Interview with the Librarian (3)

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The final part of an interview with Sandy Finlayson, (part 1, part 2) on his two books 'Unity and Diversity' and 'Bitesize Biography - Thomas Chalmers'


These men accomplished an enormous amount, as I read the book I was exhausted at just how devoted to the ministry they were, none seemed to suffer from laziness any reflections on that?



I think all of these men understood how to prioritize their time. They knew what was important and focused their energies on that. In some ways they were fortunate that they didn't have some of the distractions we have now. There wasn't temptation to start personal "ministries" that supplanted the work of the local church. And they didn't have endless conferences to spend time at, talking about how to do ministry. Rather they were busy doing what God called them to. I also suspect that the whole notion of parachurch conferences would have puzzled them. They would have thought it odd to be spending time outside of their parishes when there were sermons to prepare, students to teach and the poor to care for who were on their doorsteps.



You've recently written on Thomas Chalmers in the Bitesize Biographies series, give us 3 good reasons why we need to read about Thomas Chalmers



For all of his leadership in the wider church, Thomas Chalmers was, first and foremost, committed to the local church. The churches that he served in Glasgow made a positive difference in their communities. Through his preaching, the light of the gospel shone forth; through the schools and the work carried out by an active eldership and diaconate, lives were changed. Chalmers also clearly recognized that for the local church to succeed, the work of the ministry had to be shared. His Glasgow parishes only succeeded because there were small armies of people who had caught Chalmers's vision for the church, and who were prepared to devote themselves wholeheartedly to the work of the church.  In our day we tend to place as much if not more emphasis on the megastars in the church or those who draw the crowds on the conference circuit. We would do well to recapture the idea that if Christianity was going to transform lives, it will to happen through the presence of a faithful, worshipping and caring church in every community.


Second, Chalmers's life and ministry frequently addressed the wider issues of his day. He spoke about issues as diverse as who should have the right to vote, issues of poverty, homelessness and education, to name but a few. While he was careful to not take explicitly political sides in these discussions, his theology did have a public face. And he believed strongly that with God's help, the church's views would be heard. Chalmers would not have recognized the prevailing pessimism of many twenty-first century Christians. Instead of wringing our hands over the secularization of society and the marginalization of the church, Chalmers would be telling us to get busy and bring the gospel to bear on every area of life.


Third, Chalmers was someone who believed that Christians should have inquiring minds and should be interested in all areas of life. He wrote on economics, mathematics and political economy to name a few. He believed that the gospel spoke to every area of life and that there should be Christian voices in all of these fields. We need to be encouraging Christians to take an active role in these and other fields and not allow the secular religion of our day to win the battle for minds by default, because we are afraid to speak.



The big question I was left with from the book was how does a denomination remain confessional as these men were and yet have a diversity in ministry in the longer term? what would be warning signs to look out for?


It is possible to have both unity and diversity so long as there is agreement on the essentials of the faith. We as individuals or as churches don't have to look exactly the same but we do need to be committed to the core doctrines of the faith.  Presbyterian churches have Scripture and our Confession of Faith and we need to be prepared to stand by these and to have them, rather than the spirit of the age, regulate what we believe and what we do.


The Free Church remained confessional as long as there was commitment to Scripture and to the Confession. But in the latter part of the 19th century the Free Church lost her way when the pressures for church union became stronger than the desire to remain faithful. It's not that anyone decided they weren't going to be faithful anymore; it's just that the perceived advantages of wider union and a bigger church overwhelmed basic theological commitments

Posted April 1, 2015 @ 11:16 AM by Paul Levy

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