The Rev. Kenneth Stewart provides a response to the recent Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland that voted to allow the singing of uninspired hymns and instrumental music in worship. This is a well written and very informative response that I recommend for your reading.
A Response to the Decisions of the Plenary Assembly
Here are a few selections:
“The situation now created is a mess. I will say something on its practical implications below, but it should give pause for thought that our vow on worship (which is part of our constitution) is now officially committing us to uphold two mutually exclusive views on worship as both being biblical. We now solemnly vow to uphold uninspired hymns as being both commanded and forbidden! The fact that we could enshrine such a legislative position in our constitution is worthy of several adjectives but ‘remarkable’ will have to do for now.”
“This brings us rather neatly to the novel and convenient idea that by binding us to ‘purity of worship as presently authorised and practised in this church’ our forefathers meant to leave the form of worship an open question, something to be decided at any given time by the church. In other words, anyone taking the vow would be required to commit themselves to what was, effectively, an unknown. Surely, a little serious reflection should expose the absurdity of requiring a solemn vow to an unknown practice! After all, how could the person taking the vow know what would be ‘presently authorised and practiced’ in, two, five or ten years time and how then could he pretend to swear to it?”
“The church to which we belong, in continuity with its Reformed heritage and practice, could only find express authority for singing psalms. These psalms could arguably include the ‘scripture songs’ of the Bible which are, of course, psalms themselves. (These are the ‘scripture songs’ which the 1707 Assembly gave consideration to singing, not ‘paraphrases’ or ‘hymns’). This is why the Westminster Confession, in its chapter on worship, specifies the ‘singing of psalms’ as an element of worship.”
“As was pointed out on the floor of the Assembly, the list of worship elements offered by the Confession is not a suggestive list but an exhaustive one. In other words, it does not say ‘worship consists of things like this of which there may be many others besides’, but, ‘all this and nothing else is worship’. That is why the Assembly produced a psalm book, rather than a psalm/hymn book for singing. This Confessional position of psalm singing was what was ‘authorised and practiced’ when I took my vow and, indeed, when Mr Robertson took his. I promised, as he did, to assert, maintain and defend this, and not allow anything that is subversive of it. He now believes that I should have no difficulty in switching the subject of my allegiance to the permission of accompanied uninspired songs.”
“It seems to be the case that Mr Robertson is completely ignoring what my vow requires me to do: it now requires me to believe that our new position (psalms and hymns permissible) is ‘founded on the Word of God and agreeable to it.’ I am now supposed to follow no ‘divisive course’ from this position.”
“Put simply, a vow to uphold purity of worship as presently authorised and practised is not the same as a vow to uphold whatever practice the church authorises. Can Mr Robertson not see the difference?”
“On the contrary, as in the areas of doctrine and government, the church meant to bind itself for all time in its worship practice. Some people profess to find this horrifying. I fail to see why. If the church can bind its government to perpetual Presbyterianism (because that’s what it finds in the Bible) and bind its doctrine to perpetual infant baptism (because that’s what it finds in the Bible), I fail to see why it cannot bind its worship to perpetual Psalm singing (because that’s what it finds in the Bible as well). As in the areas of doctrine and government, the church meant to bind itself in public worship, for all time, to what could be proved expressly from scripture with no addition whatsoever.”
“Sadly, I think it is all too obvious why the Barrier Act was sidestepped, against the advice of both Clerks: it was put rather eloquently by one of the speakers, proposing change, who asked ‘What is the point of putting this back down to Presbyteries when we know what the result will be?’ I think that question reveals it all. It indicates very plainly that the main motive for sidestepping the Barrier Act was to rush through what was felt to be possibly out of step with the views of a majority of office bearers. This is clearly contempt of established church procedure as well as contempt of office-bearers.”
“The church is clearly, and with astonishing accuracy, repeating all the mistakes of the 19th century. And it should be a source of wonder to all that the Free Church is looking for her examples in public worship to the era of the Moderates (which introduced the paraphrases, only officially authorised for one year, in the 1780’s) and the era of Rainy (which introduced hymns and musical accompaniment in the 1870’s and 1880’s respectively). It shouldn’t be forgotten that the church which chose to do this was a church which fragmented shortly afterwards.”
“The Free Church needs less sniping at its constitution, more confidence in her heritage, history and message, and an aggressive reaching out with it to a needy country. The country isn’t fed up of psalms: it needs to hear and understand them. It is astonishingly typical of the so-called ‘progressives’ in the Free Church to reject what is in fact just coming back into vogue: all over the world, there is a resurgence of psalm singing and when that world most needs our witness to the exclusive use of the Songs of the Covenant King, we downgrade and compromise them.”
“The Lord is sovereign, and who can doubt that he is shaking the Scottish churches? This shaking will be done in God’s way and in God’s time, and who amongst us knows how the ecclesiastical landscape may look when he is done with it?”
Rev Kenneth Stewart (Dowanvale Free Church)
3 thoughts on “A Response to the Decisions of the Plenary Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland”
The Free Church Of Scotland official website has a prominent Statement on the May 2011 General Assemby. It notes that the Assembly considered the several requests to invoke the Barrier Act on the decisionof the Plenary to do away with Exclusive Psalmody a capella and has rejected this motion. It further states with a veiled threat that this means a ‘line is drawn under’ the issue. EP conscientious objectors must not touch it again. So now we know- Free Church of Scotland ministers are no longer EP .
I’d just add a note to those who did object but may now be minded simply to settle down with the defection from the solemnly vowed Purity of Worship, content that they have done their duty. One is reminded of Psalm 78 v7-10
Breach of vows on the part of elders and ministers is a horrendous matter. It indicates dishonesty, hypocrisy, cowardice and unstedfastness. God will not just let such a matter slip!
What does St Paul say?
Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.( 1Cor 4 v1-2)
A mere nod in patronising recognition of individuals’ troubled consciences is not going to clear guilt in this matter. He will call to account, all the more so that it touches the very Ordinances of Praise itself and church discipline and doctrine. Inevitably defection in one area spreads to others. What next, one wonders?