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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 12/10/2012 16:06
'We have instructed the Trustees etc to get vacant possession "by all means necessary". Whether that's fair is a matter folk will differ on. I hope they will leave, because if they don't then we'll be in court.'

Remark by a Church of Scotland minister and member of Glasgow Presbytery.
Editor 22/10/2012 06:18
From a Colin Buchanan:

"I am not at all surprised that the church (with a small 'c') of Scotland cannot do anything but hammer the beautiful people at the Tron, because they are all about buidings and all the other things that are important to this intolerant "tolerant" culture of ours. If they came to an "amicable" arrangement, the flood gates would open.

The challenge now is for those who are Christians to weigh their buildings/traditions/security in the balance and the scales are measured by one standard - Isaiah 7:9, (my own paraphrase) "If you do not stand firm, if you are not morally true and certain, steadfast in faith, you will not stand at all."

The church of Scotland, as opposed to those in it who are of the Church of Christ, have lost their candlestick and God's judgement is seeing the movement of God's people out of an apostate church. The cords that bound them to their disobedience have become the thick, unbreakable cart ropes of apostasy.

This land of ours used to be known as the Land of the Book. The church of Scotland is no longer the Church of the Book!

The time has come to contend for the faith once for all given to the saints and, perhaps, with the added attacks by governments on our faith, to go beyond the denominations and see a version of the Covenant, drawn up and signed by all those, across the Protestant denominations, who hold to the Bible as the Final, Authorative, All Sufficient and Inerrant Word of the Living God.

I believe that the Lord will bless His people in a way that would not have happened without the persecution of Christians by the state and the apostate churches, who do not hold to such a position with His Living Word."

Ed note: I have 'copied over' the above comment form another thread as this comment is more applicable to the current situation regarding the Tron and the Church (of Scotland) and the wider church (of Jesus Christ).

