Its’ been a month since the Free Church’s General Assembly finished, and so we thought we’d finish off this blog reminding you of some of the decisions which are going to be affecting the Free Church this coming year. We also wanted to look ahead, sharing some of our ideas about a future forum for discussing a Biblical worldview and how we build our lives and denomination on it.
Overall, we were really encouraged by the General Assembly’s meetings and decisions. Here are the key things we covered, with a brief summary of each:
The Retiring Moderator’s Address – As per custom, the outgoing Moderator of the General Assembly, David Robertson, was invited to speak at the start of the Assembly, an opportunity he made much of. As is his strength, he addressed some of the issues in today’s culture and how we respond. To define the times in which we live, he spoke of apathy, anxiety, alienation and anger. The way people cope with such a mixture of negatives is with pleasure, power, peace (or desire for it) and pain (trying to avoid it). While all this might seem overwhelming to us as Christians, David had suggestions for the church with which we’d heartily agree: Biblical evangelism, church planting, reality, radicalism and relationships. This was a really helpful talk, and timely for all of us. However, we’d reiterate our statement at the time of our reflections on the address that we take time to stop and think through what David said, instead of moving quickly on to the next item. For a full transcript, click here and here. We actually split reflections on the address into two blogs, the second of which covered some practical out-workings of his speech. These included the dangers of reducing ‘church’ to buildings and their management, and of putting ‘mission’ before theology in a rush to ‘bring people to Jesus.’ Some solutions included working with the local, national and international church, and focusing on prayer, preaching and corporate worship.
We are grateful for David’s ongoing work. Please keep praying for him.
The Board of Trustees Report – This was a wide-ranging report without doubt, covering finance, communications and education. The first of these, finance, was pretty positive as the forecast for this year was a £1million shortfall, whereas it actually came to £45,000. While encouraging, James Fraser, chairman of the Board, urged against complacency, especially since the Church’s activities are attracting more demands for its resources. Good stewardship is essential. The second issue the Board dealt with was communications, which covers websites and public media, among other things. One of the major topics they raised was the need to have “position papers” on topics where there would likely be a divergence between public policy and Christian belief. This is a very important area for the church nationally, as it must have a principled stand based on a Biblical worldview, rather than be simply reactionary. Thirdly and finally, the Board addressed the issue of Christian education, covering schooling and the suggestion of setting up a Christian university. Discussion of Christian education is becoming ever-more relevant in a day when the church needs a worldview formed by scripture to stand in the face of advancing secularism.
Mission Board, Board of Ministry and Board of Seminary – Although these boards deserved far more coverage in terms of highlighting their individual qualities, we chose to group them in order to bring into focus their joint emphasis – mission.
We first drew attention to the Board of Seminary, the chair of which, Malcolm Maclean, spoke about a new course in historical theology and the aims of the seminary as it looks to an unclear future, namely to equip pastors with a knowledge of the Bible which they can share with the Scotland of today. Iver Martin, Principal of the Seminary, made mention of completed and planned improvements to the seminary building, particularly with a view to establishing a mission centre there.
The second Board we looked at was the Mission Board which shared its key principles with the Assembly. They also highlighted the mission work abroad, work already happening and also in the pipeline. This involved a vision for places as distant and diverse as Cambodia, Nepal, Central Asia and South Sudan. In sharing their hopes for the future work of the denomination, they informed the Assembly that if congregations were at able to increase their contributions to their work, it would result in real benefit to the Church at home and abroad. For example, if 100 congregations were able to offer an extra £100 each month, it would result in £120,000 going directly into mission work – this could fund a new missionary and a new church plant . What a difference this would make to the country, and many others!
The final Board was the Board of Ministry , which told the Assembly about current encouragements (including an increase in candidates for Free Church ministry and newly welcomed ministers from outwith the denomination participating in this year’s General Assembly). There is also a great need, too. We remember our Lord’s words that the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few, and we are to pray the Lord of the harvest would send more labourers into the fields. Please pray he would do so, and graciously make use of the Free Church’s efforts to equip them.
Hopefully you can see, as we reflected in our [link here] how integral mission is to the church. As we said there, mission is at its most basic making Jesus and his gospel known to those around us, and this is the goal these Boards have. Please pray they would maintain this goal.
Interview with John Nicholls – This year’s Moderator of the Free Church very kindly agreed to an interview with us as part of the General Assembly blog reflections. Explaining a little of his own background, John Nicholls then went on to say why he had chosen Matthew 28:18-20 as the text of his Moderatorial Address, where he described the first actions of Jesus and his followers after the resurrection. He also encouraged us daily to delight in God’s word, counsel not only for Assembly commissioners but for every Christian. He went on to explain the reasons for and workings of the Assembly, and to offer some personal highlights from the week as well as suggestions of room for improvement. Thank you, John, for taking the time to give us such a helpful interview.
National Day of Prayer – This was an important item at the Assembly for both of us, not least for Andy because he had introduced it to the meeting. All we have spoken about here, and all the hopes we have as a denomination for the spiritual wellbeing of the country, is entirely dependent on prayer. This is not because “prayer changes things” but because God changes things – we plan and work and then call on our heavenly Father to give the spiritual growth we cannot manufacture ourselves. He does not bow to our plans, but we in prayer submit to his and he gives us success in our labours for his kingdom. Please read over the piece on the National Day of Prayer, and daily ask God’s blessing in the spread and effect of the gospel in Scotland.
For more details of what went on at the General Assembly, take a look at our previous blogposts [link here].
As we’ve seen again today, there were a lot of positives to be taken from the General Assembly. These now need to be put into practice, through individual Christians, congregations and the Boards we entrust with so much responsibility. The need to make the gospel our priority and have scripture influence our every thought and action has never been more important, especially in light of events in our country in recent days - referendum on EU membership.