Here’s an article from yesterday’s Herald about last Friday’s case.  Hardly up-to-date news!  Why do they keep calling evangelicals “hardliners”.  The pro-gay lobby are just as hardline on what they believe.  Why not just evangelicals?  Or “the orthodox” members of the Kirk. 

Hardline opponents have won a key victory to stop the ordination of gay ministers in the Church of Scotland. A special Kirk court upheld a complaint that one of the largest presbyteries broke the moratorium appointing gay clergy when it agreed to allow a man in a civil partnership to begin training for ministry.

The Kirk Commission of Assembly voted 43 to 38 that Hamilton Presbytery was wrong when it agreed that Dimitri Ross should begin training. Mr Ross was appointed on the proviso that meets any student – that they are not guaranteed employment at the end of training – and so was at first thought not to have broken the moratorium.

The decision means that no gay ministers will be appointed until 2011 when the issue will be re-examined at the highest level after anger at the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie, who is openly gay, to a post in Aberdeen. The Kirk commissioners now have agreed that the moratorium includes training for the ministry, “which, by its very nature looks towards ordination and induction”.

Some Kirk members reacted bitterly when Mr Ross was appointed and he withdrew from training. It is unclear whether his traineeship would have been terminated, but the Kirk confirmed yesterday no more gay candidates will be allowed until 2011. The Church spokesman would not provide details of the complaint by the Rev Iain Murdoch of Wishaw that led to the decision over trainees and declined to comment further. Hamilton Presbytery declined to comment.

The decision also means those unhappy with the principle and length of the moratorium will not force a debate at next year’s General Assembly. Under the moratorium, ministers are also barred from speaking in public about any aspect of human sexuality while the high-level Special Commission gathers its evidence ahead of the 2011 debate, except in Kirk courts or for social care such as discussing helping Aids victims.

One of a group of defiant ministers to have spoken out over the ban in online blogs is the Rev Ian Watson, of Kirkmuirhill, Lanarkshire, who was also a commissioner at the court hearing. He said: “He (Mr Ross) had already received advice from the central Church that the moratorium did not cover training for the ministry and that being in a same-sex relationship was no bar to his becoming a candidate. “Those who argued for the Presbytery insisted that what the deliverance said was precisely what they had meant, no more no less.” Evangelicals against gay ordination were said to be growing in confidence after the vote. Some feel the momentum is such that agreement cannot be reached in 2011, and rather than leaving the Kirk the movement will make a stand when the clash comes.

Privately one said: “We are the main body of the Kirk.” Others have pointed towards the fact that 56 congregations against gay ordination have signed covenants saying so under the auspices of the Fellowship of Confessing Churches. Affirmation Scotland, which supports gay ordination, has nine congregations signed up. But it is only a small representation of the 1400 congregations.



November 17, 2009

 Leviticus 11 with Mk.7 Sermon #4


When I was studying law a number of my class-mates were Jews.  None of them were particularly religious.  They observed the Jewish holidays just as most Scots observe Christmas—more out of tradition than religious conviction.  There was nothing about them that marked them out as different from the rest of us.  They didn’t dress differently, they didn’t speak differently, they didn’t  look any different either.

However, there was one thing that distinguished them from the rest of the class.  At parties they were very particular about what they ate.  They would want to know what exactly was in the sandwiches.  A platter of meat would be scrutinised and questions asked. 

Most of us know that Jews won’t eat pork.  You may also be aware that they won’t eat any kind of shellfish either.  Even many secular Jews won’t compromise on this.

When we turn our noses up at certain foods its usually a matter of taste.  It’s certainly not because of our religion.  We find it strange that food and drink can be part of one’s faith.  The idea is foreign to Christianity.  The Lord Jesus specifically said Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean?  (Mk.7:18). 

Mark makes a point of telling us that in so saying our Lord declared all foods clean. 

Therefore, it’s not easy for us to appreciate why other religions make such a big deal about food.  It’s not easy for us to listen patiently to the lists of clean and unclean animals in Leviticus 11.  How can one animal be “clean” and another “unclean”?  Why is it all right to eat a sheep but not a pig or a camel or a rabbit?  What’s wrong with prawns and oysters? 

