ELF Poland – Day 1 – May 29th 2015

The European Leadership Forum (ELF) is something that I have been to several times.  I have usually found it encouraging and helpful. It is a gathering of some 700 church leaders mainly from throughout Europe – although there is a significant American presence as well (especially amongst the organisers and the volunteer staff who run it) .  It has been a great place for Solas to meet with people and to share the work we are doing – so this year we decided to send a full team.  David Harnett (admin), Phil Dickson (intern), Al Smith (media), Tom Courtney (Europe Director) and yours truly as a speaker/seminar leader are the team.
Tom Courtney and I set of at 8am for Edinburgh airport with suitcases that we feared would be overweight because each of the Solas participants is taking their share of 500 Solas magazines and a similar number of leaflets and books.  Edinburgh airport, after its revamp, is now the most efficient airport I have been in – we sped through customs and security, even though it was very busy.  Our first flight was to Amsterdam with KLM – as always the Dutch staff were civil, efficient and helpful (United take note!).  Even though we only had a 40 minute changeover in Amsterdam and had to go from one end of that massive airport to the other, we made our connecting flight to Krakow.  I was sure they could not have got our luggage in that time, but I was wrong – it duly turned up on the conveyor belt.
Both the plane to Amsterdam and the one to Krakow were populated by noisy groups.  The former by a hen party of Glaswegians hens (complete with the obligatory pink sashes) who sounded as though they were speaking Dutch. The words sounded vaguely familiar and some of them I even recognised but I couldn’t make sense of what they were saying. The second flight was dominated by a group of Dutch men – who like the Scots, are hardly the most shy and retiring of peoples!    When I got off at Krakow I made a mistake and trod on a young Polish womans toe – I mumbled an apology which she clearly did not hear and she accosted my on the bus to the terminal and gave me a row.  She was quite right.
We then went to our host church – a small congregation with a clearly vibrant witness, where we heard Adam Broughton of Kirkcaldy speak with a translator for two sessions – which made it a long night.  At the end we got some food – some fabulous herring on a piece of bread, fruit sticks with grape, banana and oranges (a combination that worked really well) and above all, that Polish speciality – sausages!  One young man boasted to me of how even the Germans acknowledge that Polish sausage is the best in the world!
We are here because I had met some Polish pastors in Scotland and they asked us to come and speak at their conference.  We couldn’t really do so but given that we were coming to ELF anyway we agreed to speak tomorrow and then go on to ELF a day late. I am now in my (our) room in the church, a creche that doubles as a guest room, traffic roaring past the window.    I love doing these things but I much prefer being in my own bed – and I am already homesick for Annabel and EJ…I find it difficult to go a day without speaking to them.  Perhaps also sharing a room with Tom makes me more homesick!
The time on the plane was not wasted – I finished reading The Handbook for Young Atheists and continued to write my review (watch this space).  It was quite sad and depressing. But nothing compared to what I felt as we were driven to our destination by Yannick, a Polish lily grower.   We are very close  to Auschwitz – and driving through the woods and the greenery really gets to me.  In fact a black wave of depression came over me.   The evil is beyond comprehension.  The thought cannot but strike you –  Lord how could you allow this?  There are not many alternatives.  According to the philosophy of the Young Atheists Handbook, humans just did this ourselves -and ultimately the blackness cannot matter.  Atoms we are, and to atoms we shall return.  I suppose it is logically possible that there is a God who is cruel and capricious or there is a God who is cruel and capricious and does not care.  Or that there is a God who cares but he cannot do anything about it and therefore is useless. And then I saw a crucifix at the side of the road and I realised that there is a better alternative.   There is  a God who does care and who has dome something – the cross speaks of a horror even worse than Auschwitz and a hope that is great enough even to overcome that Blackness.  There is a bigger picture – slaughter, sin, death and disease on a massive scale throughout the world, every year – not just during the Second World War.  But the cross also speaks of a far greater Light – it is an atonement for sin, a cure for pain, a door to a world where there will be no more sin,suffering and sickness.   Ultimately the atheist has no solution for Auschwitz.  The Christian on the other hand comes through the darkest pain and the deepest blackness and is able to say – ‘there is good news – even for young atheists”.  And with that thought I head to bed….

After Sleepwalking Where Culture Leads, is the Church Finally Waking up?

The following article appeared on the Christian Today website on Monday –

http://www.christiantoday.com/article/the.irish.referendum.scottish.church.assembly.ulster.bakery.and.the.english.politician/54688.htm

Did you hear the one about the Irish referendum, the Scottish Church Assembly, the Ulster bakery and the English politician?

Let’s start with the Church of Scotland General Assembly. Last week was for me an incredible week. I was installed as Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly but in reality all eyes were over the road at the much larger Church of Scotland Assembly. After voting to allow ministers in same sex civil partnerships the Kirk had to decide what to do with the anomaly of those in same sex marriages. By a narrow margin the Assembly voted to permit SSM for ministers (although somewhat bizarrely holding to the teaching that SSM is wrong – thus ending up with the ludicrous position that ministers cannot conduct SSMs but can be in them!), and then by a narrow margin they voted to pass it down to Presbyteries under what is called the Barrier Act. This in effect means that if a majority of Presbyteries vote yes it will come back to next year’s Assembly for final ratification. The evangelicals were disappointed although only 79 out of 730 recorded their dissent – (it was interesting that many of those were women). But then something strange happened. The former moderator proposed a motion that in effect meant that ministers already in same sex marriages would be protected from discipline. Commissioners were puzzled. SSM is against the law of the Kirk and until recently was against the law of the land. Why was this successful motion necessary? The reason became apparent the following day when the news broke that the gay minister who had started the whole argument back in 2009 had been ‘married’ back in December. Although some of the evangelicals stated that they would stay on to fight it is unclear what they can actually do. In a church in which the liberals can just ignore church discipline and those who dare to uphold biblical principles will be disciplined, it’s game set and match.

The secular media has largely welcomed the decisions of the Church of Scotland. Is this not after all a church catching up with society? That view was further reinforced by the Irish referendum result. A result that, while indicative of the social revolution going on in some parts of the world, still amazed me. Not because the ‘Yes’ vote won, that was a foregone conclusion, but because it was so close. Close? Is 62-38% close? Indeed it is when you remember that only 60 per cent of the electorate actually voted. I had expected an 80/20 split on a higher turnout. Why? Because the Irish media, the Irish political parties (who even enforced a whip on it), the Irish celebrities (from Daniel O’Donnell to U2), the Irish Police and the global silicon valley corporations (Google, Twitter and eBay all put their considerable weight behind the Yes campaign. Even the Psychological Society of Ireland got in on the act by warning that the arguments of the No campaign could cause psychological harm. With the Catholic Church being sidelined because of its dreadful and disgraceful record it is astonishing that 40 per cent of those who voted, voted no, and 40 per cent of the electorate didn’t vote at all. But of course this has not stopped the general hysteria about the advancement of the new progressive secular utopia coming upon us all. And the intolerance that goes along with it. The wonderful Marxist writer Brendan O’Neill was one of the few voices sounding a warning.

Reuters
Tim Farron is the bookies’ favourite to be the next Lib Dem leader.

But the pressure to conform to the new absolutist morality is incredible. The favourite to become the new Lib-Dem leader, Tim Farron, is a Christian. Unfortunately for him he committed the blasphemy against the Holy State, by abstaining on the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill. He has had to repent in public, take the sackcloth and apologise. It was depressing to listen to Farron and another Christian politician (Nicky Morgan) speaking on Question Time about the Ashers bakery case and in effect joining in with the baying mob and the vacuous statements of the other politicians.

Speaking of Ashers, at the end of a tiring week, I was asked to speak on the Stephen Nolan show on BBC Radio 5 Live on the subject. After a tough session it was incredible the level of vitriol and abuse I received: “You’re a villain. You are anti-love. You’re a homophobic Christian scumbag…” and so on.  

And it didn’t end there. Steve Chalke dropped his call for a balanced and respectful dialogue and tweeted this:

Ireland’s people vote in favour of Same Sex Marriage. The angels rejoice! God’s love triumphs! Another dimension of oppression is ended!

Thus putting all those who disagree with him in the camp of the oppressors and himself on the side of the angels. I’m not quite sure that it is the angels who are rejoicing that God’s creation have told him that he got it wrong!

Meanwhile the SSM thought police were keeping their watchful eye everywhere. Even the winner of the Eurovision song contest Måns Zelmerlöw has been forced to repent of some anti-SSM remarks he made in the past. What happens at a macro national level, is repeated at a micro local level. On Sunday evening a local level teacher asked me what to do because he was being compelled to show a pro-SSM video to children and thought he could lose his job if he refused.

And then it gets really personal. Friends and family (Christian and non-Christian) use social media to express their support for SSM and get furious, angry and hurt when you dare to suggest you don’t agree. Immediately they accuse you of being ‘unloving’ and start citing verses about ‘peace and unity’. I found it incredible how many people sent me ‘love wins’ messages that were themselves so full of hatred and abuse. It seems that the rainbow flag really only has one colour. Churches are split and confused as the devil has a field day.

Which brings me back to the Free Church General Assembly. It was smaller, quieter, more understated than its big brother. It was harmonious, warm and encouraging – even with difficult decisions to make. And we did not ignore the pressing issues of today. In my moderator’s address I spoke of the wider situation in church and society.

It is clear that there is a sifting going on in church and society in the UK. As indicated above the church is coming under enormous pressure to compromise and fit in with the new secular establishment ‘morality’. I spoke of the need of those of us who refuse to bow the knee to Baal or Caesar to stick together, whatever the denomination and proclaim that Jesus is Lord, whatever the consequences. Twenty years ago I am pretty sure that my message would have been received in either stony silence or with polite applause. This year it received an unprecedented standing ovation. Maybe a small indication that the Church is waking up….?

David Robertson is the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. Follow David on Twitter.

