Forthcoming General Assemblies
In the week commencing Monday 23 May 2011 there are three General Assemblies of three different denominations each with claims to be the 'Church of Scotland'.
Painting of the Disruption of 1843
For those who are familiar with or intimately involved in the vagaries and vicisitudes of and within the Presbyterian Church in Scotland the last week in May will be an interesting one.
Three Presbyterian denominations – all signed up to one set of doctrinal standards and all having their roots in the Reformation within Scotland in 1560 – are meeting in their respective General Assemblies in Edinburgh.
Church of Scotland
By far and away the biggest Scottish denomination is the Church of Scotland. It is the national church (although it is not allied to the state in the manner in which the Church of England is bound into the constitutional arrangements south of the border).
The Church of Scotland is a 'broad church'; a feature seen by many as its greatest strength and considered by others to be its greatest weakness.
With the diversity within the denomination, it has been racked for years over the question of homosexuality; and on Monday 23 May a report (Same Sex Relations and the Ministry) which has been two years in the making will be presented to the Assembly. Although the body politic has – with a degree of success, but at the cost of honest dealing – twisted and weaved to find an answer which will hold together the opposing factions, it could well be that crunch time has arrived. Certainly more than a few - clergy, parishoners and congregations - will be considering their positions if a definitive view is reached.
Of course all this has rendered the Church devoid of credibility: in the sight of the man in the street; in the sight of the Scottish nation; and – last but most importantly – in the sight of a holy God who sees His word being sacrificied to secular trends, amoral standards, institutional manoevering and politically-correct posturing. The list goes on and on.
The BIG debate is timetabled for Monday, 23 and is - if the technical infrastructure is able to bear the burden - to be streamed online. Watch this space.
Church of Scotland General Assembly 2011
The Free Church of Scotland
Last November (2010) a 'Plenary Assembly' of the Free Church of Scotland decided – on a split vote – to permit congregations to choose, each for itself, whether or not to allow the singing of hymns and spiritual songs, and the use of instruments as accompaniment.
If nothing else, the fact that the biblically-based denomination has been totally unable to reconcile the differing views demonstrates that Scripture does not hand out any unassailable definition of what can and cannot (should and should not) be sung; or whether or not the use of instruments is acceptable in God's sight.
Have a quick look at the 4-page Assembly Programme and whenever the words 'Plenary, Overture and/or Psalmody' appear be aware that each and every one of these junctures could be explosive.
Free Church of Scotland Assembly Programme
Just to get the terminology right, in the early 20th century the bulk of what was then the Free Church of Scotland reunited with the Church of Scotland. The residual Free Church picked up the epithet 'Wee Frees'. This body split again in the year 2000 over the matter of how a disciplinary case involving a senior clergyman was handled. With this parting of the ways, the smaller grouping – claiming to be the 'faithful' and to make the distinction – appended ' (Continuing') to their title. Accordingly they could perhaps fit the description of being the 'Wee, wee Frees'. However this title could transfer if the Free Church splits over the psalms/hymns/instruments issue.
Meanwhile the agenda for the FCS(C) Assembly includes an imperative on 'Ecumenical Relations'. While this hand of fellowship is extended to many other presbyterian groupings in Scotland and around the world, a notable exception on the comprehensive list is – the Free Church of Scotland.
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Assembly Programme
A great sadness and shame
The Church of Scotland is heading for outright apostasy: the Free Church is struggling to cope with diversity in its ranks, while the Free Church Continuing may soon have no ranks with which to continue.
While these scenarios are very sad, the real tragedy is that the Scottish nation – in desperate need of sound spiritual leadership – is left to the devices of secular humanism, political expediency and alien belief systems for direction.
And all this in a nation which was once known as 'The Land of the Book'.
Footnote: See article 'Presbyterianism Scottish Style' which links to a diagram illustrating the convoluted path of the Scottish presyterian church(es) from 1560 to the present day.