COULD THE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND BECOME CHRISTIAN IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY?
Rev Dr Robert Anderson
(1) Christianity as understood and practised in the Church of Scotland is not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
Why is this the case? At the Reformation, there was a clear cut decision to abandon hierarchy, priesthood and sacramentalism. For over four hundred years the Church of Scotland represented a type of Christianity which was existential in nature. God and People, People and God met together. The model was found in the Old rather than the New Testament, and there was a sense of community, identity and history similar to that seen in Judaism, rather than that of the first centuries of the Christian Church with its Jesus Christ centred consciousness. The natural tendency of all human life to believe in God in some form or another was a strong part of the spiritual nature of the Reformed Church in Scotland. It was made easier for people to participate. There is something desperately second-hand about the phrase ‘the ordinances of religion’ which were to be dispensed throughout the length and breadth of Scotland by the national Church on a territorial basis. Centuries of nominalism resulted and its heritage informs the Church of Scotland’s current predicament. The idea that the Church was there to ‘make people Christians’ was not forgotten, but it has never been critical to congregational life and ethos.
(2) The Church of Scotland has been and remains a ‘God centred Church’ rather than ‘Jesus Christ centred Church’.
God, history, Jesus Christ – that may well have been the order of understanding at the Reformation in Scotland which had a strong political dimension, and the Covenanting struggles of the seventeenth century which were political and violent as well as spiritual in nature, strengthened that sense of identity and calling. Pre-Christian attitudes in Scotland also carried far into the Reformed Church. Aspects of determinism and retribution continued to be mixed up with Christianity giving the Scottish brand a harshness that did not come from the New Testament. The reduction of clerical authoritarianism and the lack of sacramentalism made Reformed Christianity more cerebral and intellectually active, following Calvin. That has been the Church of Scotland’s nature until the present time. Protestantism freed human spirits and led to the creation of the western world that we know today. Though it has many faults, its existence is owed to The Reformation. But unless it remains Christ-centred, Protestantism’s individualisation leads logically to secularism. That is what has happened in Scotland. The Church of Scotland has been marginalised, largely due it must be said, to its own fault. It has validated secularism and political correctness rather than having continued to call people to Christ and to Christianity. This helps to account for the fragmented nature of its policies and the inconclusive content of its contemporary message. Neither has it clearly stated Christianity’s distinction from Islam, wanting to be thought tolerant in order to acquiesce to politicians’ wishes for a conjecture of peace. The prophet Jeremiah would have been more realistic.
(3) Paradoxically, the elephant in the room in the Church of Scotland is God.
The Church of Scotland’s origins, history and present character do not tend towards becoming an inspired vehicle of Christian mission. It is not a Christ confessing branch of the Church. Folk religion is practised as part of congregational life and parish ministry. Members’ conversations are social in nature, before and after worship and even during worship at the taking up of the offering. The Church of Scotland is not a clearly identifiable Christian entity. It is a social organisation which reflects the values of contemporary life and offers little distinctive alternative interpretation of events. The proceedings and structures of the Church of Scotland are not in fact Christian. They are not based on the New Testament, on Christian principles or on Jesus Christ. They form a superimposition of late mediaeval quasi-legalism over the souls of many who aspire to Christian life and witness. Centralised management has taken the Church of Scotland away from its Presbyterian roots and management of decline theories and business practices miss the point of Christianity’s capacity for renewal and revival. One example of this is the centralisation of ownership of church buildings. Members of local congregations are now largely tenants of properties built and paid for by previous generations. This has created inertia and disincentive to act. If the title deeds of properties were returned to local ownership this would cause significant changes in attitudes towards the future. More broadly, if the Church of Scotland is to survive and change to meet the needs of this century, a discussion of its spiritual nature is required.
(4) There is a difference between the spiritual nature of the Church of Scotland and that of other Christian Churches.
Roman Catholics and Orthodox Churches have visible hierarchies. On the other spectrum Independent Evangelical Churches, Pentecostals and Brethren Fellowships are based on strong personal faith. The offering of spiritual authority to lay people means that members of the Church of Scotland have been and are often travelling an indistinct road with fewer signposts towards their eternal life. Many people in the Church of Scotland do not have assurances of the very basics of Christian Faith such as Jesus’ resurrection, the gift of salvation and the existence of eternal life. In the absence of a clear vehicle of salvation expression of Christianity, humanism, ethical relativism and atheistic politics have usurped the Christian agenda. ‘Syncretism’ (the confusion of beliefs and practices) is endemic in the Church of Scotland. Its more respectable forms are found in parish expressions of folk religion at funerals, social gatherings and in political Christianity. Middle class Church of Scotland Christianity is often inarticulate, introverted, apologetic, patronising, semi-agnostic and superficial.
(5) There are political reasons and societal causes for the decline of the Church of Scotland.
The United Kingdom Blair Government (1997-2007) afforded Islam equal status in law with Christianity. This diminished Christianity and ever since human rights legislation has been used to regard ‘religions’ as having equal value. This was a political tool meant to control ‘religious’ belief and practice for the purposes of social order. It was undiscerning and it was a broad approach which offered no comparative evaluation of respective beliefs and claims. Blair’s accommodation did not work. The 2007 London bombings and the later exodus of British Muslims to ISIS showed the naivety of the British Government’s attempts at integration. Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams sought appeasement of and rapprochement with Islam going as far as to encourage sharia courts. Today madrasas are prevalent in English towns and cities strengthening the identity of Muslims as Muslims in distinction from British society in general. Politically and theologically all this was a denial of the discontinuity between Judaism and Christianity on one hand and Islam on the other. Christianity has suffered and its voice has been quietened. The Church of Scotland has offered no clear articulation of the claims of Christianity in distinction from Islam.
The credibility of Christianity has been attacked on other fronts. Aggressive atheism has been successful in undermining Christianity’s claims. Empirical, verifiable, evidence based methods are valued. Data driven research and findings predominate in the computerised age. There has been national desertion of Christianity in one generation and national political undermining of Christianity by the Scottish Parliament. There has been a long political campaign for the extraction of Christianity from state schools. There is moral confusion brought by sexual revolution and by LGBT politics which have succeeded in eradicating the Judaeo-Christian life model as the standard of behaviour. Giving in to political correctness has undermined the historic claims and status of the Gospel.
Christianity’s empirical data is its near 2000 history, its 2.3 billion adherents, its innumerable good works, charitable institutions, global relief organisations, advocacy for those in need, campaigning for world peace, contribution to the stability of human societies and nations, capacity for reconciliation and inspiration of great minds and humanitarians. Christian personal testimony in words and actions has the status of witness in courts of law. It is unreasonable and absurd for atheists to claim that there is no evidence for Christianity.
(6) The Church of Scotland’s Wrong Choices
Wrong choices over the decades since the Second World War have contributed significantly to the decline of the Church of Scotland. These were wrong choices in the committees of 121 George Street and wrong choices in the General Assemblies. The first and very obvious wrong choice was to foster, indulge, pay much towards and encourage the ecumenical movement in Scotland. This weakened the identity of the Church of Scotland and compromised its message.. This was a top down strategy without much grass roots interest or support. Episcopalian bishops exploited this vacillation. The clearest example of abject failure was the Livingston Ecumenical Experiment. For many years General Assemblies were lied to and told that this was a great success when, in fact, it had failed from the outset. Episcopalian liturgy was alien to working class people re-homed in Livingston. The ‘church’ buildings were nondescript, of poor design and build quality and without any merit as places of worship. The conglomerate of concrete shuttered boxes and East Germany style blocks of flats which dominated the town were named by residents ‘Valium City’. If people found the transition difficult, those who had been part of the Church of Scotland also found no safe haven in the Ecumenical Experiment. Many were lost and their generations with them for all time. Livingston is partly a spiritual wasteland and there is little architecture which visibly speaks of Christianity. Livingston has the lowest church membership of any of the Scottish new towns.
