Monday, 26 October 2015

New Hermeneutic in Operation

New Hermeneutic in Operation

Liberals – ignore the clear NT didactic passages on homosexuality and apply a “deeper” hermeneutic to justify moral apostasy.

Evangelicals – ignore the clear NT didactic passages on apostasy and apply a “deeper” hermeneutic, (Hosea and Gomer, no divorce etc) to justify compromise with doctrinal and moral apostasy.

The same hermeneutic is in operation! Ultimately, evangelicals who can ignore the clear NT didactic passages on apostasy will ignore the clear NT passages on sexual morality.  

Hiding Behind Declaratory Acts

Hiding Behind Declaratory Acts

Without entering into the wisdom or otherwise of the initial Scottish church Declaratory Act, that of the United Presbyterians in 1879, it is interesting to note that it clearly suggests which issues do not enter into “the substance of the faith”:

“That, in accordance with the practice hitherto observed in this Church, liberty of opinion is allowed on such points in the Standards, not entering into the substance of the faith, as the interpretation of the ' six days ' in the Mosaic account of the creation: the Church guarding against the abuse of this liberty to the injury of its unity and peace.”

The one example that it gives is the interpretation of the days of creation. It does not envisage that someone could reject the doctrine of Christ’s sacrificial death and then claim that it does not enter into the substance of the faith.  That was specifically excluded by the first article:

“That in regard to the doctrine of redemption as taught in the Standards, and in consistency therewith, the love of God to all mankind, His gift of His Son to be the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, and the free offer of salvation to men without distinction, on the ground of Christ's perfect sacrifice, are matters which have been and continue to be regarded by this Church as vital in the system of gospel truth, and to which due prominence ought ever to be given.”

This article clearly stated that Christ’s death was a “perfect sacrifice” and a “propitiation”.  Of course to reject the death of Christ as a propitiatory sacrifice was not only to reject the teaching of the Declaratory Act, it is to reject the teaching and language of Scripture itself.

This initial Declaratory Act was changed and modified in its various forms before becoming the Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland (1929). Here the loose wording states that the church has the right to modify its doctrinal testimony “but always in agreement with the Word of God and the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith contained in the said Confession, of which agreement the Church shall be sole judge, and with due regard to liberty of opinion in points which do not enter into the substance of the Faith.”

The problem here is that the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith were never explicitly stated, (although the initial  paragraph was explicitly Trinitarian; but that has not prevented the Church of Scotland embracing Socinians like William Barclay), and therefore the “substance of the Faith” is a vague and thereby useless term.

It does strike me that progressive liberals in the Church of Scotland not only reject penal substitutionary atonement, but even reject the clear Trinitarianism of the first declaratory article. However, as the denomination now exercises no doctrinal discipline, it is not surprising that such progressive liberals are untouchable.

Interestingly, while evangelicals in the denomination now suggest that discipline is not necessary to a true church, (it may be of its bene esse but not its esse) - a rejection of the traditional  Reformed marks of the church - Article 7 actually states that the Church of Scotland recognises rightly exercised discipline as a necessary mark of the church. In regards to ecumenical unity the article states that the church:

“recognises the obligation to seek and promote union with other Churches in which it finds the Word to be purely preached, the sacraments administered according to Christ's ordinance, and discipline rightly exercised.”

The paradox now exists that the denomination has a standard, (the three marks of the church), by which it will judge other churches but which no longer applies to itself.

I should point out that the present Free Church of Scotland rescinded its own Declaratory Act of 1892 – our Confessional commitment is not now compromised or modified and men are not free to reject the fundamental truths of Scripture and the Confession.  

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Reasons for Leaving the Church of Scotland

Reasons for Leaving the Church of Scotland

This week the Free Church of Scotland received the Rev John Mann as a minister.  John has faithfully served the CofS over many years and his decision to leave was not without cost and taken after much prayerful consideration. 

