The progressive obsession with sex is such that they insist that their standards are the only morally acceptable ones and thus demand they be adopted by everyone else. This causes obvious problems for those whose morality does not change according to ever variable fashionable sexual etiquette, people like Christians and their churches. As a consequence there is a great deal of discord within the Church of Scotland at present regarding the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the marriage of homosexuals.
There are basically three tactical positions amongst evangelicals. There are those who are determined to remain within the denomination no matter what. The ‘stuckists’ will have to be thrown out before they will leave of their own volition.
Then there are those who are already in the process of leaving or are preparing to leave. Some ministers, elders and members have already left. Amongst those are some of the most able of the denomination and their departure has already weakened the evangelical witness within the denomination.
Then there are the majority, those who are trying to work out what should be done, individually and as a fellowship with a shared theological perspective. Although the crisis arose at the 2009 General Assembly there is as yet no clear evangelical leadership or agreed plan of action.
There will be a meeting of the evangelical group Forward Together at Stirling on 15th September, appropriately enough Battle of Britain Day, in which an attempt will be made to clarify a way forward. Prior to the meeting there is a letter circulating, it was distributed to my congregation at church yesterday, setting out arguments for staying in and resisting the neo-Protestant progressive deformation of the denomination. As I shall be in England at the time I would like to give my reactions.
Unfortunately the writer weakens his case by employing three ineffective arguments: the biblical, the historical and the pastoral.
The biblical argument put forward is that in the Old Testament prophets such as Moses, Joshua, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel all “remained within Israel” despite the spiritual declension of the nation. This confuses the denomination with the Church. Israel constituted the people of God, outwith Israel there were only pagans and unbelievers, the prophets of course never abandoned the people of God. Those who have already left the CofS have left a denomination, they have not left the Church, the people of God. There is a people of God outwith the CofS.
In the 1930’s when Bonhoeffer, Barth, Niemoeller and the others formed the Confessing Church because of the heresy of the German Christians they turned their backs on corrupt denominations, they did not leave the Church, the people of God, they were the Church.
In the New Testament we are told “Paul holds on to the church in Corinth, despite its clear disobedience.” Supposedly this argument “makes it difficult to argue that faithfulness to God means that we leave such a church.” Paul did hold on to the church in Corinth, and set about its reformation with vigour. He also instructed the Corinthian Christians that they were to separate themselves from those who persisted in immorality I Corinthians 5:9-11.
The historical argument is that since WWII there has been a growing movement amongst evangelicals in the CofS. I would consider myself a 4th generation child of this movement, the minister who had greatest influence on me as a young Christian was converted under the ministry of a man who had been influenced by William Still at Gilcomston South.
Evangelicals in the CofS have inherited the strengths and the weaknesses of this movement. The strengths are the emphasis on biblical exposition and personal holiness. These have had some impact, although it is Panglossian to describe evangelicals as “impacting the national church at every level.” There is a significant minority of evangelical ministers, a tiny number of evangelical congregations, and a few token “fundies” on denominational committees, this does not mean an impact at a national level. Meanwhile, we have done little to slow the progressive deformation of the denomination.
We have failed to impact the church as we should because of the weakness we have inherited. The post WWII movement began as an isolated handful who held to the truth and gradually grew, mainly through influencing students for the ministry. As isolated men within the denomination they focused on their relationship with each other and tended to ignore the wider church. To a significant extent evangelicals in the CofS became practical Congregationalists.
We do nothing to honour the legacy of those who have gone before by exaggerating their successes and ignoring their weaknesses.
The pastoral argument is that throughout Scotland many are being drawn to Christ through CofS evangelical ministries. I praise God that this is so. These are described as “bruised reeds and flickering wicks” who are in danger of being “snuffed out” if evangelicals leave the CofS. Again we have a confusion between the denomination and the Church. Is there no hope for the Gospel if evangelicals leave a malformed CofS? Is the present CofS the only vehicle for the evangelisation of Scotland? Do other denominations and independent congregations fail in their pastoral duties?
There is only one acceptable reason for evangelicals remaining in the CofS for the moment. That is in order to seriously organise and fight relentlessly for the truth of Scripture.
At present what we do is react, we are never pro-active. We must organise and take the fight to the progressives, forcing them to attempt to justify their unbiblical theology. We must join together in Presbyteries and not only present a solid block against the deforming effect of progressives but also push biblical policies and initiatives. We must form as a network throughout the denomination so that whenever one of us is under pressure they have the support and encouragement of us all.
All this will mean being involved in what some of the more pious , with a shudder, term ‘church politics.’ Have no doubt, unless we are prepared to do this we will see our denomination lose its Scriptural moorings and disintegrate, become an empty shell of no use to Scotland, or more importantly to Christ. What will be left may have the name Church of Scotland but not the reality.