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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) 28/12/2012 08:06
I think I made that distinction and of course I certainly readily assent to the cost of Christ's vicarious sacrifice.
I think it is worthwhile reiterating my main point which is that God choice of whom he saves is not what many would think it would be. And by extension God often uses those whom others may think unsuitable. This is the heart of the revolutionary nature of Christs message. He challenged the prevailing authorities including the religious authorities of the day saying that the rules that had evolved had departed from the underlying principles of God's law. Christ was concerned primarily in this regard with the individual's appreciation of his divine nature and therefore of his ability to save.
This can also be seen in Peter's assertion of who Christ is at Cesaeria Philppae. And it is that rock that the church was built.

Penny Lee 28/12/2012 13:48
I think we would all be agreed that anyone can be saved - no matter what they have done. However - and this is crucial - they all have to come to a point of repentance. There is a distinct lack of repentance in our churches now, and even refusal that certain actions are sinful, despite the bible plainly saying they are. As mentioned above, all sexual relations outside of marriage are sinful in God's eyes yet how many couples are continuing to live together whilst attending churches who turn a blind eye to it? Then we have instances of infidelity within the church. How soon before unmarried ministers, or those with wives who cannot satisfy their sexual appetite, are permitted to use prostitutes? It may seem ridiculous that the church would see this as acceptable but we would have thought the same about homosexuality until fairly recently.

Why do we go down this path? Not only will we have to answer to God for turning His word into a lie but, worse still, we will be judged by Him for leading others astray as well. Can we not now see why the Tron has decided to take the path it has, difficult though I'm sure it has been. It eventually comes to a point where you reach a fork in the road where you have to take one path or the other. We appear to have now reach that place. Which one will you go down - the easier one or the one which God demands you take?
Stephen (Guest) 28/12/2012 14:13
This point has been made ad nauseum. I agree with it. However much can be learned through considering the underlying issues. Broadly speaking they are how we relate to the world. The qualities of humility, love and mercy which are attributes of God and should also be attributes of the christian.
They have been missing in much of the hubris surrounding this issue and they are a sign of spiritual life.
Peter's acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God is so significant as it is the path of faith we should all follow. Why ignore the comment and just go back to condemning the practise of homosexuality. We are agreed on that. There is much more to this discourse than that.
The story of Jonah is very pertinent too. Why ignore it. It is in the Bible. Can we talk about what it means in relation to this issue?

Penny Lee 28/12/2012 15:57
Has anyone said that we should act as Jonah did? That is as clear as the very issue we are discussing! Of course there are examples of hostility shown here, just as they are on every website (Christian or otherwise). However, if someone doesn't want to hear that they are committing sin, then they will often react angrily and accuse others of being judgemental. Does that mean we shouldn't tell them? We have a duty to tell others that they are leading sinful lives, hard though it is to do. Should it always be done gently? Well, that isn't so clear. Jesus got angry with the moneychangers in the temple and reacted in what we would describe as a hostile way.Would be be accusing Him of not showing mercy?

There are occasions where we have to part company with others when they are intent on continuing in their sin. It is often not possible to gently persuade people to change their lifestyle and that doesn't mean we failed in any way. Paul often had to 'shake the dust from his feet' when a town didn't accept the message he was bringing and so why should it be any different today?

The Ton have been heavily criticised for their decision to part from the CofS but what other option did they have? There comes time when you have to make a choice and their time had come. Had they been calling for people's destruction I'd see the point of some of the comments made but realistically it was never going to be an amicable parting? They are at complete odds with each other and to imagine they were going to separate with a warm handshake is naive at best.

Of course we should try wherever possible to operate in a peaceful manner but we have no control how others act and it is inevitable that criticism is levelled at people even when they have behaved in as honourable manner as is possible. W are living in a country now hostile to the Gospel and so we are going to attract criticism whether we like it or not. Some if it may be justified but a lot won't be. That is in the Bible too!

Stephen (Guest) 28/12/2012 18:07
I give up.
Isa 9: 2 (Guest) 28/12/2012 19:47
"I give up"

Yes, that it is one response, and often the most common in these futile exchanges!
Penny Lee 28/12/2012 20:37
Why are you giving up Stephen? You asked us to consider how we relate to the world, and also what the story of Jonah taught us. I attempted to answer both questions, but since this topic is specifically about the situation between CofS and the Tron, then I presumed our comments should also tie in with how we relate to the world when we have to deal with such a situation.

Encouraged (Guest) 29/12/2012 00:22

" Jesus became angry with the money changers in the temple."!
There was much manipulation and "giggery- pokery' with money and he threw them out.

John in deep grief . (Guest) 29/12/2012 12:29
The training of ministers can be a mixed blessing as tutors are not always convinced of the relevance of Christian doctrine. Commitment to established authority of the Bible, now that the Apostles have gone, developes moral and spiritual fibre in students.I hope that the worm is turning and Bible-based teaching prevails OR The Church of SCOTLAND will surely be the Little Bo Peep Church.
Little BoPeep has lost her sheep and doesn't know where to find them, Leave them alone and they will come home, Wagging their TALES behind them. Rise up people of God and affirm him in 2013. You may suffer as others have done.
stephen (Guest) 29/12/2012 16:33
I restricted my comments to three words as I did not want to criticise. I can see that your beliefs are sincerely held and I do not see any constructive point in pushing the issue too far with you.
I will try another tack and speak generally and not to you in particular.
This reminds me of the Scottish rugby team in the 1980's. It seemed to me at the time that as soon as the ball came across to the flyhalf he always kicked it into touch. This stopped the free-flowing passing moves which used to occur.
Thinking about it, although there was a territorial advantage gained, the main objective seemed to be not to loose the ball.
However the result was that very few scores occured. The ball was continually being kicked out of play as though it was a hot potato.
Or think about the straight bat of a Chris Tavare, shunning the expansive cover drive or cut stroke for fear of getting out.
There is a danger that we are getting stuck in a default position, giving stock answers and repeating the same mantra. If anything, answers are being honed and refined but not altering in any material way. We do this because we are afraid of giving the wrong answer if caught in unfamiliar ground. We do not want to leave ourselves wide open.
For a group that believes in the bible as the true and ineffable word of God we are strangely reluctant to discuss it.
I think that if we are going to grow then we need to think deeply about the issues underlying our actions and beliefs and if we are able to think deeply about them then we will also be able to discuss them openly. This is not a bad thing.
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