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Tron Church quits the Church of Scotland

One of the highest-profile congregations in Scotland has quit the national church over the latter's alleged departure from the authority of God's Word.


first published 17/06/12

UPDATE 08/10/12

Tron congregation writes to Glasgow Presbytery

UPDATE 08/12/12

Court Papers served on Church during prayer meeting

Meanwhile one of the Tron leadership writes:
"Our congregation numbers have been building steadily and I was told that this morning there was only two seats left on he ground floor and the gallery full."

TronLast Monday a very prominent city-centre church in Glasgow commonly known as ‘the Tron’, took a step into the unknown when on June 11th 2012, the congregation quit the Church of Scotland.

The Rev. Dr. William Philip, minister of the 500-strong congregation of St George’s Tron Church located in the bustling shopping precinct of Buchanan Street has affirmed that this was and is no rash move. Concerning this development he has written: “Our decision to separate from the Church of Scotland is the culmination of careful thought, sincere discussion and prayer for over 12 months.”

The congregation are leaving a denomination which the former believes is separating itself from the authority of God’s word. Writing on the Tron’s website the clergyman continues:

“Last year, despite having had the clear opportunity, the General Assembly failed to reverse the stance taken in 2009 approving the appointment of ordained ministers in same-sex relationships. Instead, it clearly and deliberately chose to set an opposite trajectory towards normalising such relationships. In doing so the highest court of the Kirk has marginalised the Bible, the written Word of God. We believe the Church of Scotland is choosing to walk away from the biblical gospel, and to walk apart from the faith of the worldwide Christian Church.”

If the leadership and congregation at the Tron needed any additional reason(s) to quit the Church of Scotland, then the decision by the denomination’s General Assembly last month to allow other faith groups to hold services in Kirk buildings has provided a further prompt. (The question was brought to the floor of the most recent Assembly largely because of the actions of Rev. Scott Rennie – the Aberdeen minister at the heart of the gay clergy issue – who has given permission to Hindu groups to use the Queen’s Cross church premises for worship.)

Although media headlines have stated that the Tron’s departure represents the first local church to leave the denomination, in a de facto sense the (bulk of the) congregation of High Hilton church in Aberdeen quit the Kirk last October. On that occasion however those involved moved out of the church building.

In the case of the Tron church, the congregation most recently raised millions of pounds to cover a major refurbishment. One church member who was at the heart of the very substantial upgrade to the building has commented:

“Regardless of the risks and the fact that many members provided substantial sacrificial offerings for the development of the building as a gospel station in the city centre, the membership have put biblical priorities in first place ahead of buildings.”

In the event, the overall total expenditure was close to £3M - most of which was paid for by the membership.

Any significant Church of Scotland news would normally result in a media statement from the Kirk’s HQ, however, in this case, the denomination would seem to be downplaying the situation. It has merely, and on request, provided a ‘comment’ which states:

We can confirm that we have been informed by the Minister and Session Clerk of Glasgow St George’s Tron that they and a number of members wish to leave the Church of Scotland because of the decisions taken by the 2011 General Assembly.’
Included is a response from a Church of Scotland spokesperson:

“The Presbytery of Glasgow and the Church of Scotland General Trustees are saddened at the decision of the Minister and members of Glasgow St George’s Tron to leave the Church of Scotland. Discussions will take place with representatives of the Tron over the coming weeks to clarify the situation and determine the best way of preserving a Church of Scotland ministry presence in Glasgow city centre. No decisions have been taken about the on-going use of the building, or the outstanding financial obligations to the Church of Scotland and the General Trustees.”

The Kirk’s communiqué adds:

• The Congregation of the St George’s Tron Church have outstanding arrears on their contributions to Ministries and Mission in the Church of Scotland.
• There is also an outstanding loan made by the General Trustees to the congregation in 2007 to support a remodelling of the building.
• Glasgow Presbytery has a special commission looking at the plan for ministry in Glasgow city centre. It is due to report later this year.
• The St George’s Tron building is owned by the Church of Scotland General Trustees.
• No other congregations have indicated any intention to leave the Church of Scotland, although we are aware of a number of individuals who are unhappy with the direction they perceive the Church to be taking. Each set of circumstances is different.
• The Church of Scotland has set up a Theological Commission to examine whether persons in a civil partnership are eligible for admission for training, ordination and induction as ministers of Word and Sacrament or deacons, among other issues, and a further report will be presented to the 2013 General Assembly. It is disappointing that any Minister or members feel the need to leave the Church before the Commission reports. We stress that no final decisions have been taken, and the Church is currently holding more dialogue on this issue.

The finances of each parish church are tied to the Kirk's central funds but the present occupiers of the 17th-century site are likely to claim their investment of time and money earns a moral entitlement to ownership. Given the congregation’s desire to remain in the building it is difficult to see how the issue will be resolved without recourse to legal channels.