And here’s the million dollar question: what possible relevance does all this have to us?  What bearing does any of this have on us as Christians.  The Lord Jesus declared all foods clean; surely this is one part of the Bible we can ignore.


Over the past few weeks since we began looking at Leviticus we’ve been thinking about sacrifice and the priests who offer the sacrifices.  The overarching lesson I’ve been trying to communicate is this: that God has not changed, and his requirements have not changed.

If we are to worship Almighty God as he wants to be worshipped; if we are to be reconciled to him, at peace with him, then he still requires us to bring a sacrifice.  And we still need a high priest to offer it on our behalf.

The requirement has not changed.  What has changed is that in the Lord Jesus Christ we have a better sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats and lambs.  Heb.9:26 says  But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.

Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He is the spotless lamb who, to use Peter’s words, has redeemed us from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.  (1Pet.1:18). 

More than that, not only is he a better sacrifice, he is a better high priest than Aaron or any of his successors.  To quote from Hebrews again: but because Jesus lives for ever he has a permanent priesthood.  Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them. (7:24,25)

Aaron wore a breastplate studded with twelve jewels representing the twelve tribes of Israel, symbolic of him carrying the nation close to his heart.  So the Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest, carries his beloved ones close to his heart, praying to the Father for us without ceasing.


With Leviticus 11 the work of the priests begins.  There was more to being a priest than just officiating at the tabernacle or temple—just as there is more to being a minister than preaching sermons on a Sunday!  Another important job was teaching the people God’s law.  They had to teach the people what God expected of them.  And they themselves were to living examples of what they taught.

Chapter 10 tells us of what happened when they failed in that regard.  Aaron’s two eldest sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered what 10:1 calls unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.  The fire for their censers should have come from the altar.  For some reason they took fire from elsewhere.  Given the instruction in v.9 banning the priests from drinking alcohol while on duty there is a suggestion that they might have been drunk and that’s what led to their negligence.

The point is, they offered unauthorised, literally strange or alien fire.  And as a result the Lord consumed them with fire. 

Look at 10:10, for this is the nub of the matter.  The Lord says to Aaron: You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean. 

Nadab and Abihu had failed to do that: as far as they were concerned fire from any source would do.  After all, fire is fire.  But they were wrong.  Fire involved in worship had to come from a holy source, the altar. 

So what follows now are instructions on how to distinguish between the holy and the common, the unclean and the clean.  Chapter 11 deals with animals (which can be eaten and which can’t), and what happens if you touch a carcass. Chapter 12 is about the after effects of child-birth; chapters 13 &14 with infections, both of humans and of objects (after all, mildew on your clothes looks like an infection).  Chapter 15 concerns bodily functions. 

The long and the short of it is, there are certain things and states of being which render a person “unclean”.  When one is unclean one must physically remove oneself from the community in case you contaminate somebody else.  One must do one’s best to avoid becoming unclean, but sometimes it can’t be helped.  It’s going to happen at some point or another.  So provision is made for becoming clean again. 

Underlying all this is the need to be holy.  Please don’t miss this.  At the end of chapter 11, at v.44, the Lord says:

I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.  Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground.  I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy because I am holy.

There is a connection between the exodus and these instructions.  There is a connection between God liberating his people from slavery in Egypt and these dietary regulations.  There is a connection between being holy and what they eat. 

That may seem strange to us, and therefore a point that’s easily missed.  There’s nothing arbitrary about these food laws.  There is a very specific purpose behind him.  And that purpose is holiness.  



Before we go any further, let me summarise chapter 11 for you.  v.3 states that any animal that has a split hoof which is completely divided and chews the cud may be eaten.  So that would be cattle and sheep.  Other animals, which either chew the cud but don’t have split hooves; or have split hooves but don’t chew the cud are to be regarded as unclean. 

Fish with scales and fins can be eaten; but no other water creatures.  Birds of prey are out of bounds too.  So are flying insects, except those that hop, like crickets and grasshoppers.  Animals that swarm or scurry, like mice and lizards are also unclean. 

