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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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Healy Family, Fort William (Guest) 10/12/2012 15:28
God raise up more men like Dr Philips in these days - men of boldness and conviction who are not afraid to stand firmly on biblical principals and truth.
Healy Family, Fort William (Guest) 10/12/2012 15:30
God raise up more men in these days like Dr Philips - men of boldness and convictiion who are unafraid to stand firmly on biblical principles and truth.
Ewan Wilson (Guest) 14/12/2012 23:54
The 'collision' was unavoidable. How are Dr philip and his people supposed to remain indefinitely in fellowship with those they regard as unrepentant sinners? The Church of Scotland would expect Dr Philip and his elders to work, without protest, in Presbytery and beyond, with such folk. They might even have to submit to regular Presbyterial inspection conducted by men they regsrd as flagrant sinners. This destroys all integrity and makes a mockery of the Tron's evangelical preaching. Division was thus pretty well inevitable. What Eric Alexander's present views might be on the actions of his old congregation is anyone's guess but those in the Tron virtually to the last man and woman cherish their present minister and are in whole hearted support even if their former pastor might adopt a rather less clear cut ecclesiastical outcome.
For sure the sight of St george's Tron being denuded of its life and vibrant witness as one passes it even just a few days on is a sad and rather depressing one. But the fault is the intransigence and unholy haste of the Church of Scotland liberal elite. They know the only way they can have any hope of holding the denomination together is through raw intimidation and threat. It certainly, alas, is not through a common Gospel and the bonds of Gospel peace and love.
Of those remaining Kirk evangelicals, there will be those who will stubbornly stick with the institution no matter what it does. That is a shameful position. There are others, however, who on principle, feel obliged to stick it out a little longer and presumably will act once the General Assembly has made its decisions. That may seem a lost cause but at least it is principled. The prayer and vision must be that once the dust has settled God will lead forward to new authentically Reformed and evangelical Presbyterian reunion.
stephen (Guest) 15/12/2012 08:32
Ewan, I follow your arguement. What you appear to be saying is that as part of the church of scotland st georges tron was seen as being in fellowship with it. However, I do not believe that this was the case for a long time - perhaps 40 years or so. The tron was able to do its own thing for years while the kirk went on making all sorts of pronouncements and other churches within the denomination preached a message which scarcely resembled the gospel. The trons message rang out clear and true and it prospered.
However now on this issue the line seems to have been drawn. My questions are around why it was drawn here.
My reasons around making the arguement at all are that we are living in a sinful world and should expect false preaching. The response is to preach the truth.
My other arguement is around the shrill nature of the debate.
To make it clear, I do not support the ordination of practicing homosexual ministers.

Ewan Wilson (Guest) 15/12/2012 23:36
It has been insinuated or more or less suggested on this thread that the congregation of St George's Tron have been desperate to find some excuse to cut free from the Kirk and this issue was the perfect ostensible excuse.
Frankly I think that not only a highly cynical and uncharitable attitude but one that is patently out of true with the real outlook of the Tron folks over the years that I have known them. Far from chomping at the bit to secede I think they did everything in their power to remain in the Church of scotland! It is entirely laudable to have a very 'high' view of the Church and be ultra reluctant to cause division - though to those of us with an equally 'high' view this is the very reason we felt they should have quit years ago. It is all very well defiantly to preach soundly in one's own small corner yet continue to cooperate with anti-Scripturalists in practice! As a Presbyterian outwith the Established National Kirk I can testify that many tron folk took the lofty view that 'secession had an unhappy track record' and they were duty bound to stay in. Proof of this commitment must surely be acknowledged in the sheer breathtaking sums of cash the congregation sank into refurbishing the St George's Tron building. ( Apart from the dubious removal of the grand old pulpit and pews the results asethetically and practically have been magnificent) Surely no semi-detached congregation would even have contemplated such an immense outlay if they had envisaged ditching it all at the first excuse!!
No, what has happened is the Kirk has simply with this further act of defiance of Biblical ethics and the authority of Scripture underpinning the Church, forced the Tron to come to the more consistent and honest stance you, Stephen, feel they have been in denial of for decades. Otherwise the chasm between preaching and praxis would be just too schizophrenic. I do not doubt there are many other individual congregations, both prominent and more obscure, who have been following roughly the same path and will now face the same crisis in May.
As for this blowing up over the issue of homosexulaity, I venture to say it is because it is one of the few sins that tends not to feel shame but is blatant in its thumbing the nose at God, His Word and expert in twisting Scripture to force it into silence over homosexulaity. Quite evidently it is 'abomination' in Scripture and I think we are now seeing there is very good reason for this.
Pastorally we must be long suffering to all sinners but a line is set in the stand about how far God will allow public expression of sin without it provoking His displeasure and creating great disruption to good order and public morals.
All this and much more has finally pushed the Tron beyond endurance. I do not doubt others will be straining to follow suit, despite the cost. I the end it will be the Church of Scotland herself who will suffer the most from this madness of hers. In driving out the major remaining evangelical influence she will sink fast into a Gospel-less state. She may also become a major hindrance to and foe of ex-Kirk Evangelical recovery.
From the human perspective it is all very perplexing and distressing- the poor Tron now lying bleakly shut up is nowa terribly poignant monument to the Kirk's preference for property over Gospel witness- but as Psalm 76 reminds us the very wrath of man redounds unto His praise in His mysterious providences.

