THE General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which met in Edinburgh from 8th to 14th May, voiced its deep concern about the decline in the numbers attending church. We long for the day when the Assembly will cease to sanction various unscriptural methods to solve the problem, and will instead acknowledge the great need of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon Scotland, and the Churchs need of returning to the reformed doctrine, worship and practice which once were the hallmark of Scotlands national Kirk.
News about the Assembly was less this year, due no doubt to the focus of the media being on the opening of the new Scottish Parliament. The housing of the Parliament in the Old Assembly Hall, on the Mound, Edinburgh, the venue for the General Assembly for the past 138 years, meant that the 1000 Assembly commissioners had to meet in Edinburgh International Exhibition Centre.
In his address the Lord High Commissioner, Lord Hogg, stated, “Her Majesty the Queen has commanded me to assure you of Her great sense of your steady and firm zeal for Her service and to assure you of Her resolution to maintain Presbyterian Church Government in Scotland.” When we view the progress of ecumenism, the sidelining of Protestantism, the growth of Romes power, and the increase in the number of interfaith events, we cannot help feeling pessimistic about the future of Presbyterianism in Scotland.
Lord Hogg stated that “the post of Lord High Commissioner in representing the Queen expresses the continuity of the state. It expresses the difference Scotland has in its church government; the different status the Church of Scotland has to that of the Church of England; the different position of the monarch in relation to the Church; the differences Scotland enjoys as of right as a nation within the Union. It expresses the inclusive nature of the Union.” It was gratifying that he referred to Andrew Melvilles famous statement to King James at Falkland Palace in 1596: “Sir, as divers times before, so now again I must tell you, there are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland; there is King James the head of this commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus and his Kingdom the Kirk, whose subject King James the Sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head but a member.”
The new moderator is the Rev. John Cairns, a former lawyer, and the minister of Riverside Parish Church, Dumbarton. In 1997 he was appointed as one of the nine Chaplains in Ordinary to the Queen in Scotland.
Lord Hogg said in his closing speech, “I have been struck by the concern repeatedly expressed about the Kirks reducing membership. I agree that something must be done and is being done, and without giving away anything of what was said I must tell you that it figured strongly in my report last year to Her Majesty, the Queen. I will be reporting to her again on this matter.”
In voicing that concern, the Rev George Whyte, Convener of the Board of Ministry, said, “The new Scotland has walked away from the old Church which claims to serve the nation. We are at a critical point which is not to do with whether the Kirk as we know it survives but with the sharp concern that Christ is being failed by a Church which has the resources to do much better.” It is a sad fact that the greatest resource at its disposal (and which alone will make the Church flourish), is being neglected by the Church. We refer to the pure and full preaching of the Word, and the teaching that is Reformed and Calvinistic. In its concern to remedy the situation the Church is resorting to some methods of evangelisation and worship which at best are suspect and at worst are downright unscriptural.
Many in the Church believe that the Alpha course will go a long way to boosting church attendance. There is no doubt that the course produces results of a kind. An Assembly press release states, “Alpha Courses, a ten-week introduction to the Christian faith, designed by Holy Trinity Church in London, has been promoted for use by all denominations and, in a survey, ninety Church of Scotland congregations said they had taken part. . . . More than 350 who attended the courses had joined the church an average of six per congregation while almost 700 have become more actively involved in their church and more than sixty have been approached about the eldership. Without exception, the comments on Alpha courses are positive.”
But comments about the Alpha course in several Reformed magazines were far from positive, and in the review article, The Alpha Course Examined, in the March issue of this magazine, the course was shown to be seriously flawed. It is a course which fulfils the need of what one commissioner called “a user-friendly theology”. “Its promoters claim,” says The Alpha Course Examined, “that by stripping the gospel down to its bare essentials, it makes Christianity accessible to men and women of todays culture. The whole emphasis is on an atmosphere where no one need feel at all embarrassed. This attitude extends to the content of the course; every attempt is made to avoid saying anything which might make participants uncomfortable. . . Thus the doctrine of sin is played down almost to the point of extinction. . . We need not be surprised to find in it an equally feeble atonement.” What is particularly solemn is that the course promotes a spurious Christianity, and many participants are under the illusion that they have become Christians in the fullest sense of the term.
