Friday, June 22, 2012

The great schism...

And so it begins.

On Monday last week, St George's Tron Church in Glasgow formally left the Church of Scotland because of the stance on homosexuality (particularly in the clergy) adopted by the General Assembly of the kirk. This is the first church to leave the CofS over this issue, and I suspect others will join them soon.

This doesn't surprise me. Indeed, what surprises me is that its taken so long. I can distinctly remember having a conversation about this circa 1995 when I was fully expecting things to come to a head over this issue and the breakup of the kirk to begin.

According to Wikipedia, there are at least 62 CofS congregations who are members of the "Fellowship of Confessing Churches" (who have a website, but it seems to be dead at the moment), who are united in their disapproval of the CofS stance on gay clergy. The ministers of many of these churches are also part of the "Crieff Fellowship" (who have almost no web presence, but you can download their sermons here), which is an informal network of 'conservative evangelical' churches in Scotland (mostly, but not exclusively, CofS, I think) which dates back to the golden era of the 1970s when Willie Still was minister of Gilcomston South Church in Aberdeen, Jim Philip was minister in Holyrood Abbey Church in Edinburgh and George Philip was minister in Sandyford Henderson Church in Glasgow.

You'll note the surname Philip is prominent here. Willie Philip (sorry, the Rev Dr William Philip; but I've known him since I was a boy, so he's still 'Willie' in my head), who is minister of St George's Tron is the son of Jim and nephew of George and, I suspect, named after Willie Still.

With St George's Tron leaving the CofS, I think it won't be long until Holyrood, Gilcomston and others have jumped ship too. I'll be interested to see if they form their own new denomination of if they stay independent. Accountability is important to these folks, so I think an organisation will form sooner rather than later.

But are they right to jump ship? I have a whole heap of mixed feelings about this.

I've made several comments on my opinion on the whole homosexuality in the bible debate on this blog in the past (here, here, here and probably elsewhere too) and my opinion hasn't really changed much since I wrote the old posts. So I'm broadly in favour of what the CofS is doing, and broadly against the attitudes of the Fellowship of Confessing Churches.

But (and this is a big but) I am also in broad agreement with what St George's Tron Church have just done, and agree with their reasons for doing it. You see, the CofS has crossed a line in the sand. It has said, in essence, we will allow contemporary culture to guide us in reinterpreting the message of the bible. Of course, they don't say that in so many words, but that's effectively what they are doing.

Changing your stance on an issue is fine, if you can justify why you have changed your stance. But the CofS seems to be changing stance on their opinion on the bible without admitting that they have done this. St. George's Tron have decided not to change their stance, and so they have to part with the CofS. The real issue here, for them, is the attitude to the bible, not the attitude to homosexuality. I approve of the attitude of St George's Tron, even if I no longer hold the bible to be as inspired and foundational as they do.

Anyway, I'll be intrigued to see what the fall out of this split is over the coming months and years.

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