Monday, 24 July 2017

Some Sermons Online

Sermons Online

I don’t normally have my sermons online.  However, over the last two Sundays I have been preaching at Knox Church, Perth, (Free Church of Scotland), and the sermons are now online:

There you will also find the excellent messages of the Pastor, Paul Gibson.

I have to say my visit to Perth was a blessing to my own soul and the warm welcome and hospitality of the members was deeply appreciated. I heartily commend the work of Knox Church and can recommend it as a spiritual home for those in the greater Perth area who are looking for a church that is Christ centred and biblically based.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Code of Ethics for Ministers

I thought this was an excellent statement of ministerial ethics, clearly defining what is expected in terms of godly conduct.  Given that it is from a source most Scottish Presbyterians would not be aware of, it is certainly worth sharing. Given that it is from a congregational source, we as Presbyterians could replace “Conference” with “Denomination” and substitute our own particular denomination’s name as appropriate for "Conservative Congregational Christian Conference".

The one question I might have is revealing a confidence shared with us; sometimes we are required by law to do this in the case of child protection.  We are not priests and it is wrong to give a promise of non-disclosure, although in general we should be discrete and not reveal what is shared with us without grave biblical reasons.

Sometimes things just have to be spelled out clearly and not assumed.  This is certainly the case in ministerial conduct.  There is also an adage from business, “It is not what is expected that is done, it is what is inspected ! “  Perhaps there is a case for both self-inspection, mutual inspection with a mentor and corporate inspection with our fellow elders.

Here is the Code of Ethics:

In My Own Life

I will always devote time to seeking the will of God through reading the Scriptures and prayer.

I will endeavour to keep myself physically and emotionally fit.

I will seek in all ways to be Christ like in my attitude and conduct.

I will seek mutual accountability and spiritual friendship with fellow Christians for personal encouragement and nurture in order to ensure faithfulness to my calling as a steadfast follower and competent servant of my Lord Jesus Christ.

In Relationship to My Family

I will consider each member of my immediate family as precious gifts from God, and will carefully, lovingly and responsibly meet their needs as a sacred obligation before Him.

I will give spiritual leadership in my home.

I will be faithful and loyal to my family members, loving them as Jesus Christ loves His Church.

In Relationship to the Church

I will remember that I am called to lead, but also to serve.

I will never violate a confidence given to me.

I will be diligent in my duties as pastor, never lazy, but with God as my judge and my Shepherd.

I will be Biblical in my preaching, presenting the whole counsel of God, speaking the truth in love.

I will strive to introduce people to Christ, and to build His Church.

I will consider my call to the church a sacred responsibility and stand by my commitment to the church and leaders.

I will seek the unity of the church and resist any attempts to divide the congregation, either by supporting factions within the congregation or by my own initiative.

In Relationship to Other Ministers

I will be a brother in Christ to my fellow ministers.

I will not seek to build the church I serve at the expense of another church, nor my ego at the expense of another minister.

I will not speak uncharitably of either my predecessor or my successor.

I will refrain from pastoral contacts with former parishioners except with the knowledge of thepresent pastor.

In Relationship to the Conference

I will participate in the larger fellowship of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, and seek to support through prayer and action its aims and objectives.

In Relationship to the Community

I will seek to be responsible in my personal finances. 

I will seek to build a positive relationship with the community without sacrificing my ministry to the church.


Wednesday, 5 July 2017

“Prefaces to the Westminster Confession of Faith”

“Prefaces to the Westminster Confession of Faith”

Part of my summer reading in St Andrews is in preparation for our presbytery’s examination of our students on the Confession.  I am enjoying reviewing the standard commentaries on the Confession and listening to various series of lectures on the Confession featuring a Scotsman, an American and a New Zealander.  What is interesting is that all of the lectures begin with the first chapter, “Of the Holy Scriptures”.  That is natural and to be expected.  Indeed, I noted that the OPC and FCS editions of the Confession have neither of the prefaces by some of the puritan divines.  These prefaces are not part of our confessional standards, but they are important nevertheless and well worth reading.

What is interesting is that while we think of the Confession as a church document, and associate its use with teaching and ruling elders, both of these prefaces are addressed to ordinary members in general and fathers or heads of households in particular.

Manton writes, “I do therefore desire, that all masters of families would first study well this work themselves, and then teach it their children and servants, according to their several capacities.”

We do a disservice to our church families when we assume that the Confession is only for office-bearers! In doing so we deprive them of a biblical and practical theology textbook that can enrich their understanding and warm their hearts.

Some practical suggestions:
1     Read the two prefaces to the Westminster Confession.
2    Read the Confession in a systematic and regular manner.
3    Read one of the modern language editions of the Confession.  My two preferences are the Modern Study Version produced by the OPC, and the excellent edition by Roland Ward.

