Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Declaratory Acts

Another blog draws attention to the similarity between the praise controversy that has been ongoing within the Free Church lately and the Declaratory Act situation of 1892-3.

One of the points made is that in the Free Church lately there has been "surprising agreement that with Barrier Act legitimacy (however construed) the decision would be a binding law in the Free Church. This has always been the contention of the Free Presbyterian Church in connection with the Declaratory Act adopted in 1891 and made law under the Barrier Act in 1892".

The permission granted to consciences in 2011 to make known their convictions on purity of worship underlines many things. It underlines a situation where "every man does that which is right in his own eyes" and the Church is happy for vows and the definition of true and pure worship to be interpreted according to individual preference. It also acknowledges that the Church's position on worship has changed and in particular the vows of the individual and their meaning. Otherwise why would men need to seek to safeguard their consciences?

Merely to state one's convictions is on the face of it meaningless when this has no integral connection with the vows and it does not matter to the Church whether or not the statement is made. It does not absolve the individual from keeping the vows as the Church has altered them.

Men are now being required to assert, maintain and defend worship that previously their vows required them to oppose. 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?

When a man changes his views on worship this is entirely irrelevant to his presbytery now and even if the presbytery wished to take action, they cannot. A presbytery cannot require someone being licensed, ordained, inducted to make such a statement and even if they could they cannot act upon it. Thus their vows are now entirely changed.

A man may indicate that his views are conservative and receive a call but what if he omits to make a statement during the process of being inducted, has he changed his views? Could the congregation compel him to make such a statement? But what is the value of the statement? A man may make a statement and change his views not long after. No congregation can be guaranteed otherwise. After all, did not many make such statements and solemn vows but have then changed? A man may decide that he needs to stay in the current Free Church in order to preserve the truth in his own congregation. But what will happen after he is gone?

This brings us back to the point of agreement, that binding rules and constitutions may even if ultra vires, effectually change in practice and reality the meaning and force of one's vows. This is what happened in 1892-3, yet men sought to argue otherwise. One argument was that they were not required to preach heresy. The point was, however, that they had the keys of discipline taken away from them in relation to heresy and their ordination vows were meaningless on this point. Noone is now required to administer worship other than purity of worship but that does not mean that the vows have been altered.

James S. Sinclair commented in relation to the 1892 Act in words that are now very relevant:

"It is very apparent, however, to all observers that the present age is distinguished for great laxity of opinion on religious subjects in general, and that men, from lack of reverence to any authority in heaven or earth, but their own narrow reason, are ready to kick against all fixed doctrinal standards even though these should be clearly supported by the unerring Word of God".