Saturday, 20 December 2014

Integrity, Honesty and Casuistry

When I joined the Free Church of Scotland I did not at that time seek to transfer my ministerial credentials to the denomination.  In part the reason for this was the vows I would need to take as a minister, (they were slightly different as an elder).  I interpreted the ministerial vows as a commitment, not merely to the practice of exclusive psalmody, but to the principle of exclusive psalmody.

I may have been wrong in my interpretation, but given that this was how I read the vows it would have shown a lack of personal integrity if, believing them to say, this I nevertheless committed myself to a principle that in fact I did not hold. I had no problems with the practice of exclusive psalmody, but I could not in honesty say that this was an inviolable principle. 

The situation has now changed and the Free Church no longer holds to either the principle or the practice of exclusive psalmody.  Individual congregations are free to choose, if they wish, to supplement psalms with other scriptural praise.  (They are not free to supplant psalms; those must still be used alongside scriptural hymns.)

It seems, according to some, that I was a fool to be so conscientious in regard to ministerial vows, at least in the view of some in the Church of Scotland.  Given that this denomination is ready to embrace active homosexuals in civil partnerships, and this legislation will become church law in May, it has been asked how professed evangelicals can take the required ordination and induction vows.

In particular:
“Do you promise to seek the peace and unity of this Church; to uphold its doctrine, worship, government, and to cherish a spirit of love to all your brothers and sisters in Christ?”

The “government” of this denomination means, among others things, the acceptance of active homosexuals in office.  (It equally means the acceptance of non-converted office-bearers, non trinitarians,  heretics who deny the deity of Christ, his virgin conception, his penal substitution, and his bodily resurrection.)

However we are told by one Church of Scotland evangelical spokesman:

“Even if the overture goes through GA in May, I can keep these vows with complete integrity and still be completely faithful to Scripture. I can even promise with utter integrity ‘to be subject IN THE LORD … to the General Assembly’ – which is, of course, something quite different from being ‘subject to the General Assembly’ - even a GA at which I would record my dissent were the overture to go through”

This is a Jesuitical casuistry! The law of the church will be clear, but there is no obligation to keep this law, even if I vow to do so, because I am only subject “in the Lord” to the laws that I accept.  Presbyterian discipline has been replaced by rampant individualism. Worse, integrity has been replaced with dishonesty.

There is not even a suggestion that I should publicly affirm before presbytery those laws that I do not consider “in the Lord”, therefore exempt from keeping.  For example, “I wish to make it clear that I believe that unrepented active homosexual conduct is a damning sin and will not recognise the status of any office-bearer who practices or promotes such sin…”  No, I should keep quiet, cross my fingers, keep my opinions private, swallow my integrity and take these vows.

Some might call it casuistry.  I will be more forthright: it is lying, and lying is a sin.

The Westminster Confession (Chapter 22) makes this clear:
IV. An oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation. It can not oblige to sin; but in anything not sinful, being taken, it binds to performance, although to a man's own hurt: nor is it to be violated, although made to heretics or infidels.

V. A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness.

I do not wish to advise the Church of Scotland, but perhaps they ought to enquire of slippery evangelicals about to take vows if they are doing so in the plain and usual sense of the words, or whether they are reserving to themselves the decision as to which church laws they intend to keep.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Grace and Geography

Now that the dust has settled and the majority of Church of Scotland presbyteries have voted to endorse ministers in active same-sex relationships, it is interesting to see how the church establishment view those who voted against this endorsement of sexual immorality.

The acting principal clerk for the Kirk, Rev Dr George Whyte, is quoted as saying:

“Many ministers already allow and conduct the blessing of civil partnerships and people who have decided to commit to one another."

“However, this is not happening in a more, let’s say Herbidean setting, but each time we have voted, the gap has grown wider in favour of the proposal.

I am not sure whether this is simply an ethnic slur or the contemptuous arrogance of the liberal urban elite for those rural bumpkins who have not yet adopted the new program for sexual liberation.  It may be both!  As an ethnic insult it suggests that the west coast Gaelic areas of Scotland are not as advanced as those areas where ministers conduct same sex civil partnerships.  Not very P.C.

It is, however, fairly accurate in terms of geography.  This Hebridean fringe were also the power house for the formation of the current Free Church of Scotland in 1900. At that time some sixty-three congregations refused to join in the union with the United Presbyterian Church, with most being found in the Gaelic-speaking districts of Scotland.

I have to confess that if I had been around in 1843 I would have been part of the Disruptions and joined the Free Church.  I am not entirely sure that if I had been around in 1900 I would have chosen not to join the new union that formed the United Free Church.

