A National Church

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?


4 thoughts on “A National Church

  1. This is a very interesting topic but I suggest that whatever else the present Kirk may be it is NOT the Kirk of the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant. That distinction if it belongs to anyone really is the perogative of the tiny Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Established Kirk traces its roots back, rather, to the Revolution Settlement Kirk. However there is good argument that that in turn is more closely represented today by the Free Kirk, Free Kirk Continuing and the Free Presbyterians. The present day Kirk really dates from 1929, an amalgum of the United Free Kirk and the 1910 Declaratory Church of Scotland and rests on the Articles Declaratory of the early 1920s. All of this might seem quaintly antiquarian but in the momentous denominational convulsions it is vutal the concept of the Establishment Principle be preserved and pursued. The dangers of Presbyterian disestablishment cannot be overstated.

  2. Sorry, I mean, when I say ‘Presbyterian Establishment’ an essentially evangelical Presbyterian one. A corrupt liberal Kirk will simply be a curse on the nation, not a blessing, a powerhouse of humanistic destructiveness.

  3. I think we need to be pragmatic about this. Establishment Christianity may well have been used in God’s Providence to spread the Gospel in various parts of the world. However it has also created idolatrous power (the Holy Roman Empire, the Inquisition) and left us with a very difficult legacy in a post-Christendom world. I think people value the National Church for the wrong reasons (it will always be there for you), but when they want clear spiritual guidance and Christian values they turn to the Roman Catholics or Evangelicals. Some evangelicals sense a calling to minister in the messy milieu of the CofS and will never leave, believing that they are called to be like good yeast, leavening the whole lump of the church. For nearly 300 years the Church has a quasi -political role and the Assembly was almost a substitute Parliament that spoke with clarity and was listened to. Now there is no clear Christian voice and no one listens to us anyway. Not that the Scottish Parliament is particularly exciting!

  4. We must not be defeatist on this. Knox faced far worse than we do. Furthermore it is our Biblical DUTY to strive for a Christian Establishment. Civil rulers are NOT ‘neutral’ they are there to establish Justice which is in turn defined for us in the Scripture Standards. If we let the Nation slide into Established paganism then I am afraid we shall soon be harshly disabused of our illusions of a comfy coexistence! It’s hapening even now as the Kirk is increasingly invaded and evangelical witness in general is squeezed and crimialised. Christ wants His rule extended universally so He will indeed bypass any church that docilely evades ‘the battle’ as John Knox put it.

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