Kirk Fudge on Gay Ordination

The Theological Commission appointed by the Church of Scotland in 2011to examine issues relating to the ordination of those living in openly homosexual relationships has now prepared its report, and one thing is sure: very few of those attending the forthcoming General Assembly are going to have the stamina to read it.  Ninety-four pages long, in double column, it takes almost as long to get to get to the point as it took the children of Israel to get to the Promised Land; and if it can’t quite be said that the commissioners spent all their time in the wilderness it can certainly be said that they spent most of it in unnecessary preliminaries and in irrelevant discussions of such matters as the Kirk’s place in the ‘holy, catholic church’.

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What's the Point of Independence?

It’s probably a disgrace, but I’ve already forgotten the date of that referendum on Scottish independence.  This cannot be attributed entirely to senility.  I still know who I am, the date of Christmas, and the difference between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism.  These, after all, are important things, and one might feel honoured to announce them.  But it’s hard to enter into the mind of someone like Alex Salmond who, last week, pronounced himself ‘honoured’ to announce a referendum on something so negative as the break-up of the United Kingdom.

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Is Jesus a Myth?

Most 20th century Highlanders view Christianity very much as Pontius Pilate viewed it: a load of rubbish, and sinister to boot.  If asked why, you’d expect them to draw themselves up to their full intellectual height and tell you that modern science has put an end to that sort of nonsense.  But what’s been interesting since Richard Dawkins’s ‘Tour of the Hebrides’ has been the number of voices offering a different argument, and telling us that they reject Christianity not because Darwin eliminated the Creator, but because the gospels are no more than a collection of ancient myths and fables.

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Not the Free Church College

It’s long been typical of Gaidheals that they lack pride in themselves, and particularly in their own language.  Quite why this should be so is far from clear.  Why should someone who spoke two languages feel inferior to one who spoke only one?  Perhaps it was because the monoglot was the factor, the bailiff or at least someone with a white-collar job and ‘minister’s hands’.  Gaelic betrayed you as uneducated, unqualified and poorly connected.  All things considered, then, it was best to lose it once you were upwardly mobile; even better to pretend you never had it.

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Catholic Megaphone

It would be interesting to know what Dr. Peter Kearney’s employers really think of his recent outburst about sectarianism in Scotland .  Dr Kearney is Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, but no one seems to have told him that the messenger must never become the message; which is exactly what he became last week with his ridiculous comparison of the plight of Scottish Catholics to that of American blacks in the worst days of segregation.

Many minds boggled besides mine, and there’s no need for me to add further words to the chorus of disbelief.  The position of American blacks before the Civil Rights Movement was most famously expressed in Billie Holiday’s song, ‘Strange Fruit’:

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What Price Relevance?

The church is always in crisis.  If you don’t believe it, just read any preacher from one of her Golden Ages.  All of them, from Augustine to John Kennedy, thought they were living in ‘cloudy and dark days’.

The 21st century is no exception.  True or not, the perception is that the church is in deep, deep trouble.  On this at least, believers and non-believers are agreed.  For the one, it’s time for a ‘ho-ro gheallaidh’; for the other, for lamentation, and with the lamentation comes panic: a panic which is equally pronounced among Anglicans, Catholics, Baptists and Presbyterians.  We have put ourselves in a dilemma.

It’s quite simple.  We either keep our identity, and become irrelevant; or we become relevant, and lose our identity.

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Covenant Theology

Covenant (or federal) theologyis so called because it uses the covenant concept as an architectonic principle for the systemizing of Christian truth.  The seeds of this approach were sown by John Calvin (Institutes 2: 9-11) and there are already hints of it in Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), Henrich Bullinger (1504-1575) and Zacharias Ursinus (1534-1583).  But it took some time to develop fully, though by the early seventeenth century virtually all orthodox Reformed theologians came to accept it and work out their theology within its framework.    Such theologians as Johannes Cocceius in his Summa Doctrinae de Foedere et Testamento Dei Explicata (Amsterdam, 1648) and Herman Witsius in his De Oeconomia Foederum Dei cum Hominibus (Leeuwarden, 1677; ET 3 vols, London, 1763; 1822, 2 vols) represent covenant theology in fully developed form.  English divines also generally adopted the covenant theology.  John Preston, The New Covenant (London, 1629), John Ball, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (London, 1645), Francis Roberts, Mysterium & Medulla Bibliorum.  The Mysterie and Marrow of the Bible: viz. God’s Covenants with Man (London, 1657), and William Strong, A Discourse of the Two Covenants (London, 1678) are but four examples.  In keeping with this, the Westminster Assembly used a covenant framework in drawing up its Confession of Faith and catechisms, as did The Marrow of Modern Divinity (London, 1645).

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‘My Lady Bishop’

Last week’s decision of the Church of England not to allow women bishops will have little immediate impact here in the Highlands.  We do, of course, have our own form of Anglicanism, Eaglais Easbaigeach na h-Alba, but neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the General Synod has any authority over Scottish Episcopalians.  They already have women priests, including the Reverend Shona Boardman in Stornoway, but no women bishops, though that is certain to change when (and it’s when, not if) the Church of England finally mitres women.

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Richard Dawkins, Microbiologist

It’s not my job to sell tickets for Stornoway’s Lanntair Gallery, and so I kept mum about Richard Dawkins’s recent visit to the scenes of my childhood.  I would still be mum were it not that the coverage of the event in the local press was the most prejudiced piece of news coverage that ever had the honour to catch my eye.  Professor Dawkins so mesmerised the reporters that spelling and syntax went out the window; and objectivity had not even been allowed in.  The previous evening, the ‘case’ for God had been put by ‘Rev Robertson’ (neither what he was christened nor how he should be styled), but the report could hardly get him out of the way quickly enough, contenting itself with noting that he is a good orator, afraid of flying, and was challenged by Dr. Dawkins.

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Christian Worship: the Regulative Principle

The Regulative Principle was defined by John Calvin as follows: “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word.” (from the tract, ‘The Necessity of Reforming the Church’ in John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 1, p. 128).

In elaborating this principle, however, Calvin and his successors are much clearer on the negative than they are on the positive.  Their focus falls on what is not prescribed or authorised and is therefore forbidden.  Calvin’s own personal concern is not with the questions which troubled later Puritanism (e.g., vestments, psalms/hymns), but with the abuses of Roman Catholic worship: for example, the use of images, the worship of saints, appeal to the mediation of angels, the adoration of relics and the sacrifice of the Mass.  It is worth noting here that such practices are not only not sanctioned by scripture but are forbidden by it.  In application and practice, the Regulative Principle may not differ hugely from the Lutheran/Anglican principle that what is not forbidden is permitted.

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