Tuesday, November 23, 2010

the Free Church and the 2nd Commandment

After one post already on this, some might question my right to comment on this. Besides having belonged to the Free Church in the past, currently I belong to a church that inherits from the Free Church of 1843 and retains its constitution. The right to comment, however, is in Leviticus 19:17 "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him". I trust that this will be understood in the light of that and neither will it be thought that I am breaching the first part of that verse in order to keep the second.

The Second Commandment "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image etc." tells us how God is to be worshipped i.e. the means of worship which are to be only according to his appointment and not by our invention. There is emphasis here upon the reflexive "making unto thee" devising and inventing after our own carnal preference and wisdom. Graven images are invented as an aid to worship and so this commandment is linked to the regulative principle of worship which is so abundant in scripture and forbids any aids to worship not appointed by God (Deut. 4:15-20; 12:32; Matt. 4:9-10; 15:8-9; Acts 17:23-25; Exod. 20:4-6, John 4:23-24; Col. 2:18-23; Lev. 10:1-3). A useful article on this is found here, see also here and here.

The Larger Catechism asks: Q. 109. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding,using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself...

Only only has to look at the arguments to see that what is now being taught and commanded by the Free Church is merely the doctrines and commandments of men. The crux of the matter is that noone has been able to find that God has instituted in Scripture extra-biblical hymns not immediately inspired by Himself. Neither has anyone been able to find that God has instituted in the New Testament the retention of parts of the ceremonial temple worship which typified Christ's perfect work of redemption and were therefore swept away. Musical instruments are included in this.

We can consider the steps to the position taken by the Free Church in the words of the Larger Catechism.

Using religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Board in their Report pointed out that inconsistent practice has been maintained in the Free Church for a long time. "The Assembly had the matter drawn to their attention in 1953 when
they were asked to judge an appeal against a decision by the Synod of Ross. The Synod had sought to prohibit Free Church ministers from participating in worship involving hymns and instrumental music in other churches. The Assembly debated the matter, and upheld the right of Free Church ministers to participate in worship of this kind in other churches - thus moving against the spirit of the 1910 Act." This was what Kenneth Macrae protested against in his booklet "Resurgence of Arminianism" in the 1950s. The growing question becomes, "if the vows can be relaxed outwith the Free Church, why not within?" Neil Macmillan put this at the plenary General Assembly: "There are few of us who think that singing hymns and using musical instruments is sinful – hence the repeal of the Act. It if it sinful we should not do it anywhere. How can worship be acceptable to God in another church but not in the Free Church?" Others referred to the inconsistency of allowing church gatherings to use hymns but not allowing them in public worship. The Board tried to maintain this inconsistency but could not in the face of those taking matters to their logical conclusion.

Approving religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Free Church have now gone the length of approving religious worship not instituted by God Himself. They have done this in a way that is exceedingly difficult to reverse, only an attempt through the barrier Act over several years would change this. Note that the Free Church would have found it a little more difficult and time-consuming to arrive at its current position following this method which was instituted for the prevention of such innovations. The Free Church as a whole with the consent of the majority of the members of her presbyteries approves of religious worship not instituted by God Himself.

Counselling religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The arguments that allow defection from purity of worship that one does not believe in themselves and believe that it will be more attractive to those who would otherwise leave are only counselling that which is sinful that good may come from it.

Commanding religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The result of this position is that the ordination vows and constitution have been changed. The ordination vows under which men took office cannot be maintained any longer. Despite the false assurances there is an imposition upon consciences made by this legislation. It is no longer possible to assert, maintain and defend purity of worship in congregations that will reject purity of worship. While liberty will be granted to use purity of worship when conducting worship there is there liberty to preach against the defection from purity of worship? Will this not be seen as schismatic and proceeded against? Will elders be able to protest against defections within their congregation? The truth is that men are being commanded to accept this. 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. When I referred to this back in 2009 I commented that "I don't think that there are any of John Kennedy's spirit in the present day Free Church". It appears that I may have been wrong and I am very glad to say so because it seems Kenneth Stewart, Dowanvale has principle in view (his statement is here). There were 30 dissents apparently but protest rather than dissent is what is required in order to keep one's conscience and vows entact.

Devising religious worship not instituted by God Himself
The Free Church are now devising worship for themselves like Jeroboam "devised of his own heart" his worship (1 Kings 12:33). The Assembly approved as follows: "The General Assembly appoint a Special Committee (using consultants as required) to investigate the feasibility and desirability of producing a recommended list of paraphrases of Scripture and hymns and spiritual songs consistent with the Word of God and the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith [there are none such consistent with WCF 21:1 and 5 - this is a Declaratory Act in relation to confessional subscription], and whether the Free Church ought to produce a praise resource supplementary to the Psalter, and to report to the 2011 General Assembly [with all due haste].” We also note that the anti-verbal inspiration principle of dynamic equivalence has been elevated to constitutional significance in the following instruction to the committee: "to investigate, collect and, if necessary prepare from within the resources of the Church appropriate portions of Scripture, other than the 150 Psalms, in a form which accurately renders the thought of the original [note that] and is suitable for singing in public worship".

This is the seriousness of the step that has been taken: using, approving, commanding, counselling and devising what is sinful in God's eyes. Jeroboam was described as one "who made Israel to sin" by his false aids to the worship of Jehovah not instituted by God Himself. We tremble to say it but this is what must be applied to the Free Church since Friday 19 November 2010.