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Preservation of Historic Scottish Presbyterianism

The following appeared as a prominent notice in newspapers during the second week of March 2011. The context relates to a disagreement within the Free Church of Scotland over singing and the use of instruments and a decision reached in November 2010.

Ed note: The following text is reproduced just as it appeared, albeit with slight formatting changes.
The background to the present situation can be found in the links displayed in the left-hand column of this article.

'When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him'

The biblical values of historic Scottish Presbyterians, already seriously eroded in the national church, have been further eroded by the decision of the Free Church of Scotland last November to depart from its long established form of worship.

Despite pleas to the contrary, it is hard not to see this decision as an attempt to 'modernise' the church and make it more acceptable to other churches and indeed to the outside world. However, this particular change — which has alienated large numbers of Free Church members and adherents — will not help the church to attract the world or arrest the decline in our society.
This serious decline in society is, sadly, paralleled with a decline in the Free Church itself. This is evidenced in several areas - not least in the quality and content of the official magazine of the Free Church which has declined to the level of being a propaganda tool for change.

With the decision of the Plenary Assembly, many people who have been substantial financial supporters of the Free Church have ceased their financial support until the situation alters. This cannot be a surprise: they have been loyal but reluctant supporters of dubious projects in the past but can¬not continue giving their offerings to the furtherance of a form of worship which is opposed to the constitution of the church and in opposition to the vows of office-bearers in the church.

It is sad to see the energy of the church being absorbed with yet another attempt to destroy its own foundations, and causing huge division in the process, when that energy should have been directed in bringing the people of Scotland face-to-face with the great question of their eternal destiny. It is sadder still to see this process being undertaken by misguided leaders of the church who seem intent on focussing on new gimmicks to fill church pews. We need to ask not what will fill the churches but what emptied them in the first place.

Ordinary members - some of whom have had these changes forced on them even without consultation - are amazed at what has happened and how it has been done. They are amazed as well at the time being spent on finding two vows for worship or special clauses for the consciences of people who are unchanged in their convictions. No institution can survive with double standards for its office-bearers, far less a church.

Leadership in the church is a solemn and privileged position. Using that position to undermine the position of the church, bring about division and breed confusion is something that must be given account for on the Day of Judgment.

There is only one answer to this situation: when we are striving to build or rebuild the church, it is to renounce human strategies and worldly planning, to cease from pride and manipulation and return to the foundation on which the church has rested: the authority and sufficiency of the Bible and the doctrine and worship of the historic Presbyterian church - and to do so with the heart, seeking the Lord earnestly in prayer. 'If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.' (I Chronicles 7:14)



Office-bearers, Members and Adherents of the Free Church of Scotland are being encouraged to support this Protest to the General Assembly which will take place in Edinburgh on May 23,2011.
It regards the decision of the Assembly as contrary to Scripture and the Confession of Faith, the Church's Subordinate Standard.

It protests at the illegal procedure adopted by the Plenary Assembly in November last year when it authorised the use of hymns and musical instruments in our mode of worship.

This procedure was contrary to the established practice of the Free Church.

The decision also altered the Formula of Ordination to accommodate those whose views now contradict the vows which they undertook at their ordination.

The formal wording of the Protest follows. If you support these views please sign as indicated on the form below and forward to Mr Joe Macphee, 65 Pasterfield, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis HS1 2UR.


Unto the Venerable the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland indicted to meet in Edinburgh on Monday 23rd May 2011 this Memorial and Protestation, signed by office-bearers, members and adherents of the Free Church of Scotland with reference to the subject of Praise in the public worship of God, humbly sheweth:

That in consequence of the unwarrantable and revolutionary decision of the 2010 Plenary Assembly to allow the use of uninspired materials of praise as also of instrumental music in the public worship of God throughout the Free Church of Scotland, we consider it to be in accordance with our ecclesiastical and democratic rights, with the obligation imposed on all office-bearers by their ordination vows, with our convictions as faithful members and loyal adherents of the Free Church, with the historic principles of the Free Church, and with the continued, peace, stability, prosperity and unity of the Free Church, to bring our views under the attention of the General Assembly in the manner now adopted.

