Another Free Church of Scotland minister departs over the Psalmody debate

Rev. Donald Macdonald

The Rev. Donald Macdonald has departed from the Free Church of Scotland because of the denomination’s recent decision to allow uninspired hymns and musical instruments in worship.

“Rev Donald Macdonald, who preached for decades at Carloway and is a past moderator of the denomination, said he is thoroughly convinced that  contentious policy to drop the 100-year-old tradition of instrument-free, psalm-only singing “is unscriptural, does not have the positive sanction of Scripture and is, therefore, sinful.”

The Lewis  man who has been a minister for 47 years is severing ecclesiastical connections with the Free and is joining the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland (RPCS) which now holds Sunday services at the Coulnagrein prayer house in Stornoway.” (from the Hebrides article, link below)

The BBC story is here.
The following is reported from the Hebrides News website found here:
Rev. Macdonald’s resignation letter is here:
Rev Donald Macdonald resignation letter in PDF:

From Hebrides: “Mr Macdonald slammed the Western Isles Presbytery for “changing course” and “progressing the agenda for change.”

He stressed: I feel that the Church, and especially my own Presbytery, now leave me no option but to resign from its ministry, notice of which I now, with great sadness and regret, submit, and do so without any sense of ‘violating any duty or committing any sin.’

In his resignation letter, Mr Macdonald said:  “This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make and one that I never thought I would have to make – especially at this late stage in my life after 47 years in the ministry of the Free Church and all of them as a member of this Presbytery.

“I have not come to my decision lightly or in haste. Neither am I motivated by a petulant and defiant spirit that cannot accept defeat: this matter is far too serious for such superficial and infantile reactions.

“I have come to this painful decision after much soul-searching, reading, consultation, meditation and prayer. I can see no other honest and honourable course of action.

Mr Macdonald said the worship changes was “unscriptural.”

He said: “No new compelling biblical arguments have been produced in any of the debates.”

He believes the decision was “unconfessional and unconstitutional.”

Mr Macdonald criticises the new “sham” optional vows which is “supposed provision for the relief of the conscience of any office-bearer who is not in agreement with the new mode of worship now allowed is either a delusion or a deception.”

He said: “That the Free Church for which our Fathers fought and suffered in the 1900s should come to such a sorry pass grieves me beyond words.

“I had hoped, along with many others, that this Presbytery would have taken a stand and hold the line but, sadly and unbelievably, this has proved to have been a vain hope.

“Not only has the Presbytery not withstood the onslaught, it has now headed the van in progressing the agenda for change since it was the Overture from this Presbytery that secured the approval of the Assembly for the supposed conscience-relieving clause.

“A wind of change has most certainly blown through this Presbytery in the past two years to such an extent that I can scarcely believe that it is the same Presbytery. ”

UPDATE: Here is an interview with Rev. Macdonald…


19 thoughts on “Another Free Church of Scotland minister departs over the Psalmody debate”

  1. I am not sure if I have the correct picture here for Rev. Donald Macdonald. Can someone confirm if this is correct?

  2. Turns out to be the wrong picture, thanks to those who responded. If anyone knows where we can find a picture of Rev. Donald Macdonald please send along the information.

    One of the purposes of this website is to record historical events related to Psalmody. Pictures are very helpful in passing along our heritage to future generations.


  3. Wrting as a Continuing Free Church of Scotland member and elder, one is sadly not at all surprised at the on going fracturing of the other wing of the Free Church. When the need for transparent process of justice was swept under the carpet and men of intehrity driven out, in order to spare a Free Kirk ‘grandee’ embarrassment, some of us predicted the residual body would suffer from those ‘progressives’ going on the rampage. The only surprising thing has been the sheer speed of the defection and the fact it was bulldozed through against the backdrop of on going civil court cases over property. The departures of the remaining conservatives have been thus far pitifully few- one ‘high profile’ preacher, one more ‘peripheral’ minister( we mean no disrepsect by this designation but in the very close knit Free Kirk circle ‘outsiders’ often are viewed as just that!), and one retired minister.

  4. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland is obviously benefitting from its clear stand for Confessional Presbyterianism and may yet gain more as disaffected Church of Scotland conservatives seek new denominational homes, if they can overcome their hostility to EP. In the North and West, of course, there are still Church of Scotland folk who practise EP at congregational level so such a move might not be so radical for them. However though both the RPs and Free Kirkers notionally adhere to the Westminster Confession, culturally the RP Church has been Lowland and rather more relaxed than the Highland Free Kirk on matters such as dress code at worship so it will be interesting to see how the two groups merge. Fascinating that none of the former Free Kirkers has as yet come back to the Continuing Free Kirk and their former brethren. Mind you, the Rev Kenny Stewart was invited to conduct a baptismal service in his neighbouring Continuing Free Church last Sabbath, which was encouraging.

