What is the Scottish Vision?

saltireJohn Drane explores a new spiritual vision for Scotland when he writes….

The first thing to say is that Scotland is not the same as England! We have different legal, educational, and healthcare systems from our nearest neighbours, and soon we might even be a foreign country. Our churches are also different.

Anglicans are Scottish Episcopalians. The national church, the Church of Scotland, is Presbyterian. And whatever you do, don’t confuse the Free Church of Scotland with the Free Churches in England! But the challenges and opportunities with which our churches are wrestling are the same as everywhere else in the developed countries of the western world.

The difficulties facing our churches are by no means unique, though we do have some distinctive historical baggage: in common with other European countries where the Reformation had a more stridently puritanical flavour than in England, Scotland is arguably a more secular country than other parts of the UK and many people are openly cynical about the role of religious institutions. Rapid and discontinuous cultural change has also taken its toll on traditional church life and though there are pockets of new life, in many places the story is one of declining numbers and aging congregations.

More than a decade ago, the Church of Scotland’s Church without Walls report (2001) gave a focus for new thinking about the nature of a missional church. In 2011 another report (Reformed, Reforming, Emerging and Experimenting), which I jointly authored with Olive Fleming Drane, documented the emergence of new forms of Christian faith community and highlighted the need for fresh thinking that would recognise these ventures within the structures of the church.

As the Joint Emerging Church Group of the Ministries Council and the Mission and Discipleship Council reflected on all this, the obvious conclusion was that the Church of Scotland should become a partner in Fresh Expressions. One church leader recently suggested that this is the first time since the Reformation that the Church of Scotland and the Church of England have collaborated on specifically missional issues (as distinct from social and political matters). I have no idea whether that is entirely true, but it is undoubtedly a momentous opportunity for churches on both sides of the border.

Of course, Fresh Expressions has been represented right from the start in Scotland through those congregations that belong to the Methodist Church and more recently the URC and Salvation Army. They will welcome the Church of Scotland’s partnership, not least because the Kirk is numerically dominant over all other Protestant denominations (seven or eight times bigger than all the rest put together) and when it embraces something, that often creates an environment in which others can flourish more easily.

Unlike other denominations though, the Church of Scotland has a presence throughout the country. So this is a significant moment for those who are concerned with the re-evangelisation of Scotland. Central to this vision is an invitation to every parish to explore the possibilities of establishing an appropriately contextualised fresh expression of church by the year 2020 – something that will hopefully be pursued in an ecumenical context.

This will be a major challenge to many congregations, where change of any sort can seem alien and threatening. But a growing number of people have already glimpsed new possibilities and are eager to push forward with a new vision.

Since 2010, more than 200 individuals of all denominations have completed the mission shaped ministry course in Inverness, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, whilst vision days have taken place in other locations. The new partnerships will hopefully create spaces in which these people will be released to be in the vanguard of the development of fresh expressions in both urban and rural locations.

For there is no doubt that – especially at this time of national uncertainty, as we consider our relationship with the rest of the UK – our people need a new spiritual vision that will take us forward into what by any definition is an unknown future, to hear the gospel afresh in ways that will be comprehensible within today’s culture while also remaining true to the call of Jesus.

All very fine – but what is the vision and more to the point how do we make it happen?

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Why not try Life Journalling?

Scott Longyear writes:

 

‘Life Journalling is pretty simple. It is a system of daily Bible reading followed by writing some thoughts. I Journal each morning. Sometimes it is dry and tough to pull some application out, sometimes the heavens seem to open and I get some incredible insights for the things I am struggling with. By Life Journalling I am allowing the Spirit of God to speak through the scriptures and bend my life to be in tune with what God is speaking. For a worship leader, daily time with God is a non-negotiable.’books1

 

Worth a try!

