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 People are praying first of all that last November’s decision would be repealed.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?

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53 thoughts on “be of one mind

  1. But worth repeating!
    People in different parts of the country independently praying for the same kind of thing = a positive sign?

    Should also state: All of the above is an unofficial, layman’s, personal opinion. It’s a true report of what I hear people saying, but I wouldn’t like to take a guess at how many people as a proportion of the whole, or what the generality of elders/ministers might be thinking.

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  2. Hi cath, an interesting post. While I agree with much of it and would also hope that we would wholeheartedly welcome any free church people who had the mind to join us, I don’t quite follow your second last paragraph.

    I suppose it depends on what you mean by “too strict”, but we can’t be too strict in adhering to the scriptures, and while I agree that we have become less strict in that sense (and therefore more worldly than past generations), that is something to be sad about rather than something which commends us to others.

    Perhaps it also depends on what you mean by “cultural differences”. The FPC and the FC are in the same culture generally, but I suppose there are ‘cultures’ within a culture (eg. singing with grace notes, the practice of going round communion seasons) which are more prevalent in one denomination than another but are not necessarily ‘right or wrong’, but I don’t think these things would need to cause a barrier? Some other differences that exist between the denominations are based on Biblical principles rather than culture, which I think are still important to maintain.

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    • Agreed. One of the things I love about this church is that even the “little things” have been thought out and are done the way they are for a reason, e.g. standing for prayer. I would be sad to see any of those “little things” set aside for the sake of “unity.”

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  3. Hi,

    From what I can see, there are cultural differences that don’t matter much one way or the other, exactly like the ones you mention, but there are other things which aren’t particularly important in themselves, but we might have a tendency to use as “markers” of “them and us”, and have lots of ready answers to justify why the practice that we follow is inherently better than the alternative, and instinctively feel disapproving if people do things differently. I don’t know how specific to get in a public place, but there are things to do with dress, things to do with the words we use (can’t be Sunday, can’t be ‘you’ in prayer), things to do with how we treat other versions of the Bible, where there would be scope for us to relax our attitudes without compromising biblical principles. I know the reasons why we take the position we do on these things, but I don’t think they are things which we should feel obliged to maintain if it means that other believers can’t join us because of them. I know too that it would be quite uncomfortable for me to change my attitudes/behaviour on many of these things, but at the same time I don’t think that we should use this type of thing as a barrier, to keep people out unless they conformed to the habits we’re accustomed to.

    Actually I have no idea whether these kinds of things would really be the stumbling block for someone wondering what church they should belong to. But I think of the times where I’ve met someone from our cousin denomination and on discovering where I come from, they blanch or boggle or otherwise make an expression of distaste and conversation becomes strained. Was it something I said? how bad must our reputation be? If we had a bad reputation purely for commitment to the Westminster Confession including the regulative principle, that would be a shame but something you’d just have to live with. It’s all the other stuff, the attitudes and unwritten dos and donts, that shouldn’t enter into the question of church membership but which must be presumably what turns people off from even considering whether our testimony is something that they might actually fundamentally share. Some amount of blame belongs with people who don’t look beyond the stereotypes, but some amount of blame also belongs to us for almost (it sometimes seems) wilfully showing our worst side in public and keeping our kindly, godly, thoughtful, Christian side relatively hidden.

    In all of which I slightly over-state the case, so almost in a way for the purpose of being contradicted and corrected.

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  4. A characteristically thoughtful posting, Catherine, and you make the important point that there is no sense of triumphalism or any opportunistic thinking in Free Presbyterian circles after the unexpected outcome of the Plenary Assembly.

    I wouldn’t, though, myself equate the PA decision with the ratification of the Declaratory Act and the crisis of 1893, and I certainly wouldn’t equate Rev. Kenneth Stewart’s conduct in recent weeks with that of Rev. Donald Macfarlane in 1893.

    It is difficult to see Mr Stewart’s antics on the Sabbath after the PA as much more than a self-indulgent tantrum, wholly traumatic for his congregation and which made media drama out of a crisis. It was widely (and quietly reasonably) reported, in terms of his statement, that he was leaving the Free Church; meanwhile (and quite illegally under Free Church rules) he was granted a month’s paid leave of absence. In the event, he took less than three weeks, but spent most of that time not in rest and reflection but trying to whip up support for division and secession. In fact, he cannot even carry his own congregation – none of his deacons support him, and only a minority of his elders; and his most vocal followers are excited young communicants from Lewis who aren’t even on the Dowanvale roll.

