Thursday, May 28, 2009

schism undoubted in the body of Christ

Although Carl Trueman seems to have a more shrewd insight into what makes the Church of Scotland evangelical tick, several Free Church ministers here, here and here are inviting them over to the Free Church, in some cases with a glimmer of a promise of relaxed distinctives. Some of the comment makes reference to the scandal of schism. Yet it seems strange that only last week the Free Church General Assembly approved the December Commission of Assembly's removal of the suspension of the Free Church (Continuing) Ministers in 2000. We have no affiliation to either but the matter is extremely baffling. What is strange is that it was expressly stated: "strictly on the grounds that the FCC is a denomination distinct from and separate from the FCS as affirmed in the judgment of the Court of Session in the finding referred to above." "Were these men not now a separate and fully-operative church apart from the FCS there would be good reason for regarding their suspensions as still valid and such action as proposed here for the FCS to take would not be called for". The logic is impenetrable. It is strange because it is unclear how ecclesiastical discipline can be lifted purely on the basis that the parties are now in a separate denomination. Does this not give open licence to anyone to become a fugitive from discipline in that simply because they are within a different denomination? Does it not also undermine the church discipline if censures can be lifted without repentance on the behalf of the parties involved? This is acknowledged as a difficulty but said to be only a temporary departure from the principle that evidence of repentance is due from parties under discipline prior to their being restored. Not only this but it is expressly said that it is difficult to see how these suspensions can have any meaningful purpose for the FCS now, although this is not to admit that they were inappropriate when imposed'.

The FCS does not see the fact that the FCC is in direct competition as a censurable offence either. "The fact that the FCC may still claim to be the FCS, and thus the rightful successors to the 1843 Free Church, should not be regarded by the FCS as a barrier to removing the suspensions or undertaking any of the other proposals set out in this report".

All of this, apparently, should demonstrate that "the FCS will show publicly that they value highly the unity of Christ’s visible church and the interests of the gospel". Rather than recognise a schism and seek to heal it, they believe the best way to heal it is to recognise the other party as a separate denomination and this apparently removes the schism and restores peace. The fact that they go on to dwell upon resolving property issues shows that this motivation lies behind this action.

We can see how very far Scottish Presbyterianism has drifted from the true concern of the Westminster Divines and the Second Reformation, represented by James Durham, Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie for the unity of the visible Church. Most presbyterian denominations in Scotland with their constant cycle of fraternal niceties seem to think that this constitutes unity and smoors over the fact of schism. The Westminster Divines were of an entirely different view. As James Walker records, when the Independents proposed to the Westminster Assembly a friendly co-existence and occasional communion, it was resolutely declined with the explanation. "That will be no plain and total separation," said the former ; "we shall be working substantially towards the same end." "So,"it was answered, "might the Donatists and Novatians have pled, and indeed almost all the separatists who have figured in the Church's history. Such separation was unknown in the apostles' time, unless it were
used by false teachers : all who professed Christianity then held communion together as one Church. If you can join with us occasionally in acts of worship, you ought to act with us in joint communion, not in separated congregations. God's way of revealing truth to such as are otherwise minded, is not by setting men at a distance from each other. That you should be a distinct Christian organization, taking members from our Churches who may have scruples of conscience, is schism undoubted in the body of Christ."