The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland is the oldest in the growing family of Reformed Presbyterian Churches which can be found throughout the world. What follows is a brief overