Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"Rainy wi'oot the Principal" IX.

Robert Rainy had joined combat in what would become celebrated as his 'Tourney with Dean Stanley'. In his first lecture he had broached the subject. In his second lecture he began to deal with the principles of the Covenanters, the Seceders and the Free Church.

"The vision of the Scottish Church that floats before the eye of the Dean of Westminster is a vision of the Church militant. To him it appears militant, not only in the sense of withstanding and enduring what an evil world may lay upon it, but in the sense of standing ready, with a peculiar appetite for combat, to call to a reckoning any one who may cross its path. Here he finds his main clue, as regards the question of the Church's independence." In other words, Dean Stanley thought that the Scottish Church enjoyed picking fights. The principle of the independence of the Church was, in the Dean's eyes, merely the result of the Church having fallen out with the state. This was a terrible state of affairs, for in Dean Stanley's eyes the Church ought to be "regulated by the wisdom of Parliament."

WIs the Church of God a distinct society? Indeed, is it a society? Was it meant to be such? Was it constituted as such? Was it furnished with means and institutions, whereby it could exist and be - could have a mind, express a mind, and apply its mind to society? Is it distinct from other societies, say the state?" Rainy asked. He went on to give the answer.
"It has been a prevailing conviction among Christian people that the Church of Christ was to be a society, having its own basis, its own peculiar life, its own constitution and means of action, and supplying some uses and ends not unimportant to the world."
But Dean Stanley had quite a different opinion: " according to Dean Stanley... we must take it that the Church is not so much a society, but rather a dispersion. It is the discrete aggregate of Christians, or rather of people touched more or less by Christian sentiments and influences existing in the world, or any particular country. It may, indeed, have formed itself into various organised forms of of Churches, hierarchies, and the like, to good effects and to bad, at various times. And these organisations, or some of them, have been in a sense necessary and proper. But still the best state of the Church is that it should dissolve itself as an element or flavour in the general community, and that the representation of it, as well as the regulation of it, should devolve upon the organ of the general community, i.e., the State."
Yet such a view, Rainy explained, denigrated the Church and represented it as merely a dispersion of individual 'Christians' in the broadest sense. The Scots Church had historically believed in the independence of Church and state because it had a firm and clear view of the nature and government of the Church. Dean Stanley's 'Broad Church' position, on the other hand, had no such clear views. A result of their "vague and confused views" was that they could not organise the Church and get it to work without state help. The Church of England, Rainy declared, "is clearly the worst organised Church in the world." It needed the state to keep it from flying to pieces.
"Don't come to us, who have been working our Churches these 300 years, to tell us, like the fox in the fable, that your own defects are a providential blessing which have qualified you to be the model for all mankind." Scotland was not the only country in the world where Christians had thought that the Church ought to be free from state control. Yet Dean Stanley claimed to be unable to understand the idea. Well, maybe that was the case, but should the Dean have so advertised his ignorance?
Dean Stanley had claimed that the idea of 'the independence of the Kirk' was merely an example of Scottish patriotism, revolting against a foreign attempt to dominate the Kirk. Unfortunately for the Dean, the debate had begun in Scotland, between Scotsmen. Although Stanley had tried the minimise the issues at question, they were in fact vital issues. The great question was this: who is king of the Church? Freedom might be a small matter to Dean Stanley, but Rainy thought it was centrally important. Would anyone die for the Dean's theory of Church government? Rainy thought not. On the other hand, men and women had died heroically for the spiritual independence of the Church, and "smooth insinuations about absurdity are not going to cheat us of the memories of our Scottish martyrs."
It was not enough for Dean Stanley to say that the mysterious principle that he could not really understand represented, though in a distorted manner, the "indefeasible superiority of moral over material force, of conscience over power, of right against might." This was true, but it was only a half-truth. Dean Stanley's ecclesiology was practically non-existent, he had forgotten that Christ had founded a society, not a mere dispersion of individuals. That society had rights, and one of those rights was that of self-government and independent action. What was more, Rainy took issue with the Dean's making every inhabitant of a 'Christian' society a member of the Church in full standing. Only real Christians could be that.
Dean Stanley had missed the nature of the Church, and therefore he could not understand the high principles of the Scottish Church. The Church was intended by Christ to be a society made up of his disciples, intended to win the world for Him, and to 'make disciples of all nations'. The state has temporal ends, the Church spiritual ends. The two have different domains, and each ought to respect the other's domain. If the Church invaded the state's province (as the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages did), that was tyranny; if the state invaded the Church's province, that was also tyranny.

Because he did not understand the high calling and place of the Church, Dean Stanley could not understand the Scottish debates and such occurances as the Disruption. Yet the Disruption was really quite easy to understand: " when it turned out that the terms of Establishment, in the view of the State, imported an obligation in point of duty to obey such decrees [of the state as would compel the Church courts to perform spiritual acts], the Free Church saved her honesty by renouncing the pay and privileges for which she cound not fulfil the terms."

Rainy's next point was perhaps little noticed at the time, but it indicated a definite change in his thinking. The Free Church had been founded on the principle that a national Establishment of religion was, theoretically, a good thing. While Rainy did not deny that, he observed in his lecture that Establishments generally were becoming less free. The state, controlling to a degree the purse strings of the Church, had started to covet more and more power over established Churches - and non-established Churches, even. In such a case disestablishment might be the only practical way forward, for "this modern Erastianism has for one of its principal objects and ends... that the Church's faith, through the action of the state, shall be made so latitudinarian as to leave religious sentiment perhaps, but little indeed of fixed and definite religious teaching. I believe that great forces in this country are working steadily to that result. But the considerations connected with the topic are more appropriate to my next lecture."

And with that Dr. Rainy gathered up his manuscript, and the lecture was done. The last, and potentially the most explosive lecture, was yet to come. As it is for us. God willing, a summary of it will be posted next time.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Byuzand said...

You are gifted with writing grace and perseverance in keeping to the theme towards the depth of the matter. Well done and approving...

10:02 pm  
Blogger goodnightsafehome said...

Hi

Sorry I have to resort to such public means of contact. I appreciate your link to our church website...under "Protestant Churches are rare in Ireland" However, while the old site is still up and running (A geocities site) we have upgraded to a new site: http://wwww.corkfpc.com I would appreciate if you could update your link. I enjoy reading your blog!

9:37 am  

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