be of one mind

See after you’ve mentioned a topic once, it’s hard not to get dragged in and keep coming back to it. So: psalms.

Previous comments from last summer here and post-Plenary here.

But this time just two general things.

1) Something to read. Mr Stewart, minister of Dowanvale FC, has written a detailed, lucid, and comprehensive response to the decision of November’s Plenary Assembly. It is available here as a pdf. I found it gripping, strange perhaps to say, and its conclusions compelling. If you’ve only seen the jubilations of people who don’t see what all the fuss is about, this is the breath of fresh air you’ve been waiting for.

2) Reactions in the FPs. At least, the ones I’ve been hearing.

(a) People are very, very saddened by November’s decision. Not angry, not scornful, not judgmental. Overawed by the enormity, perhaps, but very, very sad.

(b) People are constantly (independently) drawing comparisons between Kenny Stewart and Donald MacFarlane. Being placed in a horribly difficult situation as a result of an outrage being perpetrated on your conscience by church courts is something that FPs, if they know their history, understand.

(c) People are praying. People are praying first of all that last November’s decision would be repealed. It doesn’t seem to be a decision that the majority of the church are happy with. It places ministers, elders, and members not just in an awkward position, but an awkward position that was scarcely expected and which becomes more and more evidently awkward as time goes by. (In 1892, there was just the possibility that the declaratory act would be rejected at the next Assembly. It wasn’t till the decision of the 1893 Assembly that Mr MacFarlane’s position became untenable, but just think: how immeasurably better things would have been all round, if the ’92 Act had been rejected.) Meanwhile, it’s in everybody’s interests to have the FC internally united around scripturally warranted doctrines and practice – for the Christian good of Scotland, we want to see it as healthy, as thriving, and as biblical in its practice as possible.

But praying too that, if there is no repeal, the FPs would be open to receiving friends from the FC who would find it impossible to remain there under the new regime. People are not sanguine about how easy it is to leave the denomination of your birth, upbringing, and Christian profession. People are not sanguine about the cultural differences that exist between the FPs and the FCs. But attitudes and the general atmosphere in the FPC has been changing in the last decade or so. Even on some practical issues, where previously the FP position might have been too strict for an FCer to realistically contemplate, now (as a friend delicately put it) they might not have all that much to worry about.

The truest, surest unity between believers in the FPC and believers in the FC has always consisted of their shared experience of grace, their shared commitment to the doctrines of the Confession, and their shared commitment to Reformation-heritage purity of worship. The threat of disunity loomed so large over the Plenary Assembly that it seems many men voted contrary to their own position – not on the rights and wrongs of a capella exclusive psalmody, but on the political question of what seemed to best guarantee organisational unity. But if the FC doesn’t move to recover the ground it has lost, the real ‘unity option’ might well end up being a gathering around these shared essentials under the auspices of the FPC. Do we have the convictions, FP and FC folks, for this to happen?


the lack of a crisis

There’s a video here of a conversation between Ligon Duncan and Derek Thomas, which for some reason I clicked on (I can’t normally be bothered watching videos – reading so much more efficient).

But they brought up an issue which bears thinking about: the lack of a ‘crisis of assurance’ in the experience of so many people in the contemporary church. The video references an article by Carl Trueman (here) where he goes so far as to say that “the whole notion of assurance, and the lack thereof, has become nonsense for most Christians.”

Why is this? What causes this? It’s not that doubting your salvation is a good thing. But a culture that takes salvation for granted – where you can casually mention that 17 people just “got saved” at youth group the other night – where you never really have to grapple with the possibility that maybe God doesn’t think you’re as great as you do – doesn’t have good grounds for its certainty about salvation. A well-founded assurance of salvation is something to aspire to, at the very least, and then value and preserve. But it’s not so much assurance that people have, sometimes, as unthinking complacency. Why is this?

According to Trueman, it’s because we’re living in an atmosphere where “the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin are no longer of any major consequence.” According to Duncan, it’s “because we do not believe in the holiness and justice of God, and because we do not have a fear of hell.”

These explanations must be true. The Christian church at large has allowed these doctrines – these realities – to fade from collective consciousness.

We have, largely, lost a sense of the enormity of salvation. If a person is saved, then they have all the blessings of salvation. Peace (of conscience), joy (in the Holy Ghost), the comfort of having the Lord as your Shepherd, the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God – all these are available to sinners, but they only belong to those who are saved – converted, regenerated, born again, united to Christ. And the ramifications are eternal: if we are not saved, what then? Thinking of Christianity as merely a solution for human-level problems (dissatisfaction, loneliness, feeling unfulfilled) makes salvation seem something not particularly important to have, and not something especially disconcerting to lack, and therefore there is no particular need to devote much care to examining whether you have it or not.

