Church faces positive secular challenge, says Kirk moderator

By staff writers
May 24, 2010

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has marked the 450th anniversary of the Reformation by urging the Kirk to continue reforming.

At a special session of the General Assembly in Edinburgh on Sunday 23 May 2010, the Rt Rev John Christie said that Christians lived in a different world from the time of Protestant reformer John Knox - but with new challenges and opportunities.

He cited the present time as one where secular voices were challenging the Church in a positive way.

Mr Christie said: “These siren voices are often critical, sometimes dismissive and seldom affirming. Perhaps they are right to be so. I wonder if we need to face the criticism directed at us and rethink what we are about."

He continued: “I think we need a reformation of the relationship within the Body of Christ, something new and better in obedience to the divine plan often acknowledged, more often ignored because of the blinkered eye of tradition or the earplugs of sectarianism. The world of 2010 does not need or want a divided church; divided within itself it cannot stand. It is time for the 21st century Chuch to affirm that which unites us."

Christie declared: “What we need to do is to take the Reformation up as a lively, vital, dynamic moment in our history and look forward to when our young people are celebrating the 500th anniversary, hoping that the world is a better place. If you think that is dreaming an impossible dream then let me say this, the Scottish Reformation began with John Knox in Perth and it circled the globe.”

Also speaking at the special session was the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer, Alex Fergusson MSP, who read out the account of the Scottish Parliament of August 1560 which approved the Scots Confession.

Extracts from the records of the very first General Assembly in Edinburgh on 20 December 1560 were read by the Kirk’s Principal Clerk, the Very Rev Dr Finlay Macdonald.

Professor of Reformation History at the University of Edinburgh, Jane Dawson, spoke about the origins of the Reformation and how it came to be established in Scotland.

The actor John Shedden, dressed as John Knox, read extracts from Knox’s account of the martyrdom of George Wishart and the Scots Confession itself.

The Rev Ewan Aitken outlined the impact the Reformation had on education in Scotland – a legacy that continues to this very day in Scottish schools, he suggested.

Music and songs were provided by pupils from Hyndland Secondary School in Glasgow – where the Rt Rev Christie had previously been Chaplain.

The Rt Rev Joseph Toal, Roman Catholic Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, read a Scripture Reading from the Gospel of John – reputably John Knox’s favourite piece of Scripture.

The Moderator concluded: “If this special session to mark the Reformation is to have any lasting validity, then what we have marked today must be measured in how we take its inspiration and apply it to the future.”

Last week the Church of Scotland was accused by a distinguished historian and a well-known former editor of The Herald newspaper of 'downplaying' the Reformation in Scotland on the 450th anniversary.

"Not only is that untrue, but we are resolved to face the future with vigour, awareness of our heritage, and determination to move forward into a new era positively," a General Assembly spokesperson told Ekklesia this weekend.

The Kirk, a Presbyterian church, and Scotland's largest Christian denomination, alongside Roman Catholics, is tackling severe financial difficulties and examining new patterns of mission and ministry in its ongoing work.

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