Which way the Free Church of Scotland?
In a recent candid statement the Free Church of Scotland (FC) promoted the commemoration of St Andrew’s day in Scotland – a commemoration held along with ‘leaders and representatives of Scotland’s churches’.
The stated purpose was to ‘encourage our church communities and all people in Scotland to celebrate St Andrew’s day [9 October 2008] as a day of prayer and reflection, in which we will hold the principles of social justice and the difficulties facing the nation and world in our hearts and prayers in faith and hope before God’.
According to the FC press release, church leaders and representatives heard Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond say: ‘Our national day provides a great opportunity for all of Scotland’s people to reflect on the kind of society we are and where we aspire to be.
‘At this time of global difficulties I welcome the call for St Andrew’s day to be celebrated with prayer and reflection. This is something which can unite all of us in Scotland, whatever our beliefs; and I for one will certainly take part’.
‘Whatever our beliefs’
The press release offered no theological comment as to whether all in this diverse group might be praying to the same God and through the same mediator, but merely stated that the attending persons were: ‘Major Alan Dixon (Salvation Army); Rev. John Humphreys (United Reformed Church); Rev. Alex MacDonald (Free Church of Scotland); Pamala McDougall (Religious Society of Friends); Rt Rev. David Lunan (Church of Scotland); Rev. Malcolm Muir (Congregational Federation); Rev. Alex Murray (Associated Presbyterian Churches [APC]); HE Keith Patrick Cardinal O’Brien (Roman Catholic Church); Rev. Bill Slack (Baptist Union of Scotland); Rev. Lily Twist (Methodist Church). Idris Jones (Scottish Episcopal Church) was absent due to illness’.
While there is reason to appreciate the apostle Andrew’s good example (fragmentary though the scriptural data is on him), and while national days may have cohesive value in these socially fragmented times, we must recall that saints’ days derive from a superstitious, mediaeval Catholicism. They should be treated with great caution.
More seriously, we wonder what Thomas Chalmers, the Bonar brothers, and other FC founding fathers, if alive today, would make of such ecumenical mood-music.
In the 1843 ‘disruption’ those faithful brethren led over 450 ministers out of the Church of Scotland (from a total of 1195), along with nearly half that Church’s membership (see p.29). They did this after trying every possible means of reclaiming the Church from her errors – in the end appealing to the British parliament, although to no avail.
The headship of the Lord Jesus Christ over his church and the sole authority of his Word was a matter of such principle to them, that they would rather form a new church grouping than remain in a compromised ecclesial body. It cost those ministers their manses and livings, but they bore that cost in order not to mislead the people as to the true nature of the church and the gospel.
We recognise that today an excellent and successful gospel ministry continues in many individual FC and APC parishes, but we recognise too the need to guard against the seductive arguments of unbiblical ecumenism.
Surely all evangelical churches should be making much more than we do of the major doctrines of the gospel – including the inerrancy of the Scriptures, justification by faith alone, and the centrality of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all the promises of God are yes and amen (2 Corinthians 1:20)?
For we are totally dependent on the upholding grace of God.