02 September 2017

Why I’m training for ministry with the Free Church of Scotland

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Ahead of my first day as an assistant minister in training with Roskeen Free Chruch and beginning further training at ETS I thought I would write this post for those wondering how this worship leader came to join the Free Church of Scotland.

I grew up in the Highlands having never attended a Free Church.  When I came to faith as an adult I decided I would never ever step foot in “one of those churches.”  You see the Free Church had a reputation in Scotland, a reputation for being an oppressive, controlling, backwards, legalistic, joyless, judgemental institution that laid heavy burdens on peoples shoulders and did nothing to help lift them.  Furthermore, I was told that they had a great disliking of music and the arts in general, consequently, I presumed a music graduate and worship leader like myself would never be welcome in one of their churches with my guitar.

To me, this seemed a great travesty, for the very Gospel that Jesus entrusted to his church was not one of oppression, legalism or joyless expressions of faith, but a message of freedom and hope, of life in the Spirit.  As for music,  had the Free Church never considered the etymology of the word “psalm,” or the palpable irony of singing a prescriptive psalm like 150 without any instrumentation?

Like so many things in life, a historical reputation is not always representative of present reality.  In 2013 I returned to the Highlands having worked as the musical coordinator at Methodist Central Hall Westminster.  I was then recruited by Rev Joe Barnard  (Former minister at Kiltarlity Free Church) to assist with the music ministry at the growing congregation.   As it turns out, I was the judgmental one!  For what I found there was a not what I had been taught to believe about the Free Church.  This was the most welcoming congregation I had ever been to.  It was a real gospel driven community characterized by a love of God and love of neighbor and boy they loved singing!  A family of believers whose desire was to be a community pleasing to Jesus.  They celebrated the Gospel with music and preached the good news of salvation through Christ alone whilst encouraging members to pursue greater holiness through cultivating the mindset of the Spirit. They were not the “chosen frozen” caricatures that culture and other denominations in Scotland have made them out to be.  Whatever their history I found this community to be warm and friendly and compassionate. They didn’t dress down for church but neither did they dress up. After a heavy week’s work, I found I was able to gather with Gods people, have a proper Sabbath rest and not have to pretend to be someone else or dress up to fit in.

The Free Church moderator Derok Lamont in responding to a recent Census on national church decline recently wrote:

The Free Church has often been the object of mockery and derision in Scotland – a typecast parody – dull, black and negative – insular and judgemental. Doubtless there is much for which we need to be forgiven – but we have also fought hard over the last decade during which some of the current research has been done, to bring the unchanging, living and powerful message of the Gospel to a new generation. It is living truth from the Living God, so will always be contemporary, cutting edge and supremely relevant. So, as a Church, we want to reach out with His love – it is tough because the authority and love of Christ challenges the genesis of so many of the core values of our secular society – it is about ultimate truth, human value, image, identity, guilt and forgiveness, life and death, hope and despair: the big issues. 

Yet, we know the reality of Christ’s forgiveness and transforming power in our own lives – even if we are often a poor reflection of what we should be. We rejoice in the growth of some Scottish churches as well as seeing Christianity flourish in many parts of the world, despite it being the object, in some places, of the severest persecution.”[1]

I am joining the Free Church because:

Love Matters.

The Free Church desires to love Scotland with the love of the Biblical Jesus, Not a wishy washy love that tries to endorse, accommodate and embrace the values and ethics of the surrounding culture.  I want to be a part of a movement that is so radical in its love that it is willing to be an offence for loves sake. It is a denomination that confronts and exposes the worship idols of Scotland and seeks the wellbeing of our nation calling sinners back to faith and trust in the risen Jesus.

Doctrine Matters.

The Free Church denominationally holds to a robust reformed theology.  Good theology leading to faithful practice matters to Jesus (Jesus hates the teaching of the Nicolations).  More and more mainline denominations are acting outside the clear boundaries’ of God’s revealed word whether it be the endorsing  of homosexual practice in the church, transgenderism, or prioritising the pursuit of ecstatic extreme charismata at the expense of growth into Godly spiritual maturity.

Worship Matters.

Even though I have expressed many times that I think exclusive psalmody is an extra biblical tradition, I am so grateful to be a part of a denomination that puts the singing of Psalms (accompanied or not) in the centre of its worship as this is a thoroughly biblical command (Col 3:16).  I am fully convinced that the church is malnourished and Christian growth to maturity is being stunted because the singing of God’s word in community is being lost.  Whilst there is so much I feel the Free church could learn from from other denominations on the musical front, they have a passion for singing Gods word and to this end Its psalmody committee has produced some truly excellent metrical translations of Scripture in recent years that are unrivalled lyrically by most contemporary Christian music.

I love Jesus, I love my country I am excited about the Free Church’s clear vision for mission and its current strategy for establishing more gospel centered communities in Scotland.  Whatever the Free churches past reputation it is not reflective of the present reality and I feel honoured to belong to a group so passionate about reaching the nation for Jesus.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

 

[1] Derek Lamont “Designate Moderator Responds to Scottish Church Census”

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