Good Start, Disastrous Conclusion?
At the beginning of this week’s General Assembly of the Church of Scotland one leading evangelical messaged:
Good start to the General Assembly today as the Council of Assembly moved the following motion, which was unanimously approved by the General Assembly: 'Issue a call to the Church of Scotland to pray that God will do a fresh work amongst us as God's people and instruct Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to consider how best to respond to this call.’
My immediate response was to wonder whether this normally acute theology professor had lost his powers of analysis and discernment. Firstly, this motion had passed unanimously. That either indicates that the G.A. was of one mind on this matter, or that the motion was such that various parties could put their own spin and interpretation on the words. Given that the Church of Scotland is a predominately theologically liberal body, were the majority understanding the words in a different sense from the good Professor?
Theological liberals have developed the art of using orthodox and even pietistic language in a non-biblical manner. They are happy to affirm confessions that they totally reject, to recite creeds that they dismiss and to quote even the Bible in ways contrary to its original meaning.
What does it means to pray that God would do “a fresh work amongst us as God's people”? Do we mean that God will bring the church to repentance over its theological and moral apostasy, that he will reinvigorate it with a new confidence in the biblical gospel of Christ’s atoning and renewing sacrifice, that it will rediscover a new boldness to preach that individuals need to be born again, and a new commitment to the great truths of the Reformation expressed in the solas of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), Sola Fide (“faith alone”), Sola Gratia (“grace alone”), Solus Christus (“Christ alone”) and Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”)? Certainly that would be the good Doctor’s interpretation; but is that how the larger body of the Assembly interpret this call to prayer for a “fresh work”?
We know that for many “a fresh work amongst” us means a new openness to homosexual practices and gay marriage, a new ecumenism that fully embraces Rome and is indeed a multi-faith ecumenism, a new theology that casts off the doctrinal restrains of Scripture and the Reformed confessional tradition, a new understanding of the cross that excludes penal substitutionary atonement, and a new universalism that guarantees the salvation of all individuals with or without faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord.
The enthusiasm of the Saturday over the prayer for a “fresh work amongst us” has to deal with the reality of the Thursday and the decision of the General Assembly to continue on its revisionist trajectory in accepting and endorsing homosexual marriage and openly rejecting the authority of Scripture by an appeal to an ephemeral word behind the Word that may contradict the text of Scripture and be more attuned to the spirit of this present age and moral culture.
In political discourse the term “useful innocents” is sometimes used to speak of those naive individuals who are susceptible to manipulation in the support of a cause and who fail to see the reality behind their enthusiastic endorsement of a particular movement. For the Church of Scotland evangelicals are the “useful innocents” who provide money and manpower to maintain a liberal edifice that despises their theology, mocks their morality, and longs for their eventual demise. Talk of “reconciled diversity”, “constrained differences”, or “mutual flourishing” will prove to be empty rhetoric on the part of the liberals – it should be equally unacceptable to evangelicals who believe that there is a “faith once for all delivered to the saints” to be defended, anathemas to be pronounced against any who preach a different gospel, and discipline to be exercised against those who support, encourage or practice sexual immorality.