However, with the insight of history we know the United Free Church of 1900 rejoined the established church in 1929, and by and large its evangelical ethos was lost.  It was, therefore, the Hebridean fringe that maintained the true evangelical and Reformed succession,  In the providence of God he “chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are” ( 1 Cor 1:28)

This remnant was preserved, but perhaps the purpose of God was that through this original remnant evangelical Presbyterianism might reseed the whole of Scotland.  Despite its detractors the Free Church is no longer a highland church restricted to the areas of the GĂ idhealtachd.  It is now as much a lowland non-Highland church as a Highland body.  Indeed, at the very time the Church of Scotland risks so alienating its remaining Highland congregations that they will leave the denomination, the Free Church is going in the opposite direction by expanding its outreach in central Scotland.  The Free Presbytery of Glasgow and Argyll this week were discussing our new church plants in Stirling  and Govan, Glasgow.  Someone described it as “exciting”, and I concur.

How much more exciting it would be if our evangelical brethren within the national church instead of forming yet another pressure group to slow or reverse the apostasy in the Church of Scotland which despises them , their theology and their sexual ethics, were to join with us in taking forward the work and ministry of a truly national evangelical Presbyterian body.  

Friday, 5 December 2014

Who are Members of the True Church?

Westminster Confession (OPC Modern Language Version)

1. The catholic (that is, universal) church, which is invisible, consists of all the elect who have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ its head. This church is his bride, his body, and the fullness of him who fills all in all.

2.  The visible church, which is also catholic (that is, universal) under the gospel (that is, not confined to one nation, as it was before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world who profess the true religion, together with their children. It is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

3. To this universal, visible church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the age. For this purpose he makes these means effectual by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise.

4. This universal church has been sometimes more and sometimes less visible. Particular churches, which are members of this universal church, are more or less pure to the extent to which the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, the ordinances are administered, and public worship is performed more or less purely in them.

OR The Moderator of the Church of Scotland:

He said: "I am fed up with the Church of Scotland publishing annual statistics which highlight a decline in membership when the truth about the number of people who belong to our faith communities is, in reality, quite different. I want, therefore, to open the New Year with a very serious challenge for the Church of Scotland.”
"Here, however, is the real challenge – it is to redefine membership in a way that allows us to include women and men, young and old who do not fit the post-second world war model of membership with which we are so familiar.”

"That pattern does not resonate with the vast majority of those who are 50 and younger and who will never buy into the kind of Church which sits so comfortably with me and my way of expressing my Christian faith.”

So this new category of virtual digital membership will embrace those who never attend church services on the Lord’s Day (contrary to Heb 10:25).  For those who know the Church of Scotland, we will say, “Nothing new here, then.”  A failing church fiddling statistics!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Clock is Ticking

Time for evangelicals within the Church of Scotland to reconsider their options.  Some, of course, will never leave, believing that it would be schism to unite with other evangelical presbyterians in, say, the Free Church of Scotland, but that continued fellowship with moral apostates within the national church is morally preferable.

From the Press and Journal (Aberdeen)
Equality campaigner “encouraged” church will soon accept gay ministers
The Church of Scotland is moving closer to ending its historic opposition to people in same-sex relationships becoming ministers.
Figures obtained by the Press and Journal show that 21 of the Kirk’s 46 presbyteries have so far voted in favour of a controversial policy that would give congregations the freedom to appoint a gay man or woman if they wished.

This means the so-called “mixed economy” proposal would need the support of only three more presbyteries before it could be referred to the General Assembly, which has the ultimate say over whether it should become Kirk law. Under the plans, the Church would retain the traditional position – a ban on gay people in relationships becoming ministers – as its default stance. But congregations could opt in to a policy to appoint a minister in a same-sex relationship under a “conscience clause”.

The proposal is aimed at ensuring both sides of the debate are accommodated within the legal framework of the Kirk.

A total of 10 presbyteries, made up of ministers, elders and deacons, have rejected the proposal so far and 15 have yet to make a decision. It has been backed by presbyteries in Aberdeen, Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Sutherland, Abernethy, Gordon, Kincardine and Deeside, Argyll and Glasgow.

Members of the Buchan, Lochaber, Lochcarron and Skye, Uist and Lewis presbyteries have rejected it.

The debate over the issue was triggered by the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeen in 2009 – a decision that resulted in some people leaving the Kirk because they believe the Bible teaches Christians that gay sex is wrong.

The Rev John Mann, of pro-gay rights Kirk group Affirmation Scotland, said he was “very encouraged” by the direction of travel within the Church. The group has decided to support the proposal despite the fact that it “still enshrines inequality and discriminatory treatment for lesbian and gay people in the church”.

Mr Mann said: “Although this proposal is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction and it allows people the freedom of their own conscience. We are praying for a time when the Church and other denominations affirm people in same-sex relationships and celebrate love between two people as a gift from God. We will keep working towards full equality in the Kirk. That is our mission.”

