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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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Editor 08/10/2012 12:33
The Tron congregation has now written a letter to Glasgow Presbytery. See link at the head of the main article above for a copy of what has been written.

In response to the congregations overtures to the denomination the letter sates: "Unfortunately, in return we have been met with a very hostile response from theChurch of Scotland."
Seumas, Tobermory (Guest) 08/10/2012 16:13
This is all very sad and paints an extremely poor picture of Christianity in Scotland today. What I dont understand however, is why, those churches with a legitimate grievance have not acted in unison as a cohesive force. After all, there are plenty of para-church organisations that cater for the evangelicals: Crieff Fellowship, Forward Together, FOCC and so on.

Instead of leaving in dribs and drabs, would it not have been better to have delivered an ultimatum to the 2013 General Assembly, as a united front, and then if need be, secede?

The effect would be much more powerful and a new de facto denomination (Church of Scotland (Continuing)?) would provide a better support mechanism for those seceders

It just seems obvious. I know another denomination is probably the last thing that is needed, but that is what is happening anyway.

Why not just do it, and do it properly?
Editor 08/10/2012 17:47
Seumas, You make a very good point; and acting in concert is one which - in the ideal world - probably every concerned evangelical minister would prefer.

However, the variety of (differing responses) is indicative of the fact that ministers are all different and in different situations.

The three main 'camps' are -

1. Liberals who are happy with the same-sex agenda (and therefore not inclined to be upset)
2. Evangelicals (whatever that word now means) who are unhappy but are in 'stay and fight' mode - waiting to see what the forthcoming General Assembly in May will produce
3. Unhappy evangelicals who are in 'I must get out now or very soon' mode.

Then even within Group 3. there are (as you have noted) some very varied situations. Some - like the Tron and a congregation in Aberdeen - have left as a congregation.
In other cases the minister has left but the congregation has (mainly) stayed (in Inverness, Skye, Lewis)

Then again some church members have left a local congregation while others remained within it.

Some departing ministers have joined other existing Scottish denominations; others have set up under new-to-Scotland groupings.

What is a common thread across the whole spectrum is that ministers cannot seem to contemplate any form of ministry outside of denominational structures. And this feature is evident from the time of the Reformation.

Tragically the history of splits and reunions will keep repeating until Christians see 'the church' not as an institution, but as a body of believers; and the word 'minister' takes on its biblical meaning as 'one who serves', but might not necessarily lead; and also as a term that should be applied to all believers and not just a select few.

The other main issue is - as the Tron situation illustrates - that of 'the building'. 'Buildings' have been allowed to become far to important in the lives of God's people. If we consider the money spent on them it would not be difficult to see them as having become 'idols'.
Editor 10/10/2012 11:04
In the context of the Tron and the issue of sexuality an insider writes:

"There is more unrest among some churches and others may leave the C of S I am told.

As you know some remain in situ to fight the wars of the Lord from within, such is their choice. I have heard some C of S members, only recently refer to 121 as "Gestapo HQ."......................

The Spirit of God will raise up a rallying sound to all committed believers.

Satan's ways will be unmasked. If the faithful have to move surely the Lord will provide a new spot in the city even where parking may be even easier.

The Lord of hosts, mighty in battle will give us the victory. We wait to see the outcome and glory to Our Risen Lord, Head of the Church."

Another observer has commented:

"It is clear that the attack against the Gospel and the word of God is unrelenting.

The dead hand of a "non-existent" hierarchical power in 121 George Street can be discerned, and the puppets of Glasgow Presbytery are dancing on the end of its strings. We must pray fervently for William Philip and his flock.

Is it time for another Reformation, this time throwing off the shackles, not of popery but of anti-Christian, anti-biblical liberalism entrenched in the faceless persons who appear to be able to dictate to the so-called national Church of Scotland?

This hard core of career obsessed, ecclesiastical beaurocrats would rather have the iconic building of the Tron standing empty than housing a biblical ministry where the worship of God and the testimony of Jesus can continue with God's word as its sole authority."

Jenny 10/10/2012 21:07
"....It is clear that the attack against the Gospel and the word of God is unrelenting.

....... We must pray fervently for William Philip and his flock...."

It is, and we have, and we will continue to :-)
Jenny 10/10/2012 21:11
praying for the rest of the Soi-Disant-Church of Scotland too (many of whom may need it even more)
Bill Neill (Guest) 11/10/2012 13:40
God will lead you as you fight to maintain HIS truth
Jenny 11/10/2012 16:26
praying for the rest of the Soi-Disant-Church of Scotland too (many of whom may need it even more)
Seumas, Tobermory (Guest) 11/10/2012 21:24
Getting messy, this Tron business. David Robertson makes soem comments:

and upsets an evangelical CofS minister:

Just what is it about presbyterianism that makes it so factional? Esp the Scottish variety. After all, we are frequently told it is the "biblical" form of church government.

Please, dont give the glib response "sin" as the answer. There has to be more to it than that soundbite. Is it, the fact that the Reformation didnt go far enough? As someone once remarked.

Editor 12/10/2012 12:26
Seumas asks: "Just what is it about presbyterianism that makes it so factional? Esp the Scottish variety. After all, we are frequently told it is the "biblical" form of church government."

This is a very good question - vital even; and a very big question. I will attempt an answer as soon as I am able. However just to say very briefly:-

* What presbyterianism (as a form of operating within the body of Christ) has become, is not biblical. It is a worldly, bureaucratic, heirarchical, oligarchical (and there are many more adjectives besides). And it is not just the Church of Scotland that fits the description.

* There is no biblical mandate for the clergy/laity (two-tier) model within the priesthood of all believers (where everyone is called to be a 'minister' (servant).

* There is an idolatrous love affair with worldly things within even the believing church (I don't want to be more specific than that at this stage)

* 'Leadership' has been defined and selected by a secular model and carnal thinking (the very thing that Samuel had to face when selecting the shepherd boy David).

But through all of this the Shepherd of the flock has a care for the sheep who are bleating, lost, bewildered, tired, hungry, lonely, under attack. And He will come to those who are being 'cast out'.

And I mean 'cast out' ultimately in the spiritual sense.

More later (d.v.)

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