    As for his various statements – and let’s ignore the failure at any point to table a Protest, or his general piffle about the Barrier Act – it is sobering to go through them and count just how many times the words ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘myself’, and ‘mine’ appear. This isn’t Mr Macfarlane in 1893, or anything like it – this is much more a grand-standing ego-trip, and one that is likely to end in widespread division, distress and cynicism – to say nothing of the destruction of what was, till a few weeks ago, the Free Church’s most useful and notably blessed pastorate.

    It is important that Free Presbyterians are familiar with such concepts as the Regulative Principle and right to have an intelligent grasp of our Reformed worship – and mourn its abandonment by others – but to involve ourselves in the specific, internal politics and personalities of another denomination, without first-hand knowledge or full understanding of certain structural and credal differences, is – in my opinion – imprudent.

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  5. “I don’t know how specific to get in a public place, ”

    *All* the details! We want to know if the minifrees have to wear long knickers and aren’t allowed to put sugar in their tea on Sundays!

    :D

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  6. Well I thought my last post would be my one and only – I do hate posting on public blogs… but just briefly… I suppose we will have to agree to disagree if you take things such as using only the AV, addressing God as ‘you’, distinction in dress between male and female, women wearing head coverings in public worship etc as merely “habits we’re accustomed to”. In my opinion, they are more than that, and that they all (although some more clearly than others) are based on biblical principles which we shouldn’t just abandon for the sake of unity. Church unity is of course very important, but not at the expense of doing/allowing what we believe to be contrary to the scriptures (in any degree). In principle, is that not just the same as what those who voted for the introduction of hymns/instruments in the FC did?

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    • I think Cath intentionally didn’t say which she thought belonged to which group, so you perhaps don’t need to agree to disagree yet, as you may not disagree at all.

      But do explain to me the scriptural basis for using only the AV. Please?

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      • Urk. I think she means we have a scriptural doctrine of inspiration, and only some translation philosophies are faithful to it, and out of all the translations available, the AV is the most faithful, and should therefore be used in preference to all the others available.

        Which I agree with.

        Except that I don’t think the use of a particular bible translation should be part of the criteria for church membership. Other people might.

        I have the sinking feeling that debating the rights and wrongs of specific things is going to be inevitable, but I’m not convinced it will be helpful

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  7. Well, a Sabbath day and a clean oven later, here are my thoughts.

    There needs to be a distinction between things that are non-negotiable because they have scripture warrant, and things where believers can legitimately differ from each other. In the first category comes things like psalms (plus head-coverings in church, since it’s been mentioned), but in the second category are things like homeschooling, being teetotal, owning a tv, and so on. These are just familiar examples of areas where we already accept diversity of opinion/practice within the unity of our church, and where the church would actually be wrong to insist on one rather than the other as a basis of membership. The question is then which of the two categories the other things that we’ve mentioned fall into.

    Certain things to do with dress, although not the gender distinction itself, and the use of only one bible version, and certain kinds of terminology, belong in the second category. There are good reasons in favour of preferring the practices that predominate in our circles, but these reasons are not watertight, and not warranted by scripture in the sense or to the extent that we must insist on the practices we favour to the exclusion of any alternatives.

    It seems to me that collectively we are good at having ready reasons to justify every practice that we follow in the church, but we are not always so good at distinguishing between things that are essential to practice (ie otherwise we would be behaving contrary to the bible) and things that we happen to all do but which are not essential (even when they are good, sensible habits, of long standing, and to some degree consistent with scripture). At the Reformation and at various times in the history of the Scottish church this distinction has been crucial: the church can only demand things as conditions of church membership if they are instituted in the Word, not just because they have a title of antiquity, custom, devotion, or good intent.

