Has the Church of Scotland discarded the revelation of God?

The following post was first published in May 2013.

As I write, Britain is in the grip of a fierce debate. The website of the BBC and the letters page and opinion columns of The Herald, a Scottish national newspaper, are alive with the controversy. The topic under discussion is homosexuality: in England, the focus is the government’s policy regarding the right of homosexuals to marry, and in Scotland, concerning the decision of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly to allow open homosexuals to be ministers.  It is the latter subject that is discussed here.

The question I would like to raise with the reader is this: do we have a revelation from God? To put it another way, has God revealed Himself to His creature in any way? Do we know what His mind and will is on any subject? The answer to this question is emphatically yes. God has seen fit to reveal Himself to man in the divine workmanship of the created sphere which surrounds him, given him His inspired Word in the form of the Bible, and – most wonderful of all – revealed Himself in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ*. There have been those in the past who have denied the revelation of God, said it is impossible to know Him, and that any and every revelation purporting to be of God is fraudulent. Undoubtedly, this delusion exists to this day, though it has become more fashionable to avow outright atheism, denying that there is any God to reveal Himself. But, it’s not my object to dwell on such narrow-minded infidelity. Instead, the topic of the moment is the strange infidelity of certain clergy and congregants of the Church of Scotland.

Readers will be in no doubt where this writer stands on the issue of homosexuality: on solid scriptural ground. The inspired Word of God is absolutely clear in its condemnation of it as sinful. I needn’t reference the chapters and verses which explicitly set out this truth, as I’m sure they’ll be familiar to all, whether they accept them or not. Faithful students of the Word will be familiar with the wider context of scripture which fully bears out this truth. Some are willfully blind (what else but self-will could blind a person to such clear instruction?) to the Word of God they claim to honour.

Paganism presents us with a pantheon of gods, each dedicated to supplying a need or satisfying a lust, and without an application to conscience of the individual. This is clearly what many in Christendom would prefer.

The letters page of The Herald seethes with correspondence, featuring words and phrases such as “inclusiveness”, “toleration”, “a broad church” and a “non-judgmental Gospel”. Many laud the decision of the General Assembly, stating that it has “preserved the unity of the Church”. Yet one online comment summed up these sentiments concisely, with the words “synagogue of Satan”.

It is difficult to describe how detestable it is to see the grace of God abused and portrayed as a licence to sin, a get-out clause by which any iniquity may be tolerated. At this point, undoubtedly the many will call me judgmental, intolerant, lacking in what they claim to be the Christian spirit and virtues, on which they apparently have a monopoly. But, I tell you this: God hates sin, and His love is towards the sinner. It does not please God if we tolerate sin in ourselves, or overlook it in others. The many would claim that it is loving to tolerate sin in others. It is in fact hateful to put to sleep a conscience which has been needfully awakened. “Open rebuke is better than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are profuse.” (Proverbs 27 v 5-6).

Let me be clear, and use the language of scripture. We cannot judge others. In the words of the Lord, “Let him that is without sin among you first cast the stone…” (John 8 v 7), and the words of the apostle Paul, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3 v 23). Therefore, we are unable to judge persons, and God is the only righteous judge of man.

And again, the words of the Lord, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” (John 8 v 11) and of the apostle, “What then shall we say? Should we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far be the thought. We who have died to sin, how shall we still live in it?” (Romans 6 v 1). Scripture is clear. We cannot judge others, because we ourselves are sinners. But we can and should judge sin, and not live in it. But that, as the many would argue, is only self-judgement, that we have no responsibility for our fellow man in this regard. I would answer, again, with scripture: “Let every one who names the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2 v 19). The context of this verse shows what it means, without any shadow of doubt. We are to withdraw from iniquity, that is, conscious, sustained and deliberate wickedness, whether in persons or institutions. This is what the Church of Scotland has just irrevocably failed to do.

