THE TEACHING ELDER
At the time of the Reformation in Scotland from 1560 onwards, there were four orders, Minister of Word and Sacrament, Doctor of Theology, Elder and Deacon. As things settled down four became two, the Ruling Elders and the Teaching Elder who was the Minister of Word and Sacrament and who could also be a Doctor of Theology.
The Scots Confession of 1560 Chapter 7 states ‘We acknowledge and confess that this most wondrous conjunction betwix the Godhead and the Manhead in Christ Jesus did proceed from the eternal and immutable decree of God, whence also our salvation springs and depends.’
Chapter 18 of The Scots Confession describes the signs of a true Church of Jesus Christ thus: ‘The true preaching of the word of God into which God has revealed himself to us, as the writings of the Prophets and Apostles do declare. Secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, which must be annexed to the word and promise of God, to seal and confirm the same in our hearts. Lastly, ecclesiastical discipline uprightly ministered, as God’s word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed, and virtue nourished’.
Articles I and II of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland read in part ‘The Church of Scotland adheres to the Scottish Reformation; receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life; and avows the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith founded thereupon’. ‘The principal subordinate standard of the Church of Scotland is the Westminster Confession of Faith approved by the General Assembly of 1647, containing the sum and substance of the Faith of the Reformed Church. Its government is Presbyterian, and is exercised through Kirk Sessions, Presbyteries and General Assemblies’. In our Reformed and Presbyterian system each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the Session. Responsibility for conduct of church services is reserved to an Ordained Minister or Pastor known as the Teaching Elder and Minister of the Word and Sacrament.
As Locum I am the Teaching Elder here. I am a double graduate of Glasgow University, Gold Medallist with First Class Honours in Systematic Theology and I am a Doctor of Philosophy in Theology of Oxford University. It is my calling and role to teach the Scriptures and to administer the Sacraments. It is my calling to be faithful to the founding principles and constitution of the Church of Scotland. I have done so as the Teaching Elder here throughout my ministry over the last sixteen months.
John Knox referred to John Calvin’s Geneva as the most perfect School of Christ on earth. Each congregation is a School of Christ. The Minister of Word and Sacrament is the Teaching Elder. I am the teacher, you are the pupils. Some of you could be called students. In schools there are badly behaved pupils. There are means of discipline including suspension and expulsion. In the Church of Scotland there are means of discipline for badly behaved members and elders. The head teacher equivalent is the Presbytery to whom bad behaviour can be reported under the Discipline of Elders, Readers and Office Bearers Act.
At the Service for the Ordination of Elders, the Minister reads as follows: …‘the Church of Scotland as part of the holy catholic and apostolic or universal Church, worshipping one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, affirms anew its belief in the Gospel of the sovereign grace and love of God, wherein through Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord, incarnate, crucified and risen, he freely offers to all, upon repentance and faith, the forgiveness of sins, renewal by the Holy Spirit, and eternal life, and calls them to labour in the fellowship of faith for the advancement of the Kingdom of God throughout the world’.
‘The Church of Scotland acknowledges the Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, to be the supreme rule of faith and life. The Church of Scotland holds as its subordinate standard the Westminster Confession of Faith, recognising liberty of opinion on such points of doctrine as do not enter into the substance of the Faith, and claiming the right in dependence on the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, to formulate, interpret, or modify its subordinate standards; always in agreement with the Word of God and the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith contained in the Confession. Of which agreement the Church itself shall be sole judge’.
And each person being ordained as an elder is asked ‘Do you believe the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith; do you promise to seek the unity and peace of this Church; to uphold its doctrine, worship, government and discipline; and to take your due part in the administration of its affairs? And the person must reply ‘I do’.
But have you? In a school if a pupil makes false accusations against a teacher it is a very serious matter. It can ruin a teacher’s reputation, health and perhaps even livelihood. It can lead to suspension and expulsion of the pupil. What about this School of Christ? If a pupil in this School of Christ makes false accusations against the Teaching Elder what should be the consequences? At the meeting of the Kirk Session here on September 2nd 2019 I was accused of being anti-Catholic, Anti-Jewish, anti Muslim and anti-Church of Scotland. These are serious accusations to make against a Christ-centred Minister of the Christian Gospel. Let me answer them one by one.
