It’s Going To Happen

I was wrong, and I’m glad that I was wrong.

The great temptation faced by ministers is cynicism, that corrosive corruption of the soul. Continually we encounter people in need and experience teaches that when people want something they will say anything. As a result we begin to automatically expect the worst.

Yesterday afternoon there was a meeting of orthodox ministers and elders in Glasgow to consider the situation facing the Church of Scotland concerning recent General Assembly decisions rejecting the Bible with regard to the ordination of practicing homosexuals. I went anticipating the worst. I had two expectations: being Scottish we would never agree, being Presbyterians we would appoint a committee. I was wrong on both counts, and I am glad that I was wrong.

Arriving at St George’s Tron I found the novel sight of a queue of people snaking up Buchanan Street as they waited in the rain to file into the church. Among the 600 or so attending there were people I had studied with during my first degree, and those I’d met during my ministry some of whom I hadn’t seen for years. Some were in neighbouring ministries and others I had never met. A few were retired, a significant number were at the beginning of their ministry.

That there was no squabbling was, it has to be admitted, due in part to the effective stage management by the organisers. Wisely there was no open discussion, 600 Scottish Presbyterians discussing church politics, the mind boggles.

After opening worship there was a succession of speakers. Some represented strong congregations already on their way to leaving or effectively rejecting Presbytery oversight with all the consequences that will inevitably bring. Others were genuinely searching for a way in which they could deal with the painful situation. All thought that a line had been crossed at the last General Assembly regarding Scripture and that there was no going back.

In fairness to the organisers it has to be acknowledged that conversations before and after the meeting indicated that the speakers were largely representative of those attending. There were few who said as one friend did, “We have differing understandings of the Church.”

Apart from times of praise the meeting was quiet, the speakers listened to with respectful silence. There were no interjections, no applause. Only once was I aware of a low murmur of agreement. Throughout the meeting there was a sense of dignity mingled with humility in face of what was happening. This was a sober and sobering gathering; no rally of dissent, rather a solemn affirmation of where we are. Although no decisions were made the direction which we shall take when we meet again in the autumn is clear.

I cannot recall being affected emotionally to such an extent by a meeting. Mainly it was the impact of the realisation that what had been a matter of discussion, or even something accepted on an intellectual level, was going to actually happen.

I left the Tron with the strong impression that disruption is now inevitable. Shakespeare was wrong, parting is not “such sweet sorrow.” In this instance it hurts, and hurts deeply. We are rarely so unfortunate as to witness an historic occasion. I fear that I was present at one yesterday.

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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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9 Responses to It’s Going To Happen

  1. James Torrens says:

    A fair assessment Campbell. And I share your reaction on the emotional level too. It just hit me yesterday, as the meeting ended, that things are never going to be the same again – for those who leave, for those who stay and for the denomination itself.

  2. Stuart Robb says:

    I cannot believe this is God’s will for the Church of Scotland. What good would come from a schism? How would it benefit God’s mission in Scotland? Surely we evangelicals should be ready to fight on or are we going to give up before the battle is over (possibly in 2 or 3 years!)? Let’s not be too quick to desert our posts, when we lose one battle!

  3. subcap48 says:

    Stuart – Sad to say, but this is not just about one battle. Carrying on your analogy, the evangelical side has been roundly trounced in many battles, over many years now. The war is already lost, the progressive side are riding rampantly on with their standard high, and those of us who beleive in the authority of scripture have to decide if we are ready to back the work of the gospel by other means, or continue a pointless fight in a dying denomination. I understand that many fear the future – not least those of us who have been brought up in the CoS or come to faith there – but to imagine that a miracle victory can be won in 2-3 years is utter fantasy. Don’t take my word for it, ask any of the guys who spoke up for the traditionalist position at the Assembly. The choice is a stark one but we have to make it, and make it now.

  4. Stuart Robb says:

    Subcap48 – I do not share your pessimistic stance. Have we evangelicals got such a short memory that we can’t remember what happened when the issue of blessing civil partnership came down under the barrier act? Even the commission’s report at the general assembly showed a church that is divided, almost down the middle on this issue. Do we evangelicals not believe that God can work miracles? The Church of Scotland is not doomed unless we give up on it. If evangelical churches leave before the 2 or 3 years are up, then by giving up the fight, they are leaving the remaining evangelical churches in a much weaker position to fight from. Clearly jumping ship is easier than the hard work of getting the ship turned before it hits the rocks. Is the 2 or 3 years of hard spiritual work ahead of us too much for us to cope with? Will God not give us the strength and the wisdom needed? We believe God is always at work, but we know that God does not work in our time, however much we would like him to. If evangelicals cannot stay united, then our mission in Scotland will be compromised, which will play right into the hands of Satan, who loves it when churches are divided. I continue to weep for the Church of Scotland, as I am sure God does, but I strongly believe that the war is not yet over even if an important battle in it was lost.

  5. Although I’m no longer a part of the Church of Scotland I share the disappointment that events have led to this difficult time. I’m glad to hear that the first meeting has gone so well and that the gravity of the situation is apparent.

    Good on you Stuart for asking the questions that you do. Even if the answers to those questions end up being difficult to act on, they are questions which need to be agonised over for as long as is necessary to achieve some sort of consensus.

    I’m praying that this doesn’t fall into squabbles over who owns the gospel, or is the moral owner of scripture. That rhetoric goes beyond ‘unhelpful’. Neither side ‘owns’ it and, although there will be some on both sides who are in this for the power, the majority on both sides will be acting out of their belief of the authority of the scripture and in accordance with their understanding of the work of the gospel. Recognise your brothers and sisters in Christ, even if you think they are wrong and need to separate from them.

