08 April, 2008

Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Efforts in St. Louis

On Thursday, April 3rd the North American Presbytery of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) held worship and informational services in the St. Louis area. Rev. Sherman Isbell of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Congregation led the services. This is in conjunction with an effort by the Presbytery to plant Churches throughout the nation.

Many thanks unto the Lord for his kind and generous provision in granting the opportunity to meet and worship together. It was personally encouraging to hear the preaching of God’s word, sing the Lord’s praise and enjoy fellowship with fellow Christians. Our prayer is that this would be blessed by God as the beginning of an established work in the area. Currently we have an evening Bible study which meets on the evenings of the Lord’s day, and are looking to establish weekly worship services in the area.

Mr. Jim Merkel, a reporter of the South County Suburban Journal, wrote on the event in an article you can find online here: http://southcountyjournal.stltoday.com/articles/2008/04/07/news/sj2tn20080407-0409ssj-scot0.ii1.txt.I personally offer my gratitude to Mr. Merkel and the Journal for reporting on the event. I thought it might prove helpful and beneficial to offer some further comments regarding the Free Church and some of the principles mentioned in the article. For a quick statement on identifying features of the Free Church, please consult the following link: http://www.masterstrumpet.org/features.pdf. Also the denominational website, http://www.freekirkcontinuing.co.uk/FCC/Welcome.html and the Washington congregational site, http://members.aol.com/RSISBELL/church.html will provide a helpful introduction to the Church.

Some of the principles mentioned in the article by Mr. Merkel include purity of worship, Sabbath observance and the civil establishment of true religion. At the foundation of all the principles held dear by the Free Church is the belief that the true God has revealed himself in Scripture. Thus, we view the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments to be the ultimate authority of all life, including issues of faith and practice. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This idea is enshrined in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The second question asks, “What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?” To this the answer supplied reads, “The word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.”

Consequentially, we believe that Scripture is a sufficient guide and rule for all matters of doctrine and practice. As once prominent American theologian John L. Girardeau wrote, “A divine warrant is necessary for every element of doctrine, government and worship in the Church; that is, whatsoever in these spheres is not commanded in the Scriptures, either expressly or by good and necessary consequence from their statements, is forbidden.” One of our subordinate standards, the Westminster Confession states the same principle in chapter 20, section 1: “the instituted way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to…any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

This belief manifests in the non-accompanied psalm singing in every worship service. Whereas many of us involved in the Free Church cherish such hymns as “Amazing Grace” by John Newton or “Not What My Hands Have Done” by Horatius Bonar among many other such hymns, we find no warrant given to us in Scripture to offer such hymns to our sovereign and holy God. This is not to say that there is not much edifying and enjoyable content in uninspired hymns. However, when we read the Scriptural testimony we find the command to sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16), which are technical titles referring to the Old Testament book of Psalms. Moreover, we find that God has provided us not only with the command to praise him, but also with an entire book that form the content of that praise. At first glance this seems overly restrictive and unnecessary to many. However, if we take the word of God seriously, we cannot find any command to offer uninspired hymns unto the Lord in public worship. For more on psalm singing, please visit the following weblink: http://members.aol.com/rsichurch/worship.html. Particularly helpful is John Keddie’s, Sing the Lord’s Song, which is available by scrolling down the link above.
With reference to Christian Sabbath observance, we cherish the first day of the week as the instituted day of worship. God has kindly hedged off one day in seven that we can rest from our labors and seek the Lord’s face. To aid us in doing so, he has commanded that we cease from our normal routine. This includes such things as lawful but unnecessary employment and recreation. In the Old Covenant, God had instituted the last day of the week as the Sabbath. From Christ’s resurrection onward, the Sabbath continues on the first day of the week in honor of our Lord’s victory over sin, death and hell. Along with the Sabbath command found in Exodus 20:8-11, we also find the following from the book of Isaiah, chapter 58:13-14: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”Certainly works of necessity and mercy are permitted upon the Christian Sabbath. As our Lord taught, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27). We should help those who are in need, visit the sick, orphaned, homeless, and so on. We do these for the very reason we do anything: God has commanded such to be done. Moreover, in such behavior we image God who is a father to the fatherless and merciful in all his ways. It is equally necessary that we tend to the needs of our body in eating, clothing and so on. One may wish to consult the Westminster Confession, chapter 20 for more regarding the Sabbath: http://members.aol.com/rsichurch/faith.html. Also see James MacGregor’s writings on the subject beginning here: http://members.aol.com/RSIGRACE/sabbath1.html.

Something that cannot be expressed so well on paper is the Free Church's commitment to experiencing salvation. Whereas we join with other Presbyterian and Reformed Christians in emphasizing doctrine, the role of reason in religion, and right behavior, we also emphasize the desperate need we have of actually experiencing the grace of God continually. We are far from interested in merely seeing the thinking of the Church and world reformed according to Scripture. Rather, we teach and emphasize doctrine in hope that the Holy Spirit would awaken the conscience of each sinner to his desperate need to repent of his sin and believe in the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, we emphasize the need for the continual ministry of the Spirit in the daily life of each believer. We believe ardently in the necessity of truth and Spirit. Our testimony is: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). And, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:12-14).
We recognize that not every believer is at the same state of maturity, discernment and sanctification. Thus we welcome all believers who are interested in worshipping our Lord in accordance to his word. Moreover, as Scripture teaches that God has ordained the preaching of the Gospel to be the means of converting lost sinners to Jesus Christ, we welcome anyone interested in learning more about the truth of God in Christ our Lord.

My last word, and the one I wish to emphasize and be emphasized more than any other, is that at our very root we prize the sovereign grace of God to sinners. This grace we prize has been revealed in Scripture, accomplished by Jesus Christ, and is applied by the Holy Spirit. Our greatest desire and our greatest emphasis is preaching Christ crucified for sinners. Although we deeply treasure and appreciate the Church principles mentioned above, would ever stand fast for their divine authority, and work and pray to the end that they would again be embraced by all believers in Jesus; the most treasured of all is that the true God of all men has sent his Son Jesus Christ to be crucified on behalf of sinners. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:16-17). If we maintain the other principles but forfeit the grace of God in Jesus Christ alone, we have failed and become useless though all men should join with us. Christ crucified, resurrected and reigning is our deepest and most solemn commitment. Christ is our life. Christ is our testimony. Christ is our all.

Please feel free to respond with any comments or questions. You may also email me at jmattull1643@gmail.com.
Kindest regards,
Jonathan Mattull


Anonymous said...

Just wondering whether you are worshiping on Sunday mornings in the St. Louis area? The article was not entirely clear about that. If so, what time and what is the address?

Jonathan said...

Thank you for your question. We do not yet gather for worship on Sunday mornings. However, we do gather for an evening Bible study in the afternoon and evening. The study meets at 5 p.m. in a home off of Olive. We open the study with a psalm and prayer. After this we read and study Scripture; currently we are working through Ephesians. To close, we sing another psalm, pray and discuss any other questions, etc. If you email or call, I would be happy to provide you with the address.

We have been in contact with churches who do not have evening services in hope of establishing worship in the area. If the Lord would open the door for such, I will post the information on this site.

If you are interested in meeting with us on a Sunday evening, please let me know. We would be very happy to have you.