What Would Jesus Do? (about SSM)

I have been issued a most interesting challenge. One of the Secular Scotland regulars (lets just call him Mark), and a frequent stalker and reader of this blog posted the following several times: ‘what would Jesus do?”.   The question is not really a question, but more of an accusation along the lines of, ‘you claim to be a follower of Christ, and yet you do not do what Jesus would do”.   Christians often pose the same question/accusation. For example in the SSM debate, it is presupposed that because Jesus is all about love then he would be perfectly happy with SSM and even if he wasn’t, he would be very nice about it. Or in the other instance this week I was asked what would Jesus do about abuse?    Although it is meant as an accusation I take the question very seriously and so let me answer it terms of both of these instances.

Lets examine the question first. My answer sometimes is – ‘I don’t know’.   I don’t know if Jesus would be on social media discussing SSM. I don’t know how he would respond in every instance. I don’t know everything about Jesus and am not able to predict the way he would behave. So in that sense the question does not make a whole lot of sense to me. It is usually an accusation made by those who are absolutely certain that Jesus would behave in the way they want him to. I don’t share that confidence.

What I do know is what he wouldn’t do. Jesus would never sin. He would never go against his Father’s Word or law. He came to fulfill it, not to destroy it. I know that he comes to save and not to condemn and yet he still calls sin, sin. I know that Jesus was gentle and mild, but he was not ‘nice’. He spoke the truth bluntly – especially to religious and political leaders.   He didn’t play politics, or do back room deals. And he was incredibly radical, pointing out that following him was a cross and that anyone who wanted to had better forget popular acclaim and instead be ready for persecution. The way they treated him, is the way they will treat his followers.

My question for guidance is not ‘what would Jesus do?’, but ‘what does Jesus want me to do? How does he want me to behave?”. And how do I know what he means me to do? I fear that far too many Christians just make up their own personal image of Jesus and then base their behavior and actions on that Jesus made in their own image. So ‘what would Jesus want me to do?” in reality means ‘what do I think my ideal person would do in this situation?”. I can’t live like that. Not with that degree of both certainty and uncertainty. Certainty because people seem very sure of themselves, and uncertainty because it is de facto a false surety that can easily be shaken.

This is how I know what Jesus wants me to do. I listen to what he says. I don’t go by dreams, feelings, church traditions, latest research, friends, family, fashion, majority opinion, or what society says. Ultimately my authority for knowing what Jesus wants me to do is simply his Word. What the Bible says, Jesus says.   “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God man be thoroughly equipped in every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16).

I have the surer and certain word of God to tell me what Jesus wants me to do. So lets apply that in the two situations mentioned above:

Firstly Same Sex Marriage. Those who make up their own version of Jesus (based upon their own personal feelings, experiences and what the society, both church and wider, say) will come up with something like – ‘my Jesus is a God of love, who would let people do whatever they want, as long as they didn’t harm others. He never said anything about homosexuality and he would want us all to be nice to each other, even when we disagree. Peace, love and unity, that’s what its all about”.

Although that sounds great, I find it to be both incredibly arrogant and incredibly judgmental. It basically amounts to saying “this is what I think is good and therefore God must agree with me”. I’m afraid that I don’t trust myself, or my society, or my feelings that much. So I go to the Word of God and what do I find?

I find that Jesus always speaks about marriage as being between a man and a woman. That he never speaks at, or hints of, it being anything other. I find that Jesus was concerned to protect and proclaim marriage and to denounce sexual sin. I find that he offered himself so that people could be forgiven those sins – whether it was the polygamous Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well, or the prostitutes who heard him gladly. I find that Jesus was so concerned about children that he said those who caused them to stumble would have been better off not being born.   Jesus was furious with the ‘bible teachers’ who twisted and abused his Father’s Word, whilst claiming to love it. I also note that Jesus did not think that in order to be a fulfilled human being we have to be sexually active.   What would Jesus do? He would stand up for Gods Word, he would defend marriage, he would cry out against the corrupt human authorities (whether political or religious) who think they can just make up rules to suit themselves, he would stand up to the mob mentality and he would graciously, lovingly and strongly expose the darkness and bring the light. How do I know that? Because he already did it!

What does he want me to do?   He wants me to teach and live his Word; to proclaim the year of liberation and freedom for those trapped in sexual sin and guilt; to confess my own sin; to challenge the powers and authorities; to lovingly and gently challenge Christians who want to back away from, or indeed distort, His own teaching, to speak up for the poor…and never ever to compromise for the sake of my own safety or popularity. I am called to teach His Word, not mine.

But lets turn to the other subject – what would Jesus ask me to do about the abuse and vitriol I often receive. Maybe I deserve it? Maybe I should reciprocate in kind? Maybe I should despair and give in? Maybe I should give myself a big pity party? Sometimes I do find it overwhelming. There was one day when five of the top eight threads on Secular Scotland were devoted to attacking me (although quite what this has to do with secularism still escapes me!)…and then in the context of this question came the following gems last weekend- these are actual quotes from the Secular Scotland website and my own blog.

I’m aware of a group of evangelical Christians in Glasgow who despise the damage DAR is doing to their church and image. Mention his name and watch the eyes roll.

 add to that an awful lot of folk in the Church of Scotland, 121 George Street included, who mourn the damage he is doing to Christianity. 

“All bigots should be spat on and abused. Racists, misogynists and others miscreants were likewise forced to keep their views to themselves and from polite society. “

“I’m looking forward to shutting up their ‘free’ speech”

“Hate filled, anti-love, Christian bigot”

do they also think he’s a passive aggressive sociopath by any chance?

Let me put it this way, we’ve had some pros in this field making comments.

I was called a retard and when I complained about the abuse to one of the SS intelligentsia responded by saying ‘now you disagree with someone and you call it abuse” before going on to link Christianity and me with abuse!   The ‘logic’ being ‘some RC priests have been guilty of child sexual abuse, they are Christian. You are Christian. Therefore you are guilty of child sexual abuse”. It’s all pretty ugly.

 And there is a Christian version of this. The above is what we would call aggressive/aggressive. The Christian version is usually passive/aggressive.   Christians will talk about love, post a few verses and implicitly tell you (and the world) that they are loving in contrast to you. They usually don’t have to guts to say it out loud, but it’s all there. It’s neither speaking the truth, nor is it done in love. The worst of course are the people who tell you they love you to your face but gossip about you behind your back.

So back to the question. What should I, or indeed you or anyone else caught in this kind of situation, do? What would Jesus want us to do?

He wants us to love our enemies. To pray for their forgiveness and salvation. To weep, love, pray, challenge, preach and call for repentance. He wants us to take the beam out of our own eyes and to realize that there but for the grace of God go I.   He wants us to recognize that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of darkness. He wants us to gently instruct those who oppose us. He wants us not to take it personally but to realize that their hatred is primarily a hatred of him, not us. Sometimes he wants us to be silent. To turn the other cheek and to walk away. Sometimes he wants us to speak out for His glory, or for the defence of others. Sometimes he want us to speak in the still small whisper, sometimes he wants us to shout from the rooftops. He wants us to seek our identity, security and comfort in him, not in ourselves, our reputations or in our detractors or supporters.  He wants us to warn with all the power, compassion and grace we can muster, that one day all these abusers will stand before the throne of judgment and give account for every ill word spoken. He wants us to be like Noah, preaching righteousness and judgment in a world that laughs at the very concepts. He wants us to look to him and to realize that he will never leave us nor forsake us. Why should we fear what man (or woman) can do?

Do I do what Jesus would do? No. Not always. Many times I don’t know what he would do and even when I do I of course do not have his pure and perfect holy love. I am nowhere near him. Do I do what Jesus wants me to do? Sometimes. But many times I don’t. I am sinful. Far worse than I or anyone else can really perceive. I often get things wrong, say the wrong things, make the wrong judgment or speak with the wrong tone. Sometimes I walk away when I should stand and fight. Sometimes I rush into battle when I should walk away. But that is where the wonderful good news comes in. Because it is not about me. It is about Christ. And isn’t it wonderful that he just keeps on forgiving? That is what the cross is all about. “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners cleansed beneath that flood, lose all their guilty stains”.

 My Christianity is not based upon ‘you had better do what Jesus would do” – my faith is based upon what he has done. He didn’t come to give me an example. He came to give me a new life. The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me. So that now my question is not the fearful, ‘Lord what would you do ’, but rather the loving, “Lord you did all that for me, now I am free to serve you….what do you want me to do?’

And our Jesus is so encouraging and gracious – not only do we get forgiveness, new life, eternal life – we also get His Spirit, he feeds us His Word and he encourages us through his people. Notes, letters, fellowship, phone calls, hugs, prayers…the people of God can be such great fellow soldiers. We are all in it together. We experience many tokens of grace and ‘refreshings’ as we go on the way. Last Sunday in the midst of the battle I was ‘in the Spirit on the Lords Day’. In other words I was worshipping and sharing communion and Gods word with the Lords people at St Peters. It was sweet encouraging fellowship.    Last Monday as I was overwhelmed by all that was happening, this is what He gave me:

Firstly from the Book of Common Prayer: “O God, who knowest us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright; Grant to us such strength and protection, as may support us in all dangers, and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

And then from the Psalms: Psalm 27.

The LORD’s my saviour and my light— who will make me dismayed. 

The LORD’s the stronghold of my life—  why should I be afraid?

  When evildoers threaten me to take my life away,

 My adversaries and my foes will stumble in that day.

Although an army hems me in, my heart will feel no dread;

Though war against me should arise,I will lift up my head.

One thing I’ll plead before the LORD, and this I’ll seek always:

That I may come within God’s house and dwell there all my days—

That on the beauty of the LORD I constantly may gaze,

And in his house may seek to know direction in his ways.

 For in his dwelling he will keep me safe in troubled days;

Within his tent he’ll shelter me,  and on a rock me raise.

 So Mark…the answer to your accusation ‘ what would Jesus do?’ is I don’t know…but I know what he has done and on that I base and stack my life. Now it’s my turn. On what or whom do you base your life? (and that is not an accusation but a genuine question in the hope that you will see without Christ you have nothing, but with him you have everything….why would you refuse such a Saviour?).

