Crisis in the Church of Scotland Ministry
The Church of Scotland is facing a crisis in recruitment for the ministry. Already 166 parishes are vacant, 13% of the total. However, one in five of her ministers is due to retire within the next five years and the Board of Ministry estimates that only 165 trained ministers will enter the profession during that period, taking the shortfall to 16%.It seems 700 applicants for the ministry have been turned down over the past 10 years. But, one is tempted to ask, Did the selection board decide these 700 individuals lacked a divine call while those who were accepted showed evidence, as far as fallible human judgement could discern, that the Lord of the harvest was sending them out to preach the gospel? One finds it difficult to believe that this figured highly among their criteria, in spite of the statement on the Church’s website that “the Board of Ministry runs an ‘enquiry process’ to help potential candidates for Church of Scotland ministry, and others, to consider their sense of ‘calling’ to Church service”.
We are also told that the Church is looking for ministers who are “willing to live, think and communicate the gospel in new and varied settings”. But what gospel? The pure, plain gospel of the grace of God that Paul preached? At best, there can be few in leadership positions in the Church of Scotland today who major on the truths that “this is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”, and that it is “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to [God’s] mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life”.
Yet this is the gospel which is so desperately needed by a Scotland where more than a quarter of the population – according to the 2001 census figures – claim to have no religion. It is only the Lord of the harvest who can fit men, as He did Paul, to go out to proclaim the true gospel to sinners “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in” Christ.
The Herald newspaper commented on the crisis: “As with any other employer seeking to attract recruits, the Kirk must look carefully at the image it presents to the public. The recent criticism levied at the Church for failing to appoint a female Moderator will not have impressed graduates of either sex.” But far more important than the image presented to the public is the Church’s conformity to the mind of God. We read in Scripture: “I suffer not a woman to teach”. These are not merely Paul’s words, they are God’s words. We can have no real hope for the progress of a body that professes to be a Church of God but refuses to conform to His will.
Christianity in Britain
At first sight, the recently-released 2001 Census figures show Christianity in Britain in a better-than-expected light. “Most people in England and Wales, 71%, still regard themselves as Christians”, reports The Daily Telegraph. “Despite the sharp decline in churchgoing and the growth of secularism, 37.3 million described their religion as Christianity.” In Scotland “nearly 75% of the population still considered themselves Christian,” says The Scotsman.
But there is a downside. These figures include Roman Catholics. Also, the Census revealed a swing of some 8% away from organised religion in England, with more than a quarter of the population saying they have no faith. In Scotland, we are told, “Large numbers are turning away from the religious faiths they were born into”. Figures from other sources show that, of those who regard themselves as Christians, only a very small proportion actually go to church – and very many of them do not have “all the counsel of God” set before them.
All in all, it is obvious that we must plead earnestly, “Return to us, O God” (Ps 60:1). Apart from direct and merciful divine intervention, the already serious situation will only worsen.
Losing our National Sovereignty
The draft constitution for the European Union was released on 6 February, and The Daily Telegraph reports that “the Government reacted with horror to the text, accusing an elite group of insiders on the convention’s 13-member praesidium of carrying out a ‘federalist’ coup”.
Well might the Government react with horror because “Britain will lose control of foreign policy and defence and will be stripped of its sovereign power to legislate in almost all areas of national life”. The document establishes the European Union on a “federal basis”, enjoying “primacy over the law of the member states”.
But it beggars belief that the Government should be surprised and horrified, for it has been obvious for decades to many, including the Free Presbyterian Church, that the nation was in grave danger of losing its sovereignty. In 1962 our Religion and Morals Committee stated with regard to what was then known as the Common Market (the embryo EU): “It would be well to realise that the ultimate outcome . . . will be a United States of Europe, with the Pope, the ‘man of sin’, as its head”.
Unless God in His mercy will prevent it, we shall certainly lose a still larger swathe of our civil and religious liberties. Because of our sins we justly deserve the judgement of God which has come upon us, namely, the same judgement as came on Israel for her sins: “Your land, strangers devour it” (Isa 1:7).