The General Assembly commenced on Monday 22nd May at 6.00pm when the retiring Moderator, Rev Timothy J. McGlynn (Aberdeen), preached inspirationally on ‘Living and Labouring in the Last Days’ (2 Tim. 3:1). Rev Robert McCurley (Greenville, USA), was then installed as the new Moderator. Mr McCurley, believed to be only the second US Moderator of a Scottish Assembly (Rev Warren Gardner being the first in 2013), hosted the Moderator’s Reception.
Tuesday began with a challenging Moderatorial Address taken from Matthew 22:36-40 which focused on the first table of the Law and had the title ‘First Things First’. Mr McCurley said that when we vote in elections we should ask candidates for their views on such things as blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking. The Address concluded with: “Our generation needs a recovery of first things first, first table first, putting God first in all things – in our families, in our congregations, and in our nations.”
A message from the Assembly to Her Majesty the Queen, known as ‘Loyal and Dutiful Address’, was presented to the Commissioners for their approval and was accepted. The Address will be transcribed and forwarded to the Queen.
The Ecumenical Relations Committee handles our relationships with other churches and Christian bodies, not just in the United Kingdom but worldwide. In addition to representatives from other denominations within the United Kingdom, delegates were also received from the USA, Canada, and South Africa. This year our Church’s relationship with Affinity (an evangelical forum with a membership of 1,200 churches) was debated in light of the publication of an article which questioned the need of dogmatism about “six-day creation in relation to Genesis 1.”
The Finance & Sustentation Committee highlighted in their report our thanks to God for His goodness, and to each individual for their sacrificial generosity over the year. Overall income to Central Funds had increased by 6% last year, and the Church had a £52,427 surplus despite an expected deficit. However, for three successive years the denomination has received no legacies. It is important that we make plans to help our Church in maintaining gospel ordinances when we are no longer here to contribute, and the leaflet Remembering the Church in your Will, which includes a particular form of words as a guide to solicitors to ensure that legacies actually benefit the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), and not any body with a similar name, may be obtained from Deacons’ Courts. The Church is thankful that the Congregation of Lochalsh & Strath has been removed from the Equal Dividend Platform under Special Arrangements, to the Equal Dividend Platform without restrictions.
The Welfare of Youth & Education Committee has undertaken extensive work in a complete revision of Bible Class and Sabbath School materials. The General Assembly thanked every Sabbath School teacher in the Church for their devotion of time and labour in teaching the things of God to the children and young people. Matthew S. Keddie, Shettleston, was prizewinner in the Bible Class section of the exams, and Elizabeth J. Keddie, also Shettleston, was prizewinner in the Sabbath School section; both received their prizes at the General Assembly from the Moderator. The Maureen Murchison Memorial Prize for Scripture memorisation, and Diplomas for memorising and reciting the Shorter Catechism, are also to be gained, and these have been commended to parents to introduce to their children.
The Special Committee on Psalmody have been most encouraged that its supply of Staff Psalters under the Church’s imprimatur have now been exhausted, and there are plans to have this edition reprinted. In the year of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, “The General Assembly encourage the singing of Psalms whenever appropriate and helpful at various gatherings.” At a time when many are abandoning the psalms in Scotland the General Assembly were thankful that the Committee had contributed to the increased interest in exclusive psalmody.
The Public Questions, Religion & Morals Committee in their report brought before the Church an array of concerns in society upon which the Church, through the Committee, make representations to Government and other bodies on topics like Named Persons, Abortion, etc. The General Assembly heard high praise for the report, and it is likely that it will be published, in whole or in part, by other churches. The General Assembly lamented the great harm done to so many by the ‘permissive society’ and equally it deplored “the progressive departure of the Church of Scotland from biblical teaching on marriage over recent years.”
The Publications Committee reported on the appointment of a new three-man team of assistant editors for the Witness magazine (Rev James Clark, Rev Trevor Kirkland and Rev Alasdair Macleod). The Committee nominated Rev David Blunt to replace Rev William Macleod as editor of the Witness, and the General Assembly approved the appointment for a four-year term. The Committee have obtained the services of a company for the design and layout of both magazines and these new arrangements should be operative from the July-August issue. The Committee has published a new booklet, Presbyterianism, and this is now available for purchase. The booklets in the ‘Finding Out About…’ series are helpful additions to any home library, and presently include the following subjects: The Five Points of Calvinsm, The Lord’s Supper, Worship, Baptism and Presbyterianism.
The Training of the Ministry & Admissions Committee report highlighted the Lord’s kindness to the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) in the provision of two divinity students from Scotland, and one from the USA. The Committee brought forward legislation on examinations in the Seminary, a small part of which was amended on the floor of the Assembly. The Admissions Committee also forwarded an application from the Presbytery of the United States on behalf Rev Brent Evans. Mr Evans’ application was accepted, and upon completion of some studies and his signing of the Formula he will be admitted as a minister open to Call, D.V. The Church should pray for the Lord’s blessing upon Mr Evans. The General Assembly appointed Rev William Macleod to replace Rev John Morrison as lecturer in the Free Church Seminary in Systematic Theology, and Rev James I. Gracie to replace Rev Gavin Beers as lecturer in Hebrew & Old Testament.
The Home & Foreign Missions Committee presented an encouraging report detailing significant interest and growth in the work in Ballyclare & Doagh (Ulster), in Spain (with three preaching stations in Barcelona, Miranda and Bilbao, and an associated work in Pau in southern France), and an ever-increasing number of contacts in South America. The work in London seems to be stabilising, and the work in Sri Lanka is flourishing with a second preaching station now in Mullaitheevu, some 80km from the congregation in Vavuniya. Our Home Mission Worker, Donald J. Morrison, continues to work throughout Scotland and further afield. Our people are asked to pray for all these works, but especially for the following needs: the provision of an additional pastor in Sri Lanka and funds for the building project in Mullaitheevu; the provision of an additional pastor, or pulpit supply, for the work in Spain (particularly Barcelona); encouragement for our Home Mission Worker, that he may see fruit for his labours.
The Legal Advice & Property Committee in the past concentrated on those congregations in which property was in dispute, and while some congregations have not had these matters settled yet, the report focused on a new but important matter – ‘Safeguarding’. A comprehensive document has been produced and now adopted by the Church which details the procedure to be followed should an accusation of abuse be made. Delegates from other denominations commented favourably on the document and intend to make use of it. Kirk Sessions and Deacons’ Courts are expected to discuss the document.
The ad hoc Strategic Review Committee report was not perhaps what might have been expected when the Committee was set up. The report mentioned the limited resources we have as a denomination, but it also mentioned the areas of strength and encouragements we enjoy – a point which many of the delegates outwith the Church were keen to stress. The report says: “The strategy for the future is, Faith…[which is not] an excuse for waiting, and waiting, and…waiting.” Like the children of Israel, we are to “Go forward!” and “Go forward, now!” (cf. Ex.14:15)