Thursday, May 28, 2009

An interesting comment on the Church of Scotland situation

(H/t to David Ould) Carl Trueman makes some interesting observations on the Church of Scotland crisis (not all of which I agree with!). What he says may have something to say to us in the Anglican Communion. Here's an excerpt:

"Secondly, Dr Philip informs his congregation that he refuses to acknowledge the authority and judgment of the Assembly in this matter, that the denomination is not the church, and that from now on he will fellowship only with those churches in the C of S that he considers to be biblically faithful. As a sign of protest, his church will no longer give money to central funds.

This is strange ecclesiology indeed. In fact, it is not Presbyterian ecclesiology at all. All ministers in the C of S have no doubt taken vows to honour and uphold the governance of the Church of Scotland. Those who disagree with the GA ruling would seem therefore to have three options if they wish to be truly Presbyterian and to act in a manner consistent with their vows: either they can appeal the decision, if such a mechanism exists (and I believe something like this may well be in the works, if reports in the Glasgow Herald are accurate); or they can leave the church in protest, something which would be no act of schism if they regard the laws and courts of the church as incapable of upholding orthodoxy; or they can accept the ruling and stay within the church. All three are legitimate, legal options from the perspective of Presbyterian polity. What they cannot do, however, is stay within the church but in some strange state of permanent protest against, or rejection of, the church authorities; nor can they take advantage of those bits of being in the C of S they like (the name, the buildings, the public profile etc) but thumb their noses at the legally established authorities of the C of S. That is contumacious and rebellious, requires the surrendering of any claim to the moral high ground, and, if everybody does it, leads to anarchy. What they cannot do, in other words, is have their cake and eat it too. Ironically, that is, of course, precisely what the evangelicals often accuse the liberals of doing —buying in to those bits of the church and its confession they like, and rejecting those bits they don’t. Yet this is precisely what the minister of the Tron seems to be suggesting as the strategic way forward for evangelicals. ...

In short, if it looks like an independent church, acts like an independent church, and strategises like an independent church, then it is probably an independent church. The only thing that surprises me is the unwillingness of some to acknowledge this and make the obvious ecclesiastical move.

One further thought: one is left wondering what the Tron policy has to offer to the small evangelical C of S churches; or to the evangelical ministers of liberal congregations; or to the evangelical congregations with liberal ministers. Not much, one should imagine. Once again, the decades long policy of the big churches doing their own thing and the little guys having to make do with an annual conference while being beaten up by all and sundry looks set to continue for the indefinite future."

The whole can be read here.

Trueman's last paragraph is particularly telling. The potential split in (say) ACANZP is not a neat divide as in X dioceses become two groups of Y and Z dioceses; or M parishes peel away from Diocese N. No. What would happen is one or two parishes leaving more or less intact, various people leaving from other parishes, and some clergy feeling utterly torn between wanting to leave and having no post to go to, knowing that their congregations will not leave with them. Better to find another way? Better not to be frogs croaking in the pond (see post below)?

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