Wednesday, 14 May 2014

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.

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