PCEA History

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.

The Disruption

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.

Colonial Repercussions

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.


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