Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Response to the Church of Scotland Theological Forum

Response to the Theological Forum

Covenant Fellowship Scotland have produced an excellent response to the Report of the Theological Forum on Human Sexuality, which will be discussed next week at the Church of Scotland General Assembly:

Here is a response that is scriptural, logical and reasonable. However, the problem may be that it presupposes that theological and ethical disputes are to be settled in the church by an appeal to Scripture, and the use of reason.  If this was accepted, their case would be unanswerable.

But that is the very heart of the problem.  The Church of Scotland no longer wishes to listen to Scripture; it is governed by sentiment and emotion and not by reason.  Without a common basis, Scripture, there can be no consensus on either theological or ethical issues.

I will watch with interest the debate at G.A. My prayers are with those who will argue a biblical basis for marriage as between one man and one woman.  But, I will also watch with interest to see their response if the G.A. extends its recognition of homosexual marriage.  Will they be willing to embrace the doctrine of “constrained difference” and continue to recognise those who embrace, encourage and promote homosexual marriage?

It is worth considering the argument of Dr. Denny Burk, who in essence is commenting on the “reconciled diversity” or “ constrained differences” approach:

“[This] approach is functionally no different from an “affirming” approach. Here’s the bottom line. A church either will or will not accept members who are practicing homosexual immorality. A church either will or will not discipline members for homosexual immorality. A church either will or will not ordain clergy who are practicing homosexuals. There is no middle ground between these practical polarities. If you are in a church that allows both points of view (Side A/Side B), then functionally your church is no different from a fully “affirming” congregation. You accept members and clergy who are practicing homosexual immorality. Again, there is no middle ground between the polarities of these two positions. Those who attempt middle ground will eventually have to move to one side or the other.”

See his excellent article at:

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Church of Scotland and Marriage

Church of Scotland and Marriage

Al Mohler demonstrates his usual perceptive insight in analysing the Church of Scotland’s Theological Forum report on marriage and sexuality. He cuts to the heart of the matter – the abandonment of sola scriptura, and the substitution of an ephemeral word of the living Christ subjectively experienced

Listen here:

For those who would like the transcript

But now switching from the United States and the situation in the United Methodist Church, we go to Scotland and a recent report that was leaked out of the Church of Scotland. It was leaked in recent days, and then the Church of Scotland went on to release officially the draft report from a special theological forum. Once again, the issue at the center is the authority of Scripture. The presenting issue or catalyst for the discussion and the report are the issues related to sexuality. The Church of Scotland has been one of those churches that has of late been trending in a far more liberal direction. Once the report of the theological forum had been leaked and public conversation began, the Church of Scotland moved up its timetable to officially release the draft of the report. On its own website, the Church of Scotland declared,

“The Theological Forum has published its latest report on ‘An approach to the theology of same-sex marriage.’ The report will be considered by Commissioners to the General Assembly in Edinburgh next month.”
The church then acknowledged the fact that the report had been leaked and they said,

“In light of the report appearing in the national press, the Principal Clerk has authorized its immediate publication to allow Commissioners, members of the church and members of the public to understand fully the content and context.”

According to the statement from the Church, the General Assemblies being asked to consider two key issues. 

Number one,

“Authorize the Legal Questions Committee to undertake a further study on the legal implications of conducting same-sex marriages and report back to the General Assembly [of the Church of Scotland] in 2018.”


“Invite the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologize individually and corporately and seek to do better.”

Now in terms of that second statement, there are certainly ways that Christians and Christian churches have sinned against gay people. But you’ll notice that in the context here holding to a biblical understanding of sexuality, holding to biblical authority, holding to a biblical definition of marriage, all of these are basically included in what is described here as merely “a history of discrimination at different levels.”

Simply the fact that the language is employed in this way serves as a powerful signal of the direction the report is taking. But it’s actually a good deal more interesting than even you might expect. One of the interesting things in the statement from the church is that what the forum is calling for is “constrained difference.” That is to say, the Church of Scotland is going to try to avoid further schism. There have already been several conservative departures from the denomination by calling for the existence of two polarizingly opposite positions in the church, those who on the basis of conviction cannot recognize marriage as anything other than the union of a man and a woman and others who are determined to go ahead and recognize and perform same-sex weddings. But this “constrained difference” to which the church says it’s committed means that those who are biblical conservatives by remaining in the church are in their own way endorsing others within the church who do defy the authority of Scripture on LGBTQ issues and most particularly on same-sex marriage.

Like so many reports in this kind of denominational committee, the report indicates one side of the argument and then the other side of the argument, but it begins with the use of Scripture and the authority of Scripture. The report makes a distinction between conservatives who are according to the report committed to the written text of Scripture and to more liberal persons who make a distinction between the written text of Scripture “and the living word of God, the latter being associated with Jesus Christ who speaks to us in our hearts and consciences.”

