Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The History of a denomination: XV.

The Moderator of the 1914 United Free Assembly was Dr. George Reith of Glasgow, father of Lord Reith the first Director-general of the BBC. Reith was pastor of the College Church, Glasgow, for most of his ministerial career. Something of a theological liberal, he urged the social evils of the day to the attention of the Church in his address. Which is not to say that liberals are the only ones who have such concerns - Thomas Chalmers, THE Scottish Evangelical, was first in his concern for the poor and needy, and James Begg, the champion of orthdoxy, pioneered the construction of low-cost social housing.
A welcome visitor the the Assembly was Rev. Ernesto Giampiccoli of Milan, a representative of the Waldensian Church. Remarking that his Church was best known in Scotland through the agency of collectors, he threw the blame on John Calvin. Calvin had advised the poor suffering Church to send out one or two collectors. "Since then, fathers and brethren," he joked, "wee have been very good Calvinists, and I am afraid we shall be obliged to be more so in the future!"
The Irish Presbyterians continued to ask for United Free Church support against Home Rule. The United Free Church, however, was already practically committed to neutrality, so the Assembly simply issued a letter assuring the Irish of their 'Sympathy', carefully committing themselves to nothing.
One of the other political issues of the day, the violent methods adopted by some Suffragettes to draw attention to their campaign to extend the voting franchise to women, came to the attention of the Assembly in a rather unnerving way. Whilst the report on Women's Work was being given two women in the gallery began to loudly protest about the injustice of the Assembly considering Women's Work whilst a great injustice was being done to women in the country. After the women had been removed one of the members of the Assembly remarked to the clerk that he was afraid they might burn down the Hall in revenge! This was no hysterical worry, such acts of arson had been committed!
Whatever the merits of any cause, violence against the property or persons of other can never be a legitimate form of protest. We fail to see how the destruction of artworks and acts of arson against historic buildings could have helped the cause of the Suffragettes.
In fact it was in part the productive war-work that many British women contributed that finally earned them the vote after the Great War.
James Orr, Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology in the Glasgow Free Church College (see the blog passim), had died. A truly great Christian and a defender of the faith, it was almost inevitable that his successor would be less orthodox than he was. It proved to be the case, Rev. Dr. D.W. Forrest of Edinburgh was chosen. Forrest was a Kenoticist, that is he believed that the Lord in some ways CEASED to be divine in the incarnation.
The Union debate was marred, as it had been in previous years, by an unfruitful debate on the matter of establishment and disestablishment. James Denney of Glasgow characterised it as 'a barren logomachy' (strife about words). 'Church' and 'state' were being thrown about as mere words. The real question, Denney insisted, was how two such Churches as the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church were to secure both spiritual feedom and national recognition of religion without injuring the interests or consciences of anyone. Brought up a Reformed Presbyterian, Denney did not have the doctrinaire objection to any sort of establishment that some others had. Although the Cameronians have been accused of living in the past, it was James Denney who saw the clearest in the union debate.
The Church and State committee were rattled, and their debate was impassioned. Principal Iverach startled his fellow-members by remarking that there might be a better way to effect the healing of Scotland's Church troubles than political surgery. It was understood that he meant he was backing off from disestablishment.
Professor J. A. Paterson said heatedly that no sooner had Dr. Rainy and Dr. Hutton died than, as far as he could judge, a section of the Church had been doing its best to reverse their policy. This was untrue. That section had always existed, especially within the Free Church portion of the United Free Church.
What was more, Dr. Henderson reminded the Assembly, Rainy had never unequivocally committed himself to disestablishment (Rainy rarely unequivocally committed himself to anything beyond the Gospel). He quoted Rainy:
"If one could imagine the possibility of any other way of dealing with this question, if by any means the people of Scotland could be got together to consider what was for the good of the land, and should be able to see a way of settling this matter so that the Church should regain her freedom, and that all the Churches in the land should come together to see what could be made of this country of ours, what might be accomplished! It is enough to make the heart leap to think of it!"

So the Assembly of 1914 closed, little thinking what was about to come upon Europe.
Of which more, God willing, next time.



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