Friday, 25 April 2014

Pastoral Theology

R J George’s “Pastoral Theology”, (3 volumes), which I have recommended in a previous post, is a distillation of biblical teaching and sanctified common sense.  Even allowing for the differences of age and culture this work still speaks today.  It is easy reading; not a heavy series of annotated lectures but more a series of fire-side chats.  Light reading but surprisingly challenging.

You can access the three volumes through:

Here is part of one of his two lectures on the Prayer Meeting

We are now ready to turn our attention to the activities of the congregation, or The Pastor and People at Work. In placing the prayer-meeting first among the activities of church-life, I follow the example of most writers on Pastoral Theology. Dr. Wilcox says: "Some writer has said to the young pastor: 'Give one-third of yourself to your pulpit, one-third to your pastoral calls, and one-third to the prayer-meeting.' "And he adds, "This estimate of the importance of the prayer-meeting is hardly exaggerate."

Dr. Cuyler in How to Be a Pastor, says: "The prayer-meeting may fairly claim to be regarded as second only to the pulpit in the spiritual life of the Christian Church. Some would give it the first place, for, while many churches have managed to keep alive without a pastor, none are likely to preserve their vitality and vigour without a regular gathering of the flock for public devotion."

Murphy says: "The piety and usefulness of the Church are most intimately connected with its prayer-meetings. Whether as cause or effect, it is found that the degree of the one is always in proportion to the interest manifested in the other. It will therefore be seen at once that this is a subject that claims the most careful attention of the pastor. It is one which he must not only study, but carry out into practice from the first to the last day of his ministry. Everything demands of him that it should be made most prominent, in both thought and practice."

These are very strong testimonies. I think the writers describe the prayer-meeting, not as it is, but as it ought to be — the ideal prayer-meeting. Let it be your purpose to make the ideal prayer-meeting the real one in the congregation of which you are to be pastor, and then the best that has been said of the prayer-meeting will be true of yours. There is a fine field for progress in this department of our church life.

Let us consider:

Wherein Lies the Importance of the Prayer-Meeting.

I.      It measures the spiritual life of the Church.
The prayer-meeting is the spiritual thermometer. The rise and fall of interest in the prayer-meeting marks the change of heat or coldness in the church. You may be at a loss to determine which is cause and which is effect; i.e., whether the cold prayer- meeting makes a cold church, or a cold church makes a cold prayer-meeting; but we know that a cold prayer-meeting indicates a cold church. They are inter-operative.

Not only is this true of the congregation as a whole, but equally true of the individual members. Those members who habitually attend the prayer-meeting will have warmth and fervour; while those who habitually absent themselves fall into spiritual decline. And even the same individual will grow hot or cold according as he attends or neglects the prayer-meeting.
Murphy says: 'In a measure that can scarcely be mistaken, the attendance and interest in these meetings show whose hearts are alive to the things of Christ, and what is the extent of spirituality that pervades the body."
What could more clearly demonstrate the importance of the prayer-meeting than this fact?

2. It increases the spiritual life of the Church.
The prayer-meeting is not merely a thermometer, to measure the heat of the spiritual body; nor yet a pulsimeter, for indicating the frequency, force, and variations of the spiritual pulse. It also supplies spiritual strength and increases the vital forces of the spiritual nature. It comes midway between the Sabbaths to arrest the rushing tide of worldliness and to draw the Christian apart from the exacting cares of this earthly life; and it makes him "to sit in the heavenly places with Christ. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." (Isa. 40:31)

3. It utilises the spiritual life of the Church.
a. The members are called to exercise their gifts in the prayer-meeting itself.
In the public worship on the Sabbath, the services are wholly in the hands of the pastor; in the prayer-meeting they should be as far as possible in the hands of the people. As the apostle says: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." (Heb. 10:25.)
b. The spiritual power generated in the prayer-meeting pervades all the other activities of the Church.
It has been well said that, "when the hearts of Christians are in it, and the life and unction of the Holy Spirit pervades it, it sends out its blessed influence to every part of the Church work." Through it the Lord's Day services are made more profitable, the Sabbath school is blessed, the effort to attract to the sanctuary is prospered, the family is happier, and the fruits of the Spirit are everywhere seen.

