Thursday, 28 January 2016

A Sad Departure – Commendation and Response

A Sad Departure – Commendation and Response

Having received my copy of David Randall’s “A Sad Response” just before the start of Presbytery I managed to resist the temptation to read it during the more mundane sections of business.  When I reached home, however, I read it in one sitting, something I rarely do.

I thoroughly commend this able study of the spiritual malaise, indeed apostasy, in the Church of Scotland.  David deals with the current crisis as he goes through the recent history of G.A. decisions and the parallel history of evangelical responses. He explores the options of leaving or staying, the arguments presented by both sides, and the future options for those who leave.  Above all he shows the importance of the doctrine of Scripture in terms of its inspiration and authority and how this has been undermined in the denomination. 

No book is perfect, and as iron sharpens iron, it invites a response in certain respects.

“What’s past is prologue” (Shakespeare).  The past shapes and moulds the present and the current crisis can perhaps be more fully understood by going back slightly further than David does.  He focuses on the last 10 years, but the battle on this issue began at least 20 years ago.  The exodus of today was preceded by a comparable trickle of men (not congregations) leaving to serve in the PCA, the OPC, the EPCEW, and other evangelical presbyterian bodies.

David hints at this when seeking to show that he was not a rabid separatist in the past:

“I recall a case of a congregation (Gardenstown) many years ago that was being urged to secede from the Church of Scotland because the denominatiom was alleged to be moving in the direction of approval of homosexual practice. I, along with Rev James Philip spoke at a congregational meeting, urging members to resist secession and remain with the denomination.”

The year was 1995, and I was the minister of the congregation.  I had served the denomination for 18 years, the last 9 being in Gardenstown.  David and I served in adjoining parishes and he had been interim moderator at the time of my calling to the congregation.

The event he describes invites further exploration in order to explain why I urged the congregation to leave the denomination.  David suggests it was principally because of the supposed drift towards supporting homosexuality.  In actual fact the situation was somewhat more complex.  The issues of support for homosexuality and the enforcement of women’s ordination were, I believed, symptomatic of a deeper issue – the rejection of the authority of Scripture. (David himself recognises this to be the case in the current situation, as he narrates in his book.) 

My call to secede was based not on the symptoms but on the underlying cause – the denomination’s growing rejection of the authority of Scripture.

I no longer have access to my original papers, but let me try to recall and explain the background.  The denomination had decided to allow the ordination of women as elders (1966) and as ministers (1968).  The verbatim record of these assemblies show that this was declared to be merely permissive legislation and evangelicals were assured it would never be forced on congregations or ministers.  However, some 25 years later the denomination, unhappy with the obstructionism of some evangelical churches which still did not have women elders, sought to clarify its position.  Despite previous promises it was proposed that it be declared that the legislation was not permissive and, in very strong language, that those who actively opposed the ordination of women, who taught and preached that this was not biblical and who sought to influence congregations were “in violation of their ordination vows.”

At the Stillite gathering before the G.A., (usually referred to as the Crieff Fellowship), we debated this proposed change.  Rev David Young and I were planning to introduce a counter-motion and looked for support from the professed evangelicals.  However, the Stillites had already caved on the issue of women’s ordination; the unstated policy was, when necessary, compromise for the sake of peace and to remain in the denomination.

Three memories of that discussion vividly remain with me.

One of the Stillite leaders who opposed any organised resistance to the proposed changes spoke.  I still remember verbatim his words: “I know what the Bible says about ordaining unconverted elders.  I have done it in the past.  I would do it again if necessary!” His point was that if ordaining women was necessary to continue in a congregation and have the opportunity to preach the Gospel, he would do it.

I was shocked. My wife, who was present, was more than shocked; she was in tears.  A man whom we greatly respected and from whose ministry we had been greatly blessed was telling us to disobey Scripture.  This was illustrative of the Stillite policy of “quiet infiltration” – don’t rock the boat, compromise in order to continue.  Essentially they were pietistic congregationalists who had a defective doctrine of the wider church and the biblical basis of Presbyterianism.

I clearly remember the points I made.

On this issue, and others, if we were ready to disobey the clear teaching of Scripture, our people would respond by feeling that they were also free to disobey Scripture.

Secondly, the same hermeneutic used to justify women’s ordination would be, and in actual fact was being used to justify homosexuality.  By bowing to this false hermeneutic we would ultimately lose the right to oppose its wider application in terms of homosexuality.

The support of the conference was, at best, lukewarm. The leadership certainly opposed our activism.  The result was that we lost at G.A., although a good number of the Stillites not only voted with us, but formally registered their dissent at the Assembly’s decision.

It was the following year that the G.A. was presented with two reports that suggested the practice and promotion of homosexuality was an open issue and that we can agree to differ.  (The actual original draft reports of the Board of Social Responsibility and of the Panel on Doctrine  had been even more objectionable, but even after the in-committee changes, pushed by evangelicals, the fault lines still were clear.)

After the 1995 G.A. I found myself in this position.  As an evangelical who actively opposed women’s ordination I was deemed to be in violation of ordination vows and therefore could be subject to discipline.  In contrast, those who were promoting and encouraging homosexual practices were free to do so and could not be disciplined.  I could be disciplined for defending Scripture; they could not be disciplined for denying Scripture.

It was in response to this that I went back to Scripture to ask the question, “What does the Bible teach about those who embrace and support false doctrine and immoral behaviour?" This renewed study of Scripture was distilled in the booklet, “Biblical Separation”, currently being republished on this blog as “Why I left the Church of Scotland.” In this booklet there is no exegetical discussion of either women’s ordination or homosexuality, although there was an appendix reproducing a pro-homosexual article by the Professor of Christian Ethics in Edinburgh to show what was being tolerated and taught to our students.

My evangelical opponents never responded to my presentation.  (The “stayers” still do not respond to this.) James Philip preached in Gardenstown the week after my demission; he made no attempt to speak to me or answer my biblical case. I had become an untouchable and persona non grata.  One evangelical in Presbytery did write to me, quoting Titus 3:10, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him”, suggesting that this applied to me.  After 18 years of service I was treated as unworthy of serious consideration, a fundamentalist radical who would not be missed.

Well, my prediction was true.  The Church of Scotland continued in its course of tolerating the promotion of homosexuality and ultimately embraced the toleration of active homosexual behaviour in its members and ministers.  Gardenstown eventually left the Church of Scotland in 2015. 

In 1995 David and I stood opposed; in 2015 we stand shoulder to shoulder.  I rejoice in that unity in the truth. Indeed, the very fact that a man of such integrity and previous loyalty to the denomination should leave shows the depth of the “sad departure” from Scripture in the Church of Scotalnd.

I highly recommend this book.  Buy it, read it, share it with those elders and ministers who think they can stay in and support an apostate denomination. Sadly, some will not read it.  Some will read it but refuse to answer it, preferring instead to feed their congregations a diet of selective Scripture , misread history and pietistic double talk. My hope is that some will prayerfully read it and be convinced by it.

I end with a suggestion for David’s next book, “ A Happy Reunion – the Case for Evangelical Biblical Unity.”

No comments:

Post a Comment