Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Getting Off Our Hobby Horse

With the growing debate within Reformed circles about Antinomianism and Hyper-Grace teaching it would be useful to reflect on the dangers of our own personal hobbyhorses. A hobbyhorse is, of course, a favourite topic that we frequently refer to or dwell on - a fixation.  I do actually have a hobbyhorse at home; my two year old grandson loves it.

We are all in danger of riding our own hobbyhorses – a particular doctrine, practice, or teaching that becomes a major focus in our conversation, our writing and our teaching.  An older minister once explained to me that when a deviant teaching veers in one direction the orthodox response is not always vertical, but can tend to veer in the opposite direction.  To counteract error we sometimes overstate the contrary truth – it becomes our hobbyhorse.

Hobbyhorses need not be either false teaching or partial truths.  They can be completely orthodox teachings or practices. We can so focus on a particular legitimate aspect of biblical truth correctly stated such that it becomes disproportionate in the balance of our teaching.

Spurgeon once told the story of two members of different churches discussing the preaching of their respective pastors.  One complained that with his pastor it was always “ding, dong; ding, dong; ding; dong.”  “You are fortunate,” replied the other, “with our pastor it is just ding, ding, ding...”

How can we correct such imbalances, assuming that they are legitimate truths and not errors that we are vigorously propagating? 

It is more difficult to maintain a misbalanced emphasis if we are teaching consecutively through extended passages of Scripture.  It is, however, not a one hundred percent guarantee of proper balance because extreme hobbyhorse-ism sees all Scripture through the particular filter of the fixation.

Now, as a Scot the idea of free commentaries, such as we can access through Google Books or the Internet Archive, certainly appeals to me. But there are other reasons to read older commentaries alongside standard modern works.  They often have an applicatory emphasis touching on the theological issues of their time that strangely have a renewed relevance for today.  Yes, some older commentaries can also reflect hobbyhorse-ism, but “where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counsellors there is safety.”  (Prov 11:4)  Or, as the NLT puts it: “There is safety in having many advisers.”

As Presbyterians we are blessed with the Westminster Standards, (and other Reformed confessions).  The Standards contain a balanced presentation of truth, hammered out by the church through discussion and debate.  We should be extremely wary not only of departing from the teaching of our Standards, but also of losing the balance of teaching found in the Standards.

The one caveat here is that our failure to update our Standards means that many recent errors, (i.e. after 1647), are not specifically addressed in the Standards, such as the issue of same sex marriage, the charismatic movement, and women’s ordination.


History can teach us.!  Many current errors and mis-emphases are simply repetitions of past historical errors.  An awareness of past debates and their outcomes puts balance into our present day teaching.  The devil is the ultimate Green – he likes to recycle.  Old errors, mis-emphases and heresies are frequently recycled in modern garb.

Hobbyhorses are for children.  Is it time that we both recognised our own and dismounted?

Friday, 23 May 2014

Beating a Dead Horse

When I was training for the ministry, in the days before the Internet and MP3s, I enjoyed the benefits of the Trinity Tape Library and the excellent Preaching of Al Martin.  Each month I would borrow six tapes that I would listen to and take notes on.  I learned much from Dr Martin's preaching and teaching, but there was one throw-away statement that has always stuck in my memory.

Martin commented on the fact that he spent little time directly interacting with Liberalism, preferring instead to simply teach the Bible and not waste time trying to correct those who reject Scripture, for "there is no point in beating a dead horse."

This week has been a sad week in Scottish presbyterian history as the Church of Scotland has continued in its rejection of Scripture and willingness to embrace the gay agenda.

There is little point in trying to correct from Scripture those who do not bow to the authority of Scripture. I am increasingly coming to the opinion that there is also little point in trying to convince the pseudo-evangelicals who claim to recognise Scripture, but are also not willing to bow to its teaching.  They have firmly nailed their colours to the fence and on the fence they will sit.

There is, however, another body of true believers who are still in the established church and no longer know what to do.  For some their elders will give guidance and direction and it is inevitable that further congregations will leave the denomination.  Others, however, find themselves in a situation where their ministers and elders will give no firm biblical direction.  Indeed in some erstwhile evangelical congregations there will be a deafening silence on this issue or the claim that the situation can still be reversed at Presbytery level.  This is a forlorn hope.