It is not enough to say that the prayer-meeting creates the power, and the other agencies utilize it.  The prayer-meeting is itself the connecting link between the Spirit's power and the human instrumentality. It is the band that unites the revolving shaft with the machine, and starts the click of cogs and the whir of wheels.

The importance of the prayer-meeting is seen in that it measures the spiritual life of the Church; still more, in that it increases it; and most of all that it utilizes it.

II   How to Secure Attendance at the Prayer-Meeting.

1. Arrange carefully as to the place of meeting.

a. If possible have all meet together.
It is always heartsome to have a good-sized meeting. It promotes a warmth, and sociability, and congregational spirit.

b. If necessary, district the congregation.
You must study the convenience of the people. They cannot be expected to come regularly from long distances. Even when the main body of the people meet at the church, it may be well to arrange cottage prayer-meetings in the outskirts, — both in city and in country congregations.

c. If there are several prayer-meetings, let them unite on special occasions.
For instance, this would be well once or twice during the week of prayer, and in the meetings preparatory to the communion.

2. Aim to have the place of meeting attractive:

a. Well-furnished.
b. Well-lighted.
c. Heated.
d. Ventilated.

Such provisions for the comfort of the worshipers are means of grace. People dislike to leave their comfortable homes and cushioned furniture and walk for miles to do penance sitting on a hard board, shivering with cold or stupefied and sickened with foul air.

Dr. Wilcox says: "Do your best to make it a cheerful, social room. Give it the air of a home-parlour. Have a carpet or drugget on the floor."
Especially, whatever else is lacking, let the room be amply lighted. A dingy place is enough to take the life out of any meeting that ever was gathered.

3. Reserve a time for the prayer-meeting, free from all other meetings.

It may be weekly, or semi-monthly, or monthly, according to circumstances: but let it have a stated time, and guard it from interference. This is of great importance in the cities. In and about Pittsburgh, it is well understood that Wednesday evening is prayer- meeting evening. Pastors should agree together that no meetings will be arranged which might draw away members from each other's prayer-meetings. Determinedly resist any interference with prayer-meeting night by any lecture course committee or by any proposed form of social entertainment. I sympathize far more than I once did with those pastors who refuse to dismiss the prayer-meeting for the sake of reform lectures or union services. These do not fill the place of the prayer-meeting, and, ordinarily, they should not ask to take its place. The modern device of arranging weddings for prayer-meeting evening is not from above. My advice is: Exalt the importance of the prayer-meeting in the minds of your people by refusing to yield its place to any ordinary occurrence.

4. Give frequent and kindly invitation to attend the prayer-meeting.

Do not scold. It does no good. Invite and persuade. Let your invitations be marked by serious- ness and solicitude. "Come early and get a back seat" is a modern pulpit witticism which is in very bad taste. It vitiates the appeal to the conscience by trifling with sacred things. It is not the speech of moral earnestness.

5. Refer occasionally in your discourses to the good things offered and enjoyed at prayer-meeting.

This doubles the appreciation of those who have enjoyed the good things; and it may awaken a sense of loss in the minds of the absentees. You need not always tell what the good things were. "The secret of the Lord is with the righteous."

6. Make the meetings interesting.

After all is said, this is the only way to have a good attendance. A few saintly souls will, from a sense of duty or by sheer force of habit, meet from week to week, and "go through" as they used to say in the good, old-time "Society"; but the ordinary modern Christian will not do that. The prayer-meeting cannot live on its good name. It must have worth.

On one occasion, in our Synod, a minister gave a very lengthy and pithless address on how to get the masses to attend church. When, at last, he gradually settled into his seat, another brother sprang up, and, in a quick, alert tone, said: "There are just three things to be done to bring the masses to church:

(1) Invite them to come;
(2) Welcome them when they do come;
(3) Give them something for coming," and down he sat.

It was as if someone had opened a door and let in a blast. It is a good rule for securing attendance at prayer-meeting.

