The Changing Face of Presbyterianism

The past few months have brought some significant changes and re-alignments within the Presbyterian community on both sides of the Atlantic. The withdrawal of a significant number of congregations from the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA), as well as the withdrawal of ministers and congregations from the Church of Scotland, has not only depleted these denominations, but has resulted in new alignments and associations.

Over the last decade, more than 130 PC(USA) congregations have either left or began the dismissal process from the denomination. Since the 1960’s, where the two churches that later merged into PC(USA) reported a peak membership of 4.25 million, more than 2 million Presbyterians have decided to find their church home elsewhere.

A majority of the groups leaving the PC(USA) have joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), a conservative group that began in 1981, which now has 115,000 members in nearly 300 churches. Others have joined the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) or the recently formed Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians. The PC(USA)’s “gracious dismissal” policy requires that congregations join “another Reformed body” upon leaving the group.

One congregation which has left PC(USA) is the Presbyterian Church of Kennett Square in Pennsylvania where Rev Andrew Smith, formerly of Ballywillan and Dun Laoghaire, is now minister. As with many other former PC(USA) congregations, there was a growing unease with the theological standards and direction of the denomination which led to their withdrawal.

When asked about the move, Andrew said,

“The Presbyterian Church of Kennett Square’s decision to leave the PC(USA) and join the EPC was based on our perception that the PC(USA)’s adherence to the authority of Scripture continues to weaken, as demonstrated in its position on issues of sexuality and in its practice of ordaining ministers who profess some form of universalism. We do not feel we were the schismatics in this process. Our conviction is that we are seeking to continue on the path of historical biblical orthodoxy, a path from which the PC(USA) has departed.”

A new association of Presbyterian churches in the US emerged in January 2012 known as the “Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians” or ECO for short. “ECO is a denominational entity under the umbrella of The Fellowship of Presbyterians that is committed to growing and planting flourishing churches and nurturing leaders,” reads a Fellowship statement.

“The distinctives of ECO include an emphasis on connecting leaders in accountable relationships, peer review systems for churches, leadership training, and a flatter polity structure than the PCUSA.” The meeting at which the new group was launched was attended by 2,100 Presbyterians from over 500 PC(USA) congregations.

The main reason for the creation of the ECO was their opposition to the approval of an amendment to the rules of ordination for the PC(USA). This amendment allowed individual presbyteries of the PC(USA) to approve the ordination of people who are involved in homosexual relationships

The most recent report from ECO is that a further 13 PCUSA congregations have been dismissed by the denomination to join ECO and that ECO will seek membership of the World Council of Reformed Churches towards the end of 2012 when they will be in a position to give exact details of the number of congregations and members in their fellowship.

The issue of the ordination and installation of practising homosexuals is also causing much concern within the Church of Scotland. Even though the Theological Commission on Same-Sex Relationships set up by their General Assembly does not report until next year, a number of ministers and some congregations have already taken steps to leave the denomination. Most notable among those moving out is St George’s Tron congregation, based in Glasgow’s city centre.

The Rev Dr William Philip, minister of the 500 strong congregation said that their decision to separate from the Church of Scotland was the culmination of careful thought, sincere discussion and prayer for over 12 months.

“Last year, despite having had the clear opportunity, the General Assembly failed to reverse the stance taken in 2009 approving the appointment of ordained ministers in same-sex relationships. Instead, it clearly and deliberately chose to set an opposite trajectory towards normalising such relationships.  In doing so the highest court of the Kirk has marginalised the Bible, the written Word of God. We believe the Church of Scotland is choosing to walk away from the biblical gospel, and to walk apart from the faith of the worldwide Christian Church. This year, the General Assembly refused to affirm that its churches be marked out as for the unique and exclusive worship of Jesus Christ. We are saddened that the Church of Scotland has departed so dramatically and decisively from its moorings in the historic, reformed and biblical faith.”