The Assemblys Board of National Mission thinks that a change with regard to baptism would slow the decline and make the Church more welcoming. It asked the Assembly to take steps to introduce a service of thanksgiving as an alternative to the baptising of babies, something which has already begun to make its appearance in ten per cent of parishes. “This would allow the Kirk to enhance a familys and a communitys joy at the birth of a baby,” says the Boards report. “It would avoid the danger of parents feeling rejected by the conditions the church asks of those seeking baptism for their children.”
In the debate, Professor Whyte made this amazing comment about baptism: “The act is having the effect of turning the national church into an exclusive sect.” It is probable that he was basing his remark on the findings of a survey which showed, a newspaper article said, that “many parents felt the Kirk demand for commitment amounted to discrimination. One mother said: I feed and clothe my children. I have my children vaccinated. Why cant I get them baptised?” What base views, on the part of both parents and the Professor, of this holy sacrament instituted by Christ!
Commenting in the press on the requested change, the Rev. Bill Wallace, ex-Convener of the Kirks Board of Social Responsibility, said that some time ago, in Hamilton Presbytery, “the feeling was that the vows were too demanding for people today. There was also anger when ministers explained to couples the extent of their involvement. Some felt their intentions to do their best for their children were being rejected. Faced with such grievances, it is no surprise that liberals in the Kirk want to see vows attached to baptism abolished.” Mr Wallace rightly concludes that it “would be disastrous.”
Another attempt to slow the decline and to attract young people to the Church is what the Board of National Mission calls “the ministry of music”. Spearheading this so-called evangelistic project is the Rev. Albert Bogle and his Bogle Band! He is minister at St Andrews, Boness, and has recently completed a dissertation on the subject, The Theology of Entertainment. The Report says that the band has performed at an Evangelistic Insight Weekend at Gillespie Parish Church, Dunfermline, a Christmas Concert at Barlinnie Prison, and a multi-media Christmas service to around 1500 pupils at Carluke High School; and that further “outreach events” are planned with congregations at Ayr, Port Seton, Drymen and Aberdeen. It is deplorable that the once reformed Church of Scotland is making the house of God a den of worldly entertainment. The claimed religious content of their performances will in no way minimise the wrongness of them.
With regard to social matters, and in addressing the problem of prostitution in Scotland, the Report of the Board of Social Responsibility made the astonishing statement, “It may be that decriminalisation would be the first step towards improvement, thus removing the revolving door syndrome of debt payment and fines from the courts.” The report says that alongside the Bibles disapproval of prostitution there are numerous passages expressing Gods acceptance of those who have repented. True, but this is no ground for decriminalising this most sinful and illegal manner of living, and it is deplorable that such a suggestion should come from a Board of the Church.
With regard to abortion, we are glad to see, as we would expect, that the Board of Social Responsibility has reiterated its declared view that abortion can only be tolerated when the mothers life is at risk and after the exhaustion of all alternatives. It was ironical that the Assembly was addressed by the architect of the notorious Abortion Act of 1967, Sir David Steel, in his capacity as the President of the new Scottish Parliament. It is difficult to comprehend how he could address a court of the church of Christ when, by sponsoring the Abortion Act, he has laid the foundation for the killing of more than five million unborn infants up to the end of last year.
With regard to ecumenical relations, proof of the Assemblys dedication to this cause is shown by its contributing more than £245,000 to ecumenical bodies for the year 2000. In accepting the Report of the Committee on Ecumenical Relations, the Assembly has accepted the recommendation that the Church affirm its commitment to “raising gender awareness”. The Gender Attitude Project of the Committee is requesting that the Church “show the gender balance of the Churchs annual statistics in relation to membership and office-bearers”. The Committee is determined to counteract what it calls “the male dominance which pervades the structures of the church”. We need not be surprised at this element of political correctness in the report when the Church has largely lost sight of Gods appointed place for women in the church, which most certainly is not in the pulpit or as ordained office-bearers.
What is desperately needed in the pulpits of Scotland are ministers sent by God, seeking the glory of God and the pre-eminence of Christ, and declaring all the counsel of God. It is to be feared that while the Church of Scotland demonstrates much compassion for the physical, mental and material needs of the people of Scotland it is coming far short in showing compassion for the spiritual needs of the people. Such compassion must necessarily include showing the people their sin, faithfully preaching their need of regeneration, repentance, and faith in Christ alone for salvation.