Monday, April 10, 2006

The Church of Scotland and the Need for Church Discipline

Evangelicals in the Church of Scotland are circulating this statement to protest their upcoming General Assembly's desire to allow ministers to bless same-sex unions. A number of prominent ministers, both within and outside of the Church, have added their names to this statement in order to give greater weight to the protest. [It should be noted that this will be a major issue at the oldine Presbyterian Church (USA)'s General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama, this summer as well.]

It is striking, though, to read Carl Trueman's comments about the failed strategy of older evangelicals in the Church of Scotland that paved the way for these events. According to Trueman, evangelical ministers essentially bargined with the liberal denomination leaders--we won't protest your moves ecclesiastically, if you will leave us alone in our congregations to preach the Gospel. But now, there is too much ground given away--the failure of the church's courts to bring discipline against those with aberrant theology and the failure of evangelicals to bring those courts to task, all in the name of peace, has led to this current crisis.

The reason this catches my attention is that I have an essay coming in this spring's Journal of Presbyterian History, entitled, "'Our Church Will Be On Trial': W. M. McPheeters and the Beginnings of Conservative Dissent in the PCUS." It focuses on the efforts of McPheeters, an elderly OT professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, to bring two progressive leaders to bar in the old Southern Presbyterian Church in the late 1920s. The failure of the church to heed McPheeters and discipline those two leaders allowed progressives to feel safe in their theological positions. It also proved to be the beginning point of a conservative coalition in the PCUS that would lead to the founding of the Southern Presbyterian Journal and eventually, in 1973, the Presbyterian Church in America.

All to say, there are hills on which it is worth dying. A church that refuses to discipline itself theologically is a church that will ultimately find itself in similar places to the Church of Scotland or the PC(USA)--a church without a biblical witness to the world.


David Shedden said...

Sean, thanks for your recent post on my blog. Would it be okay for me to email you? You may have read some of my posts about being in the CofS as a candidate at the moment. Also, next year I will be taking up a ThM (taught) scholarship at Princeton Theological Seminary - I hope to pursue my interest in Warfield among other things. I'm sure I could benefit from your own work in 19thC American history. Regards, Dave

Sean Michael Lucas said...

Sure, David. Go to my website ( and use the "contact us" form. Once I have your email address, I'll reply to you from my seminary email address. It'd be good to "talk" about what you are hoping to do! best, sml