Light in Scots' darkness
At its General Assembly last May, the Church of Scotland took a decision that set a ‘trajectory’ towards recognising same-sex relationships as appropriate for those in leadership in the Church.
This is one of a number of decisions that marks a radical departure from biblical orthodoxy. Evangelicals now find themselves facing in a different direction from the denomination. While technically no decision has been made (a theological commission will report to the General Assembly in 2013), the majority of evangelicals believe that the path is set. The progress of secular legislation through the Scottish Parliament will add further impetus to the liberal agenda.
Following the report in September’s EN, there have been a number of fresh developments. Peter Dickson, who leads the thriving fellowship at High Church Hilton, Aberdeen, resigned as minister on November 30. Peter, along with David Gibson, will become ministers of a new church in Aberdeen, which meets for the first time on December 4 in new premises. It is understood that the vast majority of the present congregation will leave with them.
Another prominent evangelical church in Aberdeen, Gilcomston South, led by Dominic Smart, continues to actively pursue its decision to leave the denomination. Unlike the congregation at Hilton, Gilcomston is looking to leave with its buildings, which is a complex and drawn out process. A number of other ministers have taken the decision to resign, including James Torrens (St. Rollox, Glasgow) and Ivor MacDonald (Staffin, Skye). All of these men are prominent evangelicals, their decisions indicative of the seriousness of the situation. The recently inducted minister in the CofS congregation in Tain, the Rev. Paul Gibson, also resigned over the same issue on November 6.
Many other ministers and churches are in the throes of discerning the best way forward. A number, for example, will look to remain in the denomination pending the formal confirmation of the decision. At that point a significant number will look to separate. Acknowledging that different situations call for different responses, there is a real need for evangelical unity and the Crieff Fellowship, under Martyn Allen’s chairmanship, has an important ongoing role. Whatever tactics are pursued, over whatever time frame, there is the need for clear-headed realism, acknowledging that a line has been crossed which almost certainly cannot be reversed. Compounding the picture is the spiralling financial crisis. Reserves are being rapidly run down, and, if present trends continue, the denomination faces insolvency.
The bigger picture
But the bigger picture in Scotland gives real cause for encouragement.
The East of Scotland Gospel Partnership (EoSGP) held its first annual church planting conference in September with Richard Coekin (head of the Co-Mission network). A number of leaders in Scotland recognise the strategic impact Gospel Partnerships have had in England and want to see similar networks established in Scotland.
UCCF, under Mark Ellis’s leadership, is in good heart in Scotland, with a strong team of staff workers. UCCF has played a key role in breaking through Scottish parochialism (as a patriotic Scot I’m allowed to say that!). No longer out on a limb, Scotland is now part of the UK wide network of UCCF.
Cornhill Scotland is now firmly established under Edward Lobb’s leadership, training an increasing number of gospel workers for Scotland. Strong partnerships are being formed with key training churches running apprenticeship programmes.
An exciting new initiative under the banner of Cornhill Scotland, the Pastor’s Training Course, began this year. Theological study is incorporated as part of the ‘on the job’ training. Andy Gemmill, who started full time in September, is running the course as well as teaching at Cornhill. Other initiatives like the SOLAS Centre for Public Christianity, under the leadership of David Robertson (who, as EN goes to press, is seriously ill and in need of our prayers), and plans for a Scottish Leadership Forum (SLF) modelled on the European Leadership Forum (ELF), will make a significant contribution. At a time of decline in church attendance, many evangelical churches, including a number within the Church of Scotland, are growing and new churches are being planted under the auspices of networks like Reformission Scotland.
While the situation in the Church of Scotland is difficult, there are encouraging signs of strategic gospel progress. At the end of the day, gospel partnership matters just as much as denominational affiliation.
Robin Sydserff is minister of St. Catherine’s Argyle Church of Scotland, Edinburgh.