Spiritual Report on Scotland

I was recently sent a number of questions by an American interested in ministering in Scotland. Not having the time to answer them myself, I asked a fellow Presbyterian to provide the answers. Bear in mind that his answers are especially focused on Presbyterian churches. The picture may be a bit brighter here and there for other churches. It’s a discouraging but, I’m afraid, realistic picture of where Scotland is spiritually and ecclesiastically. I fear that, barring a major revival, this is where the USA is heading as well. 

1. What perception does the average Scotsman have of Christianity? 
The average Scotsman does not have a positive perception of Christianity, but rather sees it as outdated or bigoted. Scotland is really post-Christian. And so, while there may be some lip service in places, perhaps under the guise of tolerance, really there is either apathy or hostility.

2. What are the most common objections/challenges raised against the gospel?
In truth, many people don’t raise objections, so long as it does not interfere with their own lives. And yet others will treat it with scorn as a thing of the past – that was for their grandparents’ generation, not our “enlightened” one. The sad thing now is that most people don’t know what the gospel is – darkness is over the land. “Religious assembles” in schools have become “assemblies” and often the so-called chaplains don’t know the first thing about true religion. In my experience I have noticed school children who don’t want to hear anything about God or religion, while others seem interested in finding out what it all means:  “Was Jesus a king or something like that,” one 15-year-old girl asked.

3. Is there an openness to discuss spiritual things?
Most people don’t want to talk about these things. Those who do want to talk, tend only to do so in order to put Christianity down as a thing of the past, or even as something pernicious. As in question 2, perhaps among some youth there is an opening. They don’t know enough about it to be angry at it – like their parents generation.

4. Are most people aware of the Christian heritage of Scotland? If so how do they view it?
Absolutely not! I would reckon that 99% + of children in the public school have never heard of Rutherford, Boston, McCheyne, Chalmers, even Knox. And if they hear of Knox or the Reformation, that would be viewed as intolerant bigotry. Sadly, even in a lot of the professing churches, these men and the heritage is not well known.

5. What are the greatest challenges to ministering in Scotland?
Apathy in the church is one of the biggest problems which is coupled with little or no desire (and/or ability) to evangelize. In some cases, this is due to erroneous thinking regarding the work of the Holy Spirit – some believe that unless the Spirit works they can’t do anything, therefore they need to wait for Him to work. Judgment begins at the house of God. There are many challenges engaging with the secular society, but you need to engage the brains / lives of complacent and indifferent Christians.

6. What are the greatest advantages/blessings?
There are still faithful godly pastors throughout the land, but their ranks are thin and thinning. There is a warmth and godly zeal that does remain with many good people. There are many of God’s dear people who love the Lord and serve Him with the talents they have. There is also a desire to maintain orthodoxy in some of the churches. With that you have a simplicity of worship that characterized the worship brought back at the Reformation. There is a thirst still for God’s Word among His people.

7. What is your greatest need as a church? How might the church in America best aid you?
The greatest need is for a mighty work of the Holy Spirit to give us preachers who preach the whole counsel of God. The problem, I believe, is in the pulpit – to a large extent. And yet, there have been some of the best and finest preachers who served faithfully for years and saw little fruit.  We need a Reformation. We need unity among the Reformed churches – there are often 5 congregations representing 5 different reformed denominations in one small village – all with the same confessional basis!

We have lost our youth. We have only a handful of Christian schools, and home-schooling is not popular and difficult for parents to do. Most Christians think the state school is fine. I believe we need to establish in our churches the Christian worldview.

When Iain Murray is asked the second question [How might the church in America best aid you?], he replies: “Send our men back!”  In honesty, I am not sure how that [American churches helping Scottish churches] could work.  The solid churches can hardly work together. And so, I am not sure how to answer this one.

8. What forms of outreach are generally most successful?
The best form is to establish relationships with friends and neighbors and then invite them to church.  This worked well in Glasgow.  The church had a “soup and sandwich” event on the Saturday and just got to know people.  From there, inviting them to church was easier.  The pastor of the church happened to be very gifted, which helped. Sadly, you hear the complaint from many that they don’t feel able to invite people to church because if they can’t understand their own pastor then what hope has the man in the street? Again, it’s the word preached that the Spirit especially uses in convincing and converting sinners. Some have tried things like knocking on doors, handing out tracts, street preaching, etc, with limited success.