7. Encourage sociability at the close of the meeting.

A general handshaking, with especial attention to strangers, is a good thing. Yet a word of caution may be necessary just at this point. If a meeting has been peculiarly solemn and impressive, it is proper for the pastor to ask the people not to dissipate its good impressions by frivolous conversation, but to cherish them by speaking to each other of spiritual things.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

A Catechism on the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1849)  Continued...

NOTE: I have changed the Bible quotations to ESV throughout and noted where this differs substantially from the KJV. I have also adopted British spelling rather than the American English of the original.


Question 1. Is not the Presbyterian Church properly denominated Protestant ?

Answer. It is. Because, in common with other Reformed Churches, it professes to adhere to the solemn protest which was taken by the Reformers of the sixteenth century,  against the errors and corruptions of the Church of Rome.

Q. 2. What are some of those errors in that Church, against which the Reformed Churches protest?

A. They protest, among many other things

·        Against the doctrine of the Pope's supremacy.  Matt. 23:8, 11; Eph. 2:19, 20.

·       Against the doctrine of the infallibility of the Church. Acts 17:11. 2 Cor. 1:24.

·        Against the doctrine of transubstantiation,  and the sacrifice of the mass. Acts 3:20, 21, Heb. 9:24-2; 10:12-14.

·        Against the doctrine that the good works of the saints are meritorious in the sight of God. Isa. 64:6; Eph. 2: 8, 9; Rom. 11:6.

·        Against the doctrine of purgatory and that prayers ought to be offered for the dead. Luke 16:22, 23; 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 14: 13

·        Against the doctrine that saints, images, and relics, ought to be worshipped.  Exod. 20:4, 5; Rev. 19:10; 22:8, 9.

·        Against the doctrine, that the Scriptures ought not to be read by the laity.  Deut. 6:6, 7; Matt. 22: 29; John 5:39.

·        Against the doctrine, that celibacy and abstinence from certain kinds of meat, are connected with exalted piety, and superior sanctity of character. Lev. 21:10, 13; 1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Tim. 4:3, 3:2; 1 Cor. 8: 8.

The Presbyterian Reformed Churches bear their testimony against these and many other errors of the Church of Rome, as being anti-Christian and destructive to the souls of men.

Q. 3. In what light do Presbyterians view Protestant Established Churches, such as those of England and Ireland?

A. They regard them as Churches of Christ; but, at the same time, so unscriptural in their constitution and administration, as to oblige them to maintain a separate communion.

Q. 4. What is there in the constitution and administration of these Churches, to which Presbyterians object?

A. 1. They object to the power and authority, in spiritual matters, which these churches declare to be vested in the supreme magistrate, ( King or Queen), whether male or female: "That the king hath full power and authority to hear and determine all manner of causes ecclesiastical, and reform and correct all vice, sins, errors, heresies, whatsoever."

2. They object to these Churches, that, according to their constitution, the Parliament of the nation, consisting of Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Independents, Quakers, Papists, and Infidels, have the power of determining how many prelates, and pastors, they shall have.

3. They object that in consequence of this control and authority which these Churches concede to the civil government in religious things, they are rendered incapable of reforming, purifying, or extending themselves, or correcting any errors or abuses in their system.

4. Holding, as Presbyterians do, that Christ has ordained in his word, all the institutions which his infinite wisdom judged necessary for the edification of his spiritual body, and has taught the best possible manner in which they are to be administered and observed, they object to the power claimed by these Churches to decree rites and ceremonies in the worship of God, and to alter the mode in which he has appointed his own institutions to be observed.  Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18

Q. 5. What objections have Presbyterians to the Episcopal Church in general?

A. They cannot assent to such ceremonies as the following, which this Church has decreed, and which have no warrant in Scripture:  

·        The numerous festivals appointed and observed by this Church,
·        Sponsors in baptism,
·        The practice of sponsors making vows in the name of the child, and of taking on them obligations which cannot in the nature of things be fulfilled, and which parents alone can fulfil,
·        Using the sign of the cross in baptism,
·        Confirmation by a prelate,
·        Bowing at the name Jesus,
·        Kneeling at the Lord's Supper,  
·        The private administration of the Lord's Supper,
·        Consecration of churches,  burying grounds, and the sacramental elements,
·        The superstitious use made of the bread and wine remaining after the communion,
·        And the absolution of the sick.
Matt.  15:9.