Yet all of the above is of no account to the self-appointed editors of the revelation. Any passage which is inconvenient, which is unpopular with the thinking of the moment, which they find difficult to understand, all these can be excised.  After all, the Word of God is fallible and the Almighty Creator of the universe is incapable of expressing Himself with clarity and definiteness. Such is their degraded and blasphemous thinking.

Dear faithful reader, let us be in no doubt that we are approaching the close of this era. Christendom is in the Laodicea state. The many praise the wisdom of comprise and toleration. The Lord says this: “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would that thou wert cold or hot. Thus because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3 v 15-16). I feel the edge of these words as I quote them, and I am made painfully aware of my inadequacy on that score. Yet, I do not speak on the basis on my own righteousness, but on that of the righteous Judge of all the Earth. I do not speak with my own authority or using my own words, but rather the authority of Word of God, that authority which is being so blatantly denied. Therefore, I feel confident to let scripture speak for itself, even if the rest of my words fall on deaf ears.

As a young Christian – young in the faith and in age – I am anxious for my generation. People my age, and how much more so the coming generations, are living in a world in which the truth has been neglected and distorted more than it has ever been before. As the apostle Paul warned, “wicked men and juggling impostors shall advance in evil, leading and being led astray.” (2 Timothy 3 v 13). Indeed, the most fundamental of truths are being eroded. Who hears Paul’s words now, when he says that “every scripture is divinely inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” (v 16). Evil in all its forms is endemic in Christendom. We fight it at every turn. My fellow young brethren, let us be “good soldier[s] of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2 v 3) in the final battles of our part in the conflict.

I have not written the above simply in order to complain and criticise. What would be the point of that? I hope that what I’ve written I’ll first take to myself and learn from it, and that it might strengthen and encourage others. Satan is trying to do away with most of the teaching of righteousness, and make the part of it that remains seem an end in itself. Righteousness and piety are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. We do not present ourselves as living sacrifices in order to just be living sacrifices, but to present ourselves to God in acceptability – clothed in Christ – to come into the blessings the God would love to give us without reserve. We, like Paul, should “pursue, looking towards the goal, for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3 v 14).

 

* And, of course, as Father and Holy Spirit, as well as Son.

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What is Worship?

The following post was first published in July 2013.  Some of the phrases used here are perhaps not the ones I would employ now, but I leave everything as it was originally published.

What is worship?  It’s a simple question, yet one which would appear on the face of it to have many answers.  In Christendom today, a great variety of activities are called ‘worship’.  The word is attached to organisations and inserted into job titles.  It would seem that ‘worship’ is a word which describes any sort of well-meaning and wholesome activity, directed God-ward.  It is my feeling that the word ‘worship’ has been sadly misused.  Although there might, legitimately enough, be a range of descriptions of what is worship, there is one which – in my view – is particularly apt.  “Worship is the adoration of the soul that is in the complete satisfaction of the knowledge of God.”*  The writer of this observation then goes on to remark that if the heart is not satisfied, there may be thanksgiving, but there will not be true worship, and “How could would we be in this absolute satisfaction, except by the Spirit of God?”  Therefore, Christian worship is an activity from which the Spirit of God is inseparable.  Without Him in it, it is not worship.

Scripture would assure us, unequivocally, that we worship by the Spirit of God.  “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and boast in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in flesh.” (Philippians 3 v 3).  Very well, many might say.  What’s the problem?  What goes on in my church, and the church down the street, and the meeting hall around the corner, and the chapel in the next town, all of it is worship if the Spirit of God is the source of it.  That would be true, if that were the case.  However, it would appear many Christians are happy to take the first part of of Paul’s statement, to regard themselves as the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God.  They may even, outwardly, take on the second part.  It is the third part which is not properly attended to, which it should have been if we are of the circumcision, having seen our flesh cut off and dead to us.  But, it is very much to be feared and guarded against that “the mind of the flesh” (Colossians 2 v 18) and “the satisfaction of the flesh” (v 23) do not intrude and spoil what should rightly and wholly be for God amongst those that are His.  In Ephesians 4 v 30, the apostle warns against our natural tendency to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which ye have been sealed for the day of redemption”.  How does this happen, how is the Spirit grieved?  By the resurgence of our flesh, our old nature, which we have died to, and should be cut off: “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these things are opposed one to the other…” (Galatians 5 v 17).  This is what spoils what is for God and causes inevitable disappointment and despondency in His would-be worshiper.

