Church of Scotland

From Conservapedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Church of Scotland (The "Kirk" in Scots) is the established church in Scotland. It is Calvinistic (Reformed) in doctrine and Presbyterian in government and discipline. Its strict, orthodox Calvinism and strong opposition to frivolity long dominated the values and culture of Scotland, even after a split in 1843 that was not healed until the 1920s. It was the established church until 1921; informally it is not considered "established". The Church of Scotland now enrolls about 600,000 members, but has been shrinking in membership and influence.


It was formed in the mid-16th century by John Knox (1514-1572) and the Protestant Lords of the Congregation. When Mary I became Queen in 1553 Knox fled to Switzerland, where he was strongly influenced by the Calvinist theology of John Calvin of Geneva; he sent many letters and pamphlets back to Scotland in returned in 1559. In 1560, the Scottish Parliament formally rejected Papal jurisdiction.

The Presbyterianism which replaced the Latin Roman Catholic services and episcopal system of government was then regularized by the adoption of the Scots Confession, Knox's Liturgy, and the First Book of Discipline (replaced by the Second Book of Discipline in 1581). These innovations were at once opposed by the Erastian Stuart monarchy, and this opposition was not resolved until the signing of the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, by the latter of which the Scottish Church adopted the Westminster symbols as permanent standards of doctrine, worship, and government. These symbols were the Westminster Confession, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Directory for the Public Worship of God, the Form of Presbyterian Church Government, and the new version of the Metrical Psalms. Following the return of Charles II to the throne in Restoration of 1660 and the "killing time" of the Covenanters, Presbyterianism was guaranteed as the national form of religion by the Revolution Settlement of 1690 and the Act of Union that merged Scotland and England of 1707.

The parish was the main unit of local government in Scotland, and since it was also part of the church, the elders imposed public humiliation for what the locals considered immoral behavior, including fornication, drunkenness, wife beating, cursing and Sabbath breaking. After 1700 the police powers were focused primarily on sexual misbehavior and profaning the Sabbath. The landlords and gentry, and their servants, were not subject to the parish's scrutiny—their bastards were ignored. The policing system weakened after 1800 and disappeared in most places by the 1850s.[1]

17th century

Recent historiography has argued that the British ecclesiastical policies of James I, (king of England (1603–25) and, as James VI, king of Scotland (1567–1625)), sought "congruity" between the different churches in Scotland, England, and Ireland rather than British ecclesiastical union or the Anglicanization of all the churches. The asymmetry of the changes he sought in Scotland and England has been underplayed and has masked his choice of a fundamentally Anglican model for the British churches. By allowing the archbishop of Canterbury to interfere in Scottish ecclesiastical affairs, undermining the Presbyterian system, and promoting episcopal power and liturgical reform, James pursued the Anglicanization of the Church of Scotland. The motivation for James's persistence is to be found in his rapid assimilation to the Church of England after 1603 and, moreover, in his goal of the reunification of Christendom as a whole on the Anglican model.[2]

Religion was often a defining factor in the shifting alliances that shaped the dynastic, political and cultural landscape of the time. (See English Civil War). Specifically, Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Catholics were vying for supremacy in this period. With the ascendancy of the Protestant House of Orange in the Glorious Revolution of 1690, the predominance of the Presbyterian Kirk was assured.[3]

1707 to present


Long after the triumph of the Protestant church in the Lowlands, the religion of Scottish Highlanders remained a Christianity fused with animistic folk beliefs and practices. The remoteness of many Highland parishes and the lack of a Gaelic-speaking clergy vitiated the educational and missionary efforts of the established Scottish church. The later 18th century saw somewhat greater success, owing to the efforts of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SSPCK) and to the disruption of traditional Highland society after the battle of Culloden in 1745. Nevertheless, in the 19th century, the evangelical Free Churches, which were more accepting of Gaelic language and culture, grew at the expense of the established church.[4]

The introduction of capitalism during the century after 1750 destroyed the traditional social and economic structure of the northwest Highlands and Hebrides, causing great disruption for the crofters. Lacking an inherited sense of class conflict, they turned to the popularly oriented, fervently evangelical Presbyterian revival for spiritual relief during the opening decades of the 19th century. The majority were carried into the Free Church after 1843. This evangelical movement, led by lay preachers who were drawn mostly from the lower strata of Highland society and whose preaching tended to be implicitly critical of the established order, helped prepare the crofters for their united and concerted offensive against landlordism in the 1880s.[5]