If the leadership and congregation at the Tron needed any additional reason to quit the Church of Scotland, then the decision by the denomination’s General Assembly in May to allow other faith groups to hold services in Kirk buildings has provided a further prompt. The question was brought to the floor of the most recent Assembly largely because of the actions of Rev. Scott Rennie – the Aberdeen minister at the heart of the gay clergy issue – who has given permission to Hindu groups to use the Queen’s Cross church premises for worship.

Although some media headlines have stated that the Tron’s departure represents the first local church to leave the denomination, in a de facto sense the bulk of the congregation of High Hilton church in Aberdeen quit the Kirk last October. On that occasion, however, those involved moved out of the church building.

In the case of the Tron church, the congregation most recently raised millions of pounds to cover a major refurbishment. One church member who was at the heart of the very substantial upgrade to the building has commented:

“Regardless of the risks and the fact that many members provided substantial sacrificial offerings for the development of the building as a gospel station in the city centre, the membership have put biblical priorities in first place ahead of buildings.”

In the event, the overall total expenditure was close to £3 million, most of which was paid for by the membership. It seems that the situation will not be resolved without legal proceedings.

There is still much discussion taking place among those ministers and congregations who feel disaffected with the trends within the Church of Scotland with regard to their alignment with other Presbyterians and other Presbyterian denominations. Clearly many will wait to see what decisions the Church of Scotland takes following the report of its Theological Commission on Same-Sex Relationships in May 2013.

The changes that have come about among Presbyterians on both sides of the Atlantic raises key questions for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. How shall we relate to those who have left the established denominations? We recognise them to be our dear friends and close brothers and sisters with whom we share the same deep convictions about key issues like the Bible and the nature of the church. Can we simultaneously support and pray for those who have left while still officially maintaining fraternal relations with the denomination they have abandoned? How would we respond if one of the new conservative groupings sought closer links with PCI?

It is, as the TV news reporter often says, a “developing situation”. But it seems that the ecclesiological landscape is changing for Presbyterians, and Irish Presbyterians cannot remain isolated from those changes.

23 Replies to “The Changing Face of Presbyterianism”

  1. From an outsider’s perspective, the major denominations that have become more ‘liberal’ are on a highway to nowhere – see http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100172245/americas-liberal-christians-might-be-progressive-and-inclusive-but-they-are-also-dying-out/ .
    Or even worse… http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/the-collapse-of-the-liberal-church/article4443228/ Interestingly a recent article in the Presbyterian Herald, also from an outsider’s perspective said that the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is contradicting itself by on the one hand stating that young people are drawn to absolute truth and on the other hand giving an ambiguous message about whether Christians should marry Christians. In a world of increasing confusion and uncertainty, Christian truth should shine a clear and steady light.

    It’s a pertinent question as to how 1 Corinthians 5:11 should apply between denominations – hopefully there will be some insights posted on the comments… It’s interesting that 1 Corinthians 5:11 mentions idolatry in a list of sins and Scott Rennie allowed one of the world’s most overtly idolatrous religions to worship in church premises he has responsibility for. Personally I believe that only those who have never tried to engage with people from other religions and share the Gospel of Christ could be so irresponsible. It’s a false Christianity of let’s all be nice to each other rather than actually loving others with the truth that will set them free (with gentleness and respect – 1 Peter 3:15). That’s why I wrote ‘liberal’ because I think it’s a misappropriation of the word that is so far removed from being liberated by Christ.

  2. Tom’s comment above is very interesting and perceptive. And it is good that the original blog article mentioned Queen’s Cross’s permission to have Hindu worship services. All the media and church debate is focussed on sexuality. The blog article and Tom’s comment show that the sexuality debate is symptomatic of a much deeper and more serious malaise – an attitude so dismissive of Scripture’s authority that it betrays the One whom the Scriptures speak of: the Lord Jesus. Quite frankly, I am perplexed that what is happening in Queen’s Cross re. Hindu worship has not gained more attention and comment (including from among Church of Scotland and other evangelicals), whereas everyone is aware the debate re. ordaining practising homosexuals. Tom is absolutely right – Hinduism is one of the world’s most overtly idolatrous religions.

