Aberdeen church leaves the Church of Scotland
Believers from within Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen's Union Street is the latest congregation to leave the Church of Scotland over the latter's policy of allowing active homosexuals to serve as ministers.
Ed preface: The following is a letter from Gilcomstopn's minister Rev. Dominic Smart to the congregation.
Paraphrased summaries and comments have been interpolated in postscript form into the original text in order to allow the reader to gain a quick grasp of the main points.
from Rev. Dominic Smart
to Gilcomston congregation
I have been invited by the elders of a new congregation in Aberdeen to become their Teaching Elder (Minister) and with great pleasure I have accepted. Assuming that all goes smoothly, I will be preaching at the first service for that congregation on Sunday 10th March at 11am. That morning, the service will be held at the Copthorne Hotel on Huntly Street. More information about this, including steps to take with respect to the new fellowship, will be sent out in the next few days.
Summary: We're leaving our building and the denomination to set up afresh on 10 March.
Time now to reflect a little, perhaps to a wider audience than just our own congregation.
This has been a long (four-year) process. Throughout, there have been periods of great stress and difficulty and of a massively increased workload. During these times, and in fact generally, I have had proved to me a few realities that could be agreed with easily while never actually experienced. Here are some of the experiences.
The joy of the Lord really is our strength. Joy from and in our wonderful God, Father, Son and Spirit really does give strength and stamina to one's body. It gives peace and resilience. It gives brightness to one's face and lightness to one's step. It gives a genuine smile on greeting friends and frees the mind for creativity. It gives patience and the ability to zip one's mouth! It keeps you going through the hard times. And there is much to be joyful about. So really all this hand-wringing stuff that drips woe is not what I've felt for a long, long time. God is faithful and has proved so many times that he is in control. There have been crucial meetings this past month that have turned out to be, from the first moments, easy, harmonious and very productive. There have been truly beautiful moments instead of conflict or breakdown. It has been so clear that God has gone ahead and smoothed the way. Praise his name!
Summary: It's been tough; but God has sustained us throughout with some sunshine amongst the rain.
Our bodies need sleep and rest. The times that I've been getting to bed too late have been the hardest because I've simply been too tired. With tiredness comes a host of familiar difficulties, not least a loss of joy. It's the hours before midnight that count, by the way. So for the sake of the new congregation I shall try to rest more frequently, take short breaks more often and get to bed at a decent time far more normally than has sometimes been the case. The Lord gives sleep: when I have made myself available to receive it I (and others!) have benefitted.
Summary: I'm needing a rest and I'm going to have words with myself regarding my routines
Unity is given by God. It comes from the Father through the Son by the Spirit. It is made by God and not by any institution. It is the fruit of the cross not of a human contract or a merely human covenant or social skills. Am I threatening my unity with the many fellow-ministers who are remaining in the Church of Scotland? Well, in the last nearly 25 years of being a CofS minister I have never, ever felt, at a gathering like the Crieff Fellowship or at other gatherings of ministers, that I get on with people, pray with them, listen to the Bible being taught, laughed, eaten, or whatever because they are also a CofS minister.
Not once. Nor have I ever felt any obstacle to fellowship with ministers, on all my travels preaching or at Crieff because someone wasn't a CofS minister or member. Not once. My ordination nearly 25 years ago is neither the foundation nor the life-giving source of my unity with any other Christian anywhere ever. It has given me a rich fund of common stories, problems, humour etc.
But unity? Christian, biblical, spiritual unity? The unity that will last for ever? If anyone thinks that I'm breaking that by leaving the CofS I have to say that I think you might possibly have become more than a little institutionalised. Christ's body in Scotland is bigger than the Kirk.
Summary: True unity can only be found in the unity of the Holy Spirit amongst the body of Christ; and this has nothing to do with denominations and their demarcation lines.
Will I work with CofS evangelicals who 'stay in'? Of course! The whole point about unity, biblically conceived, and about fellowship in the Lord's work is that they run along gospel lines not institutional lines, and they reflect fraternal bonds already made by the Spirit not feeble attempts at institutional cohesion. So 'Yes, of course', just as we should all work and pray with folk from any denominational background and none. If it's 'Kingdom before congregation' it's certainly kingdom before denomination.
Summary: I'm into Kingdom building along with my friends, peers and indeed all true believers. I'm not interested in maintaining institutions or manufactured ecumenism.
Not everyone who disagrees is 'the enemy'. Some people from what gets called 'the opposing camp' have actually turned out to be courteous, supportive as far as they are able to be, friendly and in agreement on many significant points. In fact they are - tell it not in Gath - believers!
Summary: Some believers who have taken a different view to me have been very amenable and kind.
lasting around like the Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars isn't the way to act in a principled manner: you end up blasting many of your own principles apart in the shoot-out and might actually lose ground rather than gain it. We are sent out by Jesus to be wise as serpents but harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16). We do have an enemy but our struggle is not against flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). The man of God must not be quarrelsome (1Tim 3:3). Simple respect, transparency, good-humour and courtesy can pour much-needed oil on troubled waters. We have been on the receiving end of these things at least as much as we have shown them, not least from the Presbytery's Special Committee, an irony too far for some!