Those believers are not a dead horse. They can still be appealed to and given biblical direction.  Many will leave, but they need to be told there is a biblical presbyterian alternative still available.

As an example of the kind of simple appeal that can be directed to them I give the text of a letter which I hope can be published in our local newspaper.  I deliberately avoid mention of the recognition of practicing homosexuals in office - instead I focus on the root problem of the ongoing rejection of Scripture:

"With this week's decision of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to continue its course of ongoing rejection of Scripture as the Word of God, I wish to remind readers of the fact that there is a biblical presbyterian alternative in the heart of our community. Bishopbriggs Free Church is a lively evangelical fellowship that has had a presence locally for over one hundred years. Its motto proclaims,  "Putting the Bible at the Heart of Life". This is seen in its worship, its preaching, and its interest in mission at home and abroad.

As a former minister who served for nineteen years in the Church of Scotland I can assure readers of a warmth of welcome in this growing church, and preaching from our current pastor that is biblically grounded, combining grace and truth with clear and uncompromised practical application."

Short, direct, and, I hope, irenic.  I encourage others to use the local press to give similar invitations. 

It is not all bad news.  The Free Church General Assembly was a model of positive biblical encouragement, celebrating the Gospel in all its fullness. Oh, and my daughter gave birth an hour ago to our fifth grandchild...  

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Kirk in Pre-emptive Strike Against Biblical Evangelicals

In what appears to be a carefully planned and co-ordinated attack on evangelical ministers the Church of Scotland has issued a call for discipline of those congregations and ministers who do not ordain women to eldership or support women in ministry:

The Kirk is urged to “crack down on sexist local church leaders”, and they themselves are urged to leave because their presence is a threat to peace and unity and they cannot be tolerated in a broad church.

Two former Moderators attacked the “antiquated gangsterism” and the “grumbling grunters” who stand in the way of progress and argue that discipline should be initiated against them.  Indeed, there should be a trawl for women who have suffered at their hands in order that discipline can begin.

The spin team of the Church of Scotland have made sure that this is headline news in the Scottish press, both in leaders and in news reporting. The timing is significant – two days before the debate on active homosexuals in office.

It will not escape notice that those who are most vocal in opposing the acceptance of practicing homosexuals in office and the proposed removal of such behaviour from the possibility of biblical discipline are also those who maintain a biblical position on women in office.  At one swoop their removal would remove a core of resistance to the gay agenda.  Of course not all who oppose active homosexuality are opposed to women in office, but by focusing on this issue the opposition to the normalization of active homosexuality can be spit and effectively picked of individually.

I wonder what those naive biblical evangelicals who have expressed a principled stand against both women in office and the acceptance of practicing homosexuals now feel?  Some of them assured us that the established church is really “the only game in town" ; now they are being told, “Get out of town!”

In a comment to the Scotsman’s article, “Sexists should quit Kirk, says Former Moderator”, I wrote, parodying the actual text of the article:

In a few years time the press report will read:
"MINISTERS and elders who still discriminate against practicing homosexuals should "get out" if they are not willing to adhere to Kirk law, a former Moderator has said.

In a strongly worded attack, the Very Rev I M Liberal branded those who refuse to accept practicing homosexual elders and ministers as "grumbling grunters".

This attack on evangelicals is a pre-emptive strike anticipating the debate on the acceptance of practicing homosexuals on Wednesday. Brand opponents as "grumbling grunters" and you can ignore their appeal to Scripture and the unbroken tradition of the historic church. In a few years time you can demand that they toe the line or leave!

Strangely, I actually agree with ex Moderator David Lacy. The original assurances given to evangelicals that they would never be forced to act against conscience were LIES. The same kind of false promises will be made again to those naive enough to believe that the Kirk, if it confirms its acceptance of active homosexuals in office, will allow them to opt out indefinitely from the Liberal agenda. Time to leave, or at the very least time to begin the preparations to leave. The writing is on the wall...

Friday, 16 May 2014

Moderator Gives a Word of Warning

The Moderator Designate of the Church of Scotland has spoken of the forthcoming GA, and the contentious issue of ministers in same sex partnerships and members or office-bearers actively engaged in homosexual activities:

“What chance, however, of the Church acting as a model of Respectful Dialogue in the nation if it cannot conduct its own internal affairs in the same way? So, when we approach the point of decision making on the question of the ordination of ministers in same-sex relationships I anticipate that, while there will be strong views expressed on both sides of this issue, the discussion will be on people’s understanding of the substantial matters of theology which are at stake and contributions to the debate will be gracious and respectful of the individuals who take part.

This is a matter which appears to be a simple choice between two opinions; however, it is more complex than that. Even those with settled views on this matter have to consider the impact that their view has on the peace and unity of the Church and they have to consider the range of views of more than 400,000 members who belong to the Church of Scotland. Even left to the heavy weight champion theologians this contest might be a split decision, so Respectful Dialogue is the best way to prepare for the Church’s continued life beyond such a momentous debate.

Where passions run high and people are heavily invested in their desired outcome they must be prepared to be benevolent in victory or magnanimous in defeat. Respectful Dialogue acknowledges that others may have a valid point of view and that our own point of view is never furthered by disparaging our rivals. When we stage our debates on such principles we are better prepared to live with one another whatever the outcomes.
Peace and unity within the Church, healing and reconciliation in the nation will be themes that I return to time and time again during this Moderatorial year.”

“Respectful dialogue” seems to be the watchword.  I am not in favour of being rude, aggressive or unnecessarily belligerent.  But this proposed “niceness” has hidden assumptions.

Firstly, it is suggested that this is a matter of great complexity, one that may be so complex that it has no easy solution.  Fermat’s Last Theorem is complex; it had no easy solution.  2 + 2 is simple and its solution is patently obvious.  Muddy the waters, suggest complexity, dismiss simple solutions – that is a rhetorical device to confuse the issue, not to reach a definite decision.  Would the Moderator suggest that “Do not commit adultery”, for example, is complex and does not admit of a simple understanding. If something is horribly complex then you need to defer to the experts; it is beyond the ordinary Christian reading his own Bible to come to a settled conclusion.

Secondly, almost in opposition to the first point, there are 400,000 (paper) members of the Kirk.  They represent a range of views whose opinions must be taken into consideration.  Elsewhere the Moderator claims that a third of the Scottish population identify with the Church of Scotland – why not defer to their opinion?

Thirdly “Peace and Unity” are overwhelmingly important.  The suggestion is that they trump Truth.  What is important is what makes for peace, not what is true.  Indeed, if Truth is always relative it must always defer to Peace and Unity.

Fourthly, this issue will be decided by theology, God-talk, and “people’s opinions”.  Given the suggested complexity of the issue it would be viewed as arrogance in the extreme to say that it is to be decided by the clear and unequivocal teaching of Scripture.  Everyone has a “valid point of view”.  Truth is relative.  It would be dismissed as arrogance in the extreme to suggest “You hold your point of view; I hold to God’s point of view as clearly taught in Scripture.”  Indeed, I notice that there is no reference whatsoever to Scripture and its controlling authority in anything the Moderator says.

Fifthly, when the remnant of Evangelicals loose, they must be “magnanimous in defeat”.  No protest, no decision to realign with a biblical denomination, no ongoing campaign after the sealing of this decision by presbyteries under the Barrier Act, no speaking to the Press and breaking the moratorium on public campaigning.  Lie down and accept defeat.  Of course the Kirk has shown an example of healing and reconciliation and magnanimity just before the start of Assembly by depriving two congregations in Edinburgh of their property because they dared to stand by Scripture and have departed from the denomination.

Liberals speak of peace and unity and toleration.  In truth they only tolerate lapdog evangelicals who buy into the idea that a broad church has room for all shades of opinion and practice.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Independence and the Monarchy

Currently the relationship between the monarchy and the church in Scotland is legally governed by Article XXV.IV of the Act of Union 1707.  

All new sovereigns are bound on accession to swear to uphold the Church of Scotland:

“.. . after the Decease of the Present Majesty ... the Sovereign succeeding to her in the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Great Britain shall in all time coming at His or Her Accession to the Crown swear and subscribe that they shall inviolably maintain and preserve the foresaid Settlement of the True Protestant Religion with the Government Worship Discipline Rights and Privileges of this Church as above established by the Laws of this Kingdom in Prosecution of the Claim of Right.”

This the only oath legally required of the Sovereign by the Act of Union. 

In a possible independent Scotland we would, presumably, still recognise the Monarchy. Would the new King or Queen still be required to take this or a similar oath, upholding the “true Protestant Religion”?  That is very questionable. The Act of Union, being no longer in effect, such an oath would not be required.

However, if the referendum rejects independence should the Monarch still be expected to take this vow?  The Act of Union still being in effect it would still be legally required.

It is a meaningless oath.  Can you take a oath which is beyond your power to accomplish; can you take a vow that is imposed by a legal requirement; is such a oath truly voluntary.

The Confession of Faith states regarding oaths and vows:

It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith, and conscience of duty.”  

I suppose it could be argued that the Monarch voluntarily chooses to take this oath – they are free not to do so, but then there would be a constitutional crisis. 

Equally the WCF says, 

No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God, or what would hinder any duty therein commanded, or which is not in his own power, and for the performance whereof he hath no promise of ability from God.”

So how does a constitutional Monarch have the power to “inviolably maintain and preserve the foresaid Settlement of the True Protestant Religion with the Government Worship Discipline Rights and Privileges of this Church”?  What would this Monarch have the power to do in regard to such issues? They cannot influence the G.A. because in Scotland the Monarch may be a “member” of the church but, unlike in England, they are not the “supreme governor” of the church.  They would be free to speak on such issues, but they have no power to enforce them.

Furthermore, such a vow would not only be meaningless, it might be hypocritical. If the new Monarch did not himself or herself believe the True Protestant Faith, if they were not genuinely committed to biblical Christianity and the Reformed Faith, then obliging them to take such a vow might be encouraging them to act dishonestly.

A constitutional Monarch has only paper powers – the real power in an independent Scotland would rest with the Scottish Parliament.   What guarantees would they give to uphold the True Protestant Faith?  None whatsoever!  There is no draft constitution,  although the SNP produced a model constitution in 2002 which declares that 

Every person has the right to freedom of thought and of conscience and to the free confession and the practice of religion.”

We will have moved from an Established Church recognised by the State to the vague promise of religious freedom, presumably as long as it does not conflict with other principles of equality that are anti-Christian in their consequences.

Personally, I find it difficult to get excited about this issue.  The current legal position is a meaningless sham where a Monarch vows to uphold that to which they themselves may have no personal commitment.  If that changes, so what?  The church does not grow because of royal support; it will not be hindered by the lack of royal support.

The Establishment Principle and Voluntaryism

 The Free Church of Scotland was initially quite vitriolic regarding Voluntaryism - using language that was extremely abrasive and for which some of the protaganists later publicly apologised.  However between 1843 and 1869 the language softened as the FCS engaged in discussions with the United Presbyterian Church.  One barrier to union was the issue of Establishment.  Should it be an issue that divided the two churches, or could there be an openess that permitted individuals to follow their conscience and understanding of Scripture on this issue? Although there were some extreme Voluntaryists in the UPC who not only rejected the duty of State financial support of the church but, contrary to the Westminster Confession, the general duty of the State to recognise and acknowledge the place of the Christian Faith in the life of the nation, the wider concensus in both churches was expressed in a statement summarising their agreement:

" That the Civil Magistrate ought himself to embrace and profess the religion of Christ : and though his office is civil, and not spiritual, yet, like other Christians in their places and relations, he ought, acting in his public capacity as a magistrate, to further the interests of the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ among his subjects, in every way consistent with its spirit and enactments ; and that he ought to be ruled by it in the making of laws, the adminis- tration of justice, the swearing of oaths, and other matters of civil jurisdiction.

