Contending for the faith
I don’t choose to talk about technicalities in the pastoral letter of our Congregational Record. By technicalities, I’m referring to Legislative Acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, namely the Ministers and Deacons in Civil Partnerships Act (Act 1 2015). To even mention such legislation is an instant turn off but, as a congregation of the Church of Scotland, we need to be aware of what has happened and what it means because, however it is ambiguously worded, the General Assembly has chosen to depart from the clear teaching of the Bible on human sexuality in principle and in practice.
The Bible is clear when it comes to God’s design for human sexuality. To sum up, we only ever find negative texts about same sex sexual behaviour. There are no loopholes or exception clauses that allow for the acceptance of homosexual practice. The only kind of sexual relationship that God intends and permits is between one man and one woman in marriage. So there is no provision for sexual activity outside of marriage, whether that be pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex or homosexual sex. Put positively, human sexuality is to be celebrated as a one flesh union between one man and one woman in marriage.
Therefore, why would the highest court of a denomination debate and legislate to revise what the Bible clearly teaches and what the Christian Church has always believed and practised? There should be no need for this because God’s Word is clear. It’s a ‘no-brainer,’ as they say. However, after many years of debate and successive General Assemblies choosing to depart from Biblical truth on this particular issue, the denomination is where it is. So, where are things at and what is the next stage in the process?
The mentioned Act states…
2 (1) The historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality and their application to the ministers and deacons of the Church are hereby affirmed.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, the historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality, their application to the ministers and deacons of the Church and the provisions of this Act are points on which there is liberty of opinion in accordance with Article Declaratory V. Departure from the doctrine of the Church is permitted to this extent.
(3) In recognition of the diversity of views within the Church about the historic and current doctrine and practice of the Church in relation to human sexuality and their application to the ministers and deacons of the Church and in the interests of the peace and unity of the Church, departure from the practice of the Church shall be permitted to Kirk Sessions in terms of sections…
To put it in normal terms, the Act claims in 2 (1) to affirm traditional biblical teaching on human sexuality but in (2) states there are different views so departing from this teaching is allowed for the sake of the peace and unity of the denomination. As a result (3), Kirk Sessions are permitted to opt out from the biblical teaching and call a minister in a same sex relationship.
Practically, Kirk Sessions do this through voting by secret ballot. The wording of the voting paper gives two options, either ‘FOR departure from the Church’s practice in relation to human sexuality in respect of [the current vacancy / the proposed appointment …]’ or AGAINST.
After the above Act was passed at the General Assembly a joint report of the Theological Forum and Legal Questions Committee sought to extend the Act to include Ministers and Deacons in Same Sex Marriages. It was argued that extending the legislation to include same sex marriages: (1) would not endorse same sex marriage; (2) would not involve ministers in the solemnisation of same sex marriage; (3) would not oppose the traditional position of the denomination. The General Assembly voted to send this legislation down to Presbyteries as an Overture under the Barrier Act.
The reason for writing about this now is not because I want to, but because presbyteries are currently in the process of voting to permit same sex marriages within the denomination and we should consider what this means. Presbyteries must vote by 31 December 2015 and Glasgow Presbytery will discuss and vote by secret ballot at its meeting on 8th December. It it goes the same way as the vote last year it will be another defeat for Biblical truth.
The likely acceptance of this Overture at presbyteries and subsequently at the next General Assembly 2016 is deeply disturbing and devastating. This decision will without doubt introduce same sex marriage into the Church of Scotland. It will do so in opposition to the Word of God and even in contradiction to various reports accepted by the General Assembly in recent years (e.g. The Mission and Discipleship Council, on Human Sexuality, GA 2012) and recent presentations to the Scottish Government on same sex marriage (e.g. Legal Questions Committee Convenor submission to Scottish Government, Dec 2012). Interestingly, the above mentioned Mission and Discipleship while affirming traditional marriage, is clear to state that same sex marriage “would constitute a major break with Scripture and church practice through the ages” (5/54, 8.2).
The significance of what is currently happening within our denomination cannot be underestimated. The reality that decisions already made have fractured and divided the denomination as well as the awareness that, even from within, such decisions do constitute a major break between the Church of Scotland and the worldwide Christian Church is not something we can ignore. It would seem that in the courts of the denomination, biblical and theological arguments carry little weight in debates and decisions. It also appears that logical and reasonable arguments make little impact either. What other basis is there on which to argue against decisions that increasingly take a denomination away from God’s Word and its own confessional standards? When such decisions occur at an official level, we are inevitably involved, so it is hard to ignore what is going on.
Not so long ago, the Church of Scotland was promoting a ‘Church without walls’. Given the current debate and permission to depart from biblical teaching, it seems we are becoming a ‘Church without theology’. If you were to take time to read all the relevant reports and legislation on this, it become s clear we are a ‘Church without logic’. It’s in the light of all of this that there is a genuine concern in all of our hearts that we will soon become a ‘Church without people’.
Please do continue to pray for the Church in Scotland, for the voting at presbyteries, and for our elders at Sandyford and other congregations who receive this Record.
We need to be honest and real about what is happening in our day and so reporting the current state of play gives no pleasure. As people who belong to and love the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are chiefly concerned for the glory of God and the building of his kingdom in our beloved land. As I reflect on being your minister for nearly a year, I love our church family, I praise God for what he has been doing and am very excited about what he will do in the future as we seek to faithfully serve him by contending for the faith.
Your minister and friend,
Jonathan de GrootView All Letters