    Demonising will only damage your own claims. If this becomes a bitter fight over ownership of the gospel, I’m tipping that all that will happen is the creation of another denomination, dying by its own hateful hand.

    Carrying on the metaphor of the thread: the most damaged in such a ‘civil war’ will be the same people who are the victims of most wars, the non-combatants (the general public), the foot soldiers (the laity), and the land (Scotland) itself.

    Secede peacefully, in as much as it is up to you to achieve that, or I fear the answers to Stuart’s questions will be: ‘no good at all, in fact it has damaged the ‘mission’ for at least a generation, maybe more’. Don’t let your church, whatever it ends up being, become known for being birthed in anger and hatred.

  6. Several years ago a visiting minister from an Australian Presbyterian denomination brought a booklet with him. It described the process of a split between a liberal established denomination and an evangelical group within it. What I remember so clearly was that prior to the split, the evangelicals had a common enemy – the liberals. After the split, the evangelicals who left were at emnity with evangelicals who had stayed behind and those who had stayed behind were still at emnity with the liberals but also now at war with those who had left. I would hope and pray that in Scotland we might take lesson from this Australian situation but I fear we will not. The indications from this and other blogs is that feelings are already running high. But consider that almost every minister is in a different situation. For some it is virtually untenable to maintain the status quo, for others the opposite is true and for yet a further group will have a degree of choice. It would seem therefore inevitable that some will leave and others will stay behind. What you must do irrespective of whether you go or whether you stay is that you commit yourselves together as fellow workers in the gospel irrespective of the individual decisions you might make.

  7. Malcolm Duff says:

    Stephen, thanks for the Australian perspective. I’m not sure if it describes the split in the mainline Presbyterian Church when the majority joined with Methodists and Congregationalists to form the Uniting Church, leaving the Pres Church to be run by traditionalists – probably mostly evangelical but some liberal. If it did, that “split” was a bit different because it wasn’t primarily about doctrine but about church union, and the continuing Presbyterians didn’t have to do anything except continue! Here many of us feel we have to do something, but what options are there? Rich churches can withhold funds, but many will see that as very divisive, and affecting those (including evangelical ministries) who need the financial support. For what it’s worth, my current feelings are:

    1) We need to find some way to show the Church how important this issue is for us. I supect that many haven’t a clue how seriously we are taking this.

    2) We need a forum to discuss possible ways ahead. We have no body that can formulate policy for our constiuency. Indeed many of our folk are barely aware that they are a constuency! This is different from Anglicanism, as Campbell has helpfully pointed out in another post.

    3) We don’t have to all leave, and we don’t have to leave immediately. Maybe those who leave can create pressure that will help those who stay., and those who stay can speak up for those who leave.

    4) We need to try and act together. This is vital for evangelical unity, but also for political success. This means compromises for the sake of the greater good.

    5) We have to prepare for change whatever happens, as the shortage of ministers and the selling off of capital investments is, I’m sure going to affect the ability of the CofS to provide “territorial ministry” for the whole of Scotland. I think the idea of a National Church is an increasing anachronism, and that we need to prepare for much more radical expressions of the church in different situations.

    6) While “traditionalists” may be united in terms of what they are against, they have many very different views of what they are for. Some have always seen a “pure church” as the ideal, while others are happy with a relatively “mixed denomination”, as long as there is basic agreement on fundamentals. While we are within the CofS these differences don’t matter, but there is a very real danger of increased enmity among evangelicals after a secession.

    Are there lessons to be learned from past secessions in Scotland (and elsewhere)? Is there a way of withdrawing from Presbyteries to form an “Associate Synod” that still wants to be in the Church, but wants to find a way of protesting against sin and error?

    I accept that some kind of parting of the ways is inevitable, and in many ways I’ve lost the desire to carry on the battle. I would prefer to evade and avoid conflict, and just slide out of the CofS and find a new home, but I am increasingly thinking that we maybe need to go the second mile in seeking to prevent a split. And I’m very grateful to Campbell for providing this forum.

  8. Ewan W. Wilson says:

    Departing or not departing is emphatically not a matter of individual choice or taste. It is one of absolute Biblical Principle and that principle is crystal clear- put away that sinful person from your midst. If you cannot do this you are in fellowship with apostasy. Furthermore sanctification, personal and corporate, does not just happen as if by magic. God has ordained ecclesiastical discipline to nurture the same. There is not the slightest sign that discipline is alive and functioning in the Kirk after May. Inevitably some will be persuaded to stay behind in the mistaken assumption that the institution is the Kirk; personally I believe that o be an elementary error but if sincere evangelicals do linger on, whilst I could never approve their choice I think we can still be charitable towards each other. The assertion the Kirk can still be turned around is alluring but there is one major objection to this- those prior to 2009 are staying put. That decision is hardly designed to invite divine blessing on the Kirk. The Biblical warning is stark: a LITTLE leaven leavens the whole lump.
    Having gone through similar denominational convulsion in 2000 I empathise with your distress but denomination is never absolute, however much affection we feel for it. The evangelical Presbyterian mission to Scotland is being shaken to the core and will recover marvellously and indeed much greater clarity IF the hard decision to part from apostasy is taken.

  9. Louise Hogg says:

    I keep agreeing with Ewan.

    If you’re going to accept that no one denomination has a monopoly on truth and that Christians exist within more than one denomination then blindly staying put makes no sense.

    The only group who could probably argue for sticking by a denomination in all circumstances are the Roman Catholics because they have a different definition of church/denomination.

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