John has set down in details his reasons for leaving.  I hope that it will be given wide circulation – it really needs to be read by others still in a compromised and, as John shows, an apostate denomination.  We can ignore the truth for only so long before we move to the category of deliberate rejection of the truth as given in God’s Word. I believe that many CofS elders and ministers are struggling with this issue, held back by fear and deterred by the possible cost of taking a stand.  It is to them that John’s words are most powerfully addressed:

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Debate, Discipline, and Disorder

The Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland is well known as an enthusiastic evangelistic apologist, unafraid to engage both secularists and theological liberals in debate.  His recent debate with a leading liberal in the Church of Scotland, in which he ably defended the biblical position on the atonement is an example of his insightful style.  Unfortunately, it was also a first-hand experience of the duplicity of the liberal church establishment, who prevented others making a recording with the assurance that the Church of Scotland would make available its own recording, only to find that they had destroyed the recording to prevent its distribution. (I wonder why they did not wish people, perhaps their own people, actually hearing what their leading liberal ministers are teaching.) You can read the full story here:

 What I find interesting is the response of some evangelicals to this debate.  One response in particular caught my attention. It claimed that, though error may be prevalent in the denomination, it is not yet apostate.  Part of his reason for this is that the church still has the Westminster Confession of Faith.

I must admit that I missed “possession of the Westminster Confession of Faith” as one of the marks of the true church. These marks are three: the biblical preaching of the Word of God, the correct administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of godly discipline. 

They are summed up in the Belgic Confession (Article 29) on the "Marks of the True Church":

“The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it.”

Where does the WCF fit into these marks?  If a denomination has a confession of faith, but no-one is required to believe it or preach it, then it is merely a historical document without force or influence.  In evangelical denominations which hold to the WCF it is required that men clearly state exceptions they may have to the Confession before they are ordained, and they promise to inform their presbytery if they change their minds and come to reject aspects of the Confession.

I know that when I trained for the ministry of the Church of Scotland not one in twenty of my fellow students had read the WCF, and not one in forty sincerely believed in what it taught. That did not stop the others affirming their belief in the Confession at their ordination, hiding behind the statement “with liberty of opinion on such matters that do not enter into the substance of the faith.”  Of course, there was no definition of the substance of the faith!

So, to say that a denomination still has the WCF, when it does not enforce the teaching of the Confession is a meaningless platitude. When a man can teach against the Confession and no discipline (the third mark of the true church) can be exercised against him, it proves that the WCF is a dead letter. What Church of Scotland men must explain is why they think a church that does not enforce the preaching of the truth, that tolerates and promotes those who refute the Confession and deny the clear teaching of Scripture on doctrine and ethics, and that no longer has any enforceable system of discipline can be seen as a true and not apostate church.

On a positive note, we should explore together with these evangelical men what the Scripture teaches on apostasy and how the church should deal with heretics.  Sadly, that is one debate they do not seem prepared to have either in writing or in public discussion.  I would love to see David Robertson engage in that debate.  I think, perhaps, he would be somewhat more irenic than those of us who have left the Church of Scotland  He would be a good man to build bridges, if our evangelical brothers have any desire to have such bridges built.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Ministry of Word AND Sacrament

Ministry of Word AND Sacrament

In the Reformed tradition we have always had a high view of both Word and Sacrament, and historically we have guarded both aspects of the ministry by insisting that only those duly recognised and trained by the church at large, the denomination, have the right to preach and administer the sacraments.  This is in contrast to the practice of some independents where ordination is an act of the local church, without the necessity of the concurrence of the wider church, or where all elders in a local church can preach or administer the sacraments.

Thus Calvin, in his Genevan Catechism, (1545):

Q366 Does the administration both of baptism and of the Supper belong indiscriminately to all?

A. By no means. It is confined to those to whom the office of teaching has been committed. For the two things, viz., to feed the Church with the doctrine of piety and administer the sacrament, are united together by an indissoluble tie.

 Q367 Can you prove this to me by the testimony of Scripture?

A. Christ gave special commandment to the Apostles to baptize. In the celebration of the Supper he ordered us to follow his example. And the Evangelists relate that he himself in dispensing it, performed the office of a public minister. (Matthew 28:19; Luke 22:19.)

The Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1645):

Baptism, as it is not unnecessarily to be delayed, so it is not to be administered in any case by any private person, but by a minister of Christ, called to be the steward of the mysteries of God.

The Directory, without explicitly saying so, also assumes that the Lord’s Supper is also only to be administered by an ordained minister.  This is made explicit in the Westminster Confession, 27:4:

There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.

This high view of the ministry of Word and Sacrament guarded not only preaching and the administration of the sacraments, but even the public reading of Scripture in worship:

“Reading of the word in the congregation, being part of the public worship of God, (wherein we acknowledge our dependence upon him, and subjection to him,) and one means sanctified by him for the edifying of his people, is to be performed by the pastors and teachers” (DPW)

Thus the preaching and reading of God’s Word, and the administration of the sacraments were bound together, and belonged to the office of the minister. There was to be no separation of the Lord’s Supper from the Word; there was not a special class of church officer who could administer sacraments but not preach.  

However, in time, there came to be a separation of Word and Sacrament in the development of a class of office bearers who could preach but not administer the Lord’s Supper.  This was already anticipated in Scotland in the office of the Reader, who while not entitled to preach did read Scripture and lead in public prayer.  (Hence the objection of the Scottish Commissioners, e.g. Baillie, to the restriction in the Directory to the minister alone in the reading of Scripture.)

In Scotland, based on pragmatism and necessity, a new class of office bearers variously designated resident lay preachers, lay agents, or lay missionaries served faithfully in remote parishes fulfilling all the duties and responsibilities of the ministry apart from the administration of the sacraments.  Word and sacrament were torn asunder!

For example, in the practice of the Free Church of Scotland, men could serve a church or even a grouping of churches, perhaps over many years, but never baptise those adults converted under their ministry, or feed those at the Lord’s Table who had been regularly fed and nourished by their preaching .

As recently as 1981 the General Assembly enacted:

Regular Helpers: Although the Free Church of Scotland holds that ideally the functions of the pastoral office should be exercised only by those specially set apart, that is ordained to that office, necessity has compelled the employment of others as regular preachers and shepherds of Congregations. These were in earlier days known as Preachers or Catechists but now such help is given by Resident Lay Preachers. By an Act of General Assembly only men acceptable as elders in the Congregation may so function (Act X, 1981).

My question is this, what necessity compelled the Church to accept the preaching ministry of such men, but deny them the sacramental ministry that goes hand in hand with the proclamation of the Word? If the men had the gifts and graces to preach and exercise faithful pastoral ministry, and these gifts and graces were recognised by the denomination, what was it that they lacked biblically that prevented them officiating at the sacraments?

It may have been an educational deficit – they had no university degrees, or classical Greek and Latin or proficiency in the original biblical languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek.  It cannot have been a theological deficiency, for they were entrusted to the task of feeding the flock, ministering the Word to them, and teaching them the catechism.  At this point I have not done the research to trace the development of this practice or the underlying theological justification for separation of the ministry of the Word from the ministry of Sacrament, so I cannot say historically why it was established and encouraged.

Logical consistency would dictate that if a man cannot be appointed to administer the Sacraments, he should not be appointed to preach the Word.  If the Sacraments are visible forms of the Word, a man who cannot be trusted with the Sacraments, should not be trusted with the greater task of preaching the Word.  Conversely, if a man can be trusted with the preaching of the Word on an ongoing and regular basis, he should also be trusted with the administration of the Sacraments.