    In the current context, we have the danger that unless November’s decision is overturned, people are going to find themselves strangers in their own church, and officebearers are going to find themselves with vows contrary to their own consciences, and in both cases, with nowhere else to go. When the FC repealed the Declaratory Act last century, they offered reunion with the FPs with one hand, and with the other hand made the terms of union impossible for the FPs to accept. Possibly the FPs at the time could have worked harder to make reunion workable, but the bulk of the responsibility for that failure to heal division lay with the FC for offering terms that were almost calculated to preclude the possibility that the FPs could reunite. Here and now, it would be a very sad case of tit for tat down the generations if we threw open our doors to anyone who subscribes the Westminster Confession including purity of worship, while saying at the same time that they can’t actually come in unless they also conform to every last idiosyncrasy and mannerism that we’ve developed alongside.

    I should add that I’m perhaps going out on a limb by voicing these things, but I’m not alone in thinking them.

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    • I fully agree that no church should insist on its members adhering to anything which they cannot back up with biblical principles. However, you appear to be suggesting that the FP church does, which is what I disagree with.

      I do agree that there are habits, customs and mannerisms that are unique to the FP church which are done out of convenience, tradition etc and can’t be backed up from the Bible, but I don’t think any Kirk session would insist upon these things as conditions for membership.

      PS. If it makes any difference, I’m not alone in thinking these things either :-)

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  8. On the parallels between Mr Stewart and Mr MacFarlane, these aren’t so much to do with their personal characters and the details of their actions, as the position they find themselves in relative to decisions of the church. We’re not looking for an exact counterpart to play the role of the determined but charismatic Rainy either, and, of the sons of Ephraim, perhaps the least said, the better.

    With a dash more charity, it would be possible to construe the actions of a stunned man after an unexpected outcome which affects the conscience in matters of deep religious significance somewhat differently. And as to whether a person’s use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ reflects a disgraceful ego-trip, or a more appropriately restrained ‘I in my own name and the name of any who may agree with me’, requires something more than counting up the words; as any corpus linguist would tell you, dramatic conclusions from a token count of lexical items in a text are usually somewhat suspect.

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  9. Incoming ! Incoming !
    (Just to use some military terminology)
    Time to don the helmet and duck Cath.
    Expect some flak. But nae fae me.

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    • “This then is the only English translation that is used in the public worship of the Church and recommended by the Church for family and private use.” That’s “recommended” not “required” for family and private use. Of course, I’m quite happy with the AV myself, but it doesn’t appear that use of a different version at home would be an obstacle to church membership (unless one was contentious about it, I suppose).

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  10. Folks, I’m reminded to say, in good BBC fashion, “If you’ve been affected by the issues raised in tonight’s programme,” you can always email me. Or Facebook. Or phone.

    Even real life, if all else fails.

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  11. Hm. The comparison between Stewart and Macfarlane still won’t fly, Catherine: Dr Begg and Dr Kennedy protested vehemently at the authorisation of hymns in 1872, but neither left the Church over it or suggested that anyone should. The Declaratory Act was another matter entirely – an infamy whose fruits can be seen unfolding even today – but even after he had tabled his Protest Mr Macfarlane’s actions were a model of serene and measured dignity.

    [Admin edit 29 Jan 2011: Two paragraphs containing attacks on an individual deleted after ministerial consultation]

    Let’s wait and see how things develop.

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  12. Would it not be better if Robertson and the others who are causing trouble in the Free Church were expelled rather than those who subscribe to the WCF having to leave for another church?

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    • Bit late now, innit?

      But it’s quite striking, the degree of dissenting opinions and practices which were tolerated prior to November, contrasted with the robust “like it or lump it” line subsequent. Ministers took vows in the FC (more explicit vows than the FPs have) but didn’t apparently contemplate leaving after discovering they wanted to practice something inconsistent with those vows, but the ones who treat their vows as actually meaning what they say, are finding themselves in no end of trouble.

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  13. I think the point Cath is making is very well summed up by Ryle in his commentary on John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another”. I don’t have the quote to hand, but I think Ryle ranks Christian unity as being extremely important. Perhaps Ryle took this a bit far (for example, he remained in the CofE despite several things which I think we would class as heresies, e.g. the doctrine of transubstantiation, being widely believed and taught in that church), nevertheless, I think it is a point worth thinking about, and I’m sure I hope we would welcome FCers who feel they cannot remain in the FC following the hymns decision.

