2019: What we can and can't know

The prospect of a new year brings many uncertainties. But what if it didn’t have to? What if we could find out what lies ahead? Many try, through fortune tellers, clairvoyants, mediums and so on. In general, we would be right to be sceptical. A couple of years ago, a tweet about a clairvoyant’s show being cancelled due to ‘unforeseen circumstances’ went viral. If the dictionary defines them as ‘someone who claims a supernatural ability to perceive events in the future’, then cancelling a show due to unforeseen events is a bit of a hint that such a claim is unfounded. And yet people continue to turn to them. In words attributed to the novelist G. K. Chesterton, ‘When a man stops believing in God he doesn't believe in nothing, he believes in anything’.


And yet God does not forbid his people from consulting fortune-tellers and mediums because they do not work – the only extended description of a medium in the Bible features someone being successfully called up from the dead. Rather, the prohibition is because going down this route will stop us relying on God.

God wants his people to seek information about the future in a different way from those around them. God does tell us what lies ahead – but he does so in big picture terms. We don’t need to know the details, and we couldn’t cope if we did.

What we can be certain of is that God’s plans for his people are ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope’. That doesn’t mean this life will be easy. Many of God’s people around the world face persecution for their faith. Christians aren’t exempt from illness (physical and mental), tragedy, bereavement and family conflict. Jesus said ‘in this world you will have trouble’. But he also claimed that ‘everyone who believes in me will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day’. 

One of the great uncertainties for many is what comes after death. Even many who are devoutly religious hope they’ll be in Heaven, but are not sure they have done enough to get over the line. That is one thing we don’t need to be in darkness about, however. If we’re hoping that we’ll be good enough to make it, we’ll never get there – but if our faith is in Jesus, our future is secure.

Published in the Stranraer and Wigtownshire Free Press, 27th December 2018

Children in church

Update: Here’s another helpful article, which deals with some criticisms of this position, written after what follows was posted: Mark Jones - Shall children listen to sermons?

Recently, Stephen preached a couple of sermons about Public Worship. In the second sermon, he focused on the question of whether children should be in worship or not.

As promised in the sermon, below are a number of helpful resources on both the theology and practice of having children in worship from as early an age as possible, as well as a number of related issues. Note that a link isn’t necessarily an endorsement of the author or everything they have written.


Rich Holdeman (RPCNA) - Where should your children be during worship?

Daniel R. Hyde - Training children in worship

R. Scott Clark - The mystery of children’s church

Jeremy Walker - Attendance of children in public worship

John & Noël Piper - The family: together in God’s presence

John Piper - Should children sit through big church? (audio below)

Chad Bird - The church doesn’t need children’s church

Micah Anglo / Carl Trueman - How skipping church affects your children

Erik Raymond - Helping children benefit from the sermon

Scott Brown - Why You Ought to Have Your Children With You in Church

Ben Zornes - Corralling the kids as an act of worship

Christina Embree - Church is boring

Nick Batzig - Five reasons to keep the kids in

Tricia Gillespie - Teach kids to sit still

David Robertson - Children, the family and the church

Nicholas Davis - Let the little children come into big church

Neil Stewart - Remember, remember


Robbie Castleman - Parenting in the Pew

Daniel R. Hyde - The Nursery of the Holy Spirit

Jason Helopoulos - Let the Children worship

Previous sermons

Stephen has previously touched on this topic in sermons on Mark 10:13-16 - once at a baptism the week we started our current crèche (where he explained the intention that children would need it for as short a time as possible), and once as part of a series on Mark’s gospel.

Both times he quoted Gordon Keddie, formerly the RPCS minister in Wishaw and now in America, who said:

‘One of the huge errors in Scotland been the banishment of children from church life until they were in their teens. At which time they rightly said if you didn't need us till now, you won't need us from here on’.


James Torrens (Highland International Presbyterian Church) gave two very helpful talks at the IPC British Presbytery in September 2018. They are available to listen to on the IPC website.


Scottish Reformed Conference: RP videos

The Scottish Reformed Conference takes place every May at Hamilton College. The last two years have featured RP speakers - in 2017 it was Rev. Warren Peel from Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, and in 2018, Rev. Kenneth Stewart from Glasgow Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

The videos of their sermons are below. Videos from other years are available here.

Representing Scotland in Canada

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Last month, Stephen represented the RP Church of Scotland over two day-long meetings of the RP Global Alliance Advisory Committee.

The RP Global Alliance was established in 2015 and has representatives from the RP Churches in Scotland, Ireland, the United States and Canada. RP works in Japan and Asia are represented through the RPCNA.

L-R: Bill Matthess (Ireland), Andrew Stewart (Australia), Matt Filbert (US - via Skype), Andrew Quigley & Matt Kingswood (Canada)

L-R: Bill Matthess (Ireland), Andrew Stewart (Australia), Matt Filbert (US - via Skype), Andrew Quigley & Matt Kingswood (Canada)

Here’s an introduction to the work of the Global Alliance, taken from its constitution:

It has become clear that in recent years the Reformed Presbyterian denominations worldwide have seen new Churches established in regions where hitherto no Reformed Presbyterian Churches had existed. In addition there are further opportunities for expansion in Asia and South America. These developments are to be welcomed, encouraged, and supported where possible.

We are of the view that the time is now opportune to build on the existing relationships which have been nurtured and developed over the past 200 years.  These relationships have placed us in the very privileged position of being able to share in fellowship and mutual help at an international level, even though we are, for the most part, small national Churches.

As part of their work, the Global Alliance oversee a website and Facebook page, which are regularly updated with news from the RP Churches around the world.


On the Lord’s Day evening prior to the meetings, Stephen preached in Russell RP Church. The minister there is Matt Kingswood, who spoke at the RP International Conference in Ireland during the summer.