1. The Tron is one the best-known evangelical Church of Scotland congregations – with an impressive list of Bible-preaching luminaries serving as former ministers including Rev. Thomas Chalmers from 1815 -1819. Additionally the location at the heart of the main shopping centre in Scotland’s largest city gives the building a very prominent profile.

2. Since the General Assemblies of May 2009 and 2010 considerable upset has been experienced across the denomination over the Church of Scotland’s persistent failure to unequivocably state its position on what the Bible allows (and disallows) regarding human sexual relationships. In the wake of last year’s Assembly a meeting was held in the Tron which saw hundreds of ministers and elders from across Scotland gather to express their grave concerns. A Christians Together report was prepared following that meeting.

Subsequently a further assessment of the situation within Scotland’s national church was written up under the title ‘Harvest is past; the summer has ended’. Since that time some ministers and many members have quit the denomination. Many who remain are withholding their giving to central church funds and this action is exacerbating the serious financial situation in which the denomination finds itself.

The departure of the Tron’s minister, elders and congregation with the high-level of attendant risk regarding their recent investments in the premises, is indicative of the extent to which they place little faith in the denomination reversing its acceptance of gay clergy.
Another high-profile congregation which has also recently made a high level of investment in its building is amongst other local churches considering their future within the denomination. Reverend Dominic Smart said elders at Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen disagreed with the General Assembly's stance, feeling it had "marginalised" the Bible.

3. Concerning the Tron congregation's future the statement on its website affirms:

“We cannot depart from the historic foundations of our Church, and will not separate from communion with orthodox Christian believers globally. Consequently, we intend to realign with a church grouping which remains clearly and publicly committed to orthodox Christianity.

“Our ongoing work remains our priority. We are a diverse, growing Christian family made up of people from all walks of life, of all ages, from many nations. We are passionate about the life of our church in Glasgow City Centre, serving the city seven days a week. Our earnest desire is that we can continue our wide-ranging service to the people of Glasgow uninterrupted. To this end, although we are no longer part of the Church of Scotland, the leaders of our congregation remain in positive and constructive engagement with the denomination. Our goal is to ensure that all issues around this separation are dealt with reasonably and peaceably, and for the honour of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

4. For a short history of the Church of Scotland and derivative presbyterian denominations from 1560 to the present day, see article 'Presbyterianism - Scottish style'.

Christians Together, 17/06/2012

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Jenny 21/11/2012 21:28

Editor 22/11/2012 14:41
The following has been 'copied over' from another thread as the comment is equally relevant here:

'The response of the Kirk to the Tron situation is pretty shocking altogether. One thing especially struck me:

"....our minister and his wife received a letter at home stating that he and his family now had no right to remain in the manse, even though the manse clearly belongs to the congregation, not the denomination, and Dr Philip remains the minister of the congregation..."

A C of S minister was suspended a while ago for adultery, and it was reported in all the papers that he had been turned out on the streets with his children.
In actual fact, the Kirk was so reluctant to be hard on him that he was left in possession of the Manse right up until it was needed for his successor. The children were mainly living elsewhere in any case, and he himself (still happily adulterous as far as I've heard) has a new charge.

Now we know what it REALLY takes to be turned out.'
Alasdair (Guest) 22/11/2012 19:36
"Social problems more important than the question of whether the church believes God's Word or conforms to the world??"

Jenny, you seem to imply that this is what I was saying. It wasn't - or, at least it wasn't what I intended to say. But - because we believe in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ into our fallen world, I am not entirely sure that we can always draw such a rigid and dualistic line between social and "spiritual" issues. In Scotland, the evangelicals historically were at the forefront of social action as they are today in the developing world. In Scotland today, some evangelicals seem to have assumed that social issues can, by and large, be left to the state, to secular charities or to liberal Christians.

I am not trying to score points. I truly mean no disrespect to anyone, although some people taking part in this debate have shown little respect for me. But I do not recant one word of what I said. When I look at a society which is driven by incredible greed, hypocrisy, selfishness, falling standards in so many places, marginalization of the Gospel to say nothing of the alienation of so many as the rich have become richer and the poor poorer - well, I do wonder if we are actually rising to the challenge in the best way. Why do Christians often get so hung up over sexual sins at the expense of everything else? I do not for one moment suggest that sexual sin can be condoned. But why does it always seem to have such a high profile? And what does this attitude actually communicate to the world? I know that people will immediately say that we are not to be conformed to the world. OK, fair enough. I still remember what Rev William Still said to me "Never underestimate what the world thinks of the church."

If I have succeeded in offending people, I am genuinely sorry. That is certainly not my intention. I merely state things as I see them. I may be wrong. I often am.
Penny Lee 22/11/2012 20:55
Alasdair - I can't imagine that you have offended anyone as you have given your opinion in a gracious and reasonable manner. I don't think we are actually that far apart in what we are thinking either.

