AN EXAMINATION OF THE “MANUAL OF THE PRACTICE OF THE FREE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF SCOTLAND BASED ON THE PRACTICE OF THE FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND IN HER SEVERAL COURTS”
The manual of practice of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPCS) in pdf format:
Chapter 1: The Kirk Session- Its Constitution, Powers, and Functions - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs1.pdf
Chapter 1 Supplement: The Deacons’ Court- Its Constitution, Powers, and Functions - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs1a.pdf
Chapter 2: The Presbytery- Its Constitution, Powers, and Functions - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs2.pdf
Chapter 3: The Synod- Its Constitution, Powers, and Functions - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs3.pdf
Chapter 4: Discipline - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcs4.pdf
Appendix 1: Historical Documents - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp1.pdf
Appendix 2: Election and Admission of Office-Bearers - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp2.pdf
Appendix 3: The Synod - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp3.pdf
Appendix 4: Regulations for Reception and Training of Students for the Ministry - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp4.pdf
Appendix 5: Training of the Ministry Committee - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp5.pdf
Appendix 6 and 7: Property and Finance / Foreign Missions and Overseas Stations - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp67.pdf
Appendix 8: Resolutions Relating to Church Privileges - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp8.pdf
Appendix 9: Discipline - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp9.pdf
Appendix 10: Forms and Styles - http://www.puritans.net/news/fpcsapp10.pdf
Comments about the manual:
The first chapter of the manual addresses many important issues relevant to the Kirk Session of a local congregation. One very important issue covered in this chapter, and relevant to all, concerns the admission to the ordinances, including membership in full communion. The manual rightly stipulates that it is the Kirk Session which has been authorized by God in the first place to judge who may be admitted to the ordinances, including membership in full communion.
The manual lists 5 qualifications for admission to the ordinances, including membership in full communion. These qualifications, and these alone, must be the rules by which a Kirk Session judges whether someone is to be admitted to the ordinances, including membership in full communion. These 5 qualifications are:
The first qualification concerns one’s personal confession of faith. What is meant by the phrase “the standards of the Church” is defined in various sections of the manual. For example, in a section on creed subscription, the manual says this: “The Synod, therefore believing that the Westminster Confession of Faith, as received by the Church of Scotland in 1647, is founded upon the Word of God, and agreeable thereto, cannot accept the view that this Church will at any time be at liberty to depart from the doctrine, government, mode of worship, and discipline which the said Confession sets forth, and which all office-bearers have solemnly engaged to assert, maintain and defend.” The “Deed of Separation of 14th August, 1893”, which is also included in this manual, sheds additional light on the constitutional standards of the FPCS: “the constitution of said Church as settled in 1843 is contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647, the First and Second Book of Disciplines, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Claim Declaration and Protest of 1842, the Protest of 1843, the Act of Separation and Deed of Demission executed in the last mentioned year…” Consequently, according to the manual, no one should be admitted to the ordinances, including membership in full communion, whose confession of beliefs is openly at variance with the doctrines of the Word of God summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as received by the Church of Scotland in 1647.
The second qualification concerns one’s manner of life and conduct, as outwardly observable. It must be characterized thus: “becoming the gospel”. This apparently must be understood within the context of the first qualification, so that “life and conversation” are consistent with “the word of God and the standards of the Church.”
The third qualification concerns one’s knowledge. There must be a sufficient knowledge of the doctrines of the Word of God, as they are summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith. For most communicant members, that knowledge of these doctrines comes by way of the Shorter Catechism.
It is necessary for communicant membership that a member be catechized **and** agree with the doctrines in which they have been catechized. In principle, one agreeing with the doctrines outlined in the Westminster Shorter Catechism agrees with the doctrines in the Westminster Confession (and the Westminster Larger Catechism). However, the thoroughness of understanding required in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is clearly less than exhibited in the Westminster Confession (and the Westminster Larger Catechism). In becoming a communicant member of the FPCS, there is an implicit swearing of agreement to the doctrines learned in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. But this is less than is required of elders, because elders are required to know more.
The fourth and fifth qualifications are some specific cases which the Church has had to address over the course of its history. They are really subsumed under the first two qualifications, but have presumably been separated out for emphasis.
In the Appendices the subject of “open communion” is addressed. It notes that “open communion” has been the historic position of the Church of Scotland. Here is what it then meant. A member of the reformed Church of the Netherlands visiting a communion of the Church of Scotland, was allowed communion, if there was agreement with the standards of the Church of Scotland by the visitor. In other words, there was no loosening of the requirement of agreement in the standards for visitors; just a recognition that the Church of Scotland was not the only true church on earth. It must be kept in mind that members in the reformed Church of the Netherlands at that time would have held to the same basic reformed faith as a member of the Church of Scotland. The doctrines outlined in the Heidelberg Catechism are in essence the same as those in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which the members in these churches would have been catechized in. The FPCS has affirmed in its Manual of Practice a continuance of its policy concerning “open communion”. But it in no way indicates a break with the past in the manner that was understood.
One issue that has come up is whether Baptists should be admitted to communion. In ancient Israel, uncircumcised males, as well as fathers refusing to circumcise their sons, were refused communion. This principle abides. Accordingly, during the Reformation, neither Baptists nor Anabaptists were allowed communion in the reformed churches. It was the intention of those who wrote the Westminster Standards to forbid communion to Baptists and Anabaptists. (That is why the issue is addressed in the Shorter Catechism, for instance.) The FPCS Manual of Practice itself makes no provision for those who unrepentantly disagree with the doctrines they would have learned in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (and that includes its position on baptism) to partake in communion. If some local church does otherwise, they are going against the weight of scripture and the historical practice of the Reformed churches. This does not mean to imply that no Baptists are regenerate. But the issue of who may partake is distinct from who may be regenerate. John the Baptist as an infant was regenerate, but he would not have been permitted communion in the Passover. And the man in I Corinthians 5 was probably regenerate, but he was not permitted communion until he repented of his sin. The same can be said about the way the FPCS does not allow women with earrings to take communion. There are I am sure regenerate women who wear earrings. But they should not be allowed communion until they stop wearing earrings. So allowing communion to Baptists is against these stated constitutional standards of the FPCS.
The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly points out that no church will be able to fully live up to its constitutional standards, if those standards are Biblical. But if the constitutional standards of a church are right, and the church is seeking to live consistent with those standards (albeit not perfect in its execution), then it is a church worthy of joining. On areas where we fall short, iron should sharpen iron, to bring us closer to what we should be.