A secondary consequence of the Church of Scotland’s squandering of its heritage in pursuit of ecumenism was that its own core presence among over half the population became disillusioned and alienated. The Church of Scotland seemed to be dancing to the Roman Catholic tune. The Church of Scotland was too self-effacing, too apologetic and did not clearly articulate the merits of Protestantism in Scotland over its four centuries. While better relationships and greater understanding was important and desirable, it should not have been a one-way street. Little surprise that the Protestant heartlands all but disappeared. Members began to feel unwelcome and unwanted as the Church of Scotland surrendered its historic doctrine and practice. Paucity of calls to the ministry was the serious longer term consequence.
The Church of Scotland did not express any view ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ during the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence. It was clear that the Church tended towards the United Kingdom and the monarchy. The more highly placed were zealous for the Church of Scotland’s establishment credentials and revelled in the presence of the State and its accoutrements at General Assemblies. Knighthoods and distinctions have been conferred among the clergy. The Church of Scotland could have fairly and honesty said that its collective position was to adhere to the Union and advise people to vote ‘No’. But how could a ‘National Church’ object to and counter a nationalist democratic movement? To do so would have risked absurdity and perhaps have contributed towards longer term dis-establishment. Would it have made a difference if the Church of Scotland had come out in favour of Scottish independence? Would it have imploded as much of its own membership rebelled against this public advocacy? Due to the influence of the Iona Community, the Church of Scotland had for decades meddled in politics. Would-be ministerial politicos loved their moments of notoriety. For years the Church of Scotland’s pronouncements echoed those of Tommy Sheridan’s socialist party. These church people were not champagne socialists but perhaps tea and scones socialists and maybe dram socialists too. There were large hypocrisies about their postures and pretence. For years the Church of Scotland had pro-actively expressed political opinion. And yet on the largest most significant issue of the day the Church of Scotland remained silent. The Church and Nation Committee had for decades produced research on all sorts of extraneous topics. Yet neither it not its successor the Church and Society Committee provided any detailed analysis of the case for or against independence. It was a serious dereliction of duty for a Church which claimed to be a ‘national church’. After the Referendum vote the Moderator’s call to a church service of reconciliation was ignored by the two leading Scottish National Party protagonists Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. If Scotland does vote for independence at some future time, where will the Church of Scotland be? How relevant will it be? Who will care? The Church of Scotland could give Christian purpose to Scottish independence if it chose to do so. Monarchy is likely to become less important in Scotland. It is an outmoded concept and future generations will want to chose their own head of state. The Church of Scotland is time-warped and mediaeval in language and deportment. It clings to its privileges not realising that they are ushering it into oblivion.
Mathematics do not always feature in faith (except perhaps when counting money). The Church of Scotland failed to do its sums when it adopted the politically correct stances of LGBT pressure groups at the expense of the expressed wishes of the majority of its members. Thus a micro-minority changed the Church of Scotland and it departed from its foundations. The inescapable logic is that if a distinct minority is disproportionately favoured, even fewer from that minority will identify with the Church. If behaviour which is at variance with the means of generation is allowed and encouraged, then numerical decline will be precipitated. If sexual dysfunction rules, extinction is the logical consequence. Yet this is what the Church of Scotland has done. A small scale disruption resulted with world-famous conservative evangelical congregations leaving the Church of Scotland. Unobtrusively other members of Christian conviction slowly left over the ensuing years. Their generous financial support of the Church of Scotland has gone with them.
The Church of Scotland is responsible for the near eradication of Christianity from state schools in Scotland. It chose to appease the Educational Institute of Scotland, the teachers' union. The EIS was ideologically motivated to divest the schools of Christianity. The EIS remains an unreconstructed left wing trade union. Whereas Roman Catholics fought for their schools, the Church of Scotland's Education Committee acquiesced in the watering down of the Christian basis to school assemblies and the reduction of Christian observance to near extinction. The vacuum has been filled by activist LGBT people whose values have become the new orthodoxy of Scotland's school system. The Scottish National Party in Government has supported this cultural overthrow.
(7) The problem is not Christianity: Christianity is the solution
It is possible to point out the connection between the rejection of Christianity and the state of contemporary Scotland. There are many symptoms of existential unease including fragmentation of personal and family life, addictions to alcohol and drugs, the rise of anxieties, obsessive compulsive disorders and related conditions and the prevalence of stresses among young people. More generally, there is a general feeling and atmosphere of negativity, lack of vision and hope, an increase in law and legalism and poor quality of political leadership. There is an increase in narcissism – the selfie generation, a decline in the sense of personal responsibility and weakness of character as seen in the snowflake generation. There is harmful wholesale introversion, personal and societal. There is compensating and disproportionate interest in myths perpetrated by the entertainment industry. There are restrictions in academic freedom and freedom of speech and an increase of offence taking. There is soul emptiness as a consequence of excessive materialism. There are more human centred funeral services, with novelty, frivolity and irreverence. There is earth and environment worship.
(8) There are more Christians in the world today than ever.
The practice of religion is increasing globally. The priority is in communicating Jesus Christ with credibility and with spiritual strength, standing up for Christian faith, challenging contemporary false ideas, challenging Government, challenging individuals. National inclusive umbrella Christianity can only be restored with the advocacy of the governments. Christianity as the base of values can only be restored to the state education system with the agreement of Government and teaching professionals. There is no indication of the likelihood of this at present or in the near future. Churches however are free to be revived and renewed by the movement and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The challenge to recover the broader sense of Christian identity and purpose could then follow.
(9) Sincere and committed Church of Scotland folk are burdened with the present and afraid for the future of the Church, of their Church and of the Church of Scotland.
The historical perspective can free Church of Scotland members from their concerns and burdens. What we have is what we inherited. It is insufficient for today and for tomorrow. We do not express convictions about the central truths of Christianity. We need to be mentally and spiritually re-baptised. We need to be baptised in and by the Holy Spirit. We need to be lifted up, taken out of ourselves and our attempted human centred solutions. We need to discover some of the higher truths of Christianity which are not part of our Church history and ethos. We need to be reconnected with the risen Jesus Christ and reconvicted of His living Lordship. If this means we must embrace a new evangelicalism then let it be so. Let us not so proud of heart and stiff of neck. Let not our unconverted souls be a hindrance to national revival. Let us be born again. Let us become called, anointed and empowered in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. Let us discover what turned the ancient world upside down, what has inspired revivals and missions and what has saved humans souls for 2000 years.
(10) Church of Scotland members require to discover the Christian imperatives at work in other parts of the world.
The problem is not with Christianity but with the Church of Scotland’s version of Christianity. Thus hope lies in the Church of Scotland, ie., members discovering or rediscovering Christianity in a way which brings renewal and revival now and for the future. In the Church of Scotland generally there is a lack of Christian conviction, commitment, knowledge and understanding by members; there is a lack of intellectual confidence in Christianity. There is insufficient prayer. There is woeful ignorance of the Bible. There is a lack of authentic Christian expression. There is a lack of charismatic leadership. There is a want of courage and risk. There is an absence of empowerment and anointing by the Holy Spirit. There is a lack of witness and personal confession of Jesus Christ. There is fear of courage and risk. There is little enough faith and a lack of Jesus Christ-centredness in the conduct of Church life.
The Church of Scotland has become a hostile environment for Christian piety. For many years the areas of Glasgow, Lanarkshire and the Highlands provided candidates for the ministry. There was an evangelical basis to this. Since the General Assembly of 2009 advocates of Christian piety and service no longer feel welcome or wanted in the Church of Scotland. Indeed there has been a significant exodus of conservative evangelicals and the emptying of their former churches. A slow departure of many like-minded individuals has also occurred throughout the Church of Scotland. It is no surprise then that there is a grave shortage of ministers. The environment which has encouraged personal vocations no longer exists. Much more than church membership and church-going, personal experience of Jesus Christ inspiring strong faith, commitment, financial generosity and practical involvement have been lost to the Church of Scotland. These have been been killed off by the Saducees, that is the liberal establishment, purposefully and consequentially.
(11) Members of the Church of Scotland must change from being God acknowledging to being a Christ confessing.