Evangelical Kirk group Forward Together, which has a membership of about 70 ministers and elders, said it would be difficult to predict what the future held until all presbyteries had voted.
Acting director the Rev Douglas Cranston claimed the vote in many presbyteries had been close, which meant that “any hope that this will heal divisions is forlorn. There will be a reaction in response to this,. We have been able to hold on to people for the time being but if are going to have this affirmation I think there will be a steady drift away from the national Church.”

The Kirk has around 800 ministers serving nearly 1,400 congregations and only 18 have left in recent years for a variety of reasons, leaving most congregation members behind.

Former Lochcarron, Applecross and Torridon parish minister the Rev David Macleod and the Rev Roddy MacRae, who led congregations in Glenelg and Kintail, recently quit the Kirk and joined the Free Church of Scotland. The Rev Dominic Smart and members of Gilcomston South Church of Scotland in Aberdeen left the Kirk in March last year.

But Mr Mann played down the impact of the vote.
“The threatened mass exodus has not happened,” he said. “It has been a trickle. I think people who are unhappy will just stick together and feel as they always have – the Church has lost touch with their values.”

It is understood that the presbytery of Dumfries is expected to vote on the issue tonight and Lothian tomorrow.

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “The vote is under way and presbyteries have until December 30 to submit their returns. Those presbyteries who have yet to decide will be doing so in the coming weeks, and each presbytery will be debating and voting according to their own individual points of view. The outcome of the vote will be known in the new year.”

Scotland’s Biggest Presbytery Supports Active Gays in Ministry

The Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland voted last night, 25th November, to defy Scripture and support sexually active homosexuals in office.  The vote was 127 to 93; that is 58% of presbyters backing sexual immorality.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


I missed this when it originally appeared.  The Herald is a Glasgow newspaper; being ensconced in the North East I read the Press and Journal and the (UK National) the Telegraph, so was not aware of this piece by Stewart Lamont. I reprint it without comment.

Looking back it surprises me that the seed of moral apostasy in the Church of Scotland has taken 20 years to bear fruition.  The warnings were there, but few choose to acknowledge them. Twenty years of ignoring a problem was not the best preparation for eradicating it.

I left the denomination in 1995.


Saturday 11 September 1993

POLITICS in the pulpit used to be the sin which was allegedly ruining the Kirk. Now it would appear to be homosexuality in the manse.

I'm not convinced that the problem is widespread but it is surfacing in a number of ways which make it inevitable that it will be dragged from the closet and paraded as a public controversy. This year's general assembly heard that the 1994 assembly will be hearing two reports about human sexuality -- from the Board of Social Responsibility and the Panel on Doctrine.

The convener of the latter's sub-committee on sex and marriage, theologian Liz Templeton, has already made it clear that her view (even if she does not carry her committee) is to endorse same-sex relationships. One of her friends, Rev. Margaret Forrester, who is convener of the Board of World Mission and Unity, and a leading figure in Kirk policy making, has already blessed the same-sex relationship of two women in her Edinburgh parish.

Two swallows do make a summer but there were some who couldn't swallow this and, without naming Mrs F, wanted the assembly to rebuke such conduct. The assembly wouldn't take it on and so this week one of the disgruntled proposers, Rev. Robert Walker of Gardenstown, raised the matter in the Presbytery of Buchan -- the part of the country where brethren keep close ranks.

This time he had come well prepared with a motion which was careful to make a distinction between homosexual genital acts (''which are condemned in Scripture as perverted and immoral and incompatible with Christian standards'') and homosexual orientation. Those ''wrestling'' with their sexual orientation, according to Mr Walker's motion, were not disqualified from Christian discipleship or from becoming ministers provided they did not indulge in homosexual behaviour.

His motion won the day and has been sent to all presbytery clerks (presumably to encourage them to take up the cudgels). Although it apparently makes Buchan a no-go area for gay ministers, it does not have the force of legislation. That would require general assembly approval. However, it does show that there is a growing body of opinion which will fight hard against any endorsement of same-sex relationships. This issue has yet to hit the Kirk in a public way, and I suspect when it does it will prove just as damaging as it did in the Presbyterian churches of North America.

Ignoring the issue will not make it go away. Pretending it doesn't exist is liable to bring even greater difficulties. Killearn Parish Church found this when they appointed Rev. Francis Dixon from Glenburn Paisley as their sole nominee earlier this year.

Just as he was due to leave, he was named in a Sunday newspaper as one of a group of men in the Paisley area using rent-boys. At first a tearful Mr Dixon denied the charge, claiming he had been offering counselling to the youth in question and on the day of publication, Dr Andrew Weir, the Killearn session clerk, stood in front of a stunned congregation to tell them not to believe what they read in the newspapers. ''We will get our minister,'' he told them.

