Liberal Protestantism is collapsing and has nothing to offer secular Scotland, the Moderator of the Free Church said at a debate in the capital.
Rev David Robertson, who was in conversation with the Church of Scotland’s Rev Scott McKenna, concluded that the two men believed in two different types of Christianity and two different Jesus Christs.
Much of the evening was spent discussing the authority of the Bible and the atonement – which was sparked by a previous sermon by the Mayfield Salisbury minister who claimed from the pulpit it was “ghastly theology” to believe that Christ died for sinners.
The main area of seating in the sanctuary was full as over 200 people, including notable Kirk figures such as Council of Assembly secretary Pauline Weibye, listened to the two men discuss theology.
From the outset the Free Church Moderator (pictured above) explained he was coming from an orthodox Church of Scotland belief, that Christ died on the cross to redeem sinners.
Mr Robertson drew on his childhood shortly after his own conversion in Easter Ross, where he encouraged his school friends to go to church. Those who went with their parents to a liberal church, or a church that denied parts of the Bible, are not Christians. But almost all of those who went to churches that taught the truth, across a range of denominations, were now professing faith.
In his opening address Rev Scott McKenna said the Bible was “a product of communities” and that it was “almost impossible” to get back to a historical Jesus. He added that there were many interpretations and misinterpretations of Scripture.
Mr Robertson responded by saying this was a confusing statement, because God spoke to us through His Son Jesus, which is why the Bible was given. The Dundee minister added that the minute you take away from His Word, you take away from Christ.
The Free Church Moderator said the best way to interpret scripture is through scripture, and whilst there will be disagreements on secondary issues, there was unanimous agreement from the early Church fathers on the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments and also the full authority of God’s Word.
Topic number two was the atonement, and Mr Robertson began by saying his heart sank for Rev Scott McKenna after he denied from the pulpit that Christ died for sinners. The Free Church Moderator said the Mayfield Salisbury minister had a duty to proclaim Jesus, instead of creating a Christ without a cross.
The Dundee minister said that whilst many people nowadays would not accept this teaching, he knows many people “for whom knowing Jesus died for their sins is the greatest comfort and only assurance we have”, adding that his sole desire for the evening was for Mr McKenna to change his mind on the cross and come to see “that it can be our only hope”.
The Church of Scotland minister (pictured below) came back by saying that it was “barbaric” to present God “as a vengeful God who needs a sacrifice” before going on to present a variety of views on atonement. Mr Robertson later countered by saying it was so stupid for Jesus to go to the cross if He thought God was going to forgive everyone anyway. He added that the real Gospel was “unless you repent, you will perish” but if people trusted in Jesus for their salvation they would be saved.
Mr McKenna also said it was "scandalous" that God forgives everyone, to which Mr Robertson responded that telling the man on the street that he was just forgiven by God was not a scandal. He continued that the scandal in the eyes of the world is to say that you can’t be forgiven without the cross, so the atonement is scandalous. The Dundee minister also said that on the issue of "at-one-ment- the Bible was not originally written in English, and cited 1 John 2:2 which points out that sin prevents us being at one with God, and that the only way to get rid of sin is through the cross.
In the final section of the night, the two men discussed the future of the Church in Scotland. Mr McKenna opened by saying that though the Church lived in difficult times, it could be turned around with the right kind of leadership, citing the examples of religious leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury and Pope Francis.
He continued that there had to be “intellectual integrity”, adding that science was not to be feared and that the doctrine of the Fall had to be denied to account for "living in a universe that has evolved”.
The Mayfield Salisbury minister also said he wished to see an ethically more inclusive church, with people learning to live with their differences, as well as developing prayerfulness through meditation, contemplation and silence. He concluded by saying Christians should be secure in their own faith, but that the love of Jesus compels them to walk “side by side with people of other faiths”.
As a Scottish Calvinist, Mr Robertson gave a differing view, and that there must be a turning back to God’s word or the Church in Scotland will continue to die. He said it “broke his heart” that the vast majority of people in the country had actually never heard the Gospel before, and that churches must ensure their main priority was to tell people about Christ.
In closing, with sadness the Free Church Moderator said that, though they agree on so much, he would excommunicate Mr McKenna because only those who recognise the body and blood of the Lord are welcome to sit at the Lord’s table – and the Mayfield Salisbury minister’s denial of the cross was an obvious barrier. Mr Robertson gave an example that similarly he himself would not be allowed to take mass in the Roman Catholic Church because of his theological views.
He concluded by saying that the two men believed in two different Christs, but that he would continue to pray to the One who died for his sins on the cross at Calvary, and that he would be praying daily for Mr McKenna.
The Church of Scotland’s Principal Clerk Rev John Chalmers (pictured above), himself a former Kirk Moderator, stepped in to chair the event at the last moment. Mr Chalmers told the audience that Rev Angus Morrison, the present Church of Scotland Moderator, was unable to be present due to illness.
It is hoped a recording from the evening will be available online soon.