    Yes, the trend toward liberalism is on a highway toward nowhere. I cannot comment about PCUSA – I don’t know America; but I think there are hardly any (if any) candidates for Church of Scotland ministry. Some of the finest people I met in my time overseas were Church of Scotland supported missionaries. But there are now no official Church of Scotland missionaries.

    To pick up the original article’s burden, however, it is very important to listen to what all our brothers and sisters in these denominations are saying. Again, I can only comment on the COS. The Tron has a long history of evangelical witness in the heart of Glasgow and is a prestigious, famous church. What, however, about the young man who comes into a smaller situation and sees people with perhaps little or no church connection become involved in the local church – and, in some instances, come to faith in Christ? (These people have little background in Scripture or in church life – they are being taught at a very basic level.) Is it helpful to people in such a situation to have to struggle with major issues about denominational affiliation? What about the minister struggling to bring Bible witness in a situation where there has been a different tradition? There are different views among Christian people (including ministers) in the COS – it is very important we listen clearly to them so that we do what is best to try to get the denomination to return to Biblical roots. In thinking about the denomination, however, we must also show our solidarity with places like High Hilton, the Tron and Gilcomston South where people have taken a decision, in conscience, that the Church of Scotland now is not the same as the one they have known.

  3. I find the idea that churches would leave a denomination over an issue such as the ordination of openly gay people interesting.
    Obviously the problem is that it goes against the clear teaching of God’s Word and that is something that many don’t agree with and they don’t want to be associated with a denomination that does that.

    Fair enough. But here is the thing.

    The PCI often goes against the clear teaching of scripture in who it ordains as an elder. How many men who have been lovers of money, or unable to teach or just plain inhospitable have been ordained as elders? How many men with a poor reputation amongst outsiders have been ordained as well? Is ordaining someone like that not just as bad as ordaining someone who we perceive to be living a sinful lifestyle?

    Yet no congregation in the PCI would leave over how churches continue to ordain men who are as equally unsuitable in different ways as a practicing homosexual.

    The only reason I can think off is that practising homosexuality is ranked as one of the worst sins and far more serious an issue than greed or being inhospitable. But I wonder if the Lord Jesus sees it like that?
    I’m not saying that practicing gay people should be ordained, just that if the issue really is about staying true to God’s Word then there are many deeply unsuitable elders and ministers who have been ordained over the years.

  4. Well said Dave. The denomination (like many others) would implode if there was a cull of overweight ministers who display visible signs of greed, or who break the fourth commandment through hypocrisy or covenant breaking!

  5. While Dave makes a valid point that homosexual practice should not be given a higher ranking than other sins (although arguably a lack of hospitality is not in the same league as sexual sin of any sort), the reason for churches leaving is because their denomination has stated it is not a sin at all. The same goes for worship by other religions in church premises. To implicitly say that idolatry is not a sin is quite astounding. I’m not sure the ordination of people with poor character or commitment to servce is as prevalent as Dave suggests. Certainly as someone involved in training elders I have been impressed by the Christian character and commitment of those I have trained. That’s not to say what Dave has observed never happened and shouldn’t be taken seriously (and he is right to remind us not to be hypocritical) but the denominational position of PCI is that those sins Dave has mentioned are in fact sins and such people should not be elected as elders.

    If a congregation is aware of bad practice somewhere else in their denomination that would not necessarily be grounds for leaving. But if the congregation is aware that their denomination’s official position is to label things they believe are sins as if they are not then that is an entirely different matter. They need to decide how to respond – as Brian points out there are different ways. One way is to leave but another is to try and bring change from within. The decision of what to do will depend on much prayer and seeking God’s wisdom about their specific situation. Brian makes an important point when he says that those who stay also need our support and prayers. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any observations form church history because while the issue may be very 21st Century, there’s nothing new under the sun…

  6. @Tom Finnegan
    ‘although arguably a lack of hospitality is not in the same league as sexual sin of any sort’

    you’re right…being inhospitable is a worse sin. Does Jesus mention homosexuality? Not that I am aware of.