When tapes and transcripts revealed a Jekyll-and-Hyde life which Mr Dixon had led, masquerading as a teacher in his dealings with the rent-boys, he withdrew from Killearn and resigned from his Paisley parish. Nobody should take glee in the pain brought upon the Dixon family, but it was not the publicity which caused it. Whereas anyone reading Dr Weir's explanation of the events in the May newsletter in Killearn would have been forgiven for thinking it was all a nasty plot got up by the media.

The same vacancy committee resumed their task and are now near to revealing another name. For the peace and unity of Killearn I can only hope this will be someone with a healing touch. In most organisations a committee that got it so horribly wrong would at least have offered their resignations, but perhaps they have decided to work their penance by making a brilliant appointment.

The Killearn case illustrates a tendency to close ranks and hope unpleasant affairs will go away. They won't.

How then are we to deal with the closets of the Kirk? Are we to cleanse them with Buchan witchfinders? Let them breathe good Killearn air? Or are we to leave a couple of mothballs and hope that will deter the corrupting moth? I suspect that none of these remedies is sufficient to deal with something which is defined as a sin by some and a legitimate lifestyle option by others.

There are stormy times ahead and this may well be the issue on which the conservative evangelicals show the strength they have been amassing within the ministry in recent years. On this issue they will probably attract support from those, like this writer, who resent the fact that the issue is often presented as pro-gay or anti-gay. Neither does justice to the problem.

Like politics and religion, sexuality and morality are inextricably mixed into life. What matters is whether the religion gets lost in the politics or the morality is forgotten in the sexuality. The Buchan declaration has the moral merit of making the distinction that it is what we do with what we are, that is important.

Friday, 21 November 2014


The Forward Together website, as usual, carries the Church of Scotland news, culled from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, that the new moderator of the National Youth Assembly has been appointed.  What it does not carry is the equally important news that Hannah Mary Goodlad is an enthusiastic supporter of the Rev Scott Rennie, the homosexual activist whose civil partnership with another man brought to a head the present crisis in the Church of Scotland.  Miss Goodlad, who is joining the Aberdeen Queen’s Cross congregation, is reported as saying, “Scott is a great speaker and his interpretation of theology and the way he relates the Bible to modern day life is excellent.”

Now evangelicals may argue that the National Youth Assembly has no constitutional position, that they do not, of course, send their young people to it anyway, and that the Youth Assembly is as broad as the church as a whole, therefore the appointment of someone else to a national position who is a supporter of the introduction of active homosexuals into office is of no consequence. They may also argue that although their contributions go towards the finance of such an institution they cannot be held responsible for its debates and decisions.

I am not against the church enabling youth to reflect on their faith and be guided by those of spiritual experience as they mature in the faith.  Our recent Free Church Presbytery of Glasgow and Argyll have given £1000 to help support the development of our local teens and twenties work.  However, it does seem biblically inappropriate when the mania for listening to the voice of youth goes as far as giving them delegates at General Assembly, (I presume they are not actual commissioners but only guests, with the right to speak in debates but not vote.)  

Ten representatives of the National Youth Assembly, including the NYA moderator, and a youth representative from each presbytery are invited to each General Assembly. The Kirk’s website informs us that the Youth Assembly is “designed to enable young adults to have a voice within the Church of Scotland. The NYA consists of a series of discussions on topics ranging from fashion to politics, from tax avoidance to climate change and from social media to marriage. After the event feedback from the discussions is collated and alongside a report printed in the ‘Blue Book’, is presented to the following General Assembly by the NYA moderator.”

The same spin on youth was seen earlier in the year when the press releases were carried by the national media about Rev Michael Mair who at 25 was to become the Kirk’s youngest minister – incidentally he also is an active promoter of active homosexuals in ministry. I don’t want to burst Mr Mair’s bubble but historically the Kirk has had many younger ministers.  Indeed, I myself was ordained in the Church of Scotland at 23 and that, not after a truncated course, but after the then regular 6 year double degree requirement.

To return to the original point, is there a conspiracy in the national church to promote and publicise those who stand against biblical norms on sexual ethics, especially if they represent the voice of youth and the spirit of the age.

I do not think this will influence the current votes taking place in Presbyteries.  The latest figures I have seen are 19 to 10 in favour of allowing congregations to appoint active homosexuals as ministers. This means that in the remaining 19 presbyteries still to vote there would need to be a complete reversal of the current voting pattern if the legislation is to fall. 80% of the still to vote presbyteries would now need to vote against the proposed legislation in order to give a majority against.  However, even a 73% vote against by the remaining presbyteries, giving a dead heat of 24 presbyteries on either side would be enough to halt the legislation as it requires a majority of presbyteries to approve it before it can become law. Technically, even if the majority of presbyteries voted for the legislation the General Assembly of 2015 could reject it.