Having your Cake and Eating It – A response to Stephen J. Graham’s polemic on the Ashers Case

I want to add an explanation here for the following article.  I don’t normally respond to personal articles or comments attacking me – but this one was different.  Last week was an intense and tough week and it was not helped by being asked to write (at midnight) a comment on the Ashers case, which I had been following.  I did so and was then attacked. as I expected to be, but this time by a fellow Christian – an academic philosopher/theologian from Northern Ireland.  Not only did he accuse me of ignorance, but he boasted about the brilliance of his own response, tweeted it to an official of the National Secular Society and even hassled me for not responding whilst I was at the Assembly.  I was going to leave it mainly because I regarded his article as missing the point, nit picking and really quite arrogant and smug.  However by the end of the week I was absolutely sick of Christians who snipe away and who,  although they don’t shoot their fellow Christians, see no problems in giving our enemies the bullets to shoot us.   Stephen is clearly an intelligent, thoughtful Christian, and although I have no knowledge of him, nor anything personal against him,  I have no reason to doubt he is a throughly nice chap.  But he is in an academic ivory tower, handing out advice and making great presumptions about his own ability.  I’m on the front line – getting battered all the time.  I don’t have the time or the inclination (or the ability) for these comfortable middle class academic games.  The church is under fierce attack (and its going to get a lot worse).  The Ashers, a lovely young Christian family, have been put under enormous pressure.  The last thing they, or we, need is this kind of academic playing games,whilst we are engaged in what is a spiritual warfare.  I found Stephen’s article offensive, arrogant and totally off the point (which was that the law is unequal and discriminates against Christians).  When someone boasts about his own ‘robust’ response and accuses me of ignorance and falsehood, then I’m sorry I will oppose them to their face.  If it is too strong for some tastes I apologise.  But I am genuinely fed up of this constant sniping….the notion that Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, etc would ever have endorsed Christians bowing the knee to Caesar in this way is for me ludicrous. I pray the Lord would forgive me if I am wrong but as I long as I have this understanding all I can say is – God help me. I can do no other. 

– a further note to the above note.  I made a comment which was out of order and completely wrong.  I assumed that because Stephen is a philosopher/theologian that he was a middle class academic living in an ivory tower.  It turns out that that assumption was wrong.  Stephen is a working class man from the Shankhill.   I leave the remark there just to demonstrate to people how stupid I can be at times, and how not to do or say things.  I should not make such assumptions. I was wrong and I unreservedly apologise to Stephen for that and hope I can learn from my mistakes.  The rest of the comments and article still stand.  And I  wish Stephen all the best.

Having your Cake and Eating It

I knew that after writing the article on the Asher’s case,

https://theweeflea.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/bake-me-a-cake-and-mark-it-with-b-for-bigot/

it would not be long before a Christian apologist for the New Order would pop up.  Sure enough I was almost immediately tweeted ““Yet another commentator who hasn’t bothered to read the judgment….” This was from a Northern Irish philosopher/theologian called Stephen. I was a bit surprised at his tweet given that he boasts, “I almost never respond to comments which are insulting to myself or others, or which question my honesty or integrity.” But I guess he does not extend that courtesy to others and just assumes the worst. When I told him that I had read it and asked him to deal with the actual points, rather than insulting me or just questioning my integrity; he went on to write the following article: https://stephenjgraham.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/the-gay-cake-debacle-a-rejoinder-to-robertson/

Stephen clearly has great faith in his own ability – boasting “I’m curious if @theweeflea will retract his article, given the number of misstatements of fact and misunderstandings of law in it?” And telling us that a lawyer thought his article was masterful.   Friends tweeted in to say such wonderful things as ‘Jesus would have baked an extra gay cake” – and the usual abuse followed.   Stephen went on to say how I had got it wrong on the Scottish Christian party case as well. On the basis of Stephen’s post, my appearance on Radio 5 live and one or two other things in the press, this weekend I have been the recipient of some wonderful compliments – I am a lying, ignorant, dishonest, homophobic, love-hating, Christian scumbag.   Thanks Stephen! I know you didn’t write these things, but you have contributed to the general culture that produced them.

I have not responded to Stephens post until now because a) I have been kind of busy as moderator of the Free Church General Assembly and b) I didn’t really think it was that good and questioned whether I should respond to it at all. After all it’s hard of hard to respond to someone who thinks they have written the definitive response and are so brilliant. But since it is an excellent example of someone missing the point I thought I might as well have a go. And then when Stephen boasted about his own ‘robust’ response, I thought ‘robust…I can do that’. So here goes….

I wrote: “Asher’s did not refuse a gay person a cake. They refused to bake a cake with a message supporting gay marriage. And that changes everything.” To which Stephen replied: “This is flat-out false; it doesn’t change anything, not under the law. “  Now I am quite surprised that an intelligent person can write such an illogical statement. The fact is that my statement was correct, not flat out false. Asher’s did not refuse to serve someone because they were homosexual. They refused to put an SSM slogan on the cake. That does change everything. My statement was not flat out false.

Stephen’s point about the law is however probably correct (although not as clear as he likes to think – I know several lawyers who don’t agree). But here he misses the main point (indeed this seems to be his speciality – he argues against what is not being said and therefore ends up arguing against himself, rather than argue against what is being said).   The main point of my article was that the law is wrong – that there is ‘legalised inequality’. The fact that Stephen does not address this negates his whole response.

But not only does Stephen not get the point of the article, he also seems to specialise in nit picking. “Robertson incorrectly identifies the Equality Commission as the plaintiff in such cases. In the Asher’s case it was not the Commission who sued – it was the customer, which again should be abundantly clear from the judgment” What he neglects to mention (and you will note that he neglects quite a lot – which is interesting from someone who is a Christian telling the whole truth and giving a balanced judgement) is that the Equalities Commission funded the case to the tune of £40,000 of taxpayers money. The question remains would the equalities commission have given £40,000 of tax payers money to a Christian who was refused a cake from a homosexual run bakery stating SSM is sinful?

Lets continue with the nit picking. Stephen thinks this is a great point because he re-tweeted it. Asher’s (or a Jewish baker being asked to bake a cake with a Swastika on it) would not have to do so because they could just take the nuclear option and refuse to bake any cake with political or religious slogans. So bye bye, ‘God is Love’ being put on your cake. All to avoid being sued by the Equalities commission. Way to go. And I repeat here my main observation that the law is dumb and oppressive. Who is to decide what is political or what is religious?

And yet more nit picking – Robertson’s misunderstandings continue to pour forth, as he claims that “it is ridiculous for a Christian who thinks that Same-Sex Marriage is against the Word of God to be compelled to bake a cake with a message supporting it.” Again, this isn’t true. Remember, the issue is not with a private individual but with a commercial entity. It baffles me that Stephen thinks this is some kind of brilliant point. I don’t buy into the ‘its not me, its just the company I work for’ ethic. Of course he may be right in law, but that was not my point. My point is that as a Christian I want freedom to practice my religion in the public square and in my business.   It may be legal for pornography to exist, but if I run a commercial print business I don’t have to print pornography.

The issue was not that the customer was gay. The issue was the message on the cake. Now Stephen may be correct that the law requires all political and religious messages to be baked, irrespective of what they are. If that were true then a message stating Mohammed is a false prophet would have to be baked in a Muslim bakery, a message stating SSM is of the devil would have to be baked by a homosexual baker etc. That may be what the law states but if it does the law is an ass. Stephen may wish to defend the law if he so chooses. I don’t.

Lets continue with his ‘brilliant’ demolition, –

Now beginning to lose the run of himself, Robertson claims that the real discrimination in this case is against “the Christian baker who is being told he will have to close down if he is not prepared to provide cakes with messages that contradict his beliefs.” Again, this is simply flat-out factually incorrect. The baker was not told to bake cakes with slogans contradicting his beliefs or close down.

Actually they were. If Stephen stops to think and quits the nit picking and playing with words, he will see that. The fact is that Asher’s were found guilty of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake with a support SSM message on it.   If they refuse to do that again they will be shut down. Their only way out is to refuse to bake a cake with any slogans on them. Wonderful victory for free speech and equality! I guess the one way to stop the Church being sued for printing ‘unequal’ material is just not to print anything at all. We can all be equally silent (except of course those who argue for their version of equality!).

And then Stephen goes on to argue about the Scottish Christian Party being refused their leaflet published. I won’t rehearse all his points here but they are all to do with it being a different legal jurisdiction, a private individual vs. a political party etc. But again he misses the main point. My article was not about whether the minutiae of the law were being interpreted correctly; my point is that the law itself is unequal. We live in a society where a Christian can be sued for refusing to bake a cake with a SSM message on it, and a printer can refuse to publish a leaflet because it is anti-SSM. That’s the modern version of equality!  Given that I wrote this it puzzles me that Stephen does not see this. Maybe a case of not being able to see the wood for the trees?

And back to more of Stephens’s favourite pastime – nit picking. Apparently there is a significant difference between refusing to print the leaflets because they have a policy of not printing material that might offend people.” (What John Cormack said) and “[they] did not agree with the messages on it.” – what I said. Stephen clearly lives in some kind of academic philosophical ivory tower because he does not seem to realise that ‘I do not agree with your message’ is equivalent to ‘I am offended by your message’ in todays touchy feely ‘you’d better not disagree with me or I will be offended’ culture – especially when it comes to the subject of homosexuality.    He then goes on to accuse the SCP of being homophobic because they speak of “REAL” marriage, implying that SSM is not real marriage.   He then suggests that it would be perfectly legitimate for a printer to refuse to print something they thought might be deemed homophobic. And there you have Stephen’s case in a nutshell – he is happy to defend a Christian being sued for refusing to print an SSM message on a cake, and to defend a printer refusing to publish a leaflet because it suggests that SSM might not be real marriage.   Talk about having your cake and eating it!

As an aside let me clearly state that Same Sex Marriage is not real marriage. The government and the law courts have no more right to redefine marriage than they have to call a square a circle. I look forward to the phone call from the Equalities Commission!

“I agree with Robertson in his desire that our Christian freedoms not be eroded, but what he splendidly overlooks is that he lacks no right or freedom whatsoever that a non-Christian enjoys. The law applies equally to Christian and non-Christian alike.” Mega fail.   The question is not whether the law applies equally to Christian and non-Christian alike, the question is whether the law itself is ‘equal’ and just. I don’t agree that it is. And there are so many ways that this is seen. I don’t believe that Christians are currently being persecuted – but we are being discriminated against and I suspect that that will soon lead to direct persecution. There are many jobs that I could not take and would not be offered, because I do not believe that SSM is right. There is discrimination and bias in the media, arts, politics and now the legal system against those who would hold to biblical beliefs. It is beyond sad that an intelligent professing Christian should use his gifts to try and defend the indefensible.