    Yet look what Jesus says about being inhospitable in Luke 10

    ‘I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.’

    That is Jesus saying that it would be better for the people in Sodom (with all that entails) than being inhospitable. That isn’t some liberal saying that, it isn’t Paul saying that, it’s Our Lord.

    What about the way we give ministers titles like ‘Reverend’ or ‘Dr’ despite Jesus telling religious leader in Matthew 23 not to exalt themselves?

    That seems to be in Presbyterian code and deeply against the clear teaching of Scripture and Christ. But nobody bothers about that, there are i’s to be dotted and t’s to be crossed especially with serious issues like the ordination of gays or women, issues that could dilute the witness of the church.
    And for that reason certain congregations will be willing to break away and form a really Biblically sound denomination or else to claim that the other churches are the ones who have broken away.

    But what about our greed and lust after money? What about our poor reputation with those who aren’t believers? What about the way we super spiritualize the clergy? What about the way we are inhospitable?

  7. I wrote my comment before I saw Alan’s. Dave’s comment has a reasonable basis (we need to be careful not to be hypocrites) even if it was overstated but Alan’s is obviously hugely exaggerated. As there is no ‘tone of voice’ in comments it leaves me wondering if he means to exaggerate to be ironic and to make the same underlying point as Dave. Either that or he believes what he says in which case I’d love to go to his church and be under the ministry of a pastor who is as sinless as Christ! I assume though he was ‘just making a point’ which is that if we sin how can we comment on other’s sins? Certainly PCI has ordained at least one elder who was not worthy of the role – me. But by the grace of God I stand. And this is entirely the point. If the denominations in question had said, we sinned by endorsing sin and we’re sorry then we could all move forward together. But what they are in effect saying is, contrary to what the Bible says, these are not sins and they don’t need the grace of God!

    @ Dave Appreciate your comment (I anticipated a comment when I said ‘arguably’!). Of course all sin is sin and in need of the cleansing work of Christ so in that sense there is no ‘league of sins’. I had a close read of Luke 10 and it doesn’t say that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality. It says that the towns that did not welcome the message of the kingdom of God would suffer the same fate as Sodom. People disagree over whether Sodom’s sin was homosexual practice or oppressing the poor (Ezekiel 16:49-50) or both (my view) but I haven’t heard that it was inhospitality although I guess I could concede that their ‘welcome’ to godly visitors was anything but! Wasn’t sure if you were saying the PCI Code endorses titles like ‘Rev.’ or not – it doesn’t mention them except to refer to a couple of people by that title. I’m sure any minister in PCI or any denomination that has that practice would say having that title does not make them somehow ‘holier than thou’ – I am sure they are as conscious as I am that they have received the grace of God. I do still agree with your underlying point that we need to be careful not to be hypocrites but I hope you understand mine that the issue is over what we call sin. I get the impression you may not agree with me that homosexual practice is sin? (I assume you agree that Hindu worship is idolatry from a Christian point of view!) I say that because I’ve heard others use the fact that Jesus didn’t directly say anything about it to say that it wasn’t sin (although he did have a very high view of Scripture which obviously includes the references to homosexual practice in the Old Testament and Paul’s letters). Look forward to your response because I appreciate the genuine challenging nature of your comments.

  8. Here’s one of the problems that we in the conservative church have, Dave is right.

    The point about other sins is not that there may be fewer of them in the church than we think (although given that we are all sinners, I suspect there are quite a few sins which pass with a nod and a wink), the point is that other sins do not receive the high profile objections which the ordination of gay people does; but that’s not really what strikes me about this issue.

