Heard & Seen
No More Bets at the Glasgow Bookies
I print below (with permission) a courageous speech made by a minister, the Rev. Dr. James Torrens, to the Glasgow Presbytery on Tuesday, November 8, 2011. As background, I give this quotation from a letter sent to James by the Glasgow Presbytery Clerk on July 21, 2011, which came on the back of a prolonged correspondence following a minister (who works as a hospital chaplain) declaring on the floor of presbytery his long-standing gay relationship and civil partnership. In this letter, the Clerk quotes (on instruction from the Presbytery Council) from a letter sent by the Principal Clerk of the General Assembly:
It is hard to give an answer on this, but at the outset, I would say that entering into a civil partnership is not a disciplinary offence in itself. At least one other minister of the Church has done this, but made it clear that it is simply a legal convenience in order to pass rights (such a pension [sic]) on to a life long friend with whom he does not have a so called same sex relationship.
The official line in the C of S is that the matter of homosexuality has not yet been decided but it is very clear from the above quotation, especially given the context, which way the matter has already practically concluded. It may take a year or two before the procedural shouting dies down but I would assume that the Glasgow bookies are no longer offering odds on the outcome. That is why men such as Peter Dickson, James Torrens and others are now putting everything they have on the line and leaving.
It is, of course, not a question of whether the Church of Scotland is morally perfect in her membership or behaviour; no church ever has been and that is not the point at issue here. It is rather a matter of whether, as an institution, she will not merely tolerate but actively encourage, promote and defend the true preaching of the word of God, of the whole counsel of God, and oppose - and depose by due and decent process - those who do not do so yet who claim to minister in Christ's name.
Here is James's speech in full. It is short because he was given only 5 minutes to make his case. But it is as courageous as it is concise. We need to pray for James, Peter and all those who are facing tough times in the near future.
I wish to say a couple of things this evening.
Firstly, I wish to express my gratitude to God, for the privilege of serving Him at St Rollox and in Sighthill. I think one of the greatest privileges has been to see the joy of those from other faiths coming to realise we do not all worship the same God. That the one true God can be known as Abba, Father; that God the Son came in love to die for our sins; and that God the Holy Spirit comes and gives a new dynamic and a new desire for holy, joy-filled living. I am grateful too for the congregation, for their support and encouragement over the past 6 ½ years; and grateful also for the present Clerk, Angus Kerr and his predecessor, David Lunan, both of whom helped me through my wife's two life-threatening illnesses, my son's illnesses and my own 2 to 3 months off work.
The second thing I wish to express this evening is my grief. My grief at leaving behind the family we have come to know and love at St Rollox; but my grief also that the church denomination which I have attended and served since 1984 is in danger of leaving behind the gospel; turning to a different gospel, which is no gospel at all.
It is not my intention to rehearse the debates and decisions that the church has taken over the last few years. But Presbytery needs to be aware of the serious implications, both locally and nationally, of the trajectory the C of S has embarked upon - which is a trajectory away from the holy, catholic and apostolic faith. [In some ways, Moderator, it does not matter what the Legal Questions Committee's submission says tomorrow: what matters is what happens on the ground. As the bible says, to obey is better than sacrifice.]
I am grieved that we have confused and conflated the unconditional love of God with how his gracious gift of salvation is to be received. For entrance into the kingdom of God is not unconditional, but conditional upon repentance, faith and the new birth.
I am grieved that we have confused and conflated the wideness of God's mercy with the notion that the church is a place where anything goes. It is Jesus who said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. The gate is small - it needs proud men and women to humble themselves (repentance) as they step through it (faith).
I am grieved that the apostles, who were given the keys of the kingdom by Jesus Christ, to establish the boundaries of Christian belief and behaviour, are dismissed as 1st century irrelevants. Indeed it is deeply ironic, given our society is becoming increasingly 'Corinthian.'
I am grieved that the church, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone, is in the process of dismantling that foundation.
At the end of the sermon on the mount, Jesus painted a picture of two men, one wise and one foolish. The foolish man built his house on sand. When the rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, it fell with a great crash. What made the foolish man a fool? Did he not hear the word of God? No, he heard it okay. Jesus says the foolish man is the person who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice.
Moderator, when we chip away at the rock on which we are built - the rock of Christ and the apostles and prophets - hearing their words, but not putting them into practice - it is no wonder that the waves of aggressive secularism and idolatrous personal autonomy are threatening to cause the C of S to fall with a great crash.
I would simply close by urging, pleading with members of presbytery to remember the rock on which we stand and look to the rock from which we are hewn. My prayer and plea is that each of us might come again to that great leveller - to the foot of the cross of Christ, confessing our sins and praying for that new nature which the prophets promised and the Spirit delivers, when the law of God is not abolished but written on our hearts; such that his desires become our desires, and his will done on earth as it is in heaven.
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