Struthers Memorial Church and the separation sermon





In the introduction to our article on the humiliation sermon we indicated that we would look at more of the sermons made available since new year. The second of these which raises concerns was preached on 22 Jan 2011 at the Saturday night meeting. It is in many respects the typical sermon in Struthers Memorial Church in that it pushes the particular teachings which SMC most strongly emphasise.


What this sermon claims and demands of people is, we believe, at the root of much of the difficulty experienced by former members during their time in Struthers. The evidence of how serious these difficulties have been is now well documented online, though the SMC leadership have been aware of this for years. Dozens, if not now hundreds, have raised concerns about their teaching and actions privately and individually with them over the years. We have no public record or personal knowledge of anyone who raised concerns with any SMC leaders in private having them appropriately or adequately answered. We have strong evidence and also painful personal experience of SMC leaders attacking the personality and motives of people who come asking for answers to reasonable and valid questions. That they were asking questions was frequently thrown back at them, with very little grace or love, as the sure sign that they were not in the right place “spiritually”. That then absolved the leader of having any need to answer their questions.


That many are now posting these serious concerns online is because of that wholly inadequate response to many people over many years.


The continuing lack of even an acknowledgement of the hurt this leadership has caused people continues to be a sign that following the teaching of this church can take you into a hard-hearted, aloof, unpleasant place. The SMC leadership, when they preach that which is contained in this sermon, do not seem to care what happens to those who fail to live up to their ever changing, utterly confusing, yet ruthlessly imposed standards of conduct. They seem to take the view that because they have decided their teaching comes from God and is biblical then the consequences for those who they deem to have failed, or who find it impossible to understand and actually apply this teaching, are therefore acceptable collateral damage.


We quote from the recording which has been made publicly available and is still online and draw out the teaching points being made and the concerns which these points raise. If we have transcribed any quotes incorrectly please let us know and we will change them:




(mins & seconds into the record-ing)

and (Abraham) has to go and he has to claim that land and he has to make it his own. But before it could become his there had to be a separation from Lot. And I wonder what that might mean in your life and in my life. Sometimes it does mean a separation from those that will not choose the road that God wants His church to follow. Lot as you read was not I think a man who ultimately deserted his own faith. In the new testament you read of him as righteous Lot in the midst of a wicked place in Sodom. But he was a life that was constantly in danger and a life that was constantly in need of rescuing. And every time he was rescued from that danger he didn't seem to travel very far in the right direction.

In this particular Struthers sermon it is vagueness that causes confusion. It is possible that they will not say what they mean for fear of people understanding – as they seem to realise there is an unloving awfulness at the heart of what they are teaching. It is time for this rambling, fearful, verbal dithering in the pulpit to end. It is time for the SMC leadership to state openly and plainly what they mean when they push this particular teaching. So let's be clear.


Does the speaker mean by this teaching it is wrong and spiritually dangerous for Struthers people to associate with other Christians?


If that is it - please say so plainly and openly so we all know. That is what it sounds like.

As the speaker presents things she claims righteous Lot did not loose God so he was a follower – a believer. Yet Abraham, it is claimed, had to separate from him for some spiritual gain.  


Can Struthers attendees (as there seems to be no clear membership) associate and gather and meet and (perish the thought) worship with other Christians or will that association "spoil" them in the eyes of God?


Please state finally – once and for all - yes or no?


More subtle and worse. If someone from Struthers is with other Christians do they have to hold to an attitude of superiority in that, far from learning from Christian brothers and sisters, there needs to be a care not to be “tainted and tarnished" by Christians of lesser “spirituality" (a concept we would invite the leaders to define much more clearly as it features much in Struthers discourse and far less in the bible.) When they are with a group of other Christians should a Struthers member see themselves in the lowest place? (Luke 16:11) Or should they see themselves as needing to remain aloof from any "worldliness" in the room?



He was a life that lived as near to the world and the ways of the world and the old ways of humanity and the flesh as it was possible to live while still retaining his worship of God. I think he did retain it but there was a terrible nearness to the things of this world and there was a danger that was always a the doorstep of Lot.

It is very clear that there is a concern about the terrible dangers of “living close to the world” on the part of the speaker. Can she help us understand what she meant? Please definitively and clearly say - what do you teach in Struthers Memorial Church is that "worldliness"?