Where is there evidence, then, of the mind of the flesh and its satisfaction in Christendom today?  Everywhere.  Amongst Protestant Christian denominations, there is wide-spread condemnation of the idolatry of Romanism, and rightly so.  The histrionic services, empty rituals and pagan mysticism of the Roman Catholic Church shows the religious flesh, displayed in all its gross decadence.  Here we see a system which was devised by the mind of man at the inspiration of Satan, and solely dedicated to the satisfaction of the flesh which walks by sight, and not by faith (2 Corinthians 5 v 7).  Here was see what Paul warns the Colossians against: “Let no one fraudulently deprive you of your prize, doing his own will in humility and worship of angels, entering into things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by the mind of his flesh…” Satan is keen that the mind of the flesh should be kept alive and active in each and every one of us, so that we mistake real piety and true worship for things “(which have indeed an appearance of wisdom in voluntary worship, and humility, and harsh treatment of the body, not in a certain honour,) to the satisfaction of the flesh.”  Allowing the mind of the flesh to have scope leads to the satisfaction of the flesh, and not the satisfaction of God, which is surely the purpose of worship.

“However”, the Protestant might argue, “none of this idolatry is in my church”.  Isn’t it?  Now we come to the real test, the hard word for many of us at this time.  Is the flesh dominating our ‘worship’ and setting it at nought?  It may not be the blatant idolatry of Romanism, it may be more subtle, but it is equally destructive.  I feel compelled to say at this point, Thanks be to God for every believer, every earnest believer with right Christian desires, indwelt of the Spirit of God who desires to worship together with their brethren in Christ.  These believers are scattered throughout broken Christendom, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, of a thousand denominations and titles, but all of Christ, and members of His Body, whether they own it or not.  It is because of these brethren that I feel it is important to address – as far as my feeble capacity to do so will allow – this vital issue.

When I was a child, my parents brought me along to Christian meetings.  I was too young to understand what was being discussed, so I sat through them, entertaining myself with toys, and latterly a notebook and pencil which I was allowed to doodle in during the teaching.  When I was old enough, I didn’t bring my notebook, and instead gave the meetings my attention.  If an adult were to bring out their smartphone in a church or meeting room in the middle of proceedings and start playing games on it, people would certain look askance at that, and quite rightly so.  But, is that not what many of us are doing?  Aren’t we bringing our toys to church?  In many churches, services of worship are accompanied by playing musical instruments, lights, video presentations, choirs, vocal solos and all manner of entertainments, ancient and modern.  This, I would assert, is sowing to the flesh and not to the Spirit (Galatians 6 v 8).

