Why I am no longer in the Church of Scotland (3)
In 1995 I produced a small booklet on biblical separation. This is the second extract from that booklet:
Martin Luther had a saying that he used on a number of occasions, “God led me on.” By this he meant that through particular circumstances in the course of his ministry and work as a Reformer he was forced to reconsider certain issues, go back to Scripture, look at it in a new light and prayerfully seek to follow the leading of the Spirit. It was because God led him on that his thinking developed and deepened and we had the great spiritual movement that we know as the Reformation.
There should be no embarrassment on the part of any Christian in saying “God led me on.” If that development is towards a more balanced and thoughtful understanding of Scripture, it is part of the process of spiritual growth and sanctification. If a man’s opinions shift so radically that he must reassess his place in the church, it is necessary to face that openly and honestly.
Although some may think that particular issues such as the law officially excluding from office those opposed to the ordination of women, or the acceptance of those who openly commend and approve of certain sexual practices are behind my current unease, that is not strictly true. These issues, although important, merely reflect an underlying and more fundamental change or development in my own position.
When as a young man of 22 I was licensed into the ministry of the Church of Scotland I came with all the zeal and much of the ignorance that youth possesses. I entered what I knew to be a broad church. That is, I entered a denomination where I knew that other views beside evangelical Reformed orthodoxy held a place. I believed these other views to be wrong; I believed that the church’s confessional standards were faithful to evangelical truth; I believed it was possible to reform the church.
Working with non-evangelicals was not a problem. I choose not to identify with them. I did not participate in their ordinations. I did not (privately) recognise their status. However, at the level of the wider church I was involved in a measure of evangelical two mindedness. I had to work with non-evangelicals at Presbytery level and accept the decisions they made at presbytery and General Assembly. I made financial contributions which would in part finance their teaching and further their ministry.
However, I was content in this situation. I could get on undisturbed with my ministry in the local church. The decisions of Presbytery or the General Assembly that were unbiblical, I simply ignored. I even worked within the structures, serving on both Presbytery and Assembly committees doing what I could to facilitate biblical change – but to little effect.
The one thing I never did was to study what the Word of God had to say on the doctrine of the Church. In essence I had no doctrine of the Church. I was a pietist who believed that individuals needed to be saved, that they could be nourished through fellowship, prayer and bible study within the local church and by biblical preaching on the Lord’s Day.
I never really interacted with the separatist position. When I studied the writings of the great men of the past it was with an eye to personal salvation and spiritual nurture, not to their struggle for a biblical church. I felt uneasy when I read Owen or Spurgeon on anything to do with the Church; I read Lloyd Jones for personal nurture not guidance on ecclesiology. After all, I belonged to a body of men within my denomination who all claimed to be evangelical and even Reformed and whose leaders spoke of the infiltration and transformation of the broad church.
Whenever issues regarding doctrinal discipline and relationships with apostates arose in reading or preaching through Scripture I nimbly skated over them as divisive and unedifying. Besides, what separatist voices I did hear were harsh and aggressive, not conducive to Christ-like holiness and love. Sadly, those apostles of separation merely confirmed me in my own thinking.
I was not sure what changed my mind. In part it was a reaction to circumstances - seeing the impotence of evangelicalism to prevent the denomination drifting further from Scripture into more false ecumenism, more liberalism, more toleration of that which was fundamentally unbiblical. Also, seeing in evangelicalism itself a drift away from a firm commitment to Scripture and a clear commitment to confessionalism, together with a drift towards a naïve pragmatism disillusioned me. Seeing that men, even the best of men, had feet of clay and that their teaching had to be weighed by Scripture, not merely adopted as gospel on their personal authority, also distressed me. Continued reading of the Puritans, Spurgeon, Lloyd Jones and especially Machen raised questions for me.
Yet supremely it has been a renewed study of Scripture itself that has brought about my change of mind. As I have studied the Word afresh, coming to it without preconceptions or prejudice I have seen that to which I had formerly been blind. Does the New Testament teach that we are to fellowship with those who oppose sound doctrine? Does it envisage a situation in which doctrinal and moral error is tolerated? Does it present a picture of biblical churches being tied to other so-called churches which reject the Gospel? Does it tell us that biblical churches are to be under the authority of denominations that are in the majority non-Christian?
I have certainly changed my mind. I now believe that biblical churches must denounce and reject error in all its forms, discipline those who teach falsehood, and separate from those who reject God’s Word and refuse to be corrected. Where biblical discipline is no longer possible and falsehood is supported and promoted, I believe the local church must separate from an institution that is no longer under the authority of Christ and no longer subject to his Word.
What I have done in this document is not argue the case with regard to any particular error, for example the legal exclusion from the Church of Scotland ministry of men opposed to women’s ordination or the toleration of those who openly and actively defend and support homosexual activities. Rather, I have simply gone through the New Testament and recorded those passages that seem to speak on the issue of fellowship with error, the discipline of falsehood, and separation from false teachers. I have given some comments on certain passages to clarify what they are saying. I am sure there are omissions in the discussion and it is by no means complete.
(To be continued)
Note 2015: I see those today who argue as I did prior to 1995. Meanwhile the denomination has moved further into moral and doctrinal apostasy, a significant number of ministers have left and the largest evangelical churches in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen have left the denomination. “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” (George Santayana)