The RPCS website is reporting that Rev. Kenneth Stewart, formerly minister of Dowanvale Free Church, has applied to join the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
As well as being pastor of the 200-strong Dowanvale congregation, Mr Stewart’s sermons were also broadcast live to Paisley Free Church.
Mr Stewart comes from North Uist and his wife is from Lewis. They have 5 childen. The 47-year-old was minister in Scalpay, Canada and Stornoway before ministering in Dowanvale for the past decade. He spoke alongside Dale Ralph Davis at last year’s Scottish Reformed Conference – you can listen to his sermon from it here, and sermons preached in Dowanvale here.
The decision comes after the Free Church voted in November to allow hymns and instrumental music in public worship. Mr Stewart believes that those voting for the change have broken their ordination vows, and he could not continue in a church which required him to support the new position. As he said in a pastoral statement two days after the vote:
“While it appears obvious to me that all ministers and elders who voted for this change have not honoured their vows, I hope you will appreciate that even for those like me who dissented from the decision, the consequences are serious: as I see matters, I am now in a church which requires me to own the new position on worship, to declare that it is founded on the word of God and to assert, maintain and defend it.
I must also not attempt in any way to prejudice or subvert it and must follow no divisive course from it. I cannot do any of this. And the church ought not to have required me to do it. Even the church has no right to alter the meaning of my vows without my consent.
I seems clear to me, therefore, that in spite of a lifelong adherence to the Free Church and a lifelong commitment to it, I can no longer continue in it, at least not in office.”
Mr Stewart also believed that the decision was reached in an unconstitutional manner (see his Response to the Decisions of the Plenary Assembly (pdf)) and initially sought to see the decision reversed, before resigning at the beginning of February.
He wrote in his resignation letter than the change was ‘unconfessional and unconstitutional’. He added:
It has become clear to me that the church is either unwilling or unable to deal with this situation in a way which will restore the integrity and discipline of the church and preserve its own constitutional base intact.
This is a recipe for further deterioration which I suspect will not take too long to appear.
As he had written a few weeks before:
For myself, I have always been a deeply committed Free Churchman. I have never campaigned against her in my life. However, it is principles that matter and not the names of denominations: I, for one, will stay with scripture and with a confessional constitution which I value and will not be blindly led by labels, movements and parties. The Church of Christ is bigger than the Free Church of Scotland, and if she insists on abandoning her confessional and constitutional heritage, she cannot expect to retain the loyalty of those people for whom that heritage is more important than her name.
The Lord is sovereign, and who can doubt that he is shaking the Scottish churches? This shaking will be done in God’s way and in God’s time, and who amongst us knows how the ecclesiastical landscape may look when he is done with it?