Friday, March 23, 2007

The history of a denomination: XXVII.

The United Free Church met with some sorrow in 1927. Dr. Archibald Henderson, one of the chief architects of the Union between the United Free Church and the Church of Scotland, had died six weeks before the date set for the Assembly. Yet the Union was not founded on him, and new leaders had risen up. Henderson's mantle had fallen on Principal Martin of New College. It was nevertheless regretted that Henderson would not live to see the union that he had worked so long for.
The Moderator was Dr. James Weatherhead of Dundee, another former Free Church minister. Dr. Weatherhead had planted a Church in Giffnock in 1900, and since 1905 he had been minister of United Free St. Paul's, Dundee. Dr. Weatherhead was an energetic man. In his address he spoke on two questions, 'What is wrong with the world?' and 'What is wrong with the Church?' Dealing mainly with the second question, he referred to criticisms of the Church that were common, but without foundation. He indicated the evil influences working on the minds of people, a cold, materialistic philosophy, a modern paganism. What was the answer? The Church had to keep on teaching the same message - the Gospel. Yes, it must be ensured that the message was preached so that people understood it, but fundementally it had to remain the same message.
The United Free Church Semi-Jubilee Thanksgiving Fund report was most encouraging. It had reached the desired sum - £100,000 - and therefore the foreign missions fund was saved. They could go forward still!
Principal Martin retired from his Chair of Apologetics at New College that year, but he retained his principalship, and his leadership of the Union movement. The Chair of Church History in the Glasgow College was also vacant, since Dr. Moffatt had been called from that Chair to Union Seminary, New York (notoriously liberal).
Although the natural thought was of replacing the men, Dr. Troup of Brughty Ferry moved for delay, suggesting that in view of the coming Union, when changes would have to be made in the Colleges, it would be prudent not to be appointing new professors who might have to be removed in a year or so. He was overruled, and Mr. Daniel Lamont was appointed to the Edinburgh Chair and Mr. W. D. Niven to the Glasgow Chair.
But everything else faded into the background compared to the Union Report. With amazing rapidity the joint-committee had come to agreement on the plan and basis of union. Everything seemed ready. Principal Martin spoke of Henderson as a Moses come to the verg of Jordan. Now the Moses was dead, and the Joshua (Martin never made the comparison, of course, but it was obvious to others) was ready to lead the people over the Jordan of Union and into a new land.
The plan of union provided, he pointed out, everything that was necessary. Most importantly, it provided freedom. Freedom from state control and freedom of conscience within the United Church. Martin invited James Begg and all his party to join the United Church. Of course they refused. They argued for delay, brought up hypothetical objections, insisted that everything - every jot and tittle - be settled before Union. They forgot that everything had not been settled in 1900. One of the silliest objections was to the name 'the Church of Scotland'. The objector said it was exclusive, and he preferred 'the Presbyterian Church of Scotland' - despite the fact that there were at least four other Presbyterian Churches in Scotland who would have been excluded by that name.
The debate lasted for five hours. On a division the vote was found to be 675 in favour of going forward and 126 preferring delay. The fact that the opposition vote was for delay, not against Union, must be noted well.
Dr. Norman Maclean, Church of Scotland Moderator, spoke of the great and wonderful change from the days of his youth when the two Assemblies had breated out threatenings - though not, it must be said in all fairness, slaughter - at each other across the Grassmarket. Those days were over, and soon there would only be one Assembly on the Grassmarket.

How that happened we shall see, God willing, next time.



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