That while the Civil Magistrate, in legislating as to matters within his own province, may and ought, for his own guidance, to judge what is agreeable to the word of God ; yet, inasmuch as he has no authority in spiritual things, and as in these the employment of force is opposed to the spirit and precepts of Christianity, which disclaim and prohibit all persecution, it is not within his province authoritatively to prescribe to his subjects, or to impose upon them, a creed or form of worship, or to interfere with that government which the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed in His Church, in the hands of Church officers, or to invade any of the rights and liberties which Christ has conferred on His Church, and which accordingly all powers on earth ought to hold sacred ; it being the exclusive prerogative of the Lord Jesus to rule in matters of faith, worship, and discipline.

That the Church cannot lawfully surrender or compromise her spiritual independence for any worldly consideration or advantage whatsoever. And, further, the Church must ever maintain the essential and perpetual obligation which Christ has laid on all His people to support and extend His Church by free-will offering. "  

Free Church Assembly Proceedings, 1869, App. xxiii. p. 9.

The FCS could not be pursuaded to include the word "only" before "by free-will offering".  Experience had taught them to value highly the giving of God's people, but still they hoped the State could be pursuaded to endow the work of church extension and they would not exclude accepting such financial support.

Of course the rejection of any responsibilty resting on the State to acknowledge God, his Law and the mediatorial authority of Christ came to fruition in the ammendments made by the American presbyterian church to the Westminster Confession.

The original WCF (Chapter 23) reads:  
“I. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates, to be, under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good: and, to this end, has armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil doers.

II. It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the New Testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.

III. Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; yet he has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he has power to call synods, to be present at them and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

The ammended American version reads:

23:3.  Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance."

These are not unsubstantial differences.  A similar pattern is exhibited in the American editing of the Belgic Confession, Article 36.

Rooting this discussion in concerns for the future of Scotland, if the forthcoming referendum supports independence it is questionable whether a secular Scottish government would acknowledge itself to be, "under Him, over the people, for His own glory, and the public good".  That is a matter of concern.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Reformed Faith in an Independent Scotland

Having said in a previous post on the differences between the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland that “the FCS is generally hesitant to take stands on issues that do not clearly fall under the oversight of the church. The CoS, on the other hand, routinely takes stands on a host of political issues”, I now find that our forthcoming FCS Assembly will be presented with four papers, (two on either side), on the impending referendum on Scottish independence.

The proposed deliverance will be: 

The General Assembly note that the General Assembly of 2013 instructed the Committee 'in consultation with appropriate bodies, to explore the potential implications which the forthcoming independence referendum might have in terms of 1) the Establishment Principle, and 2) the recognition and place of Christianity, the committee to report to the 2014 Assembly'.

The General Assembly note the four papers examining these matters and encourage all members of the church to be much in prayer about the outcome of the referendum later this year. The General Assembly recognise that across the Church there are a variety of views on independence and that this is a matter for individual consideration. The General Assembly call on the Scottish Government to recognise the role of Christianity and Christian Churches in Scotland as it drafts its proposed constitution and any future legislation.

The General Assembly deplore the increasing momentum of secularisation in Scotland and call on the government to ensure that freedom of religion, speech and conscience are enshrined in legislation. The General Assembly call on the Scottish Government to remember that their authority is God-given and that they have a responsibility to speak up for those who are poor, weak and those who cannot speak up for themselves.”

A number of issues are raised. The first is the Establishment Principle which we discuss here.  The FCS make somewhat of a fetish on the issue of the Establishment Principle.  The FCS father, Thomas Chalmers, is noted as having declared:

“We hold that every part and every function of a commonwealth should be leavened with Christianity, and that every functionary, from the highest to the lowest, should, in their respective spheres, do all that in them lies to countenance and uphold it. That is to say, though we quit a vitiated establishment, we go out on the Establishment principle; we quit a vitiated establishment, but would rejoice in returning to a pure one. To express it otherwise: we are the advocates for a national recognition and national support of religion – and we are not Voluntaries”

We should be clear that the difference between Chalmers and the Voluntaries is not on the general issue of the obligation of the State to recognise Christianity, but on the issue of providing financial support to an established church.  Chalmers believed that it was the duty of the State through taxes and other means to provide endowments for the financial support of the church.

There is an extensive literature on this issue, much of which has been forgotten. The FCS argued primarily on pragmatic grounds, the Voluntaries on biblical grounds.  Somewhat ironically, the FCS which was committed to the principle of Establishment became the supreme demonstration of the power of Voluntaryism as it experienced tremendous growth through the direct givings of its people.

