Thursday, 4 July 2013

Objections, your honour?

This post is a supplement to my main one considering the Church of Scotland’s recent decision regarding the ordination of people in same-sex relationships.  Obviously, mine is not the only view and many objections have been raised to it.  In the main post I dealt with what I saw as key attempts to raise biblical objections but as I said there, those were not the most numerous of the objections I have heard.  Personally, if the case is not founded on scripture then I hope it will not change anyone’s mind but given that people do have other objections I thought I would address those which I have heard.

Nothing has changed

Many people argue that we should stay because the Church of Scotland has not changed its position (in which case I refer you to the previous post and the speeding analogy).  Others argue that we should stay and fight this until it becomes law.  I do wish those people the very best and I pray that they will be able to stand but I do not think this stands as a solid objection.  It seems to me at least that if this issue really is about the authority of God’s word and not homophobia then we should leave now.  I say this because the Church of Scotland’s ruling body has already said that the word of God does not matter to it when it comes to making decisions.  If we stay until it becomes law it seems to me that our objection lies not in that defiance of God’s word, but with the result of it (the ordination of practising homosexuals).  I am leaving the Church of Scotland because they do not hold to the authority of God and so I think it wise to leave now.

New converts

This objection is essentially that new Christians would go the Church of Scotland because it is the biggest/established church, and that we must stay so they are not led astray.  This argument just does not hold water. New Christians don't generally just pop into existence unaided. Conversion normally follows either church attendance (in which case they would presumably stay in that church), personal witness (in which case the friend would bring them along to their church) or corporate evangelism (in which case the mission would be based from a local church, or should be able to point towards one). In none of those cases would someone just go along to the Church of Scotland because it was 'the biggest one' or ‘the established church’. Even if we did accept that a new Christian, who doesn't know the difference between Christianity and Liberalism should wander down the street with no prior knowledge looking for a church, what benefit will it be if the evangelical ones have the same sign on the door as the liberal ones? What benefit will it be if someone happens on a Liberal Church of Scotland congregation if there is also a Bible-believing one with the Church of Scotland sign on the door just down the road? Or in the next city? I know people who grew up in liberal congregations who never knew the truth, and only found out because someone outside the Church of Scotland told them it.  The fact there were evangelical congregations in the Church of Scotland did not help them at all.  Individual evangelical congregations just do not have any great influence over liberal ones and therefore it seems foolish to stay in order to have that influence (which we don’t actually have anyway).  It seems to me that it would be much easier if evangelical churches weren't all under the authority of people who do not believe the Bible, weren't funding ministers who do not submit to God and didn't have the same sign on the door as the Liberal ones. Besides, if we all left and joined the Free Church then the Church of Scotland wouldn't BE the 'biggest' anyway…

Facetiousness aside though, in many ways my main objection to this is that it denies the sovereignty of God by saying that He cannot work through smaller denominations, or those which are not ‘the national church’.  He can, and does, bring people to other churches and if being faithful to His word means leaving then He will continue to bless the work that we do and this nicely brings me to the second objection to leaving.

God’s sovereignty

Many people say that God is in control and He allowed this decision to be made.  To which the response has to be: Yes, and?  God is in control, He chose the general assembly result.  He also chose to allow Jesus to be crucified.  Did that mean those who did it were right?  He also chose to allow the Catholic Church uncontested sway over most of Europe for hundreds of years.  Did that mean the reformers were wrong?  God allows things to happen which are against His revealed will in the Bible.  The fact that He allowed this does not mean He approved it.  It definitely does not mean that we should stay; there is not logical path to be drawn there.  A second, related argument is often used.  That is to argue that God is sovereign and therefore is able to turn the Church of Scotland around.  Again this is true and again, it is irrelevant.  God can do anything.  We however cannot and must simply act in faithfulness to His word.  God may well be using this crisis to strengthen the Church in Scotland by destroying the Church of Scotland.  We do not know.

