Stornoway Watchnight Service controversy

An ecumenical Watchnight service which is due for screening over Christmas has produced hard evidence that the world is shaking.


Watchnight Service1The Earth is moving

If there is any hard evidence to support the view that the world has shifted on its axis, one might be inclined to explore the impact of volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.

However the tectonic plate-shifting of greatest magnitude is not around the geological fault-lines of the Pacific rim but rather in the Western Isles off the north-west coast of Scotland. In terms of  'climate change', it is not just the polar caps that seem to be disappearing – the thaw is showing signs of melting frozen relationships in the spiritual domain.

To touch briefly on the religious dimension of life in those Hebridean parts, it is very interesting to observe the ecclesiastical diversity which can be found across and within the small communities which are otherwise bound up in a common culture and (the Gaelic) language.

Travelling from the northern tip of Lewis to the southern isle of Barra exposes the traveller, in a relatively short distance, to a cameo of the historical 16th-century split between the Scottish reformers and the 'apostate' Church of Rome. (In fact Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Roman Catholic Pretender, made his escape to France in 1746 via a small island at the southern end of the archipelago: whereas the last signifcant Protestant revivals in the UK took place in the northernmost island of Lewis in the 1950s.)

To go for a walk on 'the Sabbath' in the presbyterian parishes verges on the unforgiveable sin whereas in the south, any Roman Catholic priest that is fit enough would be encouraged to join the local team at the Sunday football match – after the church service of course.

Daily life and relationships in the communities was and is as much governed by the daily routines and demands of crofting, fishing and (nowadays) tourism, as whether one's membership is of this church or that; or of the pub. [See earlier article for a fuller explanation of life in the Hebrides.]

In the pre-internet days the fashions, fads and trends of the rest of the world took a long time to wash up on the Atlantic shores of the Hebridean island chain. But not so now. The cultural 'transit time' from mainland/maintream to island life has been much reduced; and the erstwhile inhibitors to societal change are a shadow of their former selves. A manifestation of these changes has been the relatively-recent introduction of Sunday sailings across the Minch.

A Watchnight tremor

But to whatever degree change – even religious change – has moved on apace, the most recent, and quite spectacular manifestation of a profound shift in the prevailing attitudes has been the filming of an 'ecumentical Gaelic Watchnight Service' with ministers from both the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland taking part along with a Roman Catholic priest. And reporting in the provincial media has sensationalised the event further.
In expressing its concern, the Free Church (Continuing) has likened the coming together of the aforementioned Protestant churches with the Church of Rome as a form of communing with a representative of the Anti-Christ.

Now while the secular media might stand accused of stoking up controversy in order to sell copy, there is valid justification for reporting on the conflict.

Presbyterian churches in Scotland and around the world subscribe to a 'subordinate standard' – a document entitled the Westminster Confession of Faith. The WCF states:

"There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.' (Ch.25/5).

So for a Reformed church of any stripe to share in a service with the arch enemy of God is no trivial matter. In relation to the WCF it is a classic case of being 'hoist by ones own petard'.

And it is in this context that the Free Church (Continuing) which split away from the Free Church of Scotland in 2000 has now written to the latter taking their mother denomination to task regarding the Free Church's participation.

Bridge across the divide

Hands across the divideIt may be of course that the entente cordiale between the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches will dissipate once the season of goodwill is over; but a rapprochement of this nature, in this particular part of the world, ranks high on whichever scale of measure one chooses to employ.

The invitation to the churches in the area stated:
"The service is ecumenical. Rev. James MacIver (Free Church) will lead the service, with readings and prayers from Rev. Angus Morrison (Church of Scotland) and Father Roddy Johnston (Roman Catholic Church).

Soloists Mary Smith, Donnie Murdo Macleod and Isobel Ann Martin are accompanied by local musicians performing a medley of Christmas classics. Pupils from Laxdale Primary School, the Nicolson Institute, Back Gaelic Choir, and the Martin's Memorial congregation will join together to sing favourite Gaelic carols."

