Saturday, 22 May 2010

The Free Church General Assembly

The 2010 General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland finished yesterday. How does one measure it? If assessed on lack of major disagreements or the absence of controversy, it was successful. Of course, lack of disagreement in itself is not always a definite sign of harmony. It may only mean that areas of potential divergence were not on the agenda. Or if judged by the firm control of the Moderator (David Merideth of Smithton Free Church), whose authority ensured that there was very little waffle or time-wasting comments, the Assembly was successful because everything ran smoothly. It was unusual watching those responsible for arranging the programme responding to having too much free time.

There were highlights for me, three in particular. (1) Douglas MacKeddie’s retiring sermon in which he focussed on, among other matters, the appropriate ways by which the Lord Jesus spoke the truth to a variety of people was a challenge to me, and no doubt to others, as to how to speak at the General Assembly and elsewhere. (2) The Moderator’s lecture on the Exciting Church was a reminder that neither the Bible nor church history, including Free Church history, endorses the existence of a church or denomination that conveys a sense that no spiritual excitements happen in its services. (3) The International Mission evening was the highlight I enjoyed the most, especially the contribution of Rev. Billy Graham as he described features of mission work in south Africa; there was a definite sense of the felt presence of God as he spoke, and if such a palpable effect happened in every service we would indeed be an exciting church. These occasions will be remembered by me.

I usually get the impression (very subjective, I know) that General Assemblies are the closure of an ecclesiastical year rather than the catalyst for the year ahead. Maybe it is because we get several reports looking back to what has happened. This Assembly was different in that some future plans for church revitalisation in Scotland were presented and hopefully they will exceed even the largest expectations of their most enthusiastic supporters.

Yet as I sit here thinking about the Assembly, I do not sense that it has very much to say to the people to whom I will be ministering tomorrow. I have prepared an accurate summary for the congregational newsletter, but for some reason it sounds a bit detached from where most of them are. I am not anticipating lots of questions about it and I suspect that is the challenge facing the Assembly. It meets, makes decisions, but what does it bring about that will enliven the Christian experience of our congregations and get them to value its role? I wish I knew the answer.

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