Following the signing of the First Covenant in 1557 by the great barons and other nobles, Parliament abolished (1560) the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. A Reformed confession of faith was adopted, and the church was organized along Presbyterian lines. The first general assembly of the church met in Edinburgh, and the First Book of Discipline (1560) was drawn up. The Second Book of Discipline (1581) was ratified by Parliament in 1592.
This definitely settled the Presbyterian form of polity and the Calvinistic doctrine as the recognized Protestant establishment in the country. But under James VI (from 1603, James I of England) and the other Stuart rulers who followed, periods of restored episcopacy interrupted the progress of the new organization and were accompanied by confusion and protest.
In 1638 the National Covenant, a promise to defend the Reformed religion, was signed; in 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant was signed in England as well as Scotland. In 1647 the Westminster Confession was accepted. In 1689, with William and Mary on the throne of England, religious liberty was secured, and the Act of Settlement (1690) ensured the establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Confirmation of its status was made in 1707, when the kingdoms of Scotland and England were united.
Questions regarding the connection between church and state caused division and resulted in secessions from time to time, but there was no diversity in faith. The notable early secessions were the Original Secession in 1733 and the Relief in 1761. The most extensive break occurred in 1843, when the Free Church of Scotland was formed under the leadership of Thomas Chalmers. In 1847 the United Secession Church joined with the majority of the congregations of the Relief Church to form the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In 1900 this body merged with the Free Church to form the United Free Church of Scotland, which in 1929 rejoined the Church of Scotland. However, some remnants of the Free Church and the United Free Church did not return.
Milestones in the separation of the church from the state were the transfer (1872) of church schools to civil authorities and the abolition (1874) of ecclesiastical patronage. The spiritual independence of the Church of Scotland was recognized by Acts of Parliament in 1921 and 1925. A merger proposed in the 1960s between the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of England, and the Episcopal Church of Scotland did not take place. The church has about 640,000 members (1999).
See J. H. S. Burleigh, A Church History of Scotland (1960); R. S. Louden, The True Face of the Kirk (1963); G. Donaldson, Scotland—Church and Nation through Sixteen Centuries (2d ed. 1972); J. Kirk, Patterns of Reform (1989).