Leaving the denomination

Jul 27, 2017 by

A report for Anglican Mainstream by Edward Lobb.

In 2012, the Tron Church in Glasgow City Centre, to which I belong, took the difficult decision to leave the Church of Scotland. In this short article I hope to describe something of the experience our congregation went through, and something of what it feels like five years on, in 2017. My own background is that I was ordained in the Church of England in 1976, and served in regular parish ministry (two curacies and two incumbencies) until 2005, when I moved to Scotland to set up and run the Scottish Cornhill Training Course. I still teach at Cornhill, and serve as an honorary associate minister at the Tron under the leadership of Willie Philip, who has led the church since 2004.

The Church of Scotland [Presbyterian], much infected by liberal theology like the Church of England [Anglican], had been moving towards the sanctioning of same-sex relationships for years; and when its General Assembly made certain clear decisions, we decided that we could no longer remain in fellowship with it. Willie Philip had been preparing the congregation over several years with clear teaching from the Bible, so that throughout the congregation there was a great unity of understanding of the issues involved. This meant that when we took the decision to depart from the Church of Scotland, ninety-nine percent of the congregation remained together: only a handful of people dissented. It was a painful business: the CofS authorities put intense pressure on us and expressed fierce antagonism, and not a few people from other evangelical congregations strongly opposed our decision. But our departure has been an enormous blessing to us: we feel like the Ancient Mariner when the albatross finally dropped from his neck.

Overwhelmingly, our departure has brought us a sense of relief. We are no longer attached to and supervised by a presbytery (rather like a diocesan synod) in which we had to “work together” with non-evangelicals. There is no more battling over money and staff allocations and buildings; no more paying large sums into central denominational funds for the purpose of sustaining churches where no gospel work is done. No more is there the depressing knowledge that we are serving a great bureaucratic money-consuming structure which is much corrupted by liberal theology and bad behaviour. We are now free to get on with our proper work, the kind of work exemplified in the New Testament: evangelism, preaching and teaching the Bible, caring for the church family, supporting good overseas work. We are still involved in battle of course! – battle with the world the flesh and the devil in our hearts and in other people’s; but the draining, depressing struggle with a structure whose aims we do not share is over.

It was surprisingly painless to leave our church building, a fine early 19th century church in an excellent position in the city centre. We had very recently refurbished it beautifully at a cost to the congregation of nearly 2 million pounds, but we decided to walk away from it rather than fight a legal battle over it with the Church of Scotland, a battle which we would probably have lost and which would have soaked up much energy and created bitterness in our own hearts.

And the gospel work has been blessed since our departure from the denomination: in 2016 we were able to open two new centres of activity in two previously existing church buildings, one about a mile to the west of our central building, the other in the southern suburbs of the city. We also have more than 150 Iranians with us every Sunday and have baptized many dozens of them in the last couple of years. Looking after them is a stretching challenge, and about 30 of our members now work together as a team, teaching and discipling them and helping many with asylum and residence applications.

We’re well aware of the dangers involved in becoming an independent congregation: the dangers of unaccountability, isolation, and pride in what we have done. To guard against all this, we have a Council of Reference consisting of about six senior men (from Scotland, England and further afield) who keep an eye on us lest we should misbehave; and we are constantly and actively cultivating good relationships with a number of evangelical churches in the fairly new West of Scotland Gospel Partnership. In addition, Willie Philip and others have recently started a connection for churches like our own which have left the CofS. This is known as the Didasko Fellowship, and its purpose is to enable our churches to offer each other some mutual oversight: regular meetings of ministers and their wives to provide loving support, and opportunities to help each other in various ways, including identifying future leaders and providing training for them. But we are not starting a new denomination, nor setting up any kind of mutual financial arrangements. To do that might be to create a new albatross.

Doctrinally, we have adopted a constitution very similar to that of the Church of Scotland, with the Bible as our rule of faith and the Westminster Confession of Faith our subsidiary standard. We think of ourselves as fundamentally presbyterian, and express this identity in the setting up of the new Didasko Presbytery. On the pressing contemporary questions concerning sexuality and transgenderism, our stance is determined and non-negotiable: we stick with the Bible’s teaching and are unashamed of it.

We’re grateful to God that ours is a happy, united and active church. We had to make the break, and it has been a great blessing to the gospel work at the Tron Church.

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