Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"The Free Church in its current form is finished" part 2

I omitted to mention in the last post that it is an extremely sad step that is being contemplated in the Free Church and noone who considers these matters deeply can view the largest presbyterian denomination in Europe still committed to purity of worship change, without real grief. I still remember the sorrowful, prayerful spirit that I had when I first learned of the influence of these trends around 12 years ago. Yes, there was an alarm too as now but I trust that the same spirit is in evidence as well.

I view the words of the editor of the Monthly Record in the title of this post as deeply significant. For the Free Church to take the step that he advocates, will mean abandonment of biblical puritan principle, the regulative principle of worship, strict subscription to the Westminster Confession(which requires psalms to be sung)as well as the regulative principle.

There is also a constitutional issue. The Free Church in 1910 declared its existing position very strongly by making a constitutional Class I Act and inserting reference to it in the ordination vows. To remove this is similar to removing the Westminster Confession from the ordination vows or making a Declaratory Act. To reverse wholescale a part of the constitution (rather than reaffirm or clarify what the Church is already committed to) can only really be done if every office-bearer that has taken these vows agrees. To impose this upon a dissenting minority risks the dissenting minority having the moral case for being the continuing Church whereas the majority have departed from the constitution and have no further right to be regarded as the same continuing Church. Whether they do become a protesting minority or not it could still be said, "the Free Church in its current form is finished".

The Free Church are cutting off a part of the heritage of the reformation Church of Scotland. This was protected in the National Church by the State in the 1693 Act for settling the quiet and peace of the Church. It is also in the British Constitution itself in the 1707 Act of Security protecting 'the true Protestant religion, as presently professed within this kingdom, with the worship, discipline, and government of the Church, should be effectually and unalterably secured'.

What the Free Church Act of 1910 refers to in the 1707 church legislation is what the National Church ordination vows referred to in speaking of 'the purity of the worship as presently practised in this national church, and asserted in the Act 15, Assembly 1707, entitled, Act against Innovations in the Worship of God'. The Free Church Act of 1910 ought really to have explicitly referred to psalms only rather than use the ambiguous phrase 'inspired materials of praise' since paraphrases were not in view in the 1707 Act and had not gone under the Barrier Act for approval. They had other reasons, however, for making room for paraphrases.

Previous generations were evidently very careful in setting up bulwarks against unscriptural innovations in worship, our own generation has become comparatively careless. There is a great attack is on biblical uniformity and allowing everyone to do what is right in their own eyes is advocated. This is what James Begg referred to as "Anarchy in Worship". "The very meaning of our being Presbyterians, moreover, as distinguished from Congregationalists, is that the details of worship shall be uniform, and settled by a central authority, so that in going from church to church, as from room to room in one great house, we shall not be distracted in our devotions by diversity and individual crotchets, as when "there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes." cf. Jud. 17:6f. To this "uniformity," as well as purity of worship, all the office-bearers of the Presbyterian Church are solemnly pledged". He described five types of innovators 1.) the presumptuous and blasphemous innovator; 2.) the popularity-hunting innovator; 3.) the politic and scheming innovator; 4.) the aesthetic innovator. 5.) the well-meaning innovator.

We fervently hope that the innovators in the Free Church only fall into the latter category. As Begg says, however, "We are not sure that a numerous class are to be
ranked under this head, and especially we deny that ministers and others who have avowed the Presbyterian principles of worship, and undertaken solemn obligations
in connection therewith, are entitled when they break their vows to take shelter under the plea of good intentions. But what is greatly important, is that even
when we have reason to believe that men have a good motive, this will not excuse the slightest deviation from the will of God in the matter of worship". He gives the example of Uzzah, that ought to be well-weighed. Begg refers to Jeremiah 7:12 "Go ye now," says God, " unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel." The wickedness specially referred to was all connected with false worship, concerning the introduction of which, God says, "I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart." (Jer. 7:31)