Centrally, the Church of Scotland relies on public relations led justification rather than on strategic prayer, discovery of personal faith, acceptance of scandal and hostility for Jesus Christ and articulation and proclamation of the core Christian message. The Church’s 121 George Street has all the characteristics of a bureaucracy. It multiplies work for itself, employs more people than necessary at higher salaries than are justified. Its failed business model management of decline strategies will not save or revive the Church Scotland.
How many members does the Church of Scotland have? Of these, how many are regular worshippers? How many are active? How many are convinced Christians? How many are confessing Christians? How many are praying Christians? How many read their Bibles? What do they give to their Church? How does that compare with a putative tithe? The Church of Scotland has enough personnel and financial resources to renew Scotland and beyond. What is the collective income of the whole membership of the Church of Scotland? What is missing? What is the problem? Christianity is not the problem. Christianity is the solution.
(12) The Christian Gospel is valid in our time
One of Christendom’s greatest disasters has been European academic theology. The teaching that Jesus Christ died for the salvation of individual human beings has been derided in academic circles for many decades. It is held by some to be arrogant, exclusivist and divisive. Thus Christianity’s most powerful challenge to the human community about its ultimate purpose and destination is rejected. With this rejection goes any credible understanding of the Atonement, the work of Christ, what happened on Calvary. Unless some cogent understanding of this most central aspect of Christianity can be articulated and made meaningful, then the Church of Scotland will continue to reduce in value and circumstance to become simply a collection of social clubs of like-minded spiritually seeking people who never find answers. Jesus is the link between this life and the life of God. The resurrection is central to this purpose and message. This is its singular contribution to human knowledge. Elsewhere in the world Christianity as a Holy Spirit filled movement is something quite different. The spiritual character of the Church of Scotland today is on the questioning side of Calvary and the Resurrection. As far as Pentecostal power is concerned, it is running almost on empty.
(13) God did not crucify Jesus.
The traditional accounts of The Atonement each offer a perspective but none explains the whole. Neither in our time can we claim to understand all that happened on Calvary on that Friday outside Jerusalem in 29AD. At various times throughout Christian history one emphasis has prevailed over another. The penal substitution theory was incorporated into Calvin’s Reformation thinking. This explanation maintains that Jesus took upon himself the deserved punishment for the sins of mankind against a just and holy God. Old Testament sacrificial teaching and practice are behind this account. 21st century atheists regard this as evidence of a cruel and schizophrenic God for whom no fair minded human being can have any regard, let alone worship or love. The Church of Scotland has largely departed from this explanation of Jesus Christ’s Atonement. However, many independent evangelical churches do still teach and preach this message as the only true interpretation.
On the opposite theological spectrum, Atonement as supreme sacrificial self-giving moral example strikes a cord with human evidence of sacrificial dying, as for example, in war time Remembrance Day Services. This humanisation of Atonement makes sense to daily life in which many small sacrifices are made in the name of love, family life and community living. Thus Jesus is the finest exemplar of self-giving towards others. It is however, is a very incomplete explanation.
One idea which surfaced in the mediaeval age was the idea of indebtedness. This is consonant with 21st century lifestyles in which debt is a way of life for governments, businesses, agencies, families and individuals. Thus Jesus cancelled the debt of disobedience owed by humanity in hock to a good God and unable to pay. This is a helpful angle but it scarcely explains why Jesus had to die to do this. However, the sense of relief that liberation from debt brings to people is a fine illustration of the giving of eternal life and salvation offered by Jesus through His crucifixion. And who in family life has not with small or greater amounts freed loved ones from debt and allowed them a new beginning.
An eccentric suggestion by the 19th century Scottish theologian John McLeod Campbell was that Jesus accomplished Atonement not so much on Calvary but in His prayers at Gethsemane. He did this by making a perfect confession of human sin. That was enough because it was a complete apology on behalf of humanity such that humans were incapable of making themselves since they lacked the full perception of their wrong-doing in God’s sight. This was commensurate with Campbell’s rejection of Calvinism’s penal substitutionary explanation in favour of a God of universal love. But according to this, Jesus need never have died at all.
In the era of Star Wars and much contemporary science fiction’s tumultuous struggles between cosmic agents of good an evil along with the rivalries of the world’s 21st century political empires the classic view of Atonement that Jesus did battle with the forces of evil, cosmic, existential, spiritual and human is relevant. His temptation in the wilderness offers evidence for this. In His ministry Jesus redeemed people with unresolved life problems, offered new beginnings, psychologically liberated suffering souls, healed many who were sick, cast out demons from the mentally ill and attacked unjust social institutions. Though He succumbed in His final battle on earth, He triumphed in permanent resurrection, thus opening up His way of victory for all humanity. That life is a struggle is obvious. For many it is a grievous ongoing war against inward inclinations, tendencies to addictiveness and idolatry and constant temptation to wickedness. For many the human journey is a lifelong obstacle course of adverse social conditions and circumstances. Parenthood is a battle for and with the following generation. Dying for many brings release after long struggles with illness (bravely fought as newspaper notices inform). Social life has been permeated by significant times of war and mass killing of one another. Human beings treasure victory over defeat in everything from children’s games to all out genocide. Victory and defeat are elements in the human experience but they are not the whole story.
God did not crucify Jesus. Human beings did. Did God will the crucifixion of His Son? Penal substitutionary theorists say ‘Yes’ and that this was the only means towards human forgiveness and salvation. Jesus was the perfect sacrificial lamb. It had to be this way. Yet the Old Testament prophets had excoriated the Temple sacrificial system centuries before Jesus (“What to me are your many sacrifices?” (Isaiah 1:11). If animal sacrifice was already outmoded why would human sacrifice be necessary? Abraham had learned that human sacrifice was neither required or appropriate for his relationship with God. Jesus was a victim of extreme human cruelty. For all our progress human beings in the early 21st century are still capable of the most imaginatively cruel, torturous and murderous treatments of one another.
Jesus died for His relationship with God. Jesus died because he was God incarnate. This level of goodness was unacceptable in the human community. Why this should be requires touching on the unfathomable presence of evil inclination and action in human beings. Where does this originate? No human being is without shock and disgust at the suggestions that invade the mind, seemingly from outside normal thought patterns. Jesus is the proof that God is good. God might not necessarily have been good. Science fiction offers many ghastly alternatives. God present and incarnate attracts such opposition from human inclination that it ends up in deicide. In Jesus Christ this is unsuccessful however thus proving the existence of God and opening up humanity to the greater life of God for all time and for eternity. This is one of the meanings of The Atonement.
(14) The nature, meaning and purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection is greater than any form of human sin and wrong-doing.
In the era of human rights and by application, human rights for minority life styles and equality rights for all ‘religious’ expressions the whole of Christianity is considered pejoratively through one or more particular lenses. Jesus Christ’s life and two thousand years of Christianity are reduced to single issues where particular stances are used to negate all of Christian purpose and history. If the Christian stands against a particular minority, the Christian is described as bigoted, out of date and even in possible breach of law. Likewise if the Christian distinguishes Christianity from Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. If the Christian agrees with a minority, the introduction of exceptionalism limits the scope of Christianity, and by extension the effectiveness of the role of Jesus Christ. If the Christian agrees with those of other faiths, Christianity is diminished and undermined. Some people declare themselves in no need of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This makes Him no longer the Saviour of the world. He remains, perhaps, the Saviour of some of humanity, but not all. This is an undermining of Jesus Christ as Son of God whose incarnation was purposefully to save the world.
All of human wrong-doing cannot be equal to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All opinions within the various faith expressions of humanity cannot be equal to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There has to be qualitative comparison, assessment and judgment. Therefore the application of His death and resurrection must be towards all and for all time. It must be above human practices in whatever age or culture. It cannot be subject to these or bound by them. It is obvious that Christianity has been and continues to be undermined by minority propagandists. Indeed, that is the direct aim and object of some and it is the logical consequence of their politics and campaigning. Christianity is clearly abrogated by Islam which it seeks to replace wherever Christianity exists throughout the whole of the human community.
It is reasonable to say that as Jesus on earth befriended social outcasts and sinners according to the laws of Judaism, that he would do so among us today. But Jesus did not validate the lifestyles of those he befriended. He called them to follow Him and some did spontaneously. Today he would befriend and include but he would not leave people to continue as they were. Christianity would not exist otherwise. The Body of Christ is a distinct called human community. For two thousand years Christianity has invited any and all to a different way of life with Jesus Christ at its centre. This is a universal offer for all time, wholly inclusive on its own terms.
