Tuesday, February 09, 2010

the Free Church in its current form is finished

This year the Free Church is to meet to debate and decide upon its position on worship. This comes after a sustained attack by an influential number upon their ordination vows. The current editor of the Monthly Record told the Assembly in 2008 that he could no longer ‘assert, maintain and defend’ the current practice on worship. That is that he desires hymns, instrumental music and women deacons too. He has said 'the Free Church is going to change', 'the Free Church in its current form is finished'.

The interesting thing for those who have a knowledge of the history of the Free Church is that the proponents of change are appealing to the historical precedent of the late-victorian Free Church where hymns and organs were permitted in order to make way for union with the United Presbyterian Church. Union with Church of Scotland evangelicals unable to accept psalms without organs is the great rallying cry now behind the movement for change. History is evidently repeating itself, it has to because few are really listening. An astute article looks at the historical arguments used by contemporary proponents of change. It notes that the changes in Victorian times came hand in hand with theological declension. The attempts to form a superchurch in those times culminated in the United Free Church declining further until it merged into the Church of Scotland in 1929. Only a very basic theological standard is going to suit most evangelicals in the Church of Scotland.

But the question might be asked as to why the Free Church waited until 1910 to firm up its position on worship. Even the 1905 Act did not have a constitutional authority binding any to purity of worship. Was it because there had been an influx of ministers of all hues and shades from other denominations which by 1910 had departed almost as quickly as they came? Some answers are available in Maurice Grant's, "The Heirs of the Disruption in Crisis and Recovery", in Crown Him Lord of All. He notes that the use of organs were a live issue for at least one Free Church congregation before the Great War. Perhaps the 1910 Act would have been as quietly ignored in the Lowlands as the Postures in Public Worship Act of 1910 if the legislation had not been Class I and constitutional.

John Kennedy said that if the legislation permitting hymns had gone under the Barrier Act he would have separated from the Free Church due to the constitutional change. This position enters into the difference of views on duty as to the 1892 Declaratory Act. I don't think that there are any of John Kennedy's spirit in the present day Free Church.