Undoubtedly, the above statement will raise great consternation and indignation in many who read it.  Undoubtedly it would be regarded by some as legal, by others as Pharisaical (I fail to see the logic of that, but it has been said), and yet others as an attack on Christian liberty.  To the last rebuttal, I would have to say that anyone making it has a poor idea of what true Christian liberty is.  In particular, musical instruments used in worship is a cherished and almost sacred practice of many churches.  From the traditional church organ to the modern electric guitars, to small orchestras in some places, it is quite a common thing now.  I can say with utmost confidence that it wasn’t so from the first, that there were no such innovations in the early church.  To counter this view, proponents of the use of musical instruments will point to the Old Testament scriptures, numerous scriptures, which speak of the use of instruments in the praise of Jehovah.  In 1 Chronicles 23 v 5 we have it recorded: “… and four thousand praised Jehovah with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith.”  These, and many other scriptures, are used as justification for the present use of musical instruments in the service of God.  This shows – and I say this with all due respect and affection, mixed with sorrow, to those saying it – a dreadful ignorance of dispensational truth.  The Jewish order of things, God’s dealings with His earthly people, are merely shadows of that which was to come.  Colossians 2 tells us as much, and even a casual study of the scripture would reveal them to be such.  In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the apostle expands on this theme in great and rewarding detail**.  If we take Jewish things and try to fit them into our Christian worship, we are attempting to restore an order of things which God has brought to a close, a system of things which He has superseded with something infinitely greater.  To those who would bring instruments into the worship of God: are we to bring incense back too?  Are we to go right into apostasy and bring back many atoning sacrifices for sin, as the Romish system has?  God forbid that that terrible, blasphemous notion should get hold in the sphere of Christendom which is largely free from Rome’s baleful influence!  We should be clear that these things were right, proper and necessary, divine ordinances – in their time.  But to bring them into this dispensation, when symbolical things have been replaced by realities… that is both an terrible affront to God and a denial of the blessings of Christianity to the Christian.  Just as the many sacrifices have been utterly superseded by the one sacrifice of a perfect Lamb, once and for all, the use of the product of the works of man’s hands has been utterly superseded too by the service of the Spirit of God.  In 2 Chronicles 7 v 6, we have a wonderful scene, complete with “the Levites with Jehovah’s instruments of music, which David the king had made to praise Jehovah”.  Has not the Christ, the true David, made instruments to praise Jehovah, secured them in His death?  He has indeed: us, dear believer.  We are Jehovah’s instruments of music, for the praise of God.  The work of God Himself in us is ever refining our tone and pitch, His Holy Spirit plays on us in the service of the praise of God.  This is a wonderful and blessed truth, one of many of this dispensation: the shadows and the typical representations of the old dispensation having their realisation in this one, and beyond it, on into eternity.  I could continue on this wonderful topic, but I have stick to the bounds of the subject in hand.

There are some, even when presented with these points in view, clearly scriptural in their basis, who would say accuse me of pendantry and dealing in semantics.  I would strongly refute that, and say that these things are of the highest importance.  “Where’s the harm in it?”, many might ask.  In case the harm of feeding the flesh with sights and sounds is not established clearly enough above, I will use an theoretical example.  Two believers go to the same service of worship at a place where musical instruments and multimedia of all sorts is employed to “augment” the occasion.  Both are genuine and faithful, both have a right desire to worship God, a desire which is produced by His working in them.  One believer enters into the service fully, contributing to it in spirit and in voice, joining in with the singing of hymns and spiritual songs, worshiping by the Spirit of God, entering into the true spiritual things which – hopefully – remain despite the dross of worldliness and the Judiazing influence which has sadly been at work in the place.  The other believer is distracted by the sights and sounds of the service and gets caught up in it.  He enjoys the musical accompaniment, the theatrics and the emotion.  The Holy Spirit is grieved as the believer is taken up with the things which his natural senses appreciate, while he gets a lift and a feeling of joy and happiness from them.  But this is only a temporary boost, as results from anything which feeds our flesh but not our spirit.  He goes away from the service feeling joyful and peaceful, but this quickly fades.  The other believer goes away with something substantial having been worked out in his soul, the result of a real spiritual experience.  His weaker brother in Christ gets dejected and despondent: what he thinks is a spiritual experience is not satisfying him.  He sees his stronger brother grow in the knowledge of the truth and have his links with the Lord strengthen.  The weaker brother begins to question whether this thing called Christianity is indeed for him…  Of course, this could be regarded as a worse-case / best-case scenario, a sharp contrast between the two.  But, the fact remains that it could happen, and it has happened, no doubt.  Is it not our duty to have regard for our weaker brethren, and not cause them to stumble?  Is it not the spirit of Cain to question and to ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Assuredly, we are, if we truly walk in fellowship with one another.

