Saturday, 23 May 2009

Christian Unity And The Church Of Scotland

Bear with me a little, blog-readers. I know some of you will have a reaction to the below - he's young, he's hot-headed, he's inexperienced, it's easy for him to say, he doesn't understand the complexity of the situation.... but bear with me still. I've heard those things said. I've considered them, and then again. I think for the most part, you're wrong. It won't hurt you to read me saying them again, should you have heard me saying them before. Tolerate it one more time...

The Church of Scotland tonight is to consider the question of appointing ministers (and one in particular) who are open practicising homosexuals. In this case, it's not just a practicising homosexual - but one who broke his marriage vows to his wife, abandoning her and his family. There's a gathering in the Church of Scotland that wants to appoint this covenant-breaker as their minister. Naturally, those who believe the Bible to be true, think that this is wrong. The Bible is consistent from the first pages to the last on this issue. Those who prefer to trade in tedious slogans, comparing it to temporary, symbolic and covenantal restrictions on ancient Israel (e.g. food laws and clothing laws) just betray their lack of interest in what Scripture says. Like Stephen Dancer I much prefer those openly confess their rejection of what the Bible clearly says - at least we can have a reasonable conversation with those people.

This post, though, is not about the liberals. It's about the evangelicals in the CoS - those who do accept the Scriptures in a serious way. I want those brethren to take a step back and look at what it's come to. What on earth are you doing?

What I mean in particular is that they ought to look at the whole setup of the argument that they're getting themselves into tonight. They've got a motion tabled, to advance the idea that only those accept that marriage is the only legitimate sphere for sexual intimacy should be accepted as Christian ministers in the church. Well, that's true enough. But this motion is going to be debated in an assembly made up of some evangelicals who believe the Biblical gospel, and a (probably) far larger number of liberals and semi-Romanists who openly reject it. The evangelicals hope that with the help of the Catholic party, they'll perhaps be able to get something through. Outward morality will then be at least officially preserved, for the time to come - if they manage this.

Meanwhile, the actual Biblical gospel itself will continue to be openly denied by both Catholic friend (on this debate) and liberal foe. There will be no attempt to re-assert this gospel - that battle was apparently given up a long time ago. The fact of ministers in the church who openly preach another gospel will continue to be accepted as a necessary (though regrettable) state of affairs that will have to go on for the forseeable future until some miraculous intervention occurs.

But on authentic evangelical principles, this is madness. To fight for outward moral behaviour when the Biblical gospel has gone out of the window a long time ago, is not faithfulness to Christ: it's fighting over what colour the deck-chairs should be when three-quarters of the ship has already broken up. The gospel has to be the foundation of any supposedly "Christian" body worth joining. Kicking up a fight over sexual behaviour when you've lost that is swallowing camels and afterwards getting irked by the flies.

Paul, in Galatians 2, tells us that he stood up to oppose his brother - his fellow apostle! - Peter, publicly. What had Peter done? Had he preached a false gospel? No. Had he accepted as a fellow Christian minister people who preached false gospels? No. His crime was simply to not eat with Gentiles - to go along, for a time and under pressure, with the practice of those who were making critical mistakes about the gospel. He ate with the wrong people. Paul saw that this compromise led to the inevitable unravelling of the gospel, and that Peter had to be publicly confronted for the gospel's sake. His eating only with Jews virtually denied the gospel of justification by faith alone - without Jewish works.

Our evangelical brethren in the Church of Scotland, though, accept membership in a body where the vast majority does not accept the Biblical gospel. The principle that ministers could be appointed without believing that gospel was conceded by them years ago. There will be no motion presented at the meeting this evening to insist on the gospel - in its place there'll be one to insist on right outward morals. They want to insist on the fruit, even though the roots of the tree were dug up a long time ago, and now the trunk and branches are being chopped down in broad daylight. This is madness and folly of the highest order.

The apostle John wrote (2 John 14) that we should not welcome into our homes those who teach gospel-destroying errors. Brethren in the CoS - you ride so far roughshod over this principle that far from talking about sharing a meal with those who do this, you actually are prepared to sit alongside them in a debate, accepting them as fellow ministers and go through all the niceties of discussion and then voting. You will accept them as those who should decide what is done in the church - even though you know they don't believe the gospel that is the criteria for joining the church, let alone becoming fellow-ministers in it.

I read one evangelical minister's words, in which he bemoaned that probably the outcome will be that the liberals, as is their wont, will probably devise a cunning compromise that stops the thing coming to a head without any clear statement of orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality being allowed to emerge. OK. But what about the point that the evangelicals' long-term direction has also been to again and again come up with some cunning and unbiblical compromise that allows them to carry on ministering in an organisation that draws and has no intention of drawing a clear line over the Biblical gospel? Reasons to carry on taking part in these assemblies, treating gospel-deniers as Christian-ministers, debating and discussing with them as partners though they reject essential swathes of Biblical truth? What about all the "line in the sand" issues of the past decades that evangelicals have successively persuaded themselves they could find a rationale for over-looking, again and again?

