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Free Church School in Theology 2015

The 63rd Free Church School in Theology met in Carronvale House, Larbert, from 7th to School10th September 2015. Though numbers were slightly down on previous years there was still plenty of warm and joyful fellowship, and included brethren from various churches throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Each day began with a pray meeting, followed by a hearty breakfast, which in turn was followed by a time of devotion led by one of the men. Then the morning session began which included either a missionary report or various book reviews and that morning’s theological paper.

The men would break for lunch, and just like Luther’s table talk much theological discussion around the mornings deliberations would take place around the various dinning tables. After a short period of free time the afternoon session would take place where another paper would be delivered and well received. Dinner and plenty more of table talk was enjoyed and followed by the evening session which included the final paper of that day. The meetings would come to a close with a time of worship and then the fellowship and discussions would often carry on into the early hours of the next day.

The conference was opened by the Rev Timothy J McGlynn (Aberdeen FCC), who spoke on that Monday evening on ‘John Huss and the Council of Constance’. He gave a brief history of the life of ‘Jan Huss(goose)’, who was a Czech priest, philosopher, early Christian reformer and able scholar and Master at Charles University, Prague. Mr McGlynn went on to show how Jan Huss like Wycliffe before him, was a forerunner of the Reformation, who had not only a great influence on the states of Europe, most immediately in the approval of a reformist Bohemian religious denomination, and more than a century later, on Martin Luther himself, who stated once “we are all Hussites”. He spoke on how Jan Huss theology had been greatly influenced by John Wycliffe’s writtings, yet there were some major differences. It was on his similar views of Wycliffe that the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Constance accused him of heresy and ordered him to be executed. Mr McGlynn explained that Jan Huss like many of God’s martyrs before him and many of those who were still to come, endured a humiliating and excruciating painful martyrdom for the cause of Christ and the glory of God.

On Tuesday morning the Rev Raymond A Kemp (Staffin FCC) delivered a paper on the ‘Encouragement in our conflict with Rome’ based on Matt 16:13-20 explained and applied. In setting out the Christological nature of the Gospel of Matthew generally, and the passage specifically, Mr Kemp surveyed the alternative views of what the ‘rock’ was, and while some Protestants hold that the ‘rock’ was Peter they fall short of recognising Peter’s primacy, apostolic succession, or agreeing with the Papacy. The ‘rock’, Mr Kemp held (based upon Scripture), was Christ, or the content of Peter’s Confession. The Encouragement for Christians is that there is a Biblical alternative, and hope that Christ will build His Church, through His Spirit in the preaching of the word and exercise of proper Church discipline. In all of this, the Church is based upon the Bible – not the Bible upon the Church.

This was followed by the Rev Harry J T Woods ( Beauly FCC ) who spoke on ‘Athanasius on the Incarnation’ He introduced the paper by explaining that it was written by Athanasius as a young man, to a young convert for the purpose of grounding him more in the Christian faith. After giving the outline of the brief work he proceeded to draw attention to the considerable areas of Athenasius’ work which are commendable. He then looked at some areas of concern; especially inadequate explanation of the purpose for which the Word became man and the absence of any doctrine of Justification by faith alone. He concluded by considering some of the consequences of these areas as it affects the teaching of the present day Eastern Orthodox Church and the increasing interest that teaching has among Western evangelicals.

On Tuesday evening the Rev William Macleod (Knightswood FCC) spoke on ‘The Call to the Ministry: External, Internal Call’. He stressed the importance of having a call but that one should not look for a supernatural call. God leads a man in his thoughts as he prays and searches the Scriptures. The church recognises that the Lord has laid His hands upon a certain man and that the Bible gives the characteristics of the minister (1&2 Timothy, Titus).

On Wednesday afternoon the Rev Greg MacDonald (Ness FCC) gave ‘An overview of the Book of Amos’. Mr MacDonald gave a thorough overview of this book, showing how it was divided into four sections: 1) Judgements on the pagan nations, 2) Judgements on Israel and covenant nations, 3) Various visions of coming judgements and finally 4) Restoration and covenant fulfilment. He spoke of how Israel’s and Judah’s corrupt worship had severe social consequences and likened God’s judgement on His Church and the social chaos of our day to God’s judgement on His O.T. Church and the social chaos of Amos’ day. I would not be surprised to hear that some of our congregations will be shortly doing a study series on this often neglected book of the Old Testament.

Wednesday evening the Rev Malcolm Watts (Emmanuel Church, Salisbury) delivered his paper. After a short introduction, Mr Watts homed in on the subject and text assigned to him – ‘the love of the Spirit’ (Romans 15:30). It was observed that the apostle Paul in intreating his readers to pray for him – his preservation in danger, his acceptance by Jerusalem believers, and his further usefulness in gospel work – enforces his request with the words, “for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake” and “for the love of the Spirit.” After expounding the former phrase, Malcolm Watts concentrated on the latter, noting two possible interpretations: the love which the Spirit produces in us (so Charles Hodge) and the Holy Spirit’s personal love to God’s elect (so Professor Murray). Mr Watts argued for the latter, and then supplied biblical confirmations of the truth taught in these words. He then considered our experience of the Spirit’s love in the past, present and future, concluding his paper with reference to Heaven where God shall be “all in all” – everything in everyone.

Thursday morning the Rev Kenneth Macdonald (Scalpay FCC) spoke on ‘Fostering Ministerial Friendships’. Using examples from Scripture (David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi) he showed how friendships should and can work. He spoke of how Christ called His disciples friends, but how there can be different levels of friendship, such as His close friendship with Peter James and John. Mr Macdonald said that for a minister, while having elders and members as friends is essential, it is prudent to have as a ‘best friend’ another minister outside the congregation to to share with and to remember that there are some matters best kept between himself and the Lord and for the sake of confidentiality and trust of his people, he will need to bear many matters alone. Mr Macdonald finished by saying that friendship with those of other denominations should be encouraged but if not theologically compatible, then the level of friendship will always be limited.

The School was then concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving to God and the singing of Psalm 133. Indeed it is a good and pleasant thing for brethren to dwell together in unity!

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