There are consequences of a separation in practice of Word and Sacrament:

1.  It encourages a misplaced exaltation of Sacraments over the Word, in particular, a misplaced exaltation of the Lord’s Supper.  This is seen, not as a regular aspect of public worship, but as a particularly high and holy event, far more important than preaching, for even regular preachers cannot celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

2.  It encourages a false view of the Lord’s Supper, as somehow dependent on the worthiness of the celebrant.

3. It encourages the practice of non-communing.  This has been a particular problem in the Highlands, where true believers would not come to the Lord's Table but remained adherents rather than members of the congregation.  They sat week by week under the ministry of the Word, were blessed by that Word, but would not come to the Table because it was not seen as an aspect of the proclamation of the Word.  After all, if their regular preacher and pastor could not administer the Lord's Supper, it must be something above the Word, more sacred than the Word and even more "dangerous" than the Word - therefore the weak avoided coming to the Table

4.  It encourages a false view of the ordained ministry.  They must have some special gift that enables them to preside at the Lord’s Supper, a gift that mere preachers, faithfully ministering the Word to their people on a weekly basis, do not have.  It tends towards a Romanist view of ordination as impartation of a gift rather than the recognition of gifts already in evidence in the individual.

5.  It discourages the more regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Both Calvin and Knox argued for a weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Without entering into the validity of their arguments, even a monthly celebration of the Lord’s Supper becomes difficult if the resident preacher has to call in someone who has the necessary status to preside at the Lord’s Table.

4 It demeans the ministry of the resident preacher in the eyes of his flock. He can preach regularly Lord's Day by Lord's Day, he can preach at a preparatory service before Communion, he can even preach on the occasion of the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, he can serve at the table as a participating elder, but he cannot himself administer the sacrament.  The man who feeds them from the Word, who is a shepherd to the flock, who visits them when sick, who buries them when dead, cannot lead them at the Table of the Lord.

These anomalies have been recognised and rectified by some churches.  They have introduced forms of auxiliary ministry, sometimes locally restricted, sometimes non-stipendiary.  These are ministries of both Word and Sacrament. There was an attempt to introduce such a concept within the Free Church of Scotland, but the draft legislation was rejected by presbyteries and dropped. The Assembly record (2007) states:

NON STIPENDIARY AND AUXILIARY MINISTERS Copies of the document: ‘Auxiliary Ministers – Draft Deliverance’ were distributed to Presbyteries and Committees for their comments. Although there was sympathy for some of the proposals in the draft legislation, there was no overall support from any of the Presbyteries. The Committee express its disappointment that this issue has not been taken up and developed and therefore proposes to drop this matter.

It may now be time to revisit the issue. Whether this leads to a decision not to appoint any man to a congregation in a regular pastoral and preaching ministry without sacramental ministry, or whether it leads to the possibility of an auxiliary ministry, a local non-stipendiary ministry or other forms of ministry, it is surely possibly with biblical and theological integrity to ensure that Word and Sacrament are joined together.  To quote the words of Christ in another context, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9)

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Warning To Non-Communing Believers

The actual source of this strong admonition (previous blog entry) is the Scottish Book of Common Prayer of 1667, or as it was known “Laud’s Liturgy”.  It was the reading of this book that produced a riot in St Giles Cathedral Edinburgh.

The book had been written by the Scottish bishops, supervised by Laud and by the King.  The General Assembly or presbyterian ministers were not consulted in its production.  They objected to much of its content, (which appeared too Roman Catholic), to the inclusion of readings from the Apocrypha, and to its imposition by a foreign power and English archbishop. They also objected to a fixed rather than a free liturgy.  It was not the reading of prayers as such that they objected to – after all the prayers from Knox’s Book of Common Order had actually been read in St Giles, as was the normal practice, on the morning of the riot before the attempt to enforce the new liturgical order!

There are aspects of Laud’s Liturgy that are interesting. Beside the admonition to non-communing believers it strongly fenced the table.  My thanks to Prof Donald MacLeod who pointed this out at a recent seminar in Bishopbriggs Free Church.  We imagine that the fencing of the table was a Presbyterian idiosyncrasy.  It was not; the Episcopalians were even stronger in fencing the table. It can be argued that such fencing was overdone, but it was not unusual for the age. 

Again, I have not attempted to modernise the text:

The order of the Administration of the Lords Supper, or holy Communion

So many as intend to bee partakers of the holy Communion, shall signifie their names to the Presbyter or curate over night, or else in the morning afore the beginning of Morning prayer, or immediatly after.