(15) Jesus must be distinguished for other world faith leaders.
Jesus was different from other spiritual leaders of the world's most significant faiths. Moses is regarded as the Founder of Judaism. When Moses was leading the People of God towards the Promised Land, he did so as the commander of the Israelite Army. Force and violence was needed to access the Promised Land, the land that God had given His people. As they began to enter Canaan the local tribes objected to their appearance and fought against these interlopers. These were harsh and brutal times. No-one was a pacifist in those days. But the Promised Land was taken at the cost of much violence – violence which continues to this day after the re-establishment of Israel in 1948 in the very same Promised Land.
Muhammad was born in about 570 CE in the Arabian city of Mecca, Muhammad was orphaned at an early age and brought up under the care of his paternal uncle Abu Talib. He later worked mostly as a merchant, as well as a shepherd. When Muhammad was 25, he married his wealthy employer Khadija who was 40 years of age and previously married. In total Muhammad had either 13 wives throughout his life, one of whom was a Christian slave girl given to him as a gift. His marriage to Khadija lasted until her death 25 years later. He was then betrothed to a little girl called Aisha aged 6 or 7. He married her when she was 9 and he was 53. Earlier Muhammad had given up preaching against the polytheistic culture of Mecca due to his failure to communicate and became instead a political and military ruler using organised violence to establish and expand Islam. Islamic leaders have also done so ever since. Islam is not a pure spiritual faith; it is a religious, political and military ideology. It is as different from Christianity’s essence as Muhammad is from Jesus Christ but Christianity’s association with nation states and empires over the centuries makes it similar and therefore justifiable quarry in Muslim estimation. Islam is the most violent of world faiths today.
Siddhartha Gautama was the Founder of Buddhism. He was born about 566 BC in the Himalayan foothills of India. He was brought up by his mother's younger sister. When he reached the age of 16, his father reputedly arranged his son's marriage to a cousin of the same age named Yaśodharā. At 29 years of age Siddhartha left his palace to meet his subjects. Among these he encountered a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. These depressed him, and he initially strove to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by giving up his life as a prince leaving his wife and son and living the life of an ascetic. After realizing that extreme asceticism didn't work, Gautama discovered what Buddhists call the Middle Way—a path of moderation away from the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. At the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment. The Buddha described Nirvāna as the perfect peace of a mind that's free from ignorance, greed, hatred and other afflictive states or "defilements". Gotama lived on until the age of 82 and he died in 486 BC.
Unlike Moses. Jesus was non-violent. He did not seek to possess land but to dwell in people's hearts and minds and lives. He brought about the New Israel as a global family and community of spiritually saved people, growing and increasing to this day. Unlike Muhammad, Jesus was single and lived a life of complete dedication and self-sacrifice to God, His Father. Muhammad became wealthy. Jesus became poor. Muhammad used politics and military force to achieve his ends. Jesus promoted peace in personal and social life. Unlike Gautama, Jesus entered into the human condition of suffering, identified Himself with it, sought to heal and sought to comfort. In giving Himself up on Calvary He fully accepted rather than avoided the very worst of human inclination, hypocrisy and violence. Jesus taught involvement with one another not detachment from one another. Jesus exercised saving redemption and proactive love and taught His followers to do likewise. All the good that is done in Jesus' name in the world throughout history and today is because of Jesus embracing of human suffering – not running away from it.
Hinduism was not founded by or associated with a single historical person in its origins. In Hinduism there are many gods and goddesses and many incarnations of these. Hindus believe there are multiple paths to reaching their god. Hindus believe in the doctrines of samsara (the continuous cycle of life, death, and reincarnation) and karma (the universal law of cause and effect). Christianity is very different from these. Christianity is historically based. It is personally originated. It is monotheistic (and Trinitarian). Christianity offers a singular pathway into eternal life through Jesus Christ. Christianity reflects the historical sovereignty of God, the Lordship of Jesus and the intervention of the Holy Spirit as agents of change and liberation for individual human life and living.
(16) Leading Captivity Captive
It seems as if Christianity is defeated in Scotland, Britain and the western world. It is no longer the standard of understanding and practice. Islam, secularism and LGBT ideologies have become the new orthodoxies. Islam has implicitly moved to the centre of culture and its agenda dominates news and views. No evaluation or criticism is tolerated without retribution in public discourse. Riding the tide of human rights legislation allows Islam to claim the place that was once the Christian Church’s as guide and arbiter of faith and life. Those inclined to toleration, appeasement and rapprochement should look at the many places in the world today where Islam dominates. These are wreckages of human communities and failed nation states. Muslims use the freedoms of western society to advance their cause and to appear peaceable and loyal citizens. But in Muslim countries their liberal Islam would not be so easily tolerated. If Britain did become a Muslim nation as Muslims seek and pray for, Britain would descend into internecine Muslim rivalries with attending disruption and chaos. Captured by this ideology, people would eventually turn to Christianity for help and release. How many church people would adhere to Jesus Christ in these difficult times? How many would carry the torch of faith forwards to the time of liberation.
Secularism and its ideological basis humanism has gained a central role in policy-making at national and council governmental levels. Human centred services for welcoming babies, marriage celebrations and funerals are now popularly non-Christian. The focus is not on God nor Jesus Christ nor the Christian promise of eternal life. It is on the people themselves. Many simply say that they have no need of God in their lives. Even Jesus did not have to face this kind of opposition. His enemies were not secularists though Saducees were liberal and political. The Christian Gospel of added extra to human consciousness, knowledge and behaviour must continue to be worked out until the time comes when people admit that they need something and someone greater than their own egos, ideas and substitute idols to give higher context to their human experience and journey. External threat might become a factor to bring this about in ensuing times.
LGBT ideology has from its outset sought to overturn and abolish Judaeo-Christian teaching and practice on human sexuality. It has largely succeeded in setting the agenda for personal conduct in primary and secondary schools, in further education and in the institutions of the nations of the western world. The Scottish National Party in particular has rejected Christianity in this area and promoted LGBT ideology in its place. It seems as if the struggle is over and the war is lost. The Church of Scotland has taken the broad path and sought to accommodate LGBT ideology. Recent research in America suggests that church goers are seen by young people to be socially and politically conservative. Attitudes of Christians towards LGBT people have been damaging to the churches, the research finds. But the Church of Scotland has not benefited from its liberal stance. It is losing more members, money and ministers. There has been no increase in national status and presence since the General Assembly of 2009. Its decline has actually quickened in these years. To have chosen a hostile ideology in place of proven Christian piety has not ensured the future of the Church of Scotland. Pride is the opposite of humility. Pride is the opposite of shame. Public pride is an attack of Judaeo-Christian sexual sobriety. It is the raising up of human volition against all that Judaeo-Christianity has given to the world. This however is no more than a battle similar to that of Elijah against the Baals. LGBT ideology is a minority agenda. It should not be allowed to dominate culture and nation. Its longer term harmful effects should be called out. This will invite persecution for a time and it seems that few Christians have the stomach for the argument. Communism had its cruel and atheistic day but against odds and expectations it collapsed and Christianity took its place again in people’s hearts. The collective death cult of industrial abortion, LGBT non-reproductivity, individualised self-negation and resort to drug induced oblivion will be seen for what they are, the enemies of humanity. Sexual dysfunction cannot be the standard of conduct and ethos for individuals and for societies. Christianity will be there to offer redemption, recovery, heath and hope.
(17) Patriarchy and Feminism
Christianity is associated in the minds of its detractors with patriarchy. This is largely because God is usually ‘He’ and the early leaders of what became Judaism were men, Abraham and Moses in particular. Adam and Eve receive equal billing in Genesis chapter one but the Old Testament narrative is much more about men than it is about women. However, the men are not great heroes, by and large. They are flawed indeed and as representative humans reflect God in distinction from themselves and their failings. The women who do appear are no better in character.
