The Disruption (1843)

The Voluntary discussion had highlighted the issue of the spiritual independence of the Church. In this discussion, the question was brought up again about the evils of lay patronage. This question went right back to the seventeenth century and was a major influence in vacant parishes and parishes filled by quite inadequate ministers. This was about secular powers interfering in spiritual matters. Everyone realised that something had to be done about it; the question was how far should one go? After a lot of discussion, the Assembly passed the Veto Act which, needless to say, was a compromise. It meant that a majority of heads of families could veto the acceptance of a proposed minister.

There was then the problem of the lack of churches in large populous parishes. A new parish could only be created with the permission of 75% of the landowners, but this was always difficult to get as the cost of the new parish would come from those same landowners. Sometimes the people themselves built a chapel and joined the Relief or Secession Churches. The Assembly of 1834 admitted all such Chapels of Ease as part of the Established Church. There was concern over the lack of religious instruction in the country. The Government failed to help, so Thomas Chalmers took his ideas to the Assembly in 1836. A public appeal was made and by 1838 200 new churches had been built.

After the Veto Act was passed, there were three or four major cases where proposed ministers who had been rejected by the heads of families in the parish., took the decision to the courts. In 1834 a patron presented his choice for the parish of Auchterarder, but the heads of family vetoed the appointment with a vote of 287 to 2. The following year the Assembly confirmed the veto, but then it went to court, with the decision of the Court of Session coming through in 1838 that the civil rights of the patron had been infringed. The Assembly of 1838 passed a resolution affirming its spiritual independence, and also decided to appeal the Court’s decision to the House of Lords. This was strange, because having said it was spiritually independent it then asked for a decision from a government body. A year later the House of Lords upheld the decision. Cockburn, one of the five judges that upheld the veto in the Court of Sessions wrote, “There never was a greater cause adjudged in the House of Lords on reasons more utterly unworthy of both. A case about a horse, or a £20 bill of exchange, would have got more thought. The ignorance and contemptuous slightness of the judgement did great mischief. It irritated and justified the people of Scotland in believing that their Church was sacrificed to English prejudices.”

Another patronage issue aggravated the situation. This was the parish of Marnoch in the Presbytery of Strathbogie. The patron had chosen John Edwards, but the parishioners disliked him a great deal so they voted 261 to 1 against the appointment. The 1838 Assembly rejected him, so the patron put up another candidate who was acceptable. Edwards got a ruling from the Court of Session preventing the induction of the new man. The 1839 Assembly told the Presbytery to obey the ruling. The Court then ordered that Edwards be inducted. Seven of the twelve ministers in the Presbytery went ahead with testing Edwards, ignoring the decision of the Assembly. The seven were then suspended and the Assembly appointed ministers to provide services in the seven parishes. The Court then forbade any preaching by these ministers in the buildings of the parishes, so the ministers preached in the open-air. In February 1840 the Courts banned preaching in the open-air, which was not in their jurisdiction. Chalmers and others saw this as a first stage in the Civil authorities telling the Church what to preach etc. The open-air preaching continued without trouble.

In January 1841 the Strathbogie seven ordained Edwards at Marnoch after the Court ruled that their suspension was illegal. All the congregation attended, but just before the ceremony they all left the church. A year later they opened a new church. At the 1841 Assembly, Chalmers called for the seven to be deposed from their ministry unless they repented. The motion was passed, and then one of the seven read a statement that they did not recognise the authority of the Church over the State, so the Assembly had no choice but to depose the seven.

On August 11th 1841 an important meeting was held at St Cuthbert’s Church where 1,400 ministers and elders met to discuss the situation. Thomas Chalmers set out the position that he and others were prepared to leave the Church of Scotland if the secular courts and the government continued to interfere in ecclesiastical affairs. They were prepared to give up the financial benefits that the government gave the Church, in return for complete independence. After it became clear that the courts and government were going to continue to intrude, a meeting of all Chalmers supporters met on November 17th 1842 in Roxburgh Church. As many as 465 ministers turned up for the meeting. The Convocation issued an address to the people of Scotland, setting out their position.

In the same year the courts made a decision against the Church’s having admitted Chapels of Ease, after an objection was raised to such a Chapel being raised in a certain Presbytery. The Home Secretary made a statement saying that there would be no modification of the law to help the situation regarding the Veto Act. At the Assembly meeting on May 18th 1843 at St Andrew’s Church, a protest was read out, putting the blame for the existing situation on the government; it was signed by 203 members. The protest was laid on the table and the signatories walked out of the building. They walked to a hall that had been prepared before and held a meeting. Later more ministers appended their signatures until it had 474 and 190 preachers also went over to the new Church. Chalmers made it clear that they still supported an Established Church, just not one intruded on by the State.

In the Assembly, one after another of those enactments passed by previous Assemblies which the Court of Session had pronounced illegal, were rescinded.

What happened in 1843 is known as the Disruption.

Additional Information

Unfortunately, my camera could not get in the whole Church and there was a book fair being set up when I visited.

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