An Historic Assembly: Details of the Free Church of Scotland decision to drop the 167 year-old tradition of non-instrument exclusive psalmody

Editor’s Note: David Robertson, pastor of St. Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, Scotland, had recorded a full account of what happened at the extraordinary Free Church Assembly which changed the Free Church’s position on worship. Robertson was one of the members of the Assembly who advocated the change that was ultimately approved.

The Plenary Assembly – November 18th and 19th, 2010

Friday Evening
The Assembly began with a packed Assembly hall with almost 200 commissioners singing Psalm 122 (one of the many lessons from this Assembly is that it is possible to do a plenary assembly in Edinburgh – St Columba’s was an excellent venue).

The Moderator, Rev. David Meredith (Smithton), read and then preached from John 16:1-16, the main points of which were 1) The Spirit filled church does not talk much about the Holy Spirit but often about Jesus Christ.2) The Spirit filled church is not bound by human boundaries.3) The Spirit filled church is a church that realizes that the Spirit has a ministry of conviction and of comfort.

The Assembly then sang Psalm 119-40.

Papers were distributed. As well as the Board of Trustees report which effectively argued for the status quo with some amending of the legislation on public worship, amendments were tabled by the following:

1) Rev. Alex MacDonald (Buccleuch and Greyfriars) – Kirk Sessions to be allowed to sanction other materials of praise as well as psalms and instrumental music.

2) Rev. Dr Fergus MacDonald (retired, Edinburgh) – Kirk Sessions to be allowed to sanction instrumental music but not other materials of praise.

3) Donald Jack (Leith) – Wanted public services of worship to be defined as ‘the services ordinarily held on the Lord’s Day and communion services”.

4) Rev. Malcolm Macleod (Shawbost, Lewis) – supported the Board’s deliverance and wants it to be declared ‘divisive and disruptive‘ to ‘promote views which are contrary to the 1905 act’.

5) Roderick Finlayson (Canada) – supported the Board and wanted a reminder of the Confessions teaching of what worship actually is.

6) Rev. Dr Donald M MacDonald (retired, Edinburgh) – Wanted the Assembly to draw up a list of portions of scripture suitable for singing, in addition to the psalms.

7) Alex MacDonald – wanted a change to the Standing orders to allow all the motions on the same subject to be voted for at once this was asked in order to prevent tactical voting.

The Assembly Arrangements Committee reported. On a vote being taken Mr. MacDonald’s motion carried

Iain K Macleod (Coatbridge) presented the report of the Board

Questions were asked:
· Rev. David Robertson (Dundee) – How did the Board know that Kirk Sessions were 70% in favour of option A being the biblical position?
· Rev. Gordon Matheson (Sleat and Strath) – Why show tolerance on psalms/paraphrases but not on musical instruments?
· Evan MacDonald (Glasgow City)– what evidence do you have that the commands to use musical instruments in the psalms have been abolished? He would leave this to his seconder to answer
· Rev. Dr Colin Dow (Glasgow City) – Asked the assembly to pray for Iain Macleod, due to personal circumstances. What impact will this have on wider evangelical unity in Scotland? I don’t know. I fear the evidence that it would have a positive impact is slim. There were other matters that would stop wider evangelical unity.
· Rev. Calum Iain Macleod (Barvas) – Why has the chairman not presented the report? I thank the Chairman, James Fraser, for his leadership and hard work. He did not present the report because he did not back it.
· Alex MacDonald – why does the report not have the scriptural basis for the position? We did not feel it would serve a good purpose to commission yet another report, which may or may not have been read. There was a deliberate choice not to multiply papers.
· Rev. Roddy Rankine (Kyle and Lochalsh) – Give us a scriptural reason for the definition of public worship? The origin of the phrase goes back to 1781. I can’t point to a text. It’s a phrase that has emerged in Scotland. – A relatively recent distinction.
· Roddy Rankine – Does the living God looks to see where it is public and not public? Did God just start to do that in 1781? -We talk about worship, we have certain rules about worship…..

The Report was moved by Mr. Iain K. Macleod

Rev. James Maciver (Knock) seconded. This was not going to be a scriptural treatise. He paid tribute to all who contributed the papers. 1905 Act was sufficient. It is the question of divine authority. What are we authorized to use? Not about the context.
How should churches proceed when there are differences on these matters? Why should we proceed against the majority of Kirk Sessions preferred positions? There are not many things we should put above the unity of the Church.