Jesus was a man. His twelve disciples were men. His itinerant congregation however was gender balanced and Jesus’ treatment of women was exceptional for the time. Christian men and women worshipped together from the outset unlike in Islam and in Orthodox Judaism to this day. The public crucifixion of a naked man is no chauvinistic, patriarchal exhibition. It is the denial of manhood and maleness. It is self-sacrificial giving in the most extreme.
The first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were women but the role of Christian apostle was exclusively male from the outset and this practice continues in the priesthoods of Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches to this day. Christian Brethren congregations have only male preachers. Pentecostal Churches have women preachers and pastors but they are usually under the authority of male leaders. Baptist Churches have women pastors. Independent Evangelical Churches in Britain have mostly male leadership. In America there are many prominent women Christian communicators. The Church of Scotland has had women ministers since 1968. Anglicans have admitted women to priesthood and episcopacy. Congregationalists and Methodists have women ministers.
The Christ model of service is equal to the Christ model of authority. Some commentators rationalise St Paul’s clear instructions on male leadership by referring to the loving, providing role of Christ to His Church. The Bible has never taught that men must be the final arbiters of everything in family, social or national life. Abraham and Sarah were equals. Isaac waited fourteen years to have Rachael as his wife. David had political headship but in family life he was subservient to God, repentant when held to account. Hosea was the wronged husband who evidenced redeeming love. Male headship as absolute leadership in all circumstances cannot be upheld from Scripture. Complementarian theology of men and women however continues to justify some men not accepting women priests or bishops in the Anglican Church.
There remains scope for attack by feminists and by atheists that Christianity holds to outmoded ideas of female subservience to the male. The language of worship has recently become more inclusive of femaleness but the preponderance is male related. Christianity has always given women active roles in witness and service. Western Christianity is now being feminised. This is in contrast to Islam with its clear distinctions between male and female practice.
There is much that is shallow and hysterical in media driven campaigning for feminist issues and men have been put on the defensive and cast aside. The contributions of men as men to history and social evolution, to the modern world and to family life are not well represented in current discourse. The conversation is not fair or balanced. Feminised congregations are not better than others and they have not brought about revival. They may have contributed to the dearth of men in church on Sundays and may contribute to the acute shortage of vocations to the ministry. There are some excellent women ministers and there are many average and some seriously bad women ministers in the Church of Scotland. In this they are not better than men ministers.
It may be that recovery of the Church of Scotland in future may lie in some part with address of male issues which have to be raised. The historical theology of patriarchy cannot be denied. But neither should it be laid aside as worthless. Patriarchy is not an idol to be falsely worshipped nor made into an argument for the rejection of Christianity. Feminism is equally an idolatry making absolutes of lesser beings than God.
Female headship is the goal of some feminists and female leadership is the goal of others. That women have taken the lead position in many marriages throughout history and contemporaneously can hardly be gainsaid. Christian marriage has distinctive characteristics. Spiritual equality outshines life exigencies. ‘The future is female’ is a threatening idea for men. If equality for women includes fair recognition of the achievements and contributions of men then accommodation will be possible. If the issue of women as women is to dominate political and social agendas, then that will not be helpful. Speaking up for men is a minority activity. The divide between what men do and what women are is not abolished in the feminist age. The balance may have changed but it has not disappeared. Women want recognition for what they do as women. Men want recognition for the content of what they do.
Christianity finds it hard to keep up with and adapt to new political doctrines of transexuality. Traditionally Christian thought has emphasised men as men and women as women. There has always been a place for celibacy in the Christian churches. As with the homosexual and lesbian political agenda churches are being forced to decide whether to hold to the age old line or give in to and recognise the new politics. The LGBT agenda has harmed the Christian Church because it has undermined confidence in its teaching and authority. It has become a litmus test of rejection or acceptance, of adherence to ancient teachings or supposed social advancement with new. When Christianity is associated with what are described as conservative social opinions it is diminished. The LGBT agenda is an idol, a lesser god but it has become a political absolute. Taken to its logical conclusion, LGBT practice means the end of the human race.
There remains need for an anchor for humanity and society in Judaeo-Christian teaching. Particularly troubling is the practice of inviting primary school children to question there biological sexuality. Ludicrously, in Canada recently, a man identified himself as a woman for one day in order to get significantly cheaper car insurance. This is anarchy. It may be that if the silent majority decide that this is unacceptable, there will be a return to sane and sensible Christian wisdom on human sexuality. Contrariness may have to run its course until it is exhausted and people see that they want something more stable and reliable.
That there is an entire spectrum of human sexuality is not in doubt. Perhaps no-one is 100% male nor anyone 100% female. The very large majority of humanity are very large majority male or very large majority female. Thus the numbers of the human race increase. There is a very small minority whose gender balance is not as definite. There is also a very small minority whose gender balance does not conform to the basic heterosexual pattern. Christianity cannot be defined by human sexuality. It is much greater in scope, content and character. Sexuality is a human issue, temporal and corporeal. Jesus Himself recognised this and taught ‘At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven’ (Matthew 22 : 30). St Paul also wrote ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). Christianity stresses personhood not gender. Spiritual identity however is different from social identity. Jesus set higher standards for His followers than Jewish piety at its best.
(19) Anxiety, Stress, Loneliness, Depression, Physical and Mental Health
There is an explosion of mental health issues. A school pupil won a prize for her suggestion that everyone should have mental health checks-ups every six months just like they have dental check-ups. It is a long way from this to ‘Safe in the arms of Jesus’. Neither is it simply acceptable to suggest that the difference is in awareness and reporting whereas in previous generations these things were ignored. In many ways life today is better than that of our predecessors. But people are not happier nor more peacefully minded. Being human we are always under existential threats. We cannot control weather patterns. Global issues are beyond our solving. International rivalries and political egos cause wars. Islam seeks wholesale dominance of humanity.
Is it not obvious that personal lifestyle choices affect physical and mental well-being? Fragmented family life causes generational problems. Addictions to alcohol, smoking and drugs are self-evidently harmful. Addictions to mobile phone use and internet activity have affected personal equilibrium. Forms of idolatry associated with electronic media have consumed common sense. Loss of the language of soul and spirit and with it any connection with God has not liberated people from their individual demons. It seems, indeed, as if they have multiplied in the space provided. For centuries the ‘cure of souls’ was part of pastoral calling. It was not a term used much in Scotland though. But the idea remains that Jesus Christ can and does cure, wholly or partially the ills of our inner being. At minimum, His presence creates positive attitude and energy which allows the individual to survive and achieve and be victorious over adversities.
This is all missing from the school curriculum. In its place secularism, atheism, LGBT ideology and a modicum of comparative religion have eradicated the central Christian message of the active and present love of God in Jesus Christ. There is very little Christian upbringing in Scotland even though community values may be residually Christian based. Historically, it can be shown that nations which specifically abandon Christianity do not fare well. They are not free societies. Christian Orthodoxy has been re-instated in Russia against all the early 20th century prognoses and odds. Islam moderated by Christianity presents a seemingly acceptable face. But Islam in Islamic countries is something different. Its regressive creed, its legalism and its dependence on violence are without constraints. There is no such thing as a peaceful Islamic country in the world.
Church sanctuaries are places of peace and prayer. Their unique architecture points to a higher understanding of life. It also states in building materials that there are answers. These places however are being closed and turned into furniture shops, carpet showrooms, discotheques and flats as demand for worship decreases. It is said in response that the ‘Church’ is not the buildings, it is the people. That is true and the people are the Body of Christ in the world, the visible manifestation of Jesus Himself. He Himself had no church building. But Christianity as a mass movement requires a large meeting place for Christians in which they may worship. The exercise of collective prayer, hymn-singing, preaching, baptising and sharing Holy Communion is what identifies Christians and is the primary calling of witness to God. Good works, loving the neighbour are part of that witness and for atheists and secularists the only justification that Christians have for existing.
Scotland is no longer a praying nation. There is no longer much belief in God loving and intervening in people’s lives. The proportion of human misery on display everyday vastly outweighs hope and optimism. Christianity has always been a minority report, a faith against the odds. But a nation’s loss of aspiration to Christianity, of collective appeal to its Founder, of making Jesus Christ the examplar of life and the living Friend and Guide has been detrimental. The Augustinian precept that humans are made for God and restless until they find God makes as much sense today as it did in the desperate times in which he lived.
