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.


18 thoughts on “A MESS OF POTAGE

  1. Hello, Campbell!

    It’s good to read some helpful comments on yesterday’s proceedings.

    Thus the Church of Scotland officially holds that homosexual activity is sinful and that its congregations, if they wish, can ordain open sinners.

    I cannot see how anyone at all, other than people who value institutional peace and unity above everything else, can consider that to be a satisfactory position.

    How many revisionists are going to be happy that the Church of Scotland officially holds that homosexual activity is sinful?

    And how many traditional Christians will be happy with the denomination’s position that the teaching of Scripture is to be believed, but that Christians are not actually expected to put it into practice?

    And in what sense will the Church of Scotland actually hold to the traditional position? Will it simply be a legal fiction to claim that it does so?

    Of course, Oscar Wilde did say “consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.” But I think it will be very interesting to see how this develops over the next couple of years. Perhaps most people will simply see it as a good compromise. But it is possible that the whole thing will unravel when people examine it in the cold light of day.

  2. The call to fight for the truth is challenging, and I support those who will genuinely take a stand on this issue. However, it is also costly in terms of time, emotional strain and psychological pressure. It may be that some, looking at the road ahead, realise that the Church of Scotland will never discipline those whose lifestyle is in open contradiction to Scripture and that the energy expended in a futile fight might better be used in furthering evangelism and evangelical church growth. I left the denomination in 1995 over the denomination’s failure to discipline those supporting and encouraging homosexual practices – 1995 ! This is not something that has suddenly arisen and taken evangelicals by suprise. I have found in the last 10 years that the Free Church is a welcoming home for those who genuinely wish to pursue biblical unity and build a truly national evangelical Presbyterian church. Is it better to maintain a pretend unity with those who doctrinally and morally reject biblical Christianity or to seek a genuine spiritual unity within the fold of a Scottish evangelical Presbyterian body. To reinforce the words of our retiring Moderator – there is a welcome alternative, when our brothers and sisters are ready.

  3. Very sad for the Church of Scotland. As an observer of this from England, am I foolish to hope that evangelical ministers and Christians within the CofS choose to leave and join and rejuvenate and encourage the Free Church by their presence ?

    1. I think it’s more likely there will be a proliferation of independent churches than a boost to the Free Church, should there be a trend towards breaking away.

      1. I would really like to know why there is such an antipathy towards the Free Church? I can see the attractions, not so much in independency, but in a looser form of confederation such as the FIEC. Nevertheless, independency is an easy option that fails to embrace a national vision. Presbyterianism, as we know it, (to paraphrase Churchill), ” is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried…” Is it a rejection of the concept of Presbyterianism as such that will keep men out of the Free Church, or is it something specific about the Free Church that would be absolutely intolerable to those who for so long could accommodate union with liberals but could not possibly join with an evangelical confessional body such as the Free Church. Tell us what the problems are, and by God’s grace, we will try to deal with them – if they are genuine problems and not just misconceived prejudical stereotypes. There is a unique opportunity for Presbyterian reunion at this time; it would be sad if the bitter experience of one false Presbyterianism should keep men from pusuing a truly biblical Presbyterianism. I for one would hope and pray that such openess will exist on all sides, for the sake of the Chistian good of Scotland.

      2. I attend an independent evangelical church in England. I have an admiration for presbyterianism because it seems to address some of the problems associated with independency, so I find myself interested in the answers to the questions you pose. As a believer I could not stay in the CofS, although I understand why evangelical ministers in the CofS may take a different view.

  4. Just a few thoughts loosely related to each other, but not in a logical progression of thought.

    Some time after the Assembly 2 years ago I preached on Daniel chapter 9 where Daniel identifies himself with the sins of the people of God: “… we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened …” I am much more inclined to say “they” rather than “we” but it strikes me that Daniel did not do that.

    I have a great deal of sympathy with those who feel they must leave the Church of Scotland. If they believe that is how God is leading them I would not dispute that for them it is the right thing to do. Perhaps we need it to point out the seriousness of this rebellion against God. However I feel that for now this is where I must continue. I make no comment on what I may do in the future. Back in 1980 when I was living and working in Northampton I said, “I would never go back to live in Scotland, and even if I did I would never go back into the Church of Scotland!” I did both in 1981.

    There has been a problem in the Church of Scotland for centuries with those who do not recognise the authority of scripture or take it seriously, but nevertheless God has still blessed the church.

    I read some time ago that at the time of the Cambuslang Revival there were many seceeders who refused to believe that God could actually work in the Church of Scotland. Obviously God thought otherwise!