We have moved from OT worship to NT worship. Are musical instruments an inherent part of ceremonial worship? Are they meant to continue? Are they typical? Figurative?
We don’t do sacrifices any more –there is an accumulative argument.

What is commanded to be used but what is not commanded is not to be used.
The NT church had no uninspired items of praise in the first two centuries. Confessional – Scottish commissioners made it clear it was OT psalms.
Historical – Chalcedon banned singing of uninspired materials in church. Calvin.
All of us want to do what is right in the eyes of God.

Dr Donald MacDonald presented his addendum which was to the effect that other parts of Scripture should be versified for praise. He gave several examples. He wanted faithful renditions of the Scriptures. Should be given to Psalmody committee to enact.

Malcolm Macleod – Where does a paraphrase end and a hymn start? They should be as close to the original as possible.

Dr Macdonald moved. Seconded by John MacPherson. He said that this would be sung scripture rather than paraphrases.

Calum Macleod presented his addendum. He welcomed option A – which he called the unity option. The longer the process continues the more the unity is threatened. There was a need for closure. This kind of open debate is no longer permissible. We need to connect what we have done in the past and what we hope to do the future. The freedom granted in 2007 should now be withdrawn.

Dr Fergus MacDonald – what impact would this have on the freedom of Free Church ministers to participate in the worship of other denominations?
– None. Applies only to Free Church of Scotland

Rev. Angus Macrae (Dingwall) – Can we personally hold other views?
Yes – but not promote them.

David Robertson – What happens for those who cannot assert, maintain and defend the current position under ‘this unity option’? I can’t say, leave it to the Assembly.
– Not good enough. We are bound by our vows and this would inevitably lead to discipline.- That would be up to the Assembly.

Joe McFee (Stornoway) – is there any precedent for seeking closure?
Yes – the FCDA in 2000.

The motion was moved and seconded.

Roderick Finlayson moved that any act of worship at any time any where, must always be offered in the light of the Confession. Where one or any combination of prayer, the reading of Scripture, sound preaching, singing of psalms etc was present (this basically means that any act of worship in any context should be considered public).

Alex MacDonald suggested it should be treated as an amendment rather than an addendum (an amendment alters the report, an addendum just adds to it).

Rev. Kenny Stewart (Dowanvale) asked why? What was it amending?

Alex MacDonald explained how Mr. Finlayson’s motion was tighter and stricter.

Dr Fergus MacDonald asked if the quotation re psalms was different to the boards support of materials.
– He was just restating the WCF. He believed psalms means psalms.

There was considerable questioning about what exactly Mr. Finlayson met.

Rev. Iver Martin (Stornoway) – does this mean that if we have a Sunday School outing that it is an act of public worship?
Yes – if we call people to pray that is worship.

Dr George Coghill (Aberdeen) – Can I sing hymns in my own home?
– it is permissible to sing hymns in one’s home. If we are then going to worship we should then separate the two.

The question of whether it was an amendment or addendum was referred to the Friday.

Alex MacDonald presented his amendment – to allow instruments and other items of praise. (see copy of speech on page). This speech was somewhat surreally accompanied by the sound of drummers outside – the moderators suggested that these were Mr. Robertson’s supporters!

Iain Macleod – does he recognize that the Boards report does give liberty to sing the name of Jesus?
Yes – but very limited. Not allowed to sing biblical doctrine.

Rev. Dr Iain D. Campbell (Point)- where in the Bible are we commanded to sing the name of Jesus?
– The new song worthy is the Lamb. Surely if we are going to sing biblical truth then the name of Jesus, which is so precious to us, should be sung.

– Thanks- what about visiting ministers? What does this mean?
In a Free Church if we had a visiting Free Church minister who objected then we should bow to his scruples.

Kenny Stewart – Does the Assembly have a more restrictive view than the KS?
– Yes because there are people with different views.

What about on a Kirk Session?
– yes you have to work it out. It’s not just simply a majority vote.

What about members? Should they not be respected?
– Should be done with sensitivity.

Donald Jack – As Bob Dylan said ‘The Times they are a changing’! (much laughter) Does he envision that psalms would be accompanied by instrumental music or precentors?
-Why not both?

He was concerned about redundant precentors?
– It depends on the precentor!

Rev. Donald MacDonald (Retired) – how accurate is it to describe the 1900-1904 church as hymn singing?
– It was a church that allowed hymn singing – never made it a constitutional question.

