Trueman: Being Presbyterian in the Church of Scotland

Editor’s Note: Even though it will further sully his reputation, the HB is happy to publish this response by Carl Trueman to recent developments in the Church of Scotland.


Given the events at the Church of Scotland General Assembly last weekend, it has been interesting to see some of the reactions from leading evangelicals within its fold. My earlier comments were disparaged by many as those of an arrogant, non-combatant outsider.  I cannot comment on the first adjective—my wife is perhaps best qualified to do that; the second is one that is new to the litany of criticism I usually receive and was, I confess, something of a refreshing change after the last 18 months at Westminster; and the third, while true to an extent, needs qualification. I am not a member of the C of S; but I studied at a C of S institution; I taught at a C of S institution; I have many friends and former students who are in the C of S; and, as I am married to a Scot and am also an inactive ruling elder in the Free Church of Scotland, I do have some personal interest in developments back home.

I myself earned the ire of one or two of the C of S evangelicals recently for suggesting that the current crisis was the result of the followers of William Still deciding to operate, in effect, as independents within the church, ceding crucial administrative influence to the liberals. Unwelcome also was my hint that the gay issue is the result, in part, of a hermeneutical shift on the Bible’s teaching on women’s ordination (`not a hill to die on’ according to the Stillites) which shift has now come back to haunt the evangelicals on the issue of homosexuality. This point, if press reports are accurate, has not been lost on opponents of the evangelicals who have been quick to exploit the inconsistency.

Amazing to tell, however, this strategy of acting as independents within the church looks set to continue, as is confirmed by the statement of the minister of St George’s Tron church, Dr William Philip, to his congregation on Sunday which can be accessed here:

The problems with Dr Philip’s address are manifold. First, it seems odd to accuse the supporters of Scott Rennie of resorting to emotive arguments to win the day. When asked to sign the infamous petition that Dr Philip helped to organize, I refused for a number of reasons. One of these was that the petition had no legal or procedural standing within a Presbyterian context. Therefore, it was never going to do any good in a process built upon procedure and legality. Further, from the perspective of Presbyterian polity, it was little more than an organized attempt at mob rule, something which is never sanctified by the justness of the cause. Presbyterianism has its system of church courts where matters of concern should be prosecuted, a system designed to protect the interests of all parties and to ensure things are done decently and in order. So what was the purpose of a petition which allowed (I believe) over 12 000 people, many of whom are not in the Church of Scotland, to opine on the matter? Surely the only traction that such an unprocedural document can have is emotional power; and thus to cry “Foul!’ when opponents likewise appeal to emotion would seem inconsistent.

Secondly, Dr Philip informs his congregation that he refuses to acknowledge the authority and judgment of the Assembly in this matter, that the denomination is not the church, and that from now on he will fellowship only with those churches in the C of S that he considers to be biblically faithful. As a sign of protest, his church will no longer give money to central funds.

This is strange ecclesiology indeed. In fact, it is not Presbyterian ecclesiology at all. All ministers in the C of S have no doubt taken vows to honour and uphold the governance of the Church of Scotland. Those who disagree with the GA ruling would seem therefore to have three options if they wish to be truly Presbyterian and to act in a manner consistent with their vows: either they can appeal the decision, if such a mechanism exists (and I believe something like this may well be in the works, if reports in the Glasgow Herald are accurate); or they can leave the church in protest, something which would be no act of schism if they regard the laws and courts of the church as incapable of upholding orthodoxy; or they can accept the ruling and stay within the church. All three are legitimate, legal options from the perspective of Presbyterian polity. What they cannot do, however, is stay within the church but in some strange state of permanent protest against, or rejection of, the church authorities; nor can they take advantage of those bits of being in the C of S they like (the name, the buildings, the public profile etc) but thumb their noses at the legally established authorities of the C of S. That is contumacious and rebellious, requires the surrendering of any claim to the moral high ground, and, if everybody does it, leads to anarchy. What they cannot do, in other words, is have their cake and eat it too. Ironically, that is, of course, precisely what the evangelicals often accuse the liberals of doing —buying in to those bits of the church and its confession they like, and rejecting those bits they don’t. Yet this is precisely what the minister of the Tron seems to be suggesting as the strategic way forward for evangelicals.

Thirdly, the argument that the Tron congregation should not leave the C of S because of all the money invested in the building by the congregation is entirely without merit as a statement of ecclesiology or as a reason for institutional loyalty. It is not an argument for staying; rather, it is pure pragmatism, with a strong twist of the kind of emotive rationale denied legitimacy by the evangelicals when wielded by the opposition. What a contrast with Thomas Chalmers and the Disruption of 1843. Those men left the church over a point of principle (and one arguably less significant than the one in hand) and yet they left everything behind. They truly sacrificed for that which they held dear; they didn’t merely withhold a bit of cash from central accounts.

In short, if it looks like an independent church, acts like an independent church, and strategises like an independent church, then it is probably an independent church. The only thing that surprises me is the unwillingness of some to acknowledge this and make the obvious ecclesiastical move.

One further thought: one is left wondering what the Tron policy has to offer to the small evangelical C of S churches; or to the evangelical ministers of liberal congregations; or to the evangelical congregations with liberal ministers. Not much, one should imagine. Once again, the decades long policy of the big churches doing their own thing and the little guys having to make do with an annual conference while being beaten up by all and sundry looks set to continue for the indefinite future.

I was asked by one C of S person, angry about my criticism of the petition, what I would suggest as the way forward. Well, just for starters, before launching any public campaign, I would have looked at the history of those churches and institutions that have turned themselves around to see what actually works as opposed to what merely seems like a good idea at the time — say, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Seminary, and even my own small place, Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia). The changes in those places had a number of things in common: the reformers organized and prepared for every eventuality, putting into place safety nets and multiple `Plan Bs’, they identified the places where influence could be wielded, mastered procedure, fought like the blazes when they had to, stood strong and immovable in the face of violent opposition, and outmanoeuvred their opponents by continual attention to meeting agendas, points of order, procedural matters, and long-term coordinated strategy. They did not waste time and energy on irrelevant sideshows like rhetorical petitions that merely provided the material for public relations disasters. And guess what? In each case it actually worked. In fact, this way of approach sounds very like the strategy which frankly outflanked and then crushed the ill-prepared evangelical assault at last week’s C of S GA. It would seem that angry but sincere petitioners generally lose, while sincere but canny parliamentarians generally win. The C of S evangelicals need new leadership that understands Presbyterian polity, the importance of procedure and, crucially, how institutions work and can therefore be changed.

Carl R. Trueman

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr. Trueman’s commets should be a stinging rebuke to the many Presbyterian pastors who know little about their respective books of order, parliamentary procedure, etc. and are unwilling to be involved at higher church court levels. Well, at least I felt the rebuke. Words to the wise. A brilliant, insightful analysis.

  2. Amen to that. (I did sign the petition as a member purely towards putting a figure on the minimum number of people who object so as to undermine the “ordinary members don’t care” argument.)

    PS and I don’t always agree with you.

  3. Wow, Carl Trueman just nails it. A brilliant tour-de-force. Particularly at the end where he discusses how institutional change can be effected most effectively.

    I echo the thanks for posting this.

  4. Well a major advantage of your ‘exile at the Heidelblog’ is the facility to post comments! I often find myself wanting to comment on your ref21 blog but can’t so wonder from whence your ‘usual’ ‘litany of criticism’ emanates!

    You don’t pull any punches with this piece which will, no doubt, raise hackles but you raise some very important points and I hope and pray that Dr Philip et al will listen.

  5. Unfortunately, I have to agree as one of the outflanked CofS Ministers. I agree also, that there needs to be a united, clever and forceful response in the ways you suggest. To be honest, I may well not be part of that movement. I am in a state of shock, I am hurting as I have many in the congregation I am in from other denominations, a great work has been done over five years by the Christians in our fellowship and that is now in ruins.

    We have no view on the authority of scripture, we have no understanding of the doctrine of man and sin, many within our ranks do not believe in the virgin birth, the death of Jesus on the cross and why he died and also the resurrection and whatever else……
    I quote a minister who said, “The next thing will be that these evangelicals will want us all to believe in the Virgin Birth and the resurrection.”
    What is even more soul destroying is that so called evangelicals actively took part in the fall of the evangelical cause, what a shambles, what a dishonour to our Lord and Saviour! I am gutted.
    Glenelg & Kintail Church of Scotland

    • The way the C of S will be brought back to what it should be is through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people who reside in it. Sometimes it is good to see just how bad things have become and the end result should be for all who care about the C of S and the Kingdom of God to fall on our knees every day and pray for Reformation within the church. It is time that the Gospel was reintroduced into the C of S, no matter how long it takes.

  6. A well-reasoned and excellent response. Spoken like a true British person 😉

    On a serious level, I listened to Dr. Phillip’s address and thought (as a Reformed Baptist): This doesn’t sound very Presbyterian…. While I hold to a sort of Presbyterian church government (I’m 18 and still straightening out the finer points of my Reformed faith), this didn’t sound like it at all. I wish them all the best as they try to proceed with how to respond to their fellow Church of Scotland brethren but in all honesty, I just don’t see how they can justify their current course of action…

  7. Thank you for this and thank you for showing understanding of the position of small evangelical churches and evangelical ministers of liberal churches in the C of s. I am not sure whether my situation is the former or the latter by which I mean I am not sure to what extent my ministry has had deep effect within my congregation over the past quarter century.

    One immediate effect which the withdrawal of giving my churches like St George’s Tron will be that the financial burden of their withholding will be spread over those of us who are left. Small, weak churches in quiet rural areas do not have the financial freedom of gathered city centre churches to pick and choose what we do in relation to the denomination.

    The C of S is still committed to a territorial ministry in Scotland and in many places it is the only place where the gospel may be heard being faithfully preached.

    I agree in large measure with your analysis of the strategic failure of evangelicals. Most depressing though, for me, especially in Saturday night’s session, was the trickle of professing evangelicals – including one “Stillite” who argued for the “gay side” of the debate.

    Like many brethren I am heavy-hearted and unsure just where we go next. If you find it in your heart to do so, please pray for us.

  8. Having a little more time to think about things since my last post, I am also someone in a very rural church, and we get help from our big brothers, but I am still in sympathy with what the Tron are doing. In one sense, however wrong and un-Presbyterian it is or looks, it is something.
    Willie Phillips was not part of the Assembly. I could easily have said the same things he said in the heat of the moment, but I will not condemn him for his actions even though it will hurt me in my parish. This denomination is a lot worse than I ever feared.

    I do think we could do better. I hope to make contact with many of my brothers soon after I get home in the hope that we can get together and see how we can act together. One idea I have will be that the Tron and or others pay for someone who will spend their time doing church polity alone on our behalf so that we will not be caught out in the same way again.

    I have another suggestion to you Carl. (You are someone whom my family at Christian Focus Publication speak very highly about so do not take this the wrong way.) Why don’t you get in touch with Willie Phillips and give him some of the suggestions you make on this sight and then not give the “impression” that two very important Christian figures in the reformed tradition are at war with each other? You may well have done this already of course?

    We need your help more than ever brother.


  9. Would Trueman’s position also imply that Machen was indeed wrong in starting an independent mission board?

  10. Thanks for posting this Dr. Clark.

    Nice to see that Carl, as usual, is carefully avoiding anything the least bit controversial.

    As someone raised in the Southern Baptist Convention I can tell you that Dr. Trueman is spot on in his evaluation of the conservative resurgence in the SBC and the reformation at Southern Seminary. The liberals fumed the entire way (they still are) but the procedures in place were carefully followed and therefore the changes have had staying power. It is particularly interesting to me because the SBC is not technically a denomination, certainly not in the same sense as the C of S. Even so, polity was carefully followed in spite of the fact that SBC churches are autonomous.

  11. Firstly, let me express my sorrow, as a Scottish Baptist, that the CoS has departed so far from Scripture. Let me also say that my prayers and the prayers of many of my fellow Baptists are with those brothers and sisters who wish to uphold truth.

    My own congregation is not dissimilar to the Tron in that we are a large city centre gathered congregation. We withdrew from our denominational structures many decades ago and we now have little, or no, influence with other Baptists. It is taking a lot of effort to reverse that position.

    With our example, I would hope that the Tron does not give up on others, especially those small faithful congregations (those to which Roddie and Neil minister) that need the help of their big brother. Whether that is inside the CoS, or outside, is not for me to make comment – others have started that debate and it is more important for them to consider their options. What is for me to comment is to encourage all true believers of whatever denomination to stand together, united on the truths of Scripture.

  12. While agreeing that our Church of Scotland evangelical brothers seem not to have paid enough attention to procedure, I disgree with your conclusion that they only have three options. You perhaps forget that our Free Church forefathers stayed in a theologically compromised Church from 1893-1900 under protest (thus earning the wrath of the FPs!). They believed they had a legitimate claim to be the Free Church of Scotland (a claim that was vindicated in the 1904 House of Lords case). If the C of S evangelicals wish to legitimately hold their property (because they believe the majority have departed from the constitution of the Church) they must follow a similar line. However, given the C of S constitution, it will probably prove difficult to go down that road. But if any congregations are in pre-1900 Free Church buildings, perhaps if they rejoined us, we could put in a claim on the basis of the House of Lords decision! Seriously, isn’t it time for an Evangelical Church of Scotland?

    • Pity the only bit of our building that’s pre 1900 is the “1843 stone” set in the wall. I think that came from the first building rather than the second one. The rest of the building is 1970s. Even the elders are newer than 1900. 🙂

      Not sure what an FC shift-cum-merger-cum-buyout would do with our lady minister (who is very nice). Wouldn’t want to see her land on the dole. But I suppose if St Peter’s can accommodate a pipe organ maybe St John’s can accommodate a Lady Minister – puzzling.

  13. Could I also add that the approach described in the Tron statement fails in its biblical logic, in that it defines the activity denoting a breach of fellowship by reference to reversing the implications of a passage about the maintenance of fellowship (Phil 4) rather than simply obeying the many other passages that tell us exactly what to do when fellowship *has* been broken: individually, we are to “avoid” those who cause divisions and offenses (Rom 16:17); “judge,” avoid and shun anyone named a brother who is immoral (1 Cor 5:9-13); “withdraw” from every brother who walks disorderly (2 Thes 3:6); and corporately, we are to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor 6:14-17).

    The Tron statement defines that new position as a contradiction of the gospel. And it recognises that the position defined on Saturday night is irreversible. If the Tron’s commitment to the gospel, as they have defined it, means more to them than their presbyterian commitment to irreversibly gospel-denying institutions, they have no alternative but to leave a corrupt, apostate, gospel-denying denomination. And if the Tron and other evangelical congregations do not do so, they become guilty of schism, and that has far wider implications than many people realise for the future of evangelical cooperation in Scotland and beyond.

  14. Worth being aware in all this that the liberals have consistently made it as hard as possible for evangelicals to get in positions of influence on committees etc. Agree that evangelicals need to get the act together though. Also need to stop viewing other denominations as strange little sects which can teach us nothing. Part of the trouble in the CofS is the isolation from like-minded folk. My experience of the Free Church (for example) is that they are falling over themselves to help, to offer moral support, to pray for us and are in no way being patronising. Their own recent experience of painful discord within the church gives them a heart as well as a head for helping others. There but for the grace of God…


    • Carl, I largely concur with your analysis of Dr William Philip’s address to the congregation at the Tron, especially the two last points you make. I was astounded at his view that that the Assembly is not to be considered as speaking for the church, and that property concerns are so important to an evangelical congregation. Generosity compels me, however, to conclude that he was still ‘punch drunk’ from the mauling of the previous evening. I don’t feel so hot under the collar about the petition, which was a useful way of canvassing prayerful support. Nor am I sure that the “C of S evangelicals need new leadership that understands Presbyterian polity, the importance of procedure and, crucially, how institutions work and can therefore be changed.” I believe they simply no longer have the critical mass to reform the church from within, which is one reason why I advocate the establishment of a new confessional denomination in Scotland, such as took place in the seventies when American Presbyterians facing an intractable liberal ascendancy formed the PCA.

  15. I write in a personal capacity, but as an elder of St. Georges Tron. Carl’s idol of pure Presbyterianism is on open display here. Instead of lobbing grenades of complex procedural issues from a safe distance and undermining the overall cause of the gospel, might I suggest he applies his energy and attention to upholding his brothers and sisters who are in the midst of this appalling situation? With friends like you, Carl, who needs the liberals?

  16. CRT finally admits that reforming Westminster Seminary PA was the result of shrewd politics, posturing, manouvaring, and propaganda projected at the right people.

    Isn’t that what the pro-Enns crowd has been saying for over two years?

  17. To Roddy and Neil…

    You are guaranteed your stipends no matter what happens – at least that is how I understand the CofS and its way of working financially. Also I believe that congregational fabric funds can be restricted to local need anyway. So the irony of evangelicals playing the financial card is that it doesnt affect anyone in the short or medium term. All it does is mean that everyone – evangelicals and non-evangelicals – get paid from a central fund that may have to start drawing on reserves sooner rather than later.

  18. To Douglas…

    It is Presbyterianism that has got us where we are today. And it is Presbyterianism that is making it difficult for St George’s Tron. It is Presbyterianism that keeps St George’s Tron in the Church of Scotland. So if you want to topple the idol of Presbyterianism you should leave the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

    • David – I think we are on the same theological page, but not sure you understood my comment. I was implying that Carl was making an idol of Presbyterianism and – as every idol does – letting that detract from the supremacy that our Lord should have in his behaviour. One Christian brother passing such comments about another in open forum is outrageous and brings disrespect to the name of Christ; of which we already have an abundance from the liberal elements of the CoS, not to mention the secularists and atheists in the media with whom they are aligned.

      • Douglas, I am not sure Carl was making an idol of Presbyterianism at all. You will understand that I am alarmed by any public criticism of my own minister! But Carl’s analysis of the evangelical position in the Church of Scotland is fairly strong.

        Evangelical ministers and churches now face two questions: whether they are Presbyterian or not, and whether they can remain in the Church of Scotland or not. From comments below it appears that some CofS evangelicals admit that they now need to consider leaving a church that is beyond reform. The only question is when and how.

        But the difficulties of leaving are caused by the Presbyterian form of government. That was my point. If congregations do leave I would be surprised if they join Presbyterian denominations, or even form new Presbyterian denominations. Independency is one of two practical options. The other is to remain in the CofS and be more effective Presbyterians.

  19. Carl,

    We have met briefly over the last few years when I was Director of Rutherford House. I now teach at Cornhill Scotland and am Associate Minister at St George’s Tron. I am deeply dismayed that when your brothers are fighting for the Gospel that you are giving aid and comfort to their enemies.

    1 The staement was never intende to be a procedural device – rather to show the strength of feeling world wide on this issue. Nor was it a uniform body of people; loking at some of the names it seems to me that many signed who on matters of ecclesiology and otherb issues would have disagreed

    2 The issue is not Presbyterianism but the Gospel. In any case, far from acting as independents, the Fellowship of Confessing Churches is doing precisely the opposite and trying to unite those of evangelical convictions

    3 It is not a case of big churches doing their own thing but rather trying to help small churches in partnership with them

    4 In a time like this we cannot afford to attack our brothers

  20. As one of those most directly involved in this conflict at the Assembly (I had hoped to present the Lochcarron-Skye overture before the gagging order of the moderator was pronounced) I found Carl’s comments very unhelpful. He cannot possibly be aware of the fact that the evangelicals actually fought a disciplined and well argued case on the Saturday night of the debate. The argument was won by evangelicals who kept to the salient point that aberdeen presbytery had been guilty of creating church law and going ahead of the general assembly in this matter. We clearly won the argument as any neutral would have acknowledged. Our failure was the result of the deceit and duplicity of those who order proceedings at the assembly who refused the overture a hearing until the whole thing had been stitched up. The saddest feature was the fact that self labelled evangelicals were to the fore in advancing a motion which gave the impression that Saturday night was not a line crossed. It was of course but everyone bought into this illusion and our plea for a debate was scuppered.
    For Carl to accuse us of failure to be presbyterians and engage in the machinery is unhelpful in the extreme. We could have done no more. We came face to face with deviousness and manipulation.
    I agree that we need more than ever a united evangelical and reformed church in Scotland. I do not think that the Church of Scotland can be reformed by engagment in the machinery any longer. Saturday night was the death knell to such a hope. However if we are to move with our congregations rather than split them we need to move with them rather than up and off straight away. We have a duty of care to the sheep. Please lay off Willie Phillip, Carl. He is doing a fine job in speaking out right now. What we need from all who care about Reformed witness in Scotland is constructive help, prayer and encouragment (in spadefulls!)

    • Ivor, that was an interesting perspective from someone on the inside. Be assured of my prayers. Was good to meet you on Sunday at Greenview.

    • Hope you’re not too upset at Carl Truman’s comments. I think a lot of folk even within the CofS are unaware of the amount of deception and trickery that has certainly gone on in other situations where agendas are ordered, information withheld or committees selected to force a certain result. Sorry to hear that’s gone on here. Presumably being fair or honest is not regarded as part of “the substance of the faith” by some. I hope leaders keep the balance right avoiding rashness but not leaving ordinary members without a lead to follow.