Church organization and management

The Kirk pioneered some modern managerial systems in the 18th century. The church's organizational structure, centered on the kirk sessions and lay elders, established systems of accountability that involved extensive and detailed record-keeping, practices that could also be applied within a commercial setting. Comparison with English church governance reveals that the Scottish system promoted more extensive lay involvement, as well as engendering a systematic, less personal approach to management.[6]

Rejecting a distinction between bishops and the clergy, and, indeed, downplaying the distinction between clergy and laity, each Church of Scotland congregation is governed by a Kirk Session consisting of body of elected elders, the minister considered to be but a special case of elder. The church as a whole takes decisions at the annual General Assembly, at which both elders and ministers are represented.[7]


The Reformation leaders required that every parish must operate a school. Supposedly many oatmeal-eating poor boys went on to university and became intellectul leaders. A myth grew up in the 19th century to the effect that Scotland thereby became the best educated nation in Europe and this democratic system helped cause its leading role in the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Historians have exploded the myth. West showed in 1972 that the Scots were not significantly better educated than the English. Anderson in 1995 demonstrated that the schools indeed existed (as they did in other Protestant countries), but they were not free and they generally imparted only basic literacy—the ability to read the Bible, which was the original goal. Poor children, starting at age 7, were done by age 8 or 9; the majority were finished by age 11 or 12. The result was widespread basic reading ability; since there was an extra fee for writing, half the people never learned to write.[8] A few talented poor boys did go to university, but usually they were helped by aristocratic or gentry sponsors. Most of them became poorly paid techers or ministers, and none became important figures in the Scottish Enlightenment or the Industrial Revolution. The schools had a lesser role in the Highlands or the islands, or in the fast-growing industrial cities. The Disruption of 1843 proved fatal to the tradition of parish schools, and in 1872 Scotland moved to a system like England's state-sponsored free schools, dedicated to efficiency and high performance.[9]


During the Scottish Enlightenment The Moderate party within the Church of Scotland was led by William Robertson (1721–93) from 1750 to 1775. Opponents of the Moderates accused them of hypocrisy and Arminianism for their failure either to reject the Westminster Confession or to truly accept it. Moderates focused their scholarship on history, not theology. They practiced conjectural history and “stadialism”, which projected current trends back into the past and divided history into developmental stages of human progress. This view of history allowed the Moderates to assume superiority over the founders of the Scottish Reformation and the Covenanters while continuing to respect their achievements and recognize their accompanying flaws. Generally the Moderates sought to defend the Church of Scotland and the stadialist approach allowed them to assume a progressive evolution of doctrine. It also redirected theological study from dogmatics to historical theology.[10]


The Scots were enthusiastic supporters of the Empire, and brought Presbyterianism along.

Three rival varieties of Presbyterianism came from Scotland to Australia. John Dunmore Lang's Synod was missionary-minded, voluntaristic, and oriented to the future. The Free Church was puritan, fundamentalist, and stressed the Calvinistic past. The majority body, the Synod of Australia, maintained the ties with the Church of Scotland. The groups reunited in 1865.

The journeys (1858–64) in east Africa of Scottish missionary David Livingstone (1813-1873) showed the possibility for Christianity and commerce in the Shire-Nyasa region of modern Malawi (formerly called Nyasaland). Christian missions came first. The missions' anti-slavery commitment dictated British policies in Shire lands in the precolonial period. Livingstone attracted missionaries as well as a commercial influence. The Free Church of Scotland's Livingstonia Mission modernized Tonga society by promoting central political authority, a money economy, and village schools. The Church of Scotland's Blantyre Mission, a failure in civil jurisdiction, sought to build an "African Church" evangelically. Incorporated in 1878, the Livingstonia Central African Company, closely connected with the Livingstonia Mission, was important in opening up the country. Missionaries and planters prevented Cecil Rhodes' takeover of Nyasaland.[11] In Kenya and Northern Rhodesia the United Free Church of Scotland was active (along with other missions) in promoting Christianity and modernization; it taught new agricultural techniques, established schools and medical clinics, opened up schools for girls, and brought an understanding of European ways. The projects succeeded in the long run, in spite of great hardships arising from lack of personnel and money, and in the face of indifference in official church bodies back in Scotland.

1843-21st century

The competition after 1843 between the established and the Free Church caused both to turn to voluntary subscriptions; both grew rapidly. The established church in 1874 abolished the patronage system that had caused the disruption. Reunion took place in 1929.

In 1908 the Church of Scotland performed 45% of marriages, as compared with 26% United Free and 10% Catholic.

