Summary Of General Assembly 2015

Date: Monday, 25 May 2015
Author: Rev John J Murray

The General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) met in Liberton Kirk, Edinburgh from 18 to 21 May 2015.

OPENING SERMON AND ADDRESS. The opening sermon by the Retiring Moderator, Rev Allan Murray, was based on Romans 15:13, "The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing." The Rev Kenneth Macdonald, minister of Scalpay congregation, was appointed Moderator of the General Assembly. He addressed the Fathers and Brethren on ‘The role of the Church, her Ministers and Members in a Day of Declension and Apostasy.’ The address is available on the FCC website and will appear in the Assembly issue of the Witness.

LOYAL ADDRESS. In the Loyal and Dutiful Address to her Majesty the Queen, thanks was recorded for her continued health and service to the nation. The Address did highlight two matters of concern: 1) how we value the freedom to preach freely and openly the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fact that current legislation seems to be curtailing that blood-bought freedom and 2) how we are saddened by the legislation that allowed marriage between individuals of the same sex and the consequent persecution of any who could not accept it.

WELFARE OF YOUTH. The Welfare of Youth & Education Committee focussed on the challenge facing parents in the education of their children and a plea was made for ways in which the positive help of the Committee in that field could be increased. The Moderator presented awards to the prize winners: the Bible Class Award going to Joanna Gillies, Stornoway and the Sabbath School Award taken up by Matthew S Keddie, Shettleston.

RECOGNITION OF SERVICE. There was a surprise event for the Assembly Clerks. The Moderator on behalf of the Church presented Rev John MacLeod and Rev Graeme Craig with inscribed Bibles in recognition of their dedicated and faithful service rendered to the Church over 15 years. A further presentation of an inscribed Study Bible was made to our Home Mission Worker, Mr Donald John Morrison, for the sterling service he has rendered over the past 10 years.

FINANCE. The Convener of the Committee on Finance & Sustentation reported that there was the encouragement of an 8% increase in congregational giving in 2014 and that four congregations had acquired manses. Care should be taken in that giving in the first four months of 2015 was down. The Shettleston congregation is now placed on the Equal Dividend Platform, having come off Special Arrangements after many years.

PUBLIC QUESTIONS. Many current issues of potential threat to Christian values were dealt with in the Report. Same-Sex Marriage legislation was particularly highlighted in the debate in view of a decision made at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the judgment against the Ashers Bakery Company in Belfast (news of which had been announced to the Assembly on Tuesday). It was unanimously agreed to send a letter of support to the owners of the bakery, commending their brave stand, copies of the letter to be sent to the First Minister of Northern Ireland and other parties.

ADMISSION OF SPANISH MINISTER. The General Assembly received Rev Dr Jorge Ruiz Ortiz, Miranda de Ebro, Spain, as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). As well as being a pastor and lecturer, Dr Ruiz is employed by the TBS as a translator in the revision of their Spanish and French Bibles. Later in the proceedings, the Assembly broke new ground in having given permission to the Southern Presbytery to have Dr Ruiz sign the Formula in the presence of members of the Assembly. All the Fathers and Brethren present extended to him the right hand of fellowship. It was indeed a moving occasion.

HOME & FOREIGN MISSIONS. One of the main considerations for the Committee was the request by Rev David Lachman to resign from his position in Covenant College as from May 2016. He would be returning to Scotland with his family and would be open to a Call. The Committee also indicated their intention to press ahead with Jewish evangelism in Scotland, but would seek guidance from CWI. The speakers at the Home & Foreign Missions evening were: Rev William Macleod on his visit to China, under Hudson Taylor Ministries; Rev Dr Ruiz on his ministry in Spain and in Latin America; Mr Donald John Morrison on his activities as the Home Mission Worker; Rev Andrew Allan, Trustee of the Zambia College Trust, on his recent visit to Petauke; and Mr Mike Moore, Christian Witness to Israel giving the address of the Rev Joseph Steinberg, the recently appointed Chief Executive Officer, who was delayed in travel. Later in the evening Rev James Gracie spoke about his visit under MERF to Kenya and Rev Harry Woods told of his time of ministry with Rev Partheepan in Sri Lanka.

TRAINING OF THE MINISTRY. Two students are due to complete their studies at the Seminary in June: Mr Murdo Maciver and Mr James Haram. At the close of this session mention was made of the fact that the Principal of the Seminary, Rev John Keddie, was due to have a major operation on 2nd June and the Rev David Fraser commended him and his family to God in prayer.

VISITING DELEGATES. Delegates from other churches and organisations visiting the Assembly were Rev Robert Johnston of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ireland; Rev Matthew Evans, Affinity; Rev John Hawthorne, Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland; Rev Dr C R Thomas, Presbyterian Church of Australia; Rev Dr James Millar, Scottish Reformation Society; Rev Bill Schweitzer, Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England & Wales; and Mr Paul Rowland, Trinitarian Bible Society.

ASSISTANT CLERK OF ASSEMBLY. The Assistant Clerk of Assembly intimated his desire to retire from the position he has held for 15 years. Four nominees had been put forward by Presbyteries to fill the vacancy but before the time of the debate all of them had withdrawn their names. Faced with this difficulty the Committee persuaded Rev Graeme Craig to continue for another year but be relieved of some of his duties through the help of Mr Murdo Murray, Gress. 

CHANGES. 1. After due consultation with Presbyteries the General Assembly agreed to the suspension of Provincial Synods, except as courts of appeal. 2. The Congregation of Poolewe & Aultbea was transferred from the Presbytery of Skye & Lochcarron to the Presbytery of Inverness. 3. The Assembly heard of the remarkable providence that led to the provision of a manse for the Kilmorack & Strathglass (Beauly) congregation.

CLOSE. The Moderator echoed the feelings of the Commissioners in giving thanks to the Most High for the good spirit and sense of unity that prevailed throughout the proceedings. He remarked on how the Lord had given our small branch of the Christian Church such opportunities for outreach in so many countries in recent years. Mr Macdonald presided over the gathering with a most gracious but firm hand and business was brought to a close by 11.00am on the Thursday.