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    • Hi Neil,

      Not sure what you’re point is exactly.

      I think we’re all agreed that Christian unity and charity are good and necessary things. (I can’t see where Ryle speaks about unity in the passage you mentioned, but never mind, I’m sure he speaks about its importance somewhere else.) However, if that was the point Catherine was making in her initial post, a) I missed it, and b) nobody as far as I can see is arguing with it.

      Christian unity should exist between all the Lord’s people regardless of denominational differences. Believer’s should love other believer’s because they are united in Christ, not because they belong to the same denomination, (although that is an additional bond). The unity in that sense of the word should still exist when one believer sings hymns and use instrumental music in public worship and the other doesn’t. However Catherine is saying that if the FC didn’t repeal that decision then there would be those within its bounds who would have no option but to leave, so that is obviously not the ‘unity’ that is being spoken about.

      The Church has a duty to uphold the standards and principles of the Bible and ought to insist upon it in it’s doctrine, worship and practice. It can’t pick and choose which are important and which are not. That doesn’t mean that it can’t love other Christians who are different to them, but it does mean that it can’t lower it’s standards in order to accommodate them.

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      • your, not you’re! oops! :-)

        PS, I ought to have clarified in my previous post what I meant by ‘unity’ as it was just waiting to be misunderstood. So my fault, sorry about that.

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  14. John,

    In the choice between relentless journalistic savaging of a minister’s conduct and reputation, and the quiet murmurs of little old ladies who say they quite like the tapes of his sermons they’ve heard, I think most FPs know who to listen to.

    Mr Stewart’s call to the ministry is beyond dispute.

    This isn’t a place for bad-mouthing anybody, and any further comments which contain personal attacks will be liable to summary deletion.

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  15. Can I just pop my helmeted heid out of my fox hole and call for a truce for a minute at least? I only heard of Kenny Stewart or Dowanvale for that matter as a result of the recent debacle within the FC. Like the rest of us on here i’m sure he’s far from perfect and has much to mourn over in a spiritual sense. However having listened to his ministry and in particular his series on ‘The Crucifixion’ and ‘The Tabernacle’ I would say he is a real gem. He has ability, a great delivery, his sermons exalt Christ and debase man and if he has not been called of God to the ministry then i’m an onion.

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  16. John, i’m confused ! Afew months ago you were saying that Cath was a ‘princess in Israel.’ Now its all changed ? Has her tiara slipped in your opinion ? The words of Joseph to his brethren are maybe appropriate, ‘See that ye fall not out by the way.’

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    • Ach, it’s just political. The more that Mr Stewart can be discredited, the less likely all those unhappy FC people will be inclined to follow his lead, as the figurehead for that substantial segment of the church who still quaintly believe that you should mean what you say when you vow something. Exactly the same campaign is being waged on Facebook, where the same flavour of insinuations have been repeatedly propagated, conveniently reaching lots of these agitated young people at once. Although notice that the only hard fact against him is that regrettable leave of absence, which is being spun for all it’s worth. Other than that – zilch, so on the whole it’s maybe less Machiavelli and more Derek Draper. Everyone liked him well enough when he was that clear gospel preacher attracting crowds of young people to his congregation – it’s not that *he’s* changed, to deserve getting trashed like this. So: don’t be fooled by cloying compliments, and don’t be scared by insults.

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  17. Flora/Neil et al – have you seen/can you get a hold of the book, “The Theology and Theologians of Scotland 1560-1750” ? – it has a chapter on the doctrine of the visible church which might be useful. Describes how the doctrine was handled by the Scottish Reformers and then by later generations (Seceders, Separatists). By James Walker, first published 1872 but my copy is a reprint (1982) – smallish paperback in a fetching yellow cover.

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    • Hi Catherine,
      No, I have not heard of the book, or know where/if I could access it. If I come across it, I will take note. If the chapter you mention is about the importance of unity in the visible church, then I am not disputing that. I am not advocating schism or separatism and I hope nothing I have said has suggested that I am. The rights and wrongs of what is valid ground for splits etc is, I think, a different issue to the point I am trying to make.