Though many are lonely they do not consider church congregations to be the answer to their loneliness. Many congregations are offering coffee and chat times and other half-way house reach-outs. Church building use is an issue and such enterprises help to put properties at the service of communities. But there is little evidence that this will bring any return to large scale Sunday worship. Christianity has within its own dynamic the power to speak to people in their innermost consciousness and lead and inspire them out of their troubles to spiritual wholeness. Those outside churches turn to yoga and other forms of alternative practice rather than Christian prayer. It would never occur to them that within the churches, there are real possibilities for amelioration of the human condition.
(20) Artificial Intelligence, Data Compilation And The Future
How do Christian claims relate to future developments in human society? Are its spiritual intimacies communicable at all? Is Christian experience to become a minority interest? Is the Judaeo-Christian God to become more and more irrelevant? Is Allah the future? For how long? Can theism survive the centuries? Is atheism to rule the west? What areas of life are relevant to Jesus Christ?
Neurological studies are seeking to explain belief in God as a function of brain cells and not as relationship to an objective reality. This is not a new idea. Philosophers have tried it out before. Brain activity charts are taken as new gospel. Artificial intelligence is already used to make available patterns of illness in patients leading to the possibility of more accurate diagnoses and better treatments. Thousands of ‘surveys’ are carried out every day determining results and consequences of and for human behaviour. Many of them are contradictory but mass is given authority. The larger the number asked for their responses the more value is attached to the findings. At present Christians represent the largest identifiable human social grouping. They are also the most persecuted. The sources of this persecution are Islam, Chinese communism and western atheism.
Human knowledge has grown over millennia primarily from individual discovery and minority report. The herd mentality is often confused and fickle. The expression of democratic political opinion is inconsistent and contradictory. Data therefore does not always provide the answers. But where does Christianity fit in? What is its niche market? Islam has a clear goal to unite all of humanity in the nation of Islam – a religio-political entity. Jesus Christ can perhaps only aim to be the Lord of the hearts and minds of those who respond to His call. Christianity is always compromised by too close associations with political powers. And yet it is a missionary faith which offers existential answers and also seeks to set the standards for human behaviour in nations and societies. Christian data is of equal merit to sociological data. There is a direct correlation between the social decline of the west and its deliberate departure from Christian Faith.
If as some predict, machines will take over most of human activity in the future, this will be an extension of the labour-saving devices that everyone has become used to. With more time, humans may be enabled to exercise their more creative inner beings and that may include apprehension of the divine and active worship thereof. The research areas of artificial intelligence, data harvesting and neuropathology are atheistic. But there are Christians working in these areas. Therein lies the paradox and the hope. Christianity is not meant to retreat into privacy and silence. In the larger issues of human purpose and conduct, Christianity will always have a contribution to make. It is not science and it is not politics but it is knowledge and it is behaviour.
Church language and practice may seem to belong to the past but the Christian Gospel kernel does not. There will always be a place for the example of Jesus. With that there comes the opportunity to consider His words and message, His belief in God also. There will always be a market for spiritual love in this world. The poor will always be with us and they will always need our help. There will always be a need for personal salvation and for the hope of eternal life. Christians must not lose their nerve.
(21) The priority is for the Church of Scotland as a whole to rediscover its vehicle of eternal life identity and role with full confidence in the Christian Gospel.
The problem is that many of its ministers may not agree with this. Thus irreconcilably riven, the Church will stumble on until it is taken over by other denominational interests or until it slowly disappears. In a Church in which everyone’s opinion is held to be equal, strong mission statement consensus is difficult to achieve. The Light of Jesus Christ does not shine dimly today. It is more relevant in this time of spiritual darkness. Christianity is more credible than ever before. There is a strong case for saying that now is the time for the Church of Scotland to divest itself of its cultural history, its far too broad accommodations and its ambivalence towards the understanding of the huge majority of convinced Christian churches throughout the world.
The Church has no distinct leadership and no cause to unite it. It depends for its existence on the Living Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, and if it collectively loses touch with Him, its way is lost. If Ninian or Columba were around, this is the kind of thing each might say. The question is whether and how many of the members of the Church of Scotland would listen and act. It is astonishing that those who have the opportunity to be quoted and reported never seem to manage to say anything that reflects the central purpose of two thousand years of Christianity.
Ministerial training which prepares for events management during the week and entertainment on Sundays is a caricature of historic Church of Scotland ministry. The apostolic succession of Christian Truth was what the Scottish Reformers based their lives upon. Such confidence has largely been lost. If it can be recovered, the Church of Scotland will fairly be the equal again in spiritual status and calling of those Churches which do not utter such an uncertain sound. Mission is a consequence of conviction and clarity of purpose. Renewal is possible. Revival is possible. Nothing is impossible. Is there a public market in Scotland for Christianity? Is there a public market for evangelical Christianity? Can such a market be created? Can the Church of Scotland do this?
(22) Solving the Shortage of Ministers Crisis
There is no global shortage of Christian ministers. There are many ministers available throughout the worldwide Body of Christ who could be called to Scotland. Immigration rules partially prevent this but the Church of Scotland has not used every option to utilise this God given ministerial resource. Why? There is a restrictive trade practice which does not want to see too great a change in church culture. Lesser concerns than the communication of the Gospel obtain. The short-term answer is to be found by inviting ministers from abroad to come and serve in Scotland on a temporary basis leading to permanency for some.
The longer term solution goes to the very nature and soul of the Church of Scotland. Congregations expect other congregations to supply them with ministers. They need to look within their own members for answers. Every congregation without a minister should identify one person who already shows the faith, character, commitment, gifts and skills of ministry. That person should be asked to leave what they are doing and go and train for the ministry and after doing so return and serve as minister. This will involve soul searching and thinking about the levels of sacrifice, commitment and risk that those truly called to ministry require to have. This will also reflect on the levels of lay leadership and how far off it is from this great step towards called full-time ministry. In the New Testament, it is clear that this is how men and women stepped up to Christian ministry and service. The call of the community of faith is a valid call, essential in the processes of all churches.
Could it be that some ministers do not want to see sufficient numbers of ministers coming forward? Could this be lest financial resources for ministry salaries are spread too thinly and pension pots are reduced in size in years to come? Whoever gains her/his life will lose it and whoever loses his/her life will gain it.
There are alternative local avenues of service such as the Readership and Ordained Local Ministry which gifted members might consider. Charismatic elders may become leaders and ministers of their congregations in all but name. But it is sustaining ministry that is the issue here. There are also problems of possible inconsistency with Christian origins.
The model of ministry that has worked for 2000 years worldwide and for 460 years in Scotland should not be denigrated or abandoned. Did the Lord make a mistake calling all these people? He is still calling such and like in many churches. ‘Why do you not look among yourselves for your next minister?’ the Lord may be saying to us today.
Ministry admissions procedure in the Church of Scotland requires transparency and accountability. Criteria for acceptance and rejection of candidates are unknown to the members. Responsibility for the present shortage lies in part with Ministries Council practice over the years. If the pro-active establishment liberal agenda is influencing recruitment then that should be made clear. If candidates are being asked to what extent they support homosexual marriage as one of the conditions for entry to the Church of Scotland ministry, then members should be told that this is happening.
(23) Church of Scotland Polity
Numerical decline is occurring more quickly than in other mainline denominations. Why should this be? One answer is that the constitution and organisation of the Church of Scotland is less flexible and diffused too far for change and spontaneous reaction to prevailing circumstances. This is clearly a negative evaluation of the eldership. However the historical role of elders has been diminished by centralisation and attempted secular management of the Church of Scotland from its 121 George Street bureaucracy. Supposed top down solutions have not worked. Change is always being advocated for members of congregations but General Assemblies have changed little over the decades. Edicts are sent down many of which bear little relevance at grass roots level. Management language is far too prevalent. There is little Christian immediacy. Organisational answers are produced but answers are not sought within Christianity itself. Can these dry bones live? Can new patches be sown on to old cloth?
