Would you be up for this?

Part of the Gracemount estate


Tim Challies tells us a story of a new church on a deprived Scottish estate which of course is a story about Jesus too…

Scottish independence rejected. Now what?

William Mackenzie assesses the public mood in the aftermath of the vote rejecting Scottish independence

How are things in Scotland now

Early September brought a high-pressure weather system over much of the UK, particularly over Scotland.

This resulted in an extensive layer of fog affecting the airports and the farmer trying to harvest his crops. Through the first three weeks of September this fog hardly shifted at all. It seemed that the weather was reflecting the political situation in the run-up to the Scottish Referendum on the 18th of September.

Amongst friends and family throughout Scotland and across the world there was a great deal of uncertainty, with many anxiously looked into the future, not knowing what was going to happen. Now the result is known, there are many who are even more anxious and some who are deeply upset. Social media was flooded with posts and tweets from ardent supporters of both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps.

Promises to keep?

While it was good to see passionate engagement in politics, it was sad to see divisions running deep. There were few clear, plain answers given. There were always responses but the answers were missing. Promises were made which many would consider… to read more click here

William Mackenzie,
Christian Focus Publications and Chairman of the en Board, living in Inverness.

This article was first published in the November issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A house divided…

2014_07 July Cover

Church of Scotland in General Assembly

(view online version here)

500 years after the birth of John Knox, the church he founded is still part of the fabric of Scottish life.

Before this year’s General Assembly (May 17–23), however, newspapers reported that membership of the Church of Scotland is under 400,000 compared with 1.32 million in 1956. There is a shortage of 107 ministers and this deficit is likely to rise to 220 by 2022 with retirements. There are presently only two ministers below the age of 30.

Kirk in denial

The Kirk denied that this decline has anything to do with the ongoing controversy about same sex relationships; claiming just 1% of its 1,389 congregations have seen their minister and a proportion of their members leave the denomination for this reason. This controversy concerned an openly gay minister who was inducted to a church in Aberdeen in 2009. His call was upheld by the General Assembly and further debates followed in 2011 and 2013.

The church’s theological commission prepared a detailed report on sexuality and offered two trajectories to the assembly of 2013. The traditionalist view would not permit ministers in same sex relationships from ministering while the revisionist view would. However, at the last minute a third option was introduced: that the church would uphold its traditional teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman but also allow individual Kirk sessions to depart from this doctrine and practice if they wished. This compromise was quickly hailed as a victory for the peace and unity of the church. Two further groups were instructed to look into matters and report to this year’s Assembly.

‘Mixed economy’?

A Theological Forum explored the question of ‘mixed economies’. They argued that we already live with a ‘mixed economy’ on questions such as baptism, communion, and the re-marriage of divorced persons. The church, then, should allow space for ‘constrained difference’ on the issue of same sex relationships. During the debate it was highlighted that each of the existing differences has at least some support in Scripture, whereas, as the theological commission of 2013 recognised, every single reference to homosexual practice in the Bible was ‘negative and condemnatory’. Despite this the report was voted on and accepted.

The Legal Questions Committee then presented their proposals as to how the compromise motion of 2013 could be implemented. They acknowledged that there was a ‘low’ risk that a mixed economy may leave the church vulnerable to claims of discrimination under the Equality Act. During this debate the Revd Jerry Middleton graciously and eloquently proposed a counter-motion. He asked the Assembly to affirm its belief that Scripture teaches marriage to be between one man and one woman and to recognise its pastoral responsibility in helping those experiencing same sex attraction to live and serve in the context of a celibate life. This counter-motion was voted against 369 to 189. The legal framework supporting the ‘compromise’ motion will now be voted upon by presbyter-ies before returning to next year’s Assembly for debate and final approval.

Where does this leave us?

Firstly, as the denomination becomes smaller it is also becoming broader. Indeed ‘breadth’ is now seen as a virtue. In his closing address the Moderator, John Chalmers, said that he personally would like to challenge the Theological Forum to reframe, ‘our doctrinal standards’ [i.e. the Westminster Confession] in line with ‘the theological pluralism which is the Church of Scotland’. It appears that the peace and unity of the Kirk are being valued above faithfulness to Scripture, as this move would allow individual congregations to make up their own minds about a controversial issue.

Secondly, conservative evangelicals are increasingly seen as the ‘odd ones out’. Earlier in the Assembly, a previous moderator railed against ‘sexism’ in the church and described those who do not permit women to serve as elders or ministers as ⎯ among other things ⎯ ‘oddities at the extremities’. It seems there is no question of a ‘constrained difference’ for the complementarians on this matter!

