The Ecumenical Agenda
THE low state of the national Church of Scotland is a great concern to those who have the spiritual good of our nation at heart. The Church of Scotland has drifted far from its original Reformed position, despite its continuing claims to be “reformed and reforming”, and in some departments of its work it has become a grossly deformed version of what it was in its better days.
While some headlines focussed on the Churchs ambivalence about the Scottish Parliaments intention to repeal Section 28 (which prevents the promotion of homosexuality in schools), another very significant matter is that the Church is steadily pursuing its ecumenical agenda and leading its people towards Rome. The Church of Scotland now gives a place to Roman Catholicism that it would never have given to it 100 years ago, let alone at the time of the Reformation. This deferring to Rome is evident in some of the reports and speeches given at the General Assembly which met in Edinburgh from Saturday 20 May until Friday 26 May. We therefore highlight our concern in this annual report on the General Assembly.
The new Moderator, the Rev. Andrew McLellan, is minister of St Andrews and St Georges Church in the city centre of Edinburgh, and is described as “a passionate campaigner for the poor and voiceless”. His sermon, delivered in St Giles, savoured more of the social gospel than the gospel of Jesus Christ indeed, we could not discover one reference in it to the Saviour. As an example of “one of the spiritual giants of today”, he referred to Mr Jean Vanier, who was to address the Assembly that evening. Jean Vanier, a devoted Roman Catholic, is the founder, along with a Roman Catholic priest, the late Thomas Phillippe, of LArche Community, an organisation “born in France and in the Roman Catholic tradition”, which caters for handicapped people in several countries.
The Lord High Commissioner, the Queens representative at the Assembly, was Prince Charles. He took the opportunity, in addressing the Assembly, to give his thoughts on “the sacred and spiritual”. What he said indicated anew that he is indeed a stranger to that spirituality which is the product of the Holy Spirit, and of which Scripture says, “To be spiritually minded is life and peace.” He also made some statements which no doubt gladdened the hearts of the ecumenists. “The ecumenical moves to unite in new ways the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, the United Reformed Church and the Methodists,” he said, “may suggest new opportunities for the pastoral and the spiritual work of the Church.”
The Convener of the Committee on Ecumenical Relations, the Rev. T. McIntyre, compared the Church to a ship, and the ecumenical process to “charting a route through unknown waters”. “Ecumenical partnerships and local projects are finding and developing new ways of working, celebrating, and praying together,” he said. “This is one way we contribute to the working of ACTS (Action Churches Together in Scotland). This facilitates ecumenical working and links us up to the issues and priorities raised by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and the World Council of Churches”. If he had eyes to see he would realise that although the waters they sail through may be unknown, we know enough to say that the ecumenical route charted by the Church will lead it to shipwreck.
A distinct leaning towards Rome is seen also in the Report of the Panel on Doctrine. The Convener of the Panel, the Rev. J. McPake, invited the Assembly “to welcome the reconstitution of the Joint Commission on Doctrine with the Roman Catholic Church. From time to time, the church is portrayed as divided,” he said, “divided between the Catholics on the one hand, and most of the rest, including ourselves, on the other. This is a portrayal which is inaccurate and unhelpful. . . There is no division, in principle, between ourselves and the Catholic Church, for we are part of that Church. Equally, we are a Reformed Church; we are a Church which adheres to the Scottish Reformation. Thus, we interpret the Catholic faith in the light of that tradition and, properly speaking, we are a church which is both Reformed and Catholic in nature.”
His equating of “catholic” as in Roman Catholic with “catholic” in the sense of the universal church of Christ may fool some, but it does not camouflage the fact that some form of union with Rome appears to be the bottom line in his thinking. He further said: “When we read that the Roman Catholic Church and many of the Lutheran Churches have reached a measure of agreement and have produced a Joint Statement on Justification by Faith, we learn that one of the central theological issues which lay at the heart of the Reformation has been found capable of producing consensus where once only division was found. Therefore, this seems to be an opportune time to reconstitute the Joint Commission.”
A bowing towards Rome was obvious also in the speech of the leader of the Iona Community, the Rev. N. Shanks. “Four weeks ago I was on Iona for the Easter celebrations,” he said. “The activities of Holy Week culminated in the most wonderful Easter morning service sunshine, the Abbey church full to overflowing, the cross carried in, resplendent with daffodils, as people of all ages and many nationalities lifted their voices in praise and we celebrated Communion together. Two weeks ago people of all denominations filled a Roman Catholic church in Glasgow for one of our Wild Goose Resource Groups Big Sings.”
Another ecumenical venture, proposed by the Committee on the Priority Areas Fund, was accepted by the Assembly: the forming of a new, inter-Church trust to give grants to disadvantaged communities in Scotland. The new body, the Scottish Churches Community Trust (SCCT) will be a partnership between the Church of Scotland and the Baptist Union in Scotland, Congregational Federation in Scotland, Methodist Church in Scotland, Religious Society of Friends in Scotland (the Quakers), Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, Scottish Episcopal Church, United Free Church of Scotland, and United Reformed Church in Scotland.
The Scottish Churches Initiative for Union (SCIFU), which works through ACTS, is yet another ecumenical body in which the Church of Scotland is deeply involved. The Assembly has instructed Presbyteries, Kirk Sessions, Boards and Committees to comment on a SCIFU report which calls for the formulating of a new ecumenical Confession of Faith. After referring to the various historic statements of faith, including the Westminster Confession of Faith, the report adds that it is not possible to unite around a vacuum and that there is need for a statement encapsulating the faith of the Church today. “The uniting churches could either await a Theological Commission after union, charged with preparing A Confession of Faith for the 21st Century or in anticipation of union, pursue the possibility of a new, truly ecumenical Scots Confession. The Unity, Faith and Order Commission of ACTS (Action of Churches Together in Scotland) has been asked to explore the possibility of such a document.” It seems that the peerless Westminster Confession of Faith is to be permanently consigned to the archives.
What kind of Scottish united church is envisaged by the SCIFU? Its Report states that it will be “espiscopally led and synodically governed” and that its bishops “would exercise pastoral oversight and care of ministers and congregations. This would always be on behalf of the regional council and in the name of the whole Church.” The Report endeavours to allay alarm by saying, “There is in Presbyterian (and perhaps also Congregational and Methodist) hearts, a real fear that bishops will dominate in running a united Church. . . The role of bishop needs to be presented with emphasis on leadership. Because of the emphasis in presbyterian and other structures on rotation of office, those who occupy the offices are limited in what they can contribute to leadership.”
How low the Church of John Knox and Alexander Henderson has come when it contemplates disowning its precious Protestant and presbyterian heritage. How earnestly we should plead with the divine Head of the Church that He would return to our national church to make it once again a truly Reformed church which would set the light of the truth before the many thousands in Scotland who are under spiritual darkness. q