2015 School in Theology Report
The 63rd Free Church School in Theology met in Carronvale House, Larbert, from 7th to 10th September. Though numbers were slightly down on previous years there was still plenty of warm and joyful fellowship, involving brethren from various churches throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Each day began with a prayer meeting, followed by a hearty breakfast, which in turn was followed by a time of devotion led by one of the men. Then the morning session began which included either a missionary report or various book reviews and that morning’s theological paper.
There was a break for lunch, and just like Luther’s table talk much theological discussion on the morning’s deliberations took place around the various dining tables. After a short period of free time the afternoon session took place during which another paper was delivered. Dinner and plenty more table talk was enjoyed, followed by the evening session which included the final paper of that day. The meetings came to a close with a time of worship and then the fellowship and discussions would often carry on into the early hours of the next day.
The conference was opened by Rev Timothy J McGlynn, Minister of Aberdeen FC(C), who spoke on ‘John Huss and the Council of Constance’. He gave a brief history of the life of ‘Jan Huss (goose)’, who was a Czech priest, philosopher, early Christian reformer and able scholar and Master at Charles University, Prague. Mr McGlynn went on to show how Huss, like Wycliffe before him, was a forerunner of the Reformation. He had a great influence on the states of Europe, most immediately in the approval of a reformist Bohemian religious denomination, and more than a century later, on Martin Luther himself, who once stated, “we are all Hussites”. Mr McGlynn spoke on how Huss’s theology had been greatly influenced by John Wycliffe’s writtings, yet there were some major differences. It was because of views similar to those of Wycliffe that the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Constance accused Huss of heresy and ordered him to be executed. Mr McGlynn explained that Huss, like many of God’s martyrs before him and many of those who were still to come, endured a humiliating and excruciatingly painful martyrdom for the cause of Christ and the glory of God.
On Tuesday morning Rev Raymond Kemp, Minister of Staffin FC(C), delivered a paper on ‘Encouragement in our conflict with Rome’, which was based on Matthew 16:13-20. In setting out the Christological nature of the Gospel of Matthew generally, and the passage specifically, Mr Kemp surveyed the alternative views of what the ‘rock’ was. While some Protestants hold that the ‘rock’ was Peter they fall short of recognising Peter’s primacy, apostolic succession, or agreeing with the Papacy. According to Mr Kemp the ‘rock’ was Christ, or the content of Peter’s confession of Christ. The encouragement for Christians is that there is a biblical alternative to papal claims, and the hope that Christ will build His Church by the work of His Spirit through the preaching of the word and the exercise of proper Church discipline. In all of this, the Church is based upon the Bible – not the Bible upon the Church.
This was followed by Rev Harry J T Woods, Minister of Beauly FC(C), whose subject was ‘Athanasius on the Incarnation’. He introduced the paper by explaining that it was written by Athanasius as a young man, to a young convert, for the purpose of grounding him more in the Christian faith. After giving the outline of the brief work he proceeded to draw attention to the considerable areas of Athenasius’s work which are commendable. He then looked at some areas of concern – especially His inadequate explanation of the purpose for which the Word became man and the absence of any doctrine of justification by faith alone. He concluded by considering some of the consequences of these areas as they affect the teaching of the present-day Eastern Orthodox Church and the increasing interest that teaching has for Western evangelicals.
On Tuesday evening Rev William Macleod, Minister of Knightswood FC(C), spoke on ‘The Call to the Ministry: External, Internal Call’. He stressed the importance of having a call but that one should not look for a supernatural call. God leads a man in his thoughts as he prays and searches the Scriptures. The church recognises that the Lord has laid His hand upon a certain man and that the Bible gives the characteristics of a minister (1&2 Timothy, Titus).
On Wednesday afternoon Rev Greg MacDonald, Minister of Ness FC(C), presented ‘An overview of the Book of Amos’. Mr MacDonald gave a thorough overview of this book, showing how it was divided into four sections: 1) Judgements on the pagan nations; 2) Judgements on Israel and covenant nations; 3) Various visions of coming judgements; and, 4) Restoration and covenant fulfilment. He spoke of how Israel’s and Judah’s corrupt worship had severe social consequences and likened God’s present judgement on His Church and the social chaos of our day to God’s judgement on His O.T. Church and the social chaos of Amos’s day. I would not be surprised to hear that some of our congregations will shortly be doing a study series on this often neglected book of the Old Testament.
On Wednesday evening Rev Malcolm Watts, Minister of Emmanuel Church, Salisbury, delivered his paper. After a short introduction, Mr Watts homed in on the subject and text assigned to him – ‘The Love of the Spirit’ (Romans 15:30). It was observed that the apostle Paul, in intreating his readers to pray for him and for his preservation in danger, his acceptance by Jerusalem believers, and his further usefulness in gospel work – enforced his request with the words, “for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake” and “for the love of the Spirit”. After expounding the former phrase, Mr Watts concentrated on the latter, noting two possible interpretations: the love which the Spirit produces in us (so Charles Hodge) and the Holy Spirit’s personal love to God’s elect (so Professor Murray). Mr Watts argued for the latter, and then supplied biblical confirmations of the truth taught in these words. He then considered our experience of the Spirit’s love in the past, present and future, concluding his paper with reference to Heaven where God shall be “all in all” – everything in everyone.
On Thursday morning Rev Kenneth Macdonald, Minister of Scalpay FC(C), spoke on ‘Fostering Ministerial Friendships’. Using examples from Scripture (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi) he showed how friendships should and can work. He spoke of how Christ called His disciples friends, but pointed out that there can be different levels of friendship, such as His close friendship with Peter, James and John.
Mr Macdonald said that for a minister, while having elders and members as friends is essential, it is prudent to have as a ‘best friend’ another minister outside the congregation to share with. At the time he must remember that there are some matters best kept between himself and the Lord: for the sake of confidentiality and the trust of his people, he will need to bear many matters alone. Mr Macdonald finished by saying that friendship with those of other denominations should be encouraged but if not theologically compatible, then the level of friendship will always be limited.
The School was then concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving to God and the singing of Psalm 133. It is indeed a good and pleasant thing for brethren to dwell together in unity!