Remember, the essence of the Establishment Principle is that the State should provide financial support for the church.  I have not actually discussed this with FCS ministers, but this is “dead in the water”.  A secular state in Scotland, as currently exists, will never financially support the Reformed church.  It would be no different in an independent Scotland.

Since “The Church of Scotland Act 1921” it is questionable if even the Church of Scotland should be referred to as the Established Church.  It is free of all State control and receives no State subsidies.  It certainly is a vitiated establishment.  It is where the secular State turns when it is looking for something vaguely religious but not specifically Christian, or rather vaguely Christian but not specifically biblical.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Free Church of Scotland and the Church of Scotland

This is inspired by Andrew Webb’s “13 Differences Between the PCA and the PCUSA” and was recently included in our church bulletin.

What are the major differences between the Church of Scotland (CoS) and our own denomination, the Free Church of Scotland (FCS)?

1) The FCS affirms that the Bible is inerrant and infallible in all that it teaches.  We recognise its absolute authority. The CoS does not.

2) The FCS does not ordain women to either of the offices in the church (Teaching/Ruling Elder and Deacon). The CoS by contrast ordains women to both offices.

3) The FCS is against homosexual behaviour and same sex marriage and believes both are sins, expressing loving and evangelistic concern for those trapped in such sin. The CoS theoretically consider homosexuality to be a sin, but takes no action against office-bearers who commit this sin and ordains practicing homosexuals to office.

4) The FCS has a constitution recognising the Westminster Standards. All church officers must subscribe to these documents as their Confession of Faith. Teaching against Scripture and the doctrines contained in the Confession of Faith would result in removal from office. The FCS exercises biblical church discipline. 

By contrast, the CoS has a merely theoretical and historic commitment to the Westminster Standards but does not in any way enforce commitment to them. They are viewed more as a series of general guidelines or suggestions that do not bind the conscience of officers in any way. CoS church officers routinely teach contrary to the doctrines contained in Scripture and in these documents.

5) The FCS is explicitly Reformed in its theology. Someone denying Calvinism would not be ordained in the FCS. By contrast, the theology of CoS congregations varies widely from church to church and can cover a spectrum from de facto Unitarian Universalism to Neo-Orthodoxy to soft Arminianism. Very few CoS congregations are explicitly Reformed and biblical in their teaching and preaching. 

6) The FCS is explicitly evangelistic in its belief that Jesus Christ alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” and that “No one comes to the Father except through [Him]”, as well as its desire to see all people come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whereas in the CoS evangelism is much less popular and often either non-existent or repudiated.  Office-bearers are free to deny that Christ is the only way to God; some congregations allow false and idolatrous faiths to worship in their facilities

7) The FCS is generally hesitant to take stands on issues that do not clearly fall under the oversight of the church. The CoS, on the other hand, routinely takes stands on a host of political issues.

8) The FCS confesses that all of our worship should be directed only by the Bible, while the CoS believes that worship should be an amalgam of bible, culture, feeling, and tradition.

There are still good men serving in the CoS, and solid evangelical congregations, but they are becoming more and more isolated and sidelined.  In recent years a number of ministers and the majority of their congregations have left the CoS to join the FCS.  We pray for those struggling with this issue and welcome those who seek to find a home in the FCS and maintain a more biblical pattern of teaching, practice and morality.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Benefits of Dipping

No, this is not about baptism or its mode.  This is about reading.

I have always been a "dipper" - not only reading books in their entirety but scanning some and just dipping into others.  I suppose it developed when I was young, when I did not have too many books of my own and when the internet and was only a distant promise.

At university when others would leave their desks for a coffee break I would often have my break among the stacks.  Just spending 15 or 20 minutes scanning the shelves and dipping into the occasional volumes that caught my eye was to me as relaxing as coffee and cake.  The physical book itself presents opportunities that a mere catalogue entry can never match.  You see how big the book is, how large the print, how frequently it has been checked out.  (Frequency of borrowing was not necessarily a mark of the worth of a work - the best books were often rarely checked out, if ever.)