And they kept the legislation of the 19th Century in place until after the Court Case.

Rev. Farquhar Renwick (Knockbain) – Who do you understand we are singing to when we are singing the Lord is my Shepherd?
Jesus – but what’s wrong with singing Jesus is Lord

Joe McFee – What do you mean by mocked and pilloried?
– The report does not give any scriptural basis and it looks as though it is just tradition.
So we will be mocked.

Duncan Macleod (Canada) – are we now becoming congregational churches when we leave it up to Kirk Sessions?
-No. It’s part of our Presbyterianism that Kirk Sessions already administer communion etc.

Calum Iain Macleod – Does not unity in diversity equates to a disjointed and dysfunctional denomination.
– At the moment the danger is that we are disjointed and dysfunctional. This would give a better way to work. That is a more honest way of maintaining our unity than trying to pretend that we are all going to follow the same way.

How do you think that we are disjointed and dysfunctional?
– Because we have not been able to defend this biblically. The Board has not been able to do that. They say “There is a difference of opinion so try and tinker about with the legislation”. But let’s not just go the route of Alasdair I or Kenny Stewart.

Rev. Gordon Martin (Urray) – If the command to use instruments is not rescinded – how do you account for NT practice? We are not sure what NT practice was. Plus early church fathers had a view of culture which neither Calvin nor ourselves would accept. Just because the NT church did something does not make it right.

James MacIver – how can you assert, maintain and defend the practice if you do not think it to be biblical?
– He can in his own congregation. I would hope he would see that others were seeking to be biblical as well.
Does it not mean that a minister could not be considered by certain congregations?
– Yes – that already happens. E.g., he could not get a call to a Gaelic congregation? Or David Robertson with his views would not get a call to some congregations.
Does this not make the minister more important?
We already have this – the minister already chooses the worship.

Charlie Douglas (Leith)– what will the Free Church gain by introducing music?
– Those who believe that this is biblical. They can join and will stay. It could also add to the praise.

Kenny Stewart – If the regulative principle requires this, why should we be allowed to not have instrumental music?
– Because we have different views and understanding of the regulative principle. The way forward is to recognize that there is diversity of opinion on this.

Questions ended and the Assembly adjourned for the evening at 10 pm.

Friday Morning –
The day began at 9am with an hour of prayer where around 12 men led in prayer. A necessary sense of perspective was instilled by the prayers for young Oliver Gill, a seriously ill baby, and the news of the death of the mother of Rev. Duncan Macleod.

10 am – business resumed.

Rev. Neil MacMillan (Home Missions Board) seconded Alex MacDonald’s amendment. Said that we must be able to sing about Jesus in other ways. The report says that we will back the current practice because the majority of Kirk Sessions say so. There are few of us who think that singing hymns and using musical instruments is sinful – hence the proposed repeal of the 1910 Act. It if it sinful we should not do it anywhere. How can worship be acceptable to God in another church but not in the Free Church?

The Board says we must both permit and forbid the practice. I can speak out a hymn in church, but singing it is unacceptable. The report leaves us in a confused position that provides no basis for unity. What do we mean when we are talking about public worship? The result of the Boards report will be a greater diversity of practice and further disunity. The deliverance will undermine our worship, discipline and unity. If you intend to vote for the deliverance for any other reason than biblical reasons then you have no right to limit my conscience…it goes against the Confession’s teaching on liberty of conscience.

Musical instruments – psalms were written to be sung with musical instruments. Those who seek change are not seeking to destroy the Free Church. We have served the church faithfully for years.

Donald Jack moved his amendment – he wanted to give an opportunity to everybody on whatever side of the debate. Preserve services on Lord’s Day and Communions – but you can conduct services on other days in different ways. What hymns are we going to have? We could not sing onward Christian Soldiers ‘we are not divided’. Amazing Grace – ‘how precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed’ – was very subjective. He is seeking to open a way to introduce hymns and instrumental music. There was considerable amusement as Mr. Jack sought to bring in other material but was not allowed to be the Moderator. He had heard a Free Church worship service using a praise band – he has a recording of it. It horrified him.

Bill MacLelland (Aberdeen) – asked about his daughter who felt she could not attend Leith because she is a music teacher who writes praise songs.
– first time he had heard of anyone thinking like this. She could go elsewhere.

Evan MacDonald (Glasgow City) was confused.
– Mr. Jack was not able to help.

