I was due to preach this sermon in Stewarton: St Columba's Church on 25th June 2023. I was 'cancelled' and 'no platformed' and was thus prevented from delivering it.
‘I stand at the door and knock’ (Revelation 3 : 20)
The Protestant Reformation of the 16th century was a rejection of the cult of the mediaeval Catholic church in favour of a return to Biblical personal relationship with God Christianity based principally on the Book of Romans and doctrines such as :
• By God’s Grace alone we are saved not by works
• By faith in Jesus Christ alone we live
• For the glory of God alone we serve – not for ourselves
• By Scripture alone are are taught and guided
• Through Christ alone we go to heaven
In Scotland the 16th century Reformation was violent in nature. This was a significant contradiction of the example and teaching of Jesus Himself. It distanced the nature of Christianity in the Church of Scotland from the New Testament and has coloured the practice of congregational life ever since. The apparently saintly Reformer Patrick Hamilton at only 24 years old and newly married was slowly burned to death from noon to 6 p.m. in St Andrews on 29th February 1528 as a Protestant heretic by order of Catholic Archbishop James Beaton. His reported last words were "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit". The spot is today marked with a monogram of his initials set into the cobblestones of the pavement of North Street. In December 1545 Cardinal David Beaton, nephew of James Beaton arranged for the arrest, trial and execution of Protestant preacher George Wishart, who was strangled and afterwards burned on 28 March 1546.
On 29 May 1546 Protestant sympathisers Norman Leslie and William Kirkcaldy, managed to obtain admission to St Andrews Castle at daybreak, killing the porter in the process. They then murdered Cardinal David Beaton, mutilating his corpse and hanging it from a castle window. Although supposed to be celibate Beaton had a common law wife, Mary Ogilvie and a family with her. His last words were reported to have been ‘Fie, fie, all is lost’.
The Killing Time was a period of conflict in Scottish history between the Covenanters based largely here in the south west of the country, and the government forces of Kings Charles II and James VII. It lasted from 1679 to the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 which culminated in the exile of King James VII and the accession to the throne of William and Mary and thence to the Presbyterian Settlement of 1690. Covenanters were hunted, tortured and executed. They also fought and killed. One reputed battle cry was 'Jesus and no quarter', that is 'Jesus and no mercy'. In total about 18,000 people, who would not compromise their beliefs, were killed.
Thereafter the Church of Scotland as established settled in to comfort and conformity. Moderates, what we would call liberals today, tended to dominate its affairs. Thus there was no outright objection to or condemnation of the Highland Clearances and many local ministers sided with the landowners. In the 18th century evangelical revivals broke out throughout Britain and in America emphasising personal relationship to Jesus Christ, forgiveness of sins and recovery of Biblical Christianity. John and Charles Wesley the founders of the Methodist Church were two of its most significant leaders. In Scotland local revivals occurred and evangelicals took on a distinct identity within the Church of Scotland. The establishment moderates sought to keep evangelicals at bay. This struggle led to the Disruption of 1843 when 474 ministers out of 1200 with their congregations left the Church of Scotland and formed the Free Church because they advocated the right of congregations to call their own ministers rather than have them placed by local lairds. In 1900 the United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church of Scotland united as the United Free Church. A remnant Free Church did not join and continues to this day. In 1929 the United Free Church united with the Church of Scotland. A minority did not enter that union and continue today as the United Free Church of Scotland.
The battle between establishment moderates now called liberals and evangelicals erupted again in the nineteen fifties and sixties. The left wing Iona Community led by George McLeod emphasised political engagement at the expense of evangelism. The evangelical Tell Scotland movement led by Tom Allan emphasised living and preaching the Gospel as the priority before political engagement. This festered over decades of internecine struggle and burst open at the 2009 General Assembly.
