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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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stephen (Guest) 08/12/2012 20:28
Was it worth it. Has it brought glory to God. Was this collision course really necessary. What about all the witness that went on before and those decades of faithful preaching and service. Ultimately we need to be in line with God's purpose. Not my will but thy will be done.
Patrick T (Guest) 08/12/2012 23:34
I dont know if you have read the history of this Stephen, but the whole thing has stemmed from the Church of Scotland allowing homosexuals to serve and preach as ministers in the denomination. Hardly in line with God's purposes.
stephen (Guest) 09/12/2012 08:20
I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about SGT's response and the affect it has caused on that organisation's ability to witness in the way it previously did. God's purpose is using his people to bring glory to his name.
Whilst I agree that practicing homosexuals should not be ordained as ministers I can't help but say that they have been being ordained for as long as I can remember. Indeed you will remember that one of the tron's previous assistant ministers was one and left as a result.
Moreover what about those ministers who have denied the resurrection, virgin birth and just about every element of the Christian faith. We did not want to leave the denomination over these.
The issue for me is the churches witness and God's using us in the world according to his purpose.
Patrick T (Guest) 09/12/2012 10:11
You seem to be saying Stephen that because things have always been wrong and also that some other things are wrong that we just accept it and leave in that way.
If the issues for you is the churches witness, then the first thing is to get the church into a biblical purity - otherwise it can never present a true witness.
stephen (Guest) 09/12/2012 11:58
OK Patrick. We cannot just do nothing. However getting the church into a biblical purity is not the way I would put it. I prefer to think about Christ as the bridegroom of the Church and the symbiotic relationship between the two. Christ nourishes the church. The church is God's people and he is fashioning it according to his divine purpose from his position within it.
Our role is around our witness in the world and that world includes everything including the church of scotland. We must not confuse the church of scotland with the church.
Gillian Godfrey (Guest) 09/12/2012 12:48
Your a Christian no matter if your black white pink green gay etc i think your fantastic rev Philips and your congragation
Patrick T (Guest) 09/12/2012 14:41
Stephen you are absolutely right when yhou say that - We must not confuse the church of scotland with the church.

The church of scotland is a denomination, a religious organisation. But the (true) church is made up of committed Christians who are faithful to God's word. The difference between the two is become more and more obvious. And Christians everywhere are having to decide whether they are loyal to their religiuos organisations or to the Word of God.
Encouraged (Guest) 09/12/2012 15:28
There are silent, hurting,gay members and ministers in every denomination I know of.
If you remember St George's Tron actually had two gay ministers over the past three decades.
These situations were dealt with by Mr Alexander, prayerfully and compassionately, with no statements or grand-standing.
My situation is that the sin of my own heart and life, precludes me from pointing a finger at anyone else's sin.
As long as I remain in the church of Christ on earth it will be unpure- there will never be true biblical purity this side of eternity. We see but through a glass darkly.
As Mr Alexander used to say " the more you learn about Scripture, the more you realise how little you know." and like Gomar, I can only be amazed that Christ was my Hosea and that He loved me in this radical, scandalous, Graciuos way; He died for me the chief of sinners.

stephen (Guest) 09/12/2012 15:34
Yes. Render to Caesar what is Caear's and to God what is God's. The true spiritual war is between God's church and the devil. We are being tempted and tested and the key is how we react. You shall know them by their fruits. The underlying character of the believer should come through. That is the nature of our witness. And guard against acting in our own interest or according to our prejudice. We are Christ's ambassadors saved by his blood. We cannot rest in our own endeavours for by them we will never approach God.
It will eventually all be weighed in the balance.
Alasdair (Guest) 09/12/2012 16:19
It seems that the Evangelical movement in Scotland is importing some of the less pleasant characteristics of some (not all by any means) evangelicals in the USA whose faith seemed to be based not on love but on the people and the beliefs that they most hate. People must all do what they believe to be right. The folks who form the breakaway congregation believe they are doing the right thing - and that's fine. That I can respect. But it does not mean that those who take a different stance are automatically - to use the ugly and judgmental word that has been thrown about in these postings - apostate. The Tron congregation have lost their building and the wider church has lost an important centre of witness. Has it been worth it? Has it taken the evangelical cause one single step further in Scotland? Has it been a prophetic voice and a true witness to Jesus Christ? Well, I know what I think. There is a subtle but crucial difference between conviction and prejudice. Satan loves to set Christians against Christians and to divide the Body of Christ. He seems to be doing quite well at the moment.
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