  21. Yes, I did know that David but, I also know that these resources are already being stretched and this will affect us in the months ahead.

    I feel sorry for people who are just about to retire. They are boxed in and I am not going to judge them. However I have God willing 25 years + to use for God’s kingdom, I am not at all sure that wasting my time in this partly apostate church is the right thing. I understand the dilemma faced here. Do we leave the people to these wolves? It is better that a leader and congregation leave together where possible.

    I just think we have to take this into account my friends and it is this thought that has shattered me and my brethren. The commission of Assembly is nothing but an opportunity to talk some more and have some more coffee and then nod things through. The issue is over in real terms, the decision has been taken, it will not be overturned, and the rest of the church thinks it’s opinion will mater, well it will not. The Liberals have the Law of the Land on their side. And I am really annoyed at those evangelicals who played into this trap. The facts are, when you start compromising with the “truth” that is what you will become in with all aspects of your life sooner or later as some clearly showed.

    However, I maintain that this is just a side issue to a major deterioration in the fundamentals of the faith.

    It is that stark reality that has left me feeling like I am in no man’s land so to speak.

    Alex, could I urge your denomination to close its discussion with the Church of Scotland or perhaps you too will discover death by dialogue. I would urge all churches to do the same. Write to the commission of assembly or the moderator of the general assembly and explain that you no longer wish to continue fellowship with the Church of Scotland. Yet I urge you to keep channels open with the evangelicals perhaps through the confessing church organisation or whatever. I have no idea where things will take us, but we must believe that God has a plan and we need to do it together.

  22. John Ross and others in the Free Church (including myself- though I am no longer a Free Church minister) long for something fresh and vibrant and united and Confessional in Scotland. John Ross called for an “Evangelical Church of Scotland”. The question might legitimately be asked of CofS leaders then, “What is really to be lost by moving towards organizational union with likeminded brothers from across Scotland’s presbyterian denominations who love the Reformed faith and the lost of the nation?”

    The answer to that is not as simple as it sounds. The problem the question overlooks is located in the words “likeminded”.

    Could it be that one issue that renders organic union impossible is simply that the Westminster Confession is too narrow as statement of the faith for many of these dear brothers? Could the real issue that prevents such moves be that being in a mixed denomination like the CofS, for all its error and mess, affords certain theological and ecclesiastical wiggle room for evangelicals that would be lost by requiring confessional subscription that would exclude Amyraldians, Arminians, Charismatics etc?

    I think Free Church brothers assume that evangelicals in the CofS are all straight down the line Westminster Calvinists. I doubt that there are very many such men left in her ranks today.

    I recall being at a day conference a year or so ago at All Souls church in London when Phillip Jensen, from Sydney was speaking. The issue of definite atonement came up in the Q&A and Jensen firmly rejected it- which was no surprise. He is well known for that conviction. What was perhaps a surprise to some was the public support given in the responses from the floor to his position by at least one prominent CofS evangelical who was present. I say this not to point fingers or level accusations. This man is a godly man who has been and is still being greatly used of the Lord.

    And, more to the point, the CofS merely requires of its office bearers subscription to an unspecified ‘substance of the reformed faith contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith’. This brother was well within his rights to take the view he did. But here is the problem: such a leader could not join the PCA for example, or any denomination requiring serious subscription to a Reformed Confession- which seems to be what John Ross et al are calling for in Scotland.

    My point is that any movement for organizational unity in Scotland that could carry anything like theological consensus would need to be so broad that most who are passionate about Reformed orthodoxy would be uncomfortable. But the other option, Westminster Orthodoxy, would itself exclude many (most?) CofS evangelicals.

    Where does this leave Scotland? What option is there for CofS men who cannot join the FCofS?


    Makes me greive.

    And pray.

    • Think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Dave. The wiggle room that these evangelicals want in the CofS is, I suspect, one of the main reasons behind the problem at hand. It would be great to see a strong united Reformed church in Scotland. IMO, if evangelical ministers could swallow their biblicist impulses and submit to the standards maybe they’d find ecclesiastical unity with the FCofS instead of with those with whom they have NOTHING in common.

          • I had a good laugh the other night wondering what the FC would do if they inherited a “lady minister” as part of the “fixtures and fittings” of a congregation moving to the FC from the CofS!

            The lady I was thinking of also found the idea quite funny but insisted she wouldn’t go to the women’s away day. That was a bit sexist of her. But she could use her experience of organising camps, her good singing voice and many other abilities. The scene at the College would be worth seeing – what would Principal Macleod make of it?

    • David,

      I think you have made a very valid point here re. that there are evangelicals and Evangelicals and EVANGELICALS …the list goes on! The idea that those who call themselves evangelical are in agreement on central doctrines is nonsense. Within the FC there are those who desire to work along side the C of S for the gospel but many are not discerning. There are those in the C of S who are weak on doctrine, post-conservative, neo-orthodox, open-theists, theistic-evolutionist, patripassionist, modalist, etc. Certainly you are right to identify Arminians, Amyraldians and Charismatics who would all say they are evangelical.

      Take for example the town I stay in where there is are good relations between one C of S and the FC, sharing services and prayer meetings. There seems, to me at any rate, absolute ignorance that the C of S minister (who would label himself ‘conservative evangelical’) is largely neo-orthodox in his doctrine and certainly does not hold to an orthodox view of atonement. People in his congregation and in other denominations are blinded by the words ‘I am an evangelical’ as he preaches another gospel. It is very sad. Today many are not theologically discerning (Even FC Ministers of long standing it seems).

      You are right to say that there are few in the C of S that can be considered ‘likeminded’. I fear a coming together of those who call themselves evangelical would involve a huge subscription to compromise.

    • Hi, David, I am, I appreciate the drift of you comment, which I have only just noticed, but I would just like to make one remark, namely, that I don’t think I have ever suggested an “Evangelical” Church of Scotland. I have little use for the term “evangelical” which has become so diluted as to be meaningless, “Reformed” is little better, covering as it does its own multitude of sins. We all use these terms and amongst ourselves sort of know what we mean by them but, to say the least, they imprecise, if not downright misleading. For example, on Saturday last some “evangelicals” approved the decision of the Assembly. No, for me the kind of church I hope to see would be “confessional”, i.e. its office bearers would subscribe the to the Westminster Confession of Faith, according to a formula that recognizes the integrity of the document, both as a bond of fellowship and an instrument of discipline. The formula is, of course, the crucial issue.

      • John,
        Nice to hear from you. Apologies for my imprecision re. your use of ‘evangelical’. Nevertheless, while I totally endorse your vision of a fresh Confessional church in Scotland, I fear that the Westminster Confession would be too narrow a confession for many (most?) CofS evangelicals.

        Where does that leave such a vision? Perhaps nowhere. I still think it is worth pushing for and calling people to though, even if nothing else results from it besides a renewal and reformation in the Free Church, so that *it* becomes the vibrant, viable, counter-cultural Confessional church we had hoped for, with or without our CofS brothers.

  23. I don’t know if Dr. Trueman and Dr. Philip know one another personally, but I think that it would be really good if they got together and spoke about these things. Both of them have excellent brains. Perhaps if they were willing to talk to each other, real good for Scotland would come of it.

    It is interesting for people like me to have the benefit of Dr. Trueman’s wisdom on this public blog (that’s why I am here!) but surely it would have been more helpful if Dr. Trueman was to actually discuss the Church of Scotland situation with Dr. Philip in private – assuming that the two good doctors are willing to listen to each other.

  24. As a former ruling elder in the Free Church of Scotland congregation in Toronto and with many friends and relatives in Scotland, I have been watching events in the C of S with considerable interest. In response to Alex MacDonald’s comment, I would simply like to point out that Scotland already has an Evangelical Church of Scotland. In fact, there are several.

    Mr. MacDonald’s own denomination has every right to claim this label, going back to the brave stand taken by so many in 1843. Then there are the Associated Presbyterians and the Free Presbyterians, all of whom have faithful evangelical and reformed witnesses. It is sad that the Church of Scotland has gone the way it has, but surely Scotland and the world do not need another Presbyterian church.

  25. One may wonder how complete or successful the conservative “victories” in the SBC, LCMS and WTS are. After all, Calvinism in the SBC is still a dirty word and confined to SBTS — has anyone really seen what else goes on in the SBC? And the LCMS is not exactly the confessional Lutheran haven that some may imagine. One also wonders how Machen and Van Til would fare at today’s WTS.

  26. As a current Free Church minister, I share David Strain’s concerns (hi Dave!). What do we really understand by Confessional Orthodoxy? and what can we do in this situation? I think David’s right when he says, “Dunno” – for at the moment, we have no real answers. Now if, in the Free Church, we are saying that, then we should be slow to throw things at the C of S guys. Read John Ross’s blog and he argues for realignment; read David Meredith’s and he argues for a renewed Free Church being the receptacle for the disillusioned C of S. So what is it? Do we FC guys really believe that we are going to do what it takes to bring about such reform in our own denomination? To use Dave Strain’s language again, “dunno”, to use my own after this year’s GA; “i dinna ken”. It leaves me wondering whether the only way we are going to clear the impasse is by drawing a new map of the Church in Scotland altogether. After all, “who cares for the Free Church besides the Christian good of Scotland?”

    But in the meantime, is there any forum whereby we can get together to pray for the future of the Church in Scotland? I don’t mean Crieff. Nor do I don’t want backslapping and self-congratulation. We need repentance and a renewed vision from the Lord for Presbyterian Scotland.

  27. Jedi Rev suspects that every leader in the Scottish Church could do worse than to read James Durham’s “A Treatise Concerning Scandal, or, The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland.”

    It’s full of gems like this:
    “When a church is under external crosses and afflictions, and by God’s dispensation is cast into the furnace; to be therein struggling and wrestling with one another, and, as if it were in the time of the church’s greatest peace and calm, to be contending for matters of such concernment, Oh how unsuitable is it!”

    To summarise Durham’s advice in our context, within the CofS, there is surely more than adequate grounds for a legitimate schism or division. Within the wider Scottish (or UK) Reformed Family, there is absolutely no grounds to continue the scandal of division.

    The cost will be high – The Tron might have to give up her lovely building, but not, as Dr. Philip suggests, her task to witness to Glasgow (the task and the assets are not the same thing!!!).

  28. This is also being discussed on coffee-with-Louis. Very interesting and good that people are discussing real root issues.

  29. Hm. Douglas Hamilton needs to go down – personal attacks on Professor Trueman, with words like ‘outrageous’, help no one. This is a matter of wholly legitimate public interest. For one, the Church of Scotland is no mere private denomination, but our national and state-recognised Church whose General Assembly is an official Scottish court of law. For another, the Rennie decision has defiled, by association, every Christian in Scotland and every Presbyterian on the planet. Carl has written a thought-provoking and robust analysis that helps steer debate.

    Besides, the last time a churchman righteously accused me of ‘unhelpful’ and ‘loveless’ writing was the Rev Angus Morrison, newly ex-Free Presbyterian, in 1989 – we saw spectacularly on Monday where Mr Morrison’s theological and moral journey has since taken him, when he seconded the canon-law trap into which the Evangelicals fell: a sharp reminder that too often yesterday’s love n’ cuddles pietist is today’s sell-out liberal.

    Deep as my affection is for the Reverend Alex MacDonald – and much as I loathe the Declaratory Act of 1893 (of which this latest outrage is just another fruit – I don’t think this is quite the most tactful moment for the Free hurch to show a bit of ankle; nor can the situation of the Free Church minority between 1893 and 1900 be sensibly equated with the present position of the Evangelicals in the Church of Scotland. There is a quantum leap between a declaratory measure that legitimises the first cracks in theological integrity and a General Assembly decision that has left the Church openly debauched. It is obvious to most Christians. It is obvious to the ungodly. And it should be obvious to those professed Evangelicals who, several days on, still prefer the fellowship of the schismatic and the sodomite to the horrors of exclusive psalmody.


      Which of the following statements is most difficult to believe?

      a) John MacLeod has not been accused ot writing anything unhelpful for twenty years.
      b) Angus Morrison was once a pietist.
      c) Angus Morrison is now a liberal.

      The first person to get the right answer wins the prize of becoming the first moderator of the new Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

    • John, fancy finding you here! You know, it is very much easier for us onlookers with the benefit of shrewd objectivity to see that the candlestick has been removed from the Church of Scotland and fairy lights put up in its place.

      But it is a very different, and I suspect, a very much more confusing story from within. People have lived and loved and hoped against hope, and prayed against hope, for reformation and revival from within. Their dreams are dashed. Now is the time for to show our grieving evangelical brothers the healing compassion and sympathy of a Good Samaritan rather than stand over the victim and engage in the “thought-provoking and robust analysis” of a priest or a Levite.

  30. There are all sorts of problems with Carl Trueman’s post. The final nail in the coffin is that, in reality, he offers nothing of any practical value by way of constructive suggestion of a way forward. His suggestion (dominate the central structures and use the procedures well) is a 1960s solution to a 2009 problem. The issue we’re all facing on the ground here and now is how we should respond here and now, in order to best serve the gospel here and now. Dr Trueman’s post offers nothing positive to answer that question, and tells us nothing we don’t already know. His public comments on the issue, both before and after the General Assembly’s decision, have served only to undermine evangelical witness and unity in Scotland. That, in my view, is gravely regrettable.

  31. Fascinating….I am the editor of the Monthly Record of the Free Church and the minister of St Peters Free Church in Dundee. I have many friends in the Church of Scotland who are deeply wounded and hurting just now. I happen to admire both the work of Willie Phillip and Carl Trueman and think that the unnecessary personalisation is not helpful. Also any hint of schadenfreude is not helpful…

    I think Carl is right in much of what he says. He is a superhero in my eyes who achieves the impossible and has made me look tactful. His analysis in this case is spot on in many ways. However can I dare to suggest that he gets some things wrong?

    1) The petition was not just an emotive organised attempt at mob rule. Carl should be aware that petitions which indicate the depth of feeling are an honourable part of Scottish Presbyterian church history. Willie Phillip did not think that the petition would win things, or have any legal force. But it certainly stirred things up and it did show unity (at least for most of us). It was also well worded and (at last) showed some leadership to the wider church.

    2) Carl’s solution is idealistic and impractical in the current situation. Church politics and procedures are certainly important but they are not THE way to reform a church. The Church of Scotland is too far gone for that. The analogy with SBC and Westminster just does not work. In fact one could argue that the playing of church politics is one of the major reasons we are in this mess. Willie Phillip recognises that the problem with the Church of Scotland is that it does not have enough robust evangelical congregations.

    3) It is not necessarily ‘unpresbyterian’ to withhold funds from central funding. If that were the case then I doubt that there are ANY presbyterian churches in the US. In my view it would be entirely wrong for the Tron to give 80% of its money to central committees who have largely rejected the Word of God. And they can do so, by playing the game (procedures and politics) and still remain within the law. The problem with Willie’s step is that it will likely end up with deck chairs being rearranged on the Titanic.

    4) Getting up and walking away may be the time honoured American individualistic way of doing things – or the traditional conservative Scottish presbyterian way – but it is not helpful in the current situation. Would that life were that simple! The Tron have just spent £3 million on their building. I have every sympathy with Willies desire to maintain that for the Gospel. Besides which it is easy for us to talk about walking away when we have never had to do it ourselves. I for example would not walk away from St Peters if the Free Church were taken over by a bunch of uber-reformed who used Carls procedures and politics suggestion (it could easily be done). Of course there comes a time when it is perhaps the right thing to do but it is not as simple as seems to be implied in this article.

    5) The Disruption argument is also not as black and white as Carl puts it. There is a myth around the Disruption that these brave men just got up and left everything. In fact they organised for years (the Ten Years Conflict) and when the Disruption occurred they were well prepared and well financed. Indeed in some cities like Dundee if you did not ‘come out’ you were likely to be worse off than those who did. In my view the Church of Scotland is finished – but it will take years of wisdom, courage and tact to help our brothers and sisters to reform. For that we need to give them a viable alternative and not just snipe from the sidelines.

    I also don’t know why people are surprised at this event taking place. It has been coming for years. I would suggest that what Willie Phillip has done (and others) has actually helped expose the deep rot that is there and that they have done a great work in this. I would also suggest that we must do whatever we can to help and encourage. That will involve compromise and a recognition that we are all sinful and have problems with our own egos, agendas, hurts and personal feelings. On the C of S side it will mean evangelicals recognising that the game is up (and that the Free Church is not the enemy!), for those outside it will mean we are very careful in what we say and we need to make sure we do so with the right reasons, and for those of us still in Scotland but not in the Church of Scotland we need to practically support at an individual and corporate level on the ground. At the end of the day this battle should not be fought in the blogosphere but on the ground and in the heavenlies. In other words co-operation and prayer.

    As regards the other comments I do not see why a renewed presbyterian church in Scotland is not possible – whether that be a renewed Free Church or a new denomination. I suspect the new denomination will not happen but the former seems very possible. Is it just co-incidence that the Free Church is undergoing a major review of its worship policy which will be voted on in 2010? If we changed our policy on worship then the mantra ‘there is no alternative’ would be removed.


    • David this is a much needed dose of sense to this discussion. This is no time for unfeeling criticism when people are as sore as they are right now and when we as pastors are doing all we can to keep our flocks together. I agree with John that Catherine’s contribution further down below is the most important to date as she has expressed the hurt that those of us who loved the Church of Scotland and struggled that she might be faithful are now feeling. We had tears in church last Sunday and we are all still in mourning.
      The Fellowship of Confessing Churches is a vital grouping for us in the short term as it allows us to take immediate and strong action whilst we organise and move together toward a final destination. Despite John Macleod’s assertion, it is not a horror for exclusive psalmody that keeps us from jumping into the Free Church. We need time to think and to strategise. We have struggled side by side for years and we want to move together and with our congregations. This is no time for precipitate action.
      My own vision for years has been that we would see a realignment in Scotland with evangelicals in the Church of Scotland joining with the Free Church and the APC in united witness. I have dear friends in the Free Church and it grieves me to be divided from them.
      However there are real issues to be faced. It could be that some congregations will prefer congregationalism to union with the Free Church. We have been subject to rampant centralism within the Church of Scotland and if you read the Fellowship of Confessing Churches covenant you will see that it asserts the place of the local congregation.
      Some will be wary of being drawn into a church whose culture is very different from their own and where the interrelatedness of its membership makes them feel like outsiders.
      All will be reluctant to have to forfeit mentioning Jesus by name in praise and accompaniment with musical instruments.
      For some the Free Church is simply not on the radar. They have no Free Church anywhere near them and no contact with Free Church people.
      On the other hand I believe that this is a golden time for working towards the dream. A contemporary of mine from uni who is very unlikely to be looking at this site was in touch in utter dismay at the state of the Church. She said that she had heard at an alpha group that the Free Church were discussing worship at their Assembly. She said she couldn’t cope with a church that didn’t have instruments and worship songs (sic!) If they moved forward on this she thought many would be attracted. The Free Church of course needs to move on the basis of principle not pragmatism but I do believe that we are seeing the hand of Providence in the timing of these discussions.
      What do we need to do? On our side we need to persuade as many evangelicals as possible that the Rubicon has indeed been crossed. There can be no going back. All talk of being better Presbyterians within the system is much too late and plays into the hand of the liberals and the “broad ” evangelicals who supported them. Some minsters are out of step with their congregations in that the grass roots perrceive the issues but they as ministers are content with the bone thrown to them by the liberals of a 2 year moratorium.
      Then we need to get talking. We may have years of talking but we need to begin in earnest. I hope to make a start tomorrow. Those in the Central Belt especially where the culture differnce is greatest need to talk with great urgency.
      We neeed to speak informally, formally and collectively. The authority of scripture, the diaconal ministry of women and worship are all issues to be addressed.
      We need to be creative. Perhaps as a preliminary to unity an Associate Synod could be formed for former Church of Scotland congregations which would allow both sides to adjust to the other.
      We need to be prayerful. We need to be sensitive. Any wooing of dissident Church of Scotland people by the FC at local level will poison things. We need to share the hurt of this tragedy and move forward in tears.

      • Ivor, there is so much good thinking here that deserves endorsement and comment but I will limit myself to just two remarks.

        The first is that quite separate to what has been going on in the Church of Scotland the Free Church, by a decision of the Assembly, is currently reviewing our position on worship, regarding the permissibility of singing hymns and the use of instruments. In the light of current developments some Free Church leaders have made clear their opinion that such secondary issues ought not to stand in the way of the more important issue of unity around Scripture and the Confession.

        The second point is that in which you express very eloquently my own reservations when I joined the Free Church as an Englishman coming from an Irish Presbyterian Church (EPC). I wondered, and perhaps my wife wondered even more, what would be the welcome we might expect. Would we be made to feel, to use your words, we were entering a culture very different from our own and where the interrelatedness of its membership would make us feel like outsiders. Well, I can testify that from the beginning the Free Church took us to its heart, gave us the warmest of welcomes and included us as members of its family, even honouring me with the moderator’s chair after only a few years in its pastoral ministry. Perhaps there once upon a time there might have been, though I doubt it, a different spirit, which gave rise to the unfortunate caricatures and stereotypes we are all aware of. But I can tell you the reality is different.

