Moderator's Comments - Posted 10 November 2015
As a new Christian at Bible College, no subject impacted me more than Church History. The lecturer, Howard Green, was a superb lecturer. He made the past come alive and I knew nothing about the history of the church so every lecture was an eye opener.
Whether Hegel said it first is debateable, “history teaches us that history teaches us nothing”, the reality is that we neglect history at our peril. It would be tragic to repeat the history of our denomination as it is being repeated in Scotland and the USA at the moment.
So here follows the personal history of Rev Denis Shelton, repeated here as a reminder, encouragement and a warning.
Denis grew up attending the Presbyterian Church at Turramurra in Sydney, rising to become deputy leader of the youth group (PFA).
In 1957 the PFA held its annual camp at Blackheath and Denis was invited to preach that Sunday night at the local Presbyterian Church. One member of the youth group carried a Bible and when Denis asked his help with his sermon preparation, Denis was asked if he had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. No one had ever asked him that before. As a result Denis was converted that day and preached the next night on the necessity of the new birth (John 3).
His training in the United Faculty at St Andrews Hall in Sydney University in the middle sixties was predominantly liberal, he was the only student with reformed convictions in his year, there was another in the year below him.
After training he was appointed to Warren in Western NSW where he was ordained. He immediately had problems. The local Presbytery insisted that all parishes use only the Joint Board of Christian Education Sunday School material which denied the truth of the Bible, the deity of Jesus Christ and the bodily resurrection. The material consisted of ethical exhortation without any spiritual power.
Denis refused to use it, using rather the Aboriginal Inland Mission and David C Cook materials. The Presbytery warned him that he could be charged with contumacy if he did not obey the Presbytery's directive but was also advised that he could 'dissent and complain' against the Presbytery's directive to the NSW Assembly which he did in 1968 according to the procedure outlined in the Code.
His appeal was lost, about twelve people dissented and so, in June 1968 he resigned from the Presbyterian Church of Australia, preached one last Sunday and was given a month to leave the manse. His ministry as an ordained minister of our denomination had lasted 18 months.
He joined the ministry of the Presbyterian Reformed Church of Australia, pastoring congregations in Brisbane, Peakhurst and Epping.
For over 20 years he was Principal of the church’s John Knox Theological College, and has assisted in training ministers in Russia with an overseas training group for 10 years and helped establish an orphanage in South Russia.
Today he spends each Thursday in the Ferguson Library at Presbyterian Head Office volunteering and filing the archives of the church.
A generation has grown up in the denomination to which the intolerant, oppressive, truth denying, life sapping influence of liberalism is not known.
How thankful to God that those days are behind us, but only prayerful diligence will ensure that they stay behind us.
Liberalism infected the church via the theological training colleges. We must guard God’s precious truth at parish level and ensure that our theological committees and colleges, while prayerfully supported, are subjected to constant surveillance.
Moralistic religion, teaching people to be good, is just a bully, demanding the impossible of its adherents.
Only the authentic gospel of the perfect God man, Jesus Christ, who died as our substitute and was raised bodily from the dead, answers and silences the bully once and for all.
Rt Rev David Cook