History of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
The Reformation was a radical Biblical movement. From a human point of view the printing, publishing and distribution of the Scriptures and the preaching of God’s Word was the great cause behind it. Of course the Reformation was in reality a great revival, with the Holy Spirit waking up a sleeping Church. It has been said that the Scottish Reformation was the purest of all. John Knox was not happy to retain in the Church that which had no Biblical sanction. The Scots Confession was produced and a Presbyterian Church was organised. As time passed the Stuart kings tried to suppress Presbyterianism and impose Episcopacy. In the mid seventeenth century there was what is known as the Second Reformation led by Alexander Henderson. The Church was freed from Episcopal shackles and the Westminster Confession of faith was produced and adopted. The persecutions of the Covenanters followed the restoration of Charles II to the throne, but in 1689 the Revolution Settlement saw the Presbyterian Church established as the Church of Scotland.
1843 – The Disruption
During the eighteenth century Moderatism gradually dominated the religious scene in Scotland. This was a cold, dead religion that despised enthusiasm and indeed all experimental religion. Ministers spent their time in worldly pursuits. However at the beginning of the nineteenth century the Spirit began to move in the Church. One of the evils which had developed was “patronage”. This was a system by which the wealthy patrons or landowners had the right to impose a minister on a congregation against the wishes of the people. In the 1830s patronage was increasingly opposed by the Church and the people. Patrons however used the law courts to obtain their will. At last the Church saw that its freedom was being improperly restricted. Ministers and people were being threatened with fines and imprisonment for obeying their consciences. The Disruption took place in 1843 and the Church of Scotland Free was born. It was a popular movement and the times were ones of revival. Hundreds of ministers and huge congregations associated with the Church. There was a great emphasis on mission work at home and abroad. Large numbers of churches, manses and schools were built. The Church grew rapidly. However as the century progressed false doctrine ate away at the foundation of the Church. It is amazing that a Church so sound and evangelistic in the period 1843-1860 should in the space of twenty years become corrupt. Evolutionary teaching began to get a foothold. Increasing pride led to the ablest young candidates for the ministry being sent to the prestigious German universities where they imbibed liberalism and began to doubt the inspiration of the Scriptures. They returned home to teach and infect the Free Church. Moody and Sankey conducted evangelistic campaigns. These led to a new form of worship with popular hymns and music and a much frothier theology. It appeared for a time that this was the answer and that the Church would grow. However the end result was a weakening of the old beliefs and the new Arminian theology did not have the strength to stand up to liberalism.
1900 – The Union
By the end of the century the Free Church was in a sorry state. There were still many attending, but false doctrine was increasingly gaining supremacy in the theological colleges and even the pulpits. In 1892 a Declaratory Act was passed which allowed men to become ministers without subscribing to the whole doctrine of the Westminster Confession. A decision was taken to join with the United Presbyterian Church which was the other large non-established church. The popular idea was that the Free Church would then be able to rival the Church of Scotland. It was a union taking place on the basis of the lowest common denominator of doctrine, facilitated by the Declaratory Act. From this Union some 26 ministers and a large number of elders and members stood apart, refusing to join the United Free Church. They continued as the Free Church of Scotland and after a famous court case in the House of Lords in 1904 were awarded the property of the whole old Free Church, as the rightful heirs of the Disruption Church. Our faithful Free Church fathers were not popular with the world nor with the worldly church.
2000 – The Division
Towards the end of the twentieth century problems again began to bother the Free Church. Laxity of life and church discipline was becoming apparent. Serious allegations were made against a professor of theology. Those in positions of influence in the Church courts refused to deal thoroughly with these allegations and attempted to cover up the truth. Threats were made against any who dared make accusations against this popular professor. One minister who spoke publicly at the Assembly against the evil and hypocrisy which he had witnessed in the Assembly was (purportedly) suspended. Protests were made. The Free Church Defence Association had been revived to try to save the Church from declension and division. Sadly the attitude of the majority was that those who rocked the boat and made protests should be got rid of. Twenty-two ministers were purportedly suspended in one go. Things had reached an impossible level for these faithful, fervent ministers who were now being forbidden to preach. They, and a number of elders who supported them, walked out of the Assembly Hall and continued the sitting of the Commission of Assembly as the true Free Church in the Magdalen Chapel. Thus we now have the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) which wishes to continue in all the good things for which our fathers stood. We believe in the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and life. We believe the Westminster Confession of Faith to be a good summary of the teaching of the Scriptures. We believe in Church discipline as essential to maintaining the purity of the Church. By God’s grace we look forward to continuing to bear witness to Him in the needy Scotland of the twenty-first century.