Prior to joining the Free Church of Scotland in 2013, I stumbled upon a little Free Church publication called: Our Evangelical Heritage: The Work and Witness of the Free Church. I found the book to be inspiring, in that it combined several testimonies of free church members and ministers which highlighted various aspects of the Free Church of Scotland — past, present and future. It was one of those books that created a thirst for something more than what had become the status quo within broad evangelicalism. There was a robust gospel-centredness about it — despite the fact it was written in 1938 — before "gospel-centredness" became a trendy buzz word.
Yet the problem with church history books — and in fact modern church websites — is that they can often be a poor reflection of a church's present reality. History books can paint a picture of the glory days. Websites can create an illusion that the church is presently living in a glory day — full of excitement, vision, and world-changing potential — then you turn up one Sunday to find out that the website may have exaggerated or the fires which may have been burning when the church first started have long died out.
Anyway, I decided to re-visit this little book today, having been in the Free Church over two years now — in order to see whether or not "it does what it says on the tin". In other words — are the fires still burning? Are the things which inspired me about the 1938 Free Church things which are observable within the movement today?
Before I answer that question, first let me highlight some quotes from the 1938 Free Church which I found to be inspiring.
Chapter One: Our Message for the World by rev, R,M. Knox (Edinburgh)
Having summed up the historic evangelical gospel, Knox says,
"It is our conviction then that the preaching of this gospel, earnestly and effectively, is the most urgent need of our nation today, and that both the Church and State will prosper in the measure in which this message is proclaimed. (p29)
Chapter Two Our Life: The Abiding Presence by Rev G.N.M. Collins (Edinburgh)
"The continued presence of the Holy Spirit therefore is vital, not only to the church's mission, but to her very existence." (p25)
Chapter Three Our Faith: Its Main Foundations by Rev Murdoch MacRae (Kinloch)
"We accept the bible, the whole bible and nothing but the bible as the ground of our faith."
"We accept the Reformed System of Doctrine because it is the doctrine set forth in the Bible."
These there quotes alone are enough to invoke a hearty "Amen!" in response to the words and conviction of the 1938 Free Church.
Many other quotes could be added — quotes taken from sections which highlight the Free Church's commitment to mission, social justice, young people, and cultural engagement.
But what about the 2015 free Church?
Have the fires died? Have the commitments been watered down?
Whilst there have certainly been changes — the 2015 Free Church is not stuck in the cultural time-warp of 1938 — I would argue that the fires have been kindled afresh. There is still a major emphasis on the centrality of the gospel. The Reformed Faith is still the standard. The Bible is still held in high esteem. And mission, and cultural engagement are hot on the agenda. For evidence of this we need look no further than the Moderator's address at the Free Church General assembly in 2015. Regarding the church's commitment to the reformed faith — this can clearly be seen in some of the seminars being released from the Seminary — check out Ligon Duncan's lecture on the Westminster Confession.
Like any denomination, the Free Church is comprised of sinners like you and me. It has weaknesses and failings like any other church. But that being said, in the present days of decline, increasing secularisation and evangelical lukewarmness — there are encouraging signs of grace to be seen within the Free Church of Scotland. Jesus is building His church — and there is still a commitment to the centrality of the gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit and the reformed faith.
So yes, in conjunction with the 1938 Free Church, the 2015 Free Church can still say, regarding the gospel:
"It is our conviction then that the preaching of this gospel, earnestly and effectively, is the most urgent need of our nation today, and that both the Church and State will prosper in the measure in which this message is proclaimed.
And in terms of the Holy Spirit she can still confess that,
"The continued presence of the Holy Spirit therefore is vital, not only to the church's mission, but to her very existence."
And in terms of biblical and reformed commitments the church can still declare:
"We accept the bible, the whole bible and nothing but the bible as the ground of our faith." and "We accept the Reformed System of Doctrine because it is the doctrine set forth in the Bible."
Amen, and to God be the Glory.