Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The history of a denomination: XXII.

(Interior of old Church of Scotland Assembly Hall)

The Assembly of 1922 was presided over by Donald Fraser, missionary to central Africa. Fraser was an old Free Church man, trained at the Free Church College in Glasgow. There he had been inspired by the appeal of the Students' Volunteer Missionary Union, and he had given himself up to labour to spread the Gospel in Africa. He spoke on 'The Supreme Task of the Church' in his address. There are no prizes for guessing what the missionary thought that was - to preach the Gospel to all nations. It was a wholesome reminder of the true task of the Church, especially after the socialist polemics of the previous year's debates.
It was a quiet year. the most inspiring part of the Assembly was the Foreign Mission report. The galleries were packed, and the speaking was of a high order. Dr. Laws of Livingstonia spoke of the need to take the Gospel far and wide, and Christian hearts rejoiced at the thought of Christ preached where for ages heathen darkness had reigned.
The question of the Church's testimony came up again in 1922. The 'Brief Statement of the Church's Faith' had been revised and circulated, and two new sets of preamble and questions had been drawn up, one for ordination of ministers, missionaries and professors, the other for elders, deacons and licentiates. It was proposed to send the 'Brief Statement' to Presbyteries for consideration and to send down the two sets of preamble and questions to the Presbyteries under the Barrier Act (this is an Act that requires at least two thirds of the Church's Presbyteries to agree to any act before it passes into the constitution of the Church).
The first recieved no objection, but Principal Martin of New College objected severely to the second. The preamble, he noted, stated that the Westminster Confession of Faith was the chif subordinate standard of the Church, but no reference was made to the Confession in the formula. This was quietly putting the Confession out the back door! Surely, he said, a question could be added clarifying the candidate's relation to the Confession?
It was finally agreed that both drafts be sent back to the committee from whence they came to be revised accordingly.

The movement towards union was now practically unstoppable. The Government in Westminster had recognized in the Church of Scotland Bill (1921) that the Church of Scotland possessed spiritual independence. Most of the Assembly accepted this news joyfully. The dissenters, led by James Barr, pointed out some remarks made by MPs in debate. But it was the bill, not the debate, that was law.
Real fears were beginning to emarge that, as the Free Church had divided at the Union of 1900, so it would be with the United Free Church when union with the Church of Scotland came. Although a majority of the Assembly were in favour of the Union, the opposition had grown from 65 votes in 1919 to 101 votes. It was feared the growth might continue and wreck the plan of union.
The Church and State Committee continued to exist, and it had become something of a centre for James Barr and his party. They would be satisfied with nothing less than disestablishment and disendowment of the Church of Scotland forthwith! The Assembly politely 'passed from' the first two sections of the Church and State report - which is a polite way of saying that it repudiated them! The Church and State Committee wanted to condemn the Church of Scotland Bill, the Assembly had already accepted it.

The Church and State Committee was committed to a dead ideal of the past. The Assembly as a whole saw what seemed to be a better future.
And next time, God willing, we shall pass on to what that future brought in 1923



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