The Bible – A gift from God

Text: Matthew 5.17-20

It wasn’t often that we had rabbit served up onboard ship. But the one time it did happen was just when I was reading Watership Down. Proof if any was needed that the Good Lord has a sense of humour. For you cannot read that tale of rabbits with human feelings and not look at a warren in an entirely different light. In essence then, stories change us – they move us to look at the world differently – moreover – they force us look at ourselves more closely. And so it is with the greatest story ever told – that immense literary work – that wonderful gift from God – the holy Bible.

However, to try to justify the Bible as God’s gift to humanity in a thousand words or so, on the face of it, is facile.  Yet, if we cannot explain the main purposes of our sacred book in a few words – how can we expect to do so in many.

Therefore, here goes!

Well, at its most basic level, the Bible answers fundamental human needs. And by that I mean the almost primeval urge that we each have to survive by knowing ourselves to be safe and secure. And this almost biologically programmed need is really only met when we live in an ordered community. Yet a wholesome and trustworthy society only comes about when each member knows what is right and what is wrong and when we find a way to encourage others to live by the same moral standards. Therefore, at its most elementary, the Bible’s purpose is to declare there is an external source of morality and there is also a living source that is also the judge of how each of meet that benchmark. But, more important than these, the bible makes abundantly clear this ethical source has supernatural powers to reward human obedience with permanent effects. For, in a nutshell, the Bible is saying – obey God’s laws and you and the human race will be forever restored. Or, as Deuteronomy puts it:

The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the lord our God, so that we may prosper and kept alive. If we are careful to obey the law, that will be our righteousness. (Deut. 6.24 ff)

Nevertheless, the Bible is more than a code of best practice; more than a lifetime highway code; more than a manual for communal survivability. Since, it also meets the needs of the mind. And so, it is the foundation stone of our Christian beliefs. Just it was Christ’s Jewish beliefs. For this morning did we not hear him say:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.

The bible then, through its account of how God has spoken to a variety of people, allows him to speak to us now.  Therefore, just as scripture was Christ’s source-book and inspiration, it is also the basis of our own personal encouragement, devotion and admonishment in good times and bad. It helps us to answer why we should obey as well as what we should be obedient in. Indeed, it is ever the sword and shield for our minds as we try to influence the whole of our society towards values that will make it worth redeeming in the first place.

However, the most crucial role of the Bible is in the spiritual dimension of our being. Because it may teach us how to survive physically and it may tell us too how we battle our own fears and the failings of others, but it still has something more important to tell us. For, far exceeding its other purposes, the Bible offers the gospel of Christ to each and everyone of us. And that is the good news we can individually have new life, we can individually be forgiven for renewed life and we can individually be saved into eternal life. To put it as Paul did to the Romans;

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace that we now stand.

James Merritt, in his Collected Sermons, remarks that when a merchant ship of any size, enters a port, it takes on board what is called a pilot. In fact, we often see the pilot cutter rushing past Broughty on its way to some vessel entering the Tay Estuary. Well this pilot knows the waters of his or her port backwards, he knows the length of it and he knows the depth of it. He knows where the hazards are. He knows where the tides and currents are; what direction they flow in and how strong they are. When this master mariner comes on board then, he takes control of the ship, and he gives the orders for its safe navigation. Put simply, he is an outside expert who is brought in to make sure that ship docks with certainty.

Well, we to have a pilot in our lives. We have a gift of God in our lives. We too have a guide to safe harbour in our lives. And it is the Bible. For God can only be known to the extent he reveals himself. Certainly, we have no way of knowing otherwise. And the clearest way of him revealing himself is in the pages of the bible. Similarly, we can know nothing of Jesus without the Bible. And so again the Bible reveals his gospel and the way to Christian living. Finally, it is in the keeping of the Bible central to our community of the church that we ensure we have its moral compass and upright companionship.

Let then, every Christian prize this gift from God; let every Christian be obedient to its guidance. And let every Christian make it a basis for all that is said and done. Because it is only then that our Bible’ story will ring out again in our daily living.

Amen