I would think that Jenny would also agree that we are not suggesting either that Christians don't become involved in social issues at all. Love for Christ should always lead us to help those needing help without needing something in return, however, our overriding aim has to be to share the gospel with them as that is ultimately their greatest need. To do this, we may have to attend to their social needs first and that is definitely Biblical. However, we are seeing around us churches which appear to only be addressing the social needs and stopping there, almost as if they are embarrassed of the gospel they claim to embrace.

I also wonder if the reason why sexual sin is the most focussed on one is because society focusses so much on sex. It is everywhere and practices which were once considered as inappropriate are now openly tolerated and attempts made to force there acceptance on the church itself. It is no wonder that this is meeting increasing opposition from those within it whose conscience cannot condone it.

Incidentally, I am sometimes wrong too because I am human. The only source which isn't wrong is God's word so I try to take my lead from that.
Guest (Guest) 24/11/2012 21:17
The Indep. Congregation,already clearing and moving out of the St George's Tron building in Glasgow, are about to attempt setting up "church plants" throughout the city.
They have already bought further properties, to ensure accommodation.
Is this really the way forward; considering they are answerable to no form of Church Government, barr themselves?
Are there not already sufficient Reformed, Presbyterian congregations in Glasgow with whom they might seek to become affiliated?
Or is this a step too far on the road to Reformed Presbyterian democracy?
Editor 25/11/2012 16:50
Guest, you may want to read the article 'The Primacy of the Local Church.

For convenience, I will copy the footnotes to that article below.

The term 'presbyterian' stems from the Greek word presbuteros and relates to (local) churches being overseen by (local) elders. Yet as things currently stand, individual congregations are represented on local presbyteries which are city or regional groupings. In turn presbyteries are subject to the decisions made by a denomination's general assembly. (In some denominations a group of presbyteries constitute a synod as a futher link in the chain.)

There are checks and balances to allow input from local churches on matters of great importance in order to prevent a general assembly taking a critical decision without first consulting the general membership. One of these is the (so-called) Barrier Act.

However, General Assemblies effectively set the tenor, policies and broad attitudes held and promulgated by their respective denominations, and exercise ultimate authority and discipline. A General Assembly constitutes the final court of appeal in matters of contention.

In his excellent book 'The Kirk in Scotland' John Buchan wrote:
"Andrew Melville [one of the notable Reformers] based his objection to bishops on the ground that in the New Testament there was no mention of bishops ruling over presbyteries, ignoring the fact that his own system had just as little warrant, since there was no proof of a presbytery governing more than a single church."

Those who defend the present structures make appeal to the 'Council of Jerusalem' (Acts 15:5-33) but FF Bruce has written: 'The church of Antioch, for example, did not lie within the jurisdiction of the church of Jerusalem, although the mother church naturally enjoyed a special measure of prestige and respect. (The Spreading Flame p.210)

The distinguished scholar who was born in Elgin continued: 'There is no thought here of a central or metropolitan authority to which the various churches must bow.' (ibid p.110)
And for denominations to base a whole doctrine of supra-church structure and multi-tiered hierarchy on a single incident is exegetical folly. We need more integrity before God than that.
Guest (Guest) 26/11/2012 10:48
At grass roots level; yet another denomination and a further fragmentation of our already bruised and battered congregational fellowship.

Gracious, cautious and Christ centered are those ministers, who have not gone out in haste, but have aligned themselves with Forward Together.
Guest (Guest) 26/11/2012 19:36
At a meeting of the congregation in St Georges Tron called by Glasgow Presbytery and '121' a young Christian asked the chairman of the visiting team after explaining that he had been dependant on drugs and alcohol until he was converted and that through the work of the Holy Spirit he had been able to abandon that life style. He went on to explain that he had homosexual friends in the congregation who through the work of the Holy Spirit had similarly had been able to abandon that lifestyle and asked the chairman who was a retired minister what he should say to these men. Now that its Ok with the Church of Scotland you can go back to that lifestyle.
The reply was emphatic. That question was not going to be answered.
The reason I mention this is that whilst I have respect for ministers in Forward together I believe they are playing with fire and ultimately the credibility of their ministry will diminish if they don't accept the cost of taking a strong public stand against what is apostate. That question in various forms will not go away. The words gracious and cautious can be in some hands a way of avoiding speaking out with courage , conviction and urgency in defence of the
Guest (Guest) 27/11/2012 00:13
New manse.
New buildings.
Private schools.
A dozen paid staff.
Boy does money talk. And how.

Guest (Guest) 27/11/2012 11:20
I wonder if the previous "Guest" has ever been at St Georges's Tron? I would be interested to know.
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