Q. 6. As some of these ceremonies appear unimportant in themselves, why is the observance of them a ground of serious objection ?

A. Because such observance encourages superstition and will-worship; is opposed to the sufficiency of the Scriptures, as the only rule of faith and practice; and upholds the unscriptural and pernicious principle, that men may innocently and profitably add to the institutions of Christ, and the terms of communion in his Church. Col. 2:20,23

Q. 7. Have Presbyterians any further objections to the Episcopal Church ?

A. Yes. They cannot approve of ' The Book of Common Prayer,' considering that the obligatory use of it tends to prevent the exercise of spiritual gifts, and induce formality and deadness in devotion ; and that, in its general form and construction, it is imperfect and erroneous, containing useless repetitions,  unsuitable petitions,  lessons from the Apocrypha, a confused and irregular arrangement of the prayers, and bears so general a resemblance to the mass-book, from which many of its prayers are taken.

They object to the exercise of Church government, and the power of ordination being vested exclusively in prelates. 1 Tim. 4:14.

They cannot admit the doctrine, distinctly taught in the Prayer Book, that by water baptism an infant is ' regenerated,' ' made a member of Christ,' and ' the child of God.'  Jas. 1 :15; 1 Pet. 1:23.

They lament the extreme laxity of these churches, in reference to discipline.

Q. 8. In what light do Presbyterians view those Churches called Independent, or Congregational?

A. They regard all of them who profess what are termed the doctrines of grace, as being also churches of Christ; but object to their peculiar constitution,  the principle of which is, that particular congregations are Churches independent of each other, and not subordinate to superior courts, and that all the members of the Church have authority to exercise government, and to vote in every case of discipline on which the Church is called to decide.

Q. 9. Why do they object to this system of Church government?

1.  It is inconsistent with the oneness of the Church, as founded on the oneness of her Divine Head, her faith, her baptism, and the whole system of her laws and ordinances, and with the description given of her in Scripture, by allusion to the human body, 1 Cor.
12:12, 26, 27; to a kingdom, John 18:36 ; and to an army under one commander, Rev. 20:9.

2. It is opposed to the constitution of the primitive Church. (See chapter I, question 3, section 4.)

3. It confounds the distinction plainly expressed in Scripture, between the rulers of the Church, and those who are ruled. Heb. 13: 17, 24.

4. Because of the disadvantages to which it is liable.

4.1. From the undue control which people have it in their power to exercise over their pastor.  Should he, by faithfully preaching some truth disliked by them, or by reproving some sin to which they were addicted, give any offence, or should the people at any time take a fancy for another preacher, he is liable at once to be expelled from his oifice.

4.2. From the want of any court of review to which an individual might appeal, in case of being aggrieved in judgment, through prejudice or party feeling, or improper influence in the congregation of which he is pastor or member, Acts 15:2

4.3. From the inability of separate congregations to accomplish one of the most important purposes for which the Church has been established on earth, that is, to extend the kingdom of Christ. Independents, when making efforts to propagate the gospel, are obliged to act, not in the character of a Church, but as members of promiscuous societies.


Q. 10. What then are the general considerations which should attach Presbyterians with zealous affection to their own church?

A. Its Scripture character, its freedom from those many and weighty objections which lie against other systems, and the religious privileges and advantages which its members enjoy.

Q. 11. What are these privileges and advantages?

·        Having the right of choosing their own pastors and rulers, freedom from despotic power on the one hand, and anarchy on the other, in the government of their Church
·        The means and opportunities of bringing before the rulers of the church, for investigation and judgment, unfaithfulness in Ministers and Elders, offences of Church members, and errors in doctrine
·        The privilege and power of appeal from one Church
·        Court to another, when their rights as citizens of Zion are injured or assailed ;
·        And such an ecclesiastical constitution and arrangement of their church, that it contains within itself the capacity of reforming abuses and errors, and has the best machinery for extending the boundaries of the Redeemer's kingdom, and perfecting the body of Christ.

