Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The history of a denomination: XXIV.

The opening of the United Free Church Assembly of 1924 was broadcast on the BBC (radio, of course). It also had a Lord High Commissioner who was not from the nobility (or the 'nonconformist nobility' such as Lloyd-George), but he was the Socialist MP Mr. James Brown, a working coal-miner.
The Socialists were in office, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald (illustrated), was a United Free Churchman. It was thought by some that a miner Lord High Commissioner might give offence. He did, but to some of his own side when he said that the aristocracy weren't at all bad, really.
The Moderator in 1924 was Dr. Alexander S. Inch of the United Free High Church, Dumbarton. A large man, he was nicknamed 'the Square Inch' by his friends from New College. Indeed it had been thought that the Moderator's chair would have to be enlarged to admit him! Mercifully it was just large enough. Dr. Inch's opening address dealt with the Christian pastorate and was a call on ministers to turn their attention back to PROCLAIMING Christ, not just explaining and defending Him.
Again the United Free Church foreign missions were in need of money. And this should not be wondered at, if they were agressively expanding the work and making Christ known where before He was not. Many were being reached, and Churches were being formed on the mission field. But success requires money, and missionary giving was not expanding as had been hoped. It was suggested that the work might have to be cut back, but that the Assembly would not do. They knew that it would be an act of flagrant disobedience to Him who said 'go ye into all the world.'
William Watson of Alloa (a plac in Scotland, not as one might think, a South Sea island) made an impassioned appeal to the membership, and a motion was proposed that the missions be carried on without curtailment for a year while the Church raised the £20,000 extra funds needed. The Moderator said he would be glad to go around the galleries and take a collection in his hat but feared it would not be practical (some of the aisles and gangways were rather narrow). Before the end of the evening £1000 had been promised. Before the end of the Assembly nearly five thousand punds had been given and another thousand promised.
It was a good thing that the missions had not been cut back, for 1924 was the centenary of the undivided Church of Scotland's historic motion approving foreign missions. Before then the Church of Scotland, dominated by the 'Moderate' party, had disapproved of them, leaving it to the Baptists and other nonconformists to take the Gospel 'into all the world'. When Dr. Inch crossed 'over the way' to the Church of Scotland Assembly, he carried with him the congratulations of the United Free Church on the anniversary.
The question of 'spiritual healing' came up at this Assembly and passed on to a less than enthusiastic committee, many of whom one suspects were confirmed as cessationists by the way the issue was shuufled off onto them.
The change of government was a cause for concern in view of the Union negotiations. It threw everything into a temporary uncertainty. Dr. Henderson pointed out that the Church of Scotland had placed their temporalities in the hands of the government for a final settlement so that afterwards the Church would be able to do what she pleased with them. The opposition continued to presss for some sort of disendowment, forgetting that one of the conditions on which the Church of Scotland had entered into Union talks was that her property not be secularized but retained for religious purposes. And what, we would ask, would do the nation more good than that?
It was at this Assembly that the opposition vote reached its high water-mark - 138 to 375. With such a strong position as a minority, James Barr and his fellows began to talk of division if union was agreed on any terms but their own. A group called the United Free Church Association had been formed to prosecute this aim, which seemed to many to be the relic of a bygone and largely irrelevant age. An attempt to have the Assembly condemn this group was defeated by those who argued that to do such a thing would give the Association a legitimacy it did not deserve.

In his closing address the Moderator reminded the Assembly that the question of 'how to reach the masses' came down to reaching, not a 'mass' of people, but individuals with the Gospel. So it is, Dr. Inch, and so it will always be. Although our series is about Assemblies, we must reach sinners one by one, and God calls them each by name.

God willing, next time we shall see how 1925 brought Union closer and the spectre of division began to gather a corporeal form.



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