The Free Church Record for January headlined an account of a recent communion season with the words: Revival in South Uist and Benbecula. Less sensational reporting would have reserved the word revival for something more extensive than 14 professions of conversion.
This note is not intended to be a comment on the spiritual state of any of these 14 individuals; we do not know them. What we are concerned about is the trumpeting of conversion experiences and professions before any time has been allowed to show whether those involved will persevere in the faith. One is particularly concerned about a minister encouraging a man to make a public profession on the very day, as appears from the article, when he believed he experienced a saving change. It leaves no time for the fruits of the Spirit to become evident; it leaves no time to show that the good seed of the gospel has been sown on something better than stony or thorn-filled ground.
Some of us have long felt that one of the most serious aspects of Free Church practice is the lack of discrimination in admitting people to the Lord’s table. Obviously the greatest amount of care in the world is not going to keep out every unconverted person from membership in the Church. But evident worldliness should be a definite barrier. Sadly, evident worldliness is too often accepted within the Free Church.
Fewer conversions would turn out to be spurious if more ministers would direct unbelievers as “Rabbi” Duncan did: “Pray much. (1) Pray that you may be made willing to be converted. You think you are, but you are not. It is a great step to come to that, greater than to the next thing. (2) Pray that you may be made very anxious to be converted. (3) Pray that you may be made so anxious that an unconverted state will be intolerable to you. (4) Pray that God will teach you what conversion is.”
Revival is something we long for – a time when the Holy Spirit will be poured out in such a way that multitudes will be genuinely converted. May God soon grant it in all parts of the world!
A Free Church Review
The February issue of The Free Church Record carries a review by Rev I D Campbell of Dr J L MacLeod’s book The Second Disruption, an account of the events leading up to the separate existence of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1893.
The review in The Free Church Record emphasises the time-worn Free Church arguments against that separation. Even apart from the mistake in the last clause, Mr Campbell’s argument becomes amazingly convoluted: “And even if it was true that the Declaratory Act was an unconstitutional piece of legislation, it was passed in a constitutional manner, a fact itself shows that the constitution remained intact”.
Once more, Rev Donald Macfarlane’s induction to the Free Church congregation in Raasay – after the Declaratory Act had come into operation – is dredged up. We may hear Mr Macfarlane in his own defence: “I was at Kilmallie in the year 1892, when the Act was passed into a binding law. As soon as we heard that, our Session protested against the action of the Assembly in doing that, and the protest was written in the Session record. Next year, 1893, I was translated to Raasay before the meeting of Assembly. On the day of my induction I stated publicly before the Presbytery and the congregation that I was not taking office as minister of Raasay under the Declaratory Act in any sense or to any degree” (The Free Presbyterian Magazine, vol 28, p 151).
Mr Campbell protests against Free Presbyterian propaganda. It seems not to have crossed his mind that he was using his review as an opportunity to fire off some propaganda from his own side. Consider the following: “If anything was unconstitutional, it was the way in which Neil Cameron rose to a position of Pope-like prominence within the Free Presbyterian Church, and used his power to prevent any discussion between his denomination and the post-1900 Free Church of Scotland”. It is scarcely appropriate to describe the position of a godly man, however forceful, as “Pope-like”, especially now that he is away from this world. Historical accuracy would accept that Mr Cameron led the opposition to negotiations for union with the Free Church, but it would demand that those who followed him be credited with having an intelligent grasp of the principles on which he based his stance.
An Undeserved Honour
All who love the truth were shocked by the announcement of the New Zealand honours list on 30 December 2000. It included the name of Professor Lloyd Geering, the Presbyterian minister and former Principal of Knox Theological College who gained notoriety in 1967 when a charge of heresy was brought against him. Although he denied the resurrection of Christ from the dead and expressed his belief that man is without a soul, he was acquitted of heresy and the General Assembly of the New Zealand Presbyterian Church expressed her confidence in him as a minister, theological teacher and Principal of Knox College. He was named in this year’s list as Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (equivalent to Knight Grand Companion). Truly “truth is fallen in the street and equity cannot enter” (Is 59:14).
The late Rev William MacLean, at that time minister in Gisborne, said in a sermon on the Resurrection of Christ: “The Christ of Principal Geering is a false Christ, not the Christ of God and of the Church universal in all ages and lands. Whatever claims Principal Geering may lay to gifts and to scholarship, his soul is still in the death and darkness of unregeneracy. He is a wandering star without hope and without God in the world, heading heedlessly towards the blackness of darkness in a lost and undone eternity.”
A few years after the heresy trial, in 1970, the Presbyterian church officially dissociated herself from Professor Geering’s views but yet permitted him to continue sowing his heretical views and infecting countless people with the cancer of unbelief. He never resigned and he was never disciplined; so he continues in good standing. Mr MacLean, in his annual report to the Synod in May 1968, wrote of the conservatives in that denomination: “The so-called Evangelicals of the Westminster Fellowship in the Presbyterian Church proved themselves the spineless successors of the sons of Ephraim who faintly turned back in the day of battle (Ps 78:9). Not a single one of them even dissented from the decision of the Assembly exonerating Principal Geering. Their claim to hold to the Confession of Faith is false and unfounded.” JATvD
America’s New President
It seems strange to those who live on this side of the Atlantic that Presidents in the USA – with its unscriptural emphasis on the separation of church and state – should display their religion so prominently. In the UK, on the other hand, most of today’s prominent politicians seem distinguished for their disregard of religious observance.
One does not need to expect that America’s new President, George W Bush, will take a consistently scriptural stance although, like some of his predecessors, he claims to be born again. At what has been described as “an inaugural prayer service”, a rabbi, a Greek Orthodox priest, a Roman Catholic cardinal-to-be and Protestant ministers all prayed for President Bush. Such inclusivism may be good politics, but it is not God-honouring.
In a welcome move, however, on his first day in office, the new President banned international agencies from using American funds to support abortion abroad. This ban was previously introduced by President Reagan but was lifted by President Clinton. It is reported, however, that Britain and other EU countries may step in to provide the funds which America plans to withdraw. It is desperately sad that Britain in particular should become involved like this in supporting the ending of human life in the womb. Over the years the UK Parliament has shown itself unwilling to restrict abortion, although large numbers of unborn infants are having their lives taken from them. We wish we could be more optimistic that Parliament will heed the call by Dr Liam Fox, UK shadow health secretary, for a “huge restriction if not abolition” of abortion. It is almost certain also that there will be no fundamental change in the availability of abortion within the USA under the new administration.