Friday, January 05, 2007

The History of a denomination: III.

Owing to the need to enlarge the old Free Church Assembly Hall, the United Free Assembly of 1902 met in the St. Andrew's Halls, Glasgow (pictured). The main hall could hold 4'500 people, and the other parts of the huge building were used as offices and committee rooms. The Moderator, Dr. Robert Howie of Govan, addressed the Assembly on the matter of home missions.
The first pieve of business they were faced with was the retiral of George C.M. Douglas and George C. Hutton, who had been joint-principals of the United Free Church College, Glasgow, since the union of 1900. The two candidates for the post were James Orr and T.M. Lindsay, two towering intellects. Both were very capable men, but Dr. Lindsay was an old Free Churchman, and Orr had been United Presbyterian. It was feared that Lindsay would win because all the old Free Churchmen would vote for him. In fact, while Lindsay was elected, the voting was not on party lines, with men from both sections voting for both Candidates.
The other College vacancy was in Aberdeen, and that was filled by James Stalker.
Disestablishment remained a majotr issue, and oil was poured on the flames by Rev. T. J. Wheldon, Moderator-elect of the Presbyterian Church of Wales, who was a guest of the Assembly and who could not resist a few attacks on the Welsh Establishmet. Referring, for example, to the Welsh Bishops, and their claim to be descended from the Apostles, "If so, the descent is great," he said. This sort of thing is not helpful.

The great talking-point in the corridors and of the stairs (pictured) of the great St. Andrew's Halls was George Adam Smith's book. Certain Evangelical ministers (of whom Mr. Reith speaks most condescendingly) had sent a memorial to the Assembly advising of the dangerous teaching of the work.
George Adam Smith was a frank disbeliever in the miraculous element in especially the history of the Old Testament. He believed that the religion of Israel had evolved from polytheism, and that therefore much of Old Testament history was myth and legend. The bankrupt 'Documentary Hypothesis' was assumed to be true, and the Pentateuch rent into shreds cobbled together by an incompetent redactor who had not the sense to see contradictions that were obvious to th eye of a cultured Victorian. The idea that the Old Testament contained prophecies of Christ was ridiculed, and Isaiah 53 applied to Jeremiah. In short the book was one of the most advances productions of the 'Higher Criticism' (better, as James Begg put it, 'the Lower Scepticism').
The challenge to Smith was doomed. The United Free Church leaders had decided that absolute freedom should be allowed on the critical question, and so it was decided once again to fudge the issue.
The matter lies before us today. Will we allow theologians untrammelled freedom to call into question the inspiration of the Scriptures, or will we stand against them? That is not my decision alone, it belongs to all of us.

God willing, next time we shall consider the Assembly of 1903.



Blogger Hiraeth said...

Of course 1902 was during the last, most bitter period of the Disestablishment struggle. Bishop Owen of St. David's had noted two years before that one of the effects of the concentration on Disestablishment was that evangelicals had taken their eyes off the ball as regards fealty to Christ's Gospel. As long as a man was a good 'Party Man,' that is a partisan of the particular denomination he was a member of, his opinions were allowed to be a little unorthodox.

That and the discarding of Calvinism for a sentimental and rationalistic Arminianism (the reasoning being no more than 'God couldn't do that, it's mean') hollowed out the mainstream churchs in Britain. If a denomination becomes a party in that sense, it will perish, and richly deserves to.

2:21 pm  
Blogger Jonathan Moorhead said...

I like the stairs.

3:26 pm  
Blogger Highland Host said...

All destroyed by fire in the 1960s, I'm afraid.

9:48 am  

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