Struthers Memorial Church and the shouting shepherds
The last sermon Struthers Memorial Church made available online was preached on March 12 2011 by the present leader of the group of churches. After a long opening preamble it emerged that its subject was to address the fact that websites by then existed which were raising concerns and questions about the way SMC conducted itself. This article is intended to look in more detail at what was said on that occasion.
This is because we think it is good to shine a light on what SMC say about themselves
and others. And because it is interesting for us to see what they said about the
present scrutiny of Struthers -
The reading for the sermon was odd in the context. Isaiah ch 31 v 4&5
4 But this is what the Lord has told me:
“When a strong young lion
stands growling over a sheep it has killed,
it is not frightened by the shouts and noise
of a whole crowd of shepherds.
In the same way, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will come down and fight on Mount Zion.
5 The Lord of Heaven’s Armies will hover over Jerusalem
and protect it like a bird protecting its nest.
He will defend and save the city;
he will pass over it and rescue it.”
The context is that a lion killing a sheep will not be distracted. Oddly in the way this reading is applied in this sermon it depicts Struthers Memorial Church as a lion busy killing a sheep and the detractors of SMC (us and others) as a horde of shouting shepherds trying to stop the lion succeeding.
We have given the quotes from the sermon in blue and the time on the recording when this was said:
Try Him. In sunshine or in a stormy sea – try Jesus. He'll never fail. Try Him. “But
Lord I am in need of help. I'm in need of your protection but an awful lot of it
has been my own fault.” And I'm glad he doesn't wait until we're perfect before he
helps us. Don't we value a friend that we know will stand by us? Even when we're
wrong? I don't mean that they'll tell lies -
It's a different matter if we've deliberately and wilfully disobeyed Him and are fighting with him going on fighting with him.
Why is this line of teaching being given? What Christian believes that God will not protect them unless they are perfect? Where does that teaching come from? Surely if that were true no one in SMC would ever have had God's protection unless they were perfect? Since no SMC leader – even at their most delusional – would ever claim to be perfect then that would mean no one would ever be protected by God. Yet the leader of the Struthers Churches says this:
“It's a different matter if we've deliberately and wilfully disobeyed Him and are fighting with him going on fighting with him.”
This is not biblical teaching. It misrepresents the character of God. It appears to be seeking to make disobedience to, and fighting the will of, the Struthers leaders something that people are to be made to fear will result in punishment by God.
2 Thessalonians 3 V 2&3
And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one
No mention by Paul here of God’s protection being conditional -
If God does not protect us when we have problems that are our own fault, or problems with obedience, then the we can never be protected. Only false and foolish teaching could ever lead someone to believe this was true.
If an earthly parent still protects their children when they are being wrong and
foolish then will our heavenly father do less? Who has ever suggested that mistakes,
disobedience and not yet being perfect can take Christians out from the protection
of God? SMC leaders -
As to the difference between the claims and the evidence -
So despite the claim that God will stand by those who have made mistakes there is very little evidence that any Struthers leader will do any such thing. At any rate that is not what people are saying about them. Not at all.
Yet of course we are being foolish. This sermon is not a speaking about what leaders
should do if people make mistakes -
Those mistakes admitted to later in this sermon but as yet, 16 months on, still unidentified.
He is not a God to be trifled with. He is a God who protects His own. And our warfare is not against flesh and blood it is against powers and principalities spiritual wickedness in high places.
And we find that there can come at times across our spirit a sense of spiritual pressure. A sense of the enemy moving. Sometimes you feel that you are up against a barrier and you're not quite sure why its there and where it is coming from. It's just that you sense there is movement against you...
There was no need at the time this sermon was preached -
If they cause the speaker to feel a “sense of pressure” we fully understand why that might be.
That is what is causing them to feel “pressure”.
Adding the word “spiritual” before “pressure” -
it has always been the same.
Other Pentecostal churches – most much more successful than SMC if you look at them
based on the Biblical measures of growth, fruitfulness, holiness as God requires
it, and in having a positive impact on lives and communities -
In the history of SMC there are perhaps clues as to why this is. SMC began as a split of 5 discontented people from Elim in Greenock 60 years ago (as recently commemorated in the Glasgow branch). The leaders often described to us the need for them to leave a failing church which was not in their view teaching the “standard” of conduct which was necessary. The church they left was so losing its way that God was calling these 5 people to shake the dust from their feet and leave it behind. It was clearly implied that their view was that they had to leave to remain faithful to God and He would not continue to bless those remaining.
