Response to the crisis in the Church of Scotland
It is not the usual practice of Firwood Church to comment upon other churches, but occasionally we are confronted with actions and decisions that are so high profile and significant that we would be derelict in remaining silent. It is the view of the Pastors of Firwood Church that the present crisis within the Church of Scotland with the appointment of the Reverend Scott Rennie is such a moment for faithful believers to speak out and take a stand.
In doing so we recognise that this crisis is not unique to the Church of Scotland and we are mindful that the Anglican Communion is facing similar turmoil following the election of Bishop Gene Robinson to the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003.
In speaking out on this issue at this time, it is our intention to remind the Church of the clear teaching of Scripture with regards to this issue and, in so doing, we hope to bring clarity, encouragement and solemn warning to those who are compromising on this issue.
This post is the considered response of the Pastorate to this crisis and sets forth the position of Firwood Church. Our view with regards to this matter is underpinned by three foundational convictions.
1. Conviction #1: The Authority of Scripture
We contend that all Scripture is perfect (Psalm 19:7), the very standard of truth (John 17:17), God-Breathed, useful and the means by which we are made ‘wise for salvation’ (2 Timothy 3:14-17). We believe that Scripture, as the very Word of God, demands that we, as believers, submit our opinions, attitudes and lives to His authority.
We are thus commanded to renew our minds in accordance with His truth (Romans 12:2) and it is for this reason the church is made to be the pillar and foundation of truth in a crooked and perverse world (1 Timothy 3:15).
2. Conviction #2: The Sanctity of Marriage
God declared that it is not good that man should be alone and created woman, a helper, fit for him (Genesis 2:18). We read that God then presents this woman to the man in the first marriage ceremony in human history. The man, delighted with this turn of events, then sings over his wife,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23)
Scripture teaches that it is for this reason,
…a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
This pattern, in which men and women are brought together in marriage and sexual union, is affirmed by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5:31). Paul explains that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and his church.
This is what is at stake and this is why the cost is so high when the church devalues and undermines the sanctity of marriage.
Firwood Church seeks to honour and uphold marriage in obedience to Scripture (Hebrews 13:4).
3. Conviction #3: Sexual immorality (including homosexual practice) is a sin
Scripture clearly and emphatically teaches that sexual immorality is a sin, not the only sin, but a sin nevertheless. This is why the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to, ‘Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.’ Paul then adds, ‘On account of these the wrath of God is coming.’ (Colossians 3:5-6).
The Greek word porneia (here translated, ‘sexual immorality’ and from which the word ‘pornography’ derives) refers to every kind of extramarital, unlawful or unnatural sexual behaviour. Porneia, in effect, refers to every kind of sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. Scripture warns us that, ‘On account of these the wrath of God is coming’.
Homosexual practice falls within this broad category of porneia. As such, the Bible, both Old and New Testament, consistently teaches that homosexual practice (along with adultery and fornication) is a sin (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:8-11 and Jude 1:6-7).
How, must we ask, should Christians then respond to those who actively practice sexual immorality (including homosexual practice)? The Bible sets out three principles which frame our response this present controversy.
1. Principle #1: We do not judge the world.
As believers, we are called to proclaim, shine forth and live out the Gospel of Jesus Christ to and among unbelievers. This great and weighty calling will lead us to gluttons, drunks, idolaters and those who practice sexual immorality. We know this to be true, because Jesus modelled this very way of living and found himself ministering among such unbelievers.
As such, it is not (yet) the role of the church to judge outsiders and unbelievers. Indeed, the Apostle Paul writes, ‘For what have I to do with judging outsiders?’ (1 Corinthians 5:12a). We do not judge those enslaved to wickedness, idolatry and sexual immorality because we recognise that we too were once like them. We recognise that our rescue and salvation is grounded entirely upon the sheer grace and mercy of King Jesus and so we join with the Apostle Paul in declaring, ‘that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.’ (1 Timothy 1:15)
We do not judge those enslaved to wickedness, idolatry and sexual immorality, rather we share with them the good new of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather, we point them towards the cross and empty tomb.
2. Principle #2: We call men and women to repentance
Although we do not judge outsiders, we recognise the seriousness and appallingness of sin. We understand that the Gospel of Christ calls men and women to repent of sin and turn in faith to Christ Jesus (Acts 17:30).
Yes, we proclaim the Gospel with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), but we also hold to the truth. Practically speaking, the focus of our evangelism should be Christ, His cross and His glory. We are to be defined by whom we stand for not what we stand against. However, we do not shy away from calling sin, sin. Such truth must, however, be born from an attitude of meekness, humility and love.
3. Principle #3: The church judges the church
The Apostle Paul begins by writing that he does not judge outsiders, but then continues to ask, ‘Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”‘ (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
Where unbelievers are enslaved to sin, we are called to shine the light of the Gospel. Where believers (or insiders) are indulging in sin, we are called to exercise church discipline. The end of church discipline for believers that repent is restoration to the body (this is always the desired outcome), but for the unrepentant believer the end of church discipline is excommunication. Paul writes, ‘Purge the evil person from among you’. Jesus himself says that, where a believer refuses to repent, the church should regard him or her as ‘a Gentile or tax-collector’ (Matthew 18:17). In other words, in instances where a believer is warned by fellow Christians, warned by the church and yet still refuses to repent, such an individual should be put out of the church and regarded as if he were an unbeliever.
It is the view of the Pastors of Firwood Church that those who claim to be believers, but continue in unrepentant sin should be subject to church discipline and, finally, excommunication. It is our view that those who claim to be believers and yet continue to practice homosexual activity disqualify themselves from church leadership and should be subject to church discipline and, finally (should they refuse to repent), excommunication.
What then, as believers, should we do in the light of this present crisis? We would urge believers to respond in accordance with Scripture:
1. Application #1: Contend for the Gospel
At the heart of this crisis is a battle over the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who argue that homosexual activity is compatible with Christianity undermine the authority of Scripture, malign the Gospel of Grace, fashion a false God in their own image and lead many to destruction.
Believers are called to contend for the Gospel and, as such, we must stand against such attacks by holding fast and proclaiming truth (Jude 1:3). We must also strive to correct such falsehood, in love, with the truth of the Word of God.
2. Application #2: Practice Holy Ostracisation
Where those who claim to be believers continue to unrepentantly sin and where those who claim to be believers defend such behaviour, the church should respond in accordance with Scripture and exercise church discipline.
In such circumstances believers should practice ‘Holy Ostracisation’ and have nothing to do with the individuals and churches who have thus compromised themselves. We do this in the hope that they will be convicted and will repent and return to Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:14, Titus 3:10).
3. Application #3: Pray
And finally, the church must pray.
We pray for those denominations currently divided over this issue; that God would bring a peace and unity grounded upon the truth of Scripture.
We pray for church leaders confronting this issue, that God would give them courage and wisdom in equal measure.
We pray for our fellow brothers and sisters caught amidst this turmoil. We pray that God would comfort and strengthen them for the struggle ahead.
We pray for those in rebellion (including Reverend Rennie and Bishop Robinson), that God would bring them to repentance.
Most importantly, we pray that Christ would be glorified in the midst of and even through this present crisis. We pray that the mercy and righteousness of Christ would shine forth and that many would see and turn to Him.
For His Glory,
Pastors Ronnie Evans, Andy Evans, Phill Marsh and Stephen Evans