Q. 12. How should Presbyterians employ and improve these privileges?

A. They should use them thankfully and faithfully for their own edification, the bringing other churches to conformity to the laws of Christ's house, and for prosecuting Missionary labours in their own land, and throughout the world, until all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.


A Catechism on the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1849)  Continued...

NOTE: I have changed the Bible quotations to ESV throughout and noted where this differs substantially from the KJV. I have also adopted British spelling rather than the American English of the original.

This section covers the issue of State Endowment of the Church versus Voluntaryism.  At one time in Scotland this was a subject of intense debate, (see “The United Presbyterian Church; a Handbook of its History and Principles” (1888), chapter 10 “The Voluntary Controversy)  I have not had the opportunity to consult the earlier Irish and Scottish editions of this catechism and rather suspect that there might be some differences


Question 1. Is it the duty of Christians to contribute of their substance to the maintenance of religious ordinances ?

Answer. It is both their duty and their privilege.

“Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord's contribution: gold, silver, and bronze…” Ex. 35:5 

“Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.”  Gal.  6:6; see 1 Cor. 9:3-15

Q. 2. In what spirit is such contribution to be made ?

A. It is to be made freely, bountifully, thankfully, and devoutly.

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully1 will also reap bountifully.  Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Cor. 9:6,7

“I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Ps 116:17

Q. 3. In circumstances and places where the ordinances and ministry of the pure gospel are already sufficiently provided for, are Christians, for this reason, to withhold their contributions ?

A. No : they ought, in such case, to multiply them in behalf of the heathen and others who have not obtained the same advantage : and thus the gospel of Jesus Christ will be extended, till all nations shall serve him.

Q. 4. Ought rulers and nations, as such, to protect the people in the free and full exercise of their religious privileges ?

A. Yes: because rulers derive their authority from God, and therefore they are bound to use it for his glory : Prov. 8:15.

Nations, also, receive from him national blessings, and therefore they are bound to render unto him national service : Jer. 18:7, 10.

Q. 5. Have you any other reasons to adduce ?

A. Yes. Because the Lord Jesus Christ is, as Mediator, King of kings, and therefore these, officially as well as personally, are required to bow to his sceptre, and to maintain his cause. Rev. 19:16; Ps 2.

2. Because the end of civil government is, not only to repress what is evil, but to cherish what is good : Rom. 13:4.

3d. Because wherever the religion of Christ, especially in its pure Presbyterian form, has been so maintained, there society has been
more orderly, virtuous, and enlightened, than otherwise.

Q. 6. Is it proper or expedient for a government to endow and support any particular form of religion ?

A. No. Experience has demonstrated that such establishments are oppressive to conscience, partial, liable to great abuse, injurious to the spirituality of the Church, by making it a mere appendage to the state. 

Wednesday, 23 April 2014


In arguing for the practice of “framing the psalms”, giving a very brief explanation of what the psalm we are to sing means and how it touches on our Christian faith and practice, I had no realisation that, in some measure, this had been a traditional practice in Covenanter churches, where the first psalm sung in the service was accompanied by a short explanation.

This is discussed in an entire lecture in Volume 1 of ”Lectures in Pastoral Theology” by R J George (Professor of Theology and Church History in The Covenanter Seminary, Allegheny, 1892-1910”)  All three volumes are worth reading.

George writes:


The explanation of the Psalm to be sung at the  opening of the Sabbath morning service is a long established custom in the Covenanter Church. Formerly other Presbyterian churches had the same practice. Now it is scarcely known except in the two Covenanter bodies.

In regard to this service let us observe —

1. The Importance of the Explanation of the Psalm.

1.1  It is essential to the intelligent use of the Psalms.

The Psalms need to be expounded. They cannot be seen in all their beauty, or felt in the fullness of their power without explanation. While their truths are adapted to all times, many of them are set forth in the imagery and phraseology of a former dispensation —which need to be unfolded to reveal their spiritual import.