Some clear evidences of this worldliness as it can be seen in other (non Struthers) churches have been given at various times in the past 30 years. In our recollection these have included:



the women don't wear hats

the young women wear jeans

children don't know how to sit quietly

the music is amplified or too loud

twanging guitars

"syncopated beat" music in the church <this is a quote>

use of drums in the church

Christian music you can't differentiate from the world's music

people chatting before the start of meetings

people chatting at the end of meetings


"unspiritual" dancing

sermons "designed just to entertain"

foolish churches who believe that they are in some way special or unique

jumble sales /craft sales i.e. fund-raising rather than evangelism

loosing focus on the the gospel

listening to young people's ideas "in a bizarre effort to keep them"

people who ask questions


Is this list the “Lot style worldliness” that is spoken of in this sermon - or is it speaking of something totally different? We would ask the Struthers leadership to stop being self-servingly vague because they might loose half of their people if they are clear.


What is "worldliness" as SMC define it in May 2011?


What are SMC teaching that their members can do and can not do?





Then - if Christians in other churches do these forbidden, worldly things as defined by Struthers.


  • can SMC people associate with them?


  • in the view of the leadership are these others really Christians at all?


  • if it is claimed by the SMC leadership that these others can be Christians then how does that relate to there being only “one way” - and it is claimed to be that "high way" which is presented in this sermon?


They either indulge in their churches in the things we have listed above - or other things the SMC leadership believe make them “walk near to the world” but aren’t on our list. If no such people could be acceptable Christians under the Struthers definition then is it the view of the SMC leaders that these churches members are going to heaven or not?


This is a very important question to answer.


Based on this sermon most people would conclude the SMC leaders honest answer (if they had the courage to give it) would be: “No they are not “high way which is really the only way” Christians they are “low way walking near the world” which is not a real way to God or acceptable for any Christian. Therefore they are not going to heaven”.


If the view of the leadership is “Yes these other churches worldly Christians are still going to heaven” then what is this sermon about?



If the answer is YES then what better than heaven does the “high way” promise? Did Jesus not tell us to rejoice that our names were written in heaven and rebuked those who were seeking to rejoice in their ministries and the power He had given them which meant that spirits were subject to them. (Luke 10:20) Jesus seems to be saying going to heaven is the best bit.


If the answer is NO then logic leads to the startling conclusion that the SMC leadership believe there are a great many fewer real Christians in Scotland and the UK than is generally believed or claimed. In that case - because they claim in this sermon their definition of “the one way” is the only acceptable one – their view would be that many evangelicals and pentecostals are living and worshipping in ways which are in reality unacceptable to God. If so they seem to be teaching that they believe many professing Christians are not, in their view, going to heaven. This in spite of the fact that many evangelical and pentecostal churches have much more visibly blessed and successful ministries than any of the leaders in Struthers. But SMC still seem to teach that because these successful ministers do not agree with this sermon’s view of “high way” holiness they will therefore not be going to heaven.


The quote which seems to say this occurs sightly later in this sermon and is: “It is the road. It is the one road. It is the road of life. It is the road of the gospel. It's the road of Jesus Christ.”  


To the SMC leadership we would say this: If we are not understanding the Struthers position correctly please understand it is because you have explained it so badly so often and have done so in this sermon here again. Once again we ask: SMC leaders – what is the teaching?



  • what do you teach is acceptable?
  • and what is Christian?
  • and who and what should Struthers members who are seeking God separate from?
  • which Christians it is okay to spend time with?
  • which relationships are to be kept and which must be disposed of?
  • which material possessions in life are okay to have and which are not?


The message of this sermon seems to be that all these things can potentially damage a person and lead them away from God – but then leaves each person in their confusion to have to guess what bits apply to them. On the evidence from former members who took this seriously they will likely tie themselves up in all kinds of bewildered emotional and psychological knots and who knows what impact that might have on their physical and mental health.


We ask the leadership to be clear and live with the consequences. If the teaching is that SMC is the only faithful remnant say so and then we can all test that against scripture and the evidences scripture demands we look for.


If they are not the only “acceptable” church then perhaps that is a sign that our loving Heavenly Father is willing to forgive a great deal more than Struthers leaders are.  




and I believe God would call his church to be separate from those that want to live in that way but it is not acceptable to God to live to live in the way that Lot lived his life.

