Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The History of a denomination: XVII.

By May 1916 it was becoming painfully evident that the War was going to be a long, bloody slog. The dead were going to be counted in the millions, and practically every eligible young man would be called upon. United Free Church colleges were almost emptied of students, congregations robbed of their best members. Rationing was on the horizon, and most fearful of all the all but silent spectre of Zepplin raids hung over Edinburgh. There was a black-out in force, for Edinburgh had been attacked, and all lights in the Assembly Hall had to be out by 10.15.
The Moderator in 1916 was Principal George Adam Smith of the University of Aberdeen, noted United Free Church heretic. Perhaps it was ironic to see a man who had leaned so heavily on German Higher Criticism denouncing Germany from the Moderator's chair.
Again War Work occupied most of the business of the Assembly. A woman's place was also debated, and an overture sent down under the Barrier Act (an act safeguarding the lower courts of the Church, at least in theory) recommending that women be allowed to serve as deacons. While we believe it is possible to make such as case, we feel that the Bible is against such a position.
The admitting of women into Assembly Committees, which was decided upon by the Assembly, is open to the highest criticism, namely that it placed women in positions of exceptional authority over men - for previously only ministers and elders had been admitted to those committee. Yet the Bible is explicit on this point that women are not allowed to have authority over a man.

The Assembly of 1916 was very routine in other matters.

When the Assembly met for the next time the end of the war seemed as far off as ever. Flanders was all mud and blood, and Russia had collapsed. True, America had entered the war, but it would take time before the American war machine could take effect against the Germans. Meanwhile the daily casualty lists were long and harrowing. There was hardly a member of the 1917 Assembly who had not lost someone, a brother, a son, or a nephew.
The Moderator of 1917 was Principal Dugald Mackichan, of Wilson College, Bombay. He spoke of the loyalty of India to the empire, and of a revival there particularly among the low-caste Hindus.
The United Free Church had a new mission station in its hands because of the war. The old Swiss station on the Gold Coast had been manned by Germans who had withdrawn for political reasons, and the United Free Church was given the station by the British government.
The Assembly heard an address on the Jewish report by the Bishop of Stepney, speaking of the work among the Jews in London. The Jews, he said, would be most unlikely to be moved by Christian missions until they saw true Christianity in action in the churches.
The death of A.R. MacEwen, professor of Church History at New College, created a problem in watime. For a while his chair would be unfilled and United Free Church and Church of Scotland students (owing to the small numbers) would study togther under the University Divinity faculty and the New College faculty. This and the exchange of visits to each other's Assemblies by the Church of Scotland and United Free Church Moderators showed that though the formal movement towards union had stopped, informally it was still going.

Next time, God willing, we shall see how the last year of the Great War affected the United Free Church of Scotland.



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