Four Free Church guys writing about the future of the Church in Scotland after the independence referendum. Hmmm, bored much? Except this really matters… and here’s why:
Christianity is inherently public. Christians are called to make a public declaration of their faith, and to live their faith in daily life. You can’t do that if you buy into the myth that Christianity is a religious liberty to be kept for Sundays at church. Think about Paul’s life, as it’s recorded in Acts. When he preached, there were crowds. When he was put on trial, there were crowds. When he was beaten, there were crowds. Christianity makes the public news. It did over the last month as people debated whether or not Britain is a “Christian” country. But this creates a tension between the private right to worship, and the inherently public right to practice your religion. The future liberty of the Church in Scotland (in our papers we call this “spiritual independence”) will matter not so much at an institutional level, but more so at a personal level – will you as a Christian be free to live out your faith at work, in your child’s education, in how your life is valued in old age? Most of us feel far more connected to Holyrood (who have the say in all these matters) than we do to Westminster, and I believe it will be easier for Christians to have a say in society in an independent Scotland.
Religious liberty needs public Christianity (and vice versa.) The alternative to having some sort of healthy relationship between Church and State is to suppress Christianity. There is no easy middle ground, and secularism is certainly not neutral on questions of religion and religious liberty. The choice for politicians is to give liberty to public Christianity, or to suppress it. Historically, the Scottish solution has been a very formal Establishment – the Church of Scotland enjoys a few privileges, and has a few duties to carry out in return. She is otherwise free to get on with her mission – along with other churches – as she sees fit. Again, it’s spiritual independence in action. But, as my good buddy Neil DM Macleod points out, spiritual independence is not guaranteed by anything – it can go on slipping away at Westminster, just as it is at Holyrood. Whilst it could be argued that a ‘yes’ vote would lead to a secular Scotland, similarly a ‘no’ vote will leave us with a secular Britain. We can only call for spiritual independence if we have an organised public voice – and I’m not sure we’ll be heard above the cacophony of the money traders in Westminster.
Scotland needs a free public Christianity. A free public Christianity has a couple of jobs. Firstly, we preach that God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son into the world, so that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But the Bible has a lot to offer on matters of public policy. Scotland has problems, but we have a lot going for us. We may well be the 14th richest nation on earth, but we still have significant social and moral problems. I’m not saying our politicians can’t find answers, they are smart people, they will. The Evangelical Alliance, Solas, and others are going a good job of speaking publically. But we are only able to do so as part of the Church in Scotland enjoying its spiritual independence. If Scotland becomes independent, the Free Church and others should be there from the beginning seeking to be salt and light. That’s why these papers matter – because Scotland may be independent in a few months time, and our response must be more than “No, we don’t want that.” We have to shape how that will work out, and we can only really do that through positive engagement.