Another example of Stephen leaving out relevant information. He helpfully tells us that the plaintiff went to Asher’s because it was near his office. For some strange reason he does not tell us that the plaintiff is a member of Queer Space, a gay rights advocacy group. That of course had nothing to do with the case.

And now my favourite nit-pick off them all. I had stated that SSM is illegal in Northern Ireland, to which Stephen responds: SSM is not “illegal,” it’s simply that there is no legal provision for it. Murder is illegal. Theft is illegal. SSM is not illegal. You kind of have to read that several times to try and grasp what is being said. But it is just another classic example of someone trying to be clever and getting confused.   SSM is illegal in that it is against the law.   There is no legal provision for it, not because the Northern Irish can’t afford it or forgot about it, but because it is against the law. To most rational people that means it is illegal. I think what Stephen was trying to say is that SSM is not criminal.

But lets return to the main point. Stephen clearly thought his article was a wonderful rebuttal of mine and that having been humbled by his obvious brilliance, I would withdraw mine, repent and acknowledge by stupidity. Sadly for him, I had actually read the judgement and I stand by what I wrote. A society that seeks to compel Christians to publish messages that go against their faith, to permit practices in their own home which they regard as sinful, and discriminates against us in politics, media and the workplace because we believe the bible, is not one that is equal, tolerant and free. That discrimination may be legal but then so was apartheid in South Africa. The fact that a Christian philosopher/theologian becomes an apologist for unjust and discriminatory practices against Christians (and helpfully tweets the National Secular Society their findings) is not something to rejoice in, but something to be saddened by. Doubtless Judas thought he was keeping the law as well.

And finally a nit-pick that Stephen actually managed to get right. I admit that the judge was not a ‘he’ but a ‘she’, I apologise for my mistake, but that’s what happens when you are compelled to use unequal gender specific language. In the Brave New World of the future I look forward to the day when all gender specific language will be done away with as a symbol of the oppressive past and we will all be free and equal. Except that some will be more equal than others.  But Christians need not worry; as we are being thrown to the lions I am sure some philosopher theologians will find a legal justification for it and write ‘brilliant’ articles against those who dare to question the law.

Homophobic, Idiotic, Christian Scumbag speaks on Radio 5 Live

I got home from the Assembly last night and was asked to appear at 10:30pm on Radio 5 Live to discuss the Ashers bakery case.  I was really tired and found it really hard.  You can hear the programme here – from about 36 minutes.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05vc9s9#auto

Why did I find it so hard?

1) I was really tired.

2) This is a spiritual warfare.

3) So many Christians are caving into the spirit of the age.  Doubtless Ireland will vote for SSM today and part of the reason is the pressure being put on people by the zeitgeist.

4) Before I went on air I was shocked to hear of the Church of Scotland minister, Rev. Scott Rennie, had been ‘married’ in December and yet this had not been put to the Assembly when they decided on the case.

5) The continual abuse, mockery etc does wear one down.

6) And the playing with words really depresses me…

Anyway I feel that I did not handle it all that well – but we live and learn…..

The Free Church General Assembly – Final Day – Thursday

I am writing this from memory, the morning after the night before – so forgive me if I don’t remember everything – but you can get the procedures of the GA from the Free Church website and I will write a fuller report of the whole Assembly later. A few points from the final day…

1) The Board of Ministry report and discussion was excellent – congratulations to Angus Macrae and his team.  In particular the encouragement for ministry apprenticeships (and great to have Hamish Sneddon from St Andrews speaking as a shining example of that), the need for flexibility in the length of time training and the need for proper pastoral care for ministers.

2) Good to hear of the new ministers who are coming into the church.  One of them, David Macleod from North Harris, spoke of how warmly he had been received from the Church of Scotland.  Indeed one aspect of the Assembly in speaking to those who have come from the C of S is a) how at home they feel and b) what an enormous sense of relief to be free from a denomination which turning more and more against the Word of God and becoming more and more oppressive to those who want to hold to it.

3) There are 17 recognised candidates for the ministry and more in the pipeline.

4) The visit of the Lord High Commissioner, Lord Hope, was interesting.   I actually very much enjoyed meeting him and giving him absolution for the sins of his fathers (they were judges and ‘moderates’ at the time of the Disruption who ruled against the Free Church).  I gave him four books (The Book That Made Your World, Life of John Knox, From the Mouth of God and of course Magnificent Obsession!).  He promised me that he would read them all and report back to next Assembly!

5) The last report of the International Missions Board largely emphasised the work of Christian Witness to Israel.   It will be interesting to see how the new joint missions board deals with international mission.

6) Best speech of the day – from Hugh Henderson, my own elder from St Peters.  Hilarious, warm and challenging…a real focus on what mission is about.

6) News came through from the C of S General Assembly that they had voted to support ministers in Same Sex Marriages – a depressing vote.  A couple of the international delegates to that Assembly came over to visit us, not sure who we were, and asked at the door how important the plain truth of the Bible was to us.  When we told them it was essential they were relieved.  I think it kind of says it all – the C of S has moved away from basic Christianity and is in the process of setting itself up as some kind of ‘spiritual’ community centre and property management group. Its becoming harder and harder to regard it as a church at all.   Very very sad.

7) And then we finished early – brought forward the evening session, closed with worship, appointed the next assembly and we were all done by 6pm.   Robert Macleod summed up the week well –  “As this Assembly in Edinburgh draws to a conclusion – consensus opinion is that its been enriching, educational, enlivening, encouraging and enjoyable” ..

It has been a privilege to be here as moderator.  I love the way that the Free Church has changed, I love the variety of people, I love the fact that the Assembly was an act of worship, I love the fact that we have many problems but we are not looking to ourselves but to Christ, the head of the Church to solve them.  I love being in beautiful Edinburgh – after New York it is the city in the world that most stimulates and provokes me!  And on a personal note this week has been a hugh encouragement to me.  After 29 years in the Free Church ministry I finally feel as though I have been accepted!  Not so much because of being appointed moderator but more because of the warmth and respect shown, and far more important than anything – I feel that my core passion is one that is really shared by the vast majority of the Church.  In other words my views are now the mainstream position of the Church. I don’t expect or want people to agree with me on everything or even to like me – I do expect and want us all to have a total commitment to the Word of God and the God of the Word.  After years of hopeful expectation I am now in the position of one senior figure in the Church who told me yesterday – that he had never been so encouraged or expectant.  May Jesus be glorified in and through his church.

You can get links to various highlights here –

http://freechurch.org/news/general-assembly-catch-up

Free Church General Assembly – Day Three – Wednesday

This was a long but really encouraging day – I started about 7am and did not finish until after 10 before having a relaxing drink with friends.  Again I won’t go into all the details as I am about to head in for another 12 hour session!  But the following highlights stand out.

1) The dignified and emotional way that David Miller accepted that his work in Cobham is now finished.   David is a gentle and gracious person and I hope and pray that he and Meg are soon settled into a new work.

2) The joy of welcoming new churches – Newmilns from Ayrshire and hearing Dr Neil Galbraith from Stornoway High speaking so warmly and wisely.  What intrigues me about the C of S people who come into the Free Church is that they almost unanimously speak of the sense of relief and freedom they experience.

3) The fact that the Home Missions report took all afternoon and into the evening – so many people were wanting to speak.  Talking about mission, not trivialities, is what Assembly should be about.

4) The increasing variety within the Free Church – exemplified by a former English Anglican vicar now working in St Andrews commending the work of church planting, to a Welsh minister in Kilmallie commending the Church in South Uist.   Love it!

5) The delegates from South Africa, EPCI and especially good to have Fred Drummond of the EA speaking.  However if I had my way I would make Elaine Duncan a permanent feature of the Assembly.  Her passion and personality shine through for Jesus.

6) Beauly Free Church manse being returned from the continuing.

7) A full time Missions Director post being set up – to lead both National and international missions.

8) Iver Martin being appointed full time Principal of Edinburgh Theological Seminary.   A loss for Stornoway but a gain for the wider church. The Stornoway elders speech was wonderful – gracious and godly.

What I have noticed about this Assembly is how much the Free Church has changed.  We still have difficult issues to face but we are facing them – and we are united.  There is a warmth and love for the Lord which pervades the church just now.  I had one older couple tell me that they have never been so encouraged in all their life.  May this only be the beginning.

Back to work….

The Free Church General Assembly – Day 2

Tuesday the 19th of May – This has to go down as one of the most extraordinary and surreal days in my life. I was really nervous about the Assembly sermon.  That nervousness was made ten times worse when it took longer than anticipated to produce the Faithful and Dutiful address to the Queen.  The speech itself seemed to go well – I felt very moved being able to say what was on my heart, and share both the challenges and the opportunities facing us today.  I was astounded that it was so well received – I wasn’t looking (my head was in my hands!) but I was told there was even a standing ovation!  It is really humbling the reaction afterwards – I really believe that God is at work in and through the Free Church – not because of my speech, but because the people are so open to the vision of the Scriptures.

The rest of the day seemed to go by really quickly.  James Fraser, convenor of the Board of Trustees, is a great speaker, leader and an absolute gift to the whole church.   Speaking of gifts, my heart is ‘strangely warmed’ every time I hear Sinclair Ferguson preach, and I felt his address to the ‘Fathers and Brethren’ in the afternoon was wonderful. Afterwards I bumped into an old friend and we shared about past sorrows and future opportunities.

And then came the evening ‘Lord High Commissioners’ reception at Holyrood Palace.   From the beginning it was just such a different world.  The palace itself is beautiful, the ceremonies quaint and the people ‘different class’….mostly aristocracy and high clergy.    There was so much that fascinated and amused me.   Walking into one room and seeing the portrait of Charles the First (perhaps I shouldn’t have commented ‘off with his head!”);  thinking that black tie meant a black tie – not realising that it meant black dickie bow, tails and more formal dress….so there was I standing in my brown suit (and black funeral tie) whilst the other ‘high heid un’ clerlgy were in dog collars, purple robes and the various regalia.  Still at least it made people ask ‘what do you do?”.