        But all this discussion and debate, and investigations of alternatives and possibilities in the light of events but a few days ago, is perhaps premature. For now, as you say, people are grieving because the church they have loved and served has departed beyond the pale of orthodox Christianity. We grieve with you. We adamantly reject any cynical manipulation of that grief. Rather we offer to you, as our brothers and sisters in Christ, our love, our support, our prayers, and if need be, a shelter under our roof.

      • Again – there are some really good things here.
        Again I repeat my admiration for both Carl Trueman and Willi Phillip.

        Ivor – we need to talk! Just a few brief comments on your post. Forgive me for listing…

        1) I agree with Catherine and John Macleod re the hurt. And its not just in the C of S. I was and am really upset by the whole thing – and ashamed. How did the Church in Scotland get to such a low?

        2) Congregationalism is not the answer. That way you will get picked off one by one. I am a Presbyterian because I believe that it is the biblical form of church government. We need to recover the vision and practice of ‘positive presbyterianism’…ask David Meredith what he is doing about that!

        3) Your comment about the Free Church as having a very different culture and everyone being interrelated is not accurate. You are speaking from the context of Skye and from a stereotype (and please we must avoid stereotypes on all sides) and understanding of the Free Church that is at least 20 years out of date! In the wider Free Church not everyone is interrelated…and not everyone has the same culture. In my own congregation for example the vast majority of the people are not Free Church background – admittedly some of them are becoming inter related – but that is only because they are getting married! I have another three weddings this year! Also your comment re the Central belt – in actual fact you will find that in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow there is less cultural difference than you might think. I suspect that you are closer to the culture of the Free Church in Portree than you would be to the Free Church in Dundee – and that is the way it should be.

        4) I believe that the Church of Scotland is finished- the tow year moratorium and the setting up of the nine man magisterium is a farce and everyone knows it. It is a game that evangelicals must not fall into.

        I also believe that that the Free Church in its current form is finished. The events of 2000 and the change of heart and mind of many on worship, as well as the excellent work of the Strategy committee (a work which I initially was very sceptical about), the growth of several key congregations, the change in the demographics etc are all combining to radically reform the Free Church – hopefully in a way that makes it more biblical and yet honours the past and allows those with different views and cultures to work together.

        5) I agree totally with your friend re singing the name of Jesus and instrumental music. Indeed I told the Assembly in 2008 that I could not longer ‘assert, maintain and defend’ the current practice on worship. In a less dramatic and strange kind of way that too was a rubicon being crossed. Unless there is some stunning new evidence that our current position is the only biblical one then that means that either we will change or I would no longer be allowed to remain a minister of the Free Church. The whole process of change was already under way. Recent events in the C of S have only reinforced the view that we cannot make this a stumbling block. I don’t think that we should mock or despise one anothers convictions…but I do believe we will have to allow differences on this issue. Whatever happens in the C of S the Free Church is going to change.

        6) You are right in saying we need to talk – perhaps not on a blog but at an individual, personal and also a collective level. Re the three subjects you raise – none of them are a problem. The authority of Scripture is absolute – the Bible IS the Word of God, it is the means by which Christ rules his Church – all other secondary standards are secondary and subject to the Word. Of course we should have women deacons – in St Peters we already have women diaconal assistants who sit on our Deacons court. And the worship must change.

        7) I agree about not ‘wooing’ dissident Church of Scotland people – including ministers! However I would add two words of caution to that. We will not stop seeking to reform and contextualise the Free Church to the 21st Century – not because we want to fish in the C of S boat – but because we want to reach the 90% of people in Scotland who don’t go near any church. As a side effect of that I would fully expect that such a renewed church will prove attractive to some C of S people. I would also warn that the major aim of both the liberals and the traditional evangelicals (those of the ‘its a sin to leave mother church’ variety) will be damage limitation. The Church of Scotland will not change or reform – but there will be lots of words about ‘hurt, unity being the most important thing etc’ at a public level, and at a private level lots of briefings and gossip about there being no alternative (and look how evil/culturally irrelevant/twisted etc the Free Church is). The threat of losing buildings, the greater threat of congregations being divided and the fear of the unknown (or in the case of the Free Church – the stereotypically known) will prevent most evangelicals from leaving. They will be marginalised (though a few will be invited on to committees etc as long as they play the game) and picked off one by one. In my view we should support evangelicals who remain and provide a suitable alternative for those who do leave.

        Meanwhile I conclude by reiterating my support for what Willie Phillip, Pete Humphries and others did by setting up the petition. They have done the Church in Scotland a great service. They did not cause the rot…they exposed it. And they have provided some kind of leadership for ordinary people to at least know that they have a voice.

        We continue to pray…..

  32. I am dismayed by the un-Christian vocabulary and comments of you guys here about your fellow Christians, who happen to not agree with you in some issues. I can’t see the spirit of Christ in you at all. The gentleman who says he is the associate at Tron speaks about his Christians brothers and sisters as enemies? Can’t you see that you are objectifying yor brothers and sisters, you are hating them! Those ‘liberals’, as you brush them, do love you, and consider you as their brothers and siters.
    What I see here is hate! pure hatred.
    In the spirit of Christ, please stop and think what would really Jesus Do!!!

    • Well John, I can say that the said associate does not say they are his enemies, but he is like me saying that they have gone astray, very far astray. Not only that, I never expected that we would be manipulated the way we were down at the assembly. We were roundly deceived. If that is what you consider as Christian, well I will have none of it, thanks!

      Liberals it seems to me will do what ever it takes to get what they want at the expense of all who and what (the scripture) stands in their way. They also knew that this would be devastating to congregations around the country, yet they did not care! The CofS has not felt the pain completely yet, but I think that will come when many more will leave us. I have managed to hold my session Clerk from heading out the door for a few weeks at least, but not much longer I think. Do I think that what I experienced at the assembly was nothing but love? Not even a bit.

    • John-

      What would Jesus do? The real Jesus of the Bible would cleanse the temple! And he would declare that those who do not accept his Word are indeed his (and therefore our) enemies. And then he would tell us to love our enemies.

      But then perhaps ‘your’ Jesus would be different?

      As regards liberals loving – I noticed that at the Assembly. Lots of words in public but the actions denied them. The manipulation, distortion and marginalisation of those who seek to uphold the Word of God was a masterclass in Machiavellian politics – not in love!

      • Actually David I think “my” Jesus would clean the temple from those who consider themselves more righteous than others. Those that make an idol out of the Word – instead of following the living word (who died on the cross), those that use the word to justify their own exclusiveness and castigate others, those that do not want to see the “beam in their eye”, … etc.. And he would definitely love even those that would hate him!
        this is my Jesus, and this Jesus is worth being mocked for, and suffering and dying for. (and I talk from personal experience)
        And this Jesus of mine, as you David say, suffers and agonises when he sees his followers bickering with each other, when their witness to the world is in division, castigation, etcc…
        And ‘my’ Jesus came to die and to serve, came as powerless, not powerful. He changed the world (and changed me) not with machination, but in giving himself for me and for all. And look at this post and this tread!!! So many people here claim the heritage of that Jesus. But what I see are people who want power, want to take over, want to force others to read the bible exactly like them! God forbidden of such church! We had it in the Middle ages!

  33. David! It’s taken you at least 2 days longer than I expected to come on here. I was just saying to Mum and Dad on Wednesday that Carl Truman makes David Robertson look tactful! (Although a lot of what he says is true, man.)

    I’m remembering why the Fc shut the message board. At least you’re not having to moderate this one.

    If nothing else good comes out of this at least it’s getting some C of S folk beyond the isolation of being “on your own in a crowd”. Instead blog-buddying them with FC people who might feel isolated geographically or sidelined by bigger denominations.

  34. Can I write as an ordinary member of a Church of scotland congregation who walked into a church building in tears 37 years ago and found the Lord there? My soul has been fed by three ministries within it, my parents were buried from it and it has been my spiritual home for most of my life. I have close fellowship with Christians in many denominations all over this world. I know, as Ivor Macdonald said on Monday, that the Church of Scotland crossed a Rubicon on Monday. It would be a heartbreak for me to walk away from that congregation but it may very well be that I have to. I am waiting to see what the elders and ministers of our Presbytery decide and I am heart sorry for them in their struggle.
    On Monday, as I watched the debate via webcast, it seemed to me there was a difference between those who were suffering with their people and those who had become politicians. Someone sent your link to me and as I read it and through the comments, I became even more confused by the varying thoughts and suggestions. Us ordinary folk need your prayers

    • Catherine, you have made one of the most important contributions to this rather ragged-tailed blog. I was commenting on my own blog today ( how many of today’s Free Church ministers owe much to the Church of Scotland and its ministers. I know when Iver Martin addressed the C of S Assembly in 2007 he acknowledged his indebtedness. I too am immensely grateful for the way I was built up as a Christian when in the late sixties I attended the ministry of George Philip at Sandyford-Henderson Memorial. In addition, I learned more about preaching through listening to him than through any homiletics class I ever attended or any preaching book I have ever read. So if we are in some respects in their debt, how best do we discharge it? I would say at the very, very least, our prayers, and maybe partnership for a new start.

  35. There are a lot of excellent thoughts emerging in this thread. In a generally astute analysis (though I wouldn’t myself in any way fault Carl Trueman for speaking his magnificent mind) David Robertson is right to point out that valuable property should not lightly be handed over to either nutters or infidels; though on reflection he would probably qualify that by noting that controversial retention of churches and manses sank the credibility at an early stage of the Associated Presbyterian Churches (1989) and the ‘Free Church Continuing’ (2000). John Ross makes the important observation that the central problem is less Evangelical strategy within the Church of Scotland than their lack of sufficient mass within it (typified in the reality that there has not been an Evangelical Moderator in decades: in fact, I am not even sure if there has been one in my own 43-year lifetime.)

    Ivor MacDonald reminds us that ministers have an immediate pastoral obligation to the people in their cure – which must counsel against both haste and panic – and David Strain sensibly reminds us that, setting the issues of worship aside, very few Evangelicals are actually Confessional Calvinists. The loose, federated structure of which Ivor speaks, however, was also a conscious calculation in the structure of the APC and a significant reason for their failure – a wider one being the strategic belief (articulated to me in 1989) that they could well become the centre of a much larger new body formed by separating, appalled CoS Evangelicals, dashed comprehensively in 1994.

    I would caution against being too worked up over the supposed disgrace of ‘division’. It easy to obsess with structure and to call in alarm for determined moves to an Evangelical Presbyterian unity. That smacks more of worldly, political thinking than practical Christian good. We need to remember that determined moves to create a Scottish ‘superchurch’ in the late nineteenth century ended in the disasters of 1893 and 1900 and finally in the remarkably rapid decline, theologically and spiritually, of that new United Free Church – the vast bulk of which ended up in the Church of Scotland in 1989.

    Abraham Kuyper’s shrewd thoughts – underpinning his political strategy in the Netherlands – on the need to be fairly relaxed about denominational division are worth checking out. We should also bear in mind that the country where Christianity remains most a social and political force – the USA – has a fantastically splintered denominational map.

    It’s important also for our friends in the Church of Scotland how the grief, anguish and shame the feel is felt by many in Scotland far beyond their bounds. At our (Free Presbyterian) prayer meeting at Achmore on Lewis, on Tuesday night, the atmosphere was close to a wake and outside, afterwards, the talk was how the weekend’s events felt like a stain on our own souls. The fact is that the Scott Rennie affair has not merely been a catastrophe for the Kirk; it is a dreadful milestone in the history of our country – a weekend when we as a people seem decisively to have jumped over a cliff. No one on this page feels anything but sorrow, or has the least appetite for schadenfreude.

    • John,
      As always, I think you have some helpful things to say. But I disagree with you on this point:
      “I would caution against being too worked up over the supposed disgrace of ‘division’. It easy to obsess with structure and to call in alarm for determined moves to an Evangelical Presbyterian unity. That smacks more of worldly, political thinking than practical Christian good.”

      One of the fundamental problems needing to be crossed is that reformed evangelical (RE) groups tend to occupy exactly the same north-west geographical area. So, take the Island of Skye – the Free Church, the CofS, the FCC, and to a lesser extent, the FPs all have congregations with identical, or overlapping geography. Here, they also have identical theology. Were the REs to leave the CofS, but not enter into some sort of organisational unity, we would have three, four or more congregations in the same rural areas, preaching the same message, but horribly undermining that message by the lack of clear unity. We are fast reaching a point where we either unite for and in the Gospel, or die. That means laying aside the stain of denominationalism. If you disagree, I beg you come on the doors in Broadford, where the first objection raised against the church is, “You lot just can’t get along.”

      Nor will it be a “superchurch” because to be fair, the total number of REs in Scotland, in all denominations, is probably less that some US, or Korean congregations! Outside of the Highlands, we’re not talking about a huge number of remotely self-supporting congregations to begin with – although an enormous church planting program would be needed right away to begin RE churches in places where there’s already a tiny number of like-minded folk.

      I should stop now, cos I’m straying into the realm of possibility now – but imagine what we might be able to do if…

      • Hi, Gordon. I don’t think that would be a serious problem – in 1929, UF and Established Church congregations merged into the modern Church of Scotland with very little difficulty. But I think you make too much of it. I don’t doubt the ungodly tell you that on Broadford doorsteps (there were saying that to me on Edinburgh doorsteps on Sabbath visitation when I was a boy of sixteen), but the world will always hate true religion and if there wasn’t that excuse there would be another. There are still corners, even here, where there is only one functioning denomination – eg Bernera on Lewis – and people there in generality are as wicked as they are everywhere else, to say nothing of the tracts of Scotland where only the Kirk is active, or Shawbost where only the Free Church holds services.

        The great danger is making an imperative of ‘Christian unity’, to the point where Free Church ministers are already bragging about their co-operation with CoS colleagues as if they had just re-invented the wheel – there has been like co-operation and friendliness on Lewis for very many years, since at least the Great War – and, still more dangerously, where it is used as an argument to short-circuit vital debate on issues of worship etc.

        There is the real danger of being caught up in a ‘change’ meme you cannot reverse; I would not be greatly surprised, at the present ratem to see serious pressure for women elders in the Free Church in the next quarter-century, wielding much the same arguments as have already been brought to bear on other issues, from the head-covering to the present pressure for non-inspired materials of praise. (There was actually much more meaningful Free Church evangelism in the early 1980s, when things generally were much more similarly to Free Presbyterian practice.)

        Time tends to solve these problems – in almost every West Highland parish one denomination is dominant – and providence (in, I fear, the form of State persecution) may force a unity in any event.

        I think the Church of Scotland Evangelicals need space right now to rest, recover and regroup before we start to engineer global strategy here – I’m not breaking any confidences by placing below a note I had this evening from one minister not too far away, and very few of us appreciate the sheer trauma here.

        ‘Thanks for your “cheery note” ! A “wake” is a good description of how things seem, for bereavement is possibly the nearest to what everything feels like just now. The sun shines and one wonders why it is still doing that. The lead weight inside doesn’t go away night or day. Prayer life is disrupted, and sometimes deadened into formality. You feel that everybody is “looking” at you in pity, and the merest hint of a kind word or mention of the situation threatens to dissolve one into floods of unmanly tears, of which so many have already been uncontrollably shed, and even as I write, are waiting threateningly just under the surface. If Dr Tallach feels a stain on his own conscience at a remove of two denominations, you can well believe that those of us who were Commissioners at the shameful event simply and literally want to die, as indeed a part of us already has.

        ‘To save repeating myself endlessly, I have copied below the text of what is going in the “From the Minister” section of our own congregational magazine which will go out tomorrow. This is what I have said to our people, and the conclusion reached is true for now, though none of us knows what the next two years (the Special Commission reporting time) will bring forth – though we can probably guess, and thereafter it’s anybody’s guess….

        ‘Every Blessing, and thanks for getting in touch.


        ‘I have begun to write this column on the boat, returning from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and in truth I know not how to begin. In the sense that there are no words to adequately describe the internal pain, it is, to that extent by definition, indescribable. In approving the settlement of an actively homosexual minister in Aberdeen, the Church of Scotland General Assembly has chosen sodomy over Scripture, the cult of the personality over the call to purity, and “the crowd” rather than the Cross. It was clear in the Assembly that there are some who believe in the power of a Gospel which, on contact with sinners, changes lives. Others, clearly the majority, believe in the virtues of another gospel, which, on contact with sinners, simply changes.

        ‘For some worshippers, the denominational shame is already too great, and they have left their parish churches in disgust. In all truth, who can blame them? But with the notorious case itself already disposed of on the Saturday (23rd May) worse was to follow on the Monday (25th). The noble attempt of our brethren in Lochcarron & Skye to compel the Assembly to choose between either upholding the exclusive sanctity of the marriage bond, or else admitting to the world that they were abandoning it, was duly smothered by a manoeuvre which it is probably most charitable to describe as “well-intentioned”. The Assembly clearly did not want to be asked these kinds of questions, or did not want the world to hear their answers just yet. The “well-intentioned manoeuvre” aimed at a compromise, to buy the Church a little time before the ship of faith finally splinters on the rocks of unbelief and unrepentant sin. In the shameless manipulation of Assembly procedures, it was, if anything, a lower moment even than the Saturday night “case”. But the Assembly was to sink lower still. On the Tuesday (26th May) a minister from Montrose pled, with great humility, for some moral guidance to be given for young or single people, because one of the Reports before the Assembly that day implied a kind of moral equivalence between all kinds and varieties of sexual behaviour. In response, an Edinburgh minister stood up and in a frivolous speech implied “hypocrisy” on the part of those who still advocated chastity out-with marriage and fidelity within it. The Assembly roared with laughter as this minister boasted of his own pre-marital exploits, with an apparently hilarious wit. There can be no doubt that something died in the soul of the Assembly with the tragedy of the Saturday night “case” – but Tuesday was the day the corpse of personal purity was taken back out to be desecrated. This is the Established Church of Scotland in the year of Our Lord 2009.

        ‘So why do I stay?

        ‘Let me say first of all that from that Saturday night, and all through the following Lord’s Day, and the subsequent days of denominational shame as the Assembly wound on to its grim conclusion, the idea of leaving the Church of Scotland altogether returned again and again, sometimes more vigorously, sometimes more quietly. To shake the dust from one’s feet and just to feel “clean” was and remains a sore temptation. The still small voice that questioned Elijah “What doest thou here Elijah?” seemed to question me in the same way. And I felt like giving Elijah’s answer (1st Kings 19:10,14 – though I couldn’t truthfully claim that “I, I only am left”) So why am I still here? In a word: God. The responsibilities of a pastoral tie are strong, and they are of God. If it is He who has called me to a pastoral charge, then it is only by His unequivocal calling and directing that that bond can be severed. The fact that that bond exists within the wider context of the Church of Scotland is not immaterial, but it is secondary. An under-shepherd who abandons his sheep in one field of a hill farm, just because he does not like the smell that comes from another part of the farm is not really any more faithful (either to the sheep or to the Chief Shepherd) than those others who, in abandoning the Word of God, decline to feed their sheep at all, save on the empty chaff of so-called liberalism.

        ‘For the sheep themselves there are no such constraints of obligation. This is perhaps where, as a minister of the Church of Scotland I should plead with the faithful to stay and be a witness for Christ and a means of leavening the greater lump. But if they turn to me and ask “Why should we stay?” I have no answer to give them. When all the years and decades during which the faithful have stayed faithful in the teeth of increasing declension, only to have that very faithfulness mocked and scorned as “Legalism”, “Pharisaism”, “Prejudice” by the “progressive” elements in the wider Church, why should they bother to stay? When the holiness to which Christ calls us has been so dishonoured, when the Word of God has been effectively shredded and trodden under foot, when the spirit of the age has been blasphemously substituted for the Holy Spirit of Christ, what am I His minister, to say when the sheep of the flock are confronted by wolves in sheep’s clothing who will quite literally and unashamedly call good evil and evil good, and when I have personally witnessed exactly this, in the past week? I will sorrow for those who go, but I will never be able to blame them. And not all will go. Some will remain: hurt, confused, uncertain, seeking explanation, or direction, or just plain feeding from the Word of God. They too, will need pastoral care.

        ‘So I stay. I stay to keep on preaching, praying, leading and, as far as possible, serving, not because the sheep could not survive without me, for they can, but rather because the Chief Shepherd has not yet called me to abandon the post to which He has ordained me. The day may come, but it will be His decision, in which I must finally acquiesce, rather than my decision. For me, and for the many who mourn in Zion just now, Christ is still the King, still the Head of the Church, and we serve HIM, rather than the Courts of men, for He at least, is worthy, and even within this wayward denomination, He it is who at the last, will assuredly have the victory.’

        • I was deeply moved by the comment from your anonymous correspondent that, “you can well believe that those of us who were Commissioners at the shameful event simply and literally want to die, as indeed a part of us already has.” Sadly such sensitive souls know the reality, the majority vainly glorying in their victory can’t see they are dead men walking. Such thoughts led me to try to write on “Love, Death and the Kirk” on my own blog. A reflective rather than prescriptive piece.

  36. I think you mean 1929 not 1989 for the union of the UF and C of S. The UF is
    alive and well and broadly evangelical with a very clear line on the matter of practicing homosexuality.

