This year’s General Assembly in Edinburgh had as its new Moderator what the press calls “an unknown and unambitious parish minister who lives in a council house”. The Rev John Miller, 59, has been minister in Castlemilk, one of Glasgow’s biggest housing schemes, for the last 30 years.
In his Assembly sermon he spoke about those whom Christ described as “the salt of the earth” and the “the light of the world”. “We have no reason to think,” he said, “that they were other than the ordinary people who had heard Him before, but who had found His words to be the words of eternal life.” Mr Miller’s theme was that priority should be given to the Word of God. May our national Church indeed heed that Word; there is much need for it to do so. We refer particularly to the erroneous views of the Lord High Commissioner of the General Assembly, who is the official representative of her Majesty the Queen. This year he is Lord Younger, who is described as a “regular church-goer”. But in an interview he confessed that he does not believe in the virgin birth of Christ, or that Christ is the Son of God.
More disturbing still were the comments of the Rev Andrew McLellan, the retiring Moderator. He indicated that Lord Younger’s views, with which he appeared to agree, were not at odds with those of the majority of the Kirk’s members. He added, “That any Protestant should be expected to believe in the immaculate conception is an extraordinary thought”. It is shocking in the extreme, not only that a professed Protestant minister should endorse these heretical views, but that he should also equate the Scripture truth of the virgin birth of Christ with the Romish heresy of the immaculate conception.
The Special Commission for Review and Reform has recommended major changes in the structure of the Church, to make it less centralised. The Presbyteries would be reduced in number from 48 to 12 and be given greater financial autonomy with substantial budgets to manage, and congregations would have a menu of worship with a variety of styles available to them. One aim of the these and the many other proposals, which are described by some as “root-and-branch reform” and the “most radical shake-up in decades”, is to bring people back to the Church and to “engage more effectively with the younger generation”. The Church lost 19 000 members during 2000, and 228 000 since 1988; and the current total of 607 000 is scarcely half of that in 1971. The report will now be examined by individual presbyteries and will be voted on at the next Assembly. Although the report refers several times to the Reformation, and speaks of the Church’s need to reform, we fail to see that its authors desire or seek the kind of reformation with which our nation was favoured 450 years ago when there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and, consequently, a whole-hearted adoption of Scriptural doctrine, worship and practice.
The Report of the Church and Nation Committee dealt with a wide range of topics under such heads as International Arms Trade, Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka, Racial Justice, The Political Process, Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations, Local Government Reform, Social Inclusion Partnerships, Road Fuel Pricing, The Textile Industry, and Public Service Broadcasting. The Assembly endorsed it even although it went as far as to call for more demonstrations against Trident, in spite of the Church Procurator’s warning that it would encourage law-breaking. The report confirms our view that the Church is overly-concerned with social and political issues and has lost sight of the spiritual need of Scotland.
The use of human embryos for cell replacement therapy, provided they were less than 14 days old, was one recommendation of the Board of Social Responsibility. Its report was approved even although the recommendation was opposed by the Rev Dr Donald Bruce, Director of the influential Science, Religion, Technology project of the Church. The Church of Scotland has thus shamefully undermined the principle of the sanctity of life. It ought to have adhered to its previous decision that cloning human embryos is wrong.
It was good to note that the Assembly heeded the Rev Ian Watson, Airdrie, when he asked it to go further than just instructing its Education Committee to monitor implementation of the Scottish Executive’s sex-education guidelines. He called for “priority to be given sensitively to the marriage relationship, the inclusion of the choice of abstinence from sex before marriage, and the responsibilities of parenthood in any school curriculum”. The Assembly supported him by 330 votes to 240, despite the intervention of Rev Jack Laidlaw, Education Committee Convener, who said that it was not the responsibility of the Church to prescribe the curriculum, and that he was against “such a direct steer at this moment in time”.
The Rev Norman Shanks, leader of the ecumenical Iona Community, called on the Church to repent of having spoken against Roman Catholicism in the past, and to re-examine its attitudes to sectarianism – a call welcomed by the Roman Catholic Church. His remarks were made, says one report, in the context of the draft bill prepared by Donald Gorrie, Liberal Democrat MSP, which seeks to make sectarian harassment a criminal offence in Scotland. The Church appears to support this bill, which may have the potential to criminalise legitimate criticism of Roman Catholic doctrines and practices.
There are many who hope that the far-reaching proposals of the Special Commission for Review and Reform will remedy what is being described as the “malaise of the Kirk”. Truly, a reformation is needed in Scotland and its Church, but we fear that the Church is not yet willing to have a cure which involves a complete return to the Word of God, and the repudiation of the claims of Roman Catholicism and other false religions. Our desperate need is that God would in mercy fulfil His promise: “I will pour My spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17). Only then will there be the promised showers of blessing (Ezek 34:26) upon Scotland and beyond.