Below is an article by Catherine Dickie, a member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. It originally appeared on the "Our Confession" website, a site devoted to dialogue between Scottish Presbyterian churches. Catherine runs a blog called ninetysix and ten.
Faced with the astonishing proliferation of presbyterian
denominations in Scotland, some people may be tempted to stop trying to
find a rationale for divisions and new start-ups altogether, and instead
focus on the spiritual unity which believers share regardless of
denomination. Since we’re all believers, can’t we just make allowances
for each other’s tastes and preferences? I don’t really understand why
this latest split had to happen, but isn’t there room for all of us?
Clearly, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the spiritual
unity which all believers share in Christ. Although it’s ‘spiritual’ and
‘invisible’ and ‘mystical’, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking it’s
so abstruse and ethereal as to be unreal or worthless. When the Holy
Spirit unites a soul to Christ in their effectual calling, that soul is
united to the whole body of other believers also united to Christ. In
Christ each individual believer finds his or her ultimate identity, and
so do all believers collectively. Belonging to one denomination rather
than another can do nothing whatsoever to weaken or impinge on this
union or this identity.
But at the same time we need to guard against disparaging the
external, visible, concrete expression of this spiritual union. The
mystical oneness which believers share in Christ by definition should
(according to Scripture) be expressed in visible form: it should be
reflected by the oneness of the visible body under Christ the mystical
head. If I’m spiritually united to my neighbour along the road, how come
we attend a different place of worship on the Lord’s Day? sit with
different groups of people at the Lord’s Table? contribute to a
completely different Sustentation Fund? why isn’t our spiritual oneness
better reflected in concrete, practical oneness?
This is all the more important to remember when we identify ourselves
as presbyterian. The terrible reality about splits in presbyterian
churches is that each of the groups involved in a split is by definition
accusing the other of not really being a church at all. This is the
appalling implication that attaches to any church split, whatever
mitigating factors one side might be able to cite in terms of the
justice of their cause or the godliness of their people.
That’s because, within the presbyterian system, kirk sessions are
meant to work side by side, answering to presbyteries which work side by
side, answering to synods which work side by side, and so on.
But after a split, my congregation is supervised by a kirk session
which competes with yours instead of cooperating – my local presbytery
stands in opposition to yours – my synod can freely ignore yours – the
decisions and declarations of your general assembly have no bearing on
the courts and believers under mine.
Even as I recognise the reality of the Christian professions made in
your congregation and value your minister’s preaching gifts and
appreciate the witness that you make for the truth, at the very same
time your church courts and mine are antagonistic to each other – they
each refuse to recognise the other’s authority and jurisdiction.
This is entirely incompatible with the Scriptural way of how the
Church should be run. And this is why we cannot duck out of
acknowledging that the current situation in Scotland, with our
multiplicity of competing denominations, is unsustainable. The Church
was never meant to be like this, and we cannot hope for the Cause to
flourish if we turn a blind eye to the wrongness of the situation, or
paper over the cracks by using informal ways of exploiting the spiritual
unity at the expense of sorting out the concrete disunity. This place
just isn’t big enough for all of us.
For more, see here.