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Friday July 20 2018

Looking Back: When Christians Differ

Speaking at the close of the 1948 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Moderator, the Rt Rev Alexander Macdonald, made a strong (and still relevant) call for tolerance between differing groups of Christians.



[From the Moderator’s Closing Address]

We can no longer be satisfied with increasing our own moral and spiritual stature by seizing upon every error we can detect in the party or group or denomination supposed to be opposed to us. It would be much more wholesome and much more to the point to recognise the truth in the position of others and to bring into the open, fearlessly, the errors in our own views, confessing that even what we term principles may require revision.

It is a source of sorrow that there is so much intolerance still found among us . . . Men and women in our land, who take their stand upon the infallibility of Scripture, and live and meditate and reason as if they had never read such words as, “He that is not against us is on our part.” We come across disciples whose attitude is precisely that of those for whom the Apostle John spoke when he said, “Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name and he followeth not us. And we forbad him, because he followeth not us.”

“He followeth not us.” That has been the age-long grievance. It has been and still is the source of much mischief and misunderstanding, not alone between different denominations, but alas! between differing sections within the one Communion. “He followeth not us.” Therefore forbid him! Muzzle him! Bring his work for Christ to an immediate standstill. You see, “he followeth not us.”

We are not guiltless ourselves. Need we be surprised that those who are not of our fellowship adopt this attitude toward us when we on occasion adopt it toward each other? We had better go to the Master and ask Him to deliver us from intolerance, narrowness, and uncharitableness.

We need, in this our day, in all our Churches . . . to make sure that we have the humility which will help us to grasp the truth in rival claims, the humility which will make us ready to learn from any accredited source; we must, also, make sure that we have the charity which will allow us to respect the fruits of the Spirit in any person, the charity which will allow us to recognise that the groups and denominations into which we are divided are in reality allies and not antagonists.

To controversy, to narrowness, to intolerance, Jesus says: “He that is not against us is for us.” Therefore, let us agree, in the light of our Lord’s teaching and in view of the dark background against which we have to work in this hour, to cherish a spirit of brotherhood towards all the followers of the Lord and to recognise our deep and true unity in Christ our Lord.

Elsewhere in the July 1948 magazine (from which this is taken), the editor recalls: "On the day when Dr. Macdonald received his nomination as Moderator he came into a Committee-room where every chair was already occupied. Several younger ministers rose to offer their seats. With a disclaiming gesture he folded his overcoat and sat down on the floor. Many of us speak of the Christian rightness of 'sitting down in the lowest room,' of being ready to be the least. Fewer of us do it."

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