9. Are there many churches who are in need of a minister?
Yes, probably 100s. But many of these places have less than 10-20 people, and I would reckon the vast majority are very elderly. I’m not sure that simply more ministers is the answer. We need a change of mindset, as well as new ministers.  But Scots are not quick to change.  And in truth, whatever reticence there would be if someone from within tried to change things, someone from outside would be viewed with more suspicion.

10. Are most people in your churches converts or were they raised in the church?
The majority are raised in the church, few have come in.  A lot more have left.

11. Do most of those who are raised in the church remain in the church?
No, in the last 10-15 years many (probably the majority) have left.  Churches are declining in number all over.

12. What would the perception be of an American ministering in Scotland both with the church and with the population?
With the church – It probably depends where you go. If you go to the more conservative churches, they would possibly be a little wary and would need to feel you out.  So, not impossible, but you would have to be very careful in your approach.  If you come in with great ideas for change, it won’t work.

13. What particular skills would you encourage a man to develop if he wants to minister in Scotland?
You would need a lot of patience, tenacity, a thick skin and wisdom.  It would be good to learn the history of the church you would hope to serve in.

14. Are there particular books/resources that would be helpful to study to better understand Scotland and the realities of ministry in Scotland today?
Iain Murray’s book “A Scottish Heritage” gives a good overview of the past up to the present.  I can’t think of too much else in more recent times.

15. What are your general thoughts about where the church in Scotland is (not the CoS)?
The majority of the professing church has lost its moorings.  A lot of those who have maintained the Reformed worship and doctrine need revival from within.

16. Where do you think it is headed?
Well, humanly speaking it is going down and in many cases the candlestick is being removed.  That sounds pessimistic but it is more the reality.  I think that unless the better churches can work together then we have a big problem.  There are some pockets of good news here and there, but the general picture is bleak.

I’d be glad to hear of brighter spots but please pray for this needy land. 

Delivered from Islam…and depression

When former Muslim Fernando Santana dos Santos heard that HeadHeartHand Media were making a documentary curriculum about Christians who suffer with depression, he sent us this beautifully inspiring testimony to God’s grace in his life. 

The stigma of depression runs deep in today’s Evangelical churches.  We ( the church) lack knowledge on the subject of depression , and it is imperative to educate our brothers and sisters.  Instead of saying something rash, we can encourage the depressed believer, not discourage.  Christ calls the church to lift up the fainthearted, the weak, the discourage (Rom 15:1; 1 Thess 5:14).  We need to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2).  We rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15).  If we don’t care, who will?

Raised a Muslim
My name is Fernando dos Santos.  I’am 29 years old, married to a beautiful women named Helnna, and together we are raising two little boys, Gabriel (8), Vinicius (3).  I came to know the Lord November 15, 2006, at 11:45.  Christ removing the old heart, and replacing it with a new one, is an experience I will never forget.  Before my conversion, I was a sunni Muslim since birth.  My mother was, and still is a wonderful women.  She played, played well both mother and father.  My father was intelligent and percipient man.  He was an architect, and a good one too. He was strict in my up brining, and sometimes went to far when he disciplined me.  It was so bad at times; to the point where my mom would have to intervene.  However, I stilled admired my father.  He was my hero.

Helnna and I were married on September 9, 2003.  In 2004, we had our first child, Gabriel, and In 2009, Vinicius came along.  I had trouble in the beginning raising Gabriel .  I did not have the skills or training to raise him up.  It wasn’t until my conversion to Christ, and the Lord bring godly men in my life; I was able to see, and observe the men interacting with their wives and children.  It is a blessing too see a father fulfill his role; as the federal head of his home.

Emergency Surgery
In the fall of 2009, my appendix erupted, and I was rushed to the emergency, where they performed emergency surgery.  I was in intensive care for 6 days.  I was discharged on a weekend, and by God’s grace, my wife was able to take time off work to care for me.  I was so weak, when I was discharged and was now at home, it was tough to walk up the stairs, to take a bath, I was immobilized.  I looked in the mirror and I looked like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.  I weighed in at 145 pounds before the surgery.  After the surgery, my weighed in at 115 pounds.  It took a lot out of me (literally).

That same year, I was scheduled to go back to University, and that fell through because of my health.  I also had to take a temporal leave of absence at my part-time job.  Helnna’s pay check from her part-time job (at the time) was the only income coming in.  It was a difficult time.  But glory be to God! my church was able to come along side, and help with the bills.  I saw God’s providence and His grace at work. But it again, they were those days when it was difficult.  I started to lose hope.  I saw myself as a loser, and a less of a man, because it was my wife who was bring in the manna, and not I.  At that time, I was blind to see my behavior.  I was prideful.  Instead of casting and my anxiety and fears on the One who cares, I looked to other means, which were prescription pain-killers.  Oxycontin was the drug of choice.  Who would have known that a pill the size of a dime would do so much harm and damage to myself and my family.

