No bush has a life guarantee

An historical presence in the soil offers no guarantee for the future. Unhealthy and unproductive bushes could find that their days are numbered.

Shrub deadI just had to do it. Not just because of a promise to my wife, but also to regain my equilibrium from the events of the afternoon. However, it was not a task I approached with relish.

To a fair degree it went against the grain of my philosophy on gardening: ‘If it’s growing leave it alone; indeed as long as it is not actually dying, leave it alone.’ Besides, it was going to be hard work. But for this particular shrub its day had come, and its time was up.

 It had been occupying the space in our garden soil for as long as I remember, but it had persistently refused to flourish – in spite of the faithful and repetitive work of pruning and fertilising by she who has ministered to it. So it really had to go.

Pick axeAs I laboured in the task with gardening tools in hand, a picture came into my mind:

'A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, "For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?" "Sir," the man replied, "leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down"'.
And this was exactly what I was doing.

Relying on its historical roots

Perhaps our shrub had become complacent and was relying on its historical place? 'And do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father."' Perhaps we are seeing the same dynamic today?
But observing my pick-axe, the unproductive bush knew its days were numbered. Yet it was not going to succumb without a fight. Its roots had gone deep and wide; and both the shrub and I knew it. It was indeed a protracted struggle, but I finally won. In the end, and with an exhausted heave, the last chunk of root ball finally came away. And that part of the job was done.

Though the night air was starting to chill, the perspiration trickled down my neck as I surveyed the hole in the ground where it had been. But it lay now on the grass – its roots exposed and bare, and awaiting disposal. But the process and the digging had been cathartic, and my mental balance was now restored: the deleterious effects of observing the Church of Scotland in protracted general assembly debate had been purged.

General Assembly HallThe heavy afternoon session in the General Assembly hall had been long on procedure, replete with rhetoric and awash with metaphors of  ships on storm-tossed seas and knights on white chargers. It was the Church of Scotland at its theatrical best and, very sadly, at its theological worst.
With interventions to clarify procedures, and punctuated by the up-standing and down-sitting at each point of vote, the 3 hour debate – prompted by a call from Lochcarron-Skye Presbytery for the Kirk to affirm its historical position regarding marriage and sexuality – produced yet another classic fudge. The emphasis was on ‘unity’ and ‘stability’: the preservation of harmony seemed of infinitely more importance than the resultant scandalising of Truth and God’s word.

CommitteeAfter years of indecision and procrastination the Kirk came to decide it still ‘needed more time’; more time to ponder, analyse, consult and report back on a matter that the Kirk’s fathers – innately and with certainty – knew. The matter was and is in God’s genetic blueprint for humankind. It is, in the language of theologians, a creation ordinance. A man and a woman together: that's the pattern. It’s written in the first book of the Bible. File of papersYet now the body politic of the Church of Scotland needs another two years to mull over what it has been mulling over for the past decade or so regarding sexuality. So a Special Commission has been appointed, and the fruits of its deliberations are to be revealed in 2011.

Meanwhile silence. All within the Church are now subject to a gagging order to prevent anyone speaking publicly or to the media about homosexuality.

It has become all so predictable...

Later last night, the BBC newsreader’s summary report was utterly unoriginal, and the autocue ran the tired script again: “A highly-damaging split in the Church of Scotland has been averted.”
So the Kirk heaved a huge sigh of relief. Unity has yet again prevailed over Truth. Peace has been, for the moment at least, restored.

and wearisome...

It was into all of this that Rev. Ian Watson – one of the opponents of allowing actively-gay ministers in the Church – wearily observed: "We are really tired of this." As a warrior for the Gospel he had given it his very all, and he wondered: “I really don't know how much longer the church can sustain this debate". And neither do I. And neither does anyone really know how much more those disheartened and ashamed Bible-faithful folk in the national church can tolerate. And how much longer will the Scottish people have to put up with it?

and who knows how much longer God will put up with it?

But most importantly, who knows how much longer God’s patience will last?
"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.’”  God hates the middle way of mediocrity and ambivalence. Scotland took God's word to the nations; now the Kirk is bringing disgrace upon itself and the nation by demeaning the Gospel of God before their eyes.

C of S logoThe Church of Scotland’s logo depicts a burning bush set against the Saltire and surrounded by the (Latin) motto: ‘Nec tamen consumebatur’ (Yet it was not consumed).  And as I returned my pick-axe to the shed and carted the remains of the shrub to our garden’s Gehenna of death and decay on the compost heap, I reflected on another verse from the gospels: “The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Jesus himself elaborated: 'Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.'

But there is always the prospect of new life

ShrubBut there was one more task to be completed before the dark finally fell. In the now-vacant spot I added fresh soil, and I planted a new young bush.

I am looking forward to watching it grow. And I am looking forward to seeing what God will do to bring new life into the church in Scotland.

He said to Israel two and a half thousand years ago: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezek 36:22). He will do it because His very character is at stake in all of this.

God is bigger, infinitely bigger than the Church of Scotland. He has got to be or He wouldn’t be God.

People in prayerBut meantime, pray. Pray for the good and faithful people in the Church of Scotland; both in pulpit and pew. Pray for those who might leave that they will quickly find good fellowship elsewhere in the body of Christ. But pray also for those who might stay within the Kirk; they are now functioning within a hostile – some might say apostate – environment.

Rev. David Andrew is a Scot, church leader and editor of Sword magazine. And he feels for the situation:

'My heart goes out to those godly protestors who now have to choose between leaving the Kirk they have served faithfully for their lifetimes, or continuing under an ecclesiastical authority that is shaking Sodom's fist in the face of the Almighty.'

God will have His way – through, or in spite of the Church of Scotland; but pray for the good people of Scotland who need to hear the clear unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. They certainly cannot rely on Scotland's biggest denomination in this regard.

We live in very significant days.

Ed footnote:
Further analysis will follow (d.v.). Meanwhile any comments or observations should be sent to the Editor. Thank you!
Alternatively, there is a discussion thread running on the article 'Church of Scotland 1560 - 2009' which has a 'Comment' facility.

Breaking news: Regarding the Kirk's Assembly instruction to 'keep quiet', a Skye Church of Scotland minister has been quoted in the Herald as speaking out on the subject.

Christians Together, 26/05/2009