The terrible death toll of World War I led to divergent interpretations as theology confronted popular culture. In 1914, Scotsmen enthusiastically enlisted, but by 1915 the toll of enormous numbers of men killed in battle ended old romantic views of war and death. Sermons and graves featured John 15:13, "Greater love hath no man . . ." It became a popular belief that young soldiers found salvation in dying in battle, and some clergymen compared such a death to Christ's sacrifice. The Church of Scotland and the United Free Church had clergymen who took this view, but the conservative Free Presbyterians argued that this belief contradicted Scripture; that is, unless someone was saved, a battle death could not prevent eternity in hell. Although this position was unpopular, Free Presbyterians held to it, refusing to compromise their beliefs for the sake of comforting people in the loss of their loved ones.[12]

The British Parliament passed the "Church of Scotland Act in 1921", clarifying the church's final jurisdiction in spiritual matters and in appointments. Since then the Church has not been considered "established."

The Church of Scotland had about 960,000 adult members in 1980 and over 600,000 in 2006.

Schisms and Free Church

Numerous major and minor schisms (and reunions) occurred within the Church, primarily over the issues of patronage and state control. The principal separation Churches were the First Secession Church of 1733, the Relief Church of 1761, and the Free Church of 1843, all Presbyterian.

The evangelical movement in the early 19th century created a series of revivals and a challenge to the Moderates. It resembled the Second Great Awakening in the United States at about the same time. The evangelicals called for purification of its members and ministers and attacked the patronage system that allowed rich landowners to select the local ministers. In the 1839s came the "Ten Years Conflict" between evangelicals on one side and the Moderates and gentry on the other. The evangelicals secured passage by the church's General Assembly in 1834, of the famous "Veto Act". This act asserted that it was a fundamental law of the Church that no pastor should be forced by the genty upon a congregation contrary to the popular will, and that any noominee could be rejected by majority of the heads of families. This direct blow at the right of private patrons was challenged in the civil courts, and was decided (1838) against the Church.

The Disruption of 1843 came on 18 May 1843 when 470 ministers (out of 1,200), led by Dr. Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), seceded from the Church of Scotland. A third of the membership walked out, including nearly all the Gaelic-speakers and the missionaries.

The seceders were outraged at the gentry's control over parish ministers and the Parliament's refusal to recognize the church's spiritual independence. Chalmers' ideas shaped the breakaway group. He stressed a social vision that revived and preserved Scotland's communal traditions at a time of strain on the social fabric of the country. Chalmers's territorial community ideal, founded on church-based, self-contained communities that recognized the individuality of their members and the need for cooperation, had an important influence on the mainstream Presbyterian churches through the Victorian period. While his influence was initially felt in the Free Church, by the 1870s it had been assimilated by the established Church of Scotland. Chalmers's ideals demonstrated that the church was concerned with the problems of urban society, and they represented a real attempt to overcome the social fragmentation that took place in industrial towns and cities. The Free Church never adopted any new articles of faith, or any new ritual. It claimed to represent the legitimate Presbyterian Church of the country enjoying its full spiritual independence, and freed from the undue encroachment of the state.

By seceding they gave up an annual income of £100,000 in total as well as the church buildings. The seceders created a voluntary fund of over £400,000 to build new churches; colleges in Edinburgh and Aberdeen; manses (residences for the ministers) were erected at a cost of a quarter of a million; and an equal or larger amount was expended on the building of congregational schools. About $25,000 came from a fund drive in the United States. After the passing of the Education Act of 1872, most of these schools were voluntarily transferred by the Free Church to the newly established school-boards.

In London, English politicians' reacted angrily. Whig and Tory politicians alike opposed the Veto Act, both because it valorized the decisions of "ignorant" people and because it would destroy the patronage system that was an integral element of party politics. After the Disruption, the new Free Church of Scotland was created by seceders; they voted strongly for the Liberal party, which sought unsuccessfully to disestablish the Church of Scotland.

The Free Church significantly influenced Swedish and American religious life. To Swedish Evangelicals, the Scottish church provided a model of how they could be dissatisfied with the established Lutheran Church and still consider themselves Lutherans. It also served as a model for Swedish-American Lutherans, especially members of the Augustana Lutheran Church, in the Midwest, although its influence was diminished by the lack of an established state church in the United States.[13]

The most brilliant Free Church intellectual was William Robertson Smith (1846-1894), who was removed from his professorship at Aberdeen University in 1881 on account of his "Higher Criticism" views on the Bible. By 1900, however, the Higher Criticism won out and the Free Church's theology became largely based on the rationalizationing influence of German Protestant theology.

