In 1921 the Church of Scotland passed some "Articles Declaratory", laying out our structure, how we govern ourselves and so on.
Article I, for example, says: "The Church of Scotland is part of the Holy Catholic or Universal Church; worshipping one God, Almighty, all-wise, and all-loving, in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; adoring the Father, infinite in Majesty, of whom are all things; confessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son, made very man for our salvation; glorying in His Cross and Resurrection, and owning obedience to Him as the Head over all things to His Church; trusting in the promised renewal and guidance of the Holy Spirit; proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God through faith in Christ, and the gift of Eternal Life; and labouring for the advancement of the Kingdom of God throughout the world. The Church of Scotland adheres to the Scottish Reformation; receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life; and avows the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith founded thereupon".
Today at the General Assembly it was decided that we could revisit one of our Articles Declaratory. How radical! The sentence, and it's really only a sentence, in question is this, from Article III: "As a national Church, representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people, it (the CofS) acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry".
The view the CofS has taken until today is that we should get a map of Scotland, divide it into little manageable bits and put a church in each bit (or parish). This is what has been done. For example, routinely if someone dies who has no church connection, it is the local "parish" CofS minister who will get the phone call. The undertakers often have a map of the parish boundaries in their office so they know whom to phone. Although there are plenty of other Christians in our country, in other denominations, there has been a "territorial" coverage of the country with CofS churches. The question is now going to be asked whether this is still our vision or not. If it IS our vision, we'll need to cough up the money and human resources needed to plug some gaps and fill some vacancies. If it's NOT our vision, we'll need to change our mindset and realise that God is well able to work through a variety of denominations and we can relax and not feel it's all down to us!
I've always thought the territorial ministry as per Article III was a wonderful vision to have, motivated by a desire to serve our beloved nation: urban, rural, highland, island, all of it. But I am now asking (with others) whether it's really wonderful after all, or is it perhaps pretty arrogant to think we should have the country sewn up like this? I'm interested to see what the result of this questioning will be, but I'm certainly all in favour of soul-searching and I'm willing to sign up to search my own - I don't want to be arrogant.
Him Indoors was one of the Special Commission which brought this proposal to the Assembly today. It was a very interesting debate, but I was amazed that there was hardly any real oppositon to us at least taking a look at Article III and asking questions about it.
Perhaps it's like one of these mementos you hoard in your house for years and dust down every year but then one day you look at it again but you realise that actually you've moved on and you don't want it any more, and out it goes... We'll see.
Book Notes: Millions Like Us by Virginia Nicholson
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