Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Kirk - An Outsider Looking In

I'm deeply saddened by the goings on in the Church of Scotland. Reading an absolutely cracking article in today's Scottish Daily Mail by John MacLeod helped crystallise my thoughts on the issues.

1. Carl Trueman is right, this was not the hill to die on. A long history of compromising on the plain teaching of Scripture, e.g. female ordination, left the evangelicals with little weight when they finally stood up on this issue. As Ligon Duncan once said, if there was a text in Scripture that plainly stated "You shall not baptise an infant" the paedobaptist debate would never have taken place. Yet we have such a text regarding female ordination (1 Tim. 2:12) and we either produce exegetical back flips to make it say the opposite, or simply crap all over the text by accusing Paul of misogyny to justify the canonising of our cultural sensibilities. If a church is willing to do that with 1 Timothy 2:12, why not do the same with Romans 1:18-32 or 1 Corinthians 6:9 in relation to homosexual practice?

2. Affirming the 'substance' of the Westminster Standards isn't enough. There are debates over how individuals should subscribe the standards. Does one subscribe the standards 'in so far' (quatenus) as that individual believes them to be biblical, or should one only subscribe to the standards if one can do so without mental reservation, i.e. because (quia) they are biblical? Which view is more honouring to Scripture? At first glance, quatenus seems more honouring. Surely refusing to let a confession dictate to us what we believe to be the teaching of Scripture helps to esteem that Scripture as the ultimate court in one's own mind. Yet it is only when you observe how allowing for confessional 'wiggle room' works out in practise that we see the devastating effects of such an approach. Every man becomes his own pope and maverick self-absorbed spirituality abounds.

Is it not a little wiser (and pragmatic) to say that we distrust our own lust for novelty and 'fresh' readings of Scripture due to the fact that our hearts are desperately sick and beyond cure? (Jer. 17:9) Is it not a little more honouring to the Spirit and the sacred text to affirm doctrinal standards that were thrashed out in community, standards around which there was remarkable unity?

3. If evangelical ministers are serious about a united Reformed witness in Scotland, would it not be expedient for them to surrender their own mental reservations to a quia subscription for the greater good? Would finding fellowship with brothers and sisters in the Free Church of Scotland really be that bad? Would ecclesiastical unity with those who confess the historic, Reformed, catholic practice of exclusive Psalmody and unaccompanied singing be much worse than unity with the sexually immoral and liberals? You decide.

4. 'Evangelical' is a meaningless term in this country. If one may affirm female ordination and homosexual practice, while harbouring doubts about penal substitutionary atonement and still retain the label 'conservative evangelical' then I'm a cessationist charismatic.

5. In seeking to be relevant the CofS is desperately irrelevant. It's now a sad, dead institution overrun by liberals and idiots who care more about keeping the on the good side of the liberal media (who never attend their churches anyway). The good men, like Willie Phillip and Ivor Macdonald are pilloried as homophobic fundamentalists. In seeking to be compassionate and relevant for a modern Scotland, the CofS has finally and arrogantly broken with the moral teaching of the 'one holy catholic church' passed down over two millennia. They are out of step even with Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome.

6. Why do those who sit in judgement on the Scriptural text have any desire to enter the ministry? I suspect much of it is the lifestyle i.e. nice salary, no mortgage, etc. You get the impression that for many of them their vocation was a toss up between ministry in the Kirk and signing up for the RSPCA to help labradors with thorns in their paws. Please, please, if God's law in Scripture is offensive to you, give the ministry a miss. You're messing with the mighty Christ who bought his church with the price of his blood. If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him (or her) (1 Cor. 3:17) Scott Rennie is an evil man, let's make no bones about it. As winsome and likeable as he comes across to some, he is thumbing his nose at the living God. May God have mercy on him.


Danny said...
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Josiah said...

If Evangelicals in the COS who hold to Womens ordination (contra 1Timothy) are disturbed the upholding of the ordination of a homosexual, then they would do well to re-examine their hermeneutic.

Nick Mackison said...

Dear Danny,
I know what I wrote was offensive to you and, believe me, that brings me no joy, only grief.

Nevertheless, I have to take issue with your comments.

First, you credit God with 'stopping you in your tracks' and 'relentlessly' drawing you into the ordained ministry. This phrase highlights much of the problem in the CofS. Everyone is claiming divine sanction for their experiences, impulses and thoughts. As the good ol' Pharisees asked, by what authority do you do this?

To many it seems passe that God has already inscripturated his opinion on the matter; as long as I have an experience, or read providence differently or embrace a hermenuetic that allows me to follow my dreams, then the Holy Spirit must be doing a new thing, and the Lord has changed his mind.

Second, there are indeed certain areas of life that are grey areas, but ordaining a practising homosexual or a woman is not one of them. To suddenly declare these as grey areas seems to suit the zeitgeist-meisters but it does not square with God's word.

Third, I'm pretty relieved that you don't answer to me. I'm an idiot with my own sins weighing me down. There was enough sin in my heart as I wrote that blog post for God to condemn me to hell for eternity, but praise Him for Romans 8:1-3! I am not your judge, but in this world, the church of God is your judge. After all, the apostle did command us to judge those inside the church. In failing to execute Scriptural discipline and judgement, the CofS has de-churched herself, blasphemed Christ and sinned against evangelical brothers and sisters the world over.

Anyhow, what sort of friend would I be if I didn't speak my mind? I'm glad you feel free to speak it with me. That's a good basis for friendship is it not?

Danny said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick Mackison said...

As you would suspect, I disagree that God changes his mind. If we take that view, we can have absolutely no assurance of the trustworthiness of Scripture. For instance, what if God changes his mind on justification by faith alone? Will I have to wait until the next GA to find out if he has?

BTW, can you give me any examples where God changes his mind on his moral imperatives? I don't see any.

This view really saws off the brach upon which we sit. How does one know anything about Christ, the church, the Holy Spirit, justification, etc? How does one build a theology? Through the sacred text of course. Without it, we would know nothing. So how do we decide which bits to chuck away? What infallible, extra-biblical source should we turn to? The GA I suppose?

And contrary to what many assert, Paul was not pro-slavery, at least not in the kidnapping Africans and carrying them off to be used and abused sense. That is just sheer historical anachronism used to justify taking a pair of scissors to texts we just don't like.

If Paul was such an ignorant misogynist, writing flawed documents, I'm really not interested in anything he has to say. That's why I don't understand liberalism. It presumes to have greater wisdom than the biblical writers and patronises our fathers in the faith as unsophisticated muppets who had an experience not unlike ours, an experience which we can interpret better than them.

Danny, you can't compare your 'call' to the apostle's Damascus road encounter. Did you see the risen Christ? Did you hear his audible voice booming in your ear? Or are you interpreting your own life's providence and elevating it to an encounter just like Paul's?

The liberal view of Scripture will help no one, save no one and shut the kingdom of God in people's faces. Ultimately it is an offense to God. It might create a nice little social action club and help old ladies find an outlet for brewing cups of tea, but it will not withstand God's scrutiny in the great day.

I repeat, I hate offending people. Nevertheless, I love Christ and his church more than keeping the peace. As Machen asserted, liberal Christianity is another religion. The fact that it's invaded the Kirk and strangled biblical faith is a tragedy.