The chapter also states that you make yourself unclean if you touch a carcass, regardless of whether the animal is clean or unclean.  If you find yourself in that situation, you wait till evening, you wash, and then you are clean again. 

And it’s not just people who can be made unclean by a carcass.  v.32 says that anything coming into contact with death—be it made of wood, cloth, hide, or sackcloth—had to be washed in water.  v.33 says that if you took the lid off a pot to check how the stew was doing and found a dead mouse floating inside you had to throw out the food and the pot. 

The only exception to this rule was a spring or cistern (v.36).  This is where they got their water from, not just for drinking but for ritual purification too. So if a dead animal was found there, the water, which was flowing constantly, was not regarded as unclean.  A source of purity cannot be defiled. 


Scholars and commentators have puzzled over these regulations for centuries, trying to make sense of them, trying to find a pattern, a rationale behind why some animals are considered clean and others not. 

The health and hygiene theory has become very popular in recent years; but that says more about modern concerns than about ancient beliefs. Almost anything can be eaten safely if it’s cooked thoroughly.  And anyway, if hygiene were the rationale, that would still be relevant.  So why did the Lord Jesus declare all foods clean? 

The best explanation in my opinion comes from an anthropologist called Mary Douglas.  She points out that creation divides the animal kingdom into three areas of activity—the land, the air, and the sea. 

Each area has a particular motion or action associated with it—land animals have hooves for walking and running; birds have feathers for flying; and fish have fins and scales for swimming. 

Those animals which are fully true to type are clean; those which deviate in some way are unclean.  Take land animals.  Cattle and sheep have hooves and they chew the cud.  That is being fully true to type.  All other animals deviate from this pattern somehow.  Either they don’t chew the cud or they don’t have hooves. 

Water creatures that don’t have both fins and scales, like dolphins and shellfish, deviate from type.  They are unclean.

Little scurrying animals make a similar point.  Creation is about order, not chaos; and their movements are, to our eyes, chaotic.  Birds of prey feed on carrion, and their association with death, the ultimate chaos, render them unclean.  It’s the same with people: any contact with death renders a person unclean. 

So this whole business of clean and unclean animals was a way of using nature as a giant object lesson to God’s people.  The Lord was saying to them: you are to be true to type.  I rescued you from Egypt for a reason.  You are my chosen people; chosen to be holy; chosen to be a light to the world; chosen to be a kingdom of priests.  You must conform to type.  You must not be like the pagan nations around you.  You must be what you are called to be. 

Every time they made the distinction between an animal that was clean and one that was unclean, they were also making a distinction between themselves and the Gentile world.  Every time they themselves became unclean by touching something dead, and thus had to separate themselves from everybody else, they were reminded of the tremendous privilege that was theirs—of not being cut off from the Living God, but enjoying is constant presence. 


In 1Pet.1:15, 16 the apostle quotes Leviticus saying: But just as he who called you is holy so be holy in all you do, for it is written, Be holy because I am holy. 

The principle that God’s people are to be a holy people, distinguishing them from the unbelieving world, remains as true today as it ever was.  We too are a liberated people—liberated from the power of sin and death.  We too are called to be a royal priesthood.  We are to be different from the world, attractively different.  We are still called to be true to type.  What has changed is how we demonstrate that are a holy people belonging to God. 

The Jews demonstrated their distinctiveness through outward practices like observing the Levitical food laws.  Indeed, these laws became what could be called a badge of identity for them.  You knew your next door neighbours were Jews because of what they ate and didn’t eat.

In time this became a problem.  As often happens with religious people, the Jews became more concerned with the outward practice than with the inner spiritual reality.  Their attitude was, so long as you observe the rules, you’ll be “clean”, your relationship with God and the community will be fine. 

 No wonder the Pharisees were furious when our Lord Jesus turned the whole idea on its head: Nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him.  Rather it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.

Don’t misunderstand.  Our Lord wasn’t criticising the Old Testament law.  What he was doing was bringing out its real meaning.  To be fair, Old Testament believers who saw beyond the superficial, had always understood that the real source of impurity was sin. 

