Popularly known as the “Wee Free” Church, it represents the minority of the former Free Church of Scotland who in 1900 refused to enter the union with the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church of Scotland. The United Presbyterian Church when constituted in 1847 had accepted the principle of voluntaryism* and the minority felt that union with it would compromise the Free Church belief in the national recognition of the Christian religion. The original Free Church was constituted in 1843 after the Disruption* when about one-third of the ministers and members seceded from the Church of Scotland rather than submit to what they regarded as state control of the church. But their leader, Thomas Chalmers,* declared: “We quit a vitiated establishment and would rejoice in returning to a pure one.”
After the majority of this Free Church entered the union of 1900, the dissenting minority laid claim in the civil courts to the entire property of the Free Church on the grounds that they alone were true to the Disruption principle of a free established church. After losing in the Scottish courts they appealed to the House of Lords, which decided in their favor in 1904. This judgment caused a sensation, and a parliamentary commission was appointed to distribute the property in accordance with the relative strengths of the two parties. The present Free Church, though not established, holds to the principle of establishment. Conservative in theology, it affirms its loyalty to the whole of the Westminster Confession of Faith.* Strongly Sabbatarian, it has no instrumental music and uses only the metrical psalms in congregational praise. It is strongest in N and NW Scotland, with a total of just under 6,000 members and more than 17,000 adherents.