    • Yes, Martin – and woman elders, and woman ministers, and other gaping holes of ‘Evangelical’ cut-and-paste, and Declaratory Acts expressly repudiating Calvinism and setting entire liberty of conscience beyond the undefined ‘substance of the Reformed faith’, as well as expressly setting Scripture aside for the sole and Popish authority of the General Assembly. Once that line is crossed, and Scripture set aside to taste and fad, who knows what is possible? Even ten years ago, a Kirk minister in an open homosexual relationship would have been quietly deposed. Thirty years ago, he would have been helping the police with their inquiries.

      • Bring back the times when the homosexuals would help the police with their enquiries! Yes this is my man!!!! Lock the b…. off!!!!

      • RCs look to Pope Benny, the Orthodox look to Constantinople, and the Scots look to the General Assembly. Think I’ll just not bother reading my bible anymore or memorise the WSC. I’ll merely wait for the divine utterances of these infallible leaders who are more inspired than the apostles.

        I think Synagogue of Satan would be a better name than GA.

  37. Carl Trueman’s analysis of the present situation in the Church of Scotland is spot-on. As an Irish Presbyterian concerned about what is happening in our ‘mother’ church, I too listened to Dr Philip’s comments from St. George’s, Tron, and was equally horrified. I would agree with Carl about how things can be turned around – almost thirty years ago now the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, after persistent and perceptive efforts, pulled out of the World Council of Churches. However, in recent years the appetite for battle seems to have gone and much ground has been ceded to ‘middle-of-the-road’ men (and women, sadly) who do not stand on sola Scriptura. As far as I can see, things are in an even more parlous state in the Church of Scotland – it appears that only one of Carl’s options will work now. I too am puzzled by why this clear and cogent piece could not appear on the Reformation21 site. When Christians disagree surely the man with the best biblical argument is left standing?!

  38. I agree with the comments about the risk that the FC rushes “change” to try and collect ex-CofS people. The FC is at its best when it’s prepared to stick to its guns and not rush in to things.

    I think folk who find FC a different culture or exclusive have never been in the door. My own reaction after being born and brought up CofS for 26 years was “why did no one tell me about this?” The FC reminds me of my best memories of the CofS in its atmosphere. The welcome, atmosphere and teaching and singing were so friendly, encouraging and helpful that I wouldn’t have been put off if we had to sing in Gaelic let alone unaccompanied. (And I’d have to learn Gaelic from scratch.)

    Still stuck between loyalty to the local congregation and wanting to put any contribution I make to a denomination which is more definitely christian. Looking at my options and praying.

    • Well said, Louise. There are two issues to bear in mind here. First, Church of Scotland ministers briefing journalists – anonymously and off the record – that they’re thinking of ‘opping to the Free Church are doing that for internal consumption, to rattle the Kirk establishment into a panic that there may be mass-secession. The reality is, I’m afraid (as one local CoS minister bleakly jokes) that most of the Nasties would happily nip round to Evangelical manses to help them pack.

      The second truth is that any minister who leaves the national Church – the Kirk by law established – must immediately endure significant loss of status. The ‘parish minister’ has a clout, a standing and indeed a stipend that Rev. W E Free does not. So I wouldn’t hold my breath – in fact, I can’t think of a Church of Scotland minister who has left for the Free Church (or indeed the Free Presbyterians) since before the Second World War, though a few of our men have scuttled in their direction.

    • Louise, it is quite amusing that you think the Free Church could ever ‘rush’ to do anything – we are after all Scottish Presbyterians!

      As regards the worship issue we need to change our position, not in order to attract C of S people, but simply because we need a more biblical position….and a more consistent one. Many Free Church office bearers do not agree with the current position and it is ridiculous to carry on as it is. Of course there are some within the C of S who would like us to maintain an exclusive psalmody position – because they can then be nice to us and admire our quaintness, whilst at the same time writing us off as a bunch of irrelevant Highlanders. Ironically they do not want us to allow change because then it would remove the ‘there is no alternative’ argument.

  39. Louise’s points are very well taken…

    While I appreciate David Robertson’s comment that the Free Church of Scotland’s worship must be biblical, some people actually think that the Free Church’s practice of only singing inspired scripture is the biblical model. We should all be praying that as the Free Church looks at the worship issue that the discussion does not lead to further splintering and division in the church.

    • It is worth noting what exactly lies behind David’s expression, “we need to change our position.” No one is suggesting the removal of the Psalms from worship, or that people will be required to sing hymns and use instruments, all that is being sought is permission to allow Kirk Sessions to determine the practice of the congregation. Some will not want to change, being perfectly happy with the current situation; others will want the liberty to change. There is room for both positions. Richard Baxter’s principle applies: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

      • the trouble I see is that that is what we were originally told about women elders etc. The problem arises a few years down the line.

        Say you happen to be one of the minority who feel non-scripture singing is wrong (or one of the majority who isn’t sure). You move house in 5 years time, go to the local church and they sing hymns. What do you do? Sit silently? Travel 50 miles to a psalms-only congregation? Object to the session?

        How far would I currently have to travel to attend a C of S which doesn’t have women elders? If you are the minister you have plenty of influence on what happens and which call you accept. If you are the session you have some influence. If you’re an ordinary member your options are “take it or leave it”.

        On some issues this isn’t such a problem. If one woman wears a hat to church and another doesn’t they can both attend the same service etc. (Even a man who objects to un-hatted women can sit in the front row and not even see them.) Likewise if one takes the bus home and another walks home.

        The problem arises when the “allowed” view affects everyone regardless of whether they personally opt in or out. The C of S doesn’t “remove psalms from worship” yet I’ve never yet heard an unaccompanied psalm sung in a C of S – so much for being a “broad church”. Liberty for ministers or sessions is not equal to liberty for members. That’s why I think the list of practices that “everyone” is required to follow should be kept to a minimum and other “options” kept at an add-on-if-you-want level.

  40. This is getting off topic and so I will leave it with this comment…

    Sandys comment is right and also illustrates why Presbyterianism is in so much trouble….we want to discuss our worship from a biblical perspective and yet we are warned that even to do so risks splintering the church even further. Sandy may well be right – but then I would not want to be part of a church which is prevented from looking at things biblically because people threaten to split the church if ever anything changes! The irony is that whilst C of S evangelicals will probably stay in even though its Assembly has announced that the Bible is not the Word of God – some within (and outwith) the Free Church threaten to walk out because someone suggests singing a hymn about Jesus! You couldn’t make this stuff up… Meanwhile some of us have to live and work in this environment and under these conditions. Pray for us….would that we were truly free – free from the tyranny of an Assembly which thinks it can make up the Word of God, and free from a tradition which thinks that it is beyond reform….

    • I honestly doubt now if CofS evangelicals will stay in- it’s increasingly about how to get out, without splintering in every direction. Any notion that we can win the denomination must now be shattered.

    • David,

      As one who is part of a small movement in N. America to help confessional Reformed churches recover what some of what you are questioning, I hope that you will re-consider at least some of your advice. Your posts regarding what you think ought to happen to worship illustrate perfectly some of what I describe in Recovering the Reformed Confession. I serve and live among churches that have taken your advice for a couple of hundred years (in the case of the Am. Presbyterians) and for about a century (in the case of the Christian Reformed Church and her off-spring) and it has not worked out very well.

      What began as a modest revision of the Psalter in the CRC had led to the virtual abandonment of psalms in the CRC. In my own federation, any congregation that didn’t sing hymns with instruments would be considered odd. Anyone who advocates the singing of God’s Word without instruments is considered an oddball. Perhaps I am one but it shouldn’t be for the fact that I hold the historic Reformed view of worship. The sad historical fact seems to be that, on the theology and practice of worship, there is no halfway house between Geneva and Azusa Street (revivalism). I think this is because of the very nature of the Regulative Principle (WCF 21) as an application of the 2nd commandment and sola Scriptura. Either we worship God as he as commanded or we do not. Either the principle is that we do only what he has commanded or it is not. Either the typological expression of worship has been fulfilled or it has not. Today, in the North American scene, it is almost impossible to find folk who can even articulate the RPW (WCF 21 or Heidelberg Catechism 96) correctly. When asked, most give the Lutheran principle and call it Reformed. Some of our ostensibly Reformed authors have done this in print.

      The folk who gave us the RPW and its application in the Directory for Public Worship did read the Bible quite carefully. They understood the alternatives you seem to be counseling and they rejected them. Certainly our confession (theology, piety, and practice) is be subject to revision according to the Word of God (sola Scriptura) but we should not initiate the process of revision under the assumption that we’re advocating arguments that have never been considered.

  41. It cannot be that a simple switch to the FC solves anything. I can’t help but feel there are more differences than the Psalms/Hymns issue. A sneaking feeling that the FC did not necessarily handle an equally depressing Public Split in the not so distant past remains an issue for some. Of course all of these are unimportant next to the Gospel call- but bear in mind that this discussion started with an entry siggesting that those of us in the CofS aren’t Presbyterian enough- does the FC want a sudden influx of such folk?

  42. John is of course correct….forgive me adding this one more note.

    I hope I will never be in a church where psalms are not sung and where we do not have accapella singing. However I do not want to be in a church where style of worship comes above christian unity and even the Scriptures. The current situation in the Church of Scotland just illustrates even more clearly the desperate need we have in Scotland of a confessional, biblical, contemporary, Calvinistic church. We do not have one. The C of S has moved beyond the pale in that regard….so we are left with either Americans coming over and planting American churches, a new denomination being established, or a renewed and reformed Free Church which allows diversity on worship – as I would argue is in the best biblical/calvinistic tradition. Of all these options the latter is IMHO the most likely. I pray that worships wars will not prevent something that is essential to the future of the Gospel and the Church in Scotland.

  43. That’s fine but it’s not the Free Church as currently constituted. So the unity that all evangelicals should want will, as DR states, require something new- not necessarily radically so, but new nevertheless.

  44. David

    I agree with you that these important issues should be discussed. The church hasn’t been afraid to examine what she believes in the past and shouldn’t be afraid to do so now.

    As to being in a church where the psalms are not sung, the reality is that in North America at least, churches that sang only psalms 150 years ago now have the psalms relegated pretty much to the margins.

  45. albert – actually it is. The Free Church as currently constituted can easily cope with other forms of worship. It did so before and it will do so again. Our constitution is the WCF and the Claim, Declaration and Protest of 1843. Our constitution says nothing about exclusive psalmody- that is just an Act of Assembly – and as our constitution states – all synods and assemblies may err.

    Scott – too many presuppositions and assumptions in your post to deal with – not least that your position is THE historic reformed position (so Spurgeon, Calvin, the Dutch, Thomas Chalmers, Ligon Duncan, R C Sproul etc are not truly reformed?!). You also seem to assume that only your position is worshipping as God commanded. I too want to worship God as he commands….in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs – and with stringed instruments! But before we get into the marvellous art of reformed semantics which tell us that the command to use musical instruments really isn’t a command, and that Paul really means, psalms, psalms and psalms – can I suggest that this is a little off topic – and rather too typical of why those in mainstream denominations despair at ever being able to get into a confessional biblical church, without being diverted into this kind of discussion…

    • David,

      I did a good bit of research before I published my conclusions in RRC precisely because I knew they would be controversial and would provoke the very sort of reaction you demonstrate in your reply.

      As a matter of history, there is no doubt that, in the 16th and 17th century, our churches in the NL, the British Isles, Germany, France, and elsewhere, sang God’s Word without instruments and they did so because of their commitment to sola scriptura. Were there exceptions? Not on instruments, not as far as I know, not among those who formed our confessional documents (the Belgic, the Heidelberg, the Canons, and the Westminster Standards). Calvin did sing the creed, but I am coming to think that he did so because it was a summary of the Word. That remains problematic but as I argued in a recent paper on Calvin’s principle of worship, Calvin was regarded by Reformed orthodoxy as a transitional figure on this and other topics. That paper is to be made available this summer as part of the Calvin500 proceedings.

      The sort of diversity that exists today did not exist then. If I may ask, I hope you’ll give the book an open-minded read before you reject the arguments and research presented. I wrote the book to address the very two-way traffic exhibited in this discussion. I (and others) hope to recover what you seem ready to abandon. I understand, and have seen for myself, the stultifying effects of sheer traditionalism. That traditionalism is a poor representative, however, of the tradition itself. This is why we need to re-engage documents such as the DPW and the Confession of Faith.

      • “I did a good bit of research before I published my conclusions in RRC precisely because I knew they would be controversial and would provoke the very sort of reaction you demonstrate in your reply.”

        Would it not have been better to do the research before reaching your conclusions?

        • David,

          That’s just irritating and infantile.

          My conclusions were formed by the research. I think you know that’s what I meant to say. Indeed, I was surprised by where the research led me. That’s why it took five years to finish the book. About half way through I had to re-orient the work because of the research. But, as you might know, research is a funny thing. It doesn’t take place in a vacuum. I had already done a fair bit of research into the tradition in the years prior to the book (on German Calvinism and Reformed orthodoxy — you can see those books above on the blog). That research informed and stimulated the work done for RRC.

          • Sorry Scott – I just took you at your word – that you did a good bit of research BECAUSE you knew that the conclusions would be controversial. I am glad that that was not the case and I admire you for actually changing your mind half way through your research. I look forward to reading it.

            I note from your post above that you seem to hold your position whilst being in a church which does not practice it? Is that right? I, on the other hand, (whom you accuse of being willfully ignorant of the arguments) have been a minister in a church which does practice what you believe for the past 23 years. In other words what you hold in theory, I have to put into practice. That perhaps explains some of the differences in perspective. For you it is theory….for me it is life and death….

    • David,
      I’ve been seriously attracted to confessional Reformed Christianity for over a year now and am on the way out of evangelicalism. A great attraction, to me, of the FC has been it’s adherence to the RPW. I’m a bit surprised to hear a FC dude like yourself taking a step towards what I’m leaving.

      I know I’m not worthy to lace your theological boots, but isn’t arguing for musical accompaniment from the Psalms tenuous at best? After all, we’re also commanded by the Psalms to kill bulls, but there’s not much of a stampede to do that for obvious reasons.

      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts (although I assure you not in the spirit that the Pharisees asked for Jesus’ thoughts on paying taxes!)

  46. Hi Nick,

    Again – this is off topic (kind of) but since you asked so nicely.

    No problem with the RPW – I adhere to it completely. I just don’t adhere to the version that says its ok to have dog collars and church buildings, but not to have musical accompaniment. None of these things are essential to NT worship – but none are forbidden by it and may be useful.

    As regards the psalms – the reason we do not sacrifice bulls is because Christ was sacrificed for us. As far as I know he did not pluck the lyre for us. The argument that instrumental worship is only allowed as part of the OT temple is kind of blown out of the water by Revelation. I regard instrumental accompaniment in the same way I do church buildings. Can be useful but not required. And I don’t buy into the early church fathers view that all music was bad….whether in church or not….Beethoven and Led Zep are not demonic manifestations.

    • David,

      Aren’t you mixing apples and oranges? Historically, things such as church buildings have been regarded as “circumstances” as distinct from elements or essentials. This is the structure and doctrine of WCF 21.1

      ‘The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all, is good, and doth good unto all, and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart, and with all the soul, and with all the might. But the acceptable way of worshiping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshiped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture’

      Buildings (place), dress, and time are circumstances dictated by nature. Elements (Word and prayer) are dictated by special revelation (sola Scriptura).

      The historic Reformed understanding, that which underlies the language of WCF 21, was that musical instruments belonged to the period in redemptive history of types and shadows. Those types and shadows were fulfilled by our Lord himself.

      You are exactly right in saying that we do not sacrifice bulls because Christ was sacrificed for us and thereby fulfilled the typological worship but it’s quite difficult to bring back part of the typological worship that might be more congenial (e.g. instruments) without bringing back the those aspects that are not so congenial (e.g bulls). The old understanding was that the bulls and lyres are of a piece.

      As to the apocalypse, are you sure you want to stand by that hermeneutic? Will it serve you well in other instances? Was the apocalypse given to guide Lord’s Day worship or to provide a series of gripping symbolic pictures of the eschaton and life in the inter-regnum? I think we want to say the latter, dont we? If one can justify instruments in worship from the most symbolic book of the apocalypse, what else can one justify?

      • Scott,

        This is the problem with your position – you have immediately moved from the Scriptures to what you term ‘the historic reformed position’. Given that the historic reformed position is sola scriptura and that we are always to be reforming – perhaps you can explain why and where the Scripture tells us that buildings and dress are ‘circumstances dictated by nature’ whereas musical instruments are elements of worship? And what is your scriptural evidence for saying that musical instruments were only used in typological worship but are banned in the New Testament? These are entirely arbitary distinctions that do not rely on the Scripture. In effect people make up their mind what they like or do not like and then just make the scriptures fit to suit their pre-determined position. I am also intrigued that musical instruments were a type and shadow fulfilled by Christ. What were they a type and shadow of? I assume the OT temple building was a type and shadow also – so why we do have church buildings today?

        The only evidence for the ‘historic reformed position’ (and the Dutch would of course be interested to know that their position was not reformed) is simply that the early church did not use musical instruments and the early Church Fasthers were, with the exception of Origen, totally opposed to them. But they of course were opposed to all instrumental music because they associated it with pagan worship. Augustine did not head home from church to listen to Led Zep on his car stereo! If you want to follow the early church fathers in this respect fine. But it is quite wrong for us to use music in every other context and yet ban it as an aid to our worship of God – especially when we have no scriptural warrant for doing so.

        As regards Revelation – the point still stands – The OT church were allowed to use musical instruments, the church in heaven is portrayed as using musical instruments, but somehow the church on earth in the NT period is banned from using them and to do so would be ‘evil will worship’.

        And meanwhile back to the point here. Why would C of S evangelicals want to come to a church where we banned them from doing something that they consider to be scriptural – when such a ban depends upon an almost ex cathedra pronouncement (without any scriptural warrant whatsoever) that musical instruments are ‘elements’ whereas buildings are ‘circumstances’? I have no objection to people arguing from the Scriptures and practicing exclusive psalmody (which despite the legislation is the almost universal practice of the current Free Church). I do have an objection to other practices being banned and thus Christian unity being hindered. The notion that church tradition, or a particular selective understanding of what historic reformed worship is, should hinder either our unity or our evangelism is for me a depressing one. Sometimes I wonder what Calvin would think of the number of people who use him to justify something that he would consider abhorrent – the continual splintering of the Reformed Church.

        • David,

          The argument has to be conducted with two aspects in mind, the historical and the exegetical. They are inter-related but distinct.

          1. I can’t rehearse here all the evidence for my historical claims but if you’ll take a look at RRC you’ll see that my claims are documented. Once more, the Dutch Reformed Churches from the regional synods to the Great Synod of Dort did not sanction the use of musical instruments. They worked diligently to extinguish instruments from church. The Dort Church Order allowed, as a provisional measure, one uninspired song. The expectation was that there would be another national synod to complete the Reformation. Instruments did not enter the Dutch Churches widely until the corruption under Napoleon. The Afscheiding Churches that emigrated to North America and which formed the CRC in 1857 were Psalm-singing, acapella churches.

          2. The C of S, like all the mainline churches whether in Scotland or in the USA or in Nigeria or where ever are all in need of thorough reformation (root and branch). Of course even those who regard themselves as “conservatives” or “evangelicals” need to be challenged to embrace their confession fully. Until they face the virus that has infected them they shall never become Reformed again.

          3. D. G. Hart’s “confessional/non-confessional” paradigm is more helpful way to analyze the problem than the dominant “liberal/conservative” paradigm. Everyone should read his book, The Lost Soul. I’m sure it’s available (with RRC) at

          The future of all the Reformed churches, whether they be in the mainline, borderline, or sideline is the Reformed faith as confessed by the churches.

          As to biblical exegesis, there’s a bit of that in RRC. if we get to grips with our own tradition, we’ll see that they used to do a fair bit of that. We’re they wrong? We need to read them first before we can decide that. I’ve been quite impressed with their handling of Scripture on the whole.

          I am puzzled by the apparently widely held assumption that there has been great and skillful biblical exegesis to show that the historic RPW has been overturned. I searched for that for five years during the writing of RRC and I did not find it. I would be glad to see it, however. What I have found is that folk who have rejected the RPW have either rejected something no one actually held or have transmuted the RPW into the Lutheran principle (we may do what is not forbidden).

          • Hi Scott,

            Thanks for the reply. However I notice that you still do not answer the question as to the scriptural reasons for stating that buildings are circumstances but instruments are elements. You ask for biblical exegesis yet give none. And do you really believe that if only every church in world, from Nigeria to the US, were to ban instrumental music and hymns, then we would have healthy growing churches? I am not interested in the type of churchianity which regards the church as de facto split into different groupings and therefore it is our responsibility to be as ‘reformed’ as we can be. My (reformed) understanding of the church is that there is one church and that we are to be as united and biblical as we can be. Banning musical instruments without biblical warrant does not help that.

            As the Free Church is currently considering this subject from a scriptural perspective it would be very helpful if you could provide the scriptural basis for stating that the regulative principle allows for church buildings but not for musical accompaniment. I am writing the paper on this aspect of the subject so it would certainly help my research.

