My previous post Whither the CofS? raised a good deal of correspondence, much of it, understandably, from individuals who had no wish to have their names revealed. Before I go on holiday until the end of the month I have attempted to draw some of their concerns together. This is not a scientific sampling of evangelicals in the CofS, it is not even a scientific sampling of evangelicals who read this blog, it is merely a representation of those who have written in response to my previous post.
What comes through most clearly is that there is a deep sense of hurt felt by many. Speaking of the 2009 General Assembly one reader represents this feeling when he comments: “I was very profoundly disturbed. I felt that communion was breached in the denomination.”
Speaking of those I described as ‘stuckists,’ those evangelicals determined to stay no matter what, one correspondent wrote of their tendency to talk and not act. The denomination can cope with those who talk, but not with those who act. “Those you say will stay till they are thrown out, will never be thrown out because they will never do anything which would cause them to be thrown out… The reality is that for those who claim to be stalwarts ‘fighting’ till they are thrown out, fighting really means hand wringing and not fighting.”
One reader emphasised the weakening effect on the evangelical cause of leaving individually. Commenting on Martyn Lloyd-Jones a reader with experience of Wales writes: “He continued to have a considerable following within Welsh nonconformity so that, when he issued his call to evangelicals to “get out from among them” in the sixties, many took the advice. I can testify to the weakening of the evangelical witness within Welsh nonconformity generally and the Presbyterian Church in particular…Welsh nonconformity is desperately weak.”
Generally, although not totally, the respondents favoured staying in and fighting the cause, with the provision that this meant we actually fought. Whilst agreeing on the need to fight one writes: “I have almost despaired of the evangelicals making a fight of it.” Commenting that he has a great deal of sympathy with those who have already left the denomination he continues: “A better option if possible is to retake the Church but it may require a lot of courage. I can’t see how it is possible without a real rebellion and battle.”
Several correspondents pointed out the almost impossible task of fighting the evangelical cause when the effective presence of evangelicals in the CofS at the moment is regarded as fatally weak, disorganised and ineffective. “It is difficult to reconcile the sense of a sizeable, broadly evangelical, witness with the extremely liberal emphasis of Kirk councils… However, I observe a distinct tendency amongst the evangelicals who do rise to the dizzying heights of serving on an Edinburgh Committee, to tone down any distinctive emphasis and instead toe the party line.”
Another correspondent took the opposite line. I wrote that we have been too congregational in our church polity, one reader raises a very important counter-argument which points to one of the gravest weaknesses of evangelicals within the CofS : “I don’t share your view that our major failure has been that evangelicals have been too congregational. In fact, I think the opposite is true – we have been far too ‘denominationalist’ and not nearly congregational enough! That is, as you say, evangelical ministries have not translated into evangelical congregations except in a minority of cases. Far too many men have put far more attention and effort into fruitless efforts to ‘reform’ denominational committees and structures, and far too little effort into congregational reform, which is surely the first task of leadership, and an essential part of what real biblical ministry is. Because the gospel has not been forced into the life of congregations, to change and shape them biblically (which is the point of preaching), we don’t have very many solid evangelical congregations, without which you cannot possibly ever attain to a more evangelical denomination, no matter how many evangelicals might sit on top committees.”
Evidence in support of this argument comes from the Anglican evangelicals who have been strong enough to take action which then forced the denomination to listen to them: “The reason Jeffery John was not appointed to Reading was that 4 large evangelical churches all said ‘put him in, and there will be no more money’, and since they funded 40% of the diocese, that was that. The reason the Anglicans in Sydney are so strong is that they have grown and maintained solidly evangelical congregations, and that secondly (and crucially) they have got control of their training of ministers, through Moore College which has been kept solidly conservative. Only because of this have they become very effective in the wider church politics which enables them to keep a diocese (or presbytery) under evangelical control.”
It may be pessimistic, which does not mean inaccurate, but there seems to be general agreement that although it is right to fight our corner the fight is probably already lost. Unless we can very quickly reorganise and seriously make the fight we are capable of making it looks like we are going to indulge in the time honoured Scottish tradition of inglorious defeat.