Carl Is Right: Too Little, Too Late

In the dustup at Ref21 over how conservatives and evangelicals should conduct themselves in and in regard to the mainline, Carl is right. Signing a petition is easy. Filing charges is hard. Forcing the mainline to deal with one, even if that means being thrown out (ala Machen) is much harder. It is the hard work that evangelicals haven’t done and that’s why they’re in the position of signing meaningless online petitions.  Thus I go back to my original position in this discussion: why is it only when it comes down to ordaining homosexuals (i.e. ethics) that “evangelicals” in the mainline become energized? Where were they on Scripture? Where were they on the uniqueness of Christ? It’s a long journey from the beginning of the theological loci (topics) to ethics.  Where I come from (the land of long coal trains) it is a long journey from the engine to the weigh car (caboose).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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10 comments

  1. Carl Trueman, as usual, is spot on in his commentary. Amen Dr. Trueman!!!

  2. As someone who experienced first hand in the 1980’s the lack of support among evangelical Church of Scotland pastors for students opposed to the ordination of women who found themselves shut out in the selection process, I have to concur with Carl too. I also remember Eric Alexander writing a piece in the Evangelical Times in those days arguing passionately that each church should be free to do whatever they wanted without Presbytery interference. I responded at the time with a letter suggesting that he might not like the implications of where that congregationalism would lead.

    One other detail that I haven’t seen anyone comment on, though, is the fact that this is not about the ordination of a practising homosexual. He is already ordained as the minister of Brechin Cathedral, and as far as I can see the petition does not propose removing him from that charge. It is merely about the transfer of a minister from one presbytery to another. It seems that it would be a rather hollow “victory” to deny him the right to move from one church to another, while leaving him in place where he is. If he shouldn’t be pastor of Queens Cross because of his actively homosexual lifestyle, then he shouldn’t be minister of Brechin Cathedral either.

    I have many friends still in the Church of Scotland and respect their ministry. But if ever there has been a time to say enough is enough and leave, it is surely now.

  3. Unlike Carl, I have signed the petition, but only after long reflection. However, I feel that I have a right to express an opinion as I served and battled in the CofS for 19 years before finally leaving in 1994 over this very issue! That to me was the year of decision, when the GA declared that active opposition to women’s ordination was itself a “violation of ordination vows”, but could not declare that active support of homosexual conduct was wrong.

    The petition calls for a block on the ordination of active homosexuals, but it does not call for a block on the ordination of those who encourage, support and promote homosexual conduct. To me the latter is more dangerous than the former – but is it any less dangerous than the denial of the atonement or the resurrection.

    Boice once said that there is a time when one may leave a denomination, and a time when one must leave a denomination. It’s the time in between that is difficult. I feel for colleagues who are actively battling on this issue, but hope and pray that they see this is the beginning and not the end of the battle.

    I can say, however, from experience that fighting such battles in Presbytery and in evangelical fellowships can be a lonely and sapping experience. It becomes a distraction from our real work in ministry and I wonder if that is where our energies are best spent. Should we constantly be battling for basic doctrinal and moral truth against the denomination. When I left the CofS and went to the OPC I could hardly believe that the Presbytery was a friend and not a foe – it was a little of heaven on earth. Scotland needs above all the prayers of the Reformed community, whether or not they choose to sign the petition.

    Robert M Walker
    (Free Church of Scotland)

  4. Robert Walker makes 2 important points:

    The petition calls for a block on the ordination of active homosexuals, but it does not call for a block on the ordination of those who encourage, support and promote homosexual conduct.

    My most basic problem is not with active homosexuals, and the ordination of active homosexuals, because I know that I too am a lawbreaker. I covet. I envy. I don’t really love my neighbour as myself – let alone loving God with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. My big problem is with those who call evil good, and good evil. I may envy, and I may covet, but I refuse to say that envy and covetousness are good.

    The man who has sexual desires to do what is wrong, and who falls in a moment of weakness, is not really an appropriate person to be ordained. But if he acknowledges that what he desires to do is wrong, he is not nearly as wicked and unsuitable as the man who may be faithful to his wife, but who claims that sexual activity between two people of the same sex is acceptable to God.