And if any of those bee an open and notorious evil liver, so that the Church by him is offended, or have done any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed: the Presbyter or Curate having knowledge thereof, shall call him, and advertise him, in any wise not to presume to come to the Lords Table, untill he have openly declared himself to have truely repented and amended his former naughty life, that the Church may thereby bee satisfied, which afore was offended, and that he have recompensed the parties whom he hath done wrong unto, or at the least declare himself to be in full purpose so to do, as soone as he conveniently may.

The same order shall the Presbyter or Curate use with those betwixt whom he preceiveth malice and hatred to reigne, not suffering them to be partakers of the Lords Table untill he know them to be reconciled. And if one of the parties so at variance, be content to forgive from the bottome of his heart all that the other hath trespassed against him, and to make amends for that he himself hath offended, and the other party will not be perswaded to a godly unity, but remaine still in his frowardnesse and malice : the Presbyter or Minister in that case ought to admit the penitent person to the holy Communion, and not him that is obstinate.

Dearly beloved, forasmuch as our duty is to render to almighty God our heavenly Father most hearty thanks, for that he hath given his Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, not only to die for us, but also to be our spirituall food and sustenance, as it is declared unto us, as well by Gods word, as by the holy sacrament of his blessed body and bloud, the which being so comfortable a thing to them which receive it worthily, and so dangerous to them that will presume to receive it unworthily : my duty is to exhort you to consider the dignitie of the holy mysterie, and the great peril of the unworthy receiving thereof, and so to search and examine your owne consciences, as you should come holy and clean to a most godly and heavenly feast, so that in no wise you come but in the marriage garment, required of God in holy Scripture, and so come and be received as worthy partakers of such a heavenly Table. 

The way and the means thereto is : First to examine your lives and conversation by the rule of Gods commandments, and wherein soever ye shall perceive your selves to have offended, either by will, word, or deed, there bewaile your own sinfull lives, confesse your selves to Almighty God with full purpose of amendment of life. And if yee shall perceive your offenses to be such as be not only against God but also against your neighbours : then ye shall reconcile your selves unto them, ready to make restitution and satisfaction according to the uttermost of your powers, for all injuries and wrongs done by you to any other, and likewise being ready to forgive other that have offended you, as you would have forgivenesse of your offenses at Gods hand : for otherwise the receiving of the holy Communion doth nothing else but increase your damnation. 

And because it is requisite that no man should come to the holy Communion but with a full trust in Gods mercy, and with a quiet conscience : therefore if there be any of you which by the means aforesaid, cannot quiet his own conscience, but requireth further comfort or counsell, then let him come to mee, or some other discreet and learned Presbyter or Minister of Gods Word, and open his griefe that he may receive such ghostly counsel, advice, and comfort as his conscience may be relieved, and that by the ministry of Gods word he may receive comfort and the benefit of absolution, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and doubtfulnesse.

¶ Then shall thePresbyter say this exhortation.

Dearly beloved in the Lord, ye that mind to come to the holy Communion of the Body and Bloud of our Saviour Christ, must consider what S. Paul writeth to the Corinthians, how he exhorteth all persons diligently to trie and examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup. For as the benefit is great, if with a truly penitent heart and lively faith wee receive that holy Sacrament : (for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drinke his bloud; then we dwell in Christ and Christ in us; wee be one with Christ, and Christ with us) So is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily : for then we be guilty of the body and bloud of Christ our Saviour; we eat and drink our own damnation, not considering the Lords body : we kindle Gods wrath against us: we provoke him to plague us with divers diseases, and sundry kindes of death. Therefore, if any of you be a blasphemer of God, an hinderer or slanderer of his Word, an adulterer, or be in malice or envy, or in any other grievous crime, bewaile your sinnes, and come not to this holy table; lest after the taking of that holy sacrament, the devil enter into you, as he entred into Judas, and fill you full of all iniquities, and bring you to destruction, both of body and soul. Judge therefore your selves (brethren) that yee be not judged of the Lord. Repent you truely for your sins past : have a lively and stedfast faith in Christ our Saviour. Amend your lives, and be in perfect charitie with all men, so shall yee be meet partakers of those holy mysteries. 