Yes, our students, ministers, and elders should know the Confession.  Would that the day would come again when our members and families can also be assumed to know and love the Confession.

See the two prefaces, with somewhat inaccurate OCR, at:

Monday, 3 July 2017

“The Worship of the Presbyterian Church”

“The Worship of the Presbyterian Church”

This short work by David Douglas Bannerman, published in 1884 is based on lectures that he gave in Perth and Glasgow.  Bannerman, the Free Church minister of St Leonards in Perth for most of his ministerial career, produced this succinct biblical and historical defence of the use of an optional liturgy, showing that this was the historical position of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland from the Reformation until the watering down of her practice with the adoption of the Westminster Directory for Public Worship.  The guidance of the Directory was only adopted to try and facilitated a closer union with the Reformed church in England, but that hoped for unity of practice in worship never truly emerged.

Bannerman shows that Knox’s Book of Common Order was the standard guide in the Scottish Church, outlining a rich but not prescribed and binding liturgy.  The prayers of the Book of Common Order were both models and guides to enrich Presbyterian worship.  They were the framework used by Rutherford, Dickson and Henderson and beloved by the Scottish Covenanters who resisted the imposition of Laud’s liturgy not because they were opposed to a liturgy per se, but because they were opposed to a liturgy that was inflexible and Popish in character and had no consent from the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Bannerman is not blind to the dangers that even a non-prescriptive liturgy could cause, but he gently balances this with a discussion of the advantages that such a liturgy could bring, not least a historical continuity with the worship of the Scottish Reformers and the wider Reformed church in continental Europe.
“The historical position of the Scottish Church in this matter, deliberately taken up by her best representatives both of the first and second Reformation, was that of a discretionary liturgy, regarded and used as at once a basis, guide, and stimulus for the exercise of free prayer on the part of her ministers, elders and people.”

There is a growing sense within Presbyterianism that our worship needs to return to our Reformed roots, combining freedom and form, enriched by the liturgies of the Reformation and the ancient church.  There is equally a growing danger that Presbyterian worship becomes less Reformed, reflecting the vacuous style of much modern evangelical and charismatic confusion, rather than the traditional decency and order of our forefathers.  Bannerman is a voice from the past calling us to reconsider how we approach worship, and a voice that deserves to be heard.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Good Start, Disastrous Conclusion? - The Church of Scotland General Assembly

Good Start, Disastrous Conclusion?

At the beginning of this week’s General Assembly of the Church of Scotland one leading evangelical messaged:

Good start to the General Assembly today as the Council of Assembly moved the following motion, which was unanimously approved by the General Assembly: 'Issue a call to the Church of Scotland to pray that God will do a fresh work amongst us as God's people and instruct Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to consider how best to respond to this call.’

My immediate response was to wonder whether this normally acute theology professor had lost his powers of analysis and discernment.  Firstly, this motion had passed unanimously.  That either indicates that the G.A. was of one mind on this matter, or that the motion was such that various parties could put their own spin and interpretation on the words.  Given that the Church of Scotland is a predominately theologically liberal body, were the majority understanding the words in a different sense from the good Professor?

Theological liberals have developed the art of using orthodox and even pietistic language in a non-biblical manner.  They are happy to affirm confessions that they totally reject, to recite creeds that they dismiss and to quote even the Bible in ways contrary to its original meaning.

What does it means to pray that God would do “a fresh work amongst us as God's people”?  Do we mean that God will bring the church to repentance over its theological and moral apostasy, that he will reinvigorate it with a new confidence in the biblical gospel of Christ’s atoning and renewing sacrifice, that it will rediscover a new boldness to preach that individuals need to be born again, and a new commitment to the great truths of the Reformation expressed in the solas of Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”), Sola Fide (“faith alone”), Sola Gratia (“grace alone”), Solus Christus (“Christ alone”) and Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”)?  Certainly that would be the good Doctor’s interpretation; but is that how the larger body of the Assembly interpret this call to prayer for a “fresh work”?

We know that for many “a fresh work amongst” us means a new openness to homosexual practices and gay marriage, a new ecumenism that fully embraces Rome and is indeed a multi-faith ecumenism, a new theology that casts off the doctrinal restrains of Scripture and the Reformed confessional tradition, a new understanding of the cross that excludes penal substitutionary atonement, and a new universalism that guarantees the salvation of all individuals with or without faith in Christ as Saviour and Lord.

The enthusiasm of the Saturday over the prayer for a “fresh work amongst us” has to deal with the reality of the Thursday and the decision of the General Assembly to continue on its revisionist trajectory in accepting and endorsing homosexual marriage and openly rejecting the authority of Scripture by an appeal to an ephemeral word behind the Word that may contradict the text of Scripture and be more attuned to the spirit of this present age and moral culture.

