April 21, 2014

“So, did the liberals in the Church of Scotland think that what you were preaching was not the truth?” asked my new Free Church colleague.  It’s a question that only someone who has never debated with theological liberals could ask.  For as far as liberals are concerned there is no such thing as truth.  I mean, no such thing as religious truth.  Or better put, there is no right and wrong when it comes to matters of faith.  (They believe in truth when their kids are lying to them about who ate the last slice of cake.)

When I was in the Church of Scotland no one ever tried to stop me preaching what I preached.  No one ever condemned me for preaching penal substitution, or for asserting there is a heaven to be a won and a hell to be avoided.  I was never censured for teaching predestination.  I was never mocked for proclaiming the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of our Lord.  To be completely transparent, being minister of a large church in a small presbytery, there was never any danger of discipline for having no women elders.

But the quid pro quo for that freedom was that my liberal neighbours could expect that I would never challenge them for their universalism, or for claiming that hell was what you made of life on earth.  I could denounce in the pulpit unnamed ministers who denied the basic tenants of the faith:  I would never be so foolish as to raise a particular instance at presbytery.  That’s what being a broad church is all about.  We tolerate one another.  We’re all right. None of us is wrong. 

Friends who think differently might find this hard to believe, but it is my experience that after a hard fought debate at presbytery or the General Assembly, colleagues on the other side have approached me, put their arms around me, and said something along the lines of, “That was fun.  Isn’t it good we can disagree and still be part of the same church?”  That might well be the case when the issue is, say, a matter of administration.  But not when the Biblical truth is at stake. 

A long time ago, J. Gresham Machen identified liberal theology as non-Christian.  It is not Biblical Christianity. 


That’s why, whatever else they may pack in their suit-cases, commissioners to next month’s Church of Scotland General Assembly, can leave their Bibles at home.  Ifyou want to be sure of losing a debate, quote the Bible.  The Bible is irrelevant to the debates of a 21st century church. 

That’s not just my advice.  That’s the advice evangelical commissioners are being given as they prepare for the next instalment in the great gay clergy debate.  Rather than mustering scriptural texts with which to justify their stand, they should scour their ministries for stories of men and women of homosexual orientation who remain celibate.  After all, that’s how the liberals argue—tales that warm the heart and melt stony opposition. 

The time came for me when working for and representing an institution that said one thing but practiced another became intolerable.  I could no longer be part of a church in which authority, power and influence is held by men and women for whom the Bible is merely a starting point, never the finishing point.  As to why so many of my evangelical colleagues can remain in the Church of Scotland, that’s another blog.


One Response to “WHAT IS TRUTH?”

  1. Louis Says:

    ‘I would never be so foolish as to raise a particular instance at presbytery.’ It is certainly a difficult and lonely thing to do, Ian – mainly because you cannot be guaranteed the support of fellow evangelicals, some of whom will speak against you and in support of theological liberals. Or just leave you hanging in the wind. But you seem to be saying that it would have been, therefore, wise to have remained silent. For myself, I wish that evangelicals stood up and spoke out on each and every occasion, regardless of how foolish it seems. But I think you are too hard on yourself. I never thought that you ever did anything other than speak out boldly, and I am exceptionally grateful that you did, especially a few years back when you insisted that the GA refer, to Presbyteries under the Barrier Act, the matter of blessing SSRs .

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