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Church of Scotland

Presbyterians are those Christians who hold to a government by presbyters. They are Calvinistic in doctrine. They believe that bishops and presbyters, or elders, are of the same order. Bishops were presbyters in charge of congregations. The Presbyterian polity provides for the presbytery, the synod, and the general assembly; and its officers are bishops or pastors, ruling elders and deacons. There is but one order in the ministry, that of presbyter. The presbytery consists of all the ministers and one ruling elder from each church within its bounds. The synod is constituted of delegates, ministerial and lay, elected by the presbyteries belonging to it. The general assembly is composed of commissioners, ministerial and lay, elected by the presbyteries.

Of the introduction of Christianity into Scotland, no authentic record remains. It is highly probable that among the Roman invaders there were Christians, and that by their means the name of Christ became known to the inhabitants. The first historical figure in our Scottish Christianity is St. Ninian, who seems to have been born about the year 360. He died about 432, and for centuries no place in Scotland was regarded as more holy than his tomb. The conversion of the people to Christianity cannot have been very thorough. In the course of little more than a century they had almost wholly relapsed into Paganism, and the work of Ninian had to be done over again. Among the most famous of those by whom this second conversion to Christianity was effected stands the name of St. Kentigern, who was apparently born about the year 514.

It is to St. Columba that the name of "Apostle of Scotland" is generally applied. The earlier missionaries of the Cross had kindled a light here and there, but it shone very fitfully and was well-nigh extinguished. St. Columba kindled a light which was shed over all the land and by God's grace endures to this day. He was born at Gartan, in Donegal, Ireland, in the year 521. No event in the history of Scotland is more memorable than the arrival on Iona, in the year 563, of Columba and his twelve companions. The government of the Columban Church has been the subject of much controversy. It seems to have differed in important respects both from Presbytery and Episcopacy, in the modern sense of these terms. Columba was only a Presbyter, but, as Abbot of the Monastery, he exercised authority over the whole Church.

In the centuries that followed, as Scotland began to find its identity as a nation, and hundreds of years of tension with her English neighbours to the South began, the Church adopted the Roman, not Celtic, practices of work and worship. Saintly figures like Queen Margaret encouraged and supported its work and influence, and the papacy allowed Scotland to be independent of England for church purposes.

The history of the Scottish Church from the Reformation to the Revolution is the history of the Scottish nation. All through this long period on the one hand, the Church through its Assemblies and its ministers took an active interest in the conduct of public affairs, and on the other, the State was constantly interfering with the policy of the Church. The consequence was, that the two were so closely connected together, the movements and the condition of things in the one department were so vitally affected by those in the other, that it is impossible to read aright the history of the State without taking into account what at the same time was transpiring within the domain of the Church. The Scottish Church fostered the love of freedom among the people, and became, what the Church of England never was, the chief defence of the rights of the people against the encroachments of civil tyranny.

It may be said generally, that in England the Reformation started into being under the direct influence of the Crown; but in Scotland, the cause was taken up and carried forward by the nobles and the people in direct opposition to the will of the Sovereign. Doubtless, when Henry the Eighth severed England from the domination of Rome, he was sustained by men far nobler than himself, who were animated by high religious principle, and he had the sympathy and support of a large portion of his subjects. But the Scottish Reformation, though lacking this element of royal patronage and support, yet had a firmer basis in the convictions of the people, was altogether broader and deeper in its nature, and more popular in its character, than was the corresponding movement in the southern kingdom.

The Reformation in Scotland came to its head in the 1560s, and was modelled on John Calvin's Geneva. His pupil John Knox is famous for head-to-head debates with Mary, Queen of Scots, the Catholic Queen who returned from France and tried to remain loyal to the Roman system. By the end of the 16th century, the Protestant Church of Scotland had developed into a Presbyterian Church, with a system of courts (today the General Assembly, presbytery and kirk session), and a strong tradition of preaching and Scriptural emphasis.