The Gaelic Watchnight Service is due to be broadcast on BBC Alba on Christmas Eve at 11.00pm and repeated on Christmas Day. The programme – entitled 'Noillage à Steòrnabhagh' (Christmas from Stornoway) – was recorded in Martin's Memorial Church of Scotland in Stornoway on 3 December 2011, and can also be listened to on Radio nan Gàidheal.

Watchnight Service

Christians Together, 22/12/2011

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Anon (Guest) 25/12/2011 14:41
If some 'Christians' believe the pope to be the antichrist, then who do they suppose Alex Salmond and David Cameron to be?
Peter Carr 25/12/2011 17:44
"If some 'Christians' believe the pope to be the antichrist..."

Hasn't this sort of thing being going on for centuries? If so, why don't some Christians learn from the past??!!
Watcher1 (Guest) 25/12/2011 18:47
Oh dear, oh dear! Wake up folks, and smell the... sulphur.
Peter Carr 25/12/2011 19:52
Watcher 1, if you have a good look at what is going on in far too many of our churches (and denominations) you will soon discover the acrid smell of sulphur in what is allowed to go on unchallenged and unchecked! Sometimes we cannot see the wood for the trees when it comes to how much the 'sulphur one' influences far too much of what goes on inside the true church!!
Editor 25/12/2011 20:20
"If some 'Christians' believe the pope to be the antichrist..."

Back in the summer of 2009 the question of Hebridean "Sunday Sailings" raised its head (again). This prompted a preliminary article entitled 'Drilling Down on Christian issues' which outlined a sequential series of questions which started at the level of 'base' theology.

The first of these questions looked at 'Covenant Theology' as a basis from which the Westminster Confession of Faith (including the issue of the antichrist et al) formed much of the theology of the Presbyterian churches (worldwide).

The article on Covenant Theology (and a competing theological framework called 'Dispenationalism') was published in December of that year (2009). basically these theological sytems disagree with one another which illustrates the point that both can't be absolutely right; and also raises the possibility that both - to one degree or another - are in fact wrong (i.e. unbiblical).

It is hoped now to publish the next article in the series (looking at the Westminster Confession of Faith) in the next couple of weeks. (Maybe even by 31/12/11 - just 2 years after the first in the series... How time flies!)

The article will (d.v.) cover the Reformers eschatology (which basically believes that the church is now Israel - and all that stems from that view).

The 'Drilling Down' article illustrates to flow of argument (from the underlying belief system through to the outworking of same into 'Sunday Sailings/infant christening/the person of the antichrist/church and state relationships/ etc.)

Drilling Down on Christian Issues (19/07/09)

A Covenant-keeping God (31/12/09)
Grumpyoldman 25/12/2011 22:50
Good news this is!

As Christians we are pilloried when we speak out. Homosexuals, atheists, Muslims,the PC brigade and the political classes are all allowed to have their say without hindrance, but Christians ere labeled as bigots when they have their say.

We now have David Cameron,
Grumpyoldman 25/12/2011 22:54

Melanie Philips and Eric pickles speaking out for Christin values.

This is answered prayer friends so keep praying for our nation.
Peter Carr 26/12/2011 10:11
"We now have David Cameron,"

Indeed, but history has a habit of repeating itself!

2 Chron 32: 8 "With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.”

Editor 26/12/2011 11:18
The forthcoming article (d.v.) on the Westminster Confession of Faith will include a bit on church/state relationships.
Jenny 26/12/2011 11:57
".....I hope this brief and rather late explanation goes some way in explaining my "Oh dear"...."
Thank you iMac, now I know it was an Oh dear I can get behind!
You often see the phrase used to mean something like "what you said is SO misguided that all I can really do from my position of moral superiority is throw up my hands (but not present any evidence against it because that would be too much like hard work)"

I haven't got time to follow links at the moment. Is anyone going to argue that the pope is actually a brother in Christ??
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Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands > Archive > Around the Region > Western Isles > Stornoway Watchnight Service controversy