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Wesley Bible Union

This was founded in 1913 by a small group of WM ministers and laity in the aftermath of the controversy over George Jackson's Fernley Lecture of 1912, The Preacher and the Modern Mind. Jackson's lecture represented an endorsement of mainstream biblical criticism and challenged traditional theories of inspiration and atonement; the WBU stood for a conservative position which gradually hardened into explicit and militant fundamentalism. Leading members of the Union in its early days were William Shepherd Allen (1831-1915), John William Laycock (1836-1923) and Sir William Smith (1843-1916) among the laity and William Spiers (1846-1930; e.m. 1873), Dr. G. Armstrong Bennetts (1852-1925; e.m. 1875) and Harold C. Morton (1870-1936; e.m.1891) among the ministers. The WBU claimed the support of Robert W. Perks, although there is no evidence of his active involvement in its organization. Wiliam L. Watkinson expressed sympathy for the Union's concerns and Dinsdale T. Young was a regular speaker on its platform.

The initial impetus to form the WBU came from the Conference's refusal to condemn Jackson or to decline his designation as a tutor at *Didsbury College. Once established, the Union began a wider campaign against perceived Modernism in the WM connexion. It organized public meetings, wrote to the denominational press, published a journal, raised questions in Synods and Conference and brought doctrinal charges against a succession of ministers, including Jackson himself, Frank *Ballard, J. Scott *Lidgett, Wilbert F. *Howard and J. Ernest *Rattenbury. Under the leadership of Bennetts and Morton it became the most articulate and unambiguous exponent of an ultra-conservative and untra-Protestant strand in WM, rooted in 19th-century traditions, but also coloured by the polemical atmosphere of the ritual and Modernist controversies of the period. The strident polemics of the WBU alienated potential sympathizers - even Samuel *Chadwick was denounced as lukewarm for failing to endorse the crusade against Jackson. Although the early records of the Union were destroyed during World War II, comments in the WBU's Journalsuggest that popular support for the movement was slender; certainly its advocates were lone voices in Synods and at Conference.

The Union took its stand on the doctrinal standards of WM: John Wesley's Sermons and *Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament. Use of the standards to determine the validity of modern biblical scholarship led the Connexion to redefine the terms of subscription: the WM Conference of 1919 declared that the foundation documents 'were not intended to impose a system of formal or speculative theology on our preachers'. This clarification materially assisted the negotiations for Methodist Union and the 1919 wording was incorporated into the doctrinal clause of the *Deed of Union of the Methodist Church.

By the early 1920s the WBU was disillusioned with the Connexion and the WM Conference was exasperated with the Union. Morton became a *supernumerary in 1920 and resigned in 1932, just before the Uniting Conference. A year earlier the WBU had changed its name, becoming the British Bible Union, and its journal was renamed The Fundamentalist. The BBU amalgamated with the Bible Testimony Fellowship in 1955 and later with the Advent Testimony and Preparation Movement, forming the society known by the 1990s as the Prophetic Witness Movement International.

Sources

  • M. Wellings, 'The Wesley Bible Union', in WHS Proceedings, 53 pp.157-68
  • D.W. Bebbington, 'The persecution of George Jackson: a British fundamentalist controversy' in W.J. Sheils (ed.), Persecution and Toleration (Oxford, 1984) pp. 421-33
  • Martin Wellings, 'Methodist Fundamentalism before and after the First World War' in David W. Bebbington and David Ceri Jones (eds.), Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in the United Kingdom during the Twentieth Century (2013) pp.132-50

Entry written by: MW
Category: Organisation

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