1) Anti-Catholic : I am not anti-Catholic and never have been. The ‘evidence’ offered against me was taken from my contribution to the March 2019 Trinity News in which I wrote:
‘Lent has been introduced to Church of Scotland people through the ecumenical movement and the influence of Episcopalians. Lent is popularly associated with giving something up as practising Roman Catholics do. Some people give up chocolate, others give up cheese or pizza or fish and chips. Some give up their devotion to certain television programmes. Deeper thinking people decide to do something more positive. Some may determine to witness for Jesus Christ more clearly. Others may decide to do something for the community in which they live. Some may vow to be a nicer, kinder, better person – at least for six weeks’.
This is no evidence of being ‘Anti-Catholic’. I have met the Pope. I met the great Pope John Paul II in Rome, in the Vatican, face to face. I have a photograph of our meeting.
2) Anti-Jewish : No evidence was offered to support this false accusation which is wholly and completely wrong. I have always been defensive of Jews, positive in affirming their contribution to humanity. For years have written letters and articles in the newspapers supportive of Judeo-Christian heritage. I have recently spoken in the Presbytery of Ayr to bring balance to the Israel-Palestine debate. I have never uttered one anti-Jewish sentiment in my ministry here.
3) Anti-Muslim : I am not anti-Muslim. I am anti-Islam. There is a difference. But I have only ever mentioned Islam incidentally. I am for Jesus Christ, God’s ‘only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father’. Islam rejects the Lordship of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God and Saviour of the world and superimposes Mohammed as God’s last prophet and revelation. I articulate the discontinuity between Islam on one hand and Christianity and Judaism on the other from the central core of Christianity as professed by the Church of Scotland. The last vow for membership of the Church of Scotland is this: ‘Do you promise depending on the grace of God, to profess publicly your loyalty to Jesus Christ, to serve him in your daily work, and to walk in his ways all the days of your life’. I defend Jesus Christ against those who deny Him. Every Christian should be doing so. Do you wonder that the Church of Scotland is dying when its people will not stand up for Jesus?
4) Anti-Church of Scotland : I am not anti-Church of Scotland. I have been in the Church of Scotland since infancy. Baptised, Sunday School, Bible Class, Youth Fellowship, a Sunday School teacher at 13 years of age, Bible Class leader, Youth Choir leader, called to the Ministry directly by God while still a teenager. I have served the Church of Scotland all my life. I criticise what is wrong in the Church of Scotland from the position of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the hope of revival and reform. I base my judgement on the Christian Gospel as affirmed by the Church of Scotland. I uphold its doctrine, worship and practice. My preaching is positive, upbeat, full of conviction and inclusive.
The manufacture of grievance and of offence where none exists is concerning. It is evidence of a deeper spiritual state of hostility towards me and the Christian Gospel. If you have to make up false accusations then your case is false. The accusations of anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism are defamatory. No elder should be allowed to behave in this way and continue in office.
What if some of the pupils then decide to throw the Teaching Elder out of the class, indeed, out of the school? Irony upon irony – some of these pupils in this School of Christ are themselves teachers. They would not tolerate the behaviour in their schools which they act out in this School of Christ. The Kirk Session is not a primary school staff room. The Kirk Session is not a hen night in a local hotel. This is George Orwell redivivus. The animals have taken over the farm. The pupils have taken over the School of Christ. We even have our own Ministry of Truth here. My pastoral letter in the March Trinity Church Times was censored. The last two sentences should have been ‘A self-centred congregation will die. A Christ-centred congregation will survive and grow’. The sentence ‘A self-censored congregation will die’ was censored. It was not censored from the Muirkirk Newsletter. The editor there understood that it is a universal Christian truth and she would not in principle ever censor a Minister’s pastoral letter. Neither in my entire ministry have I ever come across such a thing happening. In Trinity School of Christ, the Teaching Elder is not allowed freedom of expression. If you treat a Christ centred minister of the Gospel in this way, what are you here for, what are you doing? What judgement have you brought on yourselves?
You have a right to disagree on such points of doctrine as do not enter into the substance of the Faith - but not to so disrespect. Some people here have serious problems of perception and understanding of Christian ministry. Your judgements require to be based on the Church of Scotland’s own foundations, the Bible and the Confession of Faith. Some have made judgements on my ministry based on other ideas, external views, outside sources, different ideologies, alternative policies, competing philosophies.
What to do? In Jesus Christ there is always a way back to redemption. Oliver Cromwell wrote to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on 5th August 1650, ‘I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken’. There needs to be the beginnings of realisation, confession, repentance and amendment of individual and collective life. There needs to be proper education and training. These would be a start. They may lead forward to the real solution which concerns your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is threefold in nature.
You must be born again.
You must be born again.
You must be born again.