Alasdair (Guest) 24/10/2012 18:05
Things just seem to be getting worse and worse. I find some of the comments made about the Church of Scotland and particularly the Presbytery of Glasgow by some people on these postings as less than worthy of any Christian. The fact that a person is evangelical and believes in the Bible does not provide an excuse for not observing the common courtesies of life. I don't see any evidence of the C of S in any of its agencies throwing overambitious insults around in the way that certain evangelicals have been. "How these Christians love one another" said Tertullian sarcastically many centuries ago. There are considerable issues at stake in the matter of the Tron but parties seem to be resorting to megaphone diplomacy rather than any real negotiation. I may say I come from the evangelical camp myself.
A. Spannyr (Guest) 25/10/2012 06:30
Alasdair you are correct in your observations. And it is sad to think that people are going to hell while the national church pulls itself apart!
Ewan W. Wilson (Guest) 01/11/2012 23:42
Having read endless denigration of Presbyterianism and denominationalism, I am going to say that Presbyterianism in its broadest outline is indeed THE Biblical pattern of proper Church government. It is airily asserted it is peculiarly 'factional' or apt to fissure -' fissiparous' but I think that allegation ridiculous. Other denominations can be just as contentious and of course 'independency' has suffered as many if not more splits that largely go under the radar for the simple reason small local quarrels do not attract such obvious attention.
That the Church where the Living Truth is taken seriously will be subject to such strains is clearly signalled in the N.T. such as the Epistle of John. That division from apostasy is a bounded duty also is writ large on the pages of the N.T. Paul tells us 'to AVOID' those promulgating false doctrine or living in open, defiant sin.
Classical Presbyterians took a very high view of the institutional church as well they might. The very idea of careless or trivial division was truly abhorent to them. However, human nature being what it is, and the visible Church being subject to all sorts of errors and weaknesses, even to the point of degenerating into engines of satan, there has to be some sort of measure of 'toleration' of deeply held differences unless we wish to slide into repression and inquisitorial and persecuting practices. This is merely the practical outworking, surely, of the fact the Lord is LONGSUFFERING to our frailties as fallen men and women.
As for the Church of Scotland, she ditched formal attachment to Inspired, Infallible Scripture as long ago as 1910 and the wormwood and the gall have progressively been doing their corrosive work ever since. The present mess- immorality and idolatry- is simply the long, remorseless bitter outcome and Judgement, of course. Personally I'd have preferred it if those within the Kirk had remained to battle it out in the General Assembly, with a formal public Protest made. However where indiscipline is rampant and even apostasy and false gods are tolerated, who can really blame the earnest Tron faithful for prayerfully deciding enough is enough? One potential criticism, however: they WILL be acting schismatically if they DO decide to join yet another 'imported' presbyterian body when there are already existing alternative(s) such as the United Free Kirk ( more or less similar to the Kirk, without its recent corruptions, so surely congenial to the Tron mentality) or the recently 'reinvented' Free Kirk with their acceptance of hymns and musical instruments ( but no women office bearers as yet!) I doubt, however, the more conservative Psalm singing Presbyterian denominations would be found by the Tron to be congenial. The Free Presbyterians would be far too strict and restricting; the Reformed Presbyterians and the Associated Presbyterians might be culturally more relaxed but the R.P.s and most of the APCs hold tenaciously to the Psalms and unaccompanied singing. The Free Church of Scotland Continuing occupies territory somewhere between the F.P.s and the others and again would not welcome an elastic view of the Regulative Principle of Worship nor women office bearers so very few disaffected Kirk evangelicals would likely end up with us, apart maybe from some in the highlands or islands.
It is a fact however that after the present immediate storms subside and realignments inevitably have been made there will in the next generation be an obligation to heal many of the denominational rifts. Possibly one broader evangelical presbyterian body and one more conservative evangelical presbyterian body will be the end result. Trivial divisiveness must be overcome or God will continue to withhold blessing.
Eddie Hallahan 02/11/2012 18:53
I'm not sure where the concept that the presbyterian model is biblical comes from? Isn't the biblical model Apostolic?
Alasdair (Guest) 11/11/2012 16:37
As I read comments on this site and in other places, I feel that this seems a diminishing chance of a good way forward. Views are increasingly entrenched and those on whatever "side" (if that is the appropriate word)seem equally determined to claim the moral high ground. In some cases - including some of the comments of Mr Philip (elsewhere) - the statements are positively apocalyptic! In other cases people have made all kinds of wild and provocative statements which do nothing to take matters forward. Indeed, I think there are some comments posted on this very site which are unhelpful in the extreme and do a disservice to everybody involved. Is nobody interested in trying to bring in any tone of conciliation. Is it all about warfare, battles and throwing insults? What I find most disturbing is that there some evangelical people who seem to be thoroughly enjoying stirring things up and making them worse. Personally, I come from the evangelical tradition. My own perception is that the Church of Scotland is the church of my fathers and I will not either be put out of it nor engage in the gesture of leaving even if some things make me feel uncomfortable. To me the church is like a family. I may not always agree my relatives or even like all of them - but I wouldn't want to leave the family. We seem to have learned little from the mess that our sister church south of the border has got into over (what is to me) the rather trivial matter of "gay" issues and these have been used as a catalyst for other agendas. But, people must do what they think is right. Some readers may think my loyalty to Church of Scotland is misguided. That's up to them. I don't wish to enter into controversy. I just wish there were more people who would encourage the good folks of the Tron to reconsider their position or seek some kind of accommodation with the General Trustees about the use of the building. I suspect that even now it is not too late - but soon it will be. In 1843, the Church of Scotland split in two. Out of that there grew a bitter a competitive spirit and a fragmentation of Christian witness in Scotland. We finished up with too many congregations and a weakened church all round. We don't seem to learn, do we? :-)
Catriona (Guest) 13/11/2012 23:46
Alasdair you are so correct in all your observations.
Roy (Guest) 14/11/2012 09:24
" I will not either be put out of it nor engage in the gesture of leaving"

I'm afriad you don't have Scripture on your side when it comes to putting up with outright apostasy.
Catriona (Guest) 14/11/2012 17:34
Given that apostacy is the antonym of coversion;
do I take it you therefore believe that all those who remain within the Church of Scotland are apostate?

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