Sitting at the massive table in the dining room – with 80 others – was also an experience.  The Lady beside me asked ‘what do you think of gay marriage’ as her opening gambit.  Then I spoke to the Lady on my right – who was a judge and indeed had judged the FCC v’s Free Church case.   She was absolutely wonderful.    She is an intelligent, thoughtful and open minded atheist/agnostic. She is my new ‘bestie’! Suffice it to say I had the most stimulating two hour conversation (Annabel was sitting further down the table) on the law, the bible and the gospel.  I feel that I now have a calling to ministry amongst the aristocracy!

Although I am a bit of a pleb. I was horrified when we were asked to raise a glass to the Queen, as I had already drunk my wine.  And I was even more horrified to discover that my part of the beautiful white linen cloth was the only one stained by gravy. I wasn’t the only pleb there though!  Annabel was talking to a woman who said that she helped with the Queens flowers.  To which Annabel replied ‘Are you a florist?”!  Not sure that Lady X was all that enamoured.

We returned back to our hotel, pleasantly tired and very well fed.  I then had a note from Premier asking me to write a commentary on the Asher’s decision.   No rest for….!

All in all it was a thrilling day – if somewhat bizarre.  The impression left on my heart is just simply that whether the footman at the door, the Lady at the table, or the beggar on the street – all of them need to hear about and be invited to, the Feast of the King of Kings.

Bake me a Cake and Mark it with B for Bigot

http://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Bake-me-a-Cake-and-Mark-it-with-B-for-Bigot

The text of this article on Premier is below….click the link above for the full article.

The ‘gay cake’ ruling against Ashers Bakery is another example of double standards being imposed, say Free Church of Scotland moderator David Robertson.

Last night I happened to be at a really posh dinner, sitting beside a Lady who is also a senior judge.  We had a most interesting conversation talking about the limitations and powers of the law (as well as the wonder of the Gospel).  I asked her about the Ashers case and…well, I’ll wait a bit to give you her considered response.

What is the Ashers case?  Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland was approached by a gay man who asked them to bake a cake.  They refused and were reported to the Equalities Commission who then proceeded to take out a court case against them.  Yesterday the owners, the McArthur family, were found guilty of breaking political and sexual discrimination laws.  Rightly so.  It is absolutely terrible to discriminate against people because of their political or sexual orientation.  It’s also another one in the eye for these backward Christian fundamentalists in Northern Ireland who need to step out of the religious darkness of the 18th Century and ‘progress’ into modern times.

Or…

We could think for ourselves and take a somewhat different perspective.   Because Ashers did not refuse a gay person a cake.  They refused to bake a cake with a message supporting gay marriage.  And that changes everything.

Does this ruling now mean that a Jewish baker should be forced to bake a cake with a Swastika on it for the BNP (neither the sign nor the party are illegal in the UK)?  Would the equalities commission sue a Muslim baker who refused to bake a cake with a cartoon of Mohammed on it, for a Charlie Hebdo party?

‘But that’s ridiculous’, you say.  Indeed.  Just as it is ridiculous for a Christian who thinks that Same-Sex Marriage is against the Word of God to be compelled to bake a cake with a message supporting it.  There is discrimination in this case, but it is not discrimination against the gay man who brought the case (a heterosexual asking for such a cake would also have been turned down), but rather against the Christian baker who is being told he will have to close down if he is not prepared to provide cakes with messages that contradict his beliefs. To refuse to bake someone a cake because they are gay would be wrong.  To refuse to decorate that cake with a message which you find offensive is your right (and  it’s also worth remembering that SSM is not yet legal in NI at this point).

There is a double standard in British society

Let’s return to my judge.  What did she say?  She accepted my examples and said that it would clearly be a ridiculous principle to absolutise.  That there has to be balance and reason brought into the judgement.  But then comes the $64,000 question – who decides what that actually means?   The Scottish Christian Party during the recent general election, sent their leaflet off to a printers to be published.  The printers refused on the grounds that they did not agree with the messages on it.  The messages were not illegal but nonetheless they refused.  Could they not be sued for the same reason?

The fact is that there is a double standard in British society just now.  The law is being interpreted and enforced in one way for those who represent the cause celebres of our culture, and yet used in a completely different way for those who don’t agree with the shibboleths of our elites.

The irony is that in the name of equality, there is legalized inequality and in the name of tolerance there is state enforced intolerance.   The Ashers Bakery case is a red flag warning us of the irrational, unreasonable, intolerant and unequal treatment that those who dare to disagree with the new State absolutist morality, can expect to receive.  We need to pray that our Christian freedoms (which are freedoms for all) are not eroded by PC politicians and activists using a compliant judiciary to impose their totalitarian worldview.

Two additional notes;

1). The man who brought the law suit is a member of a homosexual group called queer space who just happens to visit a bakery which was well known for its Christian owners, miles from his hometown.  All entirely coincidental! 

2) SSM is illegal in Northern Ireland.  The judge is supposed to uphold the law yet he finds that a bakery which refused to put a message of support for something that is illegal, are the ones breaking the law! The law is sometimes an ass!

Assembly Sermon – Scotland Turned Upside Down

This is the talk I gave at the Assembly today….its lengthy but some people were asking for the full text..I did not deliver it exactly to script – if you want to see the sermon then you can watch it here…the text is below.  May the Lord use it for his glory..

Assembly 2015 – Scotland Turned Upside Down

There is a Chinese curse that says ‘may you live in interesting times’. It seems as though we are cursed in Scotland. The times indeed are interesting. They are a changing. And in the church we had better start understanding them, or we too will sink like a stone, in this relentless wave of change.

The Marxist historian, Christopher Hill, wrote a magnificent book about the 17th Century English Civil War, which he entitled The World Turned Upside Down. In it he examined the radical ideas of the English revolutionaries. Those who are familiar with the King James English version of the Bible will know that he lifted the phrase from Acts 17:6. I liked the idea so much that when I first became a theological student and had to travel the country preaching, one of the verses I often preached on was that one. And then I discovered the more modern NIV translation “These men who have caused trouble all over the world, have now come here”. Did I want to be known as a troublemaker? Do we? It seems to me that in modern Scotland those of us who want to hold to the biblical position are in danger of being regarded as, if not enemies of the State, at least troublesome undesirables from a past era. Is it not the default position of much of modern European Christianity, that though we talk about being radical, we prefer comfortable conservatism, the kind that never changes anything?

What kind of ‘world’ was being turned upside down? It was multi-cultural, although with a dominance of the Greco-Roman culture.   There were wars and rumours of wars, pollution in the main cities, immigration problems, economic recessions, sexual confusion, power politics, media suppression, religious radicalism and a growing gap between rich and poor. It was in this confused, vibrant, stimulating, depressing, violent world that the Good News of Jesus Christ came, as the Romans supposed, as one religion amongst many. And yet it was this religion that turned the Greco/Roman/Pagan world upside down and led through the centuries to the modern Europe we know today.

Whether it was a Jewish teacher like Paul, a doctor like Luke, or fishermen like Peter and John, the early disciples turned the Greco/Roman/Pagan world upside down. The early church fathers, from Justin Martyr to Augustine, turned the Roman Empire upside down.   The Celtic monks, early reformers like the Czech Jan Hus and the Englishmen William Tyndale and John Wycliffe, turned early modern Europe upside down. The Reformation was a radical revolution that affected every area of society. It was much much more than just a change of ‘religion’. The proclamation and living out of the Gospel turned the church, the economy, culture and the whole of society upside down. Sometimes things went wrong – especially when those who were intoxicated with the new freedom moved away from the Bible, or politicians and rulers sought to harness the Gospel for their own power hungry ends. But there is no doubt that modern Europe, especially in the West, would not exist without the Reformed and Lutheran churches as their foundation. Todays Scotland would be unrecognizable without the early Celtic church, the Roman Catholic takeover, the Reformation of the Six Johns, the Disruption of 1843 and other smaller Christian reformations and renewals.  When I came into the Free Church in 1981 it was partly because as a history student I studied the Disruption and noticed how radical the 1843 Free Church was – a Church that did turn Scotland upside down.

What kind of ‘world’ is Scotland today?  We have secularized faster in the past couple of decades than any nation in history.   The change has been phenomenal and the church makes an enormous mistake when it does not recognize that change. There are far too many of us who are trying to retain a Christendom that has long gone. Whether we like it or not we live in a secular society, in which at best Christianity is barely tolerated and at worst is pushed to the margins where religious freedom of expression and action is threatened.

According to the Pew Research Centre, Christians will be a minority in the UK by 2050, falling from around two-thirds at the moment, to 45% by 2050. The number of Muslims is set to more than double to 12% and those of no faith to 39%.   And of course we know it is in reality much worse than that. Many of those who would self-identify as Christian have little idea what it means and are in reality nothing more than secular pagans with a cultural veneer of Christianity.   And Scotland, a land whose people were once known as the ‘people of the book’, is as bad as, if not worse than most areas of the UK in this respect.
Five Societal Trends

The road to hell is paved with good intentioned ideologies. And in Scotland these are some of the main.

Secular Utopianism – There are those of our fellow citizens who believe we are on the verge of entering a liberal, progressive utopia. It is a form of secularism that is largely atheistic and based upon the incredible faith that human beings are essentially good and are progressing towards a better world. The atheist philosopher John Grey, in his fascinating works, especially his book Black Mass, points out that secular utopianism based upon Enlightenment principles and perceptions has not led to a Brave New World, but instead has been largely responsible for some of the great humanitarian disasters of the modern era. No one believed in the inevitability of human progress more than the Nazis and the Communists. Grey cites Lewis Namier; “ Hitler and the Third Reich were the gruesome and incongruous consummation of an age which, as none other, believed in progress and felt it was being achieved”.