It can hardly be a surprise that there were people in Greenock, in Elim and in the wider Christian community who saw that as a bit self righteous.
And – 60 years on, of course, we also have the problem for Struthers that it was wrong. Greenock Elim has remained a larger church than Greenock Struthers. It plants new churches in the locality long after Struthers has ceased to. It takes a leading role in the Inverclyde joint churches initiatives and it was a leading participant in the 2008 internationally attended Greenock Revival Conference. Some of the SMC members, and even one of the Struthers executive, are (according to the web) very involved in the Inverclyde Christian joint works with other churches.
So it appears to fair minded people that the -
There is no public record that any reconciliation has been sought or mentioned; and no apology for any disrespectful remarks made from the SMC pulpit in relation to the Elim church has been publicly offered.
Perhaps that is part of why “it has always been the same.”
if you hear of a revival that is not spoken against have another look to make sure it is revival. The bible speaks of the people of God being a sign spoken against. And the Christ said “woe unto you when all men speak well of you.” Well we've not often needed to feel woe.
This point was demolished at the time by the Petitor on the RickRoss forum. Being spoken against is no guarantee of being right. This is a logical nightmare. If this were a true principle the very websites being spoken against in this sermon by this definition would be vindicated. We believe it is better to go with the Bible. Paul says:
Galatians 1.8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
Not the claimed holiness, shining character, or even leadership role in the church of the person speaking but what they say is what is to be judged and accepted or rejected by the Christian. The biblical position is that all those leading or preaching in a church are capable of both speaking the truth and speaking error. Who the speaker is, is never acceptable as the source of authority for what they are saying. That what is being said is biblical and true is the only thing we are to rely on.
The recent “Lakeland Revival” in Florida is a good example. It was both widely praised
and widely criticised form the start. When Todd Bentley was revealed to be a man
with serious personal problems which Biblically disallowed him from being a leader
in the church, the revival was exposed as deserving of the criticisms which had been
So, in that case, a revival criticised was not proof of its validity, but a perfectly proper understanding of its flaws, which were subsequently proved to be correct.
SMC cannot run a church based on parroting from the platform foolish and naive platitudes. “We are criticised so we must be doing something right” is imbecilic. To move ahead as a church on that basis would be to build on sand.
our warfare as a church as a people as part of the church of Jesus Christ – in common with the church across all the world – our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. The prince of darkness and his hoards will use any means that they can. They are quite unscrupulous. Sometimes will use an innocent tool. Sometimes will use a less innocent tool whose avowed intention is to destroy Struthers Memorial Church. I am not making this up... many many years ago a certain individual, an individual not somebody who had ever belonged to us said that they were going to close the doors of Struthers church. At that time we were just (a few churches). You know from that day the work of God began to grow. For God is the protector of His own work.
While we’re sure this is interesting -
Rather we have observed many times what usually happens to declining churches. They continue for many, many years in slow decline and there is always a rump who keep it running. They usually refer to themselves as the “faithful remnant”. This rump believe that in spite of the lack of any biblical signs of “fruit” obvious to outsiders they are still uniquely special to the work of God and that the glory days (whatever they have been in that church) will one day return.
In such churches talk of unlimited ultimate triumph (if we try harder and everyone else would only see sense) never ceases. Those remaining believe that no change is necessary but that they must “faithfully” carry on the same way. They call this “loyalty to the original vision”. This continues until the generation that is pushing it dies out. How long that takes depends only on the age profile of the remaining rump.
We neither seek or even predict the destruction of SMC. We believe it could limp on for years as exclusive, isolationist, churches usually do. Our observation is that very few churches are “destroyed”. Most exclusive, independent churches just decline over a long, long time.
Then as so often happens in a Struthers sermon, a confident declaration leaves an unanswered, painfully obvious, question hanging in the air.
“At that time we were just (a few churches). You know from that day the work of God began to grow. For God is the protector of His own work.”
Perhaps that is true and we have no reason to doubt it. Struthers did grow and at one point claimed to have 17 churches. It now has 11, some of which have extremely modest attendance.
They can’t have it both ways. If growth was a sign of the critic being wrong back then why is lack of growth not a sign of the critics being right now? Likewise, if persecution appears prior to success; what appeared prior to no longer having that same success?
