Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Evangelical (R)evolution in the Kirk?


Today I was able to view the debates at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This was my first experience of what is effectively the Kirk's annual general meeting.


I was very intimidated by the atmosphere in the cafe area. I felt seriously out place - lots of clever looking people, lots of stuffiness, lots of important sounding chat. Lunch at the Jolly Judge was excellent - a Highland Tattie and a Guinness in the company of my former supervisor. But the GA itself was very interesting - certainly, procedure does dominate, and the debates are rather unreal. But all the same, the GA is the highest court in the Kirk, and it is therefore a significant event.


Despite some of my earlier posts on itothehills, the first few days of this GA indicate that slowly but surely evangelicals are beginning to hold sway in the CofS. This was confirmed for me today when Highland Theological College was approved as a suitable academic institution for the training of ministry candidates. Yesterday, leading evangelicals persuaded the GA to send a controversial report to Presbyteries for discussion and approval. This procedural move will effectively quash a report promoting liberty of conscience in the area of civil partnerships and religious ceremonies to mark them. Other significant moves that will be welcomed by many evangelicals include the surprising endorsement by the GA of a petition and motion against recent 'centralising' within the church.


However, there are serious questions facing evangelicals. Should they oppose a report on Stem Cell research commended to churches by the Assembly on Tuesday? This report apparently breaks new ground in the ethical arguments in favour of embryo research. Will evangelicals begin to use their influence to discipline fellow elders and ministers who, for example, bless civil partnerships? I am beginning to realise that words and reports don't mean anything if they don't influence practice.


But the biggest question of all for evangelicals is this: what is evangelicalism, and what would an evangelical Church of Scotland look like? Future debates in the Kirk will not really see Liberal v Evangelical. They will see conservative evangelicals arguing with emerging (liberal?) evangelicals about what church should be like in practice. At the Assembly, the most interesting commissioners were wearing t-shirts, and they consistently talked about one thing: church growth, evangelism, reaching Scotland with the gospel.


The future of the CofS is evangelical. Within 15 years evangelicals will be in the majority. But what will they believe? What will they actually be doing with their power and influence? I think these questions need to be answered sooner rather than later. Ordinary church members deserve to know the vision of their leaders.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. Not just the post, but that fact that you can bevvy with the best of them (and others!). Surely this proves that you stand in an almost unique personal relationship to the two most influential leaders on either side of the dispute? Couldn't you broker a five-year 'Shedden plan'?

David Shedden said...

Imagine, if you will, a line representing the 'theological' spectrum of the Kirk. Take that line, and make it into a circle without quite allowing the two ends to meet. I feel as if I am in that space - I know people on the edges, but I am diametrically distant from the middle ground. That was my experience in the cafe - so many folks that I've just got nothing in common with.

goodnightsafehome said...

What's the difference between a new "liberal evangelical" and a good old fashioned modernist?

Stephen said...

David, thanks for this. Your optimism is refreshing. However, do you really think the civil-partnership issue will die? As I understand it, it goes to the presbyteries but will come back next year. Why do you think it will die?

Of course in practice I expect liberals will push the agenda by actively blessing "unions" on the ground.

Ian said...

A very encouraging post indeed! I saw on Michael Bird's blog a post about HTC being accepted by the CofS, which is great news. As well, I recently listened to an interview with Andrew MacGowan who spoke about the nature of the CofS and the possibility of good breakthroughs. His statistics about Reformed ministers in the CofS blew my mind!
The interview can be found here (scroll down) here:
http://www.fpcjackson.org/resources/sermons/First%20Things%20Interviews/index_to_first_things.htm

Stephen said...

Ian,
Thanks for the link to the interview. Extremely encouraging!

David Shedden said...

Thanks for these comments above. Perhaps I'll post further on how I see the future of the CofS - it is by no means optimistic. I still think the church will be dead within my life time - it's just that evangelicals will be switching off the life support machine rather than liberals - evangelical culture is beginning to dominate across the life of all Christian movements.

As for the difference between 'liberal evangelical' and modernist - see my post about a book on emerging church. Emerging churches tend to be post-modern, and are very critical of all the old fashioned liberal attitudes and approaches to church. More l8r, perhaps.

Anonymous said...

One wonders why you want to be a minister in the Church of Scotland then?! I think you would do well to remember that the 'church' is the body of Christ and whilst the C of S may be a small arm of that, it has a part to play.

David Shedden said...

I've been brought up in the Church of Scotland, it is the only church I've ever known, and it is the only church I can imagine being part of as a minister. It has called me to prepare for ministry, and I will wait for a call to a particular congregation before making further decisions about my future.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that a 'call' came from God and not one particular denomination

David Shedden said...

Well, of course, I would not deny the call of God. But, I find it difficult to distinguish an abstract or general call to ministry from an actual call or job offer to work in a particular situation. I have a desire towards some kind of Christian ministry. So far, I believe I have followed God's calling or will in my life to that end. But it is not an absolute calling or promise on God's part that David Shedden should be a minister. Does that help explain my previous post?

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