Donald Macleod on the Free Church’s trajectory

“The worry is that repeated concessions on ‘things that don’t matter’ will one day completely change our identity. By the time we have praise-bands, responses, leadership-teams, dedication services, god-parents, junior churches and ministers trained by apprenticeships rather than educated by a rigorous theological curriculum, we’ll disappear in a shallow Evangelical mainstream clever enough to avoid heresy, but only at the price of diplomatic silence on the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith.”

The above comes from a post entitled ‘Should Presbyterians have dedication services’, in response to St Peter’s Free Church offering infant blessings and dedications as well as baptisms.

David Robertson’s response (while unlikely to convince Confessional Presbyterians to follow his lead) does provide an interesting critique of traditional Free Church attitudes to covenant children:

– “The Confession is quite clear that it is children of believers who are to be baptised…But the Free Church has in some areas (especially Lewis and the Highlands) operated a policy which is in contradiction of that. Following Kennedy’s lead it has been argued that the qualifications for the sacrament of baptism are lesser than that required for communion. Thus we ended up with the situation where in areas where the Free Church was de facto the parish church or sought to be, children of non-believing adherents who would not have been admitted to communion, were baptised. One minister told me that the main reason for doing this was simply that they did not want to lose their adherents to the Church of Scotland. Another told me that he would baptise anyone who asked. The elders I mentioned above spoke of how they regarded this practice as farcical. I remember one case where we refused baptism to a non-believing adherent and they just went to another Free Church where their child was baptised. I believe that it is this policy that has done far more to undermine the practice and the biblical understanding of baptism, than any infant dedication service ever has or will do. And yet I cannot recall Donald Macleod writing against this all too common practice. Why? If his concern is confessional adherence and uniformity of practice why the silence?”

– “In 1945 the Free Church and the ‘Liberated’ Churches in the Netherlands both had around 20,000 members, adherents and children. In the year 2000 I did a wee bit of research and discovered that whereas the Free Church had halved to 10,000 the Liberated had gone up to 120,000 plus. Why? What was the difference? It was not that the Liberated were better at evangelism, but rather that they retained their young people whilst we leaked ours like a sieve! When I went to Dundee in 1992 I eventually found around 20 children of Free Church office bearers – only one of whom attended the Free Church, and most of whom attended no church. These were children of office bearers – not just ordinary members. Another research project I did found that between 1990 and 1994 the Sunday schools in Lewis declined by 25%. Yet another found that of 40 baptised children in one Sutherland Free Church – only one was still in the Free Church.”