The Irish Presbyterian Church has spurned an invitation from its ‘mother church’ the Church of Scotland to attend the Scottish General Assembly in Edinburgh next May.
The Scottish Kirk’s recent contentious move towards embracing same-sex marriage in its churches has raised tensions in the upper echelons of the two separate Presbyterian denominations and, on Thursday, a majority of ministers and elders at the Belfast assembly decided, for the third year, not to accept an invite to the 2018 Edinburgh gathering.
On a card vote, the assembly voted 221-139 to continue their theological protest stance, and reject the radical, liberal theology now apparent in the Church of Scotland.
The Irish assembly considered a recommendation from a church task group, accepting the invite, and asking the Irish moderator to convey the Presbyterian Church’s “painful concern in a loving manner”.
This sought the Church of Scotland, along with the Irish Presbyterian Church, to ongoing reformation in obedience to Biblical scriptures.
Crucially, however, the recommendation was not adopted at a meeting in April of the Irish Presbyterian Church’s general council.
Scottish Moderator the Rev Dr Derek Browning said the two churches can agree or disagree on various issues, but he said they had too much in common to pull apart.
Dr Browning assured a warm welcome would be accorded if the Irish assembly decided to send a delegation.
The Rev Dr Stafford Carson, professor at Presbyterian Union College in Belfast and a former moderator, said sexual practices are so central to Christian life that when leaders cease to affirm orthodoxy on the matter of sexuality they cease to be meaningful Christians.
“That is why the modern re-paganisation, which we sometimes refer to as the sexual revolution, can never be reconciled with organised Christianity. As a church, we must be committed to resisting that re-paganisation,” he said.
Former moderator and retired Dublin minister, the Rev Dr Trevor Morrow, spoke strongly in support of maintaining the tradition of sending representatives to the Scottish assembly, although he stressed the traditionalist viewpoint of his own church.
“I support this with a clear conscience because sending the moderator does not compromise on the Gospel, does not compromise on doctrine, does not compromise on ethics and does not endorse what the Church of Scotland is doing.”
Lurgan minister, the Rev Nigel McCullough, said he regretted the Scottish church had moved to a position where they had “by-passed the Word of God”.
First Dromara minister, the Rev Shaw Thompson, said his religious and cultural background was Ulster-Scots and he related how Presbyterians he knew in Scotland were “heart-broken” by the recent decision of the Scottish Kirk on same-sex marriage.
“Let us stand firm and return to Biblical standards. This is about scripture, the place of scripture in our lives,” said Mr Thompson.
Another former moderator, the Rev Dr John Dunlop, urged reconciliation, stating that the church in Ireland and in Scotland were together part of “the body of Christ”. He supported maintaining the historic bonds between the churches.
South Antrim cleric, the Rev Jonathan Boyd, said the Irish church was clear about its own position on sexuality and marriage.
“This is the faithful, Biblical position we hold and want the Church of Scotland to embrace. But, the reality is that the Church of Scotland is unlikely to listen to our calls. Those evangelicals who remain in the Scottish church are best placed to pursue reform.”