Saturday, 27 July 2013

Post Gay Debate Happenings in the Church of Scotland

A press statement has been issued to the Kirk's magazine, "Life and Work", on a recent gathering of evangelical people within the Church: "New Evangelical Network", Life and Work, August 2013.  This brings the number of large evangelical groupings to a total of 3: The Crieff Fellowship (not strictly Church of Scotland but largely composed of C of S ministers and elders), Forward Together, a group formed to try and mobilise specifically Church of Scotland evangelical ministers for political action within the Kirk, and now, "The Church of Scotland Evangelical Network". The first group has no public profile, does not make press statements, does not see itself as being a locus for power games within the Kirk, and concentrates on being a "fellowship" which promulgates orthodox conservative Biblical teaching. The second however has more in common with the latest group, and leaves me wondering why we need a new group. Perhaps Forward Together had run out of steam, or did not see itself as a group who could unilaterally commit to "remain in the Church of Scotland". The new group does commit to that and to work for the Kirk's reformation and renewal, according to its press release. One of the authors of the release was the Rev Prof Andrew McGowan who was on the Theological Commission whose report on Gay Ministers came before the General Assembly in May.

It is warming to read that a network of 350 and presumably more, are committed to the Kirk's reformation and renewal. Their work will not be hard. At least two things make this sure.

The first is that the decision of the General Assembly to allow congregations so minded to call ministers who are in active gay relationships or are openly gay and not celibate, may well fall anyway as it proceeds down to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act of the Church of Scotland. There are many Presbyteries just waiting for the chance to gun this thing down. A little encouragement from the new network will be well received. Some of the ditherers in the bigger more liberal Presbyteries may likewise be affected by the new lobbyists. If the new Act makes it back to a subsequent General Assembly unscathed, it will be surprising. I think it will be a close run thing, but my money is on the Traditionalist point of view. This influence can therefore be said to favour the traditionalist wing.

The second factor is the decline in the numbers, wealth and influence of the Church of Scotland. Our time as a credible national church of Scotland is running out. We might see the century out if the numbers start to level off from the current decline. Increasingly the church will be reformed and renewed by external circumstances, or to put a more spiritual spin on it, by God using these circumstances. What this reformation will look like in terms of life and worship remains to be seen. Smaller, more flexible, more responsive to people's life patterns and commitments seem to be the key points of influence which most commentators agree on. These things will produce smaller levels of staff, more collegiate and team working over larger areas, more active involvement of voluntary lay people in taking services in homes, halls, and other alternative spaces. They will also change the way services happen and how they are conducted. There will be less control over the theological preferences of each small group. This influence will be neutral with regard to the traditionalist point of view. But it will be a massive influence for reformation and renewal, make no mistake.

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