    No doubt it would be helpful to state that I hold to the conservative biblical view of marriage between one man and one woman, but really, all this hand-wringing and objection isn’t much of a response.

    So we disagree, fine; we withdraw from the denomination, fine; new alliances emerge, fine; but what have we said? what are we saying? what are we doing?

    It is not the church’s job to be a protest movement or a political or cultural lobby group. It is not our job to keep on crying, “No.”

    We must have the courage to find a way of saying, and showing, that while for religious reasons (and we’re in the minority with this) we disagree with Scott Rennie (and others), there is no animosity, no hatred, no loose or bitter words towards those with whom we disagree. Our kindness must outshine our disagreement; it must outshine any desire to be known as he Church *of* Scotland, or the Church *in* Ireland with all the social benefits that entails; we must actively seek opportunities to demonstrate grace to those with whom we disagree even if (perhaps especially if) it is at our expense.

    Sure, we disagree, and many people are confused (and hostile) – Tyndale’s translation put it this way, “And if ye be friendly to youre brethern onli: what singuler thynge doo ye?” (Matthew 5)

  9. I think, Peter, that you make an important point. I remember speaking to an English fellow who knew a lot about the fact (from the media) that Christians objected to homosexual practice, but who understood much less about the fact that Jesus claimed to be God’s Son and that, if those claims stand up, it is the most important thing in history with the most important implications for us that He died for sin and rose again. We do have to demonstrate the winsomeness of Christ to win people’s attention to the Gospel.

    I just don’t know, at this point, what is the right thing to do re. relations with other denominations – I need to listen to a lot of people, from those situations, who love the Lord and His Word.

    I am just a little concerned, however, that there are times when we do have to protest and say ‘no’. Yes, our task is to demonstrate Christ’s winsomeness. I believe in the need for friendship evangelism. But I note the fact that voices calling for strong stands on the issue often come from the two thirds world (what we used to call the Third World) – and Christian witness to their Muslim , e.g. neighbours in such situations is undermined by Western Christian failure to protest against what is blatantly immoral here. These are voices from Christians who often have to pay a cost that Western Christians know little about.

    I do, however, take the point that sometimes we Christians (and it’s not just elders and ministers who are guilty on this point) are quicker to speak about sexual sin than we are to do so about greed, social injustice, lack of hospitality, unfriendliness, etc.

  10. Hi Brian

    Thanks for the comments; can I reply on the point of relating to other denominations?

    Yes, there are times when we must protest and say, ‘No’; this is why I was careful with my choice of words: so often we seem caught in a debate which is framed either in terms of complete affirmation, or total rejection, but is it possible to disagree without demonstrating endless hostility – surely this is what we must grapple with?

    People already know we disagree with others on the issue of gay ordination, but, as you note, many know of little else concerning what we call the gospel.

    The simple facts of the matter are that we live in an altogether postmodern world; much has changed for the church (liberal and conservative), rights for the gay community are no longer in debate, the church is practically on the fringe of society and ‘Christianity’ is no longer the default view – we have to accept this. However, what also concerns me is that even if this were not the case, we of all people, given what we say we believe, ought to have been able to get ‘righteousness’ and ‘mercy’ together; that we keep struggling with this issue tells us that we have much to learn.

    With regard to other denominations, or, more particularly, our own sister denomination, I, if I had any influence (which I don’t), would want to speak with people like Scott Rennie. I would like to ask him to explain his understanding of the bible, of human relationships, and, in terms of the Hindu groups using the church, his understanding of Jesus; and I would like to explain my understanding to him. I suspect we would disagree, and I suspect that we might have trouble worshipping together; but I would also hope to understand him, and I would hope that he understood me. After all that, if it were necessary for us to go our separate ways, I would hope that we could make a joint statement about our conversation, each respecting the other.