Not only do they need to be explained, but they will bear explanation. In this they differ from hymns of human production. Dr. James Kennedy was accustomed to tell of an old Scotch minister who in his native land was used to explaining the Psalm. Removing to this country and finding the hymns in use, he undertook to explain a hymn. After several unsatisfactory efforts to expand the thought he closed the service in disgust, saying: "Brethren, I can take naething oot o' that, for there's naething- in it." But the Psalms of the Bible are wells of salvation out of which we may draw water with joy, and the well is deep.

1.2. The explanation of the Psalm is a beautiful and appropriate introduction to the services.

The Book of Psalms is the devotional book of the Bible. It is eminently fitting that assembled worshipers should turn at once to a lesson from the Divine Word. And what could be more reasonable or natural than to find that morning lesson in the devotional book. And this is what many do, even of those who do not employ the Psalms for praise. A Presbyterian minister recently said to me: 'T always take my morning lesson from the Psalms." This is very suggestive.

Young gentlemen : Instead of regarding the practice of Explaining the Psalm as an old-fashioned, antiquated custom to be borne with only until it can be gotten rid of, we should recognize in it a beautiful and helpful service which places our church in the foremost rank of those who are striving to restore the word of God to its true and commanding position in the services of His house, and which should inspire us with a purpose to advance this part of our public worship to the highest possible perfection.

1.3. It is, in itself, a delightful service.

1.3.1.    It must be so from the character of the Book of Psalms.

I will quote one or two testimonies on this point.
Athanasius writes: —
"They appear to me a mirror of the soul of every one who sings them. They enable him to perceive his own emotions, and to express them in the words of the Psalms. He who hears them read receives them as if they were spoken to him. We cannot conceive of anything richer than the Book of Psalms. If you need penitence ; if anguish or temptation have befallen you ; if you have escaped persecution or oppression, or are immersed in deep affliction; concerning each and all you may find instruction and state it to God in the words of the Psalter."

Ambrose says: ''The law instructs, history informs, prophecy predicts, correction censures, and morals exhort. But in the Book of Psalms you find the fruit of all these as well as a remedy for the salvation of the soul. The Psalter deserves to be called the praise of God, the glory of man, the voice of the church, and the most beneficial confession of faith.
In the Psalms delight and instruction vie with one another. We read for instruction and sing for enjoyment."

Many such eulogies have been pronounced upon this book by the most eminent and saintly men of all ages.  It cannot be otherwise than a delightful service that brings forth the rich treasures of this book for the devotional exercises of God's people on the Sabbath morning.

1.3.2. This is the testimony of our people.

The most spiritual members of a congregation will often say that the explanation of the Psalm is to them the most uplifting service of the day. So unanimous is the testimony of good people to the delight they have found in the service that when it is otherwise there must be a fault either in the manner of explanation, or in the complaining hearer.

1.3.3. This is the testimony of outsiders.

By these I mean attendants from sister churches which do not use or do not explain the Psalms. They frequently speak of this as a unique, striking, profitable, and even beautiful service.

Young gentlemen: Let me urge you to exalt in your minds the claims of this service and to devote to it your best gifts — let the entrance to the temple of worship be by the "Gate that is called Beautiful," so that on the very threshold, the worshipers will be reminded that it is God's house, and that God Himself is within.”

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Topics in the Psalms

For those of us who are committed to either inclusive or exclusive psalmody, at times we keenly feel the lack of a decent topical index of the psalms.  When preaching on particular themes or topics it would be useful to have a fuller index than is provided in most psalters.

One little known but invaluable resource is “Topics in the Psalms” by Howard Osgood.  Osgood was a much respected, but now almost forgotten Baptist pastor and Old Testament scholar.  He served as professor of Hebrew in Crozer Theological Seminary, 1868-74; and in Rochester Theological Seminary, 1875-1900.

This little work was privately published for the use of his own students.  It is an excellent resource that has immense practical use. As far as I know it was never widely distributed or ever republished.