In 1558 civil war broke out between the Queen Regent as the head of the Popish party, and the "Lords of the Congregation" as representing the Protestants. The dangers with which they were surrounded induced the leaders of the Protestants to enter into those leagues for mutual support, and for defence of religion and liberty, which are known as "Bands" or "Covenants." When, through the intervention of England on behalf of the Reforming party, the war was brought to a close, the government of the country was left practically in the hands of the Protestants. John Knox had meantime returned to his native land, and he threw all his energy into the great work of advancing the cause. In 1560 "The Confession of Faith as Professed and Believed by the Protestants within the realm of Scotland," was presented to the Estates, and was by them ratified and approved as the embodiment of what was henceforth to be regarded as the national religion of Scotland. Two other Acts were passed, by one of which the Papal jurisdiction was abolished, and by the other the celebration of the Mass was forbidden under severe penalties.

During the first seven years of its history the Reformed Church of Scotland was neither established nor endowed. Civil Establishment and partial endowment came in 1567; and with this union between Church and State began a struggle on the part of the latter to fetter the liberties of the Church which continued for more than a century. The struggle began about the time of John Knox's death, in 1572, and was initiated by the greed of the nobles, who sought, by the institution of a sort of Episcopate, to secure for themselves a large share of the wealth of the Popish Church. It was afterwards maintained and intensified by the king's love of arbitrary power, and his special dislike for the freedom of the Presbyterian Church; and there were parties within the Church willing to he the tools of the Court in bringing it into bondage. From 1572 to 1592 bishops and archbishops nominated by the State existed in Scotland, but the office was little more than nominal.

After the crowns of Scotland and England were united in 1603, attempts by Charles I and Charles II to control the Kirk (to use the Scots term) met with protest, including the signing of the National Covenant at Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh in 1638. The Presbyterian Church was founded by that body of men who adhered to the civil part of the Second Reformation, according to which Presbytery was established and recognised by the State between 1638 and 1649. Acts of Parliament had been passed in that period, by which the king held his crown on certain express conditions. When Charles II violated these conditions, both in regard to the civil liberties of the nation and the spiritual independence of the Church, multitudes, especially in the South of Scotland, were disposed to offer strenuous resistance to his assertion of arbitrary power. The more resolute and discerning among the Presbyterians came at length to feel that a change of dynasty was necessary, if freedom and order were to be secured, and hence the celebrated Queensberry Paper and the Sanquhar Declaration. More formidable still to the reigning despotism was the remarkable organization of the Societies, as they were called, designed to secure the enjoyment of religious ordinances, as well as to assert the liberties of the nation. They were the first to urge that the dynasty should be changed, and their contention was ratified by the nation at the Revolution. The terms, however, upon which a settlement was effected were not accepted as sufficient by a considerable body of Presbyterians.

The Church took its rise in its distinctive character at this period, and on the ground that it could not, while acknowledging the relief from oppression which the Revolution afforded, acquiesce in the arrangements made by the State for the recognition of the Church and the due exercise of its authority within its own spiritual domain. They were jealous in regard to the terms on which an alliance was proposed between Church and State. They were equally jealous in regard to the character of the ally with which the Church was invited to connect itself. They had felt the evils of prelatic despotism too long to view without forebodings the continuance of the system in England and the influence it might still exert on Scottish interests.

The succession of William and Mary to the throne in 1688 changed the situation, and the Revolution Settlement of 1690 finally established the reformed, presbyterian Church as the national Church of Scotland. The monarch even today has a special relationship with the Church of Scotland and renews that every year by sending a representative to attend the General Assembly.

Controversy and division were common in the Church between 1750 and 1850, when there was considerable concern about the Church's relations with the State, particularly over intervention in the appointment of ministers. The largest division was the Disruption of 1843, a major split which saw about one third of the Kirk break away to form what came to be the Free Kirk. The next 90 years were spent removing the causes of division, and reuniting several churches, all of them presbyterian, so that today the Church of Scotland is the largest Protestant church in the country, with a number of very small churches alongside it, representing those who chose not to find their way into the union process.

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Page last modified: 08-11-2011 19:38:17 ZULU