    Sure, I disagree with others on this issue, and yes, it’s important, but really, I’ve enough sins of my own to be going along with…

  11. @ Tom

    I hear what you’re saying about the issue being what we call sin and on preserving a strict adherence to Scripture.
    All I’m saying is that I don’t understand why this seems to be the straw that might break the camels back and cause a congregation to leave the Church of Scotland or PC (USA).
    There are many congregations, elders and ministers in the PCI who don’t agree with ordaining women to be ministers of the church

  12. *sorry hit comment by mistake..clumsy finger*

    yet they still remain in PCI even if they don’t agree. They don’t have to ordain a women minister if they don’t want to and just get on with loving God and their neighbour in their local community with a male minister.

    There is much I feel like writing, but too much of it’s to do with my own hang ups about the church and I know Stafford was writing about something else.

    As for allowing the halls to be used for Hindu worship, that is wrong.

    But maybe so is building so many halls in the first place? Did we really need them?

    If you look around at some of our towns (like Lisburn) how many church halls and church buildings have been built over the year because of church splits and disagreements or out of vanity? Those churches in Belfast that are named after a rich benefactor so and so Memorial. Was that a godly thing?
    In world where millions and millions (billions?) of people don’t even have access to clean water building a church hall might be considered a bigger sin than allowed a faith group to meet in the first place.
    There is much more in the Bible about that sort of thing than homosexuality. Or malicious gossip. And the worship of money

  13. Peter makes an excellent point that the world out there already knows where we stand on this issue and we do well not to inadvertently over-emphasise our view lest the world thinks this is all we are concerned about. Also, the C of S knows where PCI stands because it has been clearly and officially communicated to them. So what more needs to be done? But…, as Stafford says, it is ‘a developing situation’. It seems to me that the overall culture (with some exceptions) of the C of S is going in a different direction to PCI and as others have said of this trajectory – it looks like they’re on a a highway to nowhere. We can only pray they turn around and re-discover their first love, Jesus, who surely does not approve of the direction they are going. It’s also a wakeup call to us to examine ourselves and make sure there is no sin that is causing us to go in a wrong direction.

    But what more do we do? A church is authorised to take the extreme action of putting a person out of the fellowship if they insist on pursuing a sinful path. As the C of S is not a person and is not under the authority of PCI it seems there is little PCI can do except voice her concern – and in the General Assembly in 2011 this was done in a caring way acknowledging the deep historical connections between the two denominations.

    In light of this though, here are three reasons why I believe any Christian should say something when they see another Christian falling into sin (if we are in a position to do so):
    1. Because the Bible, not us, gives the standard – we are drawing attention to what God has said, not our own opinion or personal judgement.
    2. Because we are saved by grace from our own sin and therefore should not use self-condemnation as a reason not to speak.
    3. Because we are our brother’s (and sisters’) keeper and do them a great disservice if we see them blindly following a destructive path and say nothing.

    I anticipate three objections to my three reasons above. The first is that some would argue the Bible does not condemn homosexual practice between two loving and committed people. In my view that’s very weak because it’s an argument from utter silence and against the weight of what Scripture does say. But the heart wants what the heart wants and is ‘deceitful above all things’. I’m not sure how overt idolatry could ever be biblically justified but my observation is when you start to move away from the authoritative words of the Bible then anything goes. Your supreme ethic becomes a ‘love’ that accepts anything for the sake of avoiding confrontation – it’s not love at all except a love of a false peace. I remember being on Ben Nevis one day and having to point someone in the right direction so that he wouldn’t potentially fall to his death – if I had avoided that because I was worried he would be annoyed at me for pointing out his navigational error I would be more concerned about my emotions being perturbed by his reaction than his fate!

    The second objection might be – you are saved by grace and should show grace to others. No – I am saved by grace, I know what it is and I want to show that in my life and tell others so that they can experience that too. God alone delivers life transforming grace – I don’t stand in his place and absolve people of their sins when they don’t even recognise them as sins. Yes, I can and must forgive sins against myself but I don’t forgive sins committed against God on his behalf.