Thirdly, there is a great deal of soul-searching. A number of evangelical ministers, elders and members have resigned in the past five years, feeling they can no longer submit to a General Assembly and work for the peace and unity of a church which ignores what Scripture has to say. The leadership of some fellowships have been sufficiently united to exit the denomination. In almost every case the majority of the congregation have followed.

Despite this, the Kirk has, with one exception, retained the church buildings and bank accounts for its own continuing purposes. There is a cost – financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually – to leaving to begin new fellowships.

Other evangelicals are persuaded of the need to stay in, to work for the reform and renewal of the national church. They have no small battle ahead of them. Please pray that all who seek to uphold the authority of Scripture and the integrity of the gospel – within or without the Church of Scotland – may love one another.

 Euan Dodds – evangelist at Holyrood Abbey Church, Edinburgh.

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Scotland: 20 Schemes

Scotland 20 Schemes_2November 2012 saw the launch of a new church revitalisation and planting initiative aimed at bringing gospel hope to housing schemes and other needy areas of Scotland.

The brainchild of Niddrie Community, Edinburgh, in partnership with Bardstown Christian Fellowship, Kentucky, and supported by 9Marks, this exciting new ministry aims to reach out to some of the least evangelised areas of our country.

Mez McConnell, the director, explains: ‘During a detailed survey of the 50 most deprived schemes in Scotland we discovered that at least half have no gospel church present and, of the rest, even though there was the presence of some form of church, we were uncertain as to their theological and gospel convictions. One thing was clear, though, not only were Scotland’s 50 most deprived schemes in trouble economically and socially, but they were desperately deprived spiritually too. Therefore, if we were really going to see a turn around in the lives of residents in council estates and housing schemes, we were going to have to embrace a radical and long-term gospel strategy which will bring gospel hope to untold thousands’.

The mission is simple. It is building healthy gospel-centered churches for Scotland’s poorest communities. EN put some questions to Mez.

EN: Why do you want to do this?
MM: For a number of reasons. Firstly, we believe that the gospel changes everything. We believe that we need to raise up a generation of Bible teachers and preachers who will go into the forgotten schemes of our country.

Second, we recognise that the presence of the church is mercy ministry. In other words, we want to see local churches built up, evangelising, discipling and equipping a new generation of men and women from within these housing schemes who, likewise, will go and make disciples.

Thirdly, we are heavily burdened for Scotland’s housing schemes as we see these communities with no, or very little, gospel witness. Planting new churches is a key strategy in reaching the lost in these areas.

Fourthly, we desire to assist and resource existing churches — across denominations — and/or gospel ministries in these areas to bless them and further Kingdom work. We will plant if we have to, but we would rather support and encourage existing work by offering people, resources and training.

EN: How will you do it?
MM: We intend to identify 20 schemes as priority areas over the next decade. Then, where possible, identify church revitalisation partners in those schemes.

We want to recruit church planters, female outreach workers and ministry apprentices to send into those schemes as the ‘first wave’ of a long-term strategy. We aim to recruit local leaders if possible, but we will recruit outside the UK if necessary.

Then we will need to develop church partners worldwide to support and resource our work in the schemes and invest long-term in indigenous leaders by providing training, resources and support.

EN: Describe for us what the housing schemes you are trying to reach are like.
MM: These are some of the poorest and most underdeveloped areas of Scotland, very similar to many housing estates in England, Wales and Ireland.

Many were purpose-built during (and after) the Industrial Revolution in Britain as a way to move the poor out of slums and into affordable housing. Although there is much revitalisation going on in these areas today, there is a history of urban blight, unemployment, high mental health issues, addictions and crime.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. We still have a core of working-class families who love their communities and want to make them better places to live in. But, there is a desperate lack of healthy churches in these areas and we long to see this transformed by a new missionary church-planting movement across the country.

EN: How have you linked up with 9Marks and what backing do you have?
MM: We have formed a working partnership with 9Marks in the USA, alongside relationships with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Practical Shepherding. We have recently had the pleasure of being offered help, training and resources from Ligonier Ministries. In the UK we have links to Acts 29 Europe, Porterbrook Training and the FIEC.

Niddrie Community Church is on the board of the East of Edinburgh Gospel Partnership — a group of evangelical church leaders across various denominations seeking to strengthen gospel ministry in our city and beyond.

We hope to achieve our aims by building a broad evangelical consensus across denominations in Scotland. So far, we have friendships with Baptist, FIEC and FC churches, ministers and youth workers.

EN: What about churches which are already in these areas?
MM: Our aim is revitalisation, primarily, and planting where necessary. Therefore, the aim has to be to strengthen already existing evangelical churches in these areas.

