In the discussions concerning the crisis in the Church of Scotland it is sometimes mentioned that the CofS is the “national church” and as such we should be hesitant concerning any move which might weaken that position and the ministry to all of Scotland which it entails. Unfortunately for the furtherance of debate there is usually very little attempt to unpack the meaning of the term. We have to ask: In what way are we a national church, and how does this affect us today?
Do we find the grounds for understanding out status as the national church in the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant? How many of us could seriously and sensibly discuss the nature of the covenants? Can we bind ourselves today by theological/political decisions taken nearly 400 years ago?
Are we a national church in the sense of being thus recognised by the state? If so we have to ask if it is legitimate for the church to have its active nature defined by the state? You don’t need to be Karl Barth to be able to point out the very real dangers in such an assumption.
Are we a national church in the sense of being the acknowledged largest denomination in Scotland? This, for the moment is true but is a tenuous claim to a special status separating us from other denominations. What happens when the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland overtakes the CofS in numbers as it already has in political and media influence? Will the RCs then be the national church?
Are we a national church in the sense of being the church of the people of Scotland? Facts would indicate that on any given Sunday more than 90% of the people of Scotland ignore the CofS either in preference for another denomination or, more likely, the Sunday Post. Are we the national church in as much as that when people don’t go to church it’s our church they don’t go to?
Are we a national church in the sense that we have been the main Christian contributors in influencing the culture, laws and national psyche? There is a very strong historical argument to be made that the CofS has shaped the nation. Unfortunately this influence is historical, today the unforgiving truth is that the CofS is just one more minority voice competing with many others.
Perhaps we are a national church by self definition, we have chosen to bring the ordinances of the gospel to every part of Scotland. At the moment we are able to exercise such a territorial ministry, but it has to be admitted that the system is creaking and we are finding it more and more difficult to maintain this ministry in a meaningful sense. If we are reduced to ever more five way linkages in rural areas what is to prevent another denomination or grouping making the same claim to being a national church based on a territorial ministry to all of Scotland?
We have to ask ourselves if the CofS is special in some way as the national church and how does the reality of our situation as a national church today affect our decisions regarding the present crisis?