  5. Why are these ministers going into the RPCS, which barely existed until a few weeks ago, instead of the FCC? Why did they stay out of the FCC’s secession?

  6. The RPCS has been around since 1690, which makes it just a year or two older than the FCC.
    But, to be honest Mr Gibson, your comment just reads like plain jealousy and bitterness. Maybe its that bitterness that put them off the FCC?

  7. I think this article in a recent edition of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland’s magazine is very revealing on a topic such as this.

    A recent BBC radio programme reported on research by Cambridge scientists on cuckoos at nearby Wicken Fen. The cuckoos there lay their Notes and Comments 187 eggs in the nests of reed warblers. The female cuckoos hide in the trees and, once the reed warblers have laid their eggs, they swoop down and replace a reed warbler egg with a cuckoo one. The whole raid takes about ten seconds. The cuckoo is much larger than the reed warbler but the cuckoo egg is only a fraction larger than the reed warbler egg, which it closely resembles. The researchers experimented with eggs of different sizes and colours to see which the reed warblers were prepared to accept. Other British cuckoos exploit different species, such as meadow pipits and dunnocks, and lay eggs of different colours. Once the egg has hatched, the cuckoo chick turns all the reed warbler eggs or chicks out of the nest and prevails on the reed warbler parents to feed it. Its call sounds like a nest full of young reed warblers, and this stimulates the parents to keep fetching food for the greedy intruder which has killed their offspring. Soon the chick is far larger than they are and they have to stand on its back to reach its mouth. Eventually it outgrows the nest and moves to a nearby perch but still the parents act as its slaves. The adult cuckoos migrate back to southern Africa in July, but the fledglings remain until August or September. At this point, never having seen another cuckoo in their lives, they too fly to southern Africa, identify themselves as cuckoos, find a mate, and return to Wicken Fen the next spring. The whole account is so astonishing (and there are many other remarkable details, such as the cuckoo chicks recognising the alarm call of the reed warbler) that one feels that it instantly disproves evolution. How could such amazing complexity develop by chance? But somehow the scientists refuse to see this, and throughout their work they dutifully and frequently pay tribute to the “marvels of evolution”. Their folly in this respect is matched only by that of the reed warbler parents. No matter how absurd the situation becomes, both parties resolutely refuse to admit that they have been deceived. The behaviour of the cuckoo is clearly a consequence of the curse on the earth pronounced in Genesis 3:17-18. It shows us the murderous and deceitful ingratitude of sin, and the same cuckoo spirit is, by nature, in every one of us in our desire to have everything without cost in this world, and in the opposition in our hearts towards the Lord and His Anointed. Men expect God to feed them while they hate and oppose everything that is His. The cuckoo also illustrates a common phenomenon in denominations of the Christian Church: office-bearers who reject the constitution of their chosen denomination enter in, having roughly the right size and speckles on them to pass for faithful men. With the worldly adherents on their side, they increase rapidly and, as they do so, they cast out the true children of the Church who stand in their way. There are others in the Church who are loyalto its principles but who are foolish and do not discern the danger in their midst. They feed the cuckoo and obstruct any attempts to cast it out by way of discipline, until eventually the cuckoo becomes so big that the situation is beyond remedy. Both the Free Church and the Church of Scotland are in this position, in the present writer’s estimation. But while a situation may be beyond the remedy of man, it is not beyond the remedy of Christ, and He may, when He pleases, eject the cuckoo and restore the rightful offspring to the nest. “And the Jews’ passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting: and when He had made a scourge of small cords, He drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables; and said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not My Father’s house an house of merchandise” (Jn 2:13-16).

  8. Connor Quigley:
    Yikes. “Jealousy and bitterness?” That’s impossible. I live 5,000+ miles away from Scotland and have no personal connection to any of this.

    I asked why the ministers who are leaving now didn’t leave a decade ago in the FCC succession. After all, it was pretty reasonable to assume the residual FCS would set EP aside. What about the charges leveled against Donald Macleod?

  9. Apologies for the misunderstanding, however I do think bitterness between the FC and FCC played a role in individual decisions.
    I don’t know why they didn’t leave in 2000, I cant speak on their behalf.

    To give one answer to “Why are these ministers going into the RPCS, which barely existed until a few weeks ago, instead of the FCC?”
    Possibly the biggest attraction to the RP church is its global nature. The RPCAmerica[size] ~ [size]FC, The RPCIreland ~ FCC, The RPCSudan ~ FCC Presbyterys in Australia and Japan, A congregation in Cyprus. And tens of thousands of RP’s in ‘East Asia’.
    So although in Scotland we have been a small but [over the past 10 years] growing Church. The unity we have with the RP church in the rest of the world is a great blessing and attraction, we are but a very small part of a larger global church that works and fellowships closely together. Even if the whole FC joined the RPCS we would still only be a relatively small part of the RP church global.

