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!