The Five Marks of Mission
On 20 August 2020 the Church of Scotland’s Theological Forum decided to prosecute ‘Five Marks of Mission’. These were taken directly from the Church of England and had been developed by the Anglican Consultative Council since as long ago as 1984. The marks were adopted by the General Synod of the Church of England in 1996 and dioceses and other denominations used them as the basis for action plans and creative mission ideas. In 2012, the Anglican Consultative Council added wording to the fourth mark, to include the need for Christians to challenge violence and work for peace. The marks are as follows: 1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom 2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers 3. To respond to human need by loving service 4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation 5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth. The Church of Scotland has ruled that congregations must have a Mission Plan based on the Five Marks. If they do not they are not allowed to call a Minister. Let us consider these marks in turn.
To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
What is the Good News? The Church of Scotland doesn’t say. Why do they not say? ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ (Isaiah 40 : 28 - 30)
The Church of Scotland does not talk much publicly about God, nor His incarnation in Jesus, nor the presence and gifts of the Holy Spirit. It never talks about sin and salvation, the niche market contribution of Christianity to human understanding and to world culture. The Church of Scotland is embarrassed and ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It cannot say to Scotland ‘You must be born again into the Christian Faith of Columba, Margaret, Knox, Livingstone and Haining.’ Its references are humanistic, social and political. This is only half of the Christian story, half of Judaism its precursor. It does not recall the people of Scotland to Jesus Christ, to personal Faith and to Christian life and living. It identifies with the values of the age and time and thus acts against the interests of Christianity. It offers no description of the distinct Kingdom which can be discovered and found in Jesus Christ and is incompatible with the 21st century cultural wokery reflected in its own Human Resources ideology.
To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
This at least is consistent with Christianity since the pages of the New Testament so far as it goes. What do the new believers believe? It does not say. Why? Is it because God is the elephant in the room in congregational life? What do these new believers practise? It does not say. Is the content and practice expected consistent with Christianity in the New Testament and in the previous 20 centuries? It is not. There are 16 church vacancies advertised on the Church of Scotland website. Of these 13 are marked with a *D* and this means that these congregation have departed from the Church's traditional position in respect of ministers in civil partnerships & same sex marriages. Only 3 located in the highlands of Scotland have opted to be faithful to the teaching of the Jewish and Christian ages. This is a shocking statistic. It reflects the extent to which the Church of Scotland has itself departed from the Bible, from the Reformers, from Roman Catholicity and from Christian Orthodoxy. It has succumbed to the novel ideology of identity which escaped from western academia and has overturned the values of history, politics, education, business, the arts, and sport concerning race, gender and sexual orientation. Coterminously it has dealt a hammer blow European Christianity. The churches of Europe have declined rapidly, are without voice, respect and authority, closing up, the remnant gathering together until the end in sight. The Church of Scotland is a visible theorist and exemplar of this behaviour. There is a dynamic correlation between its adoption of the values of this ideology and its precipitous decline.
To respond to human need by loving service
This at least, is not controversial. From Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan Christians have understood the meaning of the second commandment, to love one’s neighbour as oneself. But the Church of Scotland has inverted the order of the first and second commandments. Indeed it has made the fulfilment of the second commandment the entirety of its witness to Christianity. The Church of Scotland has a long history of good works. Current projects funded by the Church of Scotland Guild are supporting people living with an eating disorder and raising community awareness, finding a home for every child, supporting Christians to be involved in adoption and fostering, supporting the development of sustainable chocolate production in South East Asia, finding the light in every child, supporting children with autism and other learning disabilities in Uganda, supporting and empowering women in Brazil through theological education, and supporting the development of a sustainable village in Tanzania. These represent a fraction of the overall contribution of the Church of Scotland over the centuries of its existence to the betterment of the human condition in the Name of and for the sake of Jesus Christ. But good deeds have now replaced worship as the priority of parishes. A recent Moderator opined that Sunday morning services are finished. Worship of our Maker is held to be outmoded and irrelevant among the higher echelons of the Church of Scotland. James 2:17 reads ‘Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’ But is the corollary true?
To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
There is much lack of self-awareness found in this; ‘transform’ is a very ambitious word betraying self-importance and an unrealistic and exaggerated sense of relevance and capacity. Doubly so is blindness to the unjust structures of the Church of Scotland itself. Members now have the status of serfs with fewer rights than at any time since 1560. The hierarchy to people principle of the Reformation has been reversed by the formation of a few large hierarchical presbyteries modelled on pre-Reformation dioceses. How can the Church of Scotland transform the unjust structures of society? It is part of the Establishment. General Assemblies open accompanied by the pageantry of the British State. This use of language and ideas is full of hypocrisy. It is window dressing, mission washing. Is the Church of Scotland irredeemably politically left wing due to the historic influence of the Iona Community and of current secular politics? Must a Christian necessarily be on the left? The teaching of Jesus cannot be limited to this kind of categorisation. Politics reflects or does not reflect Jesus Christ. There are above 2.5 billion Christianised peoples in the world today. The Scottish National Party has 72,186 members. The 2021 figure for membership of the Scottish Labour Party was 16467 and its 2023 United Kingdom membership figure is 399,195. The United Kingdom membership of the Conservative Party is thought to be around 200,000. Christianity is nearly 2000 years in being. Jesus did attack the Temple traders but he did so in the name of prayer and true worship, not unjust structures of society.
Seeking to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation are laudable enough aims if these were not contradicted by the involvement of the British Armed Forces at General Assemblies and the sanctifying of men, women, armaments and nuclear weapons for warfare. Language is offered up without context. There is an assumption of pacifism alongside enjoyment of national security. It makes little sense and is riddled with shallow thinking and hypocrisy obedient to political correctness. It is self-aggrandisement. Who in positions of power in the world today listens to the Church of Scotland? How far has the Church of Scotland strayed from its core purpose?
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
It was inevitable that the Church of Scotland would climb on the bandwagon of climate concern and earth worship which has appeared in recent decades. It had little or nothing to say about these issues throughout the 20th century. According to some Christian theology this world is to pass away. Meanwhile Christian stewardship of the planet is rooted in the Genesis creation narrative but the command to ‘subdue’ is disregarded in favour of accepting blame for climate change and global warming by western industrialisation from which the Church of Scotland’s members and many more besides have benefited much. This is an application rather than a principle. It is important, necessary even, according to computer calculations and projections. Dying and rising is part of the observable cycle of life, vegetable, animal and human. Christianity takes the natural cycle further – into human death and eternal life. That is where the Church of Scotland should be putting the emphasis.
Summary and Conclusion
The Five Marks of Mission are too amorphous. Truly the blind are leading the blind. Focus and emphasis requires to be limited to the central message and purpose of Christianity, which is introduction to relationship with Jesus Christ. Five marks of mission could be described in very few words ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ and even more succinctly ‘You must be born again’. The Church of Scotland has rejected this core Gospel and those for whom it is their priority, living expression and understanding.