The Reformation

I mentioned the reformers while discussing the previous objection and that brings me to what is, to me, one of the most bizarre objections.  Namely that in the time of the reformation Calvin, Luther and Huss (among many others) all faced worse heresies in the Church than we do now, and yet they did not try to leave. Rather they stayed, surrounded by disregard for God’s word until they were forced out by the authorities of the church at their time.  This is worth taking some time to unpack because I think it provides several useful lessons.  Again I have to stress this debate is not about sex. This debate is about whether the Church has the authority to be the supreme rule of faith and life or whether God's word has that authority. Which, actually, was the root of the reformation. The Pope claimed authority over and above that of scripture, leading to faulty doctrines of salvation. Likewise the Church of Scotland is now claiming authority to decide whether what God calls sin is in fact sin. This motion was picked because it suited the Church of Scotland as an institution, not because of any scriptural backing. So I disagree that they actually faced more important issues then as we do know.  However, the situation of the church at the beginning of the reformation was also not the same as the situation of the church today. In the reformation there was an established church which had held unbiblical positions, mainly from a position of ignorance, for many years. In our situation we have a church which is moving away from a biblical position, in full knowledge of what the word of God says on the matter.

Secondly, the RC church was the only one in most of the world. There was no Bible-affirming denomination that Luther and Calvin could have left to join. In Scotland I could name 5 Presbyterian denominations off the top of my head, all of whom believe in the Bible as the supreme rule of faith and life.  Of course if it is biblically wrong to stay then where to go is not an issue!

Thirdly, the reformers took the whole city of Geneva out of the Roman Catholic church and Calvin took it over for years! How can that be used as an argument for following his example and um, staying in the church?

Fourthly, (and here is a challenge for those who do want to stay within the denomination) if you want to follow the example of the reformers, fine. But actually do it. Stop submitting to the authority of Presbytery wherever their decision is unbiblical, stop giving money to the Church of Scotland as a whole to fund unbiblical ministries. The reformers refused to submit to the authority of the Pope, they utterly rejected the church's authority over them and while some didn't officially leave until they were kicked out, they effectively ignored the church hierarchy and went God's way instead.

Fifthly, and I've touched on this but I cannot stress it enough, the RC church as a whole had not rejected the Bible and their official position was not that it was irrelevant. Rather, their absolute leaders had rejected the authority of the Bible and everyone else was ignorant. That is not our position today. In the Presbyterian system we have voted to allow this twice already, and no doubt will again. This decision has been taken by people who have the Bible in their own language and have, hopefully, read it many times. It is taken, not from ignorance, but from a position of knowledge. If anything I would say that the Church of Scotland is in even more trouble.  From those who know much, much will be asked.

Lastly, referring back to the Biblical arguments from the original post, I think Luther and Calvin would turn in their graves if we dared to use them as an example to follow in the face of Biblical teaching to the contrary.

Money Matters

At its most straightforward the objection is that it will cost you to leave. This is possibly the most common argument from both evangelicals and liberals and also the easiest to refute. To put it simply, it doesn’t matter. If we think leaving is the God honouring decision then you bet we'll leave; whatever it costs. Seek first the Kingdom of God. As Jesus promises: "everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life." What is a church building compared to furthering the glory of God?

Leaving others in the lurch

Some say that there are evangelical congregations who can’t support a minister.  Again this argument holds a challenge for us as evangelicals.  It is my firm belief that it takes 10 people tithing to support a minister on the same salary as those 10 enjoy.  The one specific example I was told of was a church with around 50 members.  If 50 evangelical members cannot support a minister, in a reasonably well off region of the country, then there is something wrong with our giving!

Besides, why do we have this idea that we can only give money to people within our denomination?  Why can’t we continue to fund those evangelicals who actually cannot afford their ministry (if there are such) even when we don’t belong to the same denomination?  Let us take this opportunity to break denominational boundaries and fund Baptist church plants, or Free Church congregations.  Even those who stay, if they honour God and obey His Word.

We don’t agree with the other guys

The objections here being that we can’t leave the Church of Scotland for the Free/Associated Presbyterian/International Presbyterian Church; they disagree with us about Women Elders/Hats/Worship style! Now I’m being a bit facetious there, obviously the issue of hats and female elders are not equally important but I could not fully credit it when someone first said something along these lines to me.  Is the presence or absence of women elders really more important than the authority of God?  For me at least it seems that if I have to be part of a church which disagrees with me on something I would rather it be a relatively small issue of interpretation than one of the very authority of God!  There will of course be difficulties involved in a change of denomination.  The issue of women elders is a major one for many people but even such an important issue is inconsequential compared to the compromise needed to remain in the Church of Scotland.  It will require sacrifice for some in giving up their ability to hold a certain position within the church but is that not worth it to be a part of a denomination that agrees on the primary matters of our faith?

No doubt there are objections that I have missed, these are just those which I have heard.  As I say, I do not think any of them carry weight when compared to the biblical case, but perhaps for some they may be important and I hope this has helped.

If you missed the link at the start, my other post can be found at the following address:

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