The New Evangelical Moderates
Listening in the car to a short story in Jeffery Deaver’s “More Twisted” entitled “Chapter and Verse” my wife and I burst into laughter as the fictional detective interviews a pastor and confesses that he himself was not a Bible thumper. The pastor replies, “I’m Presbyterian – we don’t do thumping.”
So typical; Presbyterianism means staid and serious, not enthusiastic.
Sadly this is often true. Reviewing the history of the original secessions in Scotland in the early 1700s that led to the Relief Presbytery and the Associate Presbytery it is clear that the Moderates held the balance of power in the Church of Scotland. What many do not realise is that not all the Moderates were deists or moralists. Many were doctrinally orthodox and Calvinistic. They were, however, wed to the State and unwilling to rock the boat, especially at the risk of their own status and stipend. They were willing to compromise for the sake of peace.
There is a difference between compromise and accommodation. On non-fundamental issues, issues that may belong to the bene esse rather than the esse of the church, (the wellbeing rather than the being), we ought to be willing to accommodate. However, there are doctrinal and moral issues on which we cannot compromise.
Men who are formally orthodox in their theology, even Calvinistic, can be guilty both of failure to accommodate and willingness to compromise. I could not imagine what the early forerunners of the Secession Church would think now of the State Church and the willingness of the new evangelical Moderates to continue in fellowship with a denomination that embraces and encourages homosexual behaviour in members and office-bearers.
This is in my thoughts as this week it is announced that the Moderator elect of the Church of Scotland, replacing a professed evangelical who had to step down for health reasons, is Rev John Chalmers a known supporter of the ordination of active homosexuals.
As quoted in the Guardian newspaper when the General Assembly voted to allow congregations to call ministers in homosexual relationships, Chalmers said the vote was historic: "This has been one way or another, a massive vote for the peace and unity of the church." He said both sides of the debate had moved to agree a compromise. The General Assembly had voted for the "mixed economy", he said, where congregations could decide to uphold traditional teachings to only employ heterosexual ministers but where others could take on gay and lesbian ministers.” (Guardian, 20 May 2013.)
The new evangelical Moderates say they will not leave the State church, but remain to fight. This remains to be seen. Like the evangelical Moderates of the 1700s the temptation will be to compromise for the sake of acceptance. I cannot see them “doing thumping”; indeed their public silence on the issue has been deafening.
My prayer is that they, like the Fathers of the original Secession, will listen to the Scripture and permit it to inform their conscience.
In the interest of openness I must acknowledge that I served for 19 years in the Church of Scotland, before leaving over, among other issues, the toleration and promotion of homosexual conduct. I must also say that the Free Church of Scotland, while by no means perfect, is a welcoming refuge for those who wish to follow conscience and stand on Scripture.