The trouble with Scottish Presbyterians

Western Europe is the new missionfield. According to the Scottish Church Census, only 11.2% of Scots attended church on an average Sunday in 2002. And those who do are mostly old people. This is higher than England (7.5%), but compare this with the U.S. at 40% (Barna), and a 1997 report by the University of Michigan that puts South Africa at 56%, the Philippines at 68%, and Nigeria at a whopping 89%!

One report by Phil Zuckerman points out how drastically this change came about in only a couple generations: “In Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1851, 60 percent of the adult population attended church; in 1995 that was down to 11 percent.”

The journalist also throws in some anecdotes from personal experience:

The last time I was in Europe, I was told by two different sets of friends that we would be “going out to the church” for the evening. In both cases (one in Oban, Scotland, and the other in Cologne, Germany) the churches turned out to be religious institutions in facade only; both were former churches that had been gutted and turned into popular pubs and night clubs. Indeed, throughout much of Western Europe–with the unique exception of Ireland–churches are being turned into bars, discos, warehouses, and laundromats. Not only is church attendance way down, but so is religious belief.

The culture has changed so much that people actually have to second-guess what you mean when you say you’re “going to church!”

Many Scots are wasting their lives away in bondage to drugs and alcohol. In almost every city you go to, whether it’s Aberdeen, Glasgow, or Inverclyde, the locals will tell you it’s the heroin capital of Europe. They are not living the lives of freedom that their ancestors fought and died for!

So we’ve established that only a ridiculously small percentage of people go to church in Scotland. So how can Presbyterianism be the right way? I would say that the mysteries, complexities, and paradoxes of the balance and partnership (MARRIAGE!) between God’s sovereign will and man’s responsibility are so vast that you either have to leave it alone completely and walk by faith, or you need to keep wrestling with it until God brings you to a point where, though it might not make perfect sense, you finally reach the conclusion that there has to be a balance of the two.

Delving just a little into Calvinism is dangerous. You may get to the place where you say, like many Scottish Presbyterians do, that God is sovereign, so it doesn’t matter what I do. I’ll just go to church on Sunday (or not) and leave everyone else alone, because if they were elect of God, then he would cause them to come to faith with no help of my own.

The problems are (1) that’s not what Calvin taught, and (2) election does not negate preaching (there is a ton of material by John Piper, Charles Spurgeon, and others on this very subject).

Bruce Shelley said if Luther’s key verse was “the just shall live by faith,” then Calvin’s was, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The emphasis here is not that God’s will is going to be done no matter what I do (it will, but if you don’t cooperate then he’s going to find someone else to work through), but the emphasis is on how our desire for His will to be done should affect our prayer life, our daily actions and lifestyle, and our preaching!

Shelley writes, “The consequence of faith to Calvin–far more than to Luther–is strenuous effort to introduce the kingdom of God on earth….God calls the elect for his purpose!” (Church History in Plain Language, 261).
As a kingdom of priests, we all have direct access to the throne room of God, and we all are supposed to represent His interests on the earth. His will is done through us, which is why we need to cooperate with Him. We have to choose God’s will. We are called for His purpose. And his will is that all might be saved. “Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Mt 18:14, NKJV). We were all little kids once. And 1 Tim. 2:4 says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (ESV).

Instead of arguing and debating about the supposed unreality of everyone getting saved, we have to realize (1) God’s reality is higher and more real than the realm we see with our eyes, and (2) we have to be saturated by God’s desires and look on others with his heart towards them. If God looks at people and desires their salvation, then his elect needs to look on people and desire their salvation.

The point of Calvin’s teachings which is missed by some of the fatalistic, pseudo-Hindi, psuedo-Muslim neo-hyper-Calvinists, is to see God’s kingdom come here on earth. We are called according to his purpose. Like Sarmatian knights, we have been given our orders, revealed in Scripture, and it’s up to us to choose whether we will fulfill them.

“I now know that all the blood I have shed, all the lives I have taken, have led me to this moment.” King Arthur (2004 film)


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