So “faithful Lot” (the Biblical claim) was an "unacceptable" believer (the Struthers claim). Who are "unacceptable believers" in our day so people know who they are being told to separate from? Surely there must be something actually in the mind of the speaker when this is being preached? Are all non Struthers Christians to be avoided? Wouldn’t that be nice and simple. If it is not the position, then the leadership have to indicate who is an acceptable Christian and who is an unacceptable Christian in the terms of this teaching.




To live where you are constantly needing pulled out of danger. Where you are constantly being tainted and being tarnished by the things of this world. God doesn't expect you to live a life where you are finding that there is a constant need for deliverance. Constantly needing to find someone to bring you out of a dark and a deep place.

2 questions raised by this.


1  Most churches who operate in deliverance ministry don't need to tell people they should not constantly need to come back for it. Could it be something in the way this ministry has developed and is practised in SMC that leads to this unusual instruction needing to be given to the Saturday night Struthers congregation?


2  How would someone who was being treated for clinical depression feel when they sat in the congregation as this sermon was being preached? How does this teaching deal with the fact that some in the congregation are needing “help to bring (them) out of a "dark and deep place".


There is no qualification given in this sermon making a distinction between where this "dark and deep place" is the result of self imposed suffering through living near the "tainted and tarnished" (supposedly like Lot); or resulting from another, non spiritual, external cause. This would matter less if the mental health issue were not so prevalent in SMC. There is now sadly no way for this not to be a factor when this kind of message is being presented as "God's one and only way".


How does this teaching work for those on medication for mental illness? We believe there are some. The leadership are in a position to know just how many. The Rick Ross forum evidence makes it appear that the proportion of people with depression in Struthers is significantly higher than in the general population.




That is not the picture of the call of the church of Jesus Christ. That is not the way that we are meant to live our lives. The Lot position was the position of one who looked long at material things and chose for himself. And the life that is taken up with materialism, with natural life and chooses for themselves will be the life that is constantly in need of rescuing. There is that which is in the scripture that makes it very clear that we are meant to flee these things. There is a verse in the Bible that says: "Flee youthful lusts". That says we’ve to flee from the old ways. We are to flee from the place of danger. We’ve to come into a place where these things are no longer even on the horizon of our lives. You know it is gloriously possible to come into a place where there is victory over these things of the flesh and of the world. Where it is not a constant battle, where its a distant memory that its something you left behind long long ago.

That is a lot of teaching to pin on the short phrase "flee youthful lusts".

The story of Joseph illustrates how to flee from lust (in that case someone else’s). We find that easy to understand. We can easily understand how youthful lust is a thing a person could flee from. But how does a person flee from materialism? How does a person flee from natural life? How does a person flee from choosing for themselves? The speaker says “we are meant to flee these things”. How?


The speaker says: “We are to flee from the place of danger”. It is time to say clearly – can "the place of danger" be other Christians or other churches? If so which ones are acceptable to the SMC leadership and which ones are not?


For historical reasons there is an interesting opportunity. The Elim Church and its more recent church plant the City Church are both in Greenock. This is the church that the original people who set up Struthers broke away from as a schism in the early 1950s. Is it acceptable to the SMC leaders now that their members associate with Christians from this church? Would it be acceptable to worship with them or would that be a "place of danger”?


We did not invent these phrases or this teaching. We are trying to understand what is being taught here so people can either apply it as God’s way or walk away from it as a dangerous arrogant corruption of His will for the family of Christians in Scotland.




And that is the picture of the call of the church of Jesus Christ. Not struggling. Not brushing shoulders with the old ways, and with the old man and with the old lifestyle. But moving into a new place where it's gone and you hardly recognise the temptations when they come across your path because you've been delivered into a place where you are separate from all of these things.  

Is the speaker claiming she is no longer subject to temptation? Is she further claiming that people will attain that too if they are “delivered into a place”?

Or is it also possible that the old temptations from a persons past non Christian life can fade as they spend their time in new places and with different people. But the old temptations can sometimes be replaced with the temptations the bible clearly indicates can arise from within the Christian life - such as seeking place in the church, unforgiveness to weaker brothers, neglecting the needs of the poor or using public prayer as an opportunity to boast. Or is the teaching that people “delivered into a place” will no longer be subject to these temptations either?  



