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.
(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
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
3. In what do the Church and the State agree?
4. In what does the “Second Book of Discipline” base
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
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.