            • David,

              Your demand for “biblical exegesis” assumes these questions have never been discussed before. Your apparent ignorance of the Reformed tradition and lack of willingness to remedy the same does not create for me a moral imperative to provide remedial education on a blog. The function of this blog is to point willing readers and learners to useful resources, not to do the work of the church or schools or books or articles. These things are readily available.

              I’ve written a book that deals with these things at length. Are you demanding that I type out the book here? Is that reasonable?

              I gave a categorical explanation regarding buildings, dress etc. They are CIRCUMSTANCES. What is unclear about that? If you don’t accept the WCF on this, I understand, but don’t blame me for upholding our confession and the agreed, Reformed, ecclesiastical explanation of God’s Word.

              If you want extensive biblical exegesis in support of the RPW, see William Ames, Fresh Suit…. . In RRC I provide extensive references to the historic and contemporary discussion of these questions.

                • I have read with interest not only Dr Truemans article but also the comments which have followed.

                  Living on the Isle of Lewis where there is a very strong evangelical representation in the CofS, we have all looked on with horror at the decision taken at the GA and have been prayerfully supporting our brethren on the Island and further afield and will continue to do so.

                  If I can quote JC Ryle (Warning to the Churches), which may be relevant to much of what has been said, ‘Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion. They weaken the cause of true Christianity…But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved. False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism. If people separate themselves from teaching that is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved. In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin.’

                  David Robertson – You made reference to comments along the way which are not helpful, yet the least helpful comment I have read unfortunately is your own comment to Ewan Wilson relating to the Free Church (Continuing). As an office bearer in the Free Church I am saddened to read such a comment from a minister in our denomination, one brimming with sarcasm, scathing in nature and bearing no resemblance to our bethren in the Free Church (Continuing) at all. Whatever has gone in the past, let us not forget that the Free Church (Continuing) are also our brethren just as Rev’s Ivor Macdonald, William Philip and all the evangelicals in the CofS are.

                  • Scott – (sorry posted this in the wrong place)

                    Sorry there was no sarcasm intended. The FCC IS schismatic – they do exclude 99.9% of Christians in Scotland – they did divide in the name of unity – and they have no possibility of bringing the gospel to the people of Scotland. If that is harsh then so be it. It is the truth. And of course those who hold to the Gospel in the FCC are our brethren – just as Willie Philip and Carl Trueman are brethren – but does that mean we should not tell the truth – at least as far as we know it.

                    By the way I think that much of the Free Church and the C of S is also irrelevant to Scotland and have little chance of bringing the Gospel. We all need to repent…

                    • I agree with David, on both points. (I’ve known the Free Church minister of Dundee for twenty-seven years, and can seldom resist teasing him – somerthing always readily accomplished with the author of ‘Your average King’s Building Moron!’ – but he is brave and he is wise, and after a dreadful start the Monthly Record is increasingly a respected and widely read publication. And no, David, I still don’t expect you to review my history of the church on Lewis as a quid pro quo, or even to read it, as you evidently haven’t.)

                      Of anyone who seriously embraces theonomist views, as Mr Wilson seems evidently to do, we can safely conclude either that he has never read the Westminster Confession of Faith or that he does not understand it. In any event he has pitiable grasp of the historic principle of creed subscription: that an ordinand is expected and required to endorse the assertions of the Confession as a matter of fixed principle – eg, that Jesus Christ alone is Head of the Church – but not necessarily every other related exegetical point: (eg that the Pope of Rome is that Antichrist, the Man of Sin and the son of perdition.) Awa’ hame to the survivalist manuals, Ewan, with your abiding Millennium Bug food-stockpiles for sustenance and When Justice Failed In Church And State as cheery reading for the weans.

                      Cutting back to Carl Trueman’s analysis, I share his interpretation and his pessimism. The position of the present minister of St George’s Tron in Glasgow is untenable and, in my view unethical; the Big Beasts of such gathered-congregation evangelicalism have long and cynically left the small-fry faithful to twist in the Presbyterial wind of a debauched Kirk – eg candidates for divinity study and lonely young men in tiny, difficult charges; There will be no significant secession from the Church of Scotland (and, in . extremis, only assorted schemes of independency)… and, if a half-dozen CoS ministers seek refuge in the Free Church, I should be frankly astonished. The ‘Free Church Continuing’are likely to do almost as well and at least one is more likely to attach himself to the Free Presbyterians. Some sort of permanent semi-detached Bonhoefferish ‘Confessing Church’, daring the Very Reverend Maxwell MacPosh Ignorant-Of-God DD to throw ’em out before TV cameras and Sally Magnusson may be as likely as any scenario.

                      Delightful as this Free Church Message Board Friends Reunited has become, I have nevertheless a battle against Sabbath ferries to wage, so I’ll sign out irrevocably now and go and sing ‘The Lord Told Noah There’s Gonna Be A Floody, Floody’ in the shower.

                      I’ll bet that’s a mental picture Dundee could live without.

                    • John,

                      Just to say that we left Scotland in March with a shiny copy of your new book in our suitcase, and I ‘ve since had one sent to my father in Inverness via Amazon.

                      David has read and enjoyed it very much (he hasn’t laughed out loud reading a book since Bill Bryson) and has now loaned it to one of our elders here in Mississippi, so I’ll need to wait my turn!

                      For those who don’t know, John’s book is “Banner in the West: A Spiritual History of Lewis and Harris”

                    • Ivor, John, please continue to subscribe and continue to contribute. I need to hear the thoughts and opinions of others about this matter of the future of confessional, reformed, evangelical ministers, elders and members within/without the C of S. Should we determine to seek with the help of the Sovereign Lord God to take our full part in the courts of the church and the committees (as we promise at ordination, but sadly too many evangelicals stay in their small corners and keep their heads down) to raise the standard of confessional truth. Do we need to search out brethren of the confessional stance and stand together or leave together on the matter of the Scriptures being our supreme standard?

                      In the east end of Glasgow I am blessed to have around me 7 ministers who are confessional, reformed, evangelical. We are all deeply exercised at events and about the future.

                      John on a personal note relating to an article in which you mentioned your singing. I can tell you that the people of Bonnybridge really appreciated your contribution to the praise on one particular communion evening.

                    • Ivor, you have done us all a great service by getting this blog back on course. I’m stuck out here in South Africa and can therefore only have a virtual involvement but I would like to think that across Scotland groups of interested people might come together informally to talk, pray and seek wisdom for the way forward.

                      The last two decades have been miserable for the Lord’s cause in Scotland with splits and threatened splits. How the devil loves to divide us, especially over secondary issues. How he loves to see pride of opinion falsely elevated into important principle. Anything to keep us diverting our focus and our energies.

                      The obvious participants in such forums will come from C of S and the Free Church, and perhaps the APC too. But I think it would be good to interest FCC folks too. A prominent leader in the FCC responded by email to my blog with the following words, “I certainly hope, as you say, that there can be a coming together in Scotland of those who take the Bible as God’s infallible word.” Interesting he did not hedge his remark with comments about worship, etc.

                      Although my preference for the future is pretty well known, I think that at this early stage minds should be very open to explore a number of possible avenues, including perhaps some kind of federal relationship between different confessional denominations and the Fellowship of Confessional Churches. What we have in common is vastly greater than what divides us. As mixed denominations continue to loose their way, as numbers decline, and the challenge grows bigger by the day, we desperately need each other, and Scotland needs us united for the Lord’s cause and glory. Whatever anyone says, Scotland is scandalized (literally) by our divisions.

                    • John, nothing that you propose will happen until reformed evangelical leaders in the Church of Scotland decide on their relationship to that church. I think the most effective way forward would be for sympathetic Free Church ministers and congregations to support former CofS minsters and members in establishing new non-CofS local fellowships. It is at the local level that loose federal connections might be useful.

                      There has been plenty of talk in Scotland about planting new churches, but there has been very little action. This is where the comparison between Scotland and evangelical Anglicanism in England breaks down. We just do not have time now in Scotland for consultation exploration and strategic thinking about federal connections and formal organisation at a national level. There are some gifted young Christians prepared to commit themselves to planting new local churches now. But there appears to be little practical support among Christian leaders for such work.

                      If current statistics are close to the truth we do not have another two decades to plan a mission to evangelise Scotland… the stats suggest that in two decades there will be no Reformed witness, because most of the people who constitute that witness will be dead.

                      If we desperately need each other, and if what we have in common is vastly greater than what divides us, then there should be no difficulty in starting a new work now. I think we are scared to place emphasis on small local efforts. And I fear that the real problem may be that we are just all too comfortable with the status quo.

                    • David, I am fully supportive of what you say; “small local efforts” are extremely important, as well as working for strategic denominational realignment. I really don’t think we can streamline this thing; different things will be appropriate in different situations. The important thing is that we learn to think across the traditional boundaries and place the kingdom of God rather than sectional interests at the heart of our thinking ,praying and planning.

                      Historically what has hindered C of S evangelicals planting new congregations is the parish system. In the Church of England bishops are able to issue a Bishop’s Mission Order to permit a church planting initiative that would cross parish boundaries or involve collaboration between parishes, but the Church of Scotland has resisted any dismantling or adjustment of parish boundaries. These were were last reviewed around the time of 1928 union but the whole system has become so antagonistic to evangelical church planting that it has now to be disregarded.

                    • Probably best to reply to Ivor MacDonald’s email address and discuss things in a bit more privacy with less chance of it turning in to the Free Church message board reunited that John refers to above.

                      Personally my suggestions are
                      1. pray
                      2. get together with like-minded folk
                      3. plan
                      4. help folk at congregational level make links beyond the local congregation and CofS
                      5. get out of dead end situation unless you can realistically see where progress can be made
                      6. get in to some pre-existing denominational structure if possible. (We really don’t need to add MORE denominations to the many out there, there’s bound to be one that’s a better fit.) The results of 4. might make this happen almost automatically as links form.

                    • Well, thanks for that John.
                      Pleased that you perceive the minister of SGT,and by extension all his members, of cutting off others we should support. Have you read the Fellowship of Confessing Churches website? the reality is the opposite of what you suggest.
                      One problem in all of this is that yourself and Carl Trueman seem to have as a starting point the belief that if stands weren’t made in the past(and I’ll accept that), that there is no point doing so now. So will the FC ever apply proper disciplinary procedures to her prominent members again?(That statement is not intended to suggest any verdict was wrong but that procedures were obviously poor.)
                      Mistakes in the past- by other people- cannot be allowed to govern views now. Willie Philip is I would think about 43- he’s making a stand both for the Gospel and the Church- and is very kindly being knocked about by his FC cousins. Thanks again- very helpful!

                    • Albert,

                      I really did not want to contribute any more to this but I’m afraid I cannot let your last comment go. Willie Philip is not being knocked about by his FC cousins – indeed we are standing by him and admire him for his leadership. Several of us have written in support of the FCC (despite the unfortunate title) and hundreds of us signed the petition. Please be careful in your generalisations.

                    • I am not a reactionary on worship. I know vthe historic C of S/FCS position and that opf my own denomination in Australia (PCEA). I sing psalms a capella in public worship because I think it is a good and godly application of the RPW and fits within the inspired materials of praise idea which certainly is a commendable one.

                      I would not be so opposed to singing other parts of Scripture or hymns that reflect closely Scripture ideas/language that I would make a big issue of it, but nor am I such a Philistine that I think allowing such a practice is the most important thing we can agitate for.

                      What we need is Bible teaching ministries which exalt Christ and warm Christian fellowship – oh, and a modern English Psalter – and differences seem to melt away. Indeed, I would prefer, using Geo Gillespie’s words, to be somewhat straightened and bound up than have full liberty and elbow room but split the church.

                      I suspect David (Robertson) that you are over optimistic about change in the public worship of the FCS so as to allow uninspired materials of praise. If that was the only issue it might be a bit different. In fact as someone pointed out, it’s really whether or not people are confessional and presbyterian.

                      Greetings from Melbourne, Australia


                    • I tried to post an apology yesterday but it doesn’t seem to have appeared.
                      I will comment no further on this- perhaps a blog is just too easy as a negative forum- particularly for me!

                    • Albert…it appeared to me….many thanks.

                      Rowland – what am I over optimistic about? That it may happen? Or that it will bring revival and renewal? My view is that change is inevitable and that change will not inevitably mean renewal. For that we need a whole lot more. I am sure that people can be confessional and presbyterian and sing hymns to Jesus as God….

                    • My posts to this blog have been put in a strange place, Mr Robertson.
                      I was replying to your Q to Scott clark on church buildings and musical instruments. Check the blog replies under “Yoda” and get an answer you will.

                    • Yoda here again am I.

                      900 years old I am. Very wise. Hopefully not wise in my own eyes I am.

                      Just one more point regarding church buildings adiaphora being, but musical instruments adiaphora being not.

                      To use a church building instead of a residential home or other building is not completely adiaphora is it not.

                      The Scriptures give us the example of the Thirteen True Apostles of our Lord do they not. They did not think using church buildings was adiaphora or not. Sometimes they use residential homes, sometimes they use market places in evangelism, sometimes synagogues, sometimes outside they worshipped.

                      If we think meeting in residential homes aid the cause of Christ it will we should ask the Lord about that. If we think a church building is more useful we should use that. Some of our forefathers found that it was God’s will in His providence to meet in the hills and mountainsides.

                      We should consult the Lord about these matters.

                      Yoda signing off.
                      May the Lord be with you Mr Robertson and all at this blog in your efforts for His Cause and Kingdom.

          • David, if it isn’t too presumptuous, I’ve ordered you a copy of Scott’s book (RRC) and had it despatched to your church address. You should get it in a few days. Even if you disagree with it, it’s a cracking read and hopefully it’ll give you either ammunition or provide you with a sparring partner for your FC paper.

  47. David Robertson writes, rather oddly, of the Free Church that ‘our constitution says nothing about exclusive psalmody- that is just an Act of Assembly – and as our constitution states – all synods and assemblies may err. ‘

    He is wrong. The Free Church is not committed to exclusive Psalmody; assorted Acts of Assembly only prohibit ‘non-inspired materials of praise.’
    And that is also, remarkably, the Free Presbyterian position, the 1893 Deed of Separation indicting only ‘the use of uninspired hymns.’

    It is difficult to take entirely seriously David’s kindly counsels to CoS Evangelicals when he is evidently unfamiliar with the detail of his own Church.

    • John,

      The point still stands – our constitution says nothing about exclusive psalmody. It also says nothing about inspired materials of praise. Of course we have an Act of Assembly that mentions ‘inspired materials of praise’ but it is not part of our constitution. I am fully aware that we can sing paraphrases – not least because St Peters is one of the few Free Churches that does so.

      Meanwhile I wonder what such pedantry has to do with the quality or not of my ‘kindly counsels’ to C of S evangelicals – except to remind them of the joys of belonging to the smaller conservative presbyterian groups in Scotland!

  48. Its funny what you do in a wakeful moment. I keep telling myself this has gone so far off the subject of Carl’s posting as to be virtually hi-jacked, and I ought not get involved. But John is quite correct, the historic position, reflected in both FP and FC legislation is not ‘exclusive psalmody’ and never has been, what is forbidden is the use of uninspired materials of praise. For example, the Scottish Paraphrases, are not forbidden territory but not exactly flavour of month either. Nor despite the draconian provisions of the Directory of Public Worship has there been complete agreement on the nature of the so-called Regulative Principle. Which is why R. Scott is right in that most of these arguments have been debated before. By the way, on what Puritans meant by ‘psalms’ see Nick Needham’s carefully researched article in, Ryken, Philip, Derek Thomas and Ligon Duncan (eds), “Give Praise to God,” Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2003.

    To me the weighty arguments are about are about consistency and were ably voiced by David Brown in the nineteenth century. Brown came to see that at the heart of Free Church worship lies a curious anomaly. While every other part of worship was consistent with the New Testament reorientation, in which the praise of Christ was explicit, the sung praise of the church alone remained firmly entrenched in the era of inference and shadow. Brown felt that the Christocentric orientation of New Testament worship not only justified but actually required the use of Christian hymns. The psalms should retain their honoured place in public worship but hymns were a valuable adjunct, ‘especially those which extolled the Redeemer and made use of His incarnation, death, resurrection and future coming, to exalt the spirit of love, trust, and obedience.’ (William Garden Blaikie David Brown: A Memoir, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1898, p.188). Brown’s argument commends itself as worthy of further reflection. If the sacraments, the prayers, the reading, and the preaching of new covenant worship all exalt Christ plainly and explicitly, is it not indeed anomalous that the Church should be forbidden to utter in its songs the name of the one who is the object of all its praise?

    The second and related argument has to do with the Council of Jerusalem’s abrogation of the principle of uniformity of worship, (Acts 15) by which it was agreed that gentile Christians were not required to be circumcised nor to adopt distinctive Jewish practices, including those of a liturgical nature, summarized in the expression ‘the law of Moses.’

    I have written further on this and related matters such as the dangers of Uniformity of Worship on my blog, under the heading, “Worship”.

    • I think I agree with you in theory – but I’ve yet to hear of a church where this doesn’t degenerate. It ends with singing songs covering a much narrower range of emotions than the psalms, with the composer’s personal take on theology built in, in a style which generally dates quickly, to the accompaniement of instruments which are too loud and draw more attention to the accompaniest than to God’s glory.

      Maybe it’s a bit like stained glass windows. The patterned ones are lovely – the “picture” ones hideous.

      Is that back to 2nd commandment?

  49. True, man! Are we any nearer to seeing what exactly we do now?

    Years ago my sister suggested a “choose your church” day. Every congregational group of leaders sets up a stall with information they agree with and info on how THEY think the church should run. Every list of “members” is dissolved and people sign up for the one they ACTUALLY want to be in. Then whatever groupings emerge bid for the collection on buildings etc they would prefer. That way you don’t have members who don’t come, adherents who won’t join, people tied by “aye been” loyalties and folk travelling great distances to church. Probably a lot of divisons for “historical reasons” would be conveniently lost along the way and the whole thing rationalised quite a bit.

  50. Louise is spot on. this is little more than “thin end of the wedge-ism” Once exclusive psalmody goes, thats it. OK, it may be replaced by “great” majestic hymns whose theology is not in doubt. Eventually it will make way for the sort of shallow emotional stuff that the charismatics seem to love. And of course, the use of instruments will provide yet another distraction, where the skill of the performer could easily end up becoming an idol.

    I ac tually wonder if there is a hidden power agend here. Are some ministers looking enviously at charismatics and thinking, “how do they get them in?” Oh yes, of course make it “appealing” and they will flock in – lets get a “praise band” and they’ll turn up to be entertained. Just think, I could be ministering to much greater numbers of people…… how my ego would like that.

    Of course, gettting rid of the conservatives from the Free Church in 2000 amkes the process a lot easier.

    Its all about power and influence isnt it? Just like the manoevering that went on between the FC and the UPs to create a super church, we now have all sorts of proposed “bar lowering” and dumbing down in order to accomodate the CofS envagies who seem to have a “problem” with psalmody.

    It was tried before . It failed. Even in recent memory, when the APC was formed, it was trumpeted as a new evangelical movement of which great things were hoped. It didnt happen

    If the disgruntled C of S types who cant handle being fairly defeated at their GA want to join the FC, then let them RAISE their standard of worship not expecting the FC to lower hers.

    • Well, I wondered how long it would take.

      Nothing like being pure eh! The CofS has failed, not because of Hymns or Psalms, nor for it efforts at being biblically relevant. It has failed because it did not accept the authority of scripture as the rule of life and doctrine and as a consequence anything goes. I sang several Psalms at the assembly this year, it obviously did us the world of good?

      I have been a member in 2 psalm singing denomination and guess what, there were as many hypocrites there as there were/are in the hymn singing churches. Man what a shock. Just imagine the horror of realising that someone who sings psalms is no more pure that the fool who sings a hymn. I mean what a let down, I was devastated!

      I was unhappy when discussions between the FC and the APC (who amazingly sang the same psalms with no music) did not go further. One of the reasons from an APC, if memory serves me right, was because the FC seemed to still have far too many folk just like you James, people who think they are a cut above, a position that only God himself should have. I despise that self-righteous guff, in fact I would rather not gather as the church at all than endure more of that. I am also not saying that the APC did not have folk like that either.

      What amazes me is that people think that singing psalms over against hymns somehow stops them being infected by the world. If only I had realised this before now. Unfortunately I have also come across many shallow psalm singing folk in my time, so where does that leave your argument? I have also come across just as many psalm singing adulterers as I have hymn singing ones. So much for keeping the bar high!

      Though I agree with the content of what we sing as being important, this is just masking the real issue. What is worship? When we really answer that question with or without this act or that directory will we get what is really needed, people who truly worship God from their heart and show it in their lives, all parts of their lives, and no offence, psalms and or hymns will not get you there on that one.

      “If the disgruntled C of S types who cant handle being fairly defeated at their GA want to join the FC, then let them RAISE their standard of worship not expecting the FC to lower hers.”

