS member but the principles apply elsewhere.

Theological In effect the CofS is a confessional Church without a Confession, and thus without a coherent centre. Our adherence to the Westminster Confession of Faith is nominal and there is no genuine form of unity around which we can structure our life or defend our faith. As Bonhoeffer said, “A Church without a Confession is a Church lost and defenceless, and that it is in its Confession of Faith that the Church has the only weapon which will not break.”

Without the coherence of a shared Confession we are essentially in a rudderless position where anything is permitted without fear of being called before Scripture. Denominations without a coherent controlling principle are susceptible to the influence of the world. In the CofS that principle was the Confession,which no longer functions.

Structural For too long we have abdicated our responsibility to educate our leaders. The denomination has educated its ministers on the cheap and is now paying the price. Our ministers have always been trained in Scotland’s ancient universities, at one time this was the same as being trained by the Church. The faculties of theology were staffed, to a significant extent, by theologians of ability and some of genuine stature who were also ministers of the denomination with experience in the life of the Church. No longer.

The Church failed to think the unthinkable and was unable to recognise the danger until we were confronted by a generation of leaders trained by state-run institutions. As a result they have little understanding of the theological tradition of the CofS or indeed of theology other than as an academic discipline.

Structural We have neglected ecumenism. Progressives have, until recently, made the running in incessantly pushing for structural ecumenism. The orthodox have neglected the more important theological ecumenism of working together across denominational boundaries with those who share our basic theological stance.

As a result natural allies have accepted denominational division as being more important that theological co-operation and mutual support. The theologically orthodox have concentrated on resisting the false ecumenism of administrative harmony and neglected the pursuit of genuine ecumenical co-operation between those of differing denominations who are in essential theological harmony.

Where to go from here Those who are intent on remaining in the CofS until they are actually forced out legislatively must ask themselves if there is any realistic possibility that by remaining their presence in the denomination is going to have an effective impact on: genuine adherence to the existing confessional standards or the creation of a new and acceptable Confession; on the overall education process which produces our leaders; and on denominational co-operation with the remaining orthodox bodies in Scotland. If not why stay?

Those who are intent on leaving and forming something new must ask themselves if what they create will: have a cohesive theological standard which provides a stable framework for co-operation and at the same time leaves freedom for theological exploration and development; retain the training of the leaders of the Church in the hands of the Church; be intent on co-operating with others who share their theological stance on the evangelisation of Scotland. If not why go?

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About Campbell

Now retired but once upon a time a parish minister in Glasgow, before that the South West and initially the Black Isle. Been a prison chaplain and lecturer. Still am constantly bemused by the weird world around me.
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One Response to How did It Happen?

  1. Colin Wilson says:

    About the only thing that separates evangelicals within the Church of Scotland from the average Baptist is, well…. Baptism. Given that half the believing world and the vast majority of new churches adhere to credo-baptism, is this (paedo-baptism) a point on which the WCF is highly-vulnerable? And is it a valid reason for the division between Baptists and Presbyterians?
    When institutions collapse the tendency is to create another institution (or re-label one half of the split). Structural unity has manifestly failed (praise God); not least because it can never be truly build on relational grounds. True spiritual unity can only develop on a relational basis and this has more to do with Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Presbyterians and Methodists coming together at a local and personal level – acknowledging areas of disagreement but working out (their) faith in fear and trembling in the sight of a holy God.

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