Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The History of a denomination: VII.

In May 1906 the United Free Church Assembly was back in the Assembly Hall in the Citadel on the Mound, although the hall was still officially the property of the Free Church of Scotland. The non-uniting minority had in fact gained their point - their legal title to the name 'the Free Church of Scotland'. It would be untrue to say that they did not also desire the Citadel, the great symbol of the Free Church, but as a commission had been set up to divide the property of the pre-union Free Church on the basis of who could use it, it was clear New College and the Assembly Hall were going straight back to the United Frees.
The Moderator of the 1906 United Free Assembly was the colourful champion of disestablishment, Rev. Dr. George C. Hutton, the old United Presbyterian leader.
It was the custom of the old Free Church with its claim to be indeed the Church of Scotland, Free, for the Moderator to wear court dress, breeches, white stockings, a shirt with ruffles on the sleeves, and so on. Illustrated in the rather grainy picture below:

This costume was worn out of respect for the Royal Commissioner, who was there representing the monarch. George Gutton would have none of that. He turned up wearing a simple Geneva gown over his ordinary ministerial dress. That was fine, there was no rule requiring him to wear the traditional robes, and as they had to be made specially for each Moderator it might be argued he had better things to do with his money. But he began his address with an explanation; he intended no retrospective criticism, he said, he was only 'Dispensing with any relic or symbol, real or supposed, of obsolete court connection.'
Which was, as George Reith of Edinburgh notes, a retrospecive criticism.
Encouraged by Hutton's Moderatorship and a Liberal government in Westminster, the Church and State Committee ventured on their most aggressive report since the Union, not only renewing the Assembly's former instruction, but asking instructions 'to watch over the development of the question, and take such steps from time to time as they may find suitable to protect and advance its claims." George Hutton saw it as quite moderate (no pun intended), but others in the Assembly thought it was excessive. It seemed to be a step back to the old United Presbyterian pro-disestablishment position. Some of the younger men moved an addition to the motion suggesting that the Church situation in Scotland might be settled by agreement between the Churches, something Robert Rainy, in his last Assembly, firmly quashed. Any conference on the matter between the Churches he declared to be 'futile'. It seemed Disestablishment and Liberalism had renewed their strength - but the appearance was illusory.
Another major argument blew up over the use of 'unfermented wine' (AKA grape juice) in the Assembly communion services. The fervour of the total abstainers of that day would surprise many - as would their arguments to prove that the wine used at the Last Supper was not alcoholic (although the aruments are still used by a few today). It may also surprise some that Presbyterians would be against drinking alcoholic wine!
The question was deftly dealt with by being sent to a committee.
The 1906 Assembly also had to deal with the Free Church teacher training colleges, which were in the process of being transferred from the Church to the Provincial Education Committees. There was concern that religious instruction should be maintained in them, provoking (how justly we will not say) the wrath and indignation of the Moderator, who came down from his chair to enter an impassioned protest that all religious instruction should be excluded from the national schools and colleges, and provided only by the church.
Some of you may read that again. Could a CHRISTIAN MINISTER really have said that? Yes. Dr. Hutton's extreme disestablishmentism played into the hands of the Secularists.

In the 1907 Assembly there was to be a great difference - Rainy was dead. But more of 1907, God willing, next time.



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