1. Whereas the said Plenary Assembly passed an Act altering the form of worship authorised and practised in the Free Church of Scotland;

2. Whereas the Plenary Assembly's decision departs from the teaching of the Scriptures on worship as historically understood by the leading figures in the Reformation, the Westminster Divines and the Disruption Fathers during the early formative years of the Free Church as also of the post 1900 Free Church right up until the Plenary Assembly;

3. Whereas this decision departs from the sound Scriptural principle practised by our Church and the leading churches of the Reformation viz that we must find an express warrant in God's Word for all that we do in the worship of God, which principle is fully warranted by the New Testament which teaches that in matters of worship as well as doctrine, the Church is bound by her great Head "to observe all things whatsoever He has commanded", and, therefore, has no right to authorise or permit the employment of anything in the worship of God that He has not commanded;

4. Whereas the Plenary Assembly's Finding is a contradiction of and departure from the doctrine of the Confession of Faith anent worship, as stated in Chap XXI, par. I and also in par.5 which specifies the matter and manner of praise in "the ordinary religious worship of God", namely, the "singing of psalms with grace in the heart" and, by making no mention of compositions of merely human origin (or of the use of instrumental music), thereby excludes them from the ordinary religious worship of God;

5. Whereas the Plenary Assembly's Finding nullifies the Formula, which safeguards the Church's Constitution and which all office-bearers have subscribed and in which they promise to observe uniformity of worship within this Church and "not to endeavour directly or indirectly the subversion of the same" and to "follow no divisive course from the worship of this Church"; and, though the wording of the Formula has not altered, its meaning and application has, thus explaining away its legitimate import and annulling its binding obligation. It is, therefore, held to be an illegal act, subversive of the Constitution of the Free Church and a grave offence against it by those who have supported the Plenary Assembly's Finding;

6. Whereas it is incompatible with Presbyterian Church government to give liberty to congregations to regulate, according to their own inclinations, the worship of God;

7. Whereas the decision not to pass this unexpected and revolutionary Finding of the Plenary Assembly to Presbyteries through the Barrier Act is contrary to the established procedures of the Church;

8. Whereas this decision is a most serious innovation and has aggrieved the conscience of many of the Church's devoted members and adherents;

9. Whereas this decision has given rise to much contention and painful divisions, not only in the Courts of the Church, but also in her congregations, with one minister having already resigned and several members having joined other denominations and others threatening to follow;

Upon these and other grounds, we, the Subscribers, hereby solemnly protest at the relinquishing of the scriptural principles of the Free Church and the alteration of her Formula of Ordination in order to accommodate those whose views now contradict the vows which they undertook at their ordination and on the basis of which they were admitted to office in this Church; and we earnestly request the General Assembly to take our conscientious opposition to this unbiblical, unconfessional and unconstitution¬al decision into their most serious consideration and recall the decision of the Plenary Assembly of November 2010; and we declare that we shall claim all competent redress from any consequences which adherence to our principles may threaten or involve.

And your Subscribers will ever pray.


Print Name:......................................................................................................................................


Please tick:
Office Bearer [  ] Communicant [  ] Adherent [  ]

Supported by former Free Church Moderators; Rev Kenneth Macleod, Rev William Mackay, Rev K D Mac/cod, Rev Neil Macdonald, Rev Donald Macdonald and Rev Douglas MacKeddie.

Former Free Church Moderators, 13/03/2011

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Ewan Wilson (Guest) 08/04/2011 19:22
Well, call me a 'legalist' if you wish but Sola Scriptura is precisely what guards against legalism- man's words not God's, in religion. Of course the Holy Ghost must regenerate and enlighten us in that Truth but He does it...through the Truth; as Christ says 'Thy Word is Truth.'
The Bible is built around Christ and the Word of Him He ensured would be inscripturated by His Apostles and close assiciates. I do not believe in an open ended Bible. If that offends then it offends.
There are many who despise 'the institutional' church and its many humble Christians. I say nothing about myself but I can assure you there are many born again, genuinely pious believers in those so called 'legalstic' denominations. They work tirelessly for the Lord's cause on all sorts of fronts, from Missions abroad to outreach at home. Perfection is far from any of us but to dismiss all as 'pharisees' and dead legalists is a serious claim. Of course I suspect with not a few the real offence is the bottom line- we refuse to put on a par with inspired Scripture what is outwith Scripture. We won't add to it. If one is 'redolent of the law' it is worth remembering that the Law is 'spiritual', and the commandments 'holy and just and good' and WE are by nature depraved and 'carnal' and so at enmity with God.When Christ delivers us it is from being anti-Law. Law keeping does NOT save us but we ARE saved to learn to keep that Law.
How are we sanctified? Through the Truth. Where is that Truth? 'Thy Word is Truth' If people think today they are adding to that Truth then I suggest they read the end verses of Revelation.

