As we head towards the General Assembly next week, my hope and prayer is that we will deal with the important issues – one of which is how we reach the hundreds of thousands of people who live in Scotland’s schemes. To my mind, it is fanciful to think that the Free Church will be able to do this. We will need to partner with others. The Lord has provided us with a great opportunity to partner with Twenty Schemes. The three Fere Church men interviewed by Mez above are a great credit to the church – and we must do the utmost we can to support them. They are getting considerable support from outwith – but I would argue that it is essential that they get more from within.
Apart from the main reason – that the people in Scotland’s schemes need Christ – there is another reason that should be true but often isn’t. Presbyterianism should be ideal for planting new churches in poor areas. Why? Because it is a fundamental principle for the Free Church that the strong support the weak. We believe that the value of a ministry is not determined by the size of your church, or its givings. If you want to understand this a bit more, read Chalmers famous six lectures on the Establishment, where he argued for churches being set up in poorer areas and pointed out that independency would result in far more churches in richer areas.
My fear is that we have both forgotten our history and don’t really care. It is absurd that our church planters in poorer areas have to look for funding from the US. If the Free Church does not exist for the poor – I wonder what we do exist for? By the way – it’s not just that we should support the Free Church men who are working with Twenty Schemes; in the spirit of Christian generosity and biblical ecumenism, we should be helping the Baptists and others as well.
Another reason that our Presbyterianism is so helpful for church planting is shown in the video above. Andrew Mathison, a 20 Schemes Church planter in Lochee in Dundee, had, in an earlier interview, stated that he would not accept Presbyterians into membership, because he is the pastor of a Baptist church. Andy is a good man who is doing a good work and he is being consistent with his Baptist and independent principles. May the Lord richly bless him. Because they are an independent church, whose doctrine can be voted on by the membership, they have to ensure that all members who join do sign up to that doctrine. But that makes the task of church planting in the schemes harder – because it means you cannot accept into membership, Christians who have different views.
In the Presbyterian setup, we have a different perspective which is more conducive to church planting. Why? Because any believer can be a member of the Free Church, no matter what they believe on secondary issues. Thus in St Peters we have Baptists, Pentecostals, Anglicans, Charismatics and several other shades of Christianity. How does this not result in factions and anarchy? Because only those who sign up to our Confession of Faith can become office bearers. Our doctrine is determined by our elders (and the wider church), not by congregational meetings – or constitutions that can be changed. This allows us to be flexible in admitting to membership, whilst retaining church discipline and doctrine.
“Secondly, these ‘indifferent’ matters, therefore, are not the grounds on which we admit someone to church membership.” Lloyd Jones – Romans 14 p. 25).
Be that as it may – I love the interview above and I hope you will take the time to listen to it and benefit from it as much as I did. There is great hope for Scotland when the Lord is calling such young men to serve him in the hard places!
And for those who are prepared to criticise Twenty Schemes (and as with all organisations and churches there will be plenty to criticise) I leave you with D L Moody’s riposte when someone complained about his evangelism: ” You may be right, but I prefer the way I evangelise, to the way you don’t”. Mez McConnel may be an outsider to Scotland – but sometimes it takes outsiders to show us the way. I thank God for him – and I hope that we will have 200 scheme churches in Scotland – not just 20. Can the Free Church not set a goal of having 20 Free Churches as part of that great movement? Can we not follow the trail that Twenty Schemes have blazed?
PS. In the interests of full disclosure one of the men above is my son…guess which!