Don't listen to the lie of the devil that tells you that you will always be tormented, you will always be tempted, you will always be dragged down into the things of this world and this life. It is not so. If you choose the Abraham road rather than the Lot road. And sometimes there needs to come a separation between those that will go this high road – this right road. I don't even like to call it the high road because people sometimes think:

"Oh, that's only for those that have a high calling and it doesn't apply to me".

It is the road. It is the one road. It is the road of life. It is the road of the gospel. It's the road of Jesus Christ. And its the road that's open to every child of God who will turn to find it. And you've sometimes got to separate yourself from those that walk very close to the edge. From those that walk very close to sin and to sinning. Very close to worldliness and materialism. You've got to separate yourself and you've got to come onto a different path.

Time again for the SMC leadership to be much, much clearer. Please clarify what it is being taught should happen in these three very likely scenarios:






A Struthers person wants to respond to this sermon and be on the high way because it is the only way. They have a Struthers friend who also wants to follow God and attend meetings but doesn't show the same degree of interest in following the higher way. They are still attending and worshipping and giving money. What does separation mean to these two people? It appears they must cease to be friends or "damage" will come to the "better" one. Is that correct?






A Struthers person has a Christian friend from another church which does not teach there are "near to sin materialistic" Christians and "high way" Christians They teach what normal, mainstream pentecostals and evangelicals preach - that we are all sinners saved by grace and no effort of a man or woman to be more righteous can alter that fundamental fact. They believe a good life and good actions flow from salvation but these actions do not win us more approval from God than the blood of Jesus provides. What does separating from such a person mean? How would that look in practice? Should the Struthers person not associate at all socially and cut their friendship with the other Christian because that is what God demands as the only way? That seems to be the teaching being given. If that is a misunderstanding perhaps the leadership could clarify their teaching?






A Struthers person has a Christian family who don't see the teaching of this sermon in the same way the Struthers leaders do. What form might the necessary "separating" from their family take to be acceptable to God?





Could the SMC leadership please stop being vague?


        "you've got to come onto a different path"


and in the next section of this sermon:


"it didn't mean that he went and he lived near Sodom”


What does any of that mean in the real world? It is time to say or drop this teaching. Must such a person cast off their family socially and in every part of human contact because that is what this teaching implies and that is what some have thought they should do. They did so having heard a sermon like this one - believing it to be consistent with Struthers teaching and being told it was the only road to fruitful Christian service. So if that is what the leadership want please say so. That will stop people being able to falsely and naively claim:


“No – the teaching in Struthers is not that extreme - that isn't what the leaders  meant" - as some Struthers members seek to do.


We ask the leaders - please be clear and be responsible for the consequences of what you stand in a pulpit and claim God says in the bible. The SMC leadership seem to be saying that some of their members might be called to separate from their Christian friends and family members who do not follow this "high/right road" teaching or they will be tainted, tarnished, weakened spiritually and will become unacceptable to God.


Struthers leader who preached this sermon - that is pretty clearly what you have said here. However we would be very, very, very, happy for you to tell us we were wrong. We await a public clarification of what the teaching is.



If this is the Teaching



If we are interpreting the teaching correctly we would ask this of the Struthers leadership:


Please do not send a young person, or an adult, alone into a situation where they have to present what is in this sermon to their families as biblical teaching from the Struthers leadership. If they feel they must to be in obedience to God, then we hope that their church leaders are prepared to stand with them in front of their families and explain in detail to them why their loved family member can no longer have the same relationship with them. Explain to the family that this sermon outlines that there is only one acceptable way to God and, as the family does not accept this view, they must be removed (separated in some way) as they are a danger to the spiritual life of the Struthers person.


Do not just preach a sermon like this one and then go to your comfy home, or visit your "deep" church friends, or rejoice that you have so many important roles in the church. Go with the young, eager Christian to tell his or her spouse they can no longer be as involved in their marriage as they have been. Explain this is because they have heard a sermon where they have been told their marriage might be an Isaac in their lives and in order to find God fully they must be more separate. This sermon claims that might mean for some that they have to - in some way - de prioritise their marriage relationship. If so stand with them and help them explain this to a devastated and bewildered spouse.


Are you ready to do this – Struthers leaders?


If not perhaps you should not be sending people out to make a stand you are not prepared to make with them.