Church of Scotland

Since the Reformation in 1560, Scotland's national church has been Presbyterian, except for two periods of modified episcopacy enforced by the Stuart kings. John Knox* is generally regarded as the founder of the modern Church of Scotland; his successor, Andrew Melville,* has been described as the “father of Presbyterianism.”* After the Stuarts were deposed, William III* reestablished Presbyterianism as the national form of church government, and successive monarchs since the 1707 England-Scotland parliamentary union have sworn at their coronation to maintain this polity. Controversy arose when the early nineteenth-century Moderates* were accused of neglecting the Reformation principle which gave the people a voice in the election of ministers. Battle was joined over the vexed question of patronage, to maintain which system the civil power was appealed to in a number of notorious cases. This led to the 1843 Disruption,* when more than one-third of the ministers formed the Free Church of Scotland.*

The breach was largely healed finally in 1929 (see United Free Church of Scotland), and all but some 50,000 of Scottish Presbyterians are now in membership of the Church of Scotland—i.e., about 1.1 million-constituting a larger proportion of population than any other Protestant church in the English- speaking world. National and free of state control (the present position regulated by the 1921 Act of Parliament), the Church of Scotland is organized in twelve provincial synods and sixty-four presbyteries, in each of which as well as in the general assembly there is equal representation of ministers and laity. Appeal to the assembly is open to any member of the church. Since 1694 the sovereign's Lord High Commissioner* has attended each general assembly, but his presence is not necessary for the transacting of the church's business. Ministers are elected by individual congregations, subject to formal ratification by the local presbytery, and all ministers have equal status.

The church's courts are courts of the realm, to carry out the decisions of which the assistance of the civil courts can be enlisted if necessary. The church's four theological colleges are virtually also the divinity faculties of the four ancient Scottish universities, thus maintaining the Scottish tradition which demands of its ministry a high educational standard. The Church of Scotland professes the evangelical faith, and bases its doctrine on Holy Scripture. The Westminster Confession* is still officially regarded as its subordinate standard. Two sacraments are celebrated-baptism, normally of infants and as part of morning worship; and the Lord's Supper, generally celebrated quarterly or semiannually, but there is now a tendency, particularly in city parishes, toward more frequent celebration. In some parts of the more conservative Highlands and in the Western Islands, on the other hand, this sacrament is an annual occasion, extending from the Fast Day service on Thursday right through to Thanksgiving on Monday.

The Church of Scotland, in addition to its four presbyteries in England, Europe, and the Near East, maintains work in twenty- one overseas mission fields.

See also general article on Scotland.

J.T. Cox, Practice and Procedure in the Church of Scotland (6th ed., 1976); J.H.S. Burleigh, A Church History of Scotland (1960); R.S. Louden, The True Face of the Kirk (1963); The Church of Scotland Year-Book (annually).