Church of Scotland Preaching
The Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Rev Andrew McLellan, has delivered a stinging rebuke to his fellow-ministers for not being sufficiently political. He is concerned that they do not confront their congregations with “the cold human cost of unemployment or world hunger or health provision”. Now we would not wish to underestimate the cold human cost of unemployment, or the awful consequences of world hunger and the lack of health provision, but we do believe that he should be far more concerned to influence preaching within his denomination in the direction of biblical teaching about sin and salvation. The first concern of a minister of the gospel should be to confront his congregation with the solemn fact that sin has shut us out from communion with God and to point them to Jesus Christ, the divine Saviour, as the one remedy for the terrible condition into which sin has brought us.
More recently a new book has been announced, entitled The McDonaldization of the Church and written by Professor John Drane, head of Practical Theology at Aberdeen University. He argues that the sermons in too many churches are like the products of the fast-food chain they have no spiritual nutrition. They fail to answer many of their parishioners spiritual questions, because ministers today do not have the answers their flocks are seeking.
Professor Dranes own answers are far from satisfactory if they go no further than “re-thinking the physical environment in which people worship and using dance, drama, music and story-telling”. The one acceptable answer is to go back to the Bible. This may not give congregations the answers they want, but they would be accurate answers, the answers which people need to hear. Dance and drama are certainly not means of communication to which we are directed by Scripture, and the Church must never forget that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe”. The Church of Scotland, and every other denomination, can only prosper by following the guidelines laid down in Scripture by the Master whom they profess to serve.
Bishop Richard Holloway, the controversial head of the Scottish Episcopal Church was due to retire last month. “You could say I have given my life to religion,” he confessed, “but in many ways it has been a journey away from religion. . . . I have become an uncomfortable religious figure who no longer believes that humans can have access to absolute truth.” A sad confession indeed after a lifetime spent as a minister!
In a television series which he is presenting, he argues that “religion can be dangerous and is often used as a substitute for God”. No doubt this is often true, but it need not be. The Bishops difficulty flows from his rejection of a revelation from God which provides absolute truth. Religion is only dangerous when this revelation the Bible is rejected or, at least, when it is not taken at face value.
Bishop Holloway is by no means unique among clergymen today in rejecting the authority and reliability of Scripture, although he is more controversial than most. Such men may make great professions about seeking the truth, but are content with never arriving; indeed they rule out any possibility of ever arriving at absolute truth. Bishop Holloway declares, “Any system which claims to be the truth I am no longer comfortable with”.
Ministers such as he can have no spiritually profitable message for those who come to hear them. A search for the truth is no substitute for finding God, who has revealed Himself in the truths of Scripture. One could wish that Bishop Holloway would be replaced by someone who would preach these truths. His replacement may well be less controversial but one can have no high hopes that he will be significantly more scriptural.
Sabbath Football Matches
A letter from the Churchs Sabbath Observance Committee appeared in last months magazine; it was one of a number which the Committee has sent to Scottish football clubs protesting against their playing matches on the Lords Day. The Convener, Rev D J MacDonald, comments as follows: “The majority of the letters written by the Committee are not acknowledged. Those acknowledgements that are received usually come from businesses such as shopping centres or football clubs. As a rule they are written by their public relations staff and are very bland. However, from time to time replies are received to letters which seem to have evoked a more personal response. Sadly we have to record the fact that such responses are hostile.”
One such response was from St Mirren Football Club Limited in Paisley signed by “Alastair MacLachlan (Admin)”. It reads: “Thank you for your letter of August 15th, the contents of which are noted but not accepted. The keeping of the Sabbath is an exercise in Christian commitment which can be widely misinterpreted as your committee has regretfully opted to pursue. The Do Not attitude perpetrated by your organisation does not enhance the pattern of Sunday activities and you should appreciate that many associated with the match in question had already attended Church and Chapel services on the day. I am sure many individuals associated with St Mirren Football Club find your views to be narrow and restrictive and would wish your energies to be applied to much greater use in the wider community.”
A response such as this reveals, not surprisingly, the total lack of understanding of the significance of Sabbath observance that most people have today. The suggestion in the letter is that the Committee are wasting their time in pursuing this matter. They are not. They may not succeed in influencing any of those to whom they write, but they are succeeding in maintaining a witness in this world on behalf of Him who has said clearly and categorically, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”.
Cannabis Use in Britain Greatly Increased
Almost one in ten British adults has used cannabis in the past year the highest rate in Europe according to the annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Britain also has one of the highest levels of cannabis use among schoolchildren.
This is alarming information when one considers that the drug can have very severe short-term and long-term effects. “The long-term effects,” said the Home Secretary recently, “include a very severe exacerbation of mental illness and also include cancer. It is reckoned that cannabis is between two and four times as carcinogenic as tobacco.” The use of cannabis often leads on to other drugs; it is an established fact that the majority of users of other drugs have started by using cannabis. Also, drug-related crime has escalated greatly in recent years; it now comprises a third of all crime in Britain.
It would be folly therefore to decriminalise the use of cannabis. Even if it were only a case of a government having an “understanding” with law enforcers not to prosecute if cannabis is for personal use, it would be detrimental to our nation. It is true that police forces have a huge task, and one which is enormously difficult, in enforcing anti-drug legislation, but decriminalisation of cannabis use can only lead to greater problems. In fact, the increased use of cannabis calls for stricter enforcement of the law.
Much ridicule has been heaped on the shadow Home Secretarys proposal of “zero tolerance” for all drug offences, including cannabis possession. Of course, there would be problems in implementing such a policy. As Peter Coad, the Director of the Criminal Justice Association has said of “zero-tolerance” legislation, “It will be difficult to enforce but so is the 1968 Theft Act. There would rightly be an outcry if petty thieves were permitted to escape prosecution; the principle is the same.”
Dr Adrian Rogers, a prison doctor, is right when he says in a letter to the press that anti-drug policies protect the weak: “If a drug-free policy, backed by the technology of drugs testing, is to be rejected by popular demand, we condemn countless individuals to a life of poverty caused by their drug dependency and our unwillingness to enforce a drug-free culture.”NMR
Increase in Rate of Suicides
Suicide rates among males in Scotland have risen dramatically in the last 30 years. For those aged 15-24 and 35-44 the rate has more than doubled. But in the 25-34 age group, the rate has more than trebled. Suicide now accounts for almost one-third of deaths among men at this stage in life.
A number of factors have been highlighted including divorce, drugs and alcohol, but particularly job insecurity. There is no doubt that work pressures have increased to an unacceptable degree in many forms of employment. However, lying behind everything else is the decreasing respect for human life in modern society. For too long we have been taught that mankind is just another animal, only at a further stage of evolutionary development. If society as a whole would regain a sense that we are Gods creatures, who are under obligation to live to His glory and must at last appear before Him in judgement, there would be a massive decrease in the suicide rate.