    Church of Scotland evangelicals need to be clear – and to make clear to the world – that it is not the homosexual activity that is the really terrible thing – it is the condoning of that activity.

    Secondly, Robert says “I feel for colleagues who are actively battling on this issue, but hope and pray that they see this is the beginning and not the end of the battle.”

    Church of Scotland evangelicals have, understandably, been unenthusiastic about fighting battles that they looked unlikely to win. The problem is that, as Carl says, integrity demanded that those battles be fought.

    I pray that this will be the beginning of the battle against infidelity that should have been joined decades ago.

    And it was with that hope that I signed the petition – not because I believe that this is THE issue to fight on.

  5. Carl is right on this issue. Sexual license always comes after theological compromise. As Dr. Duguid indicates, evangelicals in the C of S were all but abandoned. Homosexuality in this case is the bitter fruit of the seeds that were sown for years. At what point does an evangelical sever ties with a group that is apostate?

    Carl’s observation on the ironic contrast between Southern Baptists behaving like Presbyterians (as a means toward their conservative resurgence) and Scottish Presbyerians behaving like congregationalists (which probably aided their downgrade) was a keen insight.

  6. Carl’s observation on the ironic contrast between Southern Baptists behaving like Presbyterians (as a means toward their conservative resurgence) and Scottish Presbyerians behaving like congregationalists (which probably aided their downgrade) was a keen insight.

    Carl ignores a fairly crucial fact. In the 1960’s the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland, like the conservatives in the SBC (and indeed the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod) were all surveying the scene. They all looked over their territory. The conservatives in the SBC and LCMS could see quite clearly that they had a good chance of winning their battle – the majority of the ordinary church members were on their side.

    In the Church of Scotland, it was quite different. The vast majority of members of the CofS had no interest whatsoever in the evangelical agenda. The issues that the evangelicals were fighting – e.g. the proper subjects of infant baptism and justification by faith in Christ alone – were not popular issues in a national church in which the vast majority of ordinary members believed in indiscriminate baptism, and that all decent Scots would go to heaven.

    In short, in the SBC and the LCMS, the liberals were the entryists. In the CofS, it was the evangelicals who were the entryists.

    • Young Mr Brown,

      Since I’ve always served in small congregations this way of thinking
      is hard for me to understand. My congregations have always been in
      exile, out of power and influence so forgive me when I ask, but what
      does winning have to do with anything?

  7. As an elder in a Scottish Baptist church, I am in a dilemma whether, or not, to sign.

    On one hand, I am not convinced that a Baptist should be petitioning another denomination; however, denominational boundaries should not prevent me from providing support my Brothers in Christ deserve.

    Yet Dr Trueman has identified the flaw in the petition, in that it addresses a symptom of the problem in the CoS, not the root cause. While there are some wonderful pastors of flocks, plus many kirks I would willingly attend, too many of the local churches could not recognise sin or the gospel. While that remains the case, such a petition will be held up as nothing more than conservative reactionism, rather than an effort to uphold and encourage a Christ like walk.

    If Mr Brown’s hope of this being the opening salvo of the battle were to be fulfilled, I would willingly sign, and willingly support my brothers’ efforts for truth in this land.

    Perhaps Dr Trueman’s concerns will bring to the attention of many the lack of faithful Christian witness in Scotland. Please pray for us all!

  8. Having been raised Southern Baptist I know that it is true that the laity was largely evangelical while the entities had become largely liberal. This reality made the conservative resurgence a possibility. Once the laity truly saw how far the SBC entities had fallen the laity was charged to do something.

  9. Dr Clark,

    You asked “what does winning have to do with anything?”

    Evangelicals in mainline churches in Britain sometimes use the phrase “in it to win it” – i.e. they hope to be able to return their denomination to doctrinal fidelity.

    The thinking of the evangelical leadership in the Church of Scotland has (broadly speaking) been that fighting battles in church courts that could not be won would be counter-productive.

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