On this point, the part that choirs and ‘worship bands’ have to play in the worship of God has to be questioned.  It is strange and disturbing that, while Protestants may condemn the ritual and theatrics of Rome, they have such things as these themselves.  Not everyone can sing in a choir, not everyone is naturally gifted to be able to do so.  Not everyone can play an instrument, because not all have that natural ability or have devoted the time to acquiring the skill.  Are these performances not theatrical, and for the entertainment of those watching?  It mirrors the corruption of Romanism.  The word ‘mass’ which is used to describe that histrionic ritual which the Romish church substitutes for the Lord’s supper, is in fact a corruption of the word which was, in times past, used as a command, to dismiss those from the place who were not there to join in communion.  The opposite is true of the Roman Catholic mass.  Those who do not communicate, who do not take part in the communion, watch the spectacle unfold.  And this, if you credit it, is called worship!  This being the case, why are entertainments and spectacles called worship by those Protestants who condemn so roundly the pageantry of Rome?  Again, the flesh is fed by these things, and the Spirit is grieved.  The flesh is fed in those watching, and in those performing.  If we feel that we’re being admired for our natural or acquired abilities, then that can lead to pride.  This is natural: that is the mind of the flesh.  It’s nice to admired for our talents.  In some measure, that is harmless.  But it has no place in the service of God, where He is the object – or should be – the object of all adoration and worship.  The apostle Paul is ever a good guide: he lists his many qualifications and achievements in his epistle to the Philippians, and then what does he say?  Does he say that, since he is so qualified and has achieved so much naturally and without God, that he should use it for the glory of God (as some have indeed argued!)?  Does he say that it is because of these qualifications and achievements that he is an apostle?  No.  “But surely I count also all things to be loss on account of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, on account of whom I have suffered the loss of all, and count them to be filth, that I may gain Christ…” (chapter 3 v 8).  He lost all, and counted it filth.  Not “a great sacrifice”, not even “a small sacrifice”, but “filth”.  All that he was, all that he had achieved, all that he had worked at was worthless and undesirable to him.  He’d seen Christ, and that was all that filled his vision.

Would that we were more Pauline in our valuation of things here and heavenward looking in our gatherings, there would be no room for musical instruments, or choirs, or bands, or multimedia, or any of the passing things of this world which can only hinder the enjoyment and prevent the entering in of the believer into true worship.  “But, if we get rid of all those things”, asks the dismayed church-goer, “what will we have left?”  My friend, you will have the Spirit of God, free to move and operate among those He indwells, stirring their hearts in praise and worship to God.  That is all the God requires.  Nothing we can do will add to the service of God, we must use what He provided.  Consider the wedding feast of Matthew 22, and the displeasure of the King when he found a guest who wasn’t wearing the wedding garment that He had provided.  Consider the returning prodigal of Luke 15, destitute and without resource in himself at all.  Consider Cain, bringing the fruits of his own labour from the cursed ground as a sacrifice to Jehovah.  Can we find ourselves another means of salvation, other than that which is in Jesus, something we ourselves can bring to present to the righteous Judge, of our own making?  No.  Can we any more bring anything to the worship of God, other than that which God in His infinite grace has provided?  No.  He has done it all.  “All things ready; come to the wedding feast.” (Matthew 22 v 4).

These are just a few words, feebly spoken, on a vast subject of great importance.  I hope that every believer who reads them would weigh them carefully and follow up any exercise produced in the soul by them.  I would again encourage anyone who sees an error, typographical or doctrinal, in the above, to raise it with me for my help and correction.  I would again encourage anyone who reads this to be a good Berean, and search the scriptures to see if these things are so.
* ‘The True Grace of God’, paper entitled ‘Christianity’, C.A. Coates.

** For further reading on this subject, I can’t recommend more highly ‘Jewish Bondage and Christian Freedom, or Jewish and Christian Worship Contrasted’ by J.L.H., 1899.