I end by quoting Johnny Cash, “And the lonely voice of youth cries, “What is truth?”” They will certainly not find the answer in the 65% of presbyteries who have, thus far, voted again Scripture.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

New Supporter of Gay Marriage

The new minister of St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, has been announced with much fanfare by the Church of Scotland. Rev Calum MacLeod moves from Chicago to take over the church of John Knox, whose statue still graces the Cathedral precincts.  The two men could not be further apart.  Knox was a firebrand evangelical, MacLeod is …  Well let his own words speak for him; in a recent sermon in Chicago after hosting a LGBT conference at his church:

“The Covenant Network of Presbyterians, an organization, within our denomination, that was cofounded by Pastor Emeritus John Buchanan. For many years it has fought for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks in the life of the church, worked to create ordination standards that are inclusive, and celebrated the movement of the Holy Spirit in lives of lesbian and gay Christians being called to ministry. Covenant Network is continuing that work, and the conference offered the chance to reflect on the question of marriage equality for GLBT people. Marvelous scholars and theologians reflected on the biblical and theological reasons for why marriage equality is important.

Currently in our denomination [PCUSA] the church recognizes marriage only as between a man and a woman and it prohibits clergy from officiating at services that are called same-gendered marriage. So our church is in its present state marginalizing people who are in our churches. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered Christians are being treated as other. Not being given the same fully human rights as others in our pews. Covenant Network is working to change that definition of marriage at the next General Assembly, which is in Detroit in 2014. And it is my hope, my prayer that this continued marginalization of a category of people in our midst would end.”

His liberal hopes were realised – the General Assembly of the PCUSA voted both to allow its ministers to officiate at gay marriages and to change its official definition of marriage as between “two people” rather than between a man and a woman. (The PCUSA continues to loose members, with a 5.86% decrease in 2012 and 4.83% in 2013, and a loss of a total of 148 churches and 165 ministers to other more biblical denominations in 2013.)

I am sure he will join other revisionists in pursuing this anti-biblical agenda in the Church of Scotland. Edinburgh Presbytery having “cleansed” itself of solid evangelicals such as David Court, Philip Hair, and Robin Sydserff (and their churches) must be delighted with its new recruit. 

Meanwhile Forward Together desperately try to convince evangelicals that it is their duty to remain within this increasingly apostate body – did any of their members in Edinburgh Presbytery raise an objection concerning Mr MacLeod’s theology or ethics, or did they simply keep silent because they are “ in it to win it” without the danger of confrontation.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

No Surprise Here

From the Independent today:      

Two per cent of Anglican priests don't believe in God

“As a prerequisite for the job of being a Church of England priest, it would seem not unreasonable to expect a belief in God to be fairly essential.
But this is not the case, according to a poll of Anglican clergy which found that as many as 16 per cent are unclear about God and two per cent think it is no more than a human construct.

It is 30 years since David Jenkins, then the Bishop of Durham, caused controversy by casting doubt on the resurrection, but it appears that such unorthodox views are widespread amongst Britain’s priests.

In addition to those who describe God as a human creation, the YouGov poll found that three per cent believe there is some sort of spirit or life force and 9 per cent argue it is impossible to imagine what God is like.

Clergy were significantly more likely to hold unorthodox beliefs the older they were and the longer they had been in the ministry. Nearly 90 per cent of those ordained since 2011 believe in God compared with only 72 per cent of those who became priests in the 1960s, the research discovered.

The General Synod, the Church’s parliament, rejected moves to introduce “heresy trials” to take action against clergy over “doctrinal, ritual and ceremonial” matters, leaving clergy and bishops relatively free to deviate from doctrine without punishment.”  

Some, of course, see the glass as half full – one Anglican website commenting on the survey proudly announces “Anglican clergy are united by their strong belief in a “personal God” (83%) rather than in more impersonal understandings of God – like “spirit or life force.”.  Strong belief?

So, if you attend a random Anglican church on any given Sunday rejoice in the fact that there is an 83% chance that the pastor might believe in God.  

Not that atheism has been a barrier to progress and promotion in the Anglican or Scottish Episcopalian Church.  Richard Holloway rose to become a bishop and primus in the Scottish Episcopal Church, despite having jettisoned belief in a personal God in the early years of his “ministry”.  Read the fascinating interview with Holloway in the Scotsman.

The survey actually showed a higher level of atheism in Scottish Episcopalian clergy, at 3%.  Presbyterians were not surveyed, but canny Scottish liberals have a way of not saying what they don’t want people to know. Personally, I am suspicious that a number of Kirk ministers are already fuzzy on this issue and could not honestly and unequivocally affirm belief in a personal God.

Maintaining Unity

Our Kirk Session had a difficult decision to make recently. We have four elders and we had in effect three different views on the issue, each conscientiously held on biblical principles.

Our discussion was eirenic, harmonious, and open. We looked at pros and cons, and considered safeguards and protections. How could we biblically accommodate our different views in a manner that would preserve the peace and harmony of the congregation?