Our modern liberal ‘progressives’ have a more sophisticated ideology but that only serves to make it all the more dangerous.   They of course are offended at any comparison with the extremist secularist ideologies of the 20th Century and neatly try to turn the whole question on its head. They retort that Stalinism/North Korea/Nazism etc. are just really examples of totalitarian religions. And thus we end up with the wonderful notion that any atheist who does anything bad does it in spite of their atheism, and any Christian who does anything good, does it in spite of their Christianity.   Of course it is wrong for any Christian to automatically equate atheism with the brutal atheist regimes, but it is also foolish to pretend that atheism had nothing to do with them.

This secular utopianism, when it inevitably does not work out, has to find someone ‘other’ to blame. So we find that when things do not work out as they hope, such is their faith in their own doctrines (humanity is inherently good, humans are progressive, we all have enough reason so we don’t need revelation) that they have to have someone to blame.   Religion is a good candidate. It is after all regressive, repressive and ridiculous. That is why whenever you go on a secularist website you will find that the vast majority of the posts are anti-religious. For example we surveyed the Scottish Secular Societies Facebook page over a period of six months and found that 96% of the posts were anti-religious. The tendency to blame everything on religion in general and Christianity in particular is becoming deep rooted in our culture. Witness the witch-hunt against ‘creationists’ who are just one step above Pedophiles, in the eyes of some, and the continual mockery and abuse of Christianity on mainstream media.

The other aspect of this secular utopianism is that its beliefs are not open to question. A curious and disturbing aspect of this is when this progressive, liberal secularism is mixed in with nationalism. Whilst it has been encouraging and good to see the level of political involvement in Scotland since the referendum, it is worrying that there has been an attempt to hijack the traditional nationalist movement and combine it with a more militant and emotive secularism. There is nothing wrong with wanting one’s country to be self-governing, but there is something profoundly wrong with believing that your own country has inherently better and more progressive values than any one else. The combination of new hopes being raised, emotions being stirred and self-righteous assurance of our own superiority, can lead to a kind of mass hysteria that is dangerous. We would urge the Scottish government to remain balanced, tolerant of other opinions and humble. Likewise we are concerned with a British Nationalism which speaks of British ‘values’ but is unable to explain what those values are or where they come from. Being British or Scottish is neither a value nor a virtue.

2) Religious fundamentalism  – Religion is not the whole or even the main problem. But neither is it the solution. The truth is that religions can do a great deal of harm. In this I share the views of Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens who argue that just because a belief or practice claims to be religious, does not mean that it should be afforded special status. We should be concerned with what is true, not with what is religious. The trouble is that secularism has already decided that every religion is essentially the same and all should be treated as privatized clubs – as though they were the equivalent of line-dancing clubs or Trekkie societies. Believe what you want, do what you want, just don’t do it public and don’t let your beliefs affect your public life.

This is why secular politicians cannot deal with Islam. As long as they continue to think that it is a variant of Anglicanism they will never understand nor cope with Islam. Britain will become the country with the third largest Islamic population in Europe, overtaking both France and Germany, by 2050 with 12% of the population being Muslim. 12%? That’s nowhere near a majority, so what’s the problem? Besides which in speaking in such terms is there not a danger of being Islamaphobic and failing to recognize that there are many different variants of Islam?   As regards the latter that is true – not every Muslim, not even the majority of Muslims, can be seen as potential ISIS supporters and it would be crass and stupid to speak as though they were.   However people need to understand the nature of Islam as a total system, which includes politics and religion. In the vast majority of Muslim theology there is no secular/religious divide. I was once asked to give a lecture at an Islamic Institute. My subject was the Islamic doctrine of tolerance. This was a ‘liberal’ Muslim establishment and so I thought I was on safe ground when I suggested that everyone present would agree that those who change their faith (Muslims who become atheist, Christian or vice versa) should not be punished by the State. I was dumbfounded when the vast majority of those present thought that leaving Islam should be punished by prison, fines or even death.

One Monday evening I visited a local Mosque in Dundee where I spoke on a panel with a Muslim, a Baha’i and a Pagan. What impressed me was that 150 men were present and it as clear that there was a societal and community cohesion that any secular and most Christian groups would envy.   Here is where the 12% figure is important. Its not the majority that matters, it’s the influence that a coherent group can have. Currently Britain only has 5-6% Muslim and yet some 25% of the ‘changeable’ seats in the recent general election were seen as dependent on the Islamic vote. That is why Ed Milliband gave an interview to the Muslim media promising to make Islamaphobia a crime.

But what is Islamaphobia? Abusing someone because of his or her religion is wrong, but should it be a crime? If so the BBC is going to be in lot of trouble! It’s rare to listen to a Radio 4 comedy programme without Christianity or Christians being ridiculed in some way or other. Islam of course is treated differently, because it reacts differently. The Guardian or Times would have little difficulty in publishing cartoons that mocked the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope, Moses or Christ, but they would of course not publish a cartoon of Mohammed.   Is it Islamaphobic to even question or criticize Islam? In the Brave New World of Ed Milliband will this talk be considered Islamaphobic? However the danger is not so much in making something a crime, it is in the economic power and censorship wielded by those who have money.  Newspapers, local authorities, universities dependent on money from Islamic sources will find it remarkably easy not to publish or allow criticism of their cash cow.

I have a great deal in common with many Muslims and am happy to work with them on social and community issues. I despise the racism and anti-religious prejudice of those who want to exclude Muslims from this country or marginalize them within it. But I reserve the right to be critical and question the ideology; philosophy and religion, without being accused of ‘hate crime’. Just as I reserve the right of those who want to critique and criticize Christianity, to do so.

As regards the church in this respect we have become pathetically weak. At a personal level I enjoy debating and discussing with Muslims many of whom tell me that the Christians they meet are largely weak and ineffectual who know little about what they believe. It astounded me that when I wrote an article about Islam as being the elephant in the room in the British General Election, it was Christians, not Muslims who most objected and accused me of ‘Islamaphobia’ and not being ‘nice like Jesus’. At a time when Christians were being beheaded in Iraq and Egypt, bombed in Pakistan and imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, there were those in the evangelical world who were more concerned that some Muslims might be upset if we asked hard questions about Islam.

3) State Fascism – Fascism in both its Italian and German forms was all about the power of the Corporate State. State control was everything. As people who have been brought up in a society with liberal democratic values of freedom of expression, diversity and equality, and with the belief that we are the ‘good guys’, it is hard for us to appreciate that it could be any different.   But whilst British society has in the past flirted with the notion of a theocratic state, or an absolutist government, in general we have been a secular society that was founded upon Christian principles. Church and State were good neighbours and good friends. Neither had absolute power. The trouble is that with the removal of Christianity as the conscience of the nation, it is allowing the creeping absolutism of the State. The mantra ‘something should be done’ is like a drug for those who think they can do something. Every time something goes wrong, a government inquiry is promised and new laws proposed so that ‘this will never happen again’.   In an absolutist state there is plenty work for lawyers, bureaucrats and bankers.   We have moved from ten commandments to ten thousand regulations per year (and the regulators that have to enforce them). Whilst any reasonable society needs laws, the danger is that an increasingly powerful state will result in more abuse and corruption, without the checks and balances coming from outwith the State and within the heart.   If you remove God and replace him with the State you will end up with some kind of fascist corporate all-powerful state.

4) Consumerist dumbed down materialism – Totalitarian states can only survive if the control mechanisms are strong and the populace satisfied. In the 20th century there were two books that prophesied the future, George Orwell’s 1984 which envisioned a Stalinist Totalitarian state where the population were controlled by force and censorship, and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, which foresaw a population divided and controlled by pre-determined social status, social education, and drugs.   Huxley was the better prophet. People in Britain today are told they can be whatever they want to be, but for many that is just Disneyesque waffle. Drugs, 15 minutes of fame on reality TV, sex, smart phones, and widescreen TVs are the only things offered. Our elites don’t tell us to eat cake, they don’t offer us bread and circuses, but they do presume that we will be happy living dumbed down mediocre lives with the cultural crumbs from their table. Education has become more about training people for jobs and social engineering that it is about educating people. As we have moved away from a Christian view of education to a social engineering, collectivist mindset, we now tell children what to think, rather than teaching them how to think.

The danger is that we end up with this collectivist mindset where people are scared to think for themselves and just go along with the prevailing zeitgeist. I find this disturbing trend particularly illustrated in our party politicians. They must go along with party policy or they are out on their ear. Anyone ‘off message’ is deemed to be dangerous.   We appear to be no longer governed by politicians who think for themselves but by those who look to the carefully selected ‘focus groups’ and opinion polls. Government by opinion poll is not democracy.

5) New Age Paganism. Of course there are those who ‘rage against the machine’.   They don’t accept the certainties of scientific materialism, or the control of the State, and they reject totalitarian religion as much as they reject the totalitarian state. They want spirituality but the last place they expect to find it is in the Church. And so the old pagan religions appear attractive. Are they not after all closer to ‘nature’? Do they not offer more freedom? Do they not fit more with the ‘green’ agenda and the ‘sexual freedom’ philosophy? Be anything you wanna be. But Mother Nature without The Father is cruel, and paganism is an illusion that will only disappoint.

6) Sexual Confusion and Dysfunctional Families – The sexual ‘liberation’ of the 1960’s has turned out to be anything but liberating for the vast majority of people. The historian Diarmid McCullough was recently given his own series on the BBC entitled Sex and the Church. His theory was simplistic but is the standard narrative now taught by our elites. Before Christianity came along we all lived in a kind of Greco/Roman/Pagan sexual bliss, where we did whatever we wanted and lived free and unrestrained lives. Then along came Christianity and the Church which made sex a sin and brought about a two thousand year repression.   But now we are more ‘enlightened’ and we are returning to the Greco/Roman/Pagan view.   I would agree with the fact that we are returning to a Greco/Roman/Pagan view – but this is not progressive. In the Greco/Roman world there was sexual exploitation, slavery, diseases, dysfunctional families, children born out of wedlock, child abuse and dominance of the poor by the rich.