      All I am trying to say is that if we believe that a practice we adhere to has biblical authority then we should not abandon it. Full stop; whether that makes it easy for others to join us or not. Doing so would – I think – be disregarding God’s authority and saying in effect that we value the fellowship of other Christians more than the fellowship of God. I think the “strictness” of the FP church is a good thing, but you seemed to be saying that its becoming less “strict” is a good thing as it makes it in a better position to open its doors to more people. What is the point of having a church full of people without God’s blessing, and how can we expect to have God’s blessing if we think some parts of His word are not important enough to be too concerned about adhering to? If a church slips into bad practice, in most cases that would not be grounds for leaving or splitting, but it is surely not something which commends it. I am sorry if I misunderstood what you really meant, but that is the way it reads.

      That is really all I came on to say, and all that I have to say; so I think I will now go back to being the anonymous me who doesn’t write on public blogs.

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  18. Hi Flora,

    I thought this book is interesting because it is a survey of how theologians viewed the unity of the visible church first at the Reformation and then perhaps in a slightly different light from the ?1700s onwards. It actually I think shows that the kind of issues at stake here have been a matter of debate all through the years and there are good men on both sides. But won’t say any more so that you can make your own mind up if you see it! It’s the kind of book that lurks on a lot of people’s bookshelves but wouldn’t exactly grab your attention.

    As for the main point … this is going to be long.

    I obviously agree that we can’t abandon doctrines or practices that have biblical warrant. I also agreed with your earlier point to Neil about the nature of unity among believers. The unity which believers have in Christ *is* their unity, which the unity that exists within denominations only faintly reflects – we *have* this fellowship even with people we’ve never met.

    “Strictness” is such a vague and nebulous thing that you could almost say it’s in the eye of the beholder. On the one hand, I entirely agree with the point that if our standards are slipping down into worldliness, then we need to pull up our socks (should we wear such modren garments) instead of inviting people to join us in our laxness. But equally, if we take no action about laxness among our own people, we can hardly refuse admission to other people for being equally lax – the polite term would obviously be double standards.

    Then again on the other hand, on some things it’s actually good that we’re less “strict” – eg take your point about the reality of the union between believers in Christ across denominations – this is something we all clearly believe and take entirely for granted, but my impression would be that in previous times, ok nobody would have denied it, but the general atmosphere wouldn’t have suggested that it was an especially meaningful or powerful thing in our everyday life. Now this, if true, would have hardly been unique to FPs, but if it has changed, then surely that is a good thing.

    So I suppose the take-home message would just be that if people are afraid to approach the FPs because of a bad reputation for “strictness” then we can quite freely and honestly invite them to re-consider and at least come and see for themselves.

    BUT having said all this, there still needs to be more clarity on exactly what all is included under the term, “practices with biblical authority”.

    I’m perfectly convinced that FPs can give reasons for virtually *everything* we do, in church and out, which are eventually borne out by some biblical principle or another. But some of these perfectly justifiable things are not the *only* right way of doing things.

    Sometimes we openly recognise this, eg with homeschooling and teetotalism etc, where people holding conflicting views are both recognised to have a welcome place in our midst, among our communicant members, and in our ministry. On other issues though, there often happens to be a near-total uniformity of practice, not because the alternative is WRONG but because we just happen to do it this way. Our way has biblical justification in the end, but other people’s way would in the end also have some biblical justification too.

    I will stick my neck out and suggest that these things include thee/thou, bible versions, clerical collars, 5-day communion seasons, non-use of the Lord’s Prayer in public worship, and sitting down for grace at meals.

    Other things spring to mind, but this list includes things that practically everyone would recognise as being non-essential and relatively un-important, plus those other items which just made your blood pressure leap sky high.

    On all these things, we clearly have reasons to back up our practice … otherwise, we wouldn’t do them, right? They’re “biblical” in that sense. But none of these things has the kind of “biblical authority” which would license the Church to impose them on the conscience. There is “de facto” uniformity of practice throughout the church on these points, but it’s not because the alternatives are utterly sinful and wrong.