And above all things ye must give most humble and hearty thanks to God the Father, the Sonne, and the holy Ghost, for the redemption of the world by the death and passion of our Saviour Christ both God and man; who did humble himself, even to the death upon the crosse for us miserable sinners, which lay in darknesse and shadow of death, that he might make us the children of God, and exalt us to everlasting life. And to the end that we should alway remember the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ, thus dying for us, and the innumerable benefits which by his precious bloud-shedding hee hath obtained to us : he hath instituted and ordained holy mysteries, as pledges of his love, and continuall remembrance of his death, to our great and endlesse comfort. To him therefore, with the Father and the holy Ghost, let us give (as we are most bounden) continuall thanks, submitting our selves wholly to his holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve him in true holinesse and righteousnesse all the dayes of our life. Amen.

A Word to Non Communing Christians

We have a particular problem in certain parts of Scotland with believers not coming to the Lord’s Table and entering church membership by public profession. Where would you imagine this word of exhortation comes from?  (I have retained archaic grammar and vocabulary.)

WE be come together at this time, (dearly beloved brethren) to feed at the Lord's supper; unto the which, in God's behalf, I bid you all that be here present; and beseech you, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, that ye will not refuse to come thereto, being so lovingly called and bidden of God himself. Ye know how grievous and unkind a thing it is, when a man hath prepared a rich feast, decked his table with all kind of provision, so that there lacketh nothing but the guests to sit down; and yet they which be called (without any cause) most unthankfully refuse to come. Which of you in such a case would not be moved? Who would not think a great injury and wrong done unto him? Wherefore, most dearly beloved in Christ, take ye good heed, lest ye, withdrawing yourselves from this holy Supper, provoke God's indignation against you. It is an easy matter for a man to say, I will not communicate, because I am otherwise letted with worldly business. But such excuses be not so easily accepted and allowed before God. If any man say, I am a grievous sinner, and therefore am afraid to come; Wherefore then do ye not repent and amend? When God calleth you, be you not ashamed to say you will not come? When you should return to God, will you excuse yourself, and say that you be not ready? Consider earnestly with yourselves, how little such feigned excuses shall avail before God. They that refused the feast in the Gospel, because they had bought a farm, or would try their yokes of oxen, or because they were married, were not so excused, but counted unworthy of that heavenly feast. I for my part am here present, and according to mine office, I bid you in the Name of God, I call you in Christ's behalf, I exhort you, as you love your own salvation, that ye will be partakers of this holy Communion. And as the Son of God did vouchsafe to offer up himself by death upon the cross for our salvation; even so it is our duty to celebrate and receive the holy Communion together in the remembrance of his death and sacrifice, as he himself commanded. Now, if you will in no wise thus do, consider with yourselves how great injury you do unto God, and how sore punishment hangeth over your heads for the same; And whereas you offend God so grievously in refusing his holy banquet, I admonish, exhort, and beseech you, that unto this unkindness you will not add any more: which thing you shall do, if ye stand by as gazers and lookers on them that do communicate, and be not partakers of the same yourselves. For what thing can this be accounted else, than a further contempt and unkindness unto God. Truly, it is a great unthankfulness to say nay, when ye be called: but the fault is much greater when men stand by, and yet will not receive this holy sacrament which is offered unto them. I pray you, what can this be else, but even to have the mysteries of Christ in derision? It is said unto all, Take ye and eat, Take and drink ye all of this, Do this in remembrance of me. With what face then, or with what countenance shall ye hear these words? What will this be else, but a neglecting, a despising, and mocking of the Testament of Christ? Wherefore rather than ye should so do, depart you hence, and give place to them that be godly disposed. But when you depart, I beseech you ponder with yourselves from whom ye depart: Ye depart from the Lord's Table; Ye depart from your brethren, and from the banquet of most heavenly food. These things if ye earnestly consider, ye shall by God's grace return to a better mind: for the obtaining whereof we shall make our humble petitions, while we shall receive the holy Communion.

Answer in a later blog!