The last 150 years have witnessed the vital reunion of several bodies. In 1900, 1077 congregations of the Free Church Congregations entered a union with 599 congregations of the United Presbyterian Church. The result was the United Free Church of Scotland, with 500,000 members (compared to 700,000 in the Church of Scotland). It supported 300 missionaries in Asia and Africa. In 1929 the United Free Church rejoined the Church of Scotland, although 100 congregations remain separate as the "Free Church of Scotland."[14]

Talks began in the 1950s aiming at a grand merger of the main Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist bodies in Scotland. The talks were disrupted in 2003, however, when the rank and file of the Church of Scotland revolted against any recognition of bishops.

Current positions

Liberal position on women

There has been full equality between men and women in the Church of Scotland since 1968.[15]


The Church of Scotland is generally tolerant of homosexuality. A recent report concluded that: Many people are both gay and Christian; having a homosexual orientation is not a matter for censure; having a homosexual orientation does not preclude service to Christ in the church and the world. A homosexual orientation should not be a barrier to any role in church and state, and the Church should oppose all forms of discrimination on these grounds, both in environments where the Church carries authority and in society at large. [16]

(For more see Homosexuality and Scotland)


  • Brown, Callum G. Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707. Edinburgh U. Press, (1997). 219 pp.
  • Brown, Stewart J. The National Churches of England, Ireland, and Scotland, 1801-1846. 2001. 459 pp.
  • Buchan, John. The Kirk in Scotland, 1560-1929 (1985)
  • Burleigh, J.H.S. A Church History of Scotland (1962), short and impartial
  • Devine, T. M. The Scottish Nation: 1700-2000 (1999)
  • Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press, 2004, onlineedition.
  • Drummond, A. L., and J. Bulloch. The Scottish Church, 1688–1843 (1973)
  • Marshall, Rosalind K. John Knox. Edinburgh: Birlinn, (2000). 244 pp.
  • Pope, Robert. Religion and National Identity: Wales and Scotland C. 1700-2000 University of Wales Press, (2001), 355pp online edition
  • Ross, K. R. Church and Creed in Scotland (1988).
  • Todd, Margo. The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland. Yale U. Press, 2002. 450 pp.
  • Walker, G., and T. Gallagher, eds. Sermons and Battle Hymns: Protestant Popular Culture in Modern Scotland (1990)
  • Wormald, Jenny. Court, Kirk and Community, Scotland 1470-1625 (1981), in The New History of Scotland excerpt and text search

External links


  1. Soldiers and vagrants were also immune. Devine (1999), pp. 84-89
  2. Alan R. Macdonald, "James VI and I, the Church of Scotland, and British Ecclesiastical Convergence". Historical Journal2005 48(4): 885-903. Issn: 0018-246x
  3. see online
  4. George Robb, "Popular Religion and the Christianization of the Scottish Highlands in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries." Journal of Religious History 1990 16(1): 18-34. Issn: 0022-4227
  5. James Hunter, "The Emergence of the Crofting Community: The Religious Contribution 1798-1843." Scottish Studies 1974 18: 95-116. Issn: 0036-9411
  6. Alistair Mutch, "Management Practice and Kirk Sessions: an Exploration of the Scottish Contribution to Management." Journal of Scottish Historical Studies2004 24(1): 1-19.
  8. Inspection of wills shows that 65% of the men could sign their names in the 1750s, compared to only 25% of the women. Devine (1999) pp 96-97.
  9. Devine (1999) pp 91-100; R. D. Anderson, Education and the Scottish People, 1750-1918 (1995).
  10. Colin Kidd, "Subscription, the Scottish Enlightenment and the Moderate Interpretation of History" Journal of Ecclesiastical History 2004 55(3): 502-519. Issn: 0022-0469
  11. B. Pachai, "In the Wake of Livingstone and the British Administration: Some Considerations of Commerce and Christianity in Malawi." Society of Malawi Journal 1967 20(2): 40-70.
  12. James Lachlan MacLeod, "'Greater Love Hath No Man than This': Scotland's Conflicting Religious Responses to Death in the Great War." Scottish Historical Review 2002 81(1): 70-96. Issn: 0036-9241 Fulltext: Ebsco
  13. Emmet E. Eklund, "The Scottish Free Church and its Relation to Nineteenth-century Swedish and Swedish-American Lutheranism." Church History 1982 51(4): 405-418. Issn: 0009-6407 Fulltext: in Jstor
  14. See the website at [1] However the Free Church (Continuing) (FCC) split off in 2000; it now has 50 c0ngregations and a website at [2].