On the narrower issue of psalms exclusively, let me reiterate- no song outwith Holy Scripture can claim any spiritual equivalence with them. If you do you are breaching God's Canon. As for singing hymns encapsulating the same Scriptural Truths as the Psalms, that then begs the question- why prefer those extra Biblical songs? Best stick to the expression of Truth God has directly inspired.
As for Paul's Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, whatever they were, they were NOT the compositions of 1700, 1800, 1900, 2000 years later. They were the vehicle that ensured 'the Word of Christ' dwellt directly in God's people. The book of Revelation certainly shows the glorified church having harps, but it also indicates golden bowls, incense, beasts, white rainment, etc etc. It is a book of heavenly vision mediated to us in intensely symbolic language beyond the scope of even the most enthusiastic ritualist to imitate...and we are NOT meant to imitate it in this fashion!
Finally, I must again emphasise that the division of the Law into Moral, Ceremonial/Typical, civil arises out of the Scriptures themselves. Both O.T. and N.T. plainly demonstrate Ceremonial to be done away but the Moral to remain, written in our hearts as the new principle of life Christ energises us to strive to keep. Where's an example? Well, the N.T. is replete with it but look at Acts Chap 10 v9-16 - compare Hebrews Chap8 v10-13 or indeed Christ's own words in Matthew's Gospel Chap5 v17-20. The Law at its core is inviolate despite all the types and ceremonial ordinances being wiped away in Christ's finished work of redemption.
If all this renders one a 'pharisee' then that is a stigma one must bear. Happily even in these dark days I am still in goodly company.
Ewan Wilson (Guest) 08/04/2011 19:40
Sorry, but I missed the point about singing prose portions of Scripture. Will that render it 'inspired praise'? My response is did God intend those portions of Scripture to be sung? Did He deliver them as materials of song praise? Obviously not. So, though one could chant/sing them, it is using it in a way not intended in the worship of God.
As for Michal despising David for his religious dance of joy, was it David's dancing and playing per se she despised or his Faith that inspired him to do so? Thw whole incident is Levitical in its execution and as the books of Chronicles clearly shows everything done in the praise of God was minutely controlled by God- even the instruments were especially invented according to divine template.
Penny Lee 09/04/2011 00:42

" can assure you there are many born again, genuinely pious believers in those so called 'legalstic' denominations"

I absolutely accept this and do not doubt the sincerity of those involved. Neither is it the place of any of us to decide who is or isn't a Christian, although we should use our discernment else we would not see any need to tell others of their need of salvation.

You also say, "we refuse to put on a par with inspired Scripture what is outwith Scripture. We won't add to it." However, you have added to it by insisting that only psalms be sung, and without instruments. The Bible does not say this, it just doesn't, so to say it does is 'adding to it'. In fact, as well as adding to Scripture, you have also detracted from it by insisting that the hymns and songs mentioned in the NT are worthless. They clearly weren't at the time, so why now? How can you ask why anyone would prefer these 'extra Biblical songs'? Weren't they also inspired by God, else why would Paul be telling others to sing them? To suggest that they are worthless and not to bother with them is changing the words of Scripture.

I know what you say and believe is sincerely held and acted upon but you really need to sit down and think this through. What you say is contradictory to Scripture. There is nothing that supports that belief and to insist that there is, is 'adding to it'.
John Parker (Guest) 09/04/2011 18:25
Ewan, regarding the Bible being clear on the matter how is that two groupings each holding fast to the Word of God reach different conclusions? And by extension does it mean that everyone who disagrees with your position is in error?
Alec (Guest) 12/04/2011 18:12
John Parker asks an extremely good question. Another theological postion which has intrigued me for years, is the old Calvinism / Arminianism debate.

Both positions can be "proved" from Scripture. Yet they both cannot be correct. At best one of them is actually wrong. At worst BOTH are.

Its a bit like the Young Earth / Old Earth / Theistic Evolution debate. People will passionately claim that Scripture supports their view.

But the cannot all be correct. They could in fact, all be wrong.

