Monday, July 16, 2007

A Wanderer: Donald Fraser. XIV.

English, Scots and Irish Presbyterianism shared a common Confession of Faith - that drawn up by the Westminster Divines (pictured). Yet the events of the Secessions of the Eighteenth Century and the Disruption of 1843 left Presbyterianism in disarray, splintered into fragments. By the 1870s the Irish Presbyterians had reunited, and the majority of Scottish Presbyterians were in three denominations, the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, and the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. English Presbyterianism, predominantly a Scottish import (most of the original English Presbyterian Churches having become Unitarian in the eighteenth century) was divided between the English Presbyterian Church, in communion with the Free Church of Scotland, and some United Presbyterian congregations. Since the differences that existed between the Free and United Presbyterian Churches in Scotland did not exist in England, or were irrelevant, it should have been fairly easy to unite the two. It wasn't.
When he came to England, Fraser came into a union debate that had already raged for quite a while. At last his friend, Dr. Dykes, proposed that he and Fraser hold a private conference on the difficulties that stood in the way of the union with an influential United Presbyterian elder, Mr. S. Stitt. They met together, and that private conference concluded that the difficulties could easily be solved. Dr. Dykes then took charge of union negotiations from the English Presbyterian side, and soon the union was effected. That was as far as many wanted to go. Not Fraser.
Donald Fraser saw the Church of Scotland as the mother of the Free and United Presbyterian Churches. Thus any union of English Presbyterianism would not be complete until the Church of Scotland congregations in England were also part of the English Presbyterian Church. Alas, his vision was not to be fulfilled. Dr. John Cumming influenced the English Synod of the Church of Scotland against union, but in the long-term Fraser recognised that the real bar to union was the disestablishment agitation in Scotland. Fraser's initial Free Church objections to the Church of Scotland had been seriously modified by legislation and history since the Disruption. The abomination of Patronage, whereby the congregation was robbed of its power to call its own minister, had been abolished, and the Church's jurisdiction over the settlement of ministers recognised. To continue to oppose the Church of Scotland in the face of these reforms (which were all the Disruption Fathers wanted, and more) sxeemed to Fraser to be "mere trifling with plain facts and fighting for discord." He went on to say: "In the proposal to disestablish the Church of Scotland I see nothing but an ignoble sectarian temper." Expressing that opinion in a letter to 'The Scotsman', Fraser offended many Free Churchmen, but gained to support of many of the Church of Scotland. He expressed quiet relief that the English Presbyterians had kept the question out of the Synod.

But of course Fraser continued a local pastor, and it is to that aspect of his work that we shall, God willing, turn next time.



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