Neil Macmillan – is Mr. Jack not aware that many people are put off by our worship? Many of us have experienced this.
There are people like that. They just have itchy feet.

David Robertson – did he consider psalms to be subjective?
-Yes .

Dr Fergus MacDonald introduced his amendment to allow instruments but not hymns.
Why have we not come to a consensus? NT evidence is ambiguous. That must be the only reason we have come to a different conclusion. There is a degree of ambiguity in the NT so that should give us freedom. There is permissible a degree of diversity.
Follow the apostolic model – Paul’s counsel concerning food. There was a compromise. There was ‘give and take’. His motion would create a win/win and lose/lose. Such a solution will not please everyone – that is why it is attractive.
NT church did sing hymns. But others have a different conscience. So I have to respect them. (the question then becomes why do this for hymns and not for instrumental music).
The OT mandate has not been rescinded for instrumental music. He wanted instrumental accompaniment of moderate decibels! The crucial point is what the NT church teaches us. No Church court has a God given right to forbid instrumental music. Again referred to Alasdair I Macleod’s paper. If we cannot be reconciled on this issue, how can we offer the Gospel of reconciliation to a divided world?

Dr Iain D Campbell – should we only use the paraphrases that the church itself produces?
No – I don’t think so.

Calum Iain Macleod asked about paraphrases.
Iain K Macleod – Did the churches use musical accompaniment in Antioch etc?
– we don’t know.
Angus Macrae – The middle way works at a congregational level. Should a local church be bound by another local church 200 miles away.
– Acts 15 was one example of a general council.

Rev. Nigel Anderson (Livingston) – Are you excluding hymns?
– Yes .

Rev. Dr John MacKintosh (Free Church College) – Would they have to be authorized?
– No just the text of Scripture.

Rev. Kenneth D. Macleod (Livonia) – Given that both sides as so well informed how does Paul’s theology of the weaker brother?
– both are weak and strong. It is a question of perspective.

Roddy Macleod (Buccleuch) – surely we have a lot of inspired materials – why not Amazing Grace?
– he is speaking of scriptural inspiration.

Kenny Stewart – can you elaborate on an inconsistent hermeneutic?
– What you have stated is an inference. Who says that instruments are just ceremonial?

Rev. Iain Thomson (East Kilbride) – do you not think it is strange that there was silence. We have scriptural proof that infants were baptized?
– NT is silent on a lot. Not used after NT was due to cultural reasons. The mandate was not withdrawn.

Rev. Donald MacDonald – The NT is not silent – Galatians calls ceremonial law weak and beggarly elements.
– No I would not agree.

Rev. Alex Cowie (Partick) – should we have directors of music like in the OT?
– It varied in the OT. Our precentors are already directors of music.

Alex MacDonald – Why allow Scripture song to be sung, rather than scriptural doctrine?
– Paul’s approach – pragmatic not doctrinal. This is the model of resolving a difference.
What is the difference between my amendment and yours?
– I am asking for give and take.

Gordon Matheson seconded – we are disunited on this issue and we need to find a way to go forward together. We are diverse. We are already diverse on issues such as baptism and the KJV. We are facing irrational things – we may lose ministers, become congregational. Musical instruments are figurative and symbolic. If this is the case – then what are they symbolic of? Quoted 1 Chronicles 16 and Revelation. As regards the argument from history what about the silence re justification by faith over several centuries. Why are we arguing against hymns? Does this border on the ridiculous? His car works and it hasn’t reached the end of its life. The same with our singing paraphrases. Why rush to change?
What is the unity option? Not the Boards report – our discipline is a mess. The unity option is to compromise. Can we have a unanimous way forward?

Finally with all the amendments moved, seconded and questioned, the debate began!

Rev. Willie Mackay (retired) – The timing of this debate is inappropriate because of the work on Sing Psalms. Opening up a controversial issue so soon after 2000 was inappropriate. The Free Church case was that there was no change in the doctrine, worship etc of the Free Church. Should not continue until we discuss the vows. Scripture alone is the basis for singing. 22 verses in 17 psalms mention musical instruments – only a small proportion. Jesus used psalms during his ministry. Do we not think that the psalms are about Christ? The songs are guaranteed. Those who have poetic gifts should use their gifts.