The image PDF file available at the Internet Archive is searchable. The text file requires a little cleaning up as the OCR software is not perfect.  If I ever get around to doing this I will make the doc file available.


Two sets of reading came together today.  Firstly I was skimming the reports to this year’s General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the mixed mainline denomination that is in the midst of theological and moral confusion.  A new terminology was being introduced, that of “constrained diversity”, meaning that within the new “mixed economy” of theological confusion the office-bearers and members will be forced to get along with their differences:

The 2013 General Assembly expressed its wish to move to a version of the ‘mixed economy’ model which, while maintaining the traditional position on marriage and sexuality, was willing to accommodate a constrained diversity on the appointment of gay ministers in a civil partnership.” (2.7.1)

Basically this means, “We will say one thing on sexual ethics and marriage but you are free to do otherwise if you wish to do so, but we will all agree to get along together, willingly or otherwise.”

It is interesting that under the proposed legislation going down to presbyteries congregations will be able to opt for practicing homosexuals, and individual presbyters, while not being forced to participate in such ordinations, will have no right to bring discipline charges against such individuals.  Indeed, if a presbytery cannot find enough members to form a quorum to conduct such ordinations, neighbouring presbyteries can provide the necessary numbers.

So what will professed evangelicals do in such cases?  Will they register their dissent?  Will they protest?  Or will they quietly acquiesce because they will have no legal basis for such dissent and protest, and simply give de facto recognition to such individuals.  Will they accept “constrained diversity”?

What would the Apostle Paul do in such a situation?  It is tragic that when writing to the Galatians he was so ill informed that he did not recognise the legitimacy of “constrained diversity” and chose rather a confrontational model when dealing with the Judaisers…

This brings me to my other reading, John Brown’s timeless commentary on Galatians.  Commenting on Galatians 1:8,9 (“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed”),  this is what Brown says:

“But what are we to understand by those words of the apostle in reference to the preacher of another gospel, "Let him be accursed."

Some consider them as a denunciation of vengeance on the corrupters of the Gospel of Christ. I have no doubt that corrupters of the gospel of Christ, and especially such corrupters as the apostle speaks of, are in extreme danger of aggravated condemnation— of deepest perdition ; and this seems implied in the words ; but I apprehend that the apostle's object is to point out the manner in which the Galatian Christians ought to consider and treat such persons They ought not to receive them. They ought not to listen to their doctrines, nor to follow their advice.They ought to consider them as a devoted thing. They should treat them in the way in which the Israelites were to treat the accursed or devoted thing. 

I apprehend it is nearly equivalent to the injunction of the apostle John, — " If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." " I have never conceived," says a very acute expositor of Scripture, " the words,  “let him be accursed,” as denoting a prayer that the curse of God should ultimately fall upon him (though we must be sure that it shall, if he obtain not repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth), but as a direction that he should be regarded as an accursed thing — as one (however specious and esteemed) upon whom the wrath of God lies. He that will not heartily join with the apostle in the solemn words, must be animated by some spirit very different from that of the truth."

How those Christians, who receive as ministers men whom they are ready enough to say preach another gospel, satisfy their own consciences, I cannot tell. To acknowledge such men as ministers, and receive Christian ordinances at their hand, is certainly not to treat them as a devoted thing. We should be very cautious how we charge men with preaching another gospel ; but whenever we are conscientiously persuaded that they do so, the line of conduct to be followed by us is very plain.

We must not acknowledge them as teachers; we must not listen to their instructions. They must be to us "anathema." I wonder what amount of worldly good could have induced the Apostle Paul to have acknowledged such men as ministers, and to have treated them as brethren. Never was there a man more disposed to bear with weak brethren; but never was there a man more determined to oppose, and to expose, false brethren; and I believe it will be always found that, when the love of the truth renders men kind and forbearing to others who really love the truth, it renders them just in the same degree intolerant (so far as church-fellowship is concerned) in reference to those who are the enemies of the truth.”

