1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/United Free Church of Scotland

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UNITED FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND, a religious organization, representing the union made in 1900 between the Free Church of Scotland (except a dissentient section who separated off and retained the name of Free Church) and the United Presbyterian Church. (See Free Church of Scotland and United Presbyterian Church.)

The first moderator was Dr Rainy (q.v.). The Free Church brought into the union 1077 congregations, the United Presbyterians 599; the revenue of the former amounted to £706,546, of the latter to £361,745 The missionaries of both churches joined the union, and the United Church was then equipped with missions in various parts of India, in Manchuria., in Africa. (Lovedale, Livingstonia, &c.), in Melanesia and in the West Indies. The formula which was adopted allowed for development of doctrine, the candidate stating that he believes “in the doctrine of this Church, set forth in the Confession of Faith,” the Church being thus set above the confession. The Church has three divinity halls, at Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, served by seventeen professors and five lecturers.

The minority of the Free Church who had refused to join the union lost no time in testing the legality of the act of the majority in entering it. Their summons, dated the 14th of December 1900, claimed that in uniting with the United Presbyterian Church, which did not hold the principles of the Free Church, the majority had forfeited the right to the property of the Free Church, which must be judged to belong to the minority who remained faithful to the principles of the Free Church and were that Church. In the Scottish courts the case was decided in favour of the union by Lord Low on the 9th of August 1901, and by the second division of the Court of Session on the 4th of July 1902, it being held in both trials that the old Free Church had a right within limits to change its views and to do by its Assembly what had been done. The proceedings before the House of Lords on appeal were protracted by the death of one of the judges, which involved the necessity of a second hearing, and it was not till the 1st of August 1904 that the verdict was pronounced. By a majority of five to two the House of Lords reversed the decision of the Court of Session, allowed the appeal, and found the minority entitled to the funds and property of the Free Church. It was held that the majority of an independent church, adopting new standards of doctrine or ceasing to hold essential or fundamental doctrines of the church, forfeit the right to the property, which remains with the minority holding the church’s original doctrine: also that the establishment principle was a fundamental doctrine of the Free Church, and that by entering a union on terms leaving that doctrine an open question, the majority had violated the conditions on which the property of the Free Church was held. On the plea that by the Declaratory Act of 1892 the Free Church had abandoned its doctrinal position, argument was heard, but the House of Lords did not decide.

Few legal decisions have occasioned so great consternation or such serious practical difficulties. At first sight it deprived the Free Church section of the United Church of all its material goods—churches, manses, colleges and missions, even of the provision for the old age of the clergy. It appeared to divert large amounts of church property from the uses for which it had been provided, and to hand it over to a body with which the United Church was deeply out of sympathy and which could have little prospect of making effective use of it. A conference held in September between representatives of the United Free and of the (now distinct) Free Church, in order to come to some working arrangement in view of the decision, found that no basis for such an agreement could be arrived at. Nothing remained but to invoke the intervention of parliament to put an end to an impossible situation. A convocation of ministers and elders of the United Free Church, held on the 15th of December, decided that the union should go on, and resolved to “take every lawful means of appealing to the nation and to parliament to rescue the funds and buildings of the Church for the sacred purposes for which they had been provided.” The Free Church could not refuse to consent to this, and in December a commission was appointed, consisting of Lord Elgin, Lord Kinnear and Sir Ralph Anstruther, to inquire into matters connected with the two churches, while the question of interim possession was referred to Sir John Cheyne, as commissioner, for inquiry and action. The commission sat in public, and after hearing evidence on both sides, issued their report in April 1905. They reported that the state of feeling on one side and on the other had made their work difficult. They had concluded however that the Free Church was unable in many respects to carry out the purposes of the trusts, which, under the verdict of the House of Lords, was a condition of their holding the property, and that there was a case for parliamentary interference. They recommended that an executive commission should be set up by act of parliament, in which the whole property of the Free Church, as at the date of the union, should be vested, and which should allocate it to the United Free Church, where the Free Church was unable to carry out the trust purposes. The commission was to entertain suggestions which might be made to them for friendly arrangements.

The Churches (Scotland) Act, which gave effect to these recommendations, was passed on the 11th of August 1905. It contained (see Scotland, Church of) a clause (No. 5) providing for the relaxation of subscription in the Established Church, parliament thus interesting itself in the affairs of all Presbyterian churches. The commissioners were those on whose report the act was formed, with the addition of two others. In October 1906}} the commission intimated that the Assembly Hall, with the New College Buildings and the High Church, were to be the property of the United Free Church, the Free Church receiving the offices in Edinburgh, and a tenement to be converted into a college, while the library was to be vested in the United Free Church, but open to members of both churches. After having occupied class-rooms in the university for two sessions, and held an assembly (1905) in another hall, the United Free Church in 1906 again occupied in its own right the historic buildings of the Free Church. All the foreign missions and all the continental stations were adjudged to the United Free Church. The allocation of churches and manses was a slow business, but in 1908 over 100 churches had been assigned to the Free Church. Some of the dispossessed United Free Church congregations, most of them in the Highlands, found shelter for a time in the parish churches; but it was early decided that in spite of the objection against the erection of more church buildings in districts where many were now standing empty, 60 new churches and manses should at once be built at a cost of about £150,000.  (A. M.*)