Ps.51, King David’s prayer of confession, repeatedly asks for spiritual cleansing: Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin (v.2)  Cleanse me with hyssop and I shall be clean, wash me and I shall be whiter than snow (v.7)

David realized that by committing adultery with Bathsheba he had not been true to type—he had not behaved as a married man should, nor as an anointed king of Israel. 

What comes out of man, says the Lord Jesus, is what makes him unclean...evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 

These are what make us unclean in God’s sight.  They are not worthy of his people.  They belong to the sphere of rebellion and death.  When we allow such attitudes to take up residence in our hearts and minds; when they begin to dictate our behaviour, we are acting contrary to type.  There is nothing to distinguish us from unbelievers. 

And therefore we must do all we can to avoid contact with anything that would encourage such an inconsistency. 

We can’t remove ourselves from the real world; we’re going to be tempted, we’re going to pick up some dirt along the way—it’s inevitable.  But all the more reason for not putting ourselves in the situation where unclean thoughts and actions become irresistible. 

The Lord Jesus was quite ruthless.  He said: If your right eye causes you to sin gouge it out and throw it away…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.  (Mt.6:29,30)

What’s he talking about?  He’s talking about taking drastic action to remove ourselves from anything that would stunt our growth in holiness; anything that would promote that which truly renders us unclean in God’s sight. 

Think about the company you keep.  Are there certain people in your life, who, when you are with them, somehow manage to dim the light of Christ that otherwise shines brightly from you?  It’s not just that they are not Christians.  It’s that they actively, deliberately dampen your faith.  When you are with them it’s like being separated from the Lord.  You become more like them, and less like the Saviour you love. 

You become unclean.

Think about some of the TV programmes or films you watch, or books and magazines you read.  What influence are they having on you?  What thoughts linger in your mind afterwards? What impression do they leave behind?  By God’s grace you have been dying to sin, but exposing yourself to such material is like giving water to a thirsty man–the old sinful self is revived and refreshed. 

You make yourself unclean. 

Be holy as I am holy, says the Lord.  And that means doing all we can to avoid that which pollutes our souls as well as doing all we can to promote and encourage Christ-likeness. 

The Apostle Paul says to the Philippians (4:8): whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things. 

 And what if we do sully ourselves?  It’s a horrible feeling, knowing that we have sinned, knowing that we have allowed ourselves to be led into temptation and quite brazenly feasted on that which is unclean.  Guilt clings to us like cigarette smoke on our clothes.  Like King David our only prayer is: Wash me, cleanse me, purify me. 

 The ancient Israelites washed in water, they waited, and then they were clean.  They were accepted back into the community.

 What about us?  For if the contamination is inward and spiritual, then no amount of washing in water will help.  Where can we go to be made clean?

Leviticus 11 offers us some help.  Do you remember I mentioned the one exception to the rule that death contaminates?  v.36 says: A spring, however, or a cistern for collecting water remains clean

Since a spring or cistern is a source of water, and therefore the source of purity, it cannot be defiled. 

How could the Lord Jesus touch the leper without becoming unclean himself?

How could the woman with the haemorrhage touch him without contaminating him?

How could he take Jairus’ dead daughter by the hand and yet remain spiritual clean?

Because, my friends, the Lord Jesus Christ is the source of purity.  He is the one who makes us clean.  He is the living water, the source of the water of life.  When we come to him in faith we are washing ourselves clean, spiritually clean.  We are washing away all the dirt, all the grime, that stains our souls. 


Are you a Christian who in someway has not been acting according to type?  You have asked Christ Jesus to be your Saviour and Lord, yet there is something in your life which is directly contradicting that profession of faith.  You have failed to distinguish between the clean and the unclean. 

Now is the time to get right with God again. Now is the time to return to the source of spiritual purity. 

And perhaps there is someone here today for whom religion has been all about outward signs of respectability.  You think it’s about being a good person, observing the rules, playing the game. 

 Friend, true religion has never been limited to the outward show, to rules and regulations.  You too must go to the source of purity, to the Lord Jesus Christ, who will wash away the sin that otherwise will keep you out of heaven.  Rev.21:27 tells us: Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. 

