Category: Thorn in the Flesh

The Highland Churches and the First World War

Few historians of the First World War have deigned to consult the ‘Monthly Record’ of the Free Church of Scotland.  That is their loss.  The ‘Record’ might have had little contact with so-called ‘men of affairs’, but it was in very close contact with ministers, chaplains, soldiers, sailors and, above all, with Highland parishes.  Its editor, Archibald McNeilage, was a brilliant professional journalist; and the annual Reports of the Church’s Highlands and Islands Committee still give a splendid insight into the social problems of the time.

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Homo Economicus: Measured by the Market

We’re seldom allowed to forget that we live in a multi-racial, multi-faith and multi-cultural world.  Yet across all the divides there is one great leveller: the market.

At some levels it’s harmless enough.  Everyone enjoys Coca Cola and everyone uses a mobile phone.  But at other levels it’s far from harmless.  The market delivers cocaine as well as coffee, and great multi-nationals bulldoze their way serenely through ancient habitats and traditional cultures.  What Solomon said of the grave is now true of the market.  It is never satisfied.

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The Establishment Principle Today

Historically, the Establishment Principle has meant (1) official state recognition of Christianity as the national religion (2) endowment of the church by the state and (3) civil government having a clearly defined responsibility with regard to religious matters.  This responsibility extended to promoting the peace and unity of the church, ensuring the due observance of gospel ordinances and even the suppression of blasphemy and heresy (Westminster Confession, 23.3)

All this was possible in a world such as 17th century Scotland, where Christianity was the only religion, there was only one Christian denomination, and politicians and churchmen shared the same faith.  But what can the Establishment Principle mean in a society where Christians are a minority, the church has broken up into literally thousands of denominations and political power lies in the hands of a determined secularism?

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Alexander Duff: a Forgotten Missionary Giant

Today, Alexander Duff is largely forgotten, his memory eclipsed by his younger contemporary, David Livingston.  Yet when Duff died in 1878, the Times contained a long obituary, Prime Minister Gladstone eulogised him and Scotland mourned as a nation that had lost its noblest son.  Few then would have thought it possible that Duff would ever be forgotten, but forgotten he is, and nowhere more so than in the Highlands.

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Dismantling the Free Church College

Modern Scotland usually has little interest in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  This year promises to be different.  The Report on the ordination of homosexuals promises the media a heady mix of sex and splits, while evangelicals wait anxiously, wondering what kind of church will be left by the time the Assembly has done its business.

Meanwhile a mere hundred yards away the Free Church holds its own Assembly, and we have problems enough of our own.  The most obvious is the recurring financial deficit.  The Board of Trustees are quite rightly insisting that this cannot go on.  The Church must match its expenditure to its income.

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Christian Worship: the Regulative Principle

The Regulative Principle was defined by John Calvin as follows: “God disapproves of all modes of worship not expressly sanctioned by His Word.” (from the tract, ‘The Necessity of Reforming the Church’ in John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, Vol. 1, p. 128).

In elaborating this principle, however, Calvin and his successors are much clearer on the negative than they are on the positive.  Their focus falls on what is not prescribed or authorised and is therefore forbidden.  Calvin’s own personal concern is not with the questions which troubled later Puritanism (e.g., vestments, psalms/hymns), but with the abuses of Roman Catholic worship: for example, the use of images, the worship of saints, appeal to the mediation of angels, the adoration of relics and the sacrifice of the Mass.  It is worth noting here that such practices are not only not sanctioned by scripture but are forbidden by it.  In application and practice, the Regulative Principle may not differ hugely from the Lutheran/Anglican principle that what is not forbidden is permitted.

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Will Cuts Save Us?

There’s very little in Scotland today that’s not in decline.  Newspaper sales keep falling, attendances at football matches keep falling, the membership of political parties keeps falling, the turn-out on election-days keeps falling and the number of people in full-time employment keeps falling.

The churches are no exception.  The numbers attending services, the numbers going in for the ministry and, above all, the finances, are in decline.

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Music, ‘No Money’, and Self-inflicted Damage

Once again it’s open season on the Free Church.  The Free Presbyterians, an infallible and immaculate denomination, have been at it, as have the Reformed Presbyterians, who fish in troubled waters and deem a handful of proselytes a revival.  The media, where we have few friends, have also been chirping about our financial problems, mostly from behind the financial cover of the BBC’s Licence fee.

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The Spiritual Life of Thomas Chalmers - Part 2

Effects of the change

What Chalmers himself called “the very great transition in sentiment” was accompanied by an inward peace and joy which he never lost.  Reflecting on the experience years later, he wrote: “The righteousness which we try to work out for ourselves eludes our impotent grasp, and never can a soul arrive at true or permanent rest in the pursuit of this object.  The righteousness which, by faith, we put on, secures our acceptance with God and secures out interest in His promises.  We look to God in a new light – we see Him as a reconciled Father; that love to Him which terror scares away re-enters the heart.”

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The Spiritual Life of Thomas Chalmers - Part 1

Thomas Chalmers gained renown as an orator, preacher, political economist, philanthropist, educationalist, ecclesiastical statesman and – above all – as an incomparable motivator of his fellow Christians. Men of high birth and scholars of world-renown sought his friendship. The University of Oxford conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws; the French Institute enrolled him as a corresponding member. Neither of these honours had ever before been conferred on a Scottish clergyman. When he died, he was buried “amid the tears of a nation, and with more than kingly honours”.

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