Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The history of a denomination: XX.

(Illustrated: the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall)

The Moderator of the United Free Assembly of 1920 was Principal Alexander Martin of New College. In some respects Martin resembled Rainy. He was a born leader, of whom it was said that wherever he sat was the head of the table.
His opening address looked forward to the now hoped-for union of the two Churches. There was, he pointed out, really no difference of principle as such between the two Churches. The difference was one that had always existed within the post-Revolution Church of Scotland. The two Churches looked almost identical, the family resmblance was strong. Why should there be two Assembly Halls either side of the Lawnmarket?
The 'rebels' on the matter were treated well, James Barr himself being appointed by that Assembly to the post of Home Mission Secretary of the Church. It was significant in another way. James Barr was a socialist, a temperance campaigner and somewhat liberal theologically (later he would advocate the ordination of women. His daughter Elizabeth Barr would be the first United Free Church female minister, ordained in 1935. To appoint such a man to the post of Home Mission secretary signalled a chage in the United Free Church understanding of 'mission'.
Foreign missions were in a sorry state. Finances had not recovered from the War, the exchange rate was down, and disaster threatened particularly in Manchuria and India. The committee began to think of the possibility of closing down some missions, hospitals being closed up, schools abandoned, village evangelism stopped.
But now was not the time to give up. The Assembly boldly adopted the policy that NO work should be abandoned. Instead they would appeal to the Church for gifts to cover this situation. The cost WAS covered.

The Assembly of 1920 saw further changes in the Church's relation to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Before the Union of 1900 both uniting Churches had adopted 'Declaratory Acts' modifying their relation to the Confession, but by 1920 dissatisfaction with the Confession had grown. The Church no longer held to the whole of it, and it was seen as too long. The dissatisfaction began with the questions put to candidates at the licensing of probationers and the ordination of ministers.
A committee had been appointed and their proposals were submitted to the Assembly. As well as revised questions for candidates, they had prepared a sort of popular 'manifesto' for the Church.
Professor W.M. Macgregor tore into this 'manifesto'. It was badly written, he declared, without intest or life, woolly and unclear. There was nothing 'popular' about it, he said, apart from its length, and he doubted whether any of the labouring classes would patiently read such a document. He moved that it be revised. He was not alone, and the 'manifesto' went back into the committee, which had six further members added. One hopes those members were chosen for their standard of written prose!
Others felt such a revision ought to be left until after union with the Church of Scotland.

1920 was, of course, the year Prohibition began in the United States. The United Free Church temperance committee was overjoyed at this, and they looked forward to such an act being passed in the United Kingdom. One is tempted to agree with The Saint that the only advantage such an Act would have had is that we could all become bootleggers and get rich. But Temerance was a cause in which even James Barr could agree with the Church of Scotland (namely that it was a good idea).
Meanwhile the Church of Scotland was trying to sort out its own constitution. Interestingly the Church of Scotland Moderator in 1920 was Dr. Thomas Martin. But, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, Lord High Commissioner, cautioned, two Martins do not make a summer.

The 'summer' many in the Church were looking for was the union of the Churches. How they progressed in 1921 we shall see, God willing, next time.



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