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.