Donald Macleod

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Free Church Ministers & their Consciences

Ever since the Plenary Assembly the Free Church seems to have sprouted a remarkable number of consciences, and each one, sadly, seems to think itself more important than either the collective wisdom of the Church or the unity of the denomination.

The latest claim is that as a result of the Act passed by the Plenary Assembly many can no longer in good conscience assert, maintain and defend the form of worship authorised by the General Assembly.  This set me thinking: to what, exactly, are the consciences of Free Church ministers bound?

We are bound, first of all, to the supreme and final authority of Holy Scripture as the only rule to direct us.  Oddly enough, the question, ‘What saith the scripture?’ has scarcely figured in this sad debate.  ‘Ordination vows’ have been invoked to proscribe all appeal to the Bible.

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The Christian Experience of Suffering (3)

Some of the lessons are brought out even more clearly in the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews.  The passage is too long to quote in full, and we shall confine ourselves to the leading feature of its teaching.

We learn in the first place that we must not expect to derive blessing automatically from suffering.  Affliction by itself, no matter how great its intensity, does not sanctify.  

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The Christian Experience of Suffering (2)

A second passage that deals with this subject is Romans 8:28: ‘We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.’

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The Christian Experience of Suffering (1)

Anyone who in these days accommodates his teaching to the assumption that the Christian life is arduous is faced with the preliminary objection that he is fundamentally out of tune with the believer’s experience.  Many contemporary Christians would insist that they live lives of unmixed blessedness, without conflict, failure or pain.

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Ministry in the 21st Century

Of this year’s six new entrants to our BTh programme only two are candidates for the ministry.  The remaining four, including three women students, have other careers in view.  Though the numbers are disappointingly small, the trend is welcome, and should help dispel the idea that the Free Church College is only for ministers and only for men (though the main illusion at the moment seems to be that the College is only for international students, not for home-grown ones.  Our own young people seem to suffer from Free Church College phobia.)

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Psalmody and Apostasy

It’s odd, isn’t it, how things apparently unrelated can connect in your head.  “We are living in a day of great wickedness,” said the lady, and she was right, of course.  She had noticed that someone had nicked her neighbour’s wheelie-bin, and drawn the obvious conclusion.  We are indeed living in an age of great wickedness.

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Ordination Vows?

One of the concepts which has figured prominently in the post-Plenary Assembly discussions is “Ordination Vows”.  To the best of my knowledge there is no such concept in Scottish Presbyterianism; the phrase is entirely foreign to our practice.  In Acts of the General Assembly 1648-1842 the word “vow” doesn’t occur once; and the only significant occurrence of the word “oath” refers to the Oath taken by the Sovereign to maintain the Church of Scotland.  In the Free Church Practice, again, there is not a single reference to a vow; and the only oath (apart from the Oath of Purgation) is the vow taken by witnesses giving evidence in cases of discipline.  This oath is in a very explicit form:  “I swear by Almighty God….”  There is nothing remotely resembling this phraseology in the Forms for Licensing, Ordination or Induction.

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God's Vision for the Church (2)

Going about doing good

The first half of this article focused on the importance of putting the church on a missionary footing.  It emphasised the Rules of Engagement given to us by Jesus, and in particular the urgent obligation to present the multitudes outside our churches with the incredible message of the love of God.  Now we have to move on to remind ourselves of something equally momentous: we cannot be on a missionary footing unless we are going about doing good.

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God's Vision for the Church (1)

What is God’s vision for the church?

As we ask that question we are faced with many imponderables.  One thing we do know, of course.  The church is in safe hands: very safe hands.  But beyond that we know little.  We don’t even know how much time is left to us.  We’re living in the Last Days, but then we’ve been living in them since Christ came 2000 years ago, and they will last till He comes again.  No one knows when that will be.  The church may be still in her infancy and may last, on earth, for a million years.  We simply do not know; and even if we did we have not the remotest idea what such a future might hold.  We can see only a few steps ahead of ourselves; and even then only dimly.

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Hugh Miller: Dukes and Hinds

In the 1840s few names were better known in Scotland than Hugh Miller’s; and few Scottish names were better known world-wide.

Miller owed his fame to his editorship of the Witness, a newspaper which rivalled, and sometimes outsold, the Scotsman.  Established in 1840, the Witness was the voice of the Evangelical Party in the Church of Scotland, then locked in its bitter struggle over lay-patronage: a struggle which would culminate in the tragic Disruption of 1843. Evangelicals argued that the right to choose their own ministers was a sacred right of Christian congregations.  Their rivals, the Moderates, were happy to let that right lie with patrons, usually the local lairds.  Parliament, the Court of Session and the Scottish press were all on the side of the lairds.

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