    The third objection might be that’s it’s just an area of disagreement among Christians like baptism, ordination of women, views on the end of the world, etc. It’s not a ‘road to destruction’. My response in the case being discussed on this blog would be: all the weight of biblical evidence and even secular sociologists (see my first comment) beg to differ. It’s in a different category to those issues where Christians can agree to disagree and still get on with the mission of God because it’s a central gospel issue that is to do with what sin is, sin that needs the grace of God.

  14. As is clear from so many of the comments above, many of us are trying to cope/react to the tragedy of the CoS – as John Stott would have put it, the present days of biblical/evangelical witness/practice are not to be compared to the hopeful days of William Still’s era, they are to be contrasted.
    While many of us can understand the concerns of the Tron, High Hilton, Gilcomston – where have they shown the maturity in terms of understanding a biblical doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ? If,as they would argue, there is not a common mind among the Crieff men, for example, would that not suggest that our loving heavenly Father, and the King and Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ, has not yet made clear to us how, as a Church, we should act. The response to that should not be to dismiss those who are chosing not to secede as ‘wimps’ [such terminlogy is actually being used among us]but to meet together, study together, pray together until the Lord sheds some light for us as to whether the decisions these few churches have made, should be made.
    Back in the 80’s it would have been the default position that individual ministers/congregations when faced with such issues would not act unilaterally, but collectively as broithers together in Christ.
    Even at the practical level of considering the future for our flocks, if 100 Crieff men believed together the Lord was leading them out of CoS at this time, plans could be made to strategically form a Presbytery throughout the country for all of the Lord’s people who would gladly follow in their train!
    It is incumbent upon us together to have the mind of Christ in such days, and totally eschew the prevalent individualism of ‘doing what is right in our own eyes’

  15. It is good to read some of the comments. I largely agree with everything William has said above. The desire to leave the COS (I don’t know the PCUSA situation) is not a default conservative position – concern that there be a Biblical witness within the COS is what motivates some wanting to remain in the denomination if at all possible.

    I also largely agree with many of Dave’s comments – it is easy to see this sin and ignore so many of the sins habitually practised in church circles. I agree with him, e.g. about a materialistic culture motivating some of the emphasis on building work in our own churches. I think, however, (and Tom makes this point well) the issue of homosexual practice among ordained church leaders is more clearly a Gospel issue than disagreements about ladies’ ordination. There are those who will argue from Scripture that there may have been lady leaders in the early church, whereas nobody argues from Scripture pro-ordination of practising homosexuals. They simply refuse blatantly to accept the authority of Scripture on the matter. (I realise, in saying this, not everyone will agree with the perspective I’ve just put re. female ordination – they see it as a more fundamental issue.)

    Peter talks about the need for honest dialogue on fundamental matters of disagreement – and about learning to disagree graciously with those with whom one has most significant differences. It could be argued that the work of the Theological Commission to report to the COS Assembly next year is an attempt at this – its composition represents the theological perspectives of the COS (conservative and non-conservative) reasonably evenly and its work consists in its members writing and critiquing theological position papers. There are therefore those who will argue properly that it is wrong for churches, etc. to have jumped off the COS ship before that Commission has reported.

  16. Every one, of the previous seriously concerned comments all appear to agree that,ALL HAVE SINNED AND COME SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. Those who adhere to the Gospel of Jesus Christ should I believe, have absolutely no problem welcoming a sincerely repentant and abstaining homosexual into an earned leadership role within the Christian Church. I would how ever like to make it clear, contrary to what has been stated in many of the proceeding comments that,I have never heard of any proudly unrepentent and defiantly in your face still offending hetrosexual sinner,who has been knowingly ordained into a leadership role within the Christian Church. So I feel we must ask ourselves from where comes this devious attempt to split the Christian Church by discriminating on the behalf of practicing homosexuals?