That’s a breathtaking argument. It affirms the abandonment of Scripture, claiming instead a different source of revelation, an even higher source of revelation, which is personal religious experience, which is claimed to be in the Spirit of Christ. The most devastating aspect of this report is the juxtaposition between what’s identified, again these are the actual words of the report, “as the living words of Scripture” and what’s identified as “the living word of God,” that is Jesus Christ who speaks to us in our hearts and consciences. Now they went on to say,

“According to this argument we owe our allegiance to Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, rather than adherence to the literal words of Scripture.”

Now that’s a stunning statement. Once again, you have the living Christ set over against the words of Scripture. That is a juxtaposition that the Lord Jesus Christ himself most fundamentally did not allow, and faithful Christianity cannot allow that distinction. But it’s a key distinction for a church or for a segment of a church that is determined to undermine and overthrow biblical authority. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what this report calls for. Another thing we need to note here is that this theological forum in the Church of Scotland represents something of a breathtaking honesty, because nowhere in this report did they try to make any argument that what they identify is that literal words of Scripture, otherwise known as simply the words of Scripture, can in any way be construed as to affirm same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior or relationships. It seems they at least in honesty have given up that argument, but the argument they now use is one with which we are familiar: just abandon the words and grammar of Scripture in order to instead follow what is claimed to be the living Word of God, which comes to us internally
Now one of the key issues in the Reformation is the Roman Catholic Church’s affirmation of a two-sourced theory of revelation, that is Scripture and tradition as interpreted by the church. But here you have the Church of Scotland birthed in terms of John Knox and that same Reformation that once stood resolutely for the theology of the Reformation, including Sola Scriptura, that now denounces effectively the very idea of Sola Scriptura by adopting its own two-sourced theory of revelation, which means the words of Scripture and also a higher authority, which is what is claimed to be the living word of God, which is an inference that comes from the church by its own experience and intuition.

For the last few days, I’ve been in London, England and during the course of these days I found myself at Bunhill Fields, that is the cemetery where John Bunyan and so many Puritans are buried, and right across the street Wesley Chapel. We can only imagine that John Wesley would be absolutely appalled that the authority of Scripture in this way would be undermined by so many in his church that this would even be a live question. And when it comes to the Church of Scotland, we do not have to wonder what the reformer John Knox would say about this debate and this report in terms of his own church. He would be mincing no words, and nor should we.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

No Sex with Robots!

It seems that the Church of Scotland is about to take a bold step and declare that, given their current understanding of marriage and sexuality, (which may of course change or develop with time and further reflection), they do not think “the door should be open to marriage with robots."

Well, at least that is one moral absolute in the sexual realm that they seem to be settled on.  However, the Theological Forum in their Report for the forthcoming General Assembly do think that homosexual marriage is O.K. and continuing their revisionist trajectory they want their ministers to be free to officiate at gay marriage ceremonies.

The Forum will also “invite the Church to take stock of its history of discrimination at different levels and in different ways against gay people and to apologise individually and corporately and seek to do better.”  If this is accepted, as inevitably it will be, does this mean that churches that have disciplined members for homosexual activity will need to redress this gross injustice by apologising to those individuals and indeed, apologising to the GLBT etc. community at large?  Or, does it mean that the wicked elders and ministers who initiated such discipline are to apologise individually for their uncaring attitudes and actions to those who have been disciplined ?

Who knows, perhaps the Church of Scotland will produce a special liturgy of repentance for sins against homosexual activists, with special corporate prayers to express collective guilt for being so literal in our interpretation of Scripture and our unthinking commitment to 2000 years of Christian ethical practice.

The Report gives the normal theological double talk about Liberals being truly committed to the authority of Scripture, but not in the narrow sense of the words of Scripture, but in the more enlightened sense of the Word behind the words and the new liberating understanding of Christ the living Word who would, of course, not approve of a narrow and censorious reading of the mind of God expressed in the Bible.

The Report speaks of the fact that the Theological Forum “continues to work within the perspective of “Constrained Difference” which seeks for an area of allowable disagreement within the tradition of the Church as a whole while upholding the fundamental doctrines of the Church." I was only getting used to “reconciled diversity” and now they have gone and changed this to “constrained difference”. Does this mean that the reconciliation is now to be constrained?

What is clear is that when this passes at G.A. any professed evangelical still remaining within the Church of Scotland who chooses to embrace “reconciled diversity” or “constrained difference” will have finally ceased to have any moral integrity and have forfeited the right to call themselves “evangelical”.

It would be too tedious to go through this sad Report; it did not take a prophet’s insight to predict that having embraced homosexual marriage as a fact in its ministers and office-bearers the Kirk would move to theologically underpin such apostasy and legislate for its advancement.

I should also add that I was not being facetious and making up the robots quote – read it for yourself! The full Report is available here:

Monday, 10 April 2017

No Sex with Robots! Temporarily Withdrawn.

No Sex with Robots!

Blog post temporarily removed until 20 April.

