Friday, July 13, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XIII.

In England, Donald Fraser interested himself more in Church business than he had in Scotland. The English Presbyterian Church was a smaller, weaker body, and questions such as a Sustentation Fund for the support of the ministry, in place in the Free Church from the day of the Disruption, were only just being discussed in England. In 1876 the United Presbyterian churches in England united with the English Presbyterian Church, strengthening the body and helping the establish the young church.
Like many Evangelical leaders in England in the 19th century, Fraser was concerned about the rise of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Pioneered by men like John Henry Newman (pictured), the Oxford Movement was a radical attempt to bring the ceremonies and beliefs of the Church of England closer to those of the Roman Catholic Church. While some Oxford Movement leaders such as Newman ultimately became members of the Roman Catholic Church, others such as E. B. Pusey remained in the Church of England and continued to teach their views. The English Presbyterian Synod of 1873 passed a motion proposed by Dr. Fraser expressing concern at "the alarming progress in the Established Church of such teachings and practices as involve some of the most fatal heresies of the Church of Rome" and establishing a committee to further examine the Oxford Movement. The English Presbyterians sought, through communication with Evangelicals in the Church of England, to preserve the principles of the Reformation in the Church of England.
To communicate the danger to the Presbyterians was one thing. To combine dissenting and Church of England men to fight the error proved something far more difficult. Alas several prominent Nonconformist leaders flatly refused to do anything to help their Anglican brethren, so set were they on the policy of disestablishment, while some leading Anglicans refused to admit they had a problem. Faced with this sectarian strife, in 1876 Fraser advised the Synod to drop the matter. Anglicans and Nonconformists seemed utterly unable to work together to preserve the Reformation heritage of the Church of England.

Why was this? Ultimately it was because the advocates of disestablishment made disestablishment their idol and forgot that a threat to the Evangelical faith in the Church of England was a threat to all the Churches. They preferred politics to spiritual co-operation. On the other side, too many Anglicans refused to admit that there was a problem. For every far-sighted man like J. C. Ryle or John Kensit (on the right), there were dozens of men who said that everything was all right where they were and this whole fuss was over nothing.

Fraser's other great concern was Presbyterian unity, and it is to that we shall turn, God willing, next time.



Blogger Hiraeth said...

I would note that some Oxford Movement types were all for Disestablishment, as this would allow them free rein in the church. This meant that some politicised nonconformists were only too happy to encourage them tacitly. Equally, anything that increased tensions between nonconformists and anglicans was welcomed. This from the same people who would enthusiastically co-operate with Roman Catholics over Ireland. This is what is known as sectarianism.

8:51 pm  

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