Kenneth Macleod (Livonia) – Claimed to be the baby face of the Free Church, but he was older than he looks. Spoke of the authority of God and how elders and ministers govern through a quickened conscience and the Word of God….our conscience has authority. You have to rule over your people. You are governors. You have to govern according to conscience….and your conscience has to be informed……we are polarized through discernment. Both sides have a position of conscience. Both are equally strong…..we have a formal process which deals with conscience which is called the Barrier Act. If we can’t agree then we part.

Murdo Murchison (Dunblane) – As a Trustee he had dissented from the Trustees report. Went back 40 years to when he first sang a hymn as a youngster. They taught him about Christ. He had to lay that aside for many years. He is still not sure how he would vote…probably vote for the deliverance. It will keep us together.

Rev. Allan Macleod (Toronto) – spoke of his personal experience. And of his accapella singing on football terraces. Never thought he would see the day that we would be gathered at a plenary assembly discussing the nature and form of our worship . He was a prophet and predicted this would happen. This is the thin end of the wedge. Hymns is the thin end of the wedge. Fear of tolerance – forbear with one another. The incarnation, the person of Christ. Will we become a broad church. He would love to have Jimmy Page etc in his congregation but not on the Lord’s Day. If it’s good enough for the Lord is it not good enough for us? Every denomination becomes liberal if they go this route. The genie is out of the bottle but we need to put it back in.

Rev. Derek Lamont (St Columba’s) – Great for the spirit so far. Disappointed with the emphasis of the Boards report. We were not a democracy. He appealed to those who believed in exclusive psalmody. Option A is not an exclusive psalmody position – so how can you vote for it? Be honest to conscience and heart. The good that comes out of this is that it will drive us to our knees.

Rev. Alasdair MacDonald (Dunblane) – He always endeavours to try and please the majority. Thinks there will be sadness on anyway we vote. Four retired hymn singing ministers respect the practice of the church – they do it for unity. Unity is a precious and delicate child. This could strike at the root of our churches unity. So many Kirk Sessions are happy with the status quo. Will we risk change? Let unity be the umpire. Unity is paramount.

Roddy Rankine – What is the unity option? He mentioned the presence of the public. Scripture is not clear and so we should allow variety. The genie is out the bottle – we have been given liberty and now we are being asked to assert, maintain and defend what we do not believe. How can you ask me to do that? The Board’s report is fatally flawed on the issue of defining public worship. Does God have one kind of worship on one occasion and another on another. We are bringing in something that is unscriptural. God is not a legalist.

There was then a break for lunch…

Friday Afternoon
Rev. Dr Malcolm Maclean (Greyfriars) – There was only one command re singing and it refers to psalms, psalms and psalms.

Rev. Iver Martin (Stornoway) – spoke in favour of Alex’s amendment. He realised he would not win many friends at home. Did not want it in Stornoway but thought there should be liberty. Had lots of questions. Was 99% of Christendom wrong including the people who write our sermons – Spurgeon, Lloyd Jones, etc? He did not believe that many Sessions discussed things biblically. We should not have a vote by Session. We are Presbyterians. We need to take into consideration the wider implications. How can some men stay in the Free Church if we ask men to assert, maintain and defend a position they no longer hold? Which option will better advance the Reformed faith in Scotland? The tide of secularism is emptying our churches. We could be a lot stronger….we can’t do it as we are by ourselves. We need to incorporate people who are the same as us in theology but have a different view of worship. We cannot have the ‘so what, take it or leave it’ approach. Our church would be decimated if those who did not agree with our position left. Who is the Free Church? Our people? Or our distinctives? A secondary issue is keeping our church in a weaker situation. This is 2010 where the church is a thing of the past – not 1910. Lets keep everyone on board. We can only do that by allowing for a slightly wider accessible church. I am putting my neck on the line for this…this amendment is the key for the churches real future. Are you going to stand in the way of congregations who for the good of the Gospel want to sing NT song? Without this there will be no church, and where there is no church, there will be no worship. Why should we cut of our nose to spite our face?

Dr Ian MacIver (Ferintosh) – spoke of how a wedge did not always develop.

Peter Morrison (Glasgow City) – spoke in support of the amendment – spoke of gospel partnerships and of punters questions.

Craig Murray (Kilmallie) – The congregation’s theology is created by our praise. He was concerned about the artificial distinction between public and private worship.

Rev. Iain Beaton (Lennoxtown) – spoke of his disappointment at the lack of scripture. Gave examples of music in worship…The Jews stopped having music in synagogues many centuries ago but that was because they were in mourning. Are we still in mourning?