Because there are so few, it makes the task all the more urgent. What we have found is that there may be para-church organisations, individuals or small groups doing ministry in poor areas, but there is very little in the way of planting and/or revitalising existing local church ministry. Our aim is to provide teams and/or gospel workers necessary to either establish or revitalise local church ministry.

EN: What are your greatest needs at present?
MM: To build a solid, prayer and financial base in order for us to be able to build a sustainable long-term infrastructure. We need interns, female outreach workers and those prepared to spend their lives on behalf of the poor in our inner cities.

EN: What encouragements have you had?
MM: We have seen many come to faith and we are now seeing our first intake of indigenous interns being trained and prepared to be the next generation of local church leaders and team embers.

Scotland 20 Schemes_1Mez says: ‘If we can serve you or your church community please contact me. If you are interested in finding out more about how you could serve as a planter, a women’s worker, a ministry apprentice or an intern, please also contact me at mez@niddrie.org or use the form on the website. We will be happy to help. We are currently seeking financial help and are looking for opportunities to share about the work in churches. Thanks to you all in advance and praise God for his great mercy. Let’s pray for a gospel revival in Scotland’s housing schemes’.

Like our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/20schemes
Our Twitter: @20schemes
Our website: http://www.20schemes.com

This article was first published in the November 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Editors commentary: Scots missed?

I don’t know if the Scots will vote for independence.

But the break up of Great Britain after hundreds of years of beneficial union would surely be another sign of a sick country.
A referendum on Scottish independence takes place next September and the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, recently unveiled his government’s white paper describing what they hope an independent Scotland would look like. They hope the pound would be kept. 30 hours of childcare per week in term time and a secure pension scheme were pledged. But it seems Britain’s deterrent, the Trident submarines based on the Clyde, would have to go somewhere else. In the UK, government concern is not to see Scotland cut itself loose; already shipbuilding at Portsmouth has been sacrificed in order to keep Scottish yards open.

Christian opinion
Both the Church of Scotland and the Free Church hold to the established church principle. A spokesman from the Free Church of Scotland said: ‘The white paper does not explicitly discuss the historical compact between the state and the church to work for the Christian good of Scotland. We hope that this is because the Scottish Government does not propose any alteration to the current arrangements’.
One minister of the Free Church told me: ‘I think that all feel that the existing Scottish Parliament has led the way in secularism and same-sex-marriage and we see no betterment if there is an independent parliament.’ He went on: ‘I am all for a sense of national identity, but nationalism can be “selfism”.’ Another Scot, living in England, feeling that financial arguments would be crucial, said: ‘I get the feeling that people don’t think Scotland will be better off without England’. But Christian opinion is divided. The figures at present seem to indicate the ‘No’ vote will prevail in the referendum, but we shall have to wait and see.

Scattering and gathering
How can we understand the dissolution of a nation theologically? Perhaps a place to start would be Christopher Ash’s excellent book Remaking a Broken World. It is an overview of Bible history which traces God’s judgement and salvation in terms of scattering and gathering. ‘Adam and Eve were “scattered” from Eden in judgement for disobedience; the people at Babel were scattered as punishment for pride; Israel was gathered by God at Sinai and then again at Jerusalem, but scattered to Babylon in judgement. The cross is the place of gathering (John 12.32) and Pentecost is the gathering reversing the scattering of Babel.’
Surely, in a democracy, godless secularism, with its exalting of the self and the ‘rights’ of different interest groups, must inevitably lead to conflict and the break up of communities. As Britain has grown more secular so the drive for devolution, and now independence, has accelerated. The SNP, founded in 1934, saw its first real breakthrough when Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton byelection in 1967, just as secularism in Britain was gaining real momentum.
Maybe we should see that the Christian ethos of both nations in the past did more to keep us together than we might have realised. But ultimately it is not ‘Britishness’ or wealth which brings people together, but the gospel of Christ. In an ordinary local church, so despised by the world, people from very different backgrounds of class, nationality, colour and culture are gathered, humbled and included by the astounding grace of God. If our nation breaks up, God is still gathering his people and bringing about the miracle of unity which politics and finance can never achieve. And the angels are astonished (Ephesians 3.10).

John Benton

This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Brave (film review)

Cert. PG
Running time 100 minutes
Directors: Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman

An animation in the fairy-tale genre, Brave includes many of the classic elements: a princess who must choose from one of three suitors, a spell-casting witch, a trial of strength, and people who turn into animals.

The setting is medieval Scotland at some indeterminate time, so there is no shortage of exquisite longshots of mountains and forests and craggy castles. There is also plenty of action to keep children engaged and humour to make the accompanying adults smile. Many will instantly recognise the voice of Billy Connolly as the chieftain-king.

