Current News 

Forthcoming General Assemblies

In the week commencing Monday 23 May 2011 there are three General Assemblies of three different denominations each with claims to be the 'Church of Scotland'.
 

Painting of the Disruption of 1843
DisruptionFor those who are familiar with or intimately involved in the vagaries and vicisitudes of and within the Presbyterian Church in Scotland the last week in May will be an interesting one.

Three Presbyterian denominations – all signed up to one set of doctrinal standards and all having their roots in the Reformation within Scotland in 1560 – are meeting in their respective General Assemblies in Edinburgh.

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Church of Scotland


C of S logoBy far and away the biggest Scottish denomination is the Church of Scotland. It is the national church (although it is not allied to the state in the manner in which the Church of England is bound into the constitutional arrangements south of the border).
The Church of Scotland is a 'broad church'; a feature seen by many as its greatest strength and considered by others to be its greatest weakness.

With the diversity within the denomination, it has been racked for years over the question of homosexuality; and on Monday 23 May a report (Same Sex Relations and the Ministry) which has been two years in the making will be presented to the Assembly. Although the body politic has – with a degree of success, but at the cost of honest dealing – twisted and weaved to find an answer which will hold together the opposing factions, it could well be that crunch time has arrived. Certainly more than a few - clergy, parishoners and congregations - will be considering their positions if a definitive view is reached.

Of course all this has rendered the Church devoid of credibility: in the sight of the man in the street; in the sight of the Scottish nation; and – last but most importantly – in the sight of a holy God who sees His word being sacrificied to secular trends, amoral standards, institutional manoevering and politically-correct posturing. The list goes on and on.

The BIG debate is timetabled for Monday, 23 and is - if the technical infrastructure is able to bear the burden - to be streamed online. Watch this space.

Church of Scotland General Assembly 2011


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The Free Church of Scotland


Free Church logoLast November (2010) a 'Plenary Assembly' of the Free Church of Scotland decided – on a split vote – to permit congregations to choose, each for itself, whether or not to allow the singing of hymns and spiritual songs, and the use of instruments as accompaniment.
If nothing else, the fact that the biblically-based denomination has been totally unable to reconcile the differing views demonstrates that Scripture does not hand out any unassailable definition of what can and cannot (should and should not) be sung; or whether or not the use of instruments is acceptable in God's sight.

Have a quick look at the 4-page Assembly Programme and whenever the words 'Plenary, Overture and/or Psalmody' appear be aware that each and every one of these junctures could be explosive.

Free Church of Scotland Assembly Programme

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FCSC

Just to get the terminology right, in the early 20th century the bulk of what was then the Free Church of Scotland reunited with the Church of Scotland. The residual Free Church picked up the epithet 'Wee Frees'. This body split again in the year 2000 over the matter of how a disciplinary case involving a senior clergyman was handled. With this parting of the ways, the smaller grouping – claiming to be the 'faithful' and to make the distinction – appended ' (Continuing') to their title. Accordingly they could perhaps fit the description of being the 'Wee, wee Frees'. However this title could transfer if the Free Church splits over the psalms/hymns/instruments issue.

Meanwhile the agenda for the FCS(C) Assembly includes an imperative on 'Ecumenical Relations'. While this hand of fellowship is extended to many other presbyterian groupings in Scotland and around the world, a notable exception on the comprehensive list is – the Free Church of Scotland.

Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Assembly Programme

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A great sadness and shame


The Church of Scotland is heading for outright apostasy: the Free Church is struggling to cope with diversity in its ranks, while the Free Church Continuing may soon have no ranks with which to continue.
While these scenarios are very sad, the real tragedy is that the Scottish nation – in desperate need of sound spiritual leadership – is left to the devices of secular humanism, political expediency and alien belief systems for direction.

And all this in a nation which was once known as 'The Land of the Book'.


Footnote: See article 'Presbyterianism Scottish Style' which links to a diagram illustrating the convoluted path of the Scottish presyterian church(es) from 1560 to the present day.


