4. Scotland

The Reformation reached Scotland in the first place only very slowly. Individual works of Luther were smuggled into the country. Patrick Hamilton was burnt as a Martyr in 1528 in St. Andrews, because he had preached the Reformation. In general, however, the Reformation did not gain acceptance. One reason for this was that some of those inclined towards the Reformation hoped to come together with the English Church, which had broken away from Rome under Henry the 8th. However, Scottish politics were at this time anti-English and thus pro Roman-Catholicism. After the death of the Scottish king Jacob V in 1542, his daughter Mary Stuart, although only an infant, became the new Scottish queen. Her mother Mary of Guise reigned in her place.

John Knox
(ca. 1514 – 1572)

John Knox (roughly 1514-1572) began as a priest and after converting to Protestantism became a notary and tutor. In 1547 he was sentenced to the galley, spent one and a half years there and then became a pastor in England in Berwick and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. When Mary Tudor ascended to the throne in 1554, Knox became a coworker of Calvin in Geneva. He finally returned to Scotland in 1559 in order to win acceptance for the Reformation. In Scotland there was a conflict between the ruler Mary of Guise and the Protestant nobility. As a result of appeals to the English queen Elizabeth I (who reigned from 1558), England intercepted the shipping traffic between Scotland and France, since the latter wanted to hinder the Reformation in Scotland. The Reformation achieved victory, which was confirmed by the Scottish Parliament in 1560 in the treaty of Edinburgh. In the same year the Confessio Scotica, the Scottish Confession (drawn up among others by John Knox), was passed by the General Assembly of the Scottish Church. The “First Book of Discipline,” which had the goal of a thorough reformation also of everyday life, however, was never ratified by Parliament and thus could not come into force. In 1561 Mary Stuart became regent in Scotland and made a futile attempt to abolish the Reformation. She fled to England in 1568.
After the death of John know in 1572 Andrew Melville became influential in the Scottish Church. He composed the “Second Book of Discipline” (1578), which had as its goal a Church independent from the state. In this book a problem which had characterised the Scottish Church for roughly 100 years came to expression: in what relation to the state should the Church live? Independently, in the view of e.g. Melville. Or under the control of the state, and thus of the bishops who were installed by the state.

From the “Second Book of Discipline” of 1578, Chapter 1

1. The kirk of God is sometimes largely taken for all them that profess the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so it is a company and fellowship, not only of the godly, but also of hypocrites professing always outwardly a true religion. Other times it is taken for the godly and elect only; and sometimes for them that exercise spiritual function among the congregation of them that profess the truth.
2. The kirk in this last sense has a certain power granted by God, according to the which it uses a proper jurisdiction and government, exercised to the comfort of the whole kirk. This power ecclesiastical is an authority granted by God the Father, through the Mediator Jesus Christ, unto his kirk gathered, and having the ground in the word of God; to be put in execution by them unto whom the spiritual government of the kirk by lawful calling is committed.
3. The policy of the kirk flowing from this power is an order or form of spiritual government which is exercised by the members appointed thereto by the word of God; and therefore is given immediately to the office-bearers, by whom it is exercised to the weal of the whole body. This power is diversely used: for sometimes it is severally exercised, chiefly by the teachers, sometimes conjunctly by mutual consent of them that bear the office and charge, after the form of judgment. The former is commonly called potestas ordinis, and the other potestas jurisdictionis. These two kinds of power have both one authority, one ground, one final cause, but are different in the manner and form of execution, as is evident by the speaking of our Master in Matt. 16 and 18.
4. This power and policy ecclesiastical is different and distinct in its own nature from that power and policy which is called the civil power and appertains to the civil government of the commonwealth; albeit they are both of God, and tend to one end, if they are rightly used: to wit, to advance the glory of God, and to have godly and good subjects.
5. For this ecclesiastical power flows immediately from God, and the Mediator Jesus Christ, and is spiritual, not having a temporal head on earth, but only Christ, the only spiritual King and Governor of his kirk.


Questions for further work

1. In the “Second Book of Discipline” the distinction between Church and State and therefore the independence of the Church from the State is particularly emphasised. Where is this expressed in the selected passage?

2. What does it mean if authority and power are conferred on the Church?

3. In what do the Church and the State agree?

4. In what does the “Second Book of Discipline” base its position?


In 1592 a victory was reached on the part of the groups pro the independence of the Church, but only at the price of the following concession: that the General Assembly could only meet if the king or a state official was invited. In 1638 a General Assembly of the Scottish Church took place at which the bishops were deposed. This Synod, which was convened in the first place by King Karl I, but then continued to convene despite the king’s command that it be dissolved, was generally named the “Second Scottish Reformation” in Scotland. In the following years the English government became weaker and the Scottish army invaded England in 1644. The English parliament had resolved upon the Reformation of the Church of England, and in 1644 the “Westminster Confession” was passed in Westminster (with the influence of Scottish Reformers). This has become the most important confession of Anglo-Saxon Calvinism, having superseded the Confessio Scotica in Scotland.
In the year 1662 the system of bishops was reintroduced under the pressure of the English king Karl II, with him as their head. Thus the Anglican church system was prescribed in Scotland without change in the Scottish confession and liturgy. The resistance in Scotland was great. More than 300 pastors refused to acknowledge this system and were deposed. People consequently assembled in the open air or in barns. This strange situation came to an end only six years later when William of Orange invaded England and the successor of Karl II, James II, fled.
However, there was a theological division in the Scottish Church which ultimately led to a structural division as well. The Moderates adopted a partly rationalistic thinking under the influence of the Enlightenment, Deism and also to some extent Unitarianism. They equated Christian identity to a large extent with ethical behaviour, and as a result opposed the hitherto orthodox Calvinist doctrine. On the other side there were the Evangelicals who can be regarded as the heirs of Reformed Orthodoxy, although they sometimes equated “culture” with worldliness. At the beginning of the 18th Century after severe conflicts divisions arose, all of which had the relation of the Church to the state at their root. In the first place, the “Secession Church” and the “Relief Church” were formed, which united to form the “United Presbyterian Church” in 1847. The great split occurred only in 1843, however. The Evangelicals left the General Assembly and roughly a third of the Church up to this point established itself as the “Free Church.” In the first two years roughly 500 churches and several colleges were set up.
In the course of the second half of the 19th Century the significance of the Westminster Confession for the churches considered orthodox declined. In 1879 the “United Presbyterian Church” resolved upon a qualification of the Westminster Confession according to which freedom of opinion was to exist in cases which did not concern the substance of the confession of faith. Following this in 1892, the Free Church made a corresponding declaration. In 1900 these two churches united and there followed in 1929 a great unification of the new united Church with what was up to this point the state Church to form the “Church of Scotland.” At the same time there were still several free Presbyterian churches in Scotland which split off and protested against the unification, some in the 19th Century and others only in the 20th. Today most of these form the “United Free Church of Scotland,” which has roughly 20000 members in 115 parishes. The Church of Scotland exists today in roughly 1555 parishes and 630000 members.