The old hymn puts it like this:

What can wash away my stain? Nothing but the blood of Jesus

What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh precious is the flow that makes me white as snow

No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus
















More on the Commission

November 16, 2009

Here’s a more detailed version of events.  I’ve tried to keep it factual.  The outcome raises so many issues but at this stage it’s best not to get into that. 

 The end result was that the Commission decided to uphold the dissent and complaint against the Presbytery of Hamilton.  The practical result is that the deliverance brought in the name of Rev. Dr. John McPake at May’s General Assembly (amended after long debate)—the moratorium—is to be interpreted broadly and not restrictively.  When it instructs Courts, Councils and Committees of the Church not “to make decisions in relation to contentious matters of sexuality, with respect to Ordination and Induction” that includes training for the ministry, which, by its very nature looks towards ordination and induction.   Should a Court, Council or Committee be faced with making a decision in this regard they must decline to do so, sisting the matter if appropriate, until 31st May 2011. 

The history of the case, briefly, is that a man living in a civil partnership applied to the Presbytery of Hamilton to be nominated as a candidate for the ministry at their September meeting.  He had already received advice from the central church—the Principal Clerk’s office, the Ministries Council executive—that the moratorium did not cover training for the ministry and that being in a same-sex relationship was no bar to his becoming a candidate. 

When the Presbytery’s Ministry Committee first considered the application they concluded that the effect of the moratorium meant they must sist the application until May 2011.  

Between making that decision and the night of the Presbytery meeting the Presbytery Clerk received advice from the Principal Clerk that to decide not to nominate (ie, to sist) was in fact making a decision, and therefore in breach of the moratorium.  The moratorium only covered ordinations and inductions and nothing else. 

Therefore, on the night of the Presbytery meeting, the Presbytery’s Ministry Committee met and decided to change its recommendation to Presbytery, to the effect that the application be accepted, with the rider that it was subject to the outcome of the 2011 Assembly.  This would allow the prospective candidate to begin training in the full knowledge that at a future date he may not be able to proceed to ordination.

This recommendation was accepted by the Presbytery. 

 While it might seem that the Presbytery had reached a wise compromise, it presented the wider church with a problem.  Was this indeed the outcome May’s General Assembly had in mind?  Some felt that this was too narrow an interpretation.  While Hamilton Presbytery might wish to add a rider to their acceptance of the candidate, other Presbyteries might not.   Were this decision to go unchallenged, it would appear that the Church of Scotland had not decided not to train sexually active homosexuals for the ministry. 

Many believe that the moratorium provided the church with the chance to calm down.  The relative peace which has descended upon the church would be endangered if it become known that the moratorium was being applied so strictly as to be null and void for all practical purposes. 

The case for the complainers was presented by Rev. Iain Murdoch, graciously and meticulously.  With the help of a printed transcript of the three hour long “McPake debate” he and others reminded the Commission of the atmosphere that afternoon.  The peace and unity of the church was the Assembly’s greatest desire.   Nothing was to happen, nothing at all “in respect to Ordination and Induction.” 

Those who argued for the Presbytery insisted that what the deliverance said was precisely what they had meant—no more no less. 

The Commission agreed with the complainers, by 43 votes to 38.


November 13, 2009

This is a very quick note to let you know what happened at today’s Commission of Assembly regarding the Hamilton Presbytery case.  At very short notice I was asked to be a commissioner so I had a front row seat and in the end was the one who moved the motion that the appeal be upheld.

And it was – by 43 votes to 38.  Talk about a close call.  At first I thought we’d lost and nearly asked for a recount.  But then I realized my motion was the counter-motion and the Moderator was saying that the counter-motion was carried.

When I get a chance I’ll go through the arguments.  But should know that the hero of the day was Iain Murdoch of Wishaw who had the courage to bring the appeal in the first place and at great personal cost (in terms of time, energy and spirit) prepared a meticulous case. 

The result is that the Commission has interpreted the moritorium of May 2009 as having wide rather than narrow scope.  The moritorium on ordinations and inductions extends to training for the ministry too and anyone who is actively homosexual who applies to be a candidate for the ministry must have their application sisted (ie. put on ice) until May 2011.