      Worship, true worship should reduce the idea of self in comparison with one who is worthy of that worship. Unfortunately self is something you James have in abundance, self-righteousness. The amazing thing is that you lambast the charismatic’s, the APC, the CofS and you still have little idea of what Worship is. If you raise the bar in worship, you do so in all aspects of your life, every part, from the way you look at a good looking lady from the way you do business to the way serve the Lord by using your God given gifts for his glory to the way you accept his authority in your life which leads you in denying self more each day and on we go.

      What I sing may or may not help me put what I need to do in the real act of worship in perspective but it is only a small part, a very small part.

      So let’s worship shall we.

  51. Can i offer a comment with regard to C of S ministers flocking to join the Free Kirk and the concern about how evangelical we might be! Surely if the Free Kirk were to accept us, we would be required to sign the W C of F without the terrible Declaratory Acts the C of S inherited from the United Presbyterians and the pre-1900 Free Kirk. I signed up to it as my own confession of faith when licensed by the Free Church and have always maintained that is my position even as a C of S minsiter now.

    On the Psalms question, i fully accept an inclusive Psalmody position. An exclusive one would cause me problems. Interestingly when worshipping in the Netherland with the Gereformeerde Gemente we sang Psalms (standing) and accompanied by the organ!

  52. James – amazing how you know that it is all about ‘power and influence’? And of course it is highly questionable, to say the least, that Free Church worship is ‘higher’ than C of S. Why you cite the APC as an example of what happens when one downgrades worship in order to gain power and influence is a little puzzling – not least because the APC is committed to exclusive accapella psalm singing.

    Alistair – great to hear from you….and spot on. We should adopt an inclusive psalmody position.

    Scott – I have been a Free Church minister for 23 years. As such I have been steeped in the Reformed tradition and I live and work in that environment. I don’t have the luxury of being able to hold to something whilst doing something else or just having an academic interest. I work within a post modern secular culture and try to bring the Gospel in that context. I have also been reading and studying on this subject for over 25 years. I have written on this subject and in fact I wrote the Free Church worship committees recently published leaflet on the subject. Therefore you will forgive me for suggesting that accusing me of ignorance in this respect (purely because I do not agree with you) is not exactly fair. Just out of curiosity do you minister within a congregation/denomination that practices exclusive psalmody with no instrumental music?

    And you are kind of missing the point. I fully agree that buildings, clothing etc are circumstances (though not so sure that the Puritans would agree on that re clothing). My point was that there is no biblical reason whatsoever for regarding musical instruments as anything other than circumstances. At least as far as I am aware. I was asking because you may be able to enlighten me. I am not asking you to write a thesis or a book on it (and yes I am getting your book and will look forward to reading it), however it is should not be too difficult for a reformed person who believes in sola scriptura to answer a question which asks for a scriptural reason for a particular aspect of their belief. If it takes a full book to answer why scripture tells us that a church building is a circumstance but a stringed instrument is an element, then I suspect it will not be the clearest of cases!

    And please don’t try to avoid the issue by stating that I do not accept the WCF or the RPW. I totally accept them and I have worked with them as part of my day to day life for over 25 years. I do not believe that either forbids the use of musical accompaniment or the singing of hymns to Jesus as God. Indeed I am more and more inclined to the position that those who hold to exclusive psalmody accapella are themselves going against the RPW because they are insisting on banning something that God commands!

    And I am also not prepared to tell people like Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Eric Alexander, Terry Johnstone in the present, or others in the past, that they do not accept the WCF or the RPW, when they claim they do. For me to do so would be to imply either that they were being deceitful or that they were not intelligent enough to know what the WCF or RPW says! And I ain’t gonna go there, brother…..

    Anyway I look forward to reading your book – and then perhaps I might be able to answer my own question.

    • David,

      In the history of American Presbyterianism there was an accepted settlement in the 18th century wherein the DPW was set aside. I describe this history in the book. The confessional American Presbyterians you list are, to some degree or other, heirs of that settlement. These are acquaintances, friends, and colleagues. To be invidious and to mention but two, Lig has lectured here and I’ve done some writing for him. Terry is on our board and a good friend. Nevertheless, in the book, classify their approach generally (along with other that of friends) as “conservative” on this question. They are, to greater or lesser degrees, conserving the status quo. I am not interested in conserving the status quo. That said, Terry has read RRC with appreciation. With mutual profit and appreciation we just traded papers on Calvin’s doctrine and practice of worship. Lig wrote one of the blurbs for the book.

      The truth is that most modern (not to say modernist) Presbyterians have not been obedient to the WCF as it was originally understood, which understanding is clearly expressed in the DPW.

      Yes, it does take a whole book to explain the background to the reasoning behind the RPW. We’ve drifted that far. We’re that influenced by revivalism (QIRE) and rationalism (QIRC) and that distracted from our vocation as ministers of Word and sacrament.

      In the nature of the case, Scripture doesn’t speak to every circumstance. Scripture doesn’t care morally speaking about the nature of the building in which we worship. Our people have, in times past, worshiped in hedge rows whilst hiding from Spanish soldiers who were seeking to kill them. Catacombs or cathedrals, it’s morally indifferent. That’s one of the benefits of the RPW. It leave us liberty in matters indifferent (adiaphora). Obviously Scripture speaks to the attitude of the heart and the way in which God is to be worshiped. It does not prescribe nor does it intend to prescribe the time and place. To demand biblical proofs of circumstances is either to demand the impossible or to misunderstand the RPW or both.

      As to “the Puritans” (as if they were a monolith) and ecclesiastical dress. Fair enough. Within the bounds of Geneva gown and tabs or not, there was some liberty! Obviously they rightly resisted priestcraft in favor of ministerial dress. They recognized, however, that the wearing of trousers, for example, is a cultural/natural matter. They didn’t insist that we all dress like first-century Roman citizens. That was all I really intended.

      • Scott,

        Thanks for you reply. I note that you think most Presbyterians who adhere to the WCF either do not understand it or do not really adhere to it. I also note that yet again you have answered a question I did not ask. I agree entirely that Scripture does not speak to every circumstance. I was asking why and where Scripture says that a church building or how we dress is a circumstance, but the use of a musical instrument to accompany singing is not. And I am still waiting for the answer.

        I agree totally that there is liberty in things indifferent – which is why I rejoice in our liberty to meet in a church building or in a field, to sing with musical accompaniment or acappella.

        • David,

          It’s a deduction, an inference. Our confession says:

          “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (/em>

  53. I have enjoyed reading the discussion between David Robertson and Scott Clark and wanted to make a comment.

    I have heard it said that the practice of psalm singing was unique in history in the sense that it was the only well-established ecclesiastical practice that was suddenly overthrown without ANY significant exegetical work being done in advance. Instead, various other ecclesiastical and societal forces caused the church to change. I do not pretend to be a church historian but it does seem to me that there is measure of truth in this.

    Scott and David I would be interested in your thoughts on this.

    • Sandy,

      I think this is basically correct. When I began to learn Reformation history in university and in seminary I began to realize the discrepancy between modern practice and the original practice of the Reformed churches in Europe and the British Isles. Somehow I gained the impression that some great work had been done along the way to justify the change. I carried that unquestioned assumption for a couple of decades. When I sat down to do the research that became RRC I was shocked to find that there was no such great work. There have been attempts to justify the status quo (e.g. the OPC majority report that resulted in the old blue Trinity Hymnal) but they hardly qualify as the sort of thing wanted.

      The case seems to be that, e.g. in the NL the churches never succeeded in stamping out of the popular piety and in the 18th century it re-asserted itself in instruments and hymns. In the late 18th century in the colonies, revivalism (QIRE) having greatly undermined the due use of the ordinary means, the grounds for marginalizing and then overturning the DPW were mainly pragmatic. There have been a number of attempts in recent years to justify the status quo by appealing to the ever-broadening category of “circumstances” but that move has only made things worse. Now we have ostensibly Reformed folk using that move to justify omitting the sermon in favor of “drama.” The camel has taken up residence in the tent. Having admitted organs and hymns there has been no principled defense against rap music and “we will, we will praise you!” to the tune and full instrumentation of the pop song by Queen (as I once heard in a centuries-old English church).

      • Thanks Scott, most helpful.

        I know David and others are arguing for Psalms plus, but the reality is
        that churches who have embraced this view have largely pushed the Psalms to the margins.

        And it is a sad commentary on our times when one has to argue FOR the use of the Psalms. I sometimes get the impression that people think I have a theological screw loose because I want to sing more scripture rather than less!

        • Sandy – the thin end of the wedge argument is not a helpful one. Neither is the assumption that those who hold to the non use of instrumental music or exclusive psalmody are not influenced by societal and cultural pressures. Indeed there is a strong case for arguing that the early Church Fathers position on musical instruments was more influenced by their association with the pagan temple, rather than any scriptural exegesis. And was Calvins opposition to four part harmony based on scriptural exegesis? Many people today in the Free Church hold to our ‘position’ on worship for cultural and societal reasons – that is why they find it so easy to do one thing in the Free Church and another in other churches. If church law is needed to prevent deterioration then we are in real trouble….I personally want the freedom to argue for psalm singing, in a context where it is not the only thing allowed.

          Jedi rev’s point that there has never been a serious debate on this subject (if it were true) would suggest that it is more a cultural/societal matter anyway.

          Does anyone else find it interesting that those churches which hold to a non instrumental music, psalms only policy are a tiny percentage of the worlds churches and are declining. Given that the Lord is sovereign and that his worship is the most important thing we can do – does it not seem very strange that he is not blessing the very people who are worshipping him the only way he has commanded?!

          Scott – one other question that you missed. What is your own context? Do you worship and work in a context where the worship that you say is the only biblical way is actually used? I am curious because as Sandy points out – our own context certainly affects our views.

          • David

            Thanks for your reply. In fairness, I don’t think I was engaging in the thin end of the wedge argument, that certainly was not my intention. I was simply pointing out the fact that the singing of scripture is now very much on the margins, certainly in North America.

            As to your point that

            “those churches which hold to a non instrumental music, psalms only policy are a tiny percentage of the worlds churches and are declining. Given that the Lord is sovereign and that his worship is the most important thing we can do – does it not seem very strange that he is not blessing the very people who are worshipping him the only way he has commanded?!”

            ….I don’t think we want to go down the road of equating the blessing of God with size of denomination. This seems to me to be a bit of a red herring….

    • Sandy – interesting comment, and in the Scottish context, dead on the money. There’s never been a serious biblical debate over hymns or instruments, and the one time there almost was, (7 years of it in the Free Church) they concluded that the historical position was, as RSC says, against change. That was disregarded to make way for unity, and to stop people rushing off to the trendy churches that already used hymns and organs.

      1792 – the Relief Church/Synod (who later merged into the United Presbyterian Church) agreed to introduce paraphrases which were “either founded upon particular texts of Scripture, or are paraphrases upon several verses in particular chapters of the sacred books.” Curiously, Cowper’s “Oh for a closer walk with God” was included as a paraphrase of Gen 5:24. Not much exegesis there.
      1851 – The United Presbyterian Hymnbook (in direct succession from the Relief Synod) included hymns by Isaac Watts, John Newton, John Wesley and John Keble; the collection even included a Gregorian Chant – but by this time all effort to link these selections to Scripture had been dropped.
      1872 – the UPC Synod, bowing to pressure form their English congregations, and from the pews, revoked their ban on musical instruments – and (with no recorded extended discussion beyond the floor of the Synod) decided to “no longer make uniformity of practice in this matter a rule of the church”. Another win for biblical assessment there.

      1857-64 – Dr. Robert Lee, terrified of the appeal of High Church tradition in the Episcopalian Church, began a drive to change the CofS from within. He installed the first post-disruption Organ in 1863, but his defence of this (and other innovations) “The Reform of the Church of Scotland” is heavy on church law and precedent, but light on exegesis. By 1866 the matter was in the hands of presbyteries to decide – but they could only act on the basis of the potential for upset if innovations were introduced. Again, not much exegesis.
      1865 – the Church Service Society was founded. Stuffed full of well travelled Victorian Gentlemen, this body produced the “Euchologion” – a series of liturgical suggestions for all sorts of occasions, drawn from different European Reformed traditions, but also the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. This gained widespread approval in the CofS. But there was little discussion on the Biblical basis for adopting it.

      1866-72 The Free Church set up a committee! They looked at the reformed position – concluded that it was clear that the Reformers were dead against songs of human composition, but then, in their final proposal to the General Assembly, recommended introducing hymns. By 1872 the context was already clearly Union-orientated, and the traditional Reformed understanding was playing second fiddle – even the committee’s final report was quite bald in the matter, alluding to dire consequences of the desired change wasn’t made.
      1882 – two Free Church congregations made petitions to be allowed to use instruments. Interestingly, James Begg &co. had a petition to hand – 75,000 people in Scotland alone had said “No” to musical instruments (we, in the days of the interweb, can only get 12,555 to say “No” to gay ministers – didn’t we do well?) A committee was formed. This time, they met for only a year, and decided that actually, it was perfectly within the Reformed Tradition to use instruments, and that the DPW was not at all opposed to this. In fact a 1592 Act of Assembly granted elders the right to determine for themselves the form of worship in their congregations, and went on to argue this right had not been curtailed in anyway by the subsequent adoption of the WCF or the DPW.

      I’d call the 1882 decision a curious case of revisionism. It’s strange that after the Westminster Parliament ratified the DPW in May 1645, in the same month they passed an Act to the effect that “All organs, and the frames and cases wherein they stand… shall be taken away and utterly deface[d]… and none set in their place.” Even more so, 11 days later, the Scottish Commissioners reported to the General Assembly their delight in the proceedings as the organs in St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s had been removed. Westminster clearly opposed musical instruments.

      I’d say, in the Scottish Context, we’ve never had a good, exegesis driven, biblical debate on this question.

        • I really hate to say it; by my good friend Jedi Rev’s discussion of the 1882 debate is something of a travesty. It entirely beggars belief that respected scholars of the integrity and ability of David Brown built their case on expediency, without bothering to do the exegetical spadework.

          On the other hand, I can understand how easy it is to draw the conclusion of exegetical neglect if one confines their reading to the official Assembly documents and most contemporary accounts. As any researcher will know, official papers provide only the barest bones of an understanding and, in this case, are totally inadequate on which to argue that little or no exegesis was engaged in on the part of those advocating an enlargement of the sung repertoire of praise.

          Also it is important to note that, in the nature of the case, the Assembly itself is not the place for the dispassionate practice of exegesis; rather it is the place to present conclusions and proposals in such a way as to win a vote. As many of us know, it is quite possible to provide a few proof texts and many members of the Assembly will conclude an argument is Biblical and, among an inherently conservative people, maintain the status quo.

          Brown’s argument I have outlined above, and as far as I know it has never been convincingly refuted.

          • John,
            Of course the Assembly Floor does not give the full picture. I entirely agree. And I’m not trying to undermine the point that men like Brown, Candlish etc. were thinking hard about the matter. A lot of useful documents are not available. The 1866-72 Committee Minutes, for example, have disappeared. But we do have the full Committee Reports and the Hansard style accounts of speeches made on the floor. I think my point is that when the decision was made, the summary arguments presented were weak on the side of exegesis. It’s like watching Rangers win the Cup Final – they were appallingly bad, but they still won. For all the incidental discussions, what matters is the argument that held the day – and it was a poor one as far as Biblical evidence goes. The debate itself was a travesty, not my presentation of it. 🙂

            There are some theological arguments – R.S. Candlish made the same points you raise from David Brown, “For the common people… …it is a gratifying thing to be allowed to use hymns in which the full measure of the revelation of the New Testament is brought out… It is not that we disparage the Psalms… but out of, and in consistency with, New Testament revelation, a fuller, clearer and more explicit Christology may be introduced into the praise of God.” They are good, logical arguments – but they was no major effort to put some Scripture under them, for instance to address the RPW.

            Candlish and Burn – in fairness – did try to present a case for there being some evidence of NT songs – e.g. 1 Tim 1:16, which I don’t think really looks like a song. It’s just an under-developed part of their argument.

            The trend though, is that all the Scottish Presbyterian Churches made these changes in the mid 19th Cent. The influences in that period are really suspect – German liberalism, Moody Revivalism and resurgent Episcopalianism. What is clear is that expediency in that context was the argument than won the floor of the Assembly. If you look at the Youth and Psalmody Committee reports from the same years, they are full of fears that D.Y. Moody’s crusades were drawing young people away from the Free Church. They changed because they were losing people, and funky hymns were seen as a way to counter the appeal of the New Evangelicals, and the resurgent Episcopalians. By 1880s you’ve got Rainy’s drive for union, and by then the chief argument was “We’re out of step with the rest of Christendom.”

            In the CofS you’ve also got the Sophisticated Moderates, left in the majority after 1843 – it is they who largely shaped the modern practice in the CofS. They didn’t even bother getting the Assembly to formally sanction the changes – just promise not to discipline anyone who made a change.

            My point is to highlight the need for some serious Biblical debate on the matter, in the context of a church that has the highest regard for Scripture. If the Free Church of today is going to go in a new direction, I don’t want to be swayed by the arguments of expediency, I want us to have a firm, biblical conviction that what we are doing is right. We’re nuts to cry foul on the CofS on gays if we can’t do any better on worship.

      • Same situation in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland – non-inspired hymnody and musical instruments were introduced at the end of the c19th without any legal approval from General Assembly. Incidentally, I have a Free Church hymnbook, in pristine condition (published by the authority of the General Assembly, 1882), if anyone is interested.

      • Jedi Rev – this is quite astonishing. You are saying that the Scottish Church held to a position for hundreds of years without ever having had a serious biblical exegesis debate on the subject. I’m not I agree with this as I do tend to think that the debate in the 19th century was exegesis driven,but if this were true then the Free Church has been holding to a strict position which has severely limited us WITHOUT any good, exegesis driven, biblical debate. Extraordinary.

        This means that according to Sandy’s point the changes in worship at the Reformation were driven as much by cultural/societal factors as by biblical exegesis.

        • David,
          On exegesis – see my reply to John. But I think you’re right – on the story since 1830. Prior to that, I don’t know – I’ve never looked at the records of the Westminster Assembly to see what they were talking about when they framed chapter 21, or the DPW. And I’ve even less of a clue about what Knox was doing in the 16th Cent. All I know is that when the Scottish Churches changed from that position, it wasn’t chiefly “because the Bible tells me so.”

          You’ve got to see not only the debates of the 19th Cent, but the context of these debates. There are so many factors influencing the decisions.

          What I find interesting is that in the post 1900 Free Church, the same was probably true – there were clear factors that would influence a distinctly Highland Church to go the way they did (effectively banning hymns and organs), almost predisposing them to a particular position.

          I want to see you, and the others conducting this new Free Church debate rise above the arguments that make the thing seem expedient – and tell the Church, what the Bible teaches. If we can conduct the argument at that level, I’ll be quite happy.

          • Jedi….

            Thanks for the prayer letter…..

            I’m sorry but you did state there had never been any biblical exegesis on the subject… you are stating since 1830 and you do not know what happened before then. You will forgive me for saying that this sounds a bit arrogant – I know for example that Candlish, McCheyne, Chalmers and Cunningham – as well as Brown, the Bonars etc all did biblical exegesis on the subject.

            I do however agree with you that the 1905 decision and 1910 acts were done primarily for cultural reasons – and that when the latest consultation was done on the subject in the Free Church a couple of years ago – more than 50% of Kirk Sessions and Presbyteries said that they did not think it was unbiblical to use musical instruments – but the vast majority also said it should not be introduced because it would be ‘divisive’. The culture and fears of the church were thus given authority over the Bible (ironically much like the C of S on the issue of homosexuality). Like you I earnestly hope and pray that our plenary assembly will vote on issues of biblical exegesis, rather than on cultural or personal preferences.

            Now if you will forgive me I am going to bow out of this. I find it intriguing that a serious discussion on the enormous events that have taken place in Scotland in the past few weeks should so quickly have degenerated into a discussion on exclusive psalmody. Does that not indicate how bizarre we really are? And I apologise both for my part in that and for encouraging the theonomists from Shettleston to rehash the old Free Church is apostate argument. From ordaining homosexuals to stoning them….I guess that kind of sums up the mess the Church in Scotland is in….Pray for us…

          • David,
            Prior to the 1830s you know full well there was no serious move towards a different position, and hence no need for anyone to look for an different interpretation. Up to that point, the Westminster position seems to have gone pretty much unchallenged. When the debates about changing the church’s stated position kicked off, if there was any exegesis, it was not the decisive factor. That way, today, a robust presentation of serious biblical reasons is vital if the Free Church is going to change. On that I hope we agree.

            But I also agree, we’re so far off topic, it’s time to bow out.

      • Sandy,

        I do not equate the size of denomination with the blessing of the Lord. But nor do I regard numbers as insignificant. I do find it strange that 99.9% of Christians (including the vast majority of Reformed) do not accept the ‘clearly biblical position’. I find it even stranger that those who do are not experiencing the blessing of the Lord.

        And I certainly share your concerns that churches are not singing scripture. Might it be that part of the problem is the all or nothing approach?

