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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Jenny 27/12/2011 19:25
I agree with Penny, Peter, and i think you're wrong on this.
We have to speak out to judge the pope's teaching if not himself. The more the rest of the world refuses to judge him, the more misunderstanding reigns. He's leading countless souls in the wrong direction, and so far as I can see, the main difference between him and the person I was talking about is just numbers.

"....The Pope is not within my sphere of influence (nor yours I suspect!)...."

that's true in one sense, but aside from the point, because there are probably many of those deceived by the pope, aka ordinary catholics, who ARE within your sphere of influence as well as mine.
Peter Carr (Guest) 27/12/2011 20:30
Jenny and Penny,

I fail to see the connection about the Pope and BG, other than the fact that BG is likely to have been led astray with his ecumenical approach to faith matters in recent years. I do not have any RC's within my immediate influence, that I am aware of. Let us not forget that this is a largely Protestant country, but increasingly secular, pluralist and athiest.

I have no issues with people discussing the obvious error of the RC tradition, which is well documented. However, I still maintain that it is not my place, your place, or indeed any mortals place to play God by judging.

As for BG, I again maintain, that I was merely highlighting his obvious error, lest I, you or anyone else fall into the same. I do not think that to be the same as judging.

There is always a danger with threads like this becoming 'we are better than that lot' discussions, which can soon become unhealthy and unhelpful. So, what if the Pope is not born again, is he any different to millions of others in the world, who have the word of God, but do not have the God of the word?

Is it not better to see such individuals as in need of divine revelation, and in need of our prayers? (As was once our condition)!

Let us not forget that it is by grace we are saved, this not of ourselves, but a wonderful gift of God through Jesus Christ His Son the only Saviour. Unless God's Spirit convicts of guilt with regards to sin, righteousness and the judgement to come, who can be saved?!!
Penny Lee 27/12/2011 21:58

I agree with you that there is no connection between the Pope and Graham, except that they are both public figures of a religious nature. This is where the similarity ends. You are right - we have not to judge others - but is that the same as using discernment? If we truly never judge anyone then we will see no need to witness to them as they might well be saved already. In addition, when someone is claiming to have received salvation, then we are instructed in the Bible to challenge behaviour which is contrary to God's laws.

I also agree with you that we should always see others as in need of salvation, including the Pope, and pray for them accordingly. I don't think anyone here would dispute that.
Martin Lisemore 27/12/2011 22:54
Perhaps this is not a matter of judgement. Perhaps this is a matter of just seeing what is before us and applying the litmus test of New Testament to it; testing the spirits at work here and being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.

If that is the case, and I concede I may be wrong here, we are not judging as such, since the implication of the word judge is much more than hold an opinion; more to execute a judgement in one sense or another. A judge is, after all, one charged with executing a will outside themselves.

Whether we speak of the pope, Billy Graham, or any other visible Christian, the same tests apply, surely. If their lives, actions and words do not agree with the Law, the Prophets and the New Testament (we're actually here speaking of a whole) then we must dismiss their witness. They are false witnesses.

I have my own views about Rome, views hard won in Eire twenty five years ago, yet, as I've posted here before, I met several born again Christians within Rome. One was a priest, Rossa *****, who without any doubt was born again. Yet he, like the others, said, the Lord has not said, leave the church of Rome, so they stayed. A witness, a remnant. And I praise God for that. They continued to go to Mass, Rossa, for his part continued as a Roman priest but for him it was no longer the Roman Mass, it was communion with our Lord.

It put it to you, the issue is not as clear cut, nor as comfortable, as we would like it to be in our post-Reformation, denominational camps.

However, I have never stood on a platform with a Roman Catholic of whom I wasn't utterly convinced they were born again.

And for the benefit of RF, who alleged I had lived six lives; whilst in Ireland, I worked the land, milked cows, served in shops, and all to provide for my then wife and myself, the while, travelling to speak, teach, evangelise ... and on one evening, after nineteen hours farm work (a difficult calving, amongst other things) travelled to Portlaoise prison, to spend a very long, but very fulfilling evening with murderers, terrorists and bombers, all of whom hated Brits, and that with no guards.

That's how my Christian life has been lived. Not six lives, but one very full one! Praise God for that.
Peter Carr (Guest) 28/12/2011 14:34
Thank you Martin for the sense of reason and balance that you bring to the discussion.
Peter Carr (Guest) 28/12/2011 14:38
Penny said, " In addition, when someone is claiming to have received salvation, then we are instructed in the Bible to challenge behaviour which is contrary to God's laws."

Sadly, not always clear cut or black and white when you take into account the sometimes regressive nature of the Christian life for some!!

Penny Lee 28/12/2011 15:42
"Sadly, not always clear cut or black and white when you take into account the sometimes regressive nature of the Christian life for some!!"

True - even issues which are clear cut (in the Bible) are being twisted and re-interpreted to avoid having to deal with them, or adhere to them.
Martin Lisemore 28/12/2011 16:26
Penny, would you open out your last post a little, please. I think I have your point, but I'm not wanting to post a reply which will cause a rift between any of us here.

May God Bless You.
Penny Lee 28/12/2011 17:19
I was thinking particularly about the issue of the CofS stance on homosexuality. I am also aware that there are others in the church who reject creation, hell, the virgin birth and other such matters, yet they are all very clearly explained in the Bible.
Peter Carr (Guest) 28/12/2011 19:03
For my part Martin, I am thinking more along the lines of poor or no application of biblical truths in the Christian life, which can lead to stunted spiritual growth, or regression. This is seemingly more apparent as we see the world inform and transform Christians instead of the other way around! (Every pastor's nightmare).
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Christians Together in the Highlands and Islands > Archive > Around the Region > Western Isles > Stornoway Watchnight Service controversy