Confessional, Compassionate, Contextual

A few days ago David Strain of LCPC wrote about his reflections on the Free Church of Scotland General Assembly which took place in Edinburgh last week. Of particular interest to him was the moderator’s opening address to the assembly. David subsequently posted the complete transcript on his blog, and you can find a pdf on the FCS site. David encouraged us to read the address.

Well, I have done so, and I liked it too. It is one of the most interesting things I have read on the net for a while.

As a resident in Glasgow in the 1980s I had a grudging respect for the FCS. It was, and is, strictly confessional (i.e. doctrinally sound). But I have to confess there were some barriers for me:

  • it held, and still does, to exclusive psalmody
  • it seems to be mostly a church for highlanders in the north or ones exiled to the cities of the Scottish central belt.
  • it was inward looking, only concerned about doctrinal details and not about mission, though it has always had missionary interest on foreign shores.

To me the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland seemed to be where God was at work with a more outward facing gospel ministry. I heard it said, so the rest of this sentence is third-hand or more, that Donald MacLeod (of the FCS) believed that if revival was going to come to Scotland it was going to come through this evangelical ministry in the CoS.

Rev. John Ross’s address to the FCS assembly has knocked my long-held views sideways. Whatever the limitations of the text compared to the address itself, the text was pretty moving. It seems to me to present a vision of the church and its mission to Scotland which is firmly in the spirit of Thomas Chalmers’ legacy. It is summarised in the memorable alliterated headings: Confessional, Compassionate, Contextual.

Confessional, seeking unity with other Westminster Confession churches (I have been to villages in the north where there are four churches serving tens of people) and seeking to link arms with other evangelicals.

Compassionate, following our Lord Jesus in our being moved by the whole spectrum of human suffering. Mr Ross said, “Compassion authenticates the gospel”.

Contextual, following the Lord who “…accommodated himself to us.” Ross quotes J H Bavinck,

Abstract, disembodied and history-less sinners do not exist; only very concrete sinners exist, whose sinful life is determined and characterised by all sorts of cultural and historical factors… I must bring the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ to the whole man, in his concrete existence, in his everyday environment. It is obviously then a great error on my part if I do not take a person’s culture and history seriously.

Yes, abstract, disembodied and history-less sinners. What a description! Who has not thought about people like that?

I urge all of you to read it and see what you think.

Confessional, Compassionate, Contextual

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