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).
The Free Church of Scotland is a Scottish denomination which was formed by a large withdrawal from the established Church of Scotland in a division known as the Disruption. In 1900 the vast majority of the Free Church of Scotland united with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland to form the United Free Church of Scotland (which re-united with the Church of Scotland in 1929).
However, a minority of the original Free Church of Scotland remained outside the union of 1900, claiming the title Free Church of Scotland for itself. It continues to this day as the 'Wee Free'. (See Free Church of Scotland (post 1900))
The church building programme produced 470 new buildings within a year and over 700 by 1847. Manses and over 700 schools soon followed. This program was made possible by extraordinary financial generosity, which came from the Evangelical awakening and the wealth of the emerging middle class.
The church created a Sustentation Fund, the brainchild of Thomas Chalmers, to which congregations contributed according to their means, and from which all ministers received an 'equal dividend'. This fund provided a modest income for 583 ministers in 1843/4, and by 1900 was able to provide an income for nearly 1200. This sharing and centralising of resources was previously unknown within the Church of Scotland, but later became the norm.
In 1892 the Free Church, following the example of the United Presbyterian Church and the Church of Scotland, passed a Declaratory Act relaxing the standard of subscription to the confession, with the result that a small number of congregations and even fewer ministers, mostly in the Highlands, severed their connection with the church and formed the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
Home mission was also given prominence. Thomas Chalmers led the way with a territorial mission in Edinburgh's West Port, which epitomised his idea of a 'godly commonwealth'. Free churchmen were at the forefront of the 1859 Revival as well as the Moody and Sankey's campaign of 1873-5. However, Chalmer's social ideas were never fully realised, as the gap between the church and the urban masses continued to increase.
Towards the end of the century, the use of instrumental music was sanctioned in Free Churches. An association was formed in 1891 to promote order and reverence in public services. In 1898 it published A New Directory for Public Worship which, while not providing set forms of prayer, offered directions. The Free Church took an interest in hymnology and church music, which led to the production of The Church Hymnary.
In 1852 the Original Secession Church joined the Free Church; in 1876 the Reformed Presbyterian Church followed suit. However, a leadership-led attempt to unite with the United Presbyterians was not successful. These attempts began as early as 1863 when the Free Church began talks with the UPC with a view to a union. However, a report laid before the Assembly of 1864 showed that the two churches were not agreed as to the relationship between state and church. The Free Church maintained that national resources could be used in aid of the church, provided that the state abstain from all interference in its internal government, while the United Presbyterians held that, as the state had no authority in spiritual things, it was not within its jurisdiction to legislate as to what was true in religion, to prescribe a creed or form of worship for its subjects, or to endow the church from national resources. Any union would therefore have to leave this question open. At the time this difference was sufficient to preclude the union being pursued further.
In the following years the Free Church Assembly showed increasing willingness for union on these open terms. However, the 'establishment' minority prevented a successful conclusion during 1867-73. After their negotiations failed in 1873, the two churches agreed a 'Mutual Eligibility Act' enabling a congregation of one denomination to call a minister from the other.
During this period 'antidisestablishmentarianism' party continued to shrink and became increasingly alienated. This decline was hastened when some congregations left to form the Free Presbyterian Church in 1893.
Starting in 1895 union began to be officially discussed again. A joint committee made up of men from both denominations noted remarkable agreement on doctrinal standards, rules and methods. After a few concessions from both sides, a common constitution was agreed. The ever decreasing minority in the Free Church Assembly protested, and threatened to test its legality in the courts.
However, a small minority of those who dissented remained outside the union. They claimed that they were the Free Church and that the majority had departed from the church when they formed the UFC. After a protracted legal battle, the House of Lords found in favour of the minority and awarded them the right to keep the name Free Church, though the majority was able to keep most of the financial resources. (see Free Church of Scotland (post 1900) for the history of the smaller body)