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)
PLENARY ASSEMBLY PROTEST
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.
MEMORIAL AND PROTESTATION
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.
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