Senior minister takes the Kirk to task on sexuality issue
Rev. David Randall a senior (retired) Church of Scotland minister who spoke at the General Assembly in May in defence of the traditional view on marriage and sexuality exposes the present confusion in a letter to Church members.
Ed preface: The following letter is not a 'quick read' but it has been published in its entirety as it raises very important questions on a very serious issue. Ultimately the authority of God's Word is at stake. The 'pull quotes' have been drawn from the text and inserted as important summary points.
The letter has been published on this website as a pastoral response to all Bible-believers – in the Church of Scotland and beyond – who are understandably highly troubled and perplexed by the decision of the General Assembly; and not least by the fact that the successful motion was proposed by an evangelical minister.
by Rev. David Randall
A letter to members of the Church of Scotland who feel downcast/angry/disappointed/puzzled/frustrated/betrayed because of the recent General Assembly
As one who was at the recent General Assembly, I share all the above feelings and I would express sympathies with brothers and sisters who feel such emotions at this time and who are seeking God's guidance about what to do.
I have been associated with the Church of Scotland for my whole life up till now (68 years), and I am immensely saddened by the turn that events have taken. Like you, I would never in earlier days have contemplated such a dire situation with our church decisively turning away from the teaching of the Bible that we love and seek to follow.
However, God has not changed (Hebrews 13:8) and His word will outlast all who attack it and seek to undermine it (Isaiah 40:8). He is still the Lord God Almighty and, in and behind all that is happening, He is working out His purposes. The Psalm which says, "My times are in your hands", also says, "Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord" (Psalm 31:15 & 24). It is surely important that, as we wait upon Him, we avoid all bitterness or animosity towards those with whom we profoundly disagree, while at the same time being unafraid to state our case boldly and straightforwardly.
"His word will outlast all who attack it and seek to undermine it"
The following are reflections on some of the questions raised by the Assembly's decision to "Affirm the Church's historic and current doctrine and practice in relation to human sexuality; nonetheless permit those Kirk Sessions who wish to depart from that doctrine and practice to do so".
Question 1: In what way is this decision a compromise?
Various people have spoken as if it is a solution to keep people together. The decision, however, is patently self-contradictory. In defiance of basic logic it puts two opposites in to the same sentence. To put it plainly: if we are to hold to the "Church's historic and current doctrine", how can we allow the ordination of practising homosexuals – and if we allow the ordination of practising homosexuals, how can it be said that we are holding to the Church historic and current doctrine?
Far from compromising between revisionism and traditionalism, this is a clear decision to embrace revisionism (the so-called mixed economy). It's like an argument about a colour scheme – where some wanted blue and some green, so they compromised and settled on green! Some compromise! It would be like the SNP asserting its default position in favour of independence but allowing members to campaign for the Better Together movement if that was their preference, or the government re-asserting the law that vehicles should not exceed 30 mph in built-up areas but adding that people who feel differently should be allowed to follow their own consciences.
"This is a clear decision to embrace revisionism"
Sadly, evangelicals have been made a fool of – bad grammar but sad reality. That the motion should have been moved and seconded by traditionalists is an extreme irony.
Question 2: Why have we embraced congregationalism?
It is ironic that a former Moderator should move, and the new Moderator and Principal Clerk later speak in favour of, a move which is so blatantly unPresbyterian. It is congregationalism when individual congregations can go their own way. And one may doubt whether congregations who wish to defy "the Church's historic and current doctrine and practice in relation to" other matters would be told to just go ahead! One would expect the officials of the General Assembly of a Presbyterian denomination to support Presbyterianism!
"...individual congregations can go their own way"
Question 3: Where does authority lie in the church?
This is the most important question of all. Is decision-making in the church to be controlled by the Word of God in Scripture, as has been believed through the ages – or is it to be controlled by our own wisdom, by contemporary mores or by social pressure? The Church of Scotland professes belief in the Scriptures as its rule of faith and life but it has now, through its General Assembly, turned its back on Scripture. The question was asked as to whether the Theological Commission found anything in the Bible that might legitimise homosexual practice, and the answer was given that all
"Is decision-making to be controlled by the Word of God ..or .. by our own wisdom?"
(revisionists as well as traditionalists) agreed that wherever the Bible mentions homosexual practice it is to proscribe it.
The Assembly was challenged on the issue of whether it would stand by such plain and consistent Scriptural teaching or go with the flow of social pressures. It was pointed out that the underlying issue was the question of where authority lies in the church. The seriousness of our situation now is that the Bible has been cast aside. After the manner of Genesis 3, doubting God's Word has been followed by denial of God's Word, and denial of God's Word has been followed by defiance of God's Word. It is often asserted that liberals have often acted in defiance of Scripture and yet evangelicals have 'accepted' this, but our situation now is that the church as a whole
"The seriousness ... is that the Bible has been cast aside"
(not any individual) has made a deliberate decision to turn its back on the Bible. The issue of the ordination of women is often raised, but that also is a different matter, because that case is at least arguable from Scripture. Now, however, we have a case of the church specifically and with open eyes deciding to act against the teaching of the Bible.
Question 4: ARE there 'more important issues' for the church?
Some people are saying that there are more important issues for the church today. In one sense, we may sympathise with this assertion, but the obvious response is that it is not the so-called traditionalists who keep harping on about this issue; it is the revisionists who have been driving the whole issue for a long time – regardless of any consequences for the peace and unity of the church. But the other response to the bland assertion that there are more important issues is the reminder that what is at stake here is the church's attitude to Scripture.