  17. @Charlie Freel

    I don’t think it’s a devious attempt the split the church. Personally I feel that we’re more likely to make an issue of the sin of homosexuality than other sins, which means that demands for a gay person to change their lifestyle are given more airtime than other sins.
    You won’t have a defiantly in your face greedy, still offending elder as their sin is rarely brought out into the open in the way that a gay person’s sin would be. If the sin of greed was treated with the same seriousness as the sin of homosexuality you would have a lot more openly defiant sinners?

  18. Perhaps the problem is also one of perception.There is an active agenda on the part of homosexuals effectively using the media to elevate the question of marriage equality and the attendant debates about gay ordination to a level massively disproportionate to the amount of people actually involved.

  19. @Dave
    Sorry Dave, you appear to have missed the point,let me try again.We are all still struggling sinners,even those of us who claim to be sincerely trying to be followers of Jesus Christ. Sincere repentence and a sincere and ongoing effort to do better is essential,if we sincerely hope to ever be even slightly worthy, of the great sacrifice made on our behalf by our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe that in the eyes of God there is no difference between Big sin and small sin,therefore I also believe that on the day of judgement,all of us selfrightous secretly sinning unrepentent Church goers, will be told “Begone I never knew you”,regardless of any elected position of authority we may have falsely held within the Earthly Church. The point which Dave so clearly seems to miss is that,no sincerely struggling Christian who I am aware of,would KNOWINGLY vote a proudly unrepentant and defiantly ongoing hetrosexual sinner into a position of authority, within the Church of Jesus Christ. So again I ask,WHY the discrimination on behalf of proudly and defiantly unrepentent and ongoingly practicing homosexuals?

  20. Because I feel that their sin is picked on and branded as a sin over and above other sins.
    And despite what you say about all sins being equal I have never seen it practiced that way, especially perhaps in the churches that proclaim that ‘All Scripture is God Breathed’. To be honest I feel that lip service is only paid to the idea of all sins being equal, but in practice it is not the case.

    A man who had stored up a lot of money and piled up treasures on earth would never be subjected to same scrutiny as someone who lived a gay lifestyle. I don’t know any minister or church who would challenge the rich man with the big BMW about his lifestyle and say ‘You can’t be considered for the eldership as you are living contrary to God’s will.You are greedy and living a sinful lifestyle’…..

    I’m not going to comment anymore because I feel like I’m saying the same thing over and over!

  21. Dave says in in his letter that no minister would challenge the rich man in his b m w thats because he wants to be driving one also.Regarding sin,Psalm 66verse18 If i reguard iniquity in my heart,the lord will not hear me,so it dosent matter what type of sin it is you will not be heard.

  22. Hi Dave,the tone and comments in your final entry,lead me to suspect that somewhere along the road of life,you have been badly spiritualy wounded by a totally unchristian Church leadership. I am familiar with the symtoms,( I have been there myself).As a result I myself am no longer a member of the Presbyterian Church,although, I am still a constantly struggling Christian.I humbly suggest that the first thing you should do is,publicly and face to face confront,expose and out,the unchristian Church leadership that has so badly wounded your faith in the Christian Church.I myself now attend and would recommend Granshaw Family Church to you and to anyone else who has been spiritualy wounded. Granshaw is a Presbyterian Church with a small “P” and family with a very large “F”. Granshaw is an ever growing and florishing Congregation of constantly struggling Christians,being ministered too by Mark Brown, a self confessed constantly struggling down to earth Christian Minister, with a sincere Christian passion for the broken hearted.Granshaw unlike most Christian Churchs is bursting at the seams with Children and Young Adults of all ages,who are heavily engaged in meaningfull mission through out all the surrounding areas.The constantly struggling Christian Congregation of Granshaw are also the main source of financhal,physical,educational and Spiritual support for the 700,Orphans at the Fairways Orphanage in Uganda.I will finish on a lighter note by reminding you that,no big BMWs will be able to slip through the eye of the needle.

  23. This is like Chinese Whispers, look how far we have travelled from Stafford’s original topic.
    PS, I prefer a Jaguar XF.

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