    Its the same answer I would give to the recent FP article challenging our existence; If we were to join any other reformed denomination in Scotland, we would leave and cut ourselves off from our much bigger RP world-wide family. It would be worse not better for unity if we were to be absorbed into another Scottish reformed denomination.

    I don’t really care about the charges against Donald Macleod, we can worry about that if he ever apply’s to the RPC 😉
    Are you confusing Donald MacDonald with Donald MacLeod?

  10. Just to clarify, I believe Connor in his comment above is referring to a recent article in the FP Magazine entitled “New Reformed Presbyterian Constitution.” In the article, Mr. Vogan questions why the RPCS maintains a separate existence in light of the fact that it has now set aside its original distinction, i.e. its position on the national covenants.

  11. Thanks Sharon, that is the article I was referring to. However we have not changed our position on the national covenants.

    “First, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland acknowledges, with gratitude to God, the importance of both the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant in binding the nations of the British Isles to the Reformed and Presbyterian worship of God. The Reformed Presbyterian Church recognises and advocates a real and continuing obligation arising from those covenants, one which rests upon both church and state, to seek a truly national and established church – spiritually independent and thoroughly reformed in doctrine, worship, government, and discipline – working together with the state to secure the recognition of Christ’s Kingship in the Land.” –

    *I forgot a full stop, my earlier comment should read:
    “The RPCSudan ~ FCC.
    Presbyterys in Australia and Japan, “

  12. I would like to think that brethren in both the RPCofS and the FCofSCont would be more mature spititually than to indulge in envy and recrimination! Both groups maintained amicable fraternal relations for years, prior to the split in 2,000.
    As a FCC elder I can see no good purpose being served by sniping at the RPCofS for its recent readjustment of its old Testimonies. Certainly as Connor points out the RPCofS is actually of older lineage than either the FPCofS or the FCofS.
    That certain men remained in the FCofS in 2,000 can be put down to various reasons: some were determined to protect the accused party from any due disciplinary process, despite the fact it might well have cleared his name!; others might have deplored the evident desire to evade due process but genuinely felt as a matter of principle that this did not constitute something serious enough for a breach of fellowship; yet others may have just not cared for the battle; and yet others may well have sensed getting rid of perceived ‘conservatives’ would allow the denomia

  13. …sorry, glitch there! As I was saying, ridding the church of perceived conservatives would be seen as a great opportunity to ‘modernise’ without too much opposition! The avoidance of the FCC by both Rev Kenny Stewart and Donald Macdonald may simply be down to understandable awkwardness at the recent strife and differences. Reconciliation takes a lot of courage and no small amount of pride swallowing by ALL parties involved! Maybe one day the Lord will ease us into such a joyful reunion. In one sense the FCC is spared potential discord which might emerge if former opponents wrre suddenly reintroduced to our pulpits and cause indignation after all the hassle and legal costs it has obliged us to undergo! Still, in the long term Christian duty behoves us to overcome minor matters that have previously led to division in Christ’s body. We pray for that day!

  14. Sorry for yet another comment but this is important! Douglas Gibson decscribes the events of 2000 as the FCC ‘seccession’. This is emphatically NOT how the FCC characterise their actions! We did not leave the authentic Free Church of Scotland but rsther were effectively slung out and so obliged to reconstitute the Free Church after a decade of disorderliness. The 2000 action is styled ‘the Reconstitution’ by the more precise and astute FCC people. Those who departed were the majority who defected from the official order and procedures of the old Free Church and allowed mere majorities to ride roughshod over those safeguards.

  15. “Maybe one day the Lord will ease us into such a joyful reunion”
    “in the long term Christian duty behoves us to overcome minor matters that have previously led to division in Christ’s body. We pray for that day!”
    Yes sir.

  16. Personally, I was saddened when the FCS produced Sing Psalms, as it is very hymnized and a departure from the metrical Psalter.

    It does not suprise me at all that several years later they made further this departure.

    Slippery slopes are like that.

    It is sad that a man with Dr. McDonalds’s legacy has to make such a tremendous change in his career at this time of his life. I’m glad he was willing to do so, for it is sadder to see someone stay when they no longer agree. On this side of the pond, we’ve seen this in a number of denominations and their pastors..

  17. Mistress of the Psalter is correct to point out that much of the musical settings and indeed metres in the Free Church of Scotland’s Sing Psalms! collection did indeed seem more suited to those singing to instrumental accompaniment. Many of the complaints about it are the same as those directed at other modernised metrical psalters. The metres are too elaborate for a capella and assume instrumental leading. Given the Free Kirk’s innovators’ ultimate goal of full instrumental reintroduction that is hardly surprising. Singing intelligibly in English without instrumentation would seem to preclude certain styles and metres if it is to be done effectively and accesible toall but the most tone deaf!

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