  5. Another wee point, which could have been made equally appropriately on the recent article on use of words. I object to being labelled as a “traditionalist”. As the only minister in our Presbytery not to even posses one of these ridiculous collars, or a batman outfit I think it is a totally absurd way to describe me. To me “Traditionalist” has very negative connotations. It suggests that my views are shaped by tradition and so I am inflexible to change. My views on sexual morality are determined not by tradition but by the Word of God.

    1. Whilst having a great deal of sympathy with your position the vote yesterday concerned the report of the Theological Commission and “traditionalist” is the self-designation of those holding to an orthodox or biblical theological position.

      As for clerical collars these were introduced to the Protestant churches here in the mid to late Victorian era. In a body which has existed as long as the church a fashion statement which has lasted for a mere century and a half is not a tradition it is merely a habit, and a bad habit at that.

  6. Fair enough points. I am aware collars a recent innovation, but I think still considered by most people as a tradition. Whoever designated me as a traditionalist, I still object!

  7. I doubt the tendency to body-swerve the Free Church has any logical reasoning in it. It’s probably more to do with:
    1. But that’s not our football team.
    2. But we’ve spent years looking down at them.
    3. But they put up with being ridiculed in the media and we like being thought of as respectable.
    4. But we’d be the newcomers with no street cred.
    5. But they actually have discipline so we couldn’t do what ever we like.
    6. Ah deh ken thaim.
    7. But if this is how we get treated by our own denomination will another denomination not treat us worse?

    Maybe the Free Church should organise a big open day at the college and invite C of S people for lunch. That might solve another problem too without any needless name changes.

    1. Good post, Louise. I was going to answer the question with the words “ignorance and prejudice”. But you’ve put it a lot better than I could have!

      In fairness, ignorance and prejudice are not simply Church of Scotland problems. Their root is in our human sinfulness, and they are widely found in most if not all denominations. Our denominations, even the better ones, so easily turn into idols.

  8. “The only reason anyone holding to orthodox Christian theology can remain in the denomination is in order to oppose this legislation.”
    Not true. Some of us know ourselves to be called to be in the C of S.

    1. The problem with this stance is that it turns the denomination into an idol. You surely cannot mean that no matter what the denomination decides or what stance it takes you will remain.

    2. Ah, the rug is pulled from under the rest of us! The man ( or, of course, the woman nowadays) with a ‘call’ can always silence the voice of the ordinary believer who has only the Bible!

  9. Thank you for the article. It always helps cut through the muck to ask, “Is it sin or not?” (whatever “it” may be). If we actually get around to letting the Bible define what is and isn’t sin, that is even better.

    I fear many “revisionists” can’t comprehend the “is it sin” question, because too many have stopped believing there is such a thing as sin at all. Or if sin does exist, it isn’t something anyone in their town would do, it is only particularly horrible things that happen elsewhere. So they really don’t have to talk about it at all, and it really isn’t nice to mention it. In fact, it is almost sinful to do so.

  10. I left the Cof S for other reasons though not this one – but I can see my thinking was right. I only have one question for the revisionists: ‘where did the new revelation come from?’ When did God say it was ok for men to sleep with men? Where is the evidence for this? There is evidence in scripture for the traditionalist view. God says it is a sin for a man to lie to lie with a man. Now if God changes his mind on this matter – am all for that. But where is the evidence – who got the new revelation? Jesus said: ‘you will have heard it said…but I say unto you now, etc’ – he produced evidence, by his actions, he heard from God. When did the Assembly ‘hear’ from God in this matter? To say ‘in the hearts of those who voted for revisionism’ is just bollocks. God speaks, but no one hears – I don’t think the Assembly is hearing from God whatsoever about anything. That’s why I left years ago! This church has laid its own tombstone, and there it will lie!

  11. If most evangelicals leave the Church of Scotland, then inevitably thousands will be left without evangelical witness and teaching. This is what happened in Wales following the call of Martyn Lloyd Jones to Calvinistic Methodists (Presbyterian Church of Wales) to “get out from among them”. Evangelicals who choose to remain will become marginalised, largely ineffective to influence the church’s decision making, as in Wales where Episcopalianism has overtaken the Nonconformist witness, which has been further eroded by ecumenism. The independent evangelical churches, such as The Heath, have suffered further splits.

    At present, there is still the possibility of a strong evangelical voice within the Church of Scotland. Yes, we need to fight, not for tradition, but for the truth. We also need to educate the large number of folk within who wouldn’t know the difference between evangelical and liberal doctrine. They are the folk who are swayed at GA by debates at the level of “I used to be against homosexuals but now I know some nice folk who are gay”. Equally facile is the assertion that a compromise in which both sides accept what they are convinced is wrong somehow brings peace.

    They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace. Jeremiah 8:11 (ANIV)

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