What next?

June 8, 2009

Last night I received a phone call from a minister to tell me that he has decided to bring forward his retirement to next year—twelve months earlier than planned. He doesn’t want to remain in the Church of Scotland longer than necessary. He’s fortunate that he’s coming to the end of over 30 years of ministry. Walking away is an option for him.

The interesting thing about this man is that he is not an evangelical. He would describe himself as orthodox, perhaps even “high church”. But his views on marriage and its sanctity have left devastated by decisions made at this year’s General Assembly.

He’s not the only one. People are hurt and angry. They feel they have lost something precious. They are going through the grieving process. And they are reacting accordingly. The case of the church not uplifting an offering has been much publicised. Others, including ministers, have decided that they will simply not put their offering in the plate. They reckon their hard earned cash will better serve God’s kingdom elsewhere. They want, somehow, to register their protest, their dissent, their disquiet, about the direction the Church is taking. I’ve also been told that the Law Department has been inundated with requests from churches for copies of their title deeds. Because of our complicated history not all church buildings belong to the Church outright. It seems that some congregations are wanting to check who owns what. And according to the BBC Scottish news site the ministers in Lochcarron and Skye Presbytery were announcing something to their congregations yesterday—I haven’t yet heard what.

It seems to me that we don’t want to make rash decisions or rushed actions. We’ve got a couple of years to prepare. That’s exactly what we should be doing. We should be preparing to argue our case biblically and cogently. We should be pulling out all the stops to engage with the Special Commission. We want to win the argument.

In the meantime, here are some things we could be doing.

1. Write to the Moderator at 121 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4YN. Tell him how you feel.

2. Make sure your Kirk Session is ready to consult with the Special Commission.

3. Ask your Kirk Session to consider joining the Fellowship of Confessing Churches. It’s not an organisation; it’s a movement of like-minded congregations.

And I wonder if there is any mileage in the idea of a rally somewhere for prayer and mutual encouragement. Certainly, we need to be praying. But let’s never lose sight of the fact that God is sovereign. Yesterday I was preaching from Isa.41. Isaiah is ministering to the exiles in Babylon. In v.14 he acknowledges how they feel about themselves “Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you, declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” That’s a word for us all.

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With John Blanchard

With John Blanchard

I’ve spent the last week trying to get back to some form of normality.  I’ve been out visiting parishioners, including the bereaved (two funerals next week), and writing my first sermon in 3 weeks.  I’ve resigned from the FT Steering Group—I’ve been involved for five years (plus the couple of years it took us to get it set up)—so I’m now out of the loop.  Journalists, please note—like Manuel, I know nothing!

The great thing that happened last week was that we got to play host to John Blanchard, the evangelist and writer.  John has been the most influential British evangelist of his generation.  Not just through his extensive travelling, but more so through his writings.  Booklets like “Ultimate Questions” have been translated into several different languages and have been instrumental in bringing thousands to faith.  John’s magnum opus is “Does God believe in atheists” which is an incredible journey through every conceivable philosophy and belief-system, including secular humanism and evolution, in an attempt to show that believing in God, and accepting Christ Jesus as Lord, is the most sensible thing anyone can do. 

John is on a Scottish tour at the moment and asked if he could come to Kirkmuirhill.  He conducted a very fruitful mission here in the early 1980s and hasn’t been back since.  I was delighted to welcome him here. 

He’s now 77 and though there is an inevitable slowing down, there is no sign of any loss of sparkle or passion.  He is a voracious reader.  If we were not talking or eating he was reading. 

I only spent a few hours in his company, so I’m far from qualified to give a definitive opinion.  So let me say one thing.  What impressed me the most was the guy’s humility.  Two examples.  First, he was reading a book in order to answer someone’s questions about it.  Not only did he ask my opinion, he noted down what I said and told me that I’d helped him!  Second, before the meeting he was sitting at a table stuffing leaflets.  I can think of men, preachers and ministers, who just wouldn’t do that (“I’ve got an assistant to do that”).  But “the great” John Blanchard was just as happy doing the donkey work as he was standing in the lime-light. 

Our Lord Jesus often spoke about humility (Mt.18, Lk.22:24-28; John 13).  It seems to me that we are most Christ-like when we take the servant’s part.