Summary: It' good to be nice, just as the Bible tells us.
Unity really isn't uniformity. Some folk are troubled by the fact that different people are responding in different ways to the bush-fire in the CofS that was sparked off in Aberdeen Presbytery in January 2009: the issue of same-sex partnerships and the ordained ministry and the underlying issue of the nature of the Bible and its place in the life of the CofS. But uniformity isn't unity.
Summary: We're all different; so let's face up to that.
I freely say that I have genuine difficulty respecting the response of anyone who's simply sticking their head in the sand. Some are doing just that.
Summary: Some ministers are refusing to face the facts; and I don't have much regard for that line of approach.
I do have questions about the effect on theological integrity and simple devotion to Jesus that institutionalism has had on some of my well- intentioned brothers.
Summary: Loyalty to an institution is a danger to one's spiritual life and doctrine.
I have also been shocked at the blatant nationalism cloaked in theological (but woefully threadbare) clothes. Culture Presbyterianism is alive and well I'm afraid, even among some of my fellow-evangelicals.
Summary: False gods are being exposed - even amongst those who claim to have a high view of Scripture.
But aside from these and a few other concerns, I really wouldn't expect that everyone would do the same thing. We are at different stages in life and ministry, we have different personalities, we work on different timescales and we minister and lead in different contexts. Uniform action isn't actually the point. Utter and total faithfulness to God and his word is the point.
Summary: What matters is we remain faithful to God and His word and 'work out our faith with fear and trembling'
Prayer works. Yes, but the wonderful thing we've seen is that God really 'is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us' (Eph 3:20). The Father really is to be trusted for his rich mercy and goodness. He is to be leant on for his loving-kindness and compassion. He is to be rested in for his ability and willingness to sort things that we can't, in his way and in his time. I'm not making general theological 'laws' here; I'm just saying what we've experienced. We've gone into what could have been very difficult meetings or we've faced impenetrable procedural knots, sometimes we've just been dog tired or felt overwhelmed with all the work to be done; so we've prayed and others have prayed with us. And surprise, surprise, God has provided answers to more than we realised we needed, paths through the mazes we had failed to foresee and solved difficulties that we never even knew were coming. Astonishing! Prayer makes a difference but God makes an even bigger one!
Summary: God can be relied upon to be faithful to those who are endeavouring to be faithful to Him.
We are not alone! The process over the past four years has been a shared experience. The decisions have been Session and Deacons' Court decisions. The will to change has been that of the congregation and its office-bearers.
The prayerful support has come from far and wide. The 'flow' has not been mine but ours. The hard work has been shared and the thinking has been that of the body of the Lord's people at Gilc. In particular, working with the rest of the Action Group and with our legal advisors has been an absolute joy. I have constantly been amazed at the time, thoughtfulness, energy and dynamism of Albert Rodger, Andrew Shere and Mike Strudwick, David Laing and Dan Stewart, all of whom have demanding day-jobs and many other responsibilities in the Lord's Church.
Summary: We, at Gilcomston, have come through this together and we are grateful for the support from, and advice of others from near and far.
God puts us in families. Time might perhaps tell what this process has meant for our family, though I doubt it. From my workload to hurtful comments to our children in the classroom, not just from other pupils; from being vulnerable because of the media to wondering if a brick will come through the window; from the prolonged uncertainty regarding home and income to the fear of what others might do to the process; from the pain of 'friendly fire' to the fight in our hearts for love to triumph over hatred or bitterness. My wonderful wife and our amazing children have been outstanding in love's patience and honesty and in sheer fortitude amidst this and a cocktail of other trials as well. Please continue to pray for us.
Summary: It's tough standing for God
Well, more reflections are available but this will do for now.
Your Minister and Friend, Dominic Smart
Comment from a Church of Scotland minister: "Seems the C of S have lost another good congregation and undoubtedly more will be doing the same."
Ed comment: Since 2009, and even before that, the issue of sexuality and fidelity to God's word has been a running sore within the Church of Scotland (but not just the Church of Scotland). The Gilcomston departure follows on the heels of the congregation of the Tron church in Glasgow. It is likely that many of the Bible-faithful (the word 'evangelical' is now bankrupt of meaning) are in a 'wait and see' stance pending the report of a Special Commission to the forthcoming General Assembly in May this year.
The denomination traditionally plays a game of carrot and stick. (The Tron and others have already felt the pain.) If the GA plays true to form it will resort to no end of sophistry and fudge to keep the theologically-compromised denomination together. If this is the case, some more (Bible-faithful ministers, elders, members, congregations) will leave. Others will sadly shrug their shoulders but trundle on.
Others will stay put claiming that 'this is where the Lord would have me be.' (And they might be sincere; and they might even be right in their personal views. However they will also have to live with the fact that they are operating in an extremely unhealthy spiritual environment which could prove damaging emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.)
To quote from the above missive: "Well, more reflections are available but this will do for now."