In political discourse the term “useful innocents” is sometimes used to speak of those naive individuals who are susceptible to manipulation in the support of a cause and who fail to see the reality behind their enthusiastic endorsement of a particular movement. For the Church of Scotland evangelicals are the “useful innocents” who provide money and manpower to maintain a liberal edifice that despises their theology, mocks their morality, and longs for their eventual demise. Talk of “reconciled diversity”, “constrained differences”, or “mutual flourishing” will prove to be empty rhetoric on the part of the liberals – it should be equally unacceptable to evangelicals who believe that there is a “faith once for all delivered to the saints” to be defended, anathemas to be pronounced against any who preach a different gospel, and discipline to be exercised against those who support, encourage or practice sexual immorality.

Differentiation among Elder

Differentiation among Elders

It has become common in Presbyterian circles, on the basis of 1 Tim 5:17, to speak of Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders. The text says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.” (ESV)  Alternatively, “The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.” (HCSV)

All elders rule – they shepherd the flock. (1 Peter 5:2)  All elders are able to teach, (2 Tim 2:24).  Some elders rule particularly well, and some do so through preaching and teaching.  This suggests that some elders have particular shepherding gifts and others have particular teaching gifts, but the roles are not mutually exclusive.

Interestingly, while we accept salaried teaching elders, it is less common to find salaried ruling elders.  Why should we not have full-time shepherding ministers who are counsellors, pastoral encouragers, personal mentors, education co-ordinators, administrators or discipleship co-ordinators?  Conversely, why should we not have non full-time teaching elders or non stipendiary teaching elders? The New Testament pattern allows for flexibility and a rich variety of elder leadership patterns.

We speak of one office, with a differentiation of function, (teaching or ruling elders).  Might it not be best to speak of a differentiation of “focus” rather than of function? We should be training our ruling elders to develop their teaching ability and we should be training our teaching elders to develop their ruling ability.  It is not unknown for a competent preacher to lack experience or strength in ruling, and of doing so within the plurality and parity of the local session.  Indeed, we have within presbyterian practice the anomaly of men with no general experience of eldership becoming teaching elders, but never having worked alongside their fellow elders in a local church session.  That was my own experience, and I wonder how many local churches would never consider calling a man as an elder at twenty-three years old but would consider calling him as a minister?

Thankfully, I learned on the job, but it was not necessarily the best route to take. If a church has not called a young man as an elder locally, why are they willing to recommend him for training as a teaching elder / minister?  Surely they need to recognise that “elder” is a term acknowledging spiritual wisdom and maturity rather than merely chronological age.  If a man shows the gifts and aptitudes, and desires the work of eldership locally then age is not necessarily a barrier. Put him on the Session, with congregational approval, and let him gain experience in the trials and joys of local church eldership.  This is not to go down the route of those churches that think that youth in and off itself is an adequate qualification and therefore have youth delegates in presbytery and assembly to represent the voice of the next generation, whether or not these persons are biblically qualified as elders.

If local eldership can involve differentiation of focus then there is an ongoing necessity to sharpen that focus without neglecting the other aspects of eldership. Using resources such as those found at would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Scriptural Basis of Biblical Presbyterianism

The Scriptural Basis of Biblical Presbyterianism

I was preaching last Lord’s Day on the theme of biblical presbyterianism, Christ’s gift of rule in his church. What was interesting was that the congregation had never heard a sermon on presbyterianism and why we in the Free Church of Scotland adopt this form of government.  If we demonstrate our love to Christ by obedience to his commands, and if Christ in his Word has given us basic principles for church government, then it is part of our corporate sanctification to follow the teaching of Scripture on this matter.

The emphasis was not on justifying in detail the current practice of the FCS, but in showing that there are basic principles that we work out in our practice. We looked at the local and the regional aspects of biblical presbyterianism.

At the local level we saw that there was to be a plurality of elders, a parity among the elders, and popular election of these elders, recognising their call by Christ and gifting by the Holy Spirit. Application was made to both our elders and our people.

At the regional level there was connectionalism, consultation and constraint.  (Why do we refer to Acts 15 without Acts 16:4 : “As they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey.” ?)

Does this justify our monthly regional presbyteries and our annual national assembly?  We have no text and verse for these but base our practice on sanctified common sense rooted in the biblical principles.  Other patterns might equally be compatible with the biblical principles.

What is important is that the principles are worked out in the life of the church locally, regionally and nationally. 

Can such truths be preached?  Of course.  Is Christ exalted in such preaching? Yes, if the emphasis is on the fact that his guidance on government is based on his divine wisdom, grace and love.  Can such a sermon be evangelistic?  Well, I concluded with reference to the joys of Presbyterianism experienced by Christ’s people, and the importance of being not only in church but in the Church, not merely in the building but in the Body, with an appropriate evangelistic application.