James Fraser (Chairman of the Trustees) – spoke against the Trustees report – although he defended some aspects of it. The churches position is flawed
1) We have little scriptural warrant
2) It is not a unity option because it is weak – we have tried to patch over it. Especially the nonsense around public worship.
3) We have total ambiguity re the vows. We cannot be satisfied with having vows that mean one thing to one person and another to another. Two principles that we can use – Which way of going forward would help us to be sola scriptura? The way set out in the amendment. Gives maximum opportunity but does not force people to change. The second principle is the unity principle.

Dr George Coghill – He would like to have supported Fergus’s option. But in listening to Alex MacDonald’s amendment he realised it allowed for diversity. So his vows were fine. So he couldn’t vote against it…He thought that we have no liberty to read anything other than the Word of God. Why does praise not lie on the same basis as the reading of the Word? People coming in won’t understand what’s being said – but what about Amazing Grace – it doesn’t mention Jesus and it’s not easy to understand.

Kenny Stewart – spoke for the deliverance although he did not like the report… shows all the marks of having being prepared by someone who did not agree with it. It majors far too much on the Dingwall conference. The scriptural case is absent from the report. Closure is important. We must be careful in terms of raising questions. He was wary of the open definition of worship and supported Rod Finlayson’s addendum. He disagreed with Alasdair I’s interpretation of the new song. The sound of the instruments symbolise joy, energy, excitement. The church’s praise has always been inspired. After redemptive acts songs are commissioned to be written and they are written. It’s strange to allow Sessions to decide. And he did have a difficulty with paraphrases.

David Robertson – Had asked the Assembly two years ago for Scriptural evidence for our position. Still waiting. Read from 1 Chron 13:8, Heb 13:15 and Hebrews 9:1-10. “The simplest of all principles of biblical interpretation is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture” The trouble is that we are trying to establish NT worship with OT principles and therefore we are getting in a lot of trouble. There were no detailed rules in the NT, just principles. So why are church buildings circumstantial, and musical instruments elements?
“Conscience has authority”. We govern by our consciences. No we don’t. It is tyranny governed by others. The Barrier Act has nothing to do with conscience.
The early church did not use instruments, but it did sing hymns. Cited Augustine (thanks to John Ross) – “cymbals touch each others in order to play and therefore some people compare them to lips”. As regards thin end of the wedge – it was arrogant to say every church that did not have our position was liberal. He apologized to the PCA brother.
Let unity be the umpire – no. If it is not a unity based on Scripture it is nothing.
As regards the threat of legal action – Claim, Declaration and Protest was against allowing the courts to determine our worship. Chalmers was for music in the church. Calvin was not exclusive psalmody. The report itself is meaningless in its definition of public worship. It will lead to anarchy and atomization. Imagine Paul in Ephesus – saying now the worship is over hand me my guitar for fellowship. You are asking me to assert maintain and defend something I do not believe. I can’t be a hypocrite. Mr. Stewart had stated “after redemptive acts songs are commissioned to be written and they are written”. What greater redemptive acts are there than the life, cross, resurrection and ascension of Christ? Can we not write songs about these?
If you want unity then it cannot be the Boards report – it must be Mr. MacDonald’s amendment.

Dr Iain D Campbell – I want to remain in the same Church both the previous speakers. Agrees with Kenny Stewart on the worship issue. Very pro psalms etc. Bad stewardship of money to spend so much on instruments. We have heard both done well – our tradition and hymns and instruments…and both done badly. I am going to support Alex’s amendment. The Board of Trustees report does not support my position, Alex’s does. What is he going to do with his brethren who have argued so biblically and well who believe they can use hymns and musical instruments? I cannot just disfellowship them. I have come to the view that this is about uniformity, not psalms/hymns etc. Should we all be doing the same thing? What am I going to say to our young people? We are educating them in the Reformed faith and many of them are leaving us. They have come to different views. And they are going to mixed denominations. I want to keep them in our church. The amendment protects the psalms, binds us to our confessional church, it protects the unity of the church, it ensures that there will be a conclusion to this issue. I am going to support it because it is going to free me to get on with the work of outreach, and evangelism to a Scotland that does not care for the things we love. If we do not see change then it will be comfortable for me, but bad for our church. That is why as a psalm singer I support the amendment.