    In the earlier discussion I stopped dead in my tracks because you made the point that the FP church does not insist on practices like these as conditions for membership — and I’d actually wanted to come back later and flag that up as an extremely important point — the FP church in fact *does not* insist on these things as conditions for membership. The only slight nagging worry which I would add here though is that this could be simply because nobody really tries to do anything differently — *if* there was divergence from current practice, or *if* somebody wanted to join us while not seeing the need to adopt the details of our current practices, it bothers me that some people might object to this, and might want to see church discipline set in motion, for lack of distinguishing between what is essential to our testimony and what is not. This might of course be far too pessimistic, in which case I’d be delighted to be put right.

    NB: Before everyone rushes off to write in to explain why we do all those things I’ve listed, please understand that I know the reasons why we do these things and I’m not arguing against them. What I *am* saying is that these are issues where the church has no authority to impose on the conscience, whether in terms of communicant membership or officebearing.

    Obviously, so obvious it goes without saying, there would be no value in causing disunity among ourselves in order to accommodate unhappy people from other churches. On the other hand, we should be capable of putting ourselves through some degree of inconvenience if we need to shift out of a familiar (non-essential) way of doing things in order to help other believers. Humanly speaking the only obvious options available for conscientious people (both people and officebearers) in the FC if the PA decision isn’t repealed seems to be either to stay in the FC and sin against their own consciences, or leave. Leaving to start a new denomination would be schismatic, would ruin their witness within the wider professing church, and would give yet more occasion to the world to blaspheme. If we can lawfully do anything to avoid or mitigate that disaster, we have an obligation to do it, because otherwise, some part of the guilt of their schism would also belong to us.

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  19. There are sorts of difficult questions about church membership which churches can face. If a disgruntled member of a baptist church wished to join the Free Presbyterian Church would the Kirk Session have any biblical warrant to deny that person the privileges of membership solely upon the grounds that they deny the validity of infant baptism and have a faulty view of the position of children within the church?

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  20. Oh dear, that is indeed terribly difficult. As far as I understand, the current position is that such a person would not be accepted for membership, although this is a change of position from what had been the case until very recently, and people with Baptist views are of course still able to have ‘open communion’. I think I’m already in enough trouble without saying what I think about this.

    It’s a whole other kettle of fish though & preferably don’t want to get too sidetracked

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  21. would the Kirk Session have any biblical warrant to deny that person the privileges of membership solely upon the grounds that they deny the validity of infant baptism

    That is precisely the question of this debate I moderated. Persons like this (Baptists in Presbyterian churches) have the amusing label “Baptiterians”.

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  22. Cath,

    I have just read this thread having made the first comment. And I am stunned by the abusive tone of some of the remarks, and how quickly the fire has been turned on you.

    I commend the charity you have displayed, but I would not have published some of the comments that have been left.

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  23. Actually even if you set to one side the question of how certain practices are followed or not by other denominations, it’s a useful exercise to work out what exactly the FP testimony consists of.

    So, facing inwards to ourselves, the question is:
    Is *everything* that we *do* essential to preserving the 1893 testimony, or does our witness not consist of something more fundamental/crucial? What justifies separation from other denominations surely consists of something different from traditional practices, no matter how good these practices are?

    And facing outwards to others, the question is:
    How much do the fundamentals matter? How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to maintain unity around the fundamentals? If the only denomination available to you is one where you agree on the essentials, but would have to conform to some potentially irksome quirks in order not to upset good people’s consciences, regardless how ‘weak’ they may be relative to your ‘strong’ conscience, could you grit your teeth and do it?

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    • From the FP website

      “The marks of a true Church of Jesus Christ include:

      1. the acknowledging of none but the Lord Jesus Christ as her Head;
      2. taking the Word of God as her doctrinal foundation, and as the standard of her faith and practice;
      3. the preaching of the true Gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ;
      4. the proper administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper;
      5. and the maintaining of scriptural discipline.

      We take the Bible alone as our guide to Doctrine, Worship and Practice. We preach the Gospel of God’s sovereign and free grace.
      “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
      “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
      “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

      In order to safeguard these precious truths, we are separate from other Presbyterian churches which have compromised on these matters”.

      Does this mean that the FP Church is the only church in the entire World which has not “compromised on these matter”?

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  24. No, of course not.

    The visible church is much bigger than the FP church and thankfully there are plenty other churches which share these marks.