When did regular church planting stop? When did the congregations stop growing? (adding
people and then loosing others is not growing) When did the financial problems start
in the church? If they are claiming that those persecuting them in the early days
were wrong and God proved this by precipitating growth -
You remember when David brought the Ark of the Covenant up and he was not careful about how it should be brought up to Jerusalem. And it was brought on a cart and the oxen drawing the cart stumbled. Now the Ark of God was supposed to be borne on the shoulders of specially selected sanctified priests. As the work of God should be – borne on the shoulders of sanctified priests of God and we're all called to be priests and ministers to God. Its not meant to rest on the shoulders of a few. Its the responsibility of each one of us. ...and if carrying (the ark) was so sacred then when Uzza stretched out His hand to steady the Ark....He died because he touched the Ark of God. God protecting His own glory. How much more does he expect those who are involved in a work of God to be holy that we may bear something of the glory of the living God. And He does not need us to protect that glory. We do not need to worry about that. He will protect His own glory. As he did that day. And He will protect His glory as it begins to be revealed in His own church.
This is a confusing section of this sermon. Is it intended as a criticism of the congregation for not being holy enough to support a work of God? Or is it a threat that God will, with remarkable severity, punish critics of Struthers ?
As a threat it does not work for the blindingly obvious reason that Struthers Memorial Church is plainly and manifestly NOT the Ark of the Covenant. Surely the speaker is not claiming that it is? The new testament makes no claim that the church is the Ark of the Covenant and there is certainly no new testament teaching that to question or criticise the teachings of a church results in instant death.
Quite the opposite. Jesus continually emphasises the need to question the acts of the Pharisees, who speak at least some of the right words, but don't do them. And Jesus criticises those leaders who see themselves as special because they claim affinity to an Old Testament figure (Moses). Jesus tells them this claimed affinity has no reality and no value. Claiming SMC will be protected by God the same way he protected the Ark of the Covenant is similarly claiming an old testament affinity which is not endorsed by the bible as relating to the new testament church and therefore has no validity.
That said, if the SMC leadership would answer our question about the claims they have made of the smiting with boils (in the Humiliation sermon) and, here, the claimed dramatic deaths of those who have spoken in criticism of them (or just not agreed with them) then we can all judge if this teaching relates to anything they have seen which is real. Or is this “teaching” simply designed to frighten their members into agreeing with them, keeping silent, and handing over more money?
In addition the new testament is a place which understands the need for elders to
engage in discussion and sensible respectful debate about the future and direction
of the church. Acts 15 gives an account of the Jerusalem Council. Neither side in
that debate, you will notice, threatened the other with instantaneous public judgement
from God. Neither is it apostasy to bring an accusation against a leader in the new
testament and this can be done legitimately and properly 1 Timothy 5:19-
If every question and suggestion is recast, as it is in this part of this sermon, as a total rejection of the questioner's right to continue to exist then there can be no discussion, no proper bringing and dealing with concerns, and no new testament church government. If there is no new testament church government the claim of being bible based disappears and the opportunity for God to bless the work of the church declines. It is not then a church as He has indicated in His word it should be.
There is no way round this. There is no one person authoritarian structure that God
allows for the leadership of a church. The only person who is allowed to lead you
as a Christian must first commit to the biblical structures of church government
which he placed there for the protection of the people from Pharisaical legalistic
tyranny. Secondly before they can be your leader they must first wash your feet with
a towel around their waist – John 13 v 4-
If there is such an awe and claimed “holiness” built around church leaders that the
congregation cannot even imagine them ever doing such a humble thing as a service
for them -
Jesus, when he demonstrated how this was to work, even cleaned Judas feet. There
can be nothing anyone has done as a church member which was worse that what Judas
No one can humbly wash the feet of those they cruelly lord it over. Jesus talks very clearly about 2 types of leaders. Humble servant foot washers and those who lord it over the flock.
Which is in evidence in SMC?
One of the things we have been concerned about is an inadequate approach to pastoring which can leave some in the congregations without some of the support, help and information they need to grow as Christians.
Does that mean we are a “crowd of shepherds” clamouring for less harshness?
Are we shouting out for some show of concern not to repeat the damage so many have now claimed has been done to their lives by the Struthers Church leadership?
Are we noisily seeking for more looking after the sheep in the way that true Christ-
If that is what we are being accused of in this sermon -