Somehow I do not think Paul would have accepted “constrained diversity” on either fundamental matters of doctrine or morality.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The New Evangelical Moderates

Listening in the car to a short story in Jeffery Deaver’s “More Twisted” entitled “Chapter and Verse” my wife and I burst into laughter as the fictional detective interviews a pastor and confesses that he himself was not a Bible thumper.  The pastor replies, “I’m Presbyterian – we don’t do thumping.”

So typical; Presbyterianism means staid and serious, not enthusiastic. 

Sadly this is often true.  Reviewing the history of the original secessions in Scotland in the early 1700s that led to the Relief Presbytery and the Associate Presbytery it is clear that the Moderates held the balance of power in the Church of Scotland.  What many do not realise is that not all the Moderates were deists or moralists.  Many were doctrinally orthodox and Calvinistic.  They were, however, wed to the State and unwilling to rock the boat, especially at the risk of their own status and stipend.  They were willing to compromise for the sake of peace.

There is a difference between compromise and accommodation.  On non-fundamental issues, issues that may belong to the bene esse rather than the esse of the church, (the wellbeing rather than the being), we ought to be willing to accommodate.  However, there are doctrinal and moral issues on which we cannot compromise.

Men who are formally orthodox in their theology, even Calvinistic, can be guilty both of failure to accommodate and willingness to compromise.  I could not imagine what the early forerunners of the Secession Church would think now of the State Church and the willingness of the new evangelical Moderates to continue in fellowship with a denomination that embraces and encourages homosexual behaviour in members and office-bearers.

This is in my thoughts as this week it is announced that the Moderator elect of the Church of Scotland, replacing a professed evangelical who had to step down for health reasons, is Rev John Chalmers a known supporter of the ordination of active homosexuals.

As quoted in the Guardian newspaper when the General Assembly voted to allow congregations to call ministers in homosexual relationships, Chalmers said the vote was historic: "This has been one way or another, a massive vote for the peace and unity of the church." He said both sides of the debate had moved to agree a compromise. The General Assembly had voted for the "mixed economy", he said, where congregations could decide to uphold traditional teachings to only employ heterosexual ministers but where others could take on gay and lesbian ministers.” (Guardian, 20 May 2013.)

The new evangelical Moderates say they will not leave the State church, but remain to fight.  This remains to be seen.  Like the evangelical Moderates of the 1700s the temptation will be to compromise for the sake of acceptance.  I cannot see them “doing thumping”; indeed their public silence on the issue has been deafening.

My prayer is that they, like the Fathers of the original Secession, will listen to the Scripture and permit it to inform their conscience.

In the interest of openness I must acknowledge that I served for 19 years in the Church of Scotland, before leaving over, among other issues, the toleration and promotion of homosexual conduct.  I must also say that the Free Church of Scotland, while by no means perfect, is a welcoming refuge for those who wish to follow conscience and stand on Scripture.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Why We Can't Pray 
Having some enforced leisure this week I have been listening to David T Gordon's lectures:  
Listening to the lecture on Why Johny Can't Pray was challenging.  In response I give this for our meditation:
Prayer at Lord’s Supper
Dutch Liturgy 1566  (Modernised)
O most merciful God and Father, we implore you, that you will be pleased in this Supper (in which we celebrate the glorious remembrance of the bitter death of your beloved Son Jesus Christ) to work in our hearts through the Holy Spirit
·        That we may daily more and more with true confidence, give ourselves up unto your Son Jesus Christ
·        That our afflicted and contrite hearts, through the power of the Holy Spirit, may be fed and comforted with his true body and blood; yes, with him, true God and man, that only heavenly bread;
·        That we may no longer live in our sins, but he in us, and we in him, and thus truly be made partakers of the new and everlasting covenant of grace.
·        That we may not doubt but you will forever be our gracious Father, nevermore imputing our sins unto us, and providing us with all things necessary, for both the body as the soul, as your beloved children and heirs;
Grant us also your grace, that we may take up our cross cheerfully, deny ourselves, confess our Saviour, and in all tribulations, with uplifted heads expect our Lord Jesus Christ from heaven, where he will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, and take us unto him in eternity.