Thursday, February 01, 2007

The History of a denomination: XIII.

The Moderator of the 1912 Assembly was Dr. Thomas Whitelaw of Kilmarnock, conservatve evangelical author of several books (illustrated is his commentary on John). Whitelaw pulled no punches in his opening address about the state of the Church in Scotland, and what needed to be done about it (a return to the Gospel would have been a good start in some pulpits and colleges, we fear).
Outside business pressed on the Church in two rather unwelcome forms. First was a deputation from the Irish Presbyterians calling on the United Free Church to help them to campaign against the new Irish Home Rule bill that was before the House of Commons. Feeling this was not their fight, the United Free Church declined.
The second unwelcome matter was the bill to Disestablish the Church in Wales. Councillor John Owens of Chester, a deputy representing the Presbyterian Church of Wales (Calvinistic Methodist) asked for a message that the United Free Church was with his Church on the issue. Having just succeeded in killing Scottish Disestablishment, the United Free Assembly was hardly likely to give its support for Welsh. On the other hand the Free Church and the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists were historic allies. In the evnt the United Free Assembly sent a very guarded message expressing a mild hope for rearrangements which would be agreeable to Wales and beneficial to the Christan religion in that country. Later on the Church and State Committee claimed great credit for having, in spite of great temptation, sent a memorial supporting Welsh disestablishment to the Government. Such an action would have brought down the wrath of the Assembly on them, of course, but that is another matter.
The Russian pogroms against the nation's Jews excited the disgust of the Assembly for those responsible, and the Assembly's sympathy for the sufferers. A protest was sent to the Russian government by the Assembly.
Interest in the great work of bringin the Gospel to the Jews was excited by this event. Rev. Mr. W. M. Christie, formerly a missionary to the Jews in Aleppo, and now in Glasgow. made a speech to the Assembly in which he reminded them that converted Jews were, of all the Middle Eastern races, the best missionaries to Muslims. "The Jew is the only one who can carry the Gospel to Islam," he declared baldly. Romans 11 was his text on the matter, the conversion of the Jews to Christ would be 'life from the dead' to the Gentiles.
In this connection another move towards union with the Church of Scotland was made; the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland agreed to jointly run a mission to the Jews in Jaffa, in modern-day Israel. The return of the Jewish people to their ancient land was already underway, and the port of Jaffa was the point of entry for many.
Numbers in the denominational colleges were down, and Mr. David Woodside (author of 'The Soul of a Scottish Church') suggested that the reason for this was the difficulty of the preliminary examinations, which presented a barrier to those who might be called to the ministry later in life. Mr. Woodside told the Assembly that, should THEY have to go through the examination, many of them would not make it! The standard had been raised since they had been at university, he declared, and the Church should remember that.
Professor James Orr retorted that Mr. Woodside might have forgotten all HE knew when he took his degree, but the Assembly could not help that.
More seriously, it had become plain that the United Free Church needed a revival. Alas the thought that REFORMATION might also be necessary was ignored. Instead, forgetting that the Union of 1900 had not produced a revival, the Church moved on towards reunion with the Church of Scotland.

Next time, God willing, we shall see what occupied the United Free Assembly on the eve of the Great War.



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