It so happens that in the providence of God I had been looking at Ephesians 4:1-3 and also listening to some excellent sermons on this portion of Scripture.  As Paul moves from exposition of doctrine to exhortation regarding behaviour what is his first focus?  

His priority is the unity of the local church! He is writing to a single church in Ephesus and his concern is not merely unity within the wider church, (“denomination” or “presbytery” in today’s terms), but the need for this specific church at this particular time to experience and express true unity.

We can be sure that if this is a primary focus in apostolic instruction, it is equally a primary focus in satanic opposition.  A disunited local church is an ineffective local church. The devil delights in disunity in the church and he will do all he can to foment such disunity whenever he can, over whatever he can and through whomever he can use.  The issues may be as trivial as the colour scheme to be used in redecoration, or as vital as fundamental matters of doctrine or morality.

What does Ephesians 4:1-3 say to this situation?

It speaks of the priority of unity in the local church.

It speaks of the nature of unity in the local church – unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, a Spirit wrought unity in a prevailing atmosphere of peace.

It speaks of the practical basis of unity in the conversion, (“calling”) and the consecration, (“walking worthy of the Lord”), of individual members of the church.

It speaks of the maintenance and development of this unity through the development of three traits of character, (meekness, gentleness, patience), and two tests of conduct, (forbearance with those from whom we differ, and the eager preservation of the Spirit wrought unity that already exists.)

Nothing could be more practical than the advice that Paul gives.  The preservation of unity in the local church begins with a Christ like attitude, sacrificial conduct, and a commitment to work strenuously to preserve what the Spirit has already established.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Monday, 27 October 2014

Multi Faith Infiltration

Looking for material that might be useful for our high school’s Remembrance Day event, I happened to chance upon materials published by the Church of Scotland’s Mission and Discipleship Council, designed originally for events remembering the start of World War One in August 1914. 

It makes interesting reading.  What resources does the national church believe would be useful in a Christian service?  There are the usual Bible readings, poems, prayers and sermon outlines. However, in addition there is an eclectic collection of inter-faith materials which the Council believe ministers may wish to read during the vigil.

They contain such beauties as:
“Viswa Kalyaana mantra (A mantra for the good of the entire universe)
Asato maa sad gamaya
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya
Mrutyor maa amrutam gamaya
Om shantih shantih shantihi

May we go from the unreal to the Real; from darkness (of ignorance) to the Light (of knowledge); from Death (the sense of limitation) to Immortality (limitlessness, liberation). Om
Peace, Peace, Peace!”

Not to be outdone, in addition to the four pantheistic mantras, Sikhism  is also represented by a speech for the 11th November containing these words of affirmation:

“The Sikh faith is a distinct religion revealed through the teachings of the ten Gurus, the first of whom was Guru Nanak Dev Ji. He was born in 1469 CE in the Punjab, India. Guru in the Sikh faith means a Prophet a special messenger sent by God to help humanity. One who takes mortals from darkness to the Divine light.

The Gurus were the Divine Light who conveyed Gurbani (Word of God) and were all spiritually one. The tenth and the last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, in 1708 vested spiritual authority in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (the Holy Sikh Scriptures) and temporal authority in the Khalsa Panth (the community of baptised Sikhs)”

Good to know that the Guru can take us from Darkness to Divine Light and that the Word of God has been so effectively conveyed through the ten Sikh Gurus – I mistakenly thought that it was the Lord Jesus Christ who was the Light of the World, the only Mediator between God and man and the Word incarnate.

But we mustn’t forget our Muslim friends, for the following prayer is provided for use in the service:

‘O Allah, to You belongs all praise
You are the Light of the heavens and Earth and all that is within them.
To You belongs all praise,
You are the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and Earth and all that is within them.
To You belongs all praise.
You are Lord of the heavens and the Earth and all that is within them.
To You belongs all praise
You are The Truth, Your promise is true, your Word is true, and the Day on which we will encounter You is true,
The Messenger and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer…”

The “Messenger” of course is a reference to Mohammed and what has been bestowed upon him is a reference to the Quran (Koran).

Indeed, things become even more curious when a Nepalese mantra is included in Devanagari script with transliteration but no translation!

However, just to protect their backs the document ends with the disclaimer, “The views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.”

I must have missed the chorus of complaints from the in-it-to-win-it evangelicals remaining within the denomination.  I know of no official protest from any Church of Scotland minister, Kirk Session, or Presbytery that their church is producing such multi-faith materials or that evangelical givings are being used to subsidise sub-evangelical propaganda. Perhaps their philosophy is that to “win it” it is best to keep silent when biblical truth regarding the exclusivity of Christ and salvation in him alone is undermined.