And we have lost a sense of the supernaturalness of salvation. Yesterday I read this by Thomas Boston. “See your utter inability to help yourselves, by yourselves. ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself …’ Look to your crimson guilt, and you will see it to be of a deeper dye than tears of thy blood can wash it out – the cords wreathed so fast about thy neck as all thy utmost efforts cannot loose them. Look to the power of thy lusts, and see thy slender arms utterly unable to break them; thyself as unable to grapple with them as a little child with a giant, or a weak man with the leviathan, that will count his darts as straw, and his spear as flax.”

If we are so utterly unable to save ourselves, then someone else must do it for us. Now of course Christ is able to save us and will make a far better job of saving us than we can begin to know how to. He is perfectly able to keep that which we commit to him. But largely we fail to grapple with the terrible risk of committing our soul’s salvation to someone else. Thankfully, he is both willing and able, but we better make sure we are in fact safely committed into his keeping, and how can we know this? There is a huge contrast between how seriously this point calls for dedicated inquiry, and how easily we gloss over it.

But neglecting to be impressed by our total helplessness means that salvation becomes just an everyday thing. If it’s only a question of persuading yourself of some true things – even some difficult things, like trying to believe that Christ rose from the dead – then that’s only on a par with many of the other complicated things we need to understand in our lives. But this is not the nature of saving faith. What I can bring myself to believe is not the point. It’s not a question of what I need to do – it’s what needs to happen to me. ‘You must be born again’ – must even then be made a recipient of faith itself.

Which means we have also lost the sense of something else – of how completely out of our hands our own salvation is. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? A goat can’t turn itself into a sheep. I can’t give birth to myself! But the wind blows where it pleases, and there’s nothing anyone can do to influence it. Thomas Goodwin speaks about how, when a sinner is to come to faith in Christ, all three persons of the Godhead must be actively involved at the same time. The Father stands in heaven and points out the sinner to the Son as one he loves, and the Son must love that sinner too, and recognise them as someone he has redeemed, and the Spirit must come and actually join their hands together. “Now,” he says, “to get all the three Persons thus joined at once effectually and actually to bestow Christ and the Spirit of faith upon a man, is not within any man’s command.” It is as far out of his power as if he was to order a conjunction of planets in the heavens. Canute was unambitious by comparison. The salvation of a sinner is such a vast work, and why should the Triune God go to such bother over any one of us? Why should I be saved? Why should I be saved?

Trueman: “the whole notion of assurance, and the lack thereof, has become nonsense for most Christians. And that speaks of a religious world where the bases for lack of assurance (the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin) are no longer of any major consequence. If assurance is not an issue, it is likely because you have a sub-biblical view of God’s holiness and a sub-Pauline view of human sin; and if this is the case, then the vanishing distance between Protestants and Catholics should not be a cause of comfort or rejoicing for either; rather, it speaks of the secularization and the worldliness of the Christian mind.”

Relevant section of the Thomas/Duncan video: approx 2:15 to 5:40.
Background to Trueman’s article: the doctrine of assurance as disputed at the Reformation.

wee rant

Can I just say. Flying. What a perfect nuisance the entire experience is. The inordinate amount of time you spend lingering around the airport beforehand, the indignities of the security check, the being sqidged in far too close to random strangers (some of whom, horrors, are even chatty), the anxious melee at the baggage scrum after you’ve walked too many miles to find it… It was once an exciting, luxurious highlight of childhood holidays, and now just such a chore.

That is all.

for shame

Finished Butcher’s Broom last night (Neil Gunn), and went googling for Patrick Sellar.

Sellar features in the book, under the only slightly too obvious name of Mr Heller. Smooth and professional in his discussions with his fellow factors and lawyers, but at the head of his gangs of men with dogs, brutal and vile.

So what’s the worst that the spineless, boneless, marrowless folk in Moray can say about him?

“And yet without the Clearances and Patrick Sellar in particular, would we be celebrating this Year of Homecoming 2009?”
“… his methods, even for the harsh times of the early 19th century, were severe.  But did his actions directly contribute to the rich cultures of Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand and those Scottish connections which we celebrate during this Year of Homecoming?”

Did even the tourists not feel the … the … the pusillanimity?