        Jedi.. you state “He installed the first post-disruption Organ in 1863, but his defence of this (and other innovations) “The Reform of the Church of Scotland” is heavy on church law and precedent, but light on exegesis.” I agree and find it fascinating that virtually all the arguments I have heard for the ‘exclusive psalm singing – no instruments’ position are based on reformed tradition, church law and precedent and virtually none on exegesis. I am still waiting for the exegesis which tells us why buildings are a circumstance and musical instruments are not. Chalmers would have been interested as well – see his defence of musical instruments based on Psalm 150. Anyway I look forward to reading Scotts book….and any other material that you can send my way!

        • Jedi – you state ‘the Westminster’ position. Are you assuming that the Westminster position is exclusive psalmody and non-instrumental music? have you read Nick Needhams work on this? I have hunted far and wide for anything in the Scottish Church or Westminster Divines which indicates that they thought only the 150 psalms should be sung….there is precious little. I would be grateful if anyone could provide sources. Meanwhile I think Dr Needhams view that psalm just meant ‘sacred song’ is very persuasive….Anyway please send it to me privately…it would be very helpful for my paper…

          • Historically, the argument is cut and dried – which is why the compilers of the baptist confession in 1677 (1689) cite “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” to replace “psalms” – and I say that as a non-exclusive psalm singer. Page 40 in the original Directory of Public Worship indicates that congregants are to be provided with psalm books for singing in public worship. The Assembly provided the people with a book consisting of the 150 psalms. QED.

          • Guys, you seem to live in a parallel world!!! No wonder why your form of worship and preaching is so irrelevant! Following your thread you seem to believe that your ‘wee narrow’ way of thinking is the only one. Your worship and psalm singing is the ‘divine’ way of worshiping God! Guys have you ever worshiped in another culture and church that is not anglo-saxon-american? Or do you think God has solely come to the world in 15th Century Saxon clothing, and culture? I often imagine the church as a myriad of diverse manifestations where people of all races (and literally races) and cultures praise the Lord in their own cultural manifestation, as in the image that John gives us in Revelation. People singing harps playing (Rev 14:1-….).
            Or can you ever imagine that people of other culture would find it very hard to understand your obsession with ‘psalmodian’ worship? Probably not!

  54. As a member of the Free Church of Scotland, Continuing wing, I can say we heartily sympathise with our Chiurch of Scotland Reformed brethren at this awful juncture. We too came through a long, arduous process and in the end had to leave.
    However the Church of Scotland has had a rather more diluted official attachment to Reformed evangelical calvinistic presbyterianism and mixed ecclesiology is a very mixed and dubious ‘blessing’.
    The ordination vows in the continuing Free Church of Scotland tie us in to a very precise and so unifying platform and vision. Where vows are taken lightly with so called ‘mental reservation’ it very predictably leads to a splintering vision and fisile tensions. Dr Trueman is perfrectly correct- connexional churches like presbyterian ones simply cannot operate like congregationalists at local level. One is forced to recognise as folk in good standing who are unregenerate or backsliden or apostate. Discipline ends up chaotic and capricious, a highly toxic situation for the innocent and the true. Having left the Kirk a quarter of a century ago and lived through the traumatic years leading up to the Free Kirk’s 2000 split/Reconstitution I for one simply find I have so little in common with the Church of Scotland that I reckon the simple Biblical formula is best for recovery- Avoid those who cause divisions contrary to Apostolic doctrine by which you were graced with newness of life.

    • Ewan,

      The example you give is a good one. You can sympathise all you want with your C of S brethren – but is it not ironic that you would not allow them to join your church because of your position on worship.

      The FCC is a great example of how schismatic and postmodern a reformed church can be. Dividing in the name of unity and having a ‘precise and unifying vision’ which excludes 99.9% of the Christians in Scotland and has no relevance or possibility of bringing the Gospel to the people of Scotland. Way to go!

  55. Two issues seem to have run together here- the future of Evangelicals in the CofS & the future of Psalms only worship in the FC. One is being presented as having a huge significance for the other.
    As a simple CofS evangelical, can I simply say we regularly sing Psalms- often accompanied by guitars and trumpets and other instruments- as well as other hymns and songs.
    BUT as a historian and ‘hobby’ theologian, I feel that there are other issues that, very sadly, keep us apart.
    Is there any way that CofS incomers to the FC would ever feel like equal partners?
    Also, in huge swathes of the country any union would only mean a change of name over the existing door- if that door was allowed to be kept.

    • Hello. Glad to hear you have psalms often. I don’t know what all the other issues are (only vaguely aware of stuff about predestination etc).

      As regards being equal partners etc. In Christ surely we all are. I reckon incomers to the FC would be treated much more equally than evangelicals in the CofS are. Apart from anything else there’s plenty already there. (The statistic mentioned earlier about ministers moving each direction does not extend to members.) I can think immediately of 5 in the last FC I was in (and I don’t exactly know everyone’s history).

      Incidentally, what do people moving both ways miss?

      CofS to FC:

      S1 missed badmington club
      G missed nothing
      L missed dancing in church
      S2 missed Boys’ Brigade
      S2’s wife never volunteered an opinion about it

      FC to CofS:

      M missed psalms
      E missed psalms
      L2 missed psalms and communion seasons

      (I don’t think I prompted any of them!)

      I think it would go beyond names over doors. I’m in the South East with no FC nearby. Immediately we would have:

      1. different magazine and probably a higher take-up of it. (David take note!)
      2. invitations to communion season Sunday evening services announced in church and taken up by some – getting beyond our little corner.
      3. an awareness of the Saturday course at the College in Edinburgh and I can think of several who might take up that option.
      4. awareness of children’s camps going on and uptake by both children and adult helpers, and possibly contributions towards financial costs for those with less cash.
      5. a whole “new” “song book” to try out.
      6. a new range of ministers for pulpit cover/exchange

      Essentially we would get OUT of the congregationalism/marginalisation that has gone on where we despair of the ethos of CofS get togethers and feel our take on things to be unwelcome. (We’d also get a whole range of new subjects to disagree about but that’s life)


  56. David,

    Good Morning!

    Just one correction to your assertions: you state the Free Church of Scotland continuing would not allow brethren in the CofS to join us. That is simply untrue. We follow the age old Presbyterian practice of accepting into membership anyone who gives a credible profession of faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour.
    Of course acceptance into office-bearing is quite another matter. Ordination vows before God must be sincerely and unreservedly meant- otherwise they lose all purpose. If an office-bearer subsequently finds difficulties in fulfilling and honouring these vows he should be required to stand down and is honour bound should do so. The Church can thereafter address his problems and either satisfy him or not. The alternative is sheer caprice and lies at the heart of the relentless degeneration of the Church of Scotland and the Free church of Scotland prior to 1893 and 1900. Vows are a serious business.
    And of course the denomination you yourself serve in would have to treat any incoming CofS refugees in exactly the same manner- though that may change even sooner than any of us thought possible.

    It’s fascinating that some for conscience can be driven from their pulpits and silenced whilst others can continue!

    Whether the continuing Free Kirk is any more guilty of ‘irrelevance’ than any other denomination simply for adhering to the old unaccompanied form of song worship remains to be seen. From where I stand the ‘whistling kirks’ are crumbling and disbanding at as great a rate. I think the source of the malaise lies elsewhere. Certainly in Shettleston the folk we get in rarely have musical intstruments as their guiding concern!

  57. One more point I should have addressed, David.
    You accuse us of ‘dividing in the name of unity’. In point of fact we were ousted for insisting on a case of discipline. The agenda for change amongst a substantial group of those left behind comes as no surprise.

    Our church may be small and despised but we are certainly not inward looking. There are plans for a further full time church planter in the south and we are flexible enough to be considering how to use the ‘lay’ eldership more in full time pastoral situations.

    As you put it in your modern, jarring jargon- ‘way to go’.

  58. Two questions:

    1. How many congregations in the C of S have followed the Tron’s example and are now withholding funds from 121 George Street?

    2. What do you think will happen to them?

    • 1. Dunno

      2. Possibly chuck them out, but I dunno to be honest.

      3 In fact I dunno anything any more.

      • Cheer up RB

        The Jambos might take you back…

        Time we took control of the situation and worked towards realignment. As a serving C of S minister, what do you see as the practical obstacles towards this goal?

        • DB, hey listen if I ever ended up back there, at least I would only have to work with one mad man.

          As to realignment – What do you mean by that – us coming in with you, or you coming in with us? That would be fun, I might just hang around if that were the case.

          I suspect you are speaking about the coming together of the evangelicals in the CofS and the FC to form say the Confederation of Reformed Churches of Scotland or whatever? This would be nice and the best way ahead. Only if you and I were both sort reformed popes, we could get the two together and then we could flip a coin to see which of us could be the big pope or we could do six months each:>)

          Back to the main issue as I see it. The main and most serious issue is really the cause of Christ in our nation. I can not see how we are being effective or God glorifying as we could be if we were together and actively engaging Scotland, not doubling up in the divided sense, the way we are now, unable to engage properly with society. It is pitiful really.

          The question I have been asking is this – what does God’s silence/allowance of this situation that took place in the CofS mean (other than the obvious sin) for the wider biblical community of believers in Scotland? Is God breaking down our idols? Is God preparing the ground for something much better than we have managed to bring about? Though I was deeply wounded by the events of the past week or so, I am not in spiritual disarray as I am sure there is something much better for us in Scotland round the corner.

          Ivor is absolutely right, the evangelicals both in the CofS and their relationship with other evangelicals is far too fragmented at this time and we know that to be the case in the CofS. We are a disgrace! I urge the leaders of the evangelicals in the CofS and you guys in the FC and APC etc, to come together and start talking just for starters. This needs to take place soon so that vital ground work can be done. Any offers?

          • Ivor Macdonald suggested emailling him to join his list of interested people.

            It’s the same old debate between groups of church leaders about how “our group” can join with “their group” when in many congregations there’s little encouragement to interact and work together with others locally.

            I don’t mean “our group” will have a joint service once a year with “your group” and put out a christmas leaflet together.

            Can I put a church magazine from another denomination on the table in the church hall, for information and improved links, without it being seen as a threat or encouraging people to leave?

            Would a poster for the Free Church College Saturday course be allowed on the noticeboard? Would that be seen as “setting a precedent” as if I was advertising a Mormon Seminary or a local Mosque?

            Is it allowed to suggest we sing a new song from Sing Psalms (eg Ps42 to Marrel)? Or are only contibutions from Keswick, Spring Harvest or christian pop groups welcome?

            Is there officially a rule in the CofS that other denominations must be viewed as quaint and probably heathen rather than just other bunches of christians who probably live next door?

            Why this tribalism that assumes we’re right and they’re wrong (all the time)?

            Why the assumption that how “the church” runs something – with a mixture of believers and non-believers in charge – is the right way. But how a school or rugby club runs something is automatically inferior – when there is likewise a mix of believer and non-believer running those organisations?

            Why can’t folk stop focusing on top-down solutions? “The people” are not robots who can (or should) be ordered to follow some bright idea worked out by the elite.

            I suspect part of what drew me to the Free Church is their reaction to the well publicised split was not denial but an acceptance that here’s where we are – warts and all.

            Is it against the rules to admit to the Episcopalians that we’re also being trapped by the secular culture? Or to admit to the Baptists that the number of ritual “christenings” for all comers we’ve tolerated more than justifies their “believers only” stance? Or to admit that there’s probably more knowledge of the bible in the pews of the Roman Catholic Church than in the CofS?

            I’m not saying we stop there, beating our chests but admitting reality has to be the first step towards improving things.

          • Here’s an offer you surely can’t refuse …

            As most of you know, I’m a FC minister in the centre of Glasgow. If there are any other interested parties, from whatever denomination, let’s get together to pray through issues and to support each other. You can e-mail me at


  59. David,

    I’m replying to your comment above.

    The church order of the United Reformed Churches does not require me to violate the Word of God but it also does not require our churches to adhere to the historic understanding of the RPW. I explain this a bit in the book.

    As to being open minded, I hope that, in light of this exchange, you will still be able to read the book fairly.

  60. Whilst I fully appreciate and sympathise with CofS Reformed/Evangelical brethren who describe themselves variously as ‘hurt’, ‘sore’ ‘ashamed’ ‘unclean’ etc., I am struck by the use of such emotional language and by the almost complete absence of what that utterly wicked Assembly Session cried out for- a plain, invarnished denunciation of its almost incredible sin, as they were boasting about pre-marital sex and laughing at it. Oh, for just one minister to have John Knox like blasted them for their salacious behaviour!
    Also quite absent has been any proper expression of not ‘hurt’ but pure righteous anger. I left the Kirk some 25 years ago and in the interim I have been called a ‘secessionist’ and assured the Kirk would never decline to the point it has ( unlike the CofE). Now we see the reality is plainly otherwise which, frankly, it always was for those desirous to be under Scripture Authority rather than autonomous General Assemblies. The Kirk has nose-dived spiritually with a swiftness even those of us who saw her with unblinkered sentiment those few short decades ago.
    Do not misunderstand – having been reared in a Church of Scotland one retains enormous affection for her and more particularly her people, cheated of good sound spiritual fare and guidance. Those evangelicals who have stayed in and encouraged others to do so as well must bear at least some of the blame for the ceding of numerous congregations to the ‘liberals’ as they got on with their ‘own small corner’ mentality. Some have said ‘Well, the liberals are dying out anyway so in time we’ll be left to take over the remnant.’ That approach must surely be condemned if only for its poor pastoral attitude to those sitting under darkened ministries. And anyway, it is a highly debatable assumption. Churches are commanded to repent and purge out the leaven urgently or Christ will come quickly. The best that one can garner from the two year silence on this matter ( silencing of Biblical Truth!) is that it will allow the CofS Reformed time to get properly organised for the worst case scenario which it is their duty to do so. I really cannot accept Dr Philip’s ‘solution’ as biblically based and I suspect that 121 ( Kirk Central H/Q) will not either!
    In some respects the CofS evangelicals are in an even more precarious position than their CofE counterparts; in the latter with its different church polity, there are congregations that are very clearly demarcated as ‘low’ or ‘evangelical’ whereas in the CofS with notable exceptions many congregations simply have no continuity of theological identity, calling both ‘evangelical’ and liberal ministers as the urge takes them and no settled discernment it would seem. Happily there are exceptions but few and far between.

    • While I agree with much of what you say, I just want add a couple of things.

      There were some who stood up in these few horrendous moments you mention and called the discussion a disgrace. But having said that none of us were Knox like I have to admit.

      The two year silence you mention, is not a preaching silence, but a media silence. We have not been barred from preaching about it, so I and plenty others will not be silent on the issue. Will we have any real effect on the church? Most unlikely if my already divided presbytery is anything to go by. Several minister in the CofS are already preparing for life out with the organisation, I have no doubt that many more will follow suit in the months ahead.

  61. Scott –

    Sorry there was no sarcasm intended. The FCC IS schismatic – they do exclude 99.9% of Christians in Scotland – they did divide in the name of unity – and they have no possibility of bringing the gospel to the people of Scotland. If that is harsh then so be it. It is the truth. And of course those who hold to the Gospel in the FCC are our brethren – just as Willie Philip and Carl Trueman are brethren – but does that mean we should not tell the truth – at least as far as we know it.

    By the way I think that much of the Free Church and the C of S is also irrelevant to Scotland and have little chance of bringing the Gospel. We all need to repent…

  62. Scott,

    I thank you for your gracious words. Although it seems clear the Free Church ( majority) and the Continuing Free Church have been diverging even in the short space of time since the split I am quite sure that much could be healed with meekness on both sides and despite ongoing disagreement on the original reason. In charity we learn to agree to disagree and the parting of the ways clears the air! One sad factor is the ongoing court case disputes over property. The Free Church Continuing in good faith and to satisfy brethren in both the International Conference of Reformed Churches and in Affinity ( the old British Evangelical Council) agreed to withdraw from pursuing property claims in the civil courts. This was the great objection raised to membership of those bodies and which the Free Church (majority) insisted upon. Now we find ourselves still being taken to court by our Majority brethren! The excuse is this is a ‘local matter’ for ‘local trustees’- but surely the Majority Free Kirk can control its members at local level and instruct them to desist just as the Continuing desisted in deference to the I.C.R.C. and Affinity? It seems odd to criticise ‘localism’ in Dr Philip and CofS evangelicals but wink at it in one’s own!

    Still, our prayer must be that all these rifts will one day be healed and even if separate denominations remain( to accommodate genuine differences) at least the rivalry and bad feeling often engendered will go.

    These things are messy but must be sorted out through application of Gospel principles, primarily of goodwill and prayer.

  63. Friends, fascinating as the discussion is about the Regulative Principle, Inclusive, Exclusive Psalm singing, it is really directly related to Dr Truaman’s article.

    Can our Reformed brothers and sisters contirbuting to this site suggest options to those of us who are Confessional Reformed and Evangelical ministers in the C of S? Do we withhold funds? Do we get on with preaching and teaching the gospel in our congregations and parishes? Do we consider forming a Relief Presbytery? Is the whole of the C of S so far gone (for obvious reasons I don’t want to use the word “irredeemable”) that we must leave, bearing in mind the words of J C Ryle quoted by Scott MacIver.

    A discussion, sharing of opinions, ideas would be very helpful.

  64. I’m sorry – though not in the least surprised – that David thinks I am a ‘pedant’ for gently pointing out he had made a mistake in attributing to the Free Church the stance of exclusive Psalmody. Ministers hate beinfg corrected, of course.

    Exclusive psalmody, as I reiterate, has never been the offical Free Church or Free Presbyterian position. On at least one occasion – admittedly, he had C H Spurgeon at his elbow – Dr John Kennedy of Dingwall himself happily gave out a paraphrase, and ‘Scripture songs’ were routinely used at Free Church Youth Camps I attended during Thatcher’s first term – a decade later, mind you, we were in the horrors of Big Man Standing By The Blue Waterside, etc. (though I have a sneaking affection for The Lord Told Noah There’s Gonna Be A Floody, Floody…) At least one Free Church congregation sang paraphrases in my lifetime and I believe a few do it now.

    Of the relevant Acts of Assembly, there is a good case for abolishing the most recent measuire – 1932, if memory serves – which was coloured by the last Big Heave (and even then owing more hope than experience) for unity with the Free Presbyterians and took the church in a dangerously Romeward direction, where present practice on worship was (and remains) on the face of it vaunted not merely as the present practice of the Church but a matter of necessary, personal conviction for all ordinands.

    I really do wish people wouldn’t fling around phrases like ‘the constitution of the Free Church.’ It is incorrect and inappropriate. The Free Church has only one supreme standard, that of Scripture, and one subordinate standard, that of the Westminster Confession of Faith – coupled with the principles of 1843; the Claim, Declaration and Protest.

    I do not think it is a good idea to meddle with worship. Carl Trueman’s essay, ‘What Can Sad Christians Sing?’ is a powerful defence of Psalmody; history on every front attests that a move into uninspired songs leads to limited emotional range in the first instance and serious error and declension in the long term. It is doubtful if any line of man’s composing has done more to damage popular understanding of the Divine Redeemer than ‘The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes,’ though ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild’ might run it close.

    In the immediate Free Church context, too, it’s important not to confuse changes suggested on the innocuous basis of attracting the lost and the unchurched through the doors which really have much more to do with attracting (or at least holding) the casual birds of passage that loup through the Free Church during student days etc. but are Christians from other worship traditions. There is a serious danger of alienating your own people and especially the Free Church heartland. A good Edinburgh woman of my experience finds Free Church worship these days very distressing – though practically blind, she has long since committed the entire traditional Scottish Psalms to heart. Now it is largely wall-to-wall Sing Psalms – three out of four items of praise in a typical service – and she can’t sing a thing.

    Indeed, in Kirkcaldy Free Church I understand Sing Psalms is now used exclusively – a sobering reminder what might happen once the Free Church sanctions, again, uninspired hymns. (Not that I’ve anything against Sing Psalms as a translation, though I think it is a musical car-crash.)

  65. Jedi Rev- ( Skye Man!)

    Having pondered your request I’m willing to have excised the local reference as you requested, having calmed down.
    However I’m at a loss as to how to do it!
    Can you give me the contact details of Dr Scott Clark to get this done?

    Kind Regards,


  66. Really, Mr Robertson!

    Perhaps you can point out exactly where I stated ‘the Free Church is apostate’? Totally inaccurate comment on what I have written.
    As for theonomy, I personally simply hold that righteous civil laws will uphold the general equity of the O.T. standards of civil righteousness- a rather Confessional stance, I believe.

  67. Lex orandi lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing). It’s not anal of the FC to discuss the minutiae of worship (i.e. should we employ musical accompaniment) and to get a wee bit hot under the collar about it. Is that not why Calvin’s reforms we pre-eminently reforms of worship? I see all round me in evangelical churches the mutually shaping entities of shallow faith and shallow worship reflected in crappy puppet shows and homo-erotic love songs. Try telling your 4 year old that God is to be feared after kermit the frog has re-enacted the flood narrative and you’ve sung a sweet rendition of My Jesus My Boyfriend.

    Singing inspired-only material without mincing guitar endowed pre-madonnas is a seriously attractive alternative to evangelicals. The FC should not let evangelicalism exert any kind of unintentional peer-pressure on this matter.