Monday, 6 October 2014

500th Anniversary of John Knox

My former denomination, the OPC, has a double celebration of the 500 year anniversary of the birth of the Scottish reformer, John Knox. Both the denominational magazine, New Horizons, and the ministerial magazine, Ordained Servant, have special issues focussing on Knox.   (Find both at  ) Of particular interest are the articles “John Knox and Public Prayer” by Glen J. Clary and “John Knox and the Reformation of Worship” by Gregory E. Reynolds.  Sadly, the liturgical riches of Knox and the Scottish Reformation have been all but lost among evangelical Presbyterians in Scotland.
The Death of Knox, from Thomas McRie’s “Life of John Knox”
Monday, the 24th of November, was the last day that he spent on earth. That morning he could not be persuaded to lie in bed, but, though unable to stand alone, rose between nine and ten o'clock, and put on his stockings and doublet. Being conducted to a chair, he sat about half an hour, and then was put to bed again. In the progress of the day, it appeared evident that his end drew near. Besides his wife and Bannatyne, Campbell of Kinyeancleuch, Johnston of Elphingston, and Dr. Preston, three of his most intimate acquaintance, sat by turns at his bedside. Kinyeancleuch asked him if he had any pain. "It is no painful pain, but such a pain as shall soon, I trust, put end to the battle. I must leave the care of my wife and children to you," continued he, "to whom you must be a husband in my room." About three o'clock in the afternoon, one of his eyes failed, and his speech was considerably affected. He desired his wife to read the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. “Is not that a comfortable chapter ?" said he, when it was finished. "What sweet and salutary consolation the Lord has afforded me from that chapter !" A little after he said, "Now, for the last time, I commend my soul, spirit, and body (touching three of his fingers), into thy hand, Lord." About five o'clock, he said to his wife, " Go, read where I cast my first anchor ;" upon which she read the seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel, and afterwards a part of Calvin's sermons on the Ephesians.
After this he appeared to fall into a slumber, interrupted by heavy moans, during which the attendants looked every moment for his dissolution. But at length he awaked, as if from sleep, and being asked the cause of his sighing so deeply, replied, — "I have formerly, during my frail life, sustained many contests, and many assaults of Satan ; but at present he hath assailed me most fearfully, and put forth all his strength to devour, and make an end of me at once. Often before has he placed my sins before my eyes, often tempted me to despair, often endeavoured to ensnare me by the allurements of the world ; but these weapons were broken by the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and the enemy failed. Now he has attacked me in another way : the cunning serpent has laboured to persuade me that I have merited heaven and eternal blessedness by the faithful discharge of my ministry. But blessed be God, who has enabled me to beat down and quench this fiery dart, by suggesting to me such passages of Scripture as these: — “What hast thou that thou hast not received ? — By the grace of God I am what I am : — Not I, but the grace of God in me.' Upon this, as one vanquished, he left me. Wherefore I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ, who has been pleased to give me the victory; and I am persuaded that the tempter shall not again attack me, but, within a short time, I shall, without any great pain of body or anguish of mind, exchange this mortal and miserable life for a blessed immortality through Jesus Christ."

He then lay quiet for some hours, except that now and then he desired them to wet his mouth with a little weak ale. At ten o'clock, they read the evening prayer, which they had delayed beyond the usual lour, from an apprehension that he was asleep. After this exercise was concluded, Dr. Preston asked him if he had heard the prayers. "Would to God," said he, "that you and all men had heard them as I have heard them; I praise God for that heavenly sound." The doctor rose up, and Kinyeancleugh sat down before his bed. About eleven o'clock, he gave a deep sigh, and said, "Now it is come." Bannatyne immediately drew near, and desired him to think upon those comfortable promises of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which he had so often declared to others ; and, perceiving that he was speechless, requested him to give them a sign that he heard them, and died in peace. Upon this he lifted up one of his hands, and, sighing twice, expired without a struggle.”
Would that Scotland were again blessed with men of Knox's faith.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Just Dipping

Just as it is nice occasionally to substitute a bowl of tortilla chips and some salsa for a regular and heavy meal, so there are occasions for dipping into the best of the thoughts of spiritual writers from the past.

I have been enjoying “Puritan gems; or, Wise and holy sayings of ... Thomas Watson”  , a collection of some of the best and pithy statements from that prince among the puritans.  The work is arranged by topics, starting with Affliction and Assurance, and ending with Truth and World, and on each topic there are a number of gathered gems from Watson’s works.

Watson was one of those ministers deprived of their office in the Great Ejection of 1662 when some 2500 evangelical pastors were ejected from the Church of England.  The denomination was hell-bent on imposing unbiblical practices upon its clergymen, but Watson like others refused to compromise their conscience for the sake of comfort.

His final sermon to his people, which is a challenge to our own age, contains these moving words:

The hour is come wherein the sun is setting upon many of the godly pastors. The shadows of the evening are stretched forth upon us; our day draws to a close, and our work seems to be at an end. Our pulpits and places must know us no more. This is the Lord's doing; let all the earth keep silence before Him.