Fake joy and false promises
I had that fake joy, the one the world craves for.  It wasn’t like I was going to a back alley in the hood and getting the pain-killers from a guy; I was getting them legally from my doctor, whom I failed to tell I had a problem.  I would sit in bed all day and night, and not move from there. I had the blind close, it was like I was the phantom of the opera, in total darkness.  I spent little time with my children, I made false promises to them, and my wife who waited hands and foot on me, I was ignoring her.  I wanted to be alone.  The thought of suicide bounced back, and forth in my head. One night when I was left alone, my wife and kids weren’t home.  The thought of suicide  emerged and it was so intense. I went to into my closet; got my belt; made my way to the bathroom to end my life.  I looked at myself in the mirror, “worthless” I thought.

Then my practical theology kicked in (praise God for Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology) and I thought of Calvary, and the atonement.  Christ died so thatI can have eternal life and forgiveness, Thoughts of Helnna, and Gabriel, and Vinicius started to appear.  Who is going to instruct and discipline my children in the Lord?  Who will love my wife as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up to her?   It was right there and then; I dropped the belt, and fell on my knees, and cried out to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  If it weren’t for the Lord’s sovereignty, mercy and grace, you wont be reading this letter.

Ongoing battle
I sought help after that night. We called our pastor and told him everything.  He was able to counsel me and I was able to get help from the local center of addiction and mental health clinic in Toronto.  I praise the Lord He let me grow through that.  Theology matters, and having a solid biblical view of God help through it.  I still battle with depression, but now I’m on medication, and being on meds is not a stroll through the park.  I read a book by a pastor and his wife, Steve and Robyn Bloem, “Broken Minds” a huge help in my life.  The Bloems made reference to another book, “Christians Get Depressed Too” Again it was a super huge help in my life.  One of the things I had to pray about, was being honest and seeking not to glorifying my story.  I take this very serious.  May God (if He so wills) use my petty story to bring glory to Himself, and to help the those who need it.

Let us remember the words of Christ, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matt 25:35-40)

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Diversity, diversity, diversity

The Republican party lost the election because the vast majority of African Americans (91%), Hispanics (71%), women (55%), and young people (60%) voted for Barack Obama.

It failed to capture these votes for three reasons: (1) too few speakers from these groups, (2) too little speaking for these groups, and (3) too little speaking to these groups of voters.

1. More speaking from
The conservative movement has way too few representatives, spokespersons, nominees, etc., in these groups. It is still the party of largely middle-age-plus white men. I’m one of them, but our day is passing. We need way more diversity in the voices and faces we present to the public. There are a number of conservative pundits’ voices and faces I’d love to see retire early. But how do we attract a more diverse group of supporters and speakers? That brings me to my second point.

2. More speaking for
The conservative movement has failed to speak for African Americans, Hispanics, etc. There’s plenty advocacy for businesses and for the middle class. But why don’t conservatives equally speak for the poor and for those who are discriminated against? If we don’t speak for people, if they don’t sense that we are their advocates, that we have their interests at heart, we won’t get a hearing from them. Of course, there’s no war on women. But why not a war for women? Most women know that conservatives are not against them. But do they really sense that we are enthusiastically for them and their concerns? Same goes for young people.

3. More speaking to
I never got the sense from Mitt Romney that he was trying to speak to minorities or to young people in general. His message was finely honed and targeted on the middle class and the business class – the establishment, you might say. Like many conservatives, he seemed to just give up on any attempt to show how conservative principles can lift and inspire the poor and the disadvantaged, far more than any amount of handouts or government programs. The 47% comment revealed so much.

When the only message people in urban areas hear  is, “We will cut entitlements,” they also hear crime rising, assaults increasing, windows smashing, etc., as a result. An alternative has to be offered, something more inspirational than dependency, and something more constructive than cuts. Surely there’s a modern day William Wilberforce somewhere that can translate conservative principles into policies and a persuasive message that will give hope to the inner-cities and urban areas.

Diversity and morality
There are certain kinds of diversity that are immoral – gay marriage for example. But there are other kinds of diversity that are a moral duty. And that goes not just for conservative politics, but also for the church of Christ. Let’s not be dragged there kicking and screaming, but embrace this reality with enthusiasm and excitement.