  68. Dear Mr MacLeod-Mair,
    Usually I’d be very hesitant to offer advice to others on such a matter but after that absolutely scandalous session of Assembly I think it is all too clear the CofS has almost totally gone to the dogs. Even after a week I still am stunned at what was broadcast of it!
    The best I can suggest is that in the long term some form of disengagement will need to take place. This could be forced upon you as ‘marked men’ who are willing to take a stand to right an egregious error.
    I’d think it best to sound out like minded brethren from congregational level up through local presbytery and then to the church at large. Of course the Tron is in a sort of privileged position that smaller congregations like St Andrew’s may not be. We therefore should be praying particularly for smaller, more vulnerable congregations.
    Having relations in the Kirk I know what a terrible quandary this is putting them and their pastor in.

  69. Nick Mackison,

    Surely you must be joking? A ‘hymn’ that is actualy entitled ‘My Jesus , My Boyfriend.?! Were it not utter blasphemy it’d be laughable. Having the psalms causes one to lose touch with just how degraded song worship can get. I feel a bit like the Sixties Judge who reputedly had to ask his court: ‘The Beatles? Who are these Beatles?’

    On the Psalmody front, am I the only one to note that even i Exclusive circles there are large portions of the Psalter that are almost entirely neglected in public worship. One wonders why but surely it must be to do with resisting being moulded by the full mind of the Spirit?

    • Ewan, I’m parodying a modern hymn ‘My Jesus My Saviour’. Don’t worry, there is no such hymn with the lyric ‘My Boyfriend’. There are so many hymns that sound like love songs with mushy lyrics. Blokes feel gay just singing them.

  70. Trueman started this by accusingthose of us in CofS of not being Presbyterian enough for his taste. That may be true! So how can we find a home in another (stricter?) Presbyterian environment.
    Trueman isn’t too far away from saying we don’t belong with him.
    I notice too that he lobs his grenade and pays no heed to the ensuing discussion!

  71. Mr. Robertson

    As regards whether of not the Westminster divines advocated exclusive psalmody as opposed to Mr. Needhams wretched essay centerpieced in Vol. 2 of the WCF into the 21st Century series begging the question, the Minutes of the Assembly are clear enough for the blind. We may not agree with the Assembly, but there is no excuse for being in the dark about it, even for our Reformed Baptist brethren, like Prof. Needham.

    The question was not which hymnal, but which psalter would the Assembly revise and exclusively recommend, Rouse’s or Barton’s? The former got the nod and after further revision by the Scots, it became the Scottish Psalter of 1650.

    See the Minutes here:
    Put “Rouse” or “psalter” in the search box or take a look at pp.131,163, 182, 221,2, 418 for starters.

    Instrumental music per se did not seem to come up in the Assembly Minutes but Girardeau 1888 presents the classic acapella argument here:

    Dabney’s 1889 review of Girardeau is here:

    While I had heard of Girardeau’s work, stumbling onto Dabney made me actually look Girardeau’s book up and read it. And I think he does a far better job than Needham does, but you may see for yourself. I think you will find it very interesting.

    Thank you.

  72. Seeing the way this thread was high jacked and has subsequently degenerated would make you lose your will to live.
    I was about to press the unsubscribe button and then noticed a flicker of interest in the original topic. So here’s my last contribution.
    Our big problem at the moment within the Church of Scotland is the fragmentation and weakness of evangelicalism. We don’t really know what each other is thinking because there is no forum where the longer term issues of realignment are being discussed right now. I’d be happy to hear from other WCF believing evangelicals who want to explore these issues and would do my best to put you in touch with those who are already speaking and are of like mind.
    So if there any others still out there its

  73. John, nothing that you propose will happen until reformed evangelical leaders in the Church of Scotland decide on their relationship to that church. I think the most effective way forward would be for sympathetic Free Church ministers and congregations to support former CofS minsters and members in establishing new non-CofS local fellowships. It is at the local level that loose federal connections might be useful.

    There has been plenty of talk in Scotland about planting new churches, but there has been very little action. This is where the comparison between Scotland and evangelical Anglicanism in England breaks down. We just do not have time now in Scotland for consultation exploration and strategic thinking about federal connections and formal organisation at a national level. There are some gifted young Christians prepared to commit themselves to planting new local churches now. But there appears to be little practical support among Christian leaders for such work.

    If current statistics are close to the truth we do not have another two decades to plan a mission to evangelise Scotland… the stats suggest that in two decades there will be no Reformed witness, because most of the people who constitute that witness will be dead.

    If we desperately need each other, and if what we have in common is vastly greater than what divides us, then there should be no difficulty in starting a new work now. I think we are scared to place emphasis on small local efforts. And I fear that the real problem may be that we are just all too comfortable with the status quo.

    • David, I am fully supportive of what you say; “small local efforts” are extremely important, as well as working for strategic denominational realignment. I really don’t think we can streamline this thing; different things will be appropriate in different situations. The important thing is that we learn to think across the traditional boundaries and place the kingdom of God rather than sectional interests at the heart of our thinking ,praying and planning.

      Historically what has hindered C of S evangelicals planting new congregations is the parish system. In the Church of England bishops are able to issue a Bishop’s Mission Order to permit a church planting initiative that would cross parish boundaries or involve collaboration between parishes, but the Church of Scotland has resisted any dismantling or adjustment of parish boundaries. These were were last reviewed around the time of 1928 union but the whole system has become so antagonistic to evangelical church planting that it has now to be disregarded, so that your “small local efforts” can happen.

  74. This comment got tagged on at the wrong place:

    David, I am fully supportive of what you say; “small local efforts” are extremely important, as well as working for strategic denominational realignment. I really don’t think we can streamline this thing; different things will be appropriate in different situations. The important thing is that we learn to think across the traditional boundaries and place the kingdom of God rather than sectional interests at the heart of our thinking ,praying and planning.

    Historically what has hindered C of S evangelicals planting new congregations is the parish system. In the Church of England bishops are able to issue a Bishop’s Mission Order to permit a church planting initiative that would cross parish boundaries or involve collaboration between parishes, but the Church of Scotland has resisted any dismantling or adjustment of parish boundaries. These were were last reviewed around the time of 1928 union but the whole system has become so antagonistic to evangelical church planting that it has now to be disregarded.

  75. I apologise for the generalisation, David.
    Just getting slightly ‘cheesed off with the personal attacks on somebody who has made a stand.

  76. Although slightly off topic, I should like to reply to the snide comments over ‘theonomy’ predictably served up to try to discredit some of us in the Free Kirk Contiuing. It has been arrogantly asserted if we hold to that we cannot have either read or understood the Westminster Confession of Faith. Strangely enough we have and our position is simply what the Confession plainly states- righteous civil government will conform to the ‘general equity’ of the O.T. code as required. That seems a very modest position to maintain- and one required by all WCF subscribers.
    Theonomy is essentially a calvinistic position, arising out of the decisive point of calvinistic anthropology, namely man’s total depravity. Consequently messianic politics and reliance on State power are rightly guarded against. Isn’t it amazing that where this is scoffed at State power bloats and the State actually neglects the two main objects- proper defence of the realm and pursuit and proper punishment of criminals and defence of the innocent and retribution for the victim?
    Of course the Free Kirk prior to the 2000 Reconstitution and despite the febrile tensions within it, in its wisdom determined to declare on such serious matter that theonomists are heretics. A phrase from that Assembly that sticks in my mind is ‘crude creed of a savage code’.
    Now I am prepared to accept that not all brethren see eye to eye with the broad sweep of theonomy but to thereby write off as ‘heretical’ someone of the stature of Dr Greg Bashnsen or Dr Ken Gentry is not just ludicrous it is hugely unjust. Do we then declare Arminians as heretics?
    Mention has also been made of ‘milleinialism’ as if we are all obsessives on the issue. Has it escaped those thus scorning that each Christian has a perfect right to a millenial view? So far as I can see Post-millenialism is far less lurid than some schemes and far more ‘common sense’. As for the reference to stock piles, you’ve lost me. What logical connection has that to Biblical principles of equity?
    As for Creed subscription one either does it simpliciter or one might as well not do it at all. Differentiating and grading a creed’s various propositions is simply an excercise in prevarication.
    I do not think that most of the concerns expressed on this thread are fairly described as off topic. They are the very practical details that all will have to grapple with as they decide the way forward for any emerging realigned presbyterian church.

    • Such fun….boy how I have missed the wonderful debates that our dear departed brethren brought to the Free Church. It was after I attended a meeting in Dundee where Dr Greg Bahnsen and the secular humanists both agreed on what the Bible said, that I began to investigate the whole thing. The Free Church did so also and as a result we became the first modern Reformed church to declare that theonomy was incompatible with the WCF and that therefore theonomists could not be office bearers in the FC. Two things of note with this – firstly the first thing the schismatics of the FCC did was repeal that legislation. Secondly one leading American Reformed minister told me that he wished that the PCA and the OPC would have the balls to do the same thing as the Free Church – but that the theonomists were so vicious and made such a fuss that no-one would do so.

      What does all this have to do with the state of the Church in Scotland today? A lot. Greg Bahnsen told this public meeting that he agreed with the stoning of rebellious teenagers. (I accept that one of his entourage phoned me afterwards to apologise for this remark – apparently he did not mean stoning – other forms of execution would be appropriate!). The fact that anyone could consider this kind of nuttiness anything to do with the Gospel in Scotland today only indicates how detached and bizarre we have become.

      And in the weird and wonderful world of the Uber-Reformed in the USA, this kind of talk is apparently taken seriously. I remember being at one ministers conference when a rather kind and nice minister sat down and told me ‘they hate you, they hate you and Alex MacDonald – they think you are socialists and satanists”. The ‘they’ was apparently the various sects of theonomists (before they fell out with each other)…..I couldn’t help thinking of the Bob Dylan song..’everybody’s gonna get stoned’…!

      So there we have it – the choice is the la la land of the post-modern, post-Free Presbyterian Angus Morrison ‘its all about unity in Christ whatever you think about sexuality’, or the ultra right wing heresy of theonomy. Or maybe not. Maybe just maybe the current shake up of the church in Scotland will lead to a renewed and reformed church, where such eccentricities will remain where they belong – fringe show amusements.

      • David,

        So far as I know, none of the confessional Reformed denominations in N. America supports theonomy. They have not all taken the blessedly decisive action against it that the FC but we continue to hope for that. One of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council churches (RCUS) has rejected theonomy categorically. Others have at least marginalized it.

        To set your mind at ease, one of the great purposes of this blog is to turn back the pernicious influence of theonomy among confessional Reformed folk. I identify theonomy as one of the symptoms of what I call the “Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty” (QIRC). We need only one word from WCF 19 to defeat it: “expired.” As a previous poster illustrated, they want now to co-opt “general equity thereof” but serious research into the history and use of that expression (e.g. see Craig Troxel’s essay in the WTJ from a few years back) makes their claim to it untenable.

        What confessionalists in N. America and Scotland need to do is to steer between the shoals of right-wing theocratic and theonomic wackiness and the rocks of left-wing, progressive silliness.

        There is a sane, historic, intelligent, confessional middle.

          • Question, Mr. Robertson,

            Surely you are aware by now of Martin Foulner’s 1997 book, “Theonomy and the Westminster Confession” which amply demonstrates the historical and confessional precedence for Theonomy.

            Why haven’t you (nor anyone else for that matter) ever attempted a direct rebuttal to this historically based work?

            Pretending that Foulner’s work doesn’t exist is a simply a poor and dishonest strategy on your part.

            And there are several more historical books and essays available which show how Theonomy is easily compatible with the WCF (and compatible with the views of John Calvin too). All the paranoid shouts of “heresy” will not make the historic facts go away.

        • Mr. Clark,

          Regarding your comment about the RCUS response to Theonomy. Could you please point me to any online (or off-line) source regarding the former’s “categorical rejection” of the latter? Was it ever published in the RCUS “Reformed Herald” magazine?

          I find your assertion curious in light of the fact that the late Rev. Norman Jones was a long time RCUS minister and was a Theonomist too. I have a copy of his book review of “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” that was published in the “Reformed Herald” magazine. It was a very positive review of the book. Additionally, Rev. Jones wrote a letter to another Reformed magazine giving a strong endorsement of Bahnsen’s “By This Standard” book, another Theonomic publication.

          Furthermore, Rev. Jim West, an RCUS minister, has strong Theonomic leanings, having written articles for various Theonomic journals.

          Lastly, do you agree with Mr. Robertson that Theonomy is an “ultra right wing heresy”? Along with the logical implication that the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen must have been a heretic in the OPC?

          Thanks in advance

        • Mr. Clark,

          You’ve claimed that “none of the confessional Reformed denominations in N. America supports theonomy”, yet the “Reformed Presbyterian Church in the US” or “RPCUS”, is a confessional Reformed denomination and it explicitly holds to Theonomy. In fact, I understand that no Elder can be ordained in the RPCUS unless they hold to Theonomy as the teaching of the original WCF.

          So perhaps you were not aware of the existence of the RPCUS (which has been around since 1983), or you in some curious fashion deny that the RPCUS is a “confessional reformed denomination”.

        • Mr. Clark,

          Contrary to your assertion, the word “expired” from the WCF does not, nor indeed can not, “defeat” Theonomy.

          For if any OT law is shown to be “expired” now, it is so only because NT revelation has revealed it to be so, thus establishing the proof of Theonomy’s approach to OT judicial law discontinuity. So this raises the inevitable question, exactly which OT judicial laws have “expired”? All of them? Or only some of them?

          BTW the real argument for Theonomy in the context of the WCF comes from the original version of WCF 23:3 and from the Westminster Larger Catechism. As for the WCF 19:4 it is no threat to the Theonomic view. And no ordained Theonomist I am aware of takes an exception to 19:4 in their ordination vows.

      • See my comments above.

        Carl Trueman’s comments elsewhere about his reaction to internet criticism as well. Most folk aren’t nutters.

        Get on with improving links among ordinary folk.

  77. Far be it from me to sidetrack this into an argument over theonomy but it is ever fascinating to see the gut instinctual response to it always centres on the narrow issue of O.T. penology. I am quite sure the attacks on it as ‘crude’ and ‘savage’ arise from primarily from that aspect more than anything else. However, just bear in mind those shrill and horrified reactions of religion’s oh-so-cultured despisers are directed against the very Word of God and His equity. Were those penalties, then, any less ‘crude’ or ‘savage’ during the O.T. dispensation? Are you really prepared to accuse God of barbarity?
    The other knee-jerk attack comes in the form of ‘theocracy’, again way off course. Theonomy’s core insight is that man is utterly fallen and essentially impotent- morally, spiritually, in will power. Humanistic politics cannot rise to messianic level and we must not invest all power in the one institutuion- the State. Church and state spheres MUST be kept clearly separate. The Church cannot resort to State power or arbitrary penalties to enforce church discipline. Those outside the professed church are beyond ecclesiastical discipline as Christ and the Apostle Paul make very clear.
    As for the State, if she wishes to rule wisely and equitably and for the best protection of her people she must derive her laws from the equity God has laid down. The panicky dismisal of O.T. law and a failure to study deeply how to apply it today simply deprives our day and generation of much salt and light.
    Frankly ad hominem attacks on ‘vicious theonomists’ just sidesteps the issues. As for a church that has outlawed God’s law one does wonder how they seriously manage to work out where the line between falling into ‘theomomic heresy’ and explicating and applying the relevant sections of the O.T. can be drawn.
    What do non theonomic churchmen feel about civil legislation on the moral issue on hand that prompted the crisis in the Church of Scotland? Should we return to pre 1967 or do we decriminalise homosexuality and its sub culture in the civil sphere? What standards do we use to determine this?
    Is it ‘theocratic’ to suppress pornography because it offends Christians but not unbelievers? Should the State tolerate Satanism because otherwise it would be ‘theocratic’? Such searching questions have to be addressed. If we evade them, the world will draw its own conclusions. I think part of irrelevance is we do not as churches even seriously try to address these issues on any consistent basis.
    Personally I adhere to the Free Church of Scotland’s guiding principle:’We repduiate persecuting principles’ but there are enormously complicated questions that need threshing out on how to apply this facile statement. At least theonomists, however much we may disagree with some of them and their conclusions( and they are hardly a monolithic movement!), have been trying seriously to grapple with them from a tightly biblically controlled basis.

  78. A short self serving post promoting The Confessional Presbyterian journal; but perhaps of interest to those posting on this thread that are not familiar with it.

    There is an extensive set of articles in the first 3 issues dealing with the Regulative Principle of Worship, particularly a huge two part article that is a sixty year survey of RPW literature since the 1946 OPC report on worship song, where, in my opinion, the popularizing of the moniker can be traced (to John Murray).

    On Theonomy, the forthcoming “fifth” issue due out in the Fall (2009), D.V. will have a long article surveying relevant literature at the time of the Westminster Assembly (in a new unique way according to assembly expert Dr. Van Dixhoorn) and an analytical section addressing the relevant issues which I hope will be informative and useful.
    More here:

  79. At the risk of “hijacking” this thread and regardless if we wish all the best to our Scotch brethren, “to be confessional and presbyterian” does after all, have something to do with glorifying God and enjoying him forever.

    And contrary to arminian and man-centered evangelicalism, does this come to a head any more pointedly than in public worship; in the preaching, prayer – and praise?

    Yet from what we gather here, some conservative presbyterians enthusiastically rely on a baptist to misinterpret the original intent of their confessional documents on praise in worship, as well that the Book of Revelations is literally a Directory for Public Worship for presbyterians – but not Anglicans and papists. Oh happy day.

    Granted, sodomy is one bridge too far for all concerned, but we are talking about worship, not women in office, the last of which really only makes sense if God is the Mother, Daughter and Holy Ghost. But that too it seems, is water under the bridge for some.

    Again, all the best, but as one born in the Roman communion, not the Scotch presbyterian, we note the church’s solemn obligation and call to preach the whole counsel of God in Christ. Further, we easily consider the P&R faith to be more than sufficient to that task – and P&R worship to glorifying God – whatever the fundamentalists, evangelicals, pragmaticists and other assorted Chicken Littles’ calling for compromise might say.

    Of course it’s small consolation, but we might even have more of the latter over here on this side of the puddle than are over there, though of course, you can’t hear their squawking right now compared to yrs. truly.

    But we’re done and away now.
    Carry on.

  80. I’d just like to reply to a Q the Rev. David Robertson posed regarding why church buildings are viewed as adiaphora when musical instruments aren’t

    (a) Church buildings are not viewed as adiaphora. Reformed ministers don’t tend to ask for a church to be built in the shape of a cross, littered with crosses or full of statues of the saints.

    (b) Musical instruments are not viewed as acceptable in God’s worship because they are without life (I Corinthians 14:7). God wants the lively worship of the living stones of His temple – the saints. They worship with their souls, minds and bodies (throats and lips). To introduce a lifeless instrument is to introduce something alien and dead that cannot praise God in the way that a person made in God’s Image can.

    More later……….. my connection is failing

  81. (c) If we were to look in the New Testament as to which types of musical instruments/bands were acceptable we find no guidance. In the Old Testament there was, along with instructions for dancing, clapping and shouting.

    (d) Using musical instruments means that our worship will be mediated through the non-living instrument. In the Old Testament the prayers of the people were mediated through incense. The praise of the people was mediated through musical instruments. In the New Covenant our praise of God is unmediated, because the shadows of the law have passed away. We have direct access to God through Christ in our praise. This is what the Reformed are saying/doing by foregoing musical instruments.

    More later………….

  82. (e) Foregoing musical instruments means that Reformed worship can be as aurally minimalist and uncluttered as it is visually minimalist and uncluttered e.g. the lack of clerical dress, statues, pictures of saints, fripperies. The voice of God can be heard more easily when there aren’t various instruments drowning it out.

    (f) Reformed worship does not make use of the childhood toys of things like incense and instruments which were appropriate for a church in childhood, but not a church that is moving from adolescence to maturity.

    (g) Reformed worship without instruments may appear boring to some Christians but in its Scripturality and unmediated spirituality, it is simple in its beauty and beautiful in its simplicity. It’s the wave of the future, when there is true revival in the worldwide church, as there will be.

  83. It is good to “talk”. Great to read all the many insights, especially as I know most of you. Feel very much in awe of all the many eloquent and erudite correspondents before me! There will never be a perfect church but I do feel that the “evangelicals” in the C of S were not allowed to express their concerns at the Assembly. This was a “stitch up”. The C of S is constantly rewriting the rule book. It does not have an effective grievance or disciplinary procedure. There is no accountability. . The Act of 1929 is often brandished so that the state cannot interfere. The Act actually refers to spiritual matters……… Where do we now stand spiritually? What is going to happen to poor Rev Rennie in two years time? The C of S should have adhered to biblical teaching and the Act of 1929 would have supported this, even with current anti- discriminatory employment legislation.
    I was a Free Church Missionary, now married to a C of S minister. I regard Presbyterianism as an inert form of democracy. However, power driven Bishops are not much use either. We are surrounded by so many in our community that just want to hear the “Good news”. We have so much that unites us, lets just get on with being the Church. I love worshipping with fellow believers that adhere to the Word of God…….Free Church or C of S.
    ( Must confess that the Baptist Church is becoming increasingly more attractive!)

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