The problems are deeper than just polity. They are secondary to Christian life, witness, practice and testimony. ‘I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants both men and women, I will pour out my spirit’. (Acts 2:17-18). The Church of Scotland operates at a considerable distance from the kind of Christianity that is effective elsewhere in the world today. There is always a need for local, regional and national order. But these can be infused by a recovery of Christian faith and commitment among the people. There is intransigence and inertia, self-interest and lack of vision in 121 George Street and at General Assemblies. Sclerosis exists in large measure. People are afraid of fragmentation and perhaps even of collapse. Church of Scotland ministry is self-preserving. Retention and conservatism typify the culture of the higher echelons of the Church of Scotland.
(24) New Presbyteries Old Dioceses – The Wrong Direction Of Travel
The 2019 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland agreed to reduce the number of Presbyteries from the present 45 to 12. This means a return to pre-Reformation governance with the new presbyteries modelling the dioceses of Catholic and Episcopal Churches.
The strongest organisational principle of the Reformation was to engage the laity in decision-making at congregational, local area, regional and national level. The spiritual principle employed was that of diffusion of authority from papal, episcopal and priestly forms to ministerial and membership involvement. It was a radical process and it worked well from the 16th century until the late 20th century.
Now this Reformation direction of travel is to be reversed. Authority is to be concentrated centrally and in 12 large presbyteries. Some of these will cover very large geographical areas. Laity will certainly continue to be involved. But congregations will be distanced further. These presbyteries will necessitate full-time employees thus diverting funds raised by congregations to pay for management posts and power will begin to be held in fewer and fewer hands.
None of this re-organisation will help the Church of Scotland survive one day longer. It is the management of decline being wrought by people without the calling to do anything wiser and better. If the direction established at the Reformation was to be continued, it would lead towards further democratisation of congregations and members in the Church of Scotland. Setting up congregational gatherings would be the logical step. This would be a bottom up process rather than the top-down one envisaged. Church of Scotland members have fewer rights and responsibilities today than at any time in the history of the Church of Scotland. This is due to relentless bureaucracy building at 121 George Street and the centralising of so much policy and decision-making there.
Members of congregations now have the status of serfs. They are tied serving, praying and donating bondservants, most of whom no longer own the buildings built by their predecessors in which they worship and which they continue to maintain at significant cost to themselves. They have become passive recipients of the dictates of the Church of Scotland plc. By and large they lack the confidence and assurance of strong personal Christian Faith, unsure of what they believe, poorly informed by the Bible and nominal in prayer.
The problems of the Church of Scotland will not be solved by re-organising its external means of management into 12 presbyteries. This is a cover-up activity to pretend to be doing something, anything. There are much deeper questions about the Church of Scotland’s relationship to Christianity which would lead to better reform, renewal and revival in years to come.
Plus ça change! The nodding dogs have acquiesced so that the same people will continue to appropriate more power to themselves. The appointment of a chief officer will go to an insider. Those who are to be shipped out of 121 George will find lucrative full-time appointments as paid staff in the new presbyteries. Pity the poor bloody infantry in the pews.
Even more centralised management will take the Church of Scotland further away from its Presbyterian roots. The annual Gilbert and Sullivan opening to the General Assembly takes place every year. A week of hand-wringing follows. The real issues about the Church of Scotland are not addressed. The loss of evangelicals since 2009 has seriously damaged the Church of Scotland. Even more rapid decline in ministerial vocations and reduction in finances have followed. There are enough gifted and able people in the Church of Scotland to re-Christianise the land. But it is now a hostile environment for Christian piety, the wellspring of renewal and revival throughout Christian history.
(25) Virtual Christianity
The use of internet and social media platforms to communicate Christianity is a development of television Christianity as pioneered in America. British churches have not utilised this American practice successfully and perhaps for good reasons. Tele-evangelism is discredited among many due to its blatant commercialism. Even so, internet communication is a successful means of reaching those outside congregational life. There are digital churches based in Britain. They are formed by local congregations broadcasting their services in the internet and by also para-church organisations specialising in some aspect of Christian communication.
The Church of Scotland has been dabbling in this and no-one would deny that generally speaking internet communication is as important as was the printing press at the time of the Reformation in propagating the Christian message or the good usefulness of radio and television in the 20th century for the same purposes. However, social media ‘congregations’ have contradictions of philosophy and practice in their essence. Simply put, they are not real. They are virtual entities. Virtual baptism is not real baptism. Virtual Holy Communion is not real Holy Communion. Virtual membership is not real membership.
In the early Christian centuries there was a heresy called ‘docetism’. This is the doctrine that the phenomenon of Christ, his historical and bodily existence, and above all the human form of Jesus, was mere semblance without any true reality. Broadly it is taken as the belief that Jesus only seemed to be human, and that his human form was an illusion. Ignatius of Antioch writing around 110 AD, said of docetists, “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes”. Docetism was unequivocally rejected at the First Council of Nicea in 325AD. The Islamic Qur’an has a docetic Christology, viewing Jesus as a divine illuminator rather than the redeemer. Islamic docetism focuses on a denial of the crucifixion of Jesus. Sura 4 : 157–58 reads: “And because of their saying: We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, Allah's messenger — they slew him not nor crucified him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save pursuit of a conjecture; they slew him not for certain”.
For the continuation of Christianity’s corporate witness, there needs to be real physical Christian community as the real physical body of Christ; there needs to be real physical baptism and there needs to be real physical Holy Communion among real physical people gathering together. Otherwise we deny the historical Jesus, the reality of His death on Calvary and the truth of His resurrection. There can be no such thing as the virtual Holy Spirit. Projecting self avatars as virtual Christians without being part of the human Body of Christ is self-deceiving. The hope of eternal life is not a docetic mirage. It is physical Christian hope and expectation. Local congregations must find ways to survive and even grow.
(26) Hard Politics – Hard Campaigning
Church of Scotland Christianity is too weak, to comfortable, too ineffective. It is not fit enough and it is not prepared to take the hard knocks associated with real Christian proclamation. It has no courage to withstand the criticisms, mockery and abuse that witness for Jesus Christ has required in every century in every place. It fears unpopularity, caricaturing, misunderstanding, negativity. The Church of Scotland is jealous of its establishment privileges and its accoutrements of state and status. It is afraid of determined political warfare against its message about Jesus Christ. It does not really want to be that Christian. Many Church of Scotland members in local congregations equally do not want to be that Christian. Just suddenly using words like ‘mission’ changes little. There needs to be a toughening up of public relations rhetoric. There needs to be a deeper life commitment of members to Christian Faith. There needs to be re-engagement with schools. There needs to be exposure of the false gods of contemporary society. There needs to be conversions of political leaders to Jesus Christ. There needs to be evidence based presentation about the state of human life and society in the post-Christian era. There needs to be the offer of powerful Christian redemption.
Jesus Christ has to be rescued from the perception, description and depiction of His Church as out of date, old fashioned, culture and race specific. The last of these is easiest to dispel. There are many more Christians in Africa, Asia and South America than in western Europe and North America. There are many many more black, brown, light brown and yellow skinned Christians than there are white skinned Christians. Identification with a particular culture, however is more difficult to deal with, especially when that culture is informed and led by mass media outlets, the internet, entertainment streaming and electronic and paper media. The last 50 years have seen Christianity as identified by Churches left on dry land as views, opinions and lifestyles have moved further and further away from Christian positioning. Christianity has become associated in media language with conservative and reactionary social opinions. Any criticism of contemporary personal and social values can expect to be described as ‘right wing’. What is now described as ‘conservative’ at best and ‘right wing’ tendentiously is in fact what is natural and orthodox for the vast majority of human beings. This is the consequence of LGBT ideology. Although an extreme minority, it has pushed the centre of values far to the left and made normality into an alternative and hostile space. Christians cannot and must not accept this as unavoidable.
