Report by Callum MacLean
Following the decision of the Presbytery to initiate a Colloquium, the Stornoway Free Church (Continuing) Kirk Session and Deacons’ Court were privileged to sanction the use of their church building for the purpose of conducting a Colloquium on Friday 5th May 2023.
This is the first occasion in the history of our congregation that a meeting of this nature has been held, and for the office-bearers and members it was a totally new experience. Gradually we learnt that a Colloquium was a mini-conference, where experienced Ministers would present papers on particular theological matters and where opportunity would be given for questions and debate on the subjects addressed. The meeting would be open to menfolk only, and would be attended by Ministers, office-bearers, and male members from sister congregations. In addition, visitors from other congregations and denominations would be most warmly welcomed.
In due course, the subjects were selected by a committee of Presbytery, and Ministers were appointed to give addresses. The proceedings would be over two sessions, with a break for refreshments.
First Session: Sanctification
The first session, chaired by Rev. Kenneth MacDonald (Rtd), commenced with worship, following which Rev. John Macleod (Rtd) was invited to present a paper entitled ‘Sanctification’. Sanctification is the process by which a believer gradually becomes more Christlike in conduct and character. This process is named progressive sanctification, though the New Testament often speaks of sanctification as a once and for all definitive event (1 Cor. 1:2). The Westminster Confession of Faith deals mostly with progressive sanctification, though at the same time acknowledging definitive sanctification. The chapter dealing with the subject uses the expression “further sanctified” – a tacit admission that initial sanctification precedes progressive sanctification.
Definitive sanctification has its basis in the believer’s positional relationship to Christ, as being in covenant oneness with Christ in His death (Rom. 6:2). The believer is also in oneness with Christ in His resurrection, and is being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and of the Father (Rom. 8:11). As such the believer has a desire to serve Christ, out of a sense of indebtedness (“what wilt thou have me to do?” – Acts 9:6), and a longing to know Him and worship Him (Ps. 27:4,5). To what extent has there been a radical change in the believer? The backbone of sin has been broken, new desires for holiness have been implanted in his heart, and the Spirit’s indwelling gives a pledge that where the good work has begun, God will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
Progressive sanctification is the efficient work of God’s Spirit within the believer’s nature and affecting the whole man (Shorter Catechism, Q.35). How this work is carried out within the heart of the believer is a great mystery, but we can discern some of its effects. The believer now must be active in co-operating with the Spirit, (Phil. 2:12), and the Spirit will lead the believer progressively into a knowledge of Christ (John 16:13,14), the truth of scripture and its teachings, warnings, exhortations and promises. These will combine with the ordinances of scripture, including fellowship with other believers, the selection of good literature, and the experiences of the providences which the Father sets to pass over us, whether outwardly afflictive or outwardly prosperous. The more the believer is shown the beauty of Christ, the more he will seek conformity to God’s will by mortification of the flesh (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5) or by aspiration after the graces of the Spirit (2 Pet. 1:5), combined with recognition of his need to draw prayerfully from the Vine.
A period of questions and debate was followed by a break, during which the young ladies of the congregation served refreshments which were deeply appreciated.
Second Session: The Role of Deacons and Elders
The second session, chaired by Rev. Iain Smith (Rtd), resumed with worship, following which Rev. Greg MacDonald (Cross) presented a paper titled ‘The Role of Deacons and Elders’. First, matters pertinent to both offices were considered, as prescribed for us in (Eph. 4:7ff). It was noted that both offices are the gift of Jesus Christ, who promises that He will bestow those essential gifts upon men suited and qualified to fulfil these congregational offices.
The congregation then has the duty to recognise what Christ has done, and elect to office those men who meet the personal standards set out in 1 Timothy 3, as being essential gifts for men being considered for the offices of the eldership or the diaconate. They must be men who are not given to wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, and are sober and grave. There are also familial gifts, where they are to be the husband of one wife and rule their homes well. Finally, there are doctrinal gifts, with such office-bearers being required to have competence in their understanding of and adherence to biblical doctrine.
Matters exclusive to the Eldership were then considered. Their qualifications include how they relate to others, and in particular strangers, the world and the congregation. This requires being amenable when visiting homes, having a welcoming attitude to the congregation and visitors, and having an approachable manner with regard to those who may seek or request advice. These qualities are imperative for the office of eldership. There is also the desirability of developing gifts of leadership, including in worship; this requires an understanding of doctrine and the ability to convey scripture simply to others.
Matters distinctive to the Diaconate were considered. This office can be traced to the caring ministry of Christ, as well as to the appointment of men for administering the daily distribution as recorded in Acts 6. The office also benefits from the great encouragements that are given in the Bible to those who use it well. The function of the diaconate is to relieve the eldership of anything not essential to the spiritual care of the congregation. It was further noted that 1 Timothy 3:11 is not a warrant for women in office, but rather a description of such women as would be essential to assist in some of the sensitive duties that deacons are involved in.
There followed a lively period of question and debate, which the Elders and Deacons present found most enlightening. It reminded us all of the responsibilities which these offices demand. The subject would be a most suitable precursor to a congregation considering the appointment of new office-bearers.
The Colloquium closed with praise and the Benediction, and a deep feeling of thankfulness to our God, for gifting us with this privilege. We trust that the Colloquium will become an event which will give all who attend a deeper understanding of subjects which we may have heard of, and read about, but which have not yet established themselves firmly in our minds.