Brethren, come out and be separate - and the Lord will receive you as his sons and daughters. Join the vast legions down Christian history who've left their familiar and comfortable situations and gone "outside the camp". Go back from the fruits to the roots. Make the issue one of the Biblical gospel. Insist that the church must clearly accepted that as a sine qua non - not only of becoming a minister, but of being accepted as a Christian at all. If you're not willing to make that the issue, just leave now - there's no point in making an issue of anything else if you won't make an issue of this. You may have reasoned that the Lord is pleased for your bold stand over sexual behaviour. But if you read and read again the book of Galatians and see just how worked up Paul got about the subverting of the Biblical gospel - is yours really a tenable position? Is Jesus really pleased that we're so keen on outward morality, because presumably that's the heart of what his kingdom's about?


jonathan said...

Hi David,

Isn't this exactly the same situation that the Church of England is in too? Presumably you remember the 1966 call that Lloyd-Jones made to Stott in a similar situation. What _practically_ can people do when you call them to come out? Does their entire church secede (from the CoS) and join (perhaps) the Free CoS, which seceded more than 100 years ago. Or should individual believers leave? What about individual churches within the CofE. It's very easy to issue these calls (especially from another country!) but, practically, what do you think should be done? Especially if there are no other evangelical churches in the area. I suspect the only thing that can be done is for an entire church to secede, but that will be a difficult legal issue to untangle, I suspect.

On a more happy note, a very good friend of mine became a Christian at Queens Cross, the liberal church at the heart of the controversy. Despite the liberal teaching, the power of the Word of God is effective, and through (sound) friends in the Free CofS, correctly her wobbly theology. People can and do become Christians despite liberal churches, praise God! She finds it somewhat ironic (now living in England and being in a independent baptist church) that the church she was converted in is at the heart of the storm. There are certainly rumours that some of the CoS churches may join the Free CoS.

2cats said...

I just found your blog.
I hate to say I enjoyed your writing about the churches decision tonight but I can not think of another word.
I am dismayed whenenver I hear of a church deciding to allow practicing homosexuals be ministers.
Where is the example they are supposed to be? We are supposed to look to them for wisdom about the bible. They are certainly lacking.
I hope your church finds the reasonability that the Bible is.

David Anderson said...

Hi Jonathan,

I think the Church of England went this far some years ago - the evangelicals in it still kick up a fuss if an openly homosexual minister is proposed as a bishop, but they accepted open homosexuals in the parish ministries as something they could co-exist with a long time ago.

Your first paragraph: I don't really accept the thrust of this. Practically, Bible-believing ministers and individuals should publicly separate themselves the Church of Scotland. That is the practical step that I was suggesting they should take. Your question seems to be about dealing with legalities of buildings, organisations, etcetera. As you point out, I'm in another country - and as a Baptist I don't have a lot of sympathy with the organisational mindset which makes so much of these matters in the first place. When you say that "it's very easy" for me to say such things, I don't think you're speaking with any knowledge of what I might personally have been through in past years and whether it really was or wasn't "very easy" for me...

Any way, it's a matter of comparative indifference what kind of organisations these evangelicals join, or how they work out the legalities of what they'll do with their mansions, pensions, buildings etcetera. I don't presume to advise them on matters so far away from me. But given that liberalism took over the denomination generations ago, I frankly think it's going to be a bit much if any evangelical in the CoS were to start saying that it's too difficult to extricate themselves and work out the organisational niceities when there are so many brethren around who have paid the cost and dealt with these problems with all their attendant difficulties ... how many decades do they need to start thinking about this? Are they really saying they never saw this coming? Surely not!

David Anderson said...

I meant to say manses, not mansions - slip of the fingers!!!


Ned Kelly said...

It is an interesting, but very sad debate when the issue of legalities, buildings, organisations, and authority levels distract from the main issue that you correctly identify, that of the primacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many have warned of the traps that a hierarchical, cleric based "church"" brings, and here we see them amply displayed. As Christians, we should have but one overriding loyalty, to Jesus Christ and his gospel, every other loyalty, despite good intentions and the occasional anecdote, encourages the insidious creep of secularism. There is, in my opinion, no justifiable reason for bishops, priests, clerics of any description, or lay people to remain with a congregation that rejects the Gospel. Go join a home group, or start one, the church of Jesus Christ requires no bricks or mortar, no charter, no hierarchical organisation, no legal approval, no State recognition. Our comfort and security should be in Jesus and the hope that his gospel has given us, we need to place our trust in His Word and the Holy Spirit, not in edifices and clerics (no offence), else I fear that our faith is misplaced, and we have forgotten Acts 4:12, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved".