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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.



Footnotes:
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

Feedback:
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Tom Watson (Guest) 26/06/2012 15:40
William you said: "Can we work together, led by the Spirit, submissive to the Word, until we arrive at the mind of the Spirit in this matter?"

Working together is only at all possible with those who are submissive to the Word (so that rules out the many - mulitudes perhaps - within any denomination, including the Church of Scotland, that embrace the spirit of the age in matters of sexuality).

Consensus is indeed a biblical principle, but that is a consensus within each congregation (local group of believers) which has to work it out for themselves. I suspect what you are suggesting is a consensus across all evangelicals within the denomination. But that takes us back to the core issue - it is 'denominations' that are wrong.

Local groups of believers are analogous to families. What is right for one family in one situation is not necessarily right for another in a different setting even though they are both operating under the same biblical principles and led by the same Spirit.
Unity is a valid ambition; uniformity is not.

What seems to be the priority here is keeping the denomination - or at least the biblical part of it - together. And even if it were possible, then the task becomes that of uniting with all the other denominations which form part of the body of Christ in Scotland.
But again there needs to be an understanding of the distinction between unity and uniformity.

Can I say again (but hopefully for the last time) it is 'denominations' that is the problem. Everything else is a sub-set of this fundamental error.
william (Guest) 26/06/2012 16:39
Within the Church of Jesus Christ there can only be a glad submission to its King and Head - anything less puts us out of step with His Spirit.
I have, in line with that, not taken up your overwhelming interest in the concept of 'denominations'. I don't believe it is a biblical category, and therefore ought not to be brought in as an explanation for all that goes wrong [eg "so that rules out the many - mulitudes perhaps - within any denomination" ; " But that takes us back to the core issue - it is 'denominations' that are wrong." ; "What seems to be the priority here is keeping the denomination - or at least the biblical part of it - together.";"Can I say again (but hopefully for the last time) it is 'denominations' that is the problem"]
Having said that I believe Scripture no more sees as the norm, individual believers outwith the organism of the Church living as His children on earth,than it imagines local manifestations of that organism functioning independently. [cf Paul's concern for truth of the gospel among the apostolic churches, as we read in Galatians].
So are we ready within the Church of Jesus Christ today, wherever it manifests itself, whatever the problems with which it has to wrestle, to exhibit that unity which Christ looks for among us[eg John 17]in His Church?

Tom Watson (Guest) 26/06/2012 16:58
William, you said "Having said that I believe Scripture no more sees as the norm, individual believers outwith the organism of the Church living as His children on earth,than it imagines local manifestations of that organism functioning independently."

A true believer is part of the body, we are agreed on that it seems.
Regarding local groups (of believers), these should relate to EACH OTHER (group) in a locality - in a relational manner, not to a man-made organisation in an institutional fashion.
To say again, (biblical) unity, not (manufactured) uniformity is the aim.
Dave (Guest) 27/06/2012 18:52
Again, spot on Tom. In 1 Jn 1 the author in the opening verses uses the word koinonia (fellowship), which relates to true fellowship with the trinitarian God, and fellow Christians as a result.

The unfolding of the letter then gives the criteria for this in what true Christian fellowsip is about. Oh that we could only get back to basics!
Editor 27/06/2012 22:09
Tom and Dave, (and others on this thread) you might be interested in an article and interview at where Chris Hill speaks about some of these things.
Both can be found at - http://www.christianstogether.net/Articles/310811/Christians_Together_in/Christian_Life/Small_Churches_and/House_church_organic.aspx

william (Guest) 28/06/2012 08:22
Tom and Dave, It seems quite clear that you are much more comfortable with the concept of "Church" as an abstract phenomenon; one then does not need to grapple with how we relate to it - it is not a an organic reality!
Your default position seems to be that we have 'local groups', 'man made organisations' all of which we can deal with as we individually feel - there is no biblical paradigm that we need adhere to.
On the other hand we can have 'true fellowship' individually with fellow christians - and that indeed is a most blessed thing.
But we are still refusing to consider and so have to engage with the biblical phenomenon of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Tragically as evangelicals that's where we commonly choose to live, and so the Church of Jesus Christ languishes in this fallen world.
Dave (Guest) 28/06/2012 09:15
My priority (and I am sure Tom's also) is to see and respond to 'Church' from a biblical viewpoint first and foremost. Church has always got to worked out socially, culturally and historically, but being biblical is always the priority.
william (Guest) 28/06/2012 10:03
Dave, it's because we take your stand on scripture that there is always potential for us engaging with one another. That is our rock solid firm foundation and our first priority.
What I am arguing is that on the matter of the Church of Jesus Christ, you are steadfastly refusing to form a "biblical viewpoint", and not "being biblical".
For this reason the Church languishes.
Dave (Guest) 28/06/2012 12:01
william, what you are suggesting is not the case, and IMO you are now judging me in a way that you accused me of earlier! The Church lanquishes for many reasons; here are 3 reasons - sin, sin, sin...
Editor 28/06/2012 13:35
Tom and Dave, (and others on this thread) you might be interested in an article and interview at where Chris Hill speaks about some of these things.
Both can be found at - http://www.christianstogether.net/Articles/310811/Christians_Together_in/Christian_Life/Small_Churches_and/House_church_organic.aspx

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