Our Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that the redefinition of marriage was his proudest achievement. It is hard to think of a more apposite example of someone glorying in their shame.   The British and Scottish governments will remain under considerable pressure to further ‘liberalise’ in this area. I was astounded to receive a letter from the Prime Minister’s office stating that he supported SSM because two people who loved one another should be allowed to express that love in marriage. By that logic a man should be allowed to marry his brother? And why just two people? Why should ‘equal’ marriage be denied to polygamists? Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green party caused a bit of a stir when she said that she would be open to consultation on it.   I chaired a hustings during the recent election in which the SNP candidate also stated that he would be ‘open to consultation’ on it. And they are right. Given the criteria by which SSM was agreed upon there is little logical reason not to have polygamous marriages.

All this is part of a wider sexual philosophy self-identified as ‘queer theory’ whereby attempts are being made to reengineer humanity so that there is no specific gender or sexuality. We are going to move from the position where our gender and sexuality were perceived as fixed (born this way) to one in which we can freely choose to switch both (hence the current propaganda campaign to normalize ‘transgender’). Peter Tatchell is a most interesting LGBTI activist who I have enjoyed meeting and debating with.  In a fascinating article ‘Goodbye to Gay” – Tatchell shows where his thinking is going.   “Overcoming homophobia will result in more people having gay sex but fewer people claiming gay identity.

The medieval Catholic Church, despite all its obscurantism and intolerance, got one thing right. Homosexuality is not, it suggested, the special sin of a unique class people but a temptation to which any mortal might succumb.

It now seems fairly certain, in the light of modern research, that most people are born with a sexual desire that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction. Once homophobia declines, we are bound to witness the emergence of a homosexuality that is quite different from the homosexuality we know today. With the strictures on queerness removed, and same-sex relationships normalised and accepted, more people will have gay sex but, paradoxically, less of them will identify as gay. This is because, in the absence of homophobia, the need to assert gayness becomes redundant. Gay identity is the product of anti-gay repression. When homosexuality is disparaged and victimised, gay people understandably feel they have to affirm their desires and lifestyle. However, if prejudice is vanquished, and if one sexuality is not privileged over another, defining oneself as gay (or straight) will cease to be necessary and have no social significance. The need to maintain sexual differences and boundaries disappears with the demise of straight supremacism. Homosexuality as a separate, exclusive clearly demarcated orientation and identity will then begin to fade (as will its mirror opposite, heterosexuality). Instead, the vast majority of people will be open to the possibility of both opposite-sex and same-sex relations They won’t feel the need to label themselves (or others) as gay or straight because, in a non-homophobic culture, no one will give a damn about who loves and lusts after who.”

 I suspect that many of the politicians who voted for the redefinition of marriage did so because of the political pressure, because they had not thought about it too much and because they expected it to be the end. But the reality is that the redefinition of marriage is just part of a wider philosophy which seeks to redefine humanity and create a world in which we can choose our own sexuality and our own gender, because ultimately they do not matter. In the beginning God created them male and female, in the end ‘man’ created them trans human.

In all of this we need to realize that it is the poor who will suffer the most. The wealthy can pick and choose what and who they want. The poor just live in and with the resultant chaos and dysfunction.

7) Inequality I came across this astonishing statistic last week. In the US between 2013 and 2015 the wealth of the 14 richest Americans saw their wealth increase by $157 billion, that is more than is owed by the lowest 128 million. There are numerous such statistics but what astounded me is that this occurred in Obama’s America. The Liberal Left has bought as much into this economic inequality as has the Conservative Right. Indeed much of the Conservative Right has also bought into the moral agenda of the Liberal Left. Blue and Red have merged into pink. Right on Corporations such as Google and Amazon may wax lyrical about the poor and boast about their impeccable liberal social credentials, but that does not stop them using every tax avoidance method they can find. These multi-billion Corporations receive more in government grants than they pay in business tax. The Guardian recently reported that corporate businesses were in receipt of some £85 billion in government subsidies. In an age of austerity perhaps the cuts should be more on the corporate subsidies that it is on the welfare benefits of the poor?

It is almost beyond irony that we have an “Equality Network’ funded by the Scottish government which almost has nothing to do with equality. The Left in UK politics has largely shifted from concerns about economic injustice to a society where the only ‘equality’ that really matters is a form of social liberalism. Never mind that the gap between rich and poor is increasing, what really matters is that we should be able to sleep with whoever we want, whenever we want.

The Church

But- enough of the philosophies and the culture we live in. What about the Church?   Whilst within the Church we need to be aware of what is going on in our society, and indeed aware of how much of our society is in us and affects us, we need to realize that our primary problem is not ‘out there’. After all as we regress into the Greco/Roman/Pagan view of the world, rather than despair we should remember that it is precisely in that world that Christianity flourished. If we want to turn the world upside down we need to ask what is wrong with the church, not what is wrong with the world. We need to look nearer home for the main cause of the problem. It’s us. The Church. Its my view that in far too many cases we have ceased to be salt and light in our society, simply because we have become tasteless and the darkness within is too great.

I am not so much concerned with the numerical decline in the church, that is almost inevitable once there is spiritual decline.   And do any of us doubt that there has been spiritual decline? We now have the church playing catch-up with the world, rather than the church turning the world upside down. Rather than being prophetic we have become pathetic. Compromise, infighting, lovelessness, complacency, despair, adapting Christ to suit the culture, rather than proclaiming Christ to challenge the culture, are the hallmarks of a decaying and dying church.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. We are always called to repentance, renewal and reformation. In the Free Church we cannot stand back and think of ourselves as ‘pure’. We are not. We are as sinful as any other group and we are as tempted to despair and turn inwards as anyone else. I am thankful for so much that the Lord is doing in and through the Free Church. There is a degree of optimism, hope and vitality within us now that I have never known in 28 years of ministry. However there is one area that I would like to challenge us. There is a danger of complacency in many areas but not least in the area of bridging this gap between the church and the culture. We need to think long and hard about how we connect with and bring the bread of life to a Scotland that is spiritually starving. McCheyne was concerned that in a parish of 4,000 there were 1500 people associated with St Peters, another 1500 associated with other evangelical churches, and yet he wept that there were a 1,000 out with the normal reach of the Gospel. As a fellow minister said to me, “I have seen people weep over the movement of a communion table, I have rarely seen people weep over lost souls”. Would that we had McCheyne’s passion!

I have been thinking about this a lot because of my work with Solas – we are sometimes asked can we train people and congregations to do outreach. I am not keen on training programmes but we are currently developing something along the following lines. (If you are interested in Solas helping you then please let us know).

Reach

Up Reach – Prayer – The first and last of our priorities has to be prayer. Eric Alexander in his wonderful new book on prayer (published by the Banner of Truth) reminds us that prayer does not ‘support’ the work, it IS the work.   Tim Keller has been really helpful to me in his latest book on prayer. Get I suggest that you get it, read it and act upon it.   I recall a Free Presbyterian ministers wife answering my question “How many people are in your church?” with the marvelous statement “we have 40 praying people”. How many praying people do you have? I don’t just mean prayer meetings as just a midweek service. I mean family worship, prayer triplets, housegroups, and elder’s prayer. We need a great renewal of prayer within the Free Church. Could you go home from this Assembly making that a priority?

In Reach – There are two ways that we need to reach in.   Firstly we are reluctant to face up to problems we have within our fellowships.   There is something toxic and we pretend otherwise. Sometimes we don’t know what it is. But we are aware that there is something not right. That can also be true at an individual level. McCheyne’s famous prayer “Lord make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be’, needs to be matched with his other observation “my people’s greatest need is my own holiness’. In order to reach other people I need to pray “Lord, draw me closer to you, that I may draw others”. The bottom line is that we are all sinners and when the Lord answers our prayer and ‘visits’ us, he will expose and would, in order to heal and restore. We need a restoration of biblical church discipline.

The other kind of ‘in-reach’ is to acknowledge that there are those in our chairs and pews, in our fellowships and homes, who are not yet believers. Whether the children or the elderly, the long established or the new comers, there is always an ongoing work to reach those who are already amongst us. Let us never be satisfied with coming people to Church who do not come to Christ. Our sermons, services and lifes must be persuasive.

Out Reach – We are all aware of the concept of peak oil – the point where the amount of oil in the world reaches its height and from there on begins to decline. I wonder if we have reached the point of peak secularism? A recent survey by Win/Gallup found that those under 34 are more likely to be religious than other age groups.   The recent Scottish Social Attitudes Survey showed that whereas the number of Scots identifying themselves as having no religion was 54% in 2013, this had fallen to 44% in 2014. Of course this does not yet indicate a trend but it is interesting. I have been in the ministry for 29 years and it is my view that people in Scotland are in some senses more open to the Gospel today than they have been at any period during that time. The question is, are we prepared to reach out?

And how do we reach out? Imagine that you are standing at the banks of a fast flowing river, and there are people in it who are floating downstream on their rafts, boats and life jackets?   What do you do? Stand and yell at them ‘you’re all doomed”! Sit round in luxury chairs, sipping wine, chomping on steak and commenting on how terrible the flood is? No – you reach out. We need to desperately think about how to reach out to a people, most of whom don’t want to be reached. We need to think of creative, biblical, contemporary ways to reach people. One example of this could be the new Solas magazine which will be launched after this Assembly.

I am astounded at the number of churches and Christians who, although in theory committed to the Good News, seem to want to keep it to themselves. They are far more concerned about maintaining what we have got, than they are about reaching out to those who desperately need it. This is as true in the Free Church as elsewhere. Let me give one of many examples. One church leader stated that his congregation did not need an evangelist, but they wanted a minister who was going to take care of the flock. That is a shameful and unbiblical attitude. Why are these things set up as opposites? We need every minister and every Christian to be an evangelist/prophet/pastor. Of course there are different gifts and we should use them according to the faith the Lord gives us. But we deserve to die if we live in a bubble and watch people float by on their way to a lost eternity.  Evangelism must be part of the DNA of our congregations. Or do we no longer believe that people are lost and that we have good news for lost people?

Reach Down – I don’t mean this in a patronizing way – as though we were the elite on the top, condescending to reach down to those beneath us.   It is simply the case that we are starving beggars who have found a feast and want to share it with other starving beggars. It is essential that as churches we continue to reach the poor.   There are so many practical things we are and could be involved in, Church planting through Twenty Schemes, Christians Against Poverty, Bethany and many others.   We need to be involved in the fight to protect the dying and the unborn. The Free Church needs to stand foursquare with the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child.