Dr Donald MacDonald – spoke in favour of the amendment.

Rev. Chris Smart (Ferintosh)– This was a problem coming home to roost. We have
allowed differences of worship overseas. The Swedish church could not join with us. The same in Spain. The same in London – our South African church plant could not take the vows. There is a Brazilian church plant but it will go elsewhere. Dundee and St Andrews and others trying to reach out. Buccleuch is now doing something. Colin Dow doing that in the Glasgow City Church amongst the Kenyans. In the Black Isle there are people who can’t come in because of the form of worship. If we could move it would help these tiny little churches. We need a two winged bird – great worship and great preaching. The public/private worship debate. Doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to want to serve Jesus but feel that you have this extra burden. Please give us a little bit of flexibility. Cut the cord and let the burden fall from our backs. Then we will march better together.

Chris Redmond – Dowanvale – spoke of the shorter catechism. He is worried that he sees and hears very little about scripture but so much about pragmatic details. He hears so little about the authoritative word of God. He was worried about the young folks from Dowanvale. If God is clear there should only be one option. Is God divided or unclear or are we incompetent to decide? We should go for the greater interprets the lesser. I can confess Jesus with my understanding. Our problem is subjectivism – we are discussing two different views of scripture. We are plunging ourselves back in to the pit. I am not happy with it. Why do people leave? People make choice on the basis of taste. Is the word being preached convincingly from the pulpit. Keeping the children… will our children consider this? The problem we have is because we have accommodated people not scripture – that is what Alex MacDonald’s amendment is about.

Iain K Macleod replied to the comments:
Thanked the moderator for being fair and all who spoke. Did not accept Mr. Jack’s amendment. No one wants the instruments mentioned in the OT today….’when the curtain was rent the instruments went’. Paul must have told the people you use instruments – (what about buildings). If we accept musical accompaniment we move one step away from the apostle’s church. The Boards approach does involve give and take, is intended to make peace, etc. The current official position accommodates exclusive psalmody and paraphrases. Those who want change are not imposing it on congregations, but they are on the whole Church. The vows bind us. Repeated that 75% of the church had voted against – alienating it would not be wise. It would change the character of the Free Church of Scotland forever. The report is more flexible than Mr. MacDonald’s. He mentioned again the huge step forward mentioned by Alasdair I. Mentioned Public worship – there is a responsibility that people act sensibly. Devised by clever and subtle men. We can have our cake and eat it. Support the Board’s deliverance.

The Big Vote….

This was to be done by show of hands…

1) Calum Macleod’s amendment v. the Board (Mr. Macleod basically wanted to tighten things and forbid further discussion) – Board carries overwhelmingly.

2) Rod Finlayson amendment v. The Board (Mr. Finlayson wanted to clarify what public worship was in Confessional terms) – Board carried overwhelmingly.
Now the various amendments were put forward….
The Board, Alex MacDonald’s Amendment – Instrument and other songs. Fergus MacDonald’s’ Amendment – Instruments only
Donald Jack’s Amendment – Board plus tighten on what is public worship.

After round 1 – Mr. Jack’s was defeated and Mr. MacDonald withdrew.

On a straight vote between Mr. MacDonald’s and the Board. Mr. MacDonald’s won 98 v. 84.

The Barrier Act
The Clerk then advised that in his opinion this should go under the Barrier Act, however it was up to the Assembly.

David Robertson argued that the requirements of the Barrier Act had already been met in that a full consultation had taken place and the decision had been taken by a plenary assembly. Therefore to take a decision by a plenary assembly and ask it to be decided by a minority assembly would be contrary to the purpose and intent of the Barrier Act. This would lead to confusion, disbelief, disunity and a constitutional crisis.

After some discussion, during which Mr. Iain K Macleod, the mover of the Board’s defeated motion, expressed his support for Mr. Robertson’s motion, the Assembly voted by a large majority to support Mr. Robertson’s motion. Therefore Mr. Alex MacDonald’s motion became the final finding of the plenary assembly.

A number of commissioners dissented, as was their right, but overall the Assembly finished on a bright and harmonious note of praise. Thus ended a long process and an amazing day.

David Robertson is a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. He is currently serving as the pastor of St. Peter’s Church, Dundee (a pulpit once filled by Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He serves as editor for the Free Church of Scotland Monthly magazine, as well as being chaplain to international students for the University of Dundee Football Club. This article first appeared on his blog, and is reprinted with his permission.