Any deliberative body which has been in existence for more than 450 years is bound, however well intentioned, to make a few unfortunate decisions. Unhappily the more it tries to be even-handed and steer a middle course the worse the decisions are likely to be.
Yesterday the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland after a six hour debate concerning the ordination of openly homosexual ministers decided by a vote of 340 to 282 to affirm its “current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality”, which holds to fidelity within marriage and celibacy outwith marriage. At the same time it also decided to allow individual congregations to opt out of this “current doctrine and practice” and ordain openly homosexual ministers.
Thus the Church of Scotland officially holds that homosexual activity is sinful and that its congregations, if they wish, can ordain open sinners. This supposed “compromise” decision is what can be expected of a church described by one of its own leading theologians as having its lowest level of theological eduction in pew and pulpit since the Reformation.
The present Moderator of the General Assembly has claimed that “This is a massive vote for the peace and unity of the church.” A more realistic interpretation is that it opens the church over the next two years to the most ferocious struggle since 1843.
Due to a procedure called the Barrier Act under which contentious legislation has to be approved by a majority of individual Presbyteries this will not become the official stance of the church until the General Assembly of 2015.
The Barrier Act was conceived as a safety measure to stop any one General Assembly from binding the entire church to major legislation which the church as a whole rejects. This gives those holding traditionalist Christian doctrine two years to organise within Presbyteries and defeat the measure.
Unfortunately two of the denomination’s most influential evangelical congregations have already left. Yes, we will be assured that the Tron, Glasgow and Gilcomston South, Aberdeen are still in existence within the denomination; but their ministers, Kirk Sessions and the vast bulk of the membership have left, only those taking shelter in legalities and stonework can claim they remain. A number of ministers, elders and members have also left as individuals.
At present there are other congregations and members who are considering following them. Previous departures have seriously weakened the traditionalist cause within the denomination, further departures will do nothing but ensure the triumph of Neo-Protestant progressive theology. However, it has to be understood that if traditionalists are to stay in the denomination it has to be to fight. The only reason anyone holding to orthodox Christian theology can remain in the denomination is in order to oppose this legislation.
The Church of Scotland has sold its birthright for a mess of progressive pottage, it is going to be bitter to the taste.