It is not a light thing for me, brethren, to be laid aside from the work, and cast out of the vineyard of the Lord; and it must be something of weight that must support under so severe a doom. I know there are many who will add to the affliction of the afflicted, by saying that it is our own fault; "They might have prevented it—if they had wanted to." Whether this is so or not, God knows, and let the Lord be judge. Blessed be God, that this is not laid to our charge as the reason of our expulsion, either deficiency or scandal!

You are not ignorant what things there are imposed on us as the condition of our continuing our ministry; which, however lawful and expedient they seem in the judgment of many—yet have the most specious arguments that plead for them. They have left me utterly dissatisfied in my conscience about them. I must profess before God, angels, and men, that my non-submission is not from any disloyalty to authority, nor from pride, or any factious disposition or design—but because I dare not contradict my conscience nor do anything concerning which my heart tells me, "The Lord says—Do it not."

After all my most impartial inquiries, after all my seeking counsel from the Lord, after all my considering and consulting with men of all persuasions about these matters—I find myself so far short of satisfaction, that I am plainly put to this choice—to part with my ministry—or my conscience. I must choose that my ministry be sealed up by my sufferings, than lengthened out by a lie. 

But however, though I must now no longer act as a minister, I shall, through the grace of God, endeavour peaceably and patiently to suffer as a Christian. I should, to testify my obedience to authority, have become all things to all men to the uttermost that I could, with any clearness of heart; but, since matters stand so, I must lose my place or my peace. I cheerfully allow myself to be thrust off the stage.

And now, welcome the cross of Christ; welcome reproach; welcome poverty, scorn and contempt, or whatever else may befall me on this account! This morning I had a flock—and you had a pastor; but now, behold a pastor without a flock—and a flock without a shepherd! This morning I had a house—but now I have none! This morning I had a living—but now I have none! "The Lord has given, and the Lord has taken away! Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Beloved, I am sensible of many weaknesses and disadvantages I am under which may render a suffering state the harder to be borne. Help me by your prayers, and not me only—but all my brethren also with whom my lot must fall. "Pray for us, for we trust that we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly." 


1. That God would make our silence speak, and preach the same holy doctrine that we have preached with our lips.

2. That He would give supports answerable to our sufferings; that  He who comforts those who are cast down, will also comfort His servants who are cast out.

3. That, according to our earnest expectation and our hope, as always, Christ may be magnified in us, whether it be by life or by death.

And thus, brethren, I bid you all farewell. In the words of the Apostle, 2 Corinthians 13:11, "Finally, brethren, farewell. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you."

Monday, 22 September 2014

A Good Week to Bury Bad News

Now that the excitement of the Independence Referendum is over and we can get back to normal, I can reveal that the first of the Church of Scotland presbyteries have started to vote on the issue of the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

Most would not think of Argyll Presbytery  as a hotbed of liberal activism. Its website describes its geographical areas thus, “Its bounds more or less coincide with the former County of Argyll plus the island of Bute plus a small area of Perthshire and Stirlingshire round Crianlarich. The principal centres of population are Oban, Dunoon, Campbeltown and Rothesay.”  Oban is not exactly a metropolis having a population of around 8500 and around 10% are either Gaelic speaking or having at least some ability in the language.  There are around 60 congregations in the presbytery.

We might imagine that a rural, West-coast, Gaelic influenced area would be socially, if not theologically, conservative.  Far from it.  Some 67% of the presbyterers in the Presbytery of Argyll voted in favour of active homosexuals in office!

I know that the media have been more concerned with our other vote, (on Scottish independence), but it is interesting that the presbytery vote has not featured in the local or national press, on the presbytery website nor on the denominational website.  You might imagine that they wanted to keep it quiet for some reason.

The staying-in-at-all-costs evangelicals tell us they are fighting this issue, but even their website, Forward Together, carries no news of this vote.  I rather suspect that the hope is that members will settle into an acceptance of this moral apostasy and neither rock the boat nor leave for a biblical and evangelical presbyterian denomination.

To bring this post back to where I started, I found it ironic that one T.V. interview before the Referendum featured a divided family, a father and his sixteen year old daughter who would be voting on different sides. They were at a polling station housed in St Catherine’s Argyll Church, Edinburgh.  The video was recorded in front of the church noticeboard.  The name of the minister, of course, was blacked out on the noticeboard.  Horatius Bonar was their first minister; their last was Robin Sydserff who, with the support of the Kirk Session, has led the majority of the congregation out of the Church of Scotland over the continuing doctrinal and moral apostasy of the denomination..  They now worship as Chalmers Church, (  ).

I imagine that if the Presbytery of Argyll vote is an indicator of how the presbyteries will vote there will be other congregations following the example of St Catherine’s Argyll.