Donald Macleod

Posts by Donald Macleod for Home:

Richard Dawkins, Microbiologist

It’s not my job to sell tickets for Stornoway’s Lanntair Gallery, and so I kept mum about Richard Dawkins’s recent visit to the scenes of my childhood.  I would still be mum were it not that the coverage of the event in the local press was the most prejudiced piece of news coverage that ever had the honour to catch my eye.  Professor Dawkins so mesmerised the reporters that spelling and syntax went out the window; and objectivity had not even been allowed in.  The previous evening, the ‘case’ for God had been put by ‘Rev Robertson’ (neither what he was christened nor how he should be styled), but the report could hardly get him out of the way quickly enough, contenting itself with noting that he is a good orator, afraid of flying, and was challenged by Dr. Dawkins.

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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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Traditional Gaelic Singing?

first time.  The experiment was well worthwhile, and will itself, we hope, become part of the Mod tradition.  But at the same time there were lessons to be learned.

It’s hard to understand, for example, why each singer had to sing two songs in quick succession, leaving them with no time to get the first out of their system before venturing on the second.  The rush certainly contributed to things going pear-shaped.  Two singers got the pitch horribly wrong, and three others forgot their words: every singer’s worst nightmares in the space of ten minutes, leaving excellent young performers who had trained for months wishing the ground would swallow them up.

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Calvin and the Temple of Evil

Last week the words, ‘Temple of Evil’ were daubed on the walls of Stornoway Free Church.  It would be wrong to read too much into it.  It was probably no more than a temporary aberration on the part of one individual, and the Church made light of the incident.

Yet, though they might express it differently, there can be little doubt that this is how many islanders view Presbyterianism and the culture it produced.  But the feeling is not confined to islanders.  Many Scots, if asked who were the three most scary people in history, would probably reply, ‘Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler and John Calvin.’  Legend portrays him as, ‘The black ghost with the icy countenance’, and Calvinism itself has been described as ‘a psychopathic projection of sublimated cruelty’.

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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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Complete in Christ

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him

(Colossians 2:9, NRSV)

These words take us to the very heart of the gospel.  They remind us, in the words of the King James Version, that we are complete in Christ.  In him there is fullness, we share in that fullness, and we are fulfilled in him.  In him we have all that we need.

We find that so hard to believe!  Christ cannot be enough.  Surely we must add something of our own: other mediators, like the Colossians; some special, insider knowledge; some additional rites and ceremonies; careful observance of some taboos; or some special experiences, like a dramatic conversion or an immediate and direct encounter with the Holy Spirit?

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‘Three-score Years and Ten’

A few weeks ago my eye fell on a fascinating headline in the literary magazine, ‘Northwords Now’. ‘Aonghas Dubh aig aois a gheallaidh,’ it said. I hadn’t heard the phrase for a long time, but it was in common use in the older Gaelic world when life seemed more precarious than it does now; and when, of course, biblical language coloured everyday speech in a way that is rare today. All in all, it was a splendid headline. The phrase goes back to the words of the Psalmist, ‘The days of our years are three-score years and ten,’ and from them came the sentiment, often expressed by septuagenarians, ‘I got the promise.’

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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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Why did Nehemiah use the High Pulpit?

I’ve just been reading Nehemiah Eight, a chapter which records a historic moment in the story of Israel.  The exiles have completed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, a mood of celebration sweeps through the people, and they gather as one to form a great concourse in a square near the heart of Jerusalem.  They have one clear intention: they want to hear the reading of the Book of the Law.  But the details that cluster round that central fact are fascinating.

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Of Jerry Cans and Pasties

Every week in life I’m tempted to open this column with the immortal words, ‘It’s been an itsy-bitsy week’; and every week I resist the temptation, for the very good reason that if I discourse on itsy-bitsyness fifty-two times a year they’ll dock my pay.

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