As a branch of the Christian Church, our history
began with its institution by the Lord Jesus. As a Protestant denomination
we are heirs to the Reformation of the sixteenth century, when the
gospel was revived and the Bible restored to its rightful place.
The Australian chapter commenced last century.
Most Presbyterian settlers in colonial Australia came
from Scotland, and there belonged to the largest denomination -
the Church of Scotland which dated from the Reformation under John
Knox in 1560. In 1841 Presbyterians in the colony of New South Wales
(which then included Victoria and Queensland) generally belonged
to a body which had a lengthy title: The Synod of Australia in connection
with the Established Church of Scotland.
In 1843 an event occurred which was one of the most significant
in the social history of Britain last century, and which had ramifications
throughout the colonies. This event is called The Disruption. Its
leading figure was the renowned Dr. Thomas Chalmers. It came about
because the civil authorities in Scotland interfered in the spiritual
affairs of the Church. The immediate matter was the demand by the
State that ministers, who were unacceptable to the Church and who
had not been chosen by the local congregations, be settled in certain
parishes. Such action was contrary to the constitutional relationship
between Church and State. More importantly, it was a denial of the
spiritual independence of the Church and the sole Headship of Christ
over her affairs. Thus in 1843, after a protracted struggle, some
470 ministers left the established body and formed the Church of
Scotland Free - free of these encroachments on Scriptural teaching.
While her founders left the Establishment, they maintained the historic
place, teachings and position of the Church of Scotland.
The Disruption involved great sacrifice on the part of
faithful Christian people. The ministers who left the Established
Church forfeited homes and stipends. Congregations had to start
over again, often in the face of stiff opposition from those who
supported the State's action. Yet the Free Church of Scotland, as
she became known, was greatly blessed of God, and was a powerful
influence for good in that land and beyond.
The events of 1843 created great interest in Australia
and local Presbyterians could not remain unaffected. One question
of immediate consequence was whether the Synod of Australia should
receive ministers from the Church of Scotland. Some took the view
that there was no need to be too precise about the requirements
for the ministry and that the Disruption had little bearing on the
Australian situation. Others were more perceptive. They realised
that many ministers who then remained in the Church of Scotland
accepted the idea that the State might exercise control over various
aspects of the spiritual life of the Church, even though this was
manifestly contrary to God's Word. To accept men of such compromised
principles was to sow the seed of departure from biblical standards.
Further, while the Disruption was a Scottish event, the principles
involved were of universal significance. Geography could not alter
the fact that those Presbyterians who upheld the Headship of Christ
and the spiritual independence of the Church were duty bound to
support the stand taken by the Free Church.