Christians Together, 20/05/2011

Feedback:
Rosemary Cameron 23/05/2011 22:39
I think it would be sad if the Free Church split over the issue of psalms and musical instruments. It will be even sadder if the Church of Scotland doesn't split over the issue of practising homosexual ministers given today's decision.
Peter Carr 24/05/2011 07:01
"...change and decay in all around I see; O thou who changest not, abide with me." (Henry Francis Lyte)

George Orr 24/05/2011 10:31
Does anyone have a link to a fuller resume of the debate and decision?
Ewan Wilson (Guest) 29/05/2011 00:37
Your comments above elicit mixed feelings from myself. Your comments on the various divisions in the Scottish Presbyterian orbit exude rather too sneering a tone. You must recall these divisions have come about through serious issues being grappled with and faced. You do not appear to approve of the Established Kirk's pro-gay decision but that 'accomplishment' is surely merely the inevitable outcome long term of a Chutrch that has already abandoned submission to Holy Scripture as the supreme standard of Christ's Church. Thus separation from that body is pretty well inevitable for those upholding Scripture and Scriptural discipline. Kirk evangelicals for too long have tried to evade the essentilly schizoid nature of clinging to the coat tails of Bible deniers, maintaining formal recognition of such as members yet on the other insisting the Bible is supreme and infallible.
My next point is you have your history wrong! The Free Kirk ( wee frees ) did NOT emerge from a reunion with the Church of Scotland but from a union of the liberal United Presbyterians and the majority of the Free Kirk in 1900 to form the United Free Church of Scotland. It was this 'double body' that subsequently joined up with the Church of Scotland in 1929 to make the present day Established Kirk or Church of Scotland. By 1929 the Free Church ( wee free) was a distinct body, the legally recognised continuation of the old Free Church. It had nothing to do with the 1929 Union.
Will the Church of Scotland suffer a split following their decision? It is difficult to tell. Leadership of the evangelical side has been pretty shambolic and ill prepared and pretty disorganised. However I think a very small number of the more 'Reformed' is almost certain to depart; meanwhile others appear more bothered about their property than making a clear cut stance. One thing's for sure- a church within a church, semi detached from the major structures of the Kirk in a sort of 'conservative, Confessing' enclosure would seem highly unworkable and hard to sustain.
The tone, meanwhile, of the Free Kirk's debates on purity of worship is difficult to gauge from the written reports. However it would seem there was some degree of resentment at the bypassing of the Barrier Act safety net and the Memorials drew some caustic comments but were grudgingly received, if nothing else. A pitifully small number dissented but whether they will proceed to further action remains to be seen but there is definite disgruntlement and not a few are vexed for like Kenny Stewart, they feel their vows have been invalidated.
Ewan Wilson (Guest) 29/05/2011 22:40
One further point- your rather sarcastic allusion to the 'notable exception' on the Free Church of Scotland Continuing's ecumenical relations being the ( majority, defecting) Free Church of Scotland , you should perhaps refer the situation back to the exempted body, the Free Church of Scotland. After all, it was they who ejected their Contiuing brethren in 2000 and suspended those who stood on the Contiuing principle sine die- indefinitely. Therefore one could on this ground alone scarely expect the Free Church of Scotland even to recognise the Contiuing, let alone respond to an invitation from those they regard as still under discipline.
Editor 30/05/2011 08:04
Re question:
"Does anyone have a link to a fuller resume of the debate and decision?"

For the moment an edited account of the proceedings can be accessed on iPlayer BBC2 General Assembly (25/05/11)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011lgcc/General_Assembly_2011_25_05_2011/
James Horgan (Guest) 02/06/2011 18:20
The Free Church of Scotland has lifted the suspensions on the Continuing and recognised them as a separate denomination a couple of years ago.
Ewan W. Wilson (Guest) 02/06/2011 23:21
James,

The suspensions are presumably effectively only lifted if those affected agree to desist from the original cause of suspension. They also refuse to allow other mutually recognised Reformed churches, such as Dutch members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches, to conduct negotiations and arbitration on the matter of disputed property. Thus legal cases have to be pursued through the civil courts. In such antagonistic circumstances one could hardly expect meaningful 'ecumenical' relations to subsist between the two bodies.
Ewan W. Wilson (Guest) 02/06/2011 23:35
It is also worth enquiring on what you base your remark that the Free Church Continuing 'may soon have no ranks with which to continue.'
Now, it is certainly true that our mission in relation to the nation as a whole is a task of some enormity given the relative insignificance of our numbers. However despite some sifting of our ranks since 2000 the denomination has remained remarkably constant and has been quietly consolidating in most of its presbyteries. Of course there have been disappointments - not least a few trained by the FCC Seminary and called to FCC charges who have then 'turned coat' and gone off into the defecting Free Church majority camp, without even having the decency or integrity to explain their bizarre moves to their erstwhile Continuing friends and fellow office bearers.
Happily, despite these few set backs the Lord is still pleased to use the FCC to maintain the Reformed Gospel in places where it would otherwise vanish, and also to prosecute vigorous outreach and evangelism at home and support a missionary presence in Zambia. None of this suggests our little denomination faces extinction any more than any other of the presbyterian bodies, though we cannot be complacent.

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