Scott Rennie was minister of Brechin Cathedral Church of Scotland. While accepting a call to Aberdeen Queen’s Cross Church it became public knowledge that after five years of marriage he and his wife had separated and divorced. Scott Rennie had subsequently formed a homosexual relationship. This was clearly a breach of his ordination vows. It was also what the church calls a ‘fama’, that is, a public matter. The case came to the General Assembly for judgement as to whether the call should be sustained. For such matters Church of Scotland practice advocates suspension, investigation and punishment for guilt. Church of Scotland minister Michael Erskine was accused of having an affair with a woman in his congregation and he was suspended for a year. Rev Ian Bradley was accused of having an affair with a woman and was suspended for a year. Scott Rennie was not suspended.
The correct procedure would have been for the General Assembly to suspend Scott Rennie and place the Presbyteries of Aberdeen and Brechin under investigation. This did not happen. The General Assembly had not adopted any policy on the ordination of homosexual ministers and it should have proceeded to form one in the usual studious committee way. On 25th March, weeks before the General Assembly, the incoming Moderator in a clear breach of General Assembly protocol and authority had said that he thought the call should proceed. So there were already five breaches of correct practice. There was a further spiritual consideration that was ignored. In Romans 14 : 13 Paul urges ‘make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister’. It was well known that evangelicals in the Church of Scotland opposed homosexuality in the ministry on Biblical grounds. This was also the practice of 2000 years by the very large majority of Christian Churches throughout the world and remains so. There was a strong case for saying that since there was no policy on this and no consensus, for the sake of the unity of the Church the matter should not proceed. Further, it could have been said that out of love and respect for evangelicals, for their commitment to Jesus Christ, their prayerful dedication and devotion and their generosity to the Church, that this matter should not proceed. But that did not happen. Evangelicals, visibly more serious and committed in their Christian lives were disrespected in favour of the micro-minority homosexual agenda of political correctness.
The 2009 General Assembly’s decision and the way it was reached led to a Second Disruption in which significant congregations left the Church of Scotland with their ministers to form independent churches or join the Free Church. These included world famous St George’s Tron in Glasgow, Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, Gilcomston South and High Hilton in Aberdeen and others throughout the land. Thousands of members did what is now called ‘quiet quitting’ and departed the Church of Scotland leaving it a hollowed out institution. Millions of pounds of revenue was lost. Evangelicals who remained found that their Church had become hostile to them. Over the decades evangelicals had provided full-time vocations in Christian service, missionaries, and ministers. With their exit this commitment and these vocations departed. This is a significant cause of the shortage of ministers today. The Moderator of the 2009 General Assembly responsible for what happened and its far reaching consequences was Bill Hewitt.
Today liberals have adopted the values of the present times and culture even to the extent of promoting the woke agenda. The formation of large presbyteries, the closing of many churches and the herding together of congregations is all the work of the same liberal establishment. It is about property and money and the management of decline. It is not about personal faith, renewal and revival.
So where does this Church stand? Not in a good place. There is a church within a church here. The word ‘church’ - ‘ecclesia’ just means ‘assembly’. This church within a church is not centred on Jesus Christ, not based on the Reformation principles of grace alone, faith alone, Jesus Christ alone, not based on prayer and knowledge of the Scriptures, not filled with grace and forgiveness. Robert Burns is not the saviour of the world. Freemasonry and Eastern Star do not save you from your sins or grant you eternal life. Ask yourself ‘Why am I hostile to the Christian Gospel? Why am I hostile to this Christ centred Interim Minister? Since even before he set foot in this place I did not want him here. Why have I sought to undermine him? Why have I borne false witness against this Christ centred minister of the Gospel?'
To the church at Laodicea Jesus says, ‘You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent’. (Revelation 3 : 17 - 19)
Here today you are spiritually naked before the Risen Jesus Christ, exposed, rumbled, found out. Before heaven. Will you ask Jesus to clothe you with confession, repentance and surrender? There is always a way back with Jesus Christ. He is saying to you today ‘Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and that person with me.' (Revelation 3 : 17 – 20).
Jesus Christ wants to be invited into the centre of the life of this congregation. Will you let him in?
Jesus Christ wants to be invited into the centre of your life. Will you let him in?