    The original reason for separation, which I suppose you know was a separation from the then Free Church in 1893, was very much to do with point 2 on that list, as the inspiration/infallibility of the Scriptures was the fundamental doctrine in dispute at the time (along with the doctrine of the atonement).
    Today the picture is rather more messy. Partly because of the changing identity and constitution of various other ecclesiastical groupings in the Scottish scene. Also partly because the focus has shifted away from solely church principles (relation of Church to Confession, nature of confessional subscription) to also include matters of practice.
    Thus the answer that someone might give today for why the FPs exist as a separate body might include more factors than the reasons that would have been given in the immediate aftermath of 1893.

    However the claim has never been anything more than ‘a branch of the visible church,’ and absolutely not THE visible church.

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  25. I am aware that this thread caused a considerable degree of controversy, and also that it is somewhat out of date, but I want to throw in a couple of remarks in any case. Cath, if you have an issue with that, please feel free to remove them.
    The first thing I would say is that there is a large difference between the standards which a church has every right to expect her office bearers (and therefore applicants for admission to her ministry) to adhere to, and the standards which it has a right to bind individual members’ consciences to. Practically, the FP Church accepts this. No-one is asked to subscribe the whole doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith upon their admission to membership. Members are free to differ from each other on many things. Uniformity of doctrine, worship and practice relates to the teaching in its pulpits, the administration of its affairs, including discipline, and the conduct of its worship. It does not relate to the scruples of conscience of individual members, and it certainly doesn’t excuse the imposition of these scruples on the consciences of other members. So, to give an example, I know FPs who strongly advocate teetotallism; their views, however strongly held (and expressed), cannot bind my conscience or anyone elses to abstain from alcohol. I would argue that the issues raised by Flora fall into this category, on the whole. Difference of opinion, and even practice, on some matters is inevitable, and should not unduly worry us.
    The second point I would make is that I agree with Cath’s underlying point, that the church cannot allow itself to lay anything on the conscience of an individual member which it is unable to clearly prove from scripture. It is difficult to give an example without opening several cans of worms, but in general, it would be quite wrong for the church to deny membership to an individual because they behaved in a certain way, unless the church was both able and willing to publicly and incontrovertibly prove that the behaviour of the applicant was prohibited in scripture. The same obviously applies to disciplining those already in membership.
    Thirdly, I disagree with Cath’s position, that office bearers have equal latitude and discretion on some of these issues. Take, for example, the issue of using the Authorised Version in exclusivity. The church would be quite wrong to forbid members from reading, using or referring to other versions of scripture in their private devotions. But it is entirely justified in prohibiting its office bearers from using anything other than the Authorised Version in any public setting. That relates to the uniformity of practice and worship; the church has reached the view that the Authorised Version is the ‘best’ version, and using other versions would, at the same time as opening the door to error in doctrine, introduce a degree of disharmony and confusion which the eldership are right to guard against.
    Finally, I’m afraid that there are elements within the church who would and do seek to bind the consciences of individuals without being able to prove their position from scripture to the satisfaction of all within the church. It is too easy to say that ‘the church has always held’ such and such behaviour to be wrong or whatever – if the church denies membership to someone because of their behaviour, it has to have a much stronger line of argument than this. I’m afraid that in some cases, it doesn’t!

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    • Well, the Church can’t bind things on the conscience of officebearers without proving the case from scripture, either.

      I don’t think there’s a problem with taking a decision that Version X is the one we’ll all agree to use in public worship. Framing that decision in terms of authoritatively forbidding and prohibiting is perhaps stating it too strongly though – it’s really more a question of pastoral concern (avoid confusion and uncertainty among the people) and practicalities (best to all sing from the same, er, hymnsheet). Settling on one particular version is just a convenience for our particular time and place, otherwise they’d be sinning in Skigersta when they use the Gaelic bible instead.

      Think, again, it’s a question of what *kind* of justification we have for our practices. The ‘remorseless inflexible absolute right and wrong’ category is for the church universal and non-negotiable irrespective of circumstances. The ‘traces back eventually to good biblical principles’ category is valuable and worthy of respect but can only be used very cautiously when it comes to ruling people in or out for membership/officebearing.

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