The Church of Scotland published the Theological Forum Report for the 2017 G.A. on their website.  There was no note of any embargo until the 20th April; it was to be assumed that as it had been openly published it was in the public domain.

However, I have now heard that they had not intended the Report to be  available until the 20th April.  (They have now removed the Report from their website.) I am happy to respect their wishes and will republish the blog post on 20th April.

Robert M Walker

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

What Should Presbyteries Do? (2)
Andrew Edgar in “"Old church life in Scotland : lectures on kirk-session and presbytery records" (1885) tells us about the spiritual conferences of the early presbyteries:
“The Exercise was a meeting of ministers and readers for the purpose of mutual instruction in Scripture and religion. There were two speakers previously appointed to expound and argue — the first "to exercise or prophesy" and the second "to add" — and in 1576 there were severe punishments ordained by the Assembly to be inflicted on all such as failed to fulfil these appointments. " It either of the two fail, for the first fault, they shall confess their offence upon their knees in presence of the brethren of the Exercise ; for the second, they shall make the like submission before the Synodal Assembly ; for the third, they shall be summoned before the General Assembly and receive discipline for their offence ; and for the fourth they shall be deprived of their offices and functions in the ministry."
After Presbyteries were erected, the Exercise continued to be regarded as something distinct from the Presbytery. In the General Assembly of 1582 there were several "articles" recorded as answers to certain doubts concerning Presbyteries, and from these we learn that ruling elders had seats in the Presbytery, but there is nothing said about their duty to attend the Exercise. Ministers, on the other hand, are declared to be subject to penalties if they do not resort to the Exercise and Presbytery. It was also thought meet that the day appointed for the Exercise be "in like manner the day of ecclesiastical processes," but if the brethren think it necessary they may appoint days and places for processes "by" or besides the day of the Exercise.
In 1610, the King and the Bishops, with the view of making the abolition of Presbyterial jurisdiction in the Church more easy, endeavoured to bring about the disuse of the word Presbytery, and for that unpleasant word the substitution of the phrase, " Brethren of the Exercise."
When Presbyterial government was restored in the Church in 1638 and 1639, Exercises and Presbyteries were held together on the same day and in the same place.
In the oldest extant records of the Presbytery of Ayr — those from 1642 to 1650 — we find that when there was to be an Exercise as well as a Presbytery held, it was commonly minuted, " The Exercise was established in the person of A. B., the first speaker, and of C. D., the second," or " C. D. to add."
While the Exercise was said to be established in the persons of only two speakers, there was an Act of Assembly, passed in 1598, that from its intrinsic reasonableness might be said to be of perpetual standing, which ordained "that every member of the Presbytery study the text whereupon the exercise is to be made." Another clause in the same Act ordained that "ane common head of religion be intreatit every moneth in ilk [each] Presbyterie, both by way of discourse and disputation," or by way of exercise and addition.

Additional Doxologies

I find that creative inspiration comes at strange times.  Our Presbytery last night began with the singing of psalm 23 from Sing Psalms, to the lovely traditional melody,Tarwathie.

For those who like myself would like to see a return to the traditional Scottish Reformed practice of concluding the psalms with a Trinitarian doxology – I like to do so with our opening psalm in public worship – there are not many doxologies in this metre.

Possible doxologies:

All glory to God, Father, Son, Spirit, three
In glorious unity, blessed Trinity,
As was, and is now, and for ever shall be.

Alternatively, adapting a doxology by R. Frederick Crider:

Lift praise to the Father, give thanks to the Son,
And sing to the Spirit in whom we are one,
In whom we are blessed for redemption is won.

What Should Presbyteries Do?

What Should Presbyteries Do?

Today presbyteries conduct business rather than engage in devotional conferences.  Their meetings are formal, governed by parliamentary rules or Robert’s Rules of Order.  Reports, motions, counter-motions, amendments, amendments to amendments are the normal diet at a Presbytery meeting. The business requires the method adopted; decisions are by majority votes rather than consensus.  Prayer is built into the opening devotional exercises or in response to particular reports highlighting specific needs.

However, there is another pattern possible.  This involves not the abandonment of formal business but supplementing it with shared prayer, pastoral care and concern, biblical study and education.  This is a radical idea, but not a novel idea. From the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1639:

Anent the keeping of Presbyteriall meetings, it is thought fit that they be weekly, both in sommer and winter, except in places farre distant, who, during the winter season, (that is, between the first of October and the first of April,) shall be dispensed with for meeting once in the fourteen dayes, and that all absents be censured, especially those who should exercise and adde, according to the act of Assembly 1582, at St. Andrews, April 24, Sess. 12, and that some controverted head of doctrine bee handled in the Presbyterie publickly, and disputed among the brethren every first Presbyterie of the moneth, according to the act of Assembly holden at Dundie, 1598, Sess. 12.

Smaller presbyteries with fewer churches, more frequent meeting, more biblical exploration, more pastoral support – truly radical !