Marrow Theology And Secession Church History -- By: William VanDoodewaard

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 71:2 (Fall 2009)
Article: Marrow Theology And Secession Church History
Author: William VanDoodewaard


Marrow Theology And Secession Church History

William Vandoodewaard

William VanDoodewaard is Assistant Professor of European history at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and Visiting Professor of Church History at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

I. A Historical Introduction To The Secession Churches

The theological roots of the Secession churches, due to their origin in the Church of Scotland, pass through the Marrow controversy of 1718-1726. Perhaps in part due to the historical proximity of these events, along with the role of several Marrow brethren in the early Secession movement, numerous theologians and historians state that the Secession churches were defined and shaped by a continuity of the Marrow understanding of the gospel and its proclamation.1 This claim, however, has not been supported to date by a comprehensive study of historical and theological evidences for the continuity of Marrow theology into the Secession churches: such a study does not exist. The question remains whether a clear continuity of Marrow theology can be found within the Secession churches. The search for evidence towards the answer rightly begins in an examination of the events marking the formation of the Secession churches.

On 5 December 1733, four ministers of the Church of Scotland—Ebenezer Erskine, James Fisher, Alexander Moncrieff, and William Wilson—met together at Gairney Bridge, where they constituted the Associate Presbytery of the Church of Scotland.2 Their action effectively marked the beginning of the Secession churches in Scotland. What had brought about this action?

The period after the end of the Marrow controversy (1718-1726) saw the continuation of debates, divisions, and tensions in the Church of Scotland which were formative in the nascent secession movement. The issues included continued concerns over preaching, ministerial qualifications, and appointments; controversy over teaching at divinity schools; and patronage. The last of these

provided what historians have referred to as “the immediate ‘occasion’ of the Secession.”3 In 1731, through an overture before the General Assembly, the Church of Scotland undermined its own Act of 1690 by proposing to give absolute rights in the selection of office-bearers for local churches to elders, local heritors, magistrates, and town councils.4 The heritors, magistrates, and town councilors were required to be Protestant, but nothi...

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