stephen (Guest) 16/12/2012 09:54
I find myself in more or less complete agreement with your last post Ewan. I think the dialectic of preaching and praxis is spot on.
Also I feel I must add myself that are many congregations within the church of scotland who have been preaching the gospel just as the tron has been.
I also agree with you about the old pulpit and the pews.
I think that the real underlying issue for the tron though is the developing of a new generation of evangelical ministers in Scotland. This is a consistent thread as Willie Philip's father had a similar vision in a previous generation - a vision which came to pass.
I also think that the theology this new generation of ministers are imbued with and their praxis is key.
Jon Boy (Guest) 18/12/2012 00:32
If the reports are true that the former Tron church were transferring money and putting it into a “Trust Fund”, it does look on the surface that they were acting rather secretly. Does the Bible not discourage such behaviour? Don’t do anything that gives the appearance of doing wrong.
If they really believed they were in the right, they should simply have taken the church keys to the presbytery the day after the original vote and hand them in saying, in effect, “it’s all yours now. You have our blessing to take a ministry forward at the vacated church.”
But they didn’t. It looks like they didn’t have the faith that God would supply their needs if they took such a principled stand, a stand that I’m sure would have been applauded all round as a firm but incredibly gracious and giving act. No, reports suggest they have sought to transfer assets away until confronted by the presbytery. That looks bad. Very bad.
Legally they may have had the right to do so. OSCR will no doubt take an independent and informed view. But, if true, it has a conspiratorial smell about it and as a fellowship of believers they will have given the appearance by their actions of being really shifty and tinged with duplicity.
The way ahead? The story is now nothing to do with the decision in relation to the Church if Scotland and homosexual clergy. The story is now did the church act correctly within the confines of charity law. To show they have nothing to hide they should open up their books totally for examination, not just by the presbytery but by an independent auditor. And that should be the books of the old tron, the new church and the Trusts they are associated with. Openness is critical now.
Incidentally, I saw the halls in Bath Street sporting the sign Tron above the door. As “The Tron” is a brand name of St Georges Tron church, I suspect the leavers will be on pretty shaky ground using that title as it probably doesn’t belong to them.

Covenanter 1 (Guest) 18/12/2012 22:14
Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul , and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.Psalm 107 v 8-9.

It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed , because his compassions fail not Lam. 3 v 22.

Jim (Guest) 19/12/2012 01:07
Surely, the issue is straight-forward. Do you accept the Bible witness as to who the Christ is, and the reasons it gives for God's Church on earth? It's totally illogical to claim that you believe in Jesus the Christ because of the New Testament witness, and then say that you do not accept the validity of the authority or the instruction passed down from God [Mark 6: 2-7], through Jesus [Matthew 16: 18-19], and working by the Holy Spirit in the Apostles [John 20: 19-23], as described by that same witness. If you accept the witness, both the referenced 2009 decision of the General Assembly and its current action in law to eject a congregation of the Lord's people trying to abide in that instruction [1 Corinthians 6: 9; 5: 11] runs counter to the authorative counsel from the Word [2 Peter 15-16]; if you don't, I can see no ethically sound reason for you calling yourselves Christian believers. By using secular law to eject the St. George's Tron congregation at this particular time, the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise, sees the General Assembly acting as an embarassment to the Christian Faith, as absurd pawns in some ploy by the Adversary to demonstrate that amongst professed believers there is still "no room in the inn" for Christ. I can see that you are reluctant to judge the behaviour of others, but the Word is doing that for you anyway. You need to trust God's perfect judgement through the revealed Word rather than rely on the justifications of fallible men and women.
RP (Guest) 19/12/2012 08:57
A post above said - "Don’t do anything that gives the appearance of doing wrong.
If they really believed they were in the right, they should simply have taken the church keys to the presbytery the day after the original vote and hand them in saying, in effect, “it’s all yours now. You have our blessing to take a ministry forward at the vacated church.”
But they didn’t. It looks like they didn’t have the faith that God would supply their needs if they took such a principled stand, a stand that I’m sure would have been applauded all round as a firm but incredibly gracious and giving act. No, reports suggest they have sought to transfer assets away until confronted by the presbytery. That looks bad. Very bad."

I agree. The congregation was only evicted because of the stance they took in not going willingly.
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