The broader problem with the Church of Scotland (and the CoE, Baptist Union, Southern Baptists, etc)
“As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another.” as the proverb goes and my thanks go to Mark for his comment on my last blog post about the Tron leaving the Church of Scotland. You can read his comment here; as I thought it over I realized that my joy at seeing the Tron leave the Church of Scotland was not related completely to the homosexual issue but more to an overall objection I have to the Church of Scotland and not just the church of Scotland but the many broad church groupings including Baptist Union, Sothern Baptist, etc ,etc. For the purposes of the post I will concentrate on the CoS though.
I realize that many of my readers may well be in such a denomination and I will try and proceed graciously. My intent is not to stir up trouble but to stir up debate and at the very least force others to think about these issues. This post is not meant in anyway to detract from all the good the Church of Scotland does or to question the godliness or sincerity of evangelical leaders within the CoS.
The heart of my objection is that these church groupings normally consist of an evangelical element alongside a non-Christian/liberal element. Thus we have Christian ministers and non-Christian ministers side by side in the same denomination. And while such occurrences will sadly always be the case in any denomination there is a level of normalcy present in the CoS which should not be there. That is to say, non-Christian ministers should be the exception not a reasonable proportion. Additionally, there are liberals who do not hold to the truths of the gospel as presented to us – the inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitution, the reality of wrath, hell and judgement and yes, the fact that homosexuality is a sin.
Thus in the CoS we have a mismash of light with darkness, the righteous with the unrighteousness. Such a company is not meant to exist. In 2 John 1 then the Apostle John directly talks about ‘deceivers’ those who call themselves brothers to Christ but are not saved and he writes:
“I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.”
2 John 1 v 10 – 11
The challenge facing evangelical churches within the CoS is to explain why if they are not allowed to even welcome such deceivers into their houses and if they do then they become guilty of the very sin the deceivers commit then how can these churches share a denomination with them? The argument could be made that the liberal/non-Christian ministers are not deceivers but if they held to the teachings of Christ they would hold to the fact that homosexuality is a sin, they would hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, the reality of hell and the need for salvation leading to obedience in Jesus Christ; for this is what Christ taught!
As Paul writes (about marriage admittedly but the principle is sound):
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”
2 Corinthians 6 v 14.
Indeed, what fellowship can Christian ministers have with unbelieving ministers? Or again as Paul writes:
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”
Galations 1 v 8 – 9
Again, the challenge is to explain why the evangelical churches want to share a church with those who are under God’s curse. It does not matter who was there first, the liberals or the evangelicals. It does not matter who gets to keep the name of the national church or who it is that ‘leaves’. What matters is that righteousness and wickedness should have nothing in common especially not in a denomination.
Separation is sometimes necessary to preserve the faithful witness of a church. Such separation I believe is necessary in the CoS and that all evangelical churches should not support all the other churches who do not hold to the gospel of Christ. The objection may be raised that it is better for the evangelical church to stand and fight and I would agree, stand and fight for Christ! But do so from a position not of compromise but of faithfulness – the command to uphold the gospel and the command to separate out from deceivers have both to be obeyed. To separate and not fight is wrong; to fight and not separate is equally wrong.
There is a reason why the Protestants left the Catholic church – they saw that such a separation was necessary and that working from the inside just doesn’t work. History attests to the fact that their witness was not diminished as a result! The great clarion call of the gospel to be united with Christ, not with those who do not know Christ.
There may be those who say that to have such a denomination is not possible but I would argue that there are Presbyterian denominations within Scotland where every church in it is a living and faithful witness to Christ. I’m sure these denominations have their disagreements but they are not trying to work with those who do not have Christ, they do not have to work with deceivers, they work in denominations where all the churches are united and faithful. Is this not to be greatly desired?
I’m sure there are those who would say that this issue is not as black and white as I make it out to be. But in response I would say that obedience is always black and white – either we obey or we do not. The choice that faces the evangelical churches is a simple one: submit to and obey the verses above or don’t.
The debate about homosexuality in the CoS is merely a natural reflection of what happens when light and darkness are forced together. Even if the debate is won then for how long? What will next fall under discussion? How long before the church tears itself apart as righteousness and wickedness collide? Separation would be the act of love and end bitter years of inner conflict before they go on too long.
I will stress again that I greatly respect many churches and many Christians in the CoS but I believe in this area they need to be called to account. Indeed, my heart is moved within me by the thought that they might continue to be united with deceivers and those who do not preach the gospel given to us. And yes, I long for the day when this issue would be no more and every pulpit of the land resounds with sound biblical teaching and faithfulness. But while that has yet to happen there is the command of Scripture to obey – to separate from those who call themselves brothers but do not have the gospel we hold so dear.