The Church Of Scotland Is In A Dark Place

The Church Of Scotland Is In A Dark Place

Lock down acquiescence

The Church of Scotland is in a dark place. The Principal Clerk took to himself executive authority and failed to assert the Church’s right of self governance as described in the 1921 Act, that is, inter alia, to open the doors of its churches and worship God. The Church could have made a case for the separation of Church and State and of God’s sovereignty over both. It could then have accepted mitigating measures such as safe distancing. Professional football is allowed but worship of God in the Church of Scotland (and in other places of worship) was halted. Why is it safe to hold an election and not safe to attend Church? What kind of Christianity is this? It is the age old ‘Moderatism’ of the Church of Scotland, a worldly shallow pretence at Christianity which despised any signs of enthusiasm for or commitment to Jesus Christ. Moderatism tolerated both the Highland Clearances and the 1712 Patronage Act which led to the 1843 Disruption over the right of congregations to call their ministers. Moderatism’s heir is ‘Liberalism’. Liberals in the Church of Scotland are liberal only towards the changing currents of society and not equally so towards their brothers and sisters in Christ who seek to be faithful witness to Jesus Christ.

No surprise then that the Church of Scotland offered no support to the Roman Catholic bishops when they overtured the SNP Government to open churches for worship. When a combination of evangelicals and Catholics sought a judicial review of the decision to close places of worship a heavy handed circular was sent out stating categorically that the Church of Scotland was not part of this did not support this request. The matter was not up for debate in presbyteries, kirk sessions or congregations. The Principal Clerk’s edict read: ‘We do not think legal action is the right course to take when the country is under threat from Covid-19. We fully accept that the latest pandemic restrictions mean that we have to close churches again for the time being. The vast majority of our members understand and support these temporary restrictions. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that reopening churches will happen as soon as it can be done safely’. 'In addition the Moderator, the Right Reverend Martin Fair, has released a short Video available on the Church of Scotland Website endorsing the above statement'. He is no Andrew Melville buttonholing King James VI in 1596 and reminding him that he is only ‘God’s sillie vassal’.

Where is the evidence for the statement ‘The vast majority of our members understand and support these temporary restrictions’? None was provided. Church of Scotland members are timid though and most are in vulnerable groups. But they have been cowed and bullied for decades and are now no more than serfs. This is Chinese State Christianity. The Church of Scotland should be distinguishing itself from the neo-communist control-freakery of the SNP government and warning about its obsession with micro-managing the lives of Scotland’s people (the Named Person legislation, the Hate Crime Bill). This is a spiritual issue not just a political one and it should be articulated in spiritual terms as it has impinged on freedom of worship. What is the Church of Scotland going to do if/when Scotland becomes independent and the same SNP tactics are used and justified for other reasons? The Church seeks and curries favour at present rather than stand up for its calling and purpose in Jesus Christ. What would the Reformers think? What would the Covenanters think? Liberals couldn’t care less. They don’t take Christianity that seriously.

Secular management

On 26th January 2021 the Church of Scotland Chief Officer, Dave (sic) sent out a circular setting out his understanding of the present. I offered him this response. ‘There is no mention of God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. What we get is this. ‘Whilst longer term predictions beyond 5 years can be made, my judgement is that they should only be used to give insights into the potential outcomes as successful mitigating actions will result in a more positive situation if we achieve them’. What does this mean? Does anyone know? It is management speak which falls foul of Plain English Campaign criteria for clarity. It is symptomatic of all that is wrong at 121 George Street. We are told that ‘The resourcing and financing of our new presbyteries is one of the most significant (factors) in a financial and operational sense – this must be incorporated into our future business plan and is therefore another high priority. In the short term we are supporting each new presbytery as they are implemented, but it is recognised that a long-term sustainable arrangement is needed and the Assembly Trustees have a Task Group working on this’. The new presbyteries will drain funding which could be used for ministries and ministry development posts. These new presbyteries are unnecessary. It is clear from the Chief Officer’s paper that central control is going to be increased in future. The new presbyteries will prove to be a waste of money. The Priority Work Areas for 2021 section of the circular is an often repeated wish list suggesting little new. It represents further micro-management. There is another 121 title though, ‘Head of Faith Action Programmes’. What and who is this to be? Congregations are to be managed. The circular goes on ‘Congregational sustainability – establish a Task Force to help address the situation’. This is shallow, patronising language which should test the charity and patience of congregations if they ever get to hear about it. Reinventing the broken wheel. 121 George Street is the problem, not the solution’. Dave writes ‘I really want a very close working relationship with you all’. I have never received an acknowledgement or reply.

No Signs of Light

Covid-19 has dealt a severe blow to Church of Scotland finances. There are plans to rationalise ministries, church buildings and congregations. Church of Scotland people think that they can manage God, Father Son and Holy Spirit out of the Church and trust in their own understanding. Since this strategy has lamentably and visibly failed, why does anyone think it will succeed now? Personal faith has no place in presbytery committee discussions. Freedom of call for congregations and for ministers has been abolished. National and presbytery planning rules. Thus the call of Abraham and everyone since is negated. The freedom of God to send is curtailed. Jesus Christ’s name tops and tails meetings but all else is indistinguishable from a bowling or junior football club meeting. Some Church meetings are as tendentious. The video of Handforth Parish Council went viral but its disagreements were mild in comparison to those of many a Kirk Session. There is no pathway to revival of the Church of Scotland’s spiritual and material fortunes. Panicky management of decline will continue along business lines. The Church of Scotland has cut its ties with its own founding Faith. Jesus said, ‘No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me’ (John 15 : 4).

Robert Anderson 2017

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