Departure from the Word of God
I write this in the light of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland 2015. The Assembly decided to permit those in same sex relationships to serve as ministers. This is to depart from the clear teaching of the Bible. A statement of the facts and a response from the Sandyford Kirk Session can be found later in this record.
I watched the General Assembly debate of this issue online on Saturday 16 May. We had been praying for the Assembly and for the debate but the vote for Biblical truth was lost at the highest court of the Church of Scotland. I struggle to believe that this would be an issue up for debate in the first place, given the clarity of the teaching of the Bible on these matters (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 2:20-24; Genesis 19; Judges 19; Leviticus 18:22; Leviticus 20:13; Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:9-10).
As I continued to watch online on Thursday 21 May, the whole debate became farcical when there was a push from the Theological Form and Legal Questions convenors to extend the provision to permit those in Civil Partnerships to serve as ministers to those who are in same sex marriage. It was argued that the extension of the Civil Partnership Act to include those in a same sex marriage was not an endorsement of same sex marriage!
This reminded me of one of our favourite family stories, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Hans Christian Andersen. You know how it goes - two swindlers pretending to be weavers promise the Emperor a beautiful new set of clothes. They claim they’re invisible to those who are incompetent and unfit for their job. The Emperor thinks it’s a brilliant idea and gives the swindlers vast sums of money and the finest silk and purest gold thread. Then he sends his men in to inspect their work but they couldn’t see anything, yet they didn’t want to admit their foolishness, so told the Emperor his clothes were great. Then the Emperor goes on a procession through the streets and all the people say how beautiful the Emperor’s new clothes are because nobody wanted to admit they were foolish. But then it takes a child to say, “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” Then everybody realises he’s got nothing on. The Emperor is upset because he knows it’s true but he still carries on with the procession anyway, in his underwear. So the swindlers had managed to deceive everybody. They spoke utter nonsense but they successfully managed to delude the Emperor, the Emperor’s men and all the people in the kingdom. They were all taken in, led on, duped, fooled, hoodwinked until a little child spoke the blatantly obvious truth.
So while our General Assembly has spent six years debating back and forth, talking about ‘revisionists’ and ‘traditionalists’, ‘Special Commissions’, ‘Theological Commissions’, a ‘Theological Forum’, ‘Presbytery consultations’, ‘Barrier Acts’, ‘trajectories’, ‘moratoriums’, ‘overtures’, ‘motions’ and ‘counter motions’, ‘legal questions’, ‘civil partnerships’ and ‘same sex marriages’, ‘mixed economy’ and ‘constrained difference’, the truth is clearly written in the Bible and anyone who can read can be in no doubt about what God says. God makes it perfectly clear what we are to believe and how we are to live. Yet, it is distressing when so many fail to see things for what they really are, just like those who were taken in by the emperors’s new clothes. The words of a new believer sum this up well. Perplexed as to why the denomination would even be discussing this matter, she said, “What God says is clear, so surely there is no need to be talking about it.”
As we seek to respond to all of this, we need to respond in a Biblical way, with Biblical reasoning and Biblical arguments. Sadly, it seems that the clear teaching of the Bible no longer has the authority to win a debate within the General Assembly. However, the words of Jude could not be more relevant to the current situation. We read Jude as a Kirk Session before we discussed these matters together. What we see in Jude is a similar, but far more deadly deception than the emperor’s new clothes. There were false teachers who were leading people astray in the early church. They had successfully managed to infiltrate the church and people were clearly being taken in by them. The risk for any local church or mainline denomination is the failure to deal with false teaching or to be blind to what exactly is going on, just like the emperor’s new clothes. But even if we do spot what is going on, then we must do something about it. This is what Jude had to spell out for his readers. That’s why Jude says…
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (v3).
Jude was eager to write about the salvation they shared together. However, because of the danger the early Christians were in, his immediate concern was to urge his readers to contend for the faith. The early Church (yes, EARLY Church) had to contend for the apostolic faith because it didn’t take long for some within the community to depart from it. That’s why urgent action needed be taken to deal with this threat. The word for ‘contend’ is the word we get our word ‘agonize’ from. It’s got the sense of straining and struggling, so the picture is of a fight with every effort being made to win. So Jude is saying that we are to exert this effort for the faith.
When he talks about ‘faith’, he’s not talking about our faith. Jude is talking about the faith we believe, which is the apostolic faith, that known and received body of truth about Jesus and salvation through him. This faith was not thought up but was revealed by God to the apostles, who then handed it down to the Church. So the faith is unique and unchanging. That’s why the faith needs to be preserved and defended against error and why it is such a dangerous thing to revise it. Any such attempt is to depart from it.
I love the advertising of the watchmaker Patek Philippe, where there’s a picture of a dad wearing an amazing watch and he’s doing something with his son. The slogan says… “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” The idea is that the watch is so good that you’ll pass it on to your children, that you’ve been entrusted with it and are responsible for looking after it for them. That’s why we must contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. It must be preserved and defended so that it can be passed on. We don’t own the faith, nor should we dare attempt to change it. It is our responsibility to keep it and pass it on.
So if we are to contend for the faith as God, in His Word through Jude, urges us, then it will involve opposing any departure from “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” for the sake of God, His honour and the witness of His Church. I suspect we are now being required to do this in a way that we’ve never had to before. We must do this with much prayer and with dependence on God.
Your minister and friend
Jonathan de GrootView All Letters