I've been watching the unfolding story of the secession of the people of the Tron Church in Glasgow from the Church of Scotland with some concern. I have questions about the timing of such a move and whether it would be better to have waited to see what happens in the coming year, but that is a question of tactics. My understanding is that the Tron congregation is willing to come to some financial arrangement with the Trustees of the Kirk that would allow for payback of monies owed and the continued use of the Tron's facilities by the existing congregation for Gospel ministry in the city centre. Yet, no such agreement has been reached at a time when the Kirk is seeking to close churches down, merge others and sell off the assets released.
Something seems not quite right here. Yes, I've heard it said that the Tron has not payed its full dues in years gone by and that harsh things have been said on both sides, but there seems to be a vicious attempt to shut down the congregation's very existence. Some point out that the buildings don't belong to the congregation and that they belong to the Church of Scotland. Of course, that's true legally, but morally they belong to the people who pay for them and spiritually they belong to the Lord.
Since my letter which urged grace upon all concerned appeared in The Herald last week, several good folk have written lengthy letters to me seeking to clarify some aspects of the situation. I know there is a lot of hurt around. But the response to hurt is not to lash out but to forgive and be reconciled.
Therefore, I'm thinking that this situation is degenerating into questions of power, ego and worst of all, punishment. None of this is good and I'm cnow very concerned that this will play out in the glare of the media as it comes to court. My wee congregation knows what that is like from a situation it faced thirty years ago. In the end, the legal result was favourable to the congregation, but the resulting emotional and spiritual pain took many years to heal.
In all of this, I'm reminded of the separation of Paul and Barnabas. In Acts when a second missionary campaign was planned, Barnabas proposed taking Mark as a helper, but Paul resisted the idea. The New Testament record indicates that a “sharp contention” developed between them (Acts 15:36-41). This was over an opinion, not doctrine. They could not reach an agreement, and so they split up. As far as the biblical record indicates, these two remarkable people never saw one another again. However, the segmentation of their work did not disrupt permanently the love and respect that Paul and Barnabas had for one another. Paul would later affectionately mention Barnabas as being worthy of financial support in his work of proclaiming the gospel (1 Cor. 9:6).
On a wider note, it's worth thinking about the significance of this for "evangelicals" in Scotland. It seems there is much tribalism and little unity among us, and I feel ashamed of this. David Robertson of St Peter's Free Church in Dundee has written very perceptively about this over the last few days in his blog, "Why I no Longer Call Myself an Evangelical". It is a scandal that we do not speak of or treat one another well, but perhaps it's because when we can't agree on tactics (in this instance - stay for now, stay at any cost, or go now), we aren't mature enough to honour our brothers and sisters who discern a different way ahead. Such disunity hinders any possibility of the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ impacting very many people in Scotland, for we reveal that we are not very transformed ourselves. Now, I wonder whose plan that is?