It taught me that there was a wealth, for example, of older commentaries that not only explained the text but applied the text.  It introduced me to the various series of 19th century Puritan reprints that my fellow theological students knew nothing about.  Academically, I often discovered gems that better explained classic theological or philosophical texts than much of my assigned modern reading.

It was dirty and dusty work - a book that had not been thumbed through for 50 years was not for asthmatics who feared the "stoor".

When I came across a work that intrigued me I would return to it often, or if it was not too fragile I would check it out for home reading. Sometimes the dipping in gave me real gems that I would note for later pondering and reflection.  Occasionally a mere sentence or paragraph would outweigh the entirety of many of the modern tomes I read.

The method was unsystematic, occasional, random, yet richly rewarding.

I still dip.  This week, having a spare 15 minutes over coffee I reached for a book.  James Thornwell, Works, Volume 3 came to hand.  Opening by chance at the essay on Antinomianism I scanned the first few pages and was duly rewarded with this gem:

" The natural vibration of the mind is from the extreme of legalism to that of licentiousness, and nothing but the grace of God can fix it in the proper medium of Divine truth. The Gospel, like its blessed Master, is always crucified between two thieves — legalists of all sorts on the one hand and Antinomians on the other ; the former robbing the Saviour of the glory of his work for us, and the other robbing him of the glory of his work within us."

Now there within short compass is the essence of the debate.  We need the work of Christ for us and in us and they cannot be divorced one from the other.

For me dipping has become an unexpected source of riches, and the digitised theological libraries now available on are a goldmine.  Happy dipping!

Who is Truly Glaswegian - A Tale

Two families who are distantly related both claim that they are true Glaswegians, (natives of Glasgow, Scotland's finest city.)

Both families had great grandparents born in Glasgow.  The first family have continued throughout to live in Glasgow.  Yes, they have moved a little to different districts within the city, but have always stayed within its boundaries.  Their language is Glaswegian in its various forms.  Some branches of the family have improved their grammar and syntax, but basically they are easily identified by their talk as coming from Glasgow, and they can follow and understand even the broadest of Glaswegian accents.

The other family, having roots in Glasgow, have aspired to greater things.  At first they moved "up" in the city - first to Giffnock and then to Newton Mearns.  Eventually the draw of the east was too great and they now reside in Morningside, Edinburgh.  Their speech is now the refined dialect of Morningside. When they occasionally visit Glasgow they have great difficulty understanding the patois of the masses; "Do these people even speak English?"  Nevertheless, despite their disdain for the culture, language and natives of Glasgow for some unknown reason they still wish to refer to themselves as Glaswegians. (Perhaps there is money in it - a trust fund or property that they wish to claim...)

Which is the truly Glaswegian family?

Two families claim that they are "Reformed".  One family have stayed within the orbit of the theology of the Reformation, and without embarrassment hold to the Scots and Westminster confessions.  They still maintain Reformed piety and practice.  Their worship still has the dignity and solemnity of traditional Reformed worship.  Their ethic is still rooted in Christian obedience to the Word and Law of God.

The other family have long since moved away from their roots.  They disdain the theology of the Reformation and are contemptuous regarding the Scots and Westminster confessions, especially their soteriology.  Worship is now an eclectic mix of traditional and modern, lacking in reverence and godly fear.  In the ethical realm they have rejected biblical marriage and embraced homosexual practices. 

Nevertheless, despite their disdain for the culture, language and practices of the historic Reformed confessions, practices and piety, for some unknown reason they still wish to refer to themselves as Reformed. (Perhaps there is money in it - a trust fund or property that they wish to claim...)

Which family is truly Reformed?

In Scotland today there are two families that claim to be "Reformed".  There is the national established denomination, the Church of Scotland, that rejects the theology, worship, piety and ethics of the Reformation. Then there is the split family of those who adhere more or less to these things.  The tragedy is that the truly Reformed rarely speak to each other or co-operate with each other, or pray with and for each other.  We may have differences, but we do belong to the same family.


For foreign friends: Edinburgh and Glasgow are traditional rivals.  I have a son who lives in Edinburgh, (near Morningside), but we still speak.