A KIRK minister has called on Christians to move on from the "fanciful, fairy tale" Nativity story and "disentangle the truth from the tinsel".
The Rev Andrew Frater has said an adherence to the traditional story of the birth of Jesus had the effect of keeping people with doubts about their faith away from the church, as the Nativity was too easily dismissed.
Writing in today's Herald he said: "This year I’m promising myself to be more theologically honest. No more going home with fanciful, fairy tale assumptions destined to make Good News seem incredible."
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But leading figures within some of Scotland's other main Christian denominations have questioned Rev Frater's comments, the Free Kirk accusing the minister of "offering inert, gelatinous, non-offensive niceness".
Minister of Cairns Church, Milngavie, known locally for both its liberal congregation and approach to the Kirk's doctrine, Rev Frater said too many Christians failed to look for the symbolism in the Nativity.
Quoting the 1960s liberal Anglican bishop John Robinson, he said there was a danger Christmas would not be seen to be about the real world, "the world of missiles and housing and unemployment in which we live".
He also said too many worshippers got hung up on taking the Virgin birth, a key aspect of the birth of Christ story, literally and that any doubt expressed on the matter led to accusation of no longer being Christian.
He added: "Too much serious stuff is going on in the world for folk in my position to even risk the possibility of sounding remote, irrelevant or both.
"For me, it’s time to travel beyond the literalists’ landscape; time to acknowledge that Luke and Matthew were not newspaper reporters. Although facts were for them significant, they were always secondary.
"No doubt some Christmas Eve worshippers will accuse me of undermining the Bible. Others (and by that I mean the growing number who are hanging on to the church by their fingertips) will hopefully see all of this as an attempt to enrich faith - a way of genuinely affirming the storytellers’ conviction that the God of life and love is eternally with us and for us, and not just on evenings reserved for candlelight and carol singing."
But Rev David Meredith, mission director of the Free Church of Scotland, said: "Rev Frater’s offering of a Christmas without angels, a virgin, a bright star, awe-struck shepherds, a jealous dictator and lowing cattle reminds me of my early attempt at soup, it looked OK but after 10 hours boiling it had zero nutritional value.
"Just as children complain about their yoghurt, ‘mum, I don’t like the bits’, so this is an offering of inert, gelatinous, non-offensive niceness.
"It’s non-belief like this which has resulted in the only Christmas decorations outside hundreds of Scottish church buildings being ‘For Sale’ signs."
A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: "Far from alienating people the Nativity and story of Christ's birth draws them in and reminds them of the enormous contradiction at the heart of Christ's ministry: a king born in poverty and obscurity whose life changed the world."
Bob Davies, a former head of Glasgow University's school of education and leading expert in faith and schools, said he understood Rev Frater's issues around questionable historical reliability.
But he added: "The Infancy Gospels' mix of chronicle, wonder-tale and drama captures basic human realities such as displacement, anxiety and the haunting vulnerability of babies and children in times of crisis and violence.
"These are themes uncannily close to our preoccupations right now in 2015. For these reasons, I have no problem with our traditional telling and retelling of the Nativity, in our churches, schools and popular media, as, like Jesus' mother Mary, we 'ponder' its truths in our hearts reaching well beyond the confines of a 'literalist' response."