The story follows the adventures of feisty princess Merida who suffers from more than a little 21st-century teenage angst as she challenges the path in life which her parents have set for her. She is an angry young woman who thinks that everyone else, and especially her mother, should change to suit her. She has to learn that she has to change too and, as her mother confronts her own inner bear (you have to see the film to understand that), both women are forced to face up to who or what they really are.

Maternal love

But the powerful, controlling mother turns out to be a pretty useful parent when it comes to fighting off destructive foes. The protective power of parental love is a big theme, although liberally laced with the more modern mantra of the importance of parents listening to their children.

I use the term ‘parental love’, but actually it is maternal love which is the powerhouse in this story. What made me uncomfortable was that all the male characters are weak and ineffective: they are vain, or drunk, or aggressive, or stupid, or all those things together. The strong characters are female and there is a clear message that girls should be free to follow their own dreams, unfettered by the expectations or traditions of others. I would have little quarrel with that were there any boys in the story who were not completely useless. Marriage is presented as simply a bad choice for girls.

Isn’t it time we moved on from such feminist rot? Oh for a hero! Come back Prince Charming, all is forgiven.

Esme Shirt

This article was first published in the October 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Starting again for Christ – when compromise is not an option

On December 4 2011, Trinity Church, Aberdeen was born.

The new church fellowship was formed as a result of decisions taken by the Church of Scotland. At its General Assembly in May 2011, the CofS took a clear step towards recognising same-sex relationships in the ministry as acceptable for those in leadership. Although a definitive position has still to be decided, many evangelicals feel that the die has been cast and the departure from biblical orthodoxy will not be reversed.

Money and partnership

A particular problem for many in the Church of Scotland is the giving of money, especially when this is understood not as an act of charity towards the church but as a demonstration of spiritual partnership with it. It is felt that where the gospel is absent or altered, then the very basis of that partnership is missing and money cannot be given with integrity.

These realities led a congregation in Aberdeen to a roadblock situation in their discussions with authorities of the Church of Scotland. Peter Dickson resigned as the minister of High Church, Hilton and along with David Gibson became the ministers of the newly formed Trinity Church, with 170 others joining them.

Church priorities

David Gibson told EN: ‘Being forced to keep the gospel central wonderfully concentrates the mind about priorities and aims for the kind of church you want to be. But the list of practical decisions we needed to make in leaving the denomination was endless’.

One practical concern for the new church was to find accommodation. A fellow elder and his wife provided a beautiful building at the bottom of their garden for a new office, and four members of staff were able to commence work in it straight away. David explained: ‘When we announced our resignations we did not know where our new church would meet. Two weeks before we were due to start, a venue we were banking on fell through dramatically and left us looking for an alternative. In the end we found ourselves in the Northern Hotel, with very accommodating staff and all our requirements suitably met. We had to move our evening service to 5.00 pm due to the hotel’s long-standing booking with other clients, but this has proved an attractive time for those with younger children to begin attending together’.

Relief and gratitude

For the first service the congregation were joined by many from other local churches who came to show their support and love. David told EN: ‘The first Sundays together were marked by tangible relief and tremendous gratitude to God for his faithfulness. Leaving one church family to start another felt like the tearing of a fabric never meant to be torn and some have struggled to understand why we have done what we have done. Others have discovered the essence of the church in profoundly new ways and have visibly grown in their faith, rejoicing to be in a living church family. From the start we have worked hard to not be defined by our reasons for leaving the national church. Newcomers have commented that the atmosphere is remarkably free of any bitterness or backward-looking focus on the past. It is the same people in a new setting with a continued focus on preaching, praying, pastoring and reaching out to those around us. The church family’s needs are still the same, the pastors’ sins are still the same, and the gospel is able to transform both. We are weak and frequently bewildered, but have found God to be strong, eternally steadfast and wise’.

New building

Trinity Church is now beginning the search for a new building and so there are challenges ahead. But in a very real sense they feel they are not home-less and that their church belongs within the worldwide family of Christ’s people and that spiritual unity between believers exists where the gospel is treasured. The Presbyterian ethos continues in their desire to be in close and accountable fellowship with others and so they will soon become a congregation of the International Presbyterian Church. There are currently no IPC congregations in Scotland, but the newly formed Highland International Church in Inverness (pastored by James Torrens and Peter Humphris) and another fellowship in Kyle of Lochalsh, Grace Community Church (led by John MacDonald), will soon be joining the IPC as well.

Many other evangelical ministers and churches within the Church of Scotland remain in very difficult circumstances and face hard decisions in the coming months.

More info at http://www.trinityaberdeen.org.uk