In situations like this, when one party holds dogmatically to one view, with absolute certainty, then by definition, they HAVE to be implying that the others are wrong

Yet even within the pale of the same denomination, one can encounter these contrary postions. Go to one church you get X go to another you get Y

Churches which try to be "broad churches" are ususally the ones who end up with these situations.

Ewan Wilson (Guest) 12/04/2011 22:16

Well, we must use some discernment to identify who is and is not a genuine believer. The Lord's Table is not to trampled over, pesrls are not to cast before swine. However we cannot see the heart so must take a lot of what we see 'on trust' and only obvious contradiction of a personal confession can or should bar from membership of the visible church.
As for defending exclusive psalmody amounting to addition to Scripture, we must simply disagree on this issue. You evidently take the 'Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs' to refer to material outwith the Biblical Psalter and canon; Exclusive Psalmists argue, in my view cogently, that it must refer to the Psalter songs alone; certainly that is how they are decscribed in the Scriptures themselves. Patently, the Apostle Paul was not alluding to song material written more than a thousand years after his life!
As for disagreeing on certain Scriptural issues and doctrines, well, that is what the Church must mature over the centuries in her understanding. Just as with cardinal doctrines like the Trinity. Scripture is not uniformly 'easy' but that does NOT mean there are indeed right and wrong understandings of what God's Word teaches. It would be to branch off into different fields to start arguing on the right Biblical stance on Calvinism/Arminianism ( not forgetting semi-pelagianism and Amyralidianism!) but I submit the Gospel speaks most powerfully to those who know their TOTAL DEPRAVITY and the utterly vain help of man to overcome sin. As Spurgeon put it- it is ALL of grace.
On the Creationist position it is patently obvious that Scripture opposes any form of evolution and Old Esrth creationism simply runs counter to a straightforward reading of the Genesis account. Those 'days' were bounded by 'daylight' and 'night-time'. Preposterous to try to fit this into the billions of years required by godless evolution.
Personally I would refuse membership to anyone who did not accept/could not see evolution for the deceit of the devil and godless humanism that it is.

Penny Lee 12/04/2011 22:55

I was agreeing with you on showing discernment between believers and non-believers.

Of Course Paul's use of the words, "Psalms, Hymns and Songs" could only have been those which had been sung up to that point of time. How could he refer to those which hadn't yet been written? To say that, because he mentioned them and his words are recorded in scripture, this must mean that they were all directly from the scripture is a massive leap. It would be like saying that the Bible recounts how those going into the temple put in their denarii, or shekels and then trying to say today that it is scriptural that we all must use these same coins within church finances since that is the only coins mentioned in the Bible as being given for the church treasury! No - God accept our modern equivalent so long as it is acceptable to Him and given with the right heart, be it money or music.

I have never stated anywhere that I believe in evolution, as I don't. I have no idea of the age of the planet itself, which may have been here far longer than the time when God shaped it into the world He did in Genesis. For all we know, the 'shaping' could have been responsible for the geological evidence which man has assumed took billions of years. God say it took Him six days, and I believe Him.
Martin Lisemore 13/04/2011 00:17
What a lovely series of responses Andrea, such a welcome departure from pedantry and dogma.

Praise God.
John Parker (Guest) 14/04/2011 12:07
Ewan, just in case you missed my earlier question, could I ask it again please.

Regarding the Bible being clear on the matter (of what to sing and not to sing/play) how is that two groupings each holding fast to the Word of God reach different conclusions?
Ewan Wilson (Guest) 29/05/2011 01:06
I come to this very late having been away from this site for some time. The question seems to be a challenge to Sola Scriptura and implies there must be another, clarifying authority above Scripture ( such as the Holy Roman Inquisition/Magisterium )
My rely is simple and one I think I already made- Scripture demands application to be understood fully and its profound teachings are more sharply grasped as the Church at large grapples with controverted points and matures to a proper understanding. This is so with the most fundamental of doctrines such as the Trinity.
Differing conclusions on an issue such as Psalmody or the exact outworking and implications of the Regulative Principle come about because of spiritual immaturity on our part, though more knavish or calculating/politic reasons can be found as well. This is something the N.T. tells us to expect! The fault is all ours and must never be ascribed to an insufficiency of Scripture. Even where the Roman Church has resorted to a supposed higher arbitrating authority like the Magisterium she just pushes the problem back a stage to a wrong focus as you will then get pronouncements of the Magisterium itself being debated!
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