Jesus was not ‘right wing’. Neither was He a liberal. Could He be described as a ‘socialist?’ Not an atheist socialist, of course and so not to be identified with the history of 20th and 21st century socialism. But was He a socialist in terms of community and personal relations? He lived in a pre-industrial society. He advocated shared leadership and voluntary servanthood towards one another. The earliest Christians shared everything in common according to Acts 2: 42-47 but Paul’s and James’ epistles show that early Christians were also business men and women involved in the commerce of the day.
Was John the Baptist right wing? Was Jesus left wing when he attempted to cleanse the Temple? Today’s pigeon-holing language does not reflect the Christian challenge to humanity in the name of Jesus. Christianity is not to be compared with the flower-power communitarianism of 1960’s America. Christians suffered appallingly in the communist era in Russia. Christians are the most persecuted of faith followers throughout the world in the early 21st Century. More Christians were killed for being Christians in the 20th century than in all the previous 19 centuries.
One area where Christians can distinguish themselves and by proxy Jesus Christ, is in eschewing violence. For the first three Christian centuries believers and followers of Jesus Christ sought to emulate His self-surrender. To love and not hate and to return no evil for evil. Established British Churches are associated with the political state defended by military means. They are bound up with British history, colonialism and empire. Stepping back from this connection will weaken the established churches who cherish this profile. It will not necessarily of itself lead to renewal and revival. There are sufficient independent church alternatives. Arguably, Christianity has been a restraining and helpful influence on nation states for centuries. It did not stop The Holocaust, however.
Christians need to fight back with words and with the Gospel. There is no need to be ashamed of this Gospel as Paul himself declared. It is dealing with supra political, supra national, supra international issues. It is offering personal knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. It is offering the promise of and the knowledge of forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. This is its niche market and its global brand. It cannot and should not be caricatured and diminished with labels of the moment which deny its authentic existence and purpose.
The words ‘Presbyterian’ ‘Reformed’ ‘Protestant’ and even ‘Church’ have little resonance in the early 21st century. Church of Scotland people might be well advised to speak about ‘Christianity’ and ‘being a Christian’ instead. This offers others introduction to global Christianity’s presence in the world and Christianity’s long positive contributions to humanity and society. It also encourages people to speak about being a Christian and what that means to them. There is much scope for making distinctions between living a Christian life and not doing so. Self-questioning as to what extent people actually live distinctly as Christians is part of this process. What is the individual evidence for being a Christian? The content of belief and faith has to be articulated and that is the next stage in the learning and witnessing journey. Knowledge of the Bible is helpful but there has to be appeal to more than just the Biblical text. Contemporary Christians are The Third Testament, living examples of Biblical and historical Christianity. Jesus Christ Himself is the root and example to uphold against alternatives. Arguments about church, practice and doctrine are best elevated to discussions about the Historical Jesus and the Living Lord.
(28) Queen and Empire And All That
The Church of Scotland in associated with the British monarchy and British history. Patriotism, militarism, aristocracy, social hierarchy, preferments and recognition are all bound up in this. The problem however is that for the rest of the 21st century there is likely to be a lessening and a slackening of these ties. Young people and the next two generations are not going to feel the same as the last of the present generation do. This leads to a salient issue for the Church of Scotland. How does it distinguish Jesus Christ from its own identity? The opening of each General Assembly confirms that much thinking needs to be done. Deference, bowing and scraping, anachronistic language and absurd, outdated and somewhat sparse pageantry detract from the Church of Scotland’s boast that only Jesus Christ is the King and Head of the Church. Ministers are to blame for all this. They covet royal chaplaincies, honours, positions and the influence these bring. There is serious snobbery in the Church of Scotland.
Queen Elizabeth is highly regarded for her Christianity both by fellow Christians and by many others who value the personal qualities that derive from her active faith. It may be that those who follow her will not be so highly regarded. Christianity as the default faith of previous years may be pushed further towards the margins of national life. In Scotland, the Scottish National Party wishes Scotland to become a republic. Its members think that the social progression is leading in that way. The Church of Scotland offers no evidence of having thought about this. It can clearly be argued from the New Testament that established social and class inequalities are not of the essence of the teaching of Jesus. History however proves that no nation or society survives without some replacement or equivalent system of hierarchy. Communism for example has proved itself remorselessly unequal when applied to the practicalities of organising nation states.
Communicating to young people and to future generations from its socially and politically establishment status is a serious hindrance to the Church of Scotland. It should not be reactive on these matters; it should set the Christian agenda with far-reaching change and reform. It cannot do this however because some of its career ministers support, practice and benefit from the status quo. The Church of Scotland has its Saducees. They include and exclude at will.
(29) Climate Change and Global Warming
The Church of Scotland lately climbed on the bandwagon of speechifying about climate change and global warming. It did not lead on these issues nor did any other Christian denomination. Christians by and large live relatively simple lives. They do not indulge in conspicuous consumption for its own sake. They are not in charge of great business empires and they do not feature much in global and nation rich lists. The Christians who are left in the western world are mostly quiet, responsible citizens of largely modest to comfortable incomes. The do not fly to excess nor indulge in harmful personal pursuits such as heavy alcohol consumption and drug taking. They certainly warm their houses and many drive cars. Most are likely to take on board the apocalyptic warnings which are becoming louder and louder. The carbon footprint of the average Christian in the world is low, wherever they may live. Christians are not offering any radical ideas of their own to address these issues. They have no especial expertise.
Both Judaism and Christianity were founded in pastoral settings. Western industrialism has overwhelmed Christians as it has everyone else. Scientific and technological advancement has been so rapid that theology and morality cannot keep up. The churches have benefited from the wealth created. However secularism has now eroded collective Christian belief throughout the western world. Climate emergency ideology is taking over as the leitmotif for the next decades. It is a new prism through which to evaluate all human activity, including reproduction.
Christians can adapt reasonably easily to simpler lifestyles. They are not much off the pace already. Christian Faith is both consolation and inspiration. Christians accept the role of stewardship of creation and the vision and hope of eternal life hereafter. Christians also are not strangers to self-denial for it is seen in Jesus Christ. Voluntary behavioural redress is presupposed in Christian teaching.
There is a larger providence also in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Today Israel excels in desalination and offers its technology to other nations. The transfer from carbon to electric is part of general providence, the sense that the earth and its surround contains resources for the maintenance of human existence. This is a Biblical concept under the counsel of our Maker and Creator. Other means will be discovered in the future. Nuclear ﬁssion is a process where the nucleus of an atom is split into two or more smaller nuclei, known as ﬁssion products. The ﬁssion of heavy elements is an exothermic reaction, and huge amounts of energy are released in the process. It is controversial however being efficient and harmful at the same time in the production of electricity.
Nuclear fusion occurs at the centre of the sun but scientists hope that one day we will be able to harness this energy on Earth, too. Nuclear fusion is the process of making a single heavy nucleus (part of an atom) from two lighter nuclei. This process is called a nuclear reaction. It releases a large amount of energy. The nucleus made by fusion is heavier than either of the starting nuclei. Hydrogen atoms are fused together to make helium. Fusion doesn't emit harmful toxins like carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Its major by-product is helium, an inert, non-toxic gas. No long-lived radioactive waste. Nuclear fusion reactors produce no high activity, long-lived nuclear waste. So there is long term providence is the earth’s God-given resources.
Humans are messy, dirty wasteful creatures nevertheless and plastic pollution is clear evidence of this. So are the huge amounts of waste that require to be recycled if possible and land-filled if not. Capitalism most certainly drives consumption beyond what is necessary or desirable. The absurdities of advertising should be curtailed. But we are an idolatrous species and left without a true object of worship we consume much else, more than we ever need. Christianity offers examples of modest material living. It is not alone in this. The call to live spiritually is not the sole preserve of Christianity. However its combination of partnership in divine responsibility, scientific expertise and ethical imperative is both helpful to and hopeful for the human condition.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ means that no problems at any time in the Church cannot be overcome. If a version of Christianity has become too culture specific, as indeed many have throughout Christian history, and has atrophied as a result, the solution is to be found in the Person of Jesus Christ and in His eternal presence with His people. A dying church is a contradiction to the resurrection of Jesus and to Him personally. A living church is a witness in spirit and in truth. Church of Scotland members should not look back or forward. They should look upward to Jesus Christ.