"It is the revisionists who have been driving the whole issue for a long time"
Homosexual practice is the presenting issue, but behind that is the issue of the authority of Scripture and, that being so, how can it be said that there are more important issues to take up our attention? There are few more important issues than the authority of the written Word which centres in the living Word who became flesh for our salvation. We also hear sometimes the mantra that the things that unite us all are greater than the things that divide us. This may sound good, but it is simply untrue.
If we are divided on the question of Scriptural authority, then we are seriously divided. All of us (traditionalists and revisionists) agree that so-called homophobia is a sin. Rejection of Scripture is also a sin. There may be occasions when people have to simply accept that they have been on the losing side of a debate, but when the issue is as significant as the authority of Scripture, it is a different matter.
Question 5: From where is the next generation of ministers to come?
We were informed at the Assembly, with surprising candour, that the stream of candidates from evangelical congregations has practically dried up. Does anyone think that this decision will change that! The tiny influx of candidates is likely to become tinier and one wonders how the Assembly thinks its pulpits are going to be filled in years to come. (The reference to candidates from the evangelical wing of the Church also raises the issue of whether evangelicals are willing to be simply tolerated as a wing of the Church.)
"One wonders how...pulpits are going to be filled in years to come?"
Question 6: From where is the church's money to come?
Are evangelical congregations, and evangelical people in mixed congregations, to be expected to happily send money, some of which may be supporting active homosexuality in the manses of our country? The present financial crisis can only be greatly worsened by this decision. The Assembly was warned that a revisionist decision would result in the loss of members, ministers and money – yet walked in to this decision open-eyed.
"The present financial crisis can only be greatly worsened..."
Question 7: How are Kirk Sessions to act?
Apparently the proposal is that when a vacancy occurs a Kirk Session will have to decide whether it is revisionist or traditionalist! They will be forced to discuss issues that ought not to be on a Session agenda at all, and, far from being a recipe for the unity of the church, this is an obvious recipe for division and controversy. Few Kirk Sessions would be unanimous in their views on the matter, so there would have to be a vote.
"This is an obvious recipe for division and controversy"
This would itself be divisive, and would the disaffected minority be expected to simply keel over and accept the decision? In particular, would traditionalists who believe that such a decision would be a decision to approve of something which is wrong in God's eyes be expected to go on as if nothing had happened? This cobbled-together and un-thought-out motion (or was it?) is of no practical help to anyone. The revisionist position is also cruel to people who are homosexually inclined but seek to live a celibate life pleasing to God.
Question 8: What is to happen when 'traditionalists' are targeted?
It is almost certain that congregations and ministers who decide against the acceptance of practising homosexuals will find themselves the targets of activists and then of legal action. The Assembly has walked into this situation, without any regard for the widely held recognition that any assurances of protection by government sources are meaningless.
"Congregations and ministers will find themselves targets of activists and then legal action"
In answer to a question, it was said that the church would always indemnify any minister or elder against whom action was taken, but that does not address the emotional and personal costs, nor does it face the possibility that it will, at some future time, be the Church itself that will be putting pressure on people (as in the case of the legislation on the ordination of women, which was meant to be permissive legislation).
Question 9: Are evangelicals going to play along with this trajectory?
The Assembly decision plays for time. It is claimed that nothing could happen before May 2015. In the meantime, however, there will continue the steady drip-drip effect in church and society, and it is frankly fanciful to expect any reversal of the present trajectory. In reality the game was up in May 2009; 2011 confirmed the downward direction and 2013 has given greater solidity to that trajectory.
"In reality the game was up in May 2009"
Evangelical voices in 2013 were few and far between, and some traditionalists played into the hands of the revisionists; the proposer of the motion which passed even spoke of needing more time to 'catch up' with the advanced thinkers (and these advanced thinkers should look with patience on us weaker brothers)!
Some evangelicals advocate staying in to win back the Church of Scotland. This may be a laudable aim, but is it a realistic one? It has been tried for a long time, and doesn't there come a time for realism, a time to conclude that God has other plans? It may be asked: when will evangelicals take No for an answer? In reality liberals have many evangelicals exactly where they want them - protesting and making much noise but always rolling over and accepting liberal decisions. How many tellings do they need and for how long will they consent to be made fools of?
"How long will [evangelicals] consent to be made fools of?"
People are considering different options, and we need to respect one another even when we come to different conclusions.
"In these difficult times may we know the grace and guidance of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"
Some individuals may simply withdraw their membership from the Church of Scotland and go elsewhere (which will leave the remaining congregations poorer in all ways, including finance; they may simply be unable to meet their allocation to central funds). Some ministers will be left in charges where the bulk of the membership wants to sit tight, and they will be faced with the difficult decision as to whether they should demit and seek a sphere of ministry elsewhere.
In some cases congregations may be able to move together in leaving the Church of Scotland and inviting their minister to be the minister of a new congregation. This could involve finding other premises for the worship and other activities of the congregation, and alternative accommodation for the manse family. It would all require considerable financial commitment from faithful members (although obviously there would no longer be the demand for whatever sums are presently sent to the offices of the Church).
Others may consider a formal declaration of intent – that, if the Assembly of 2014 continues on the present trajectory and, instead of turning back, sends the matter down to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act, at that point they will secede. In these difficult times may we know the grace and guidance of "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3).
David J Randall
Ed footnote: The following articles summarise the situations surrounding and immediately following on from the General Assembly decisions in 2009 and 2011 respectively.
The Church of Scotland: 1560 - 2009
Harvest is Past; the Summer has ended (which carries a comprehensive list of related articles)