And there is one area that we really need to think about far more seriously, the role of education.  We may not yet be able to set up Christian schools, but that does not mean we should not be involved much more in the current education system. We should honour and pray for our teachers, encourage our pupils and seek to educate the educators.   As a Church we need to think about running after school clubs for all, but especially the poor. We need to educate church children in the Christian worldview and philosophy. And we need to lobby government for a more tolerant and progressive system of education in our state schools. If, as appears to be happening, the government is reneging on the promises of the 1872 Education Act, that our Scottish state education system would be a non-denominational Christian one, then we need to ask the government to endorse either a voucher system like the Swedes, or the Dutch system whereby churches are enabled to set up by faith based schools. Of course our current educationalists will scream ‘we want a neutral system, not a divisive religious one’, which simply means that they want a one size fits all system, whereby the only philosophy and ethos allowed is that of atheistic secular humanists. Let the secular humanists have their schools, and let the Christians have theirs, and let parents have the choice. Or maybe freedom, choice and equality don’t quite extend that far.

And Finally…I cannot leave this without referring to what is going on ‘across the road’ at the Church of Scotland General Assembly, because what is happening there is in a sense seeing the church, not the world, being turned upside down.

Firstly let me congratulate Angus Morrison on becoming Moderator of the Church of Scotland. It is good to see a fellow evangelical in the post. In that respect we give thanks to God for his recovery from his illness and wish him the Lords blessing and courage in his role as moderator. We pray that God will give him the strength and courage to stand against the tide of unbelief, faithlessness and mockery both out with and within the Church, which threatens its very existence.

Of course there are those who say that we should say nothing about what is going on in a sister church, that we should be nice, mouth pious platitudes in public and hope that in the end everything will turn out right. But it is precisely because we regard the Church of Scotland as a sister church, and precisely because we believe in Christian unity that we must speak out.

Firstly let me make a simple offer. I would be happy to be the last moderator of the Free Church of Scotland. I would be delighted to see the Free Church coming back into our mother Kirk, the Church of Scotland. In the Free Church we don’t care so much for the Free Church, we care for the good of the Christian church in the whole of Scotland, and beyond. We want the Church of Scotland to prosper and grow.   We want to return. As Thomas Chalmers stated, ”who cares for the Free Church compared with the Christian good of Scotland?” However we agree with Chalmers when he stated that we could not return to a vitiated Establishment. We will return to the Church of Scotland, if the Church of Scotland returns to its biblical and confessional roots. Then there would be no need for the Free Church to exist and we would gladly cross the road.

On the other hand if the Church of Scotland continues on its current ‘trajectory’ then, whilst we will try and support those of our brothers and sisters who remain within it, we cannot go along with a church which ignores the Word of God, compromises with the culture and is intolerant to those who want to uphold biblical principles. Such a church deserves to die. We want to be united with Christians of whatever denomination as we seek to stand together for the cause of Christ, but we cannot do so at the expense of truth. Our aim is the ‘world turned upside down’, not the superficial and shallow outward unity of the denominations.  There will be no union and no co-operation between the Church of Scotland and the Free Church, as long as the former continues to ignore the teaching of the Word of God.

But being realistic there is little hope of the Church of Scotland returning to its roots. So what can we do in terms of Christian unity? I was at the 2009, 2011 and 2013 Assemblies. I listened with pride to the excellent case made by our brother and sister evangelicals within the Kirk, and watched with horror as the bible, reason and logic were completely ignored and the Church sold its birthright for a mess of potage.   Each time leading evangelicals assured us that they fought on and that people should wait until the final decision. But the evangelicals were ‘played’. The whole scenario from 2009 was not about ‘discerning what the Scriptures say’, but rather about keeping the traditionalists and evangelicals on board. With a divided and rudderless evangelicalism it was easy enough to get most to stay by stringing out the process, make sure they got the message that those who leave will be treated badly and offer those who stay a seat at the table (as long as they don’t get to decide the menu and play along with the ‘we are all gracious nice people who differ on minors but agree on the majors’).

Well now that that decision has been made, what should the response be? It is not for me to tell other evangelicals what to do, but can I agree with the retiring moderator of the Church of Scotland when he urged people to ‘play for the team’.   The question then becomes whose team do you play for? Is it the Church of Scotland? The Free Church? The Baptists?   Or just simply Christ’s? The Church that he bought with his own blood?  Is it a team with fellow players such as the Rev. Scott McKenna of Edinburgh Presbytery who posted a YouTube video of a sermon he preached in which he stated things such as “I was asked if Jesus died for my sins and I replied, ‘no, no, no, no – that’s ghastly theology, you don’t want to go there”. Or is your team one that includes Baptists such as Paul Rees of Charlotte Chapel, or the Free Church, or those who have left the Church of Scotland, or others who share the same evangelical faith?

There will be those who stay in the Church of Scotland for various reasons and I personally will want to support and encourage you for as long as you can.  But can I offer this word of encouragement?   Don’t stay in and fight believers in other churches. Stay in and fight unbelievers in your own. And we will be with you all the way. For example it was good to hear Rev Dr Andrew McGowan of Covenant Fellowship urging presbyteries to ‘disobey the GA”. Let me assure Covenant Fellowship and others that we will stand with you all the way in your ‘covenant’ disobedience. However if there are those ‘evangelicals’ who think evangelicalism is an ‘optional extra’, that it is the denomination that matters, that there is no other game in town, then I’m afraid you are on your own. Meanwhile for many others I suspect that they now realize the game is up and the situation is irredeemable.   For the sake of the Gospel maybe it is time to go.

Like Martin Luther King I too have a dream. It is a dream where bible believing Christians work together as one, where we don’t just profess unity with our lips, but instead live it with our lives.   By this, said Jesus, all men will know that you are my disciples.   I am not naïve enough to think that it is either likely or desirable for all Christians to join the Free Church but can I at least plead for the following:

  • Lets begin by recognizing and seeking to encourage and help all our fellow Christians in Scotland. Whether it is those who remain within the C of S, or those who don’t share our specific Reformed theology but nonetheless are ‘most in the main things’, let us love and support our brothers and sisters.   I have enjoyed working with Charismatics such as those associated with CLAN even though there are some things I struggle with. We find the brothers and sisters of Christ in many unexpected places. One of my favourite McCheyne quotes is – “I would rather have pastor Martin Boos, preacher of the Church of Rome, though he was, preach in my own pulpit, than some frigid evangelical from my own church”!”
  • But lets move in a bit. There are those who we have a closer tie with because we share the same biblical reformed theology, the same doctrine of Scripture and the same biblical view of ministry and the importance of the local church. Can we work with those of our brothers and sisters who are not Presbyterians, or who cannot bring themselves to formally align with us? Not just the pious platitudes about Christian unity but real practical help. Should we not seek to establish Gospel partnerships and coalitions such as have been established in Edinburgh and we are seeking to establish in Tayside?   Can we not commend, support and work with our ‘independent’ brothers and sisters in the FIEC? A partnership between the Free Church and FIEC could have significant implications for church planting and gospel work in Scotland.
  • There is a realignment of Scottish Presbyterianism going on just now, whether we like it or not. The question is whether we are going to shatter into a hundred different pieces or can we work for a united national Presbyterian biblical church in Scotland? We really don’t need yet more Presbyterian denominations. I have seen four new Presbyterian denominations start in Scotland in my three decades of ministry and expect to see another couple soon. Even those these are changed times this is surely not the vision of John Knox and the Scottish Reformers.  Rather than the continual divisions could we not have some reunifications? I want to commend the example of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church from the USA who came to plant churches in Scotland and began with Grace Church Leith. When Athole Rennie and the congregation decided to come into the Free Church, the ARPC, recognized the changed situation in Scotland, encouraged and sent them with their blessing.   Is it not time for the smaller Presbyterian, older or newer, denominations to reunite? Maybe its time for the Free Church Continuing to ‘discontinue’?

And for those who are leaving or will leave the Church of Scotland, I know that you are hurting and probably have had enough to do with Presbyterian denominations for a life time. I can understand why your previous experiences, the pain of leaving, your perceptions of the Free Church and the desire for freedom to do your own thing, would incline you either towards setting up your own denominations, or being independent, but will you not consider working with us, if not joining us?

Presbyterianism is not about networks based on PLUS (people like us), but rather about churches with people from all different backgrounds being committed practically and really to one another. My concern is not with the Free Church, my concern is with the Christian good of Scotland, and I believe that that good is better served by new churches being planted, and old ones revitalized, than it is by new denominations being started up. A united national Presbyterian church (with a variety of expressions and a diversity of congregations) would serve Scotland a whole lot better than a dozen ‘Presbyterian denominations/networks’.

  • Let me move in a wee bit more. Within the Free Church I hope and pray that the bad old days of needless divisions and tribalism have gone. But we must always be vigilant.   The key aspect must be unity in diversity and keeping both party and personal politics away from our denominational life and inter- church relationships.   As in God’s providence we continue to grow and develop we need to be on our guard and seek ‘the peace of Jerusalem’.
  • And finally let me make a plea for unity in our local congregations. I know of nothing that harms a church more than internal division caused by human sinfulness, pride, unreality and prayerlessness.   Where there is peace and harmony, centred on Christ, then there is also the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the life everlasting (Ps 133).  Church discipline and speaking the truth in love are surely essential components of this unity.

And then lets move out again.  Because ultimately its not about our local Church, the Free Church, Gospel Coalitions, Christian networks, interdenominational agencies, national or international churches. It’s about the Church of God which he bought with his own blood. We always need the grand vision of the Church Triumphant, the Bride of Christ, throughout all ages.   The words of Samuel Stone’s great hymn, The Church’s One Foundation, are apposite to our situation:

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, How long?
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
I leave you with a passage of Scripture to reflect on:

Ezekiel

43 Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell face down. The glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east. Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

 We do not want the glory of the Free Church. We do not want the glory of Scotland. We do not want self-glory. All these glories will fade away. What we want is the glory of the Lord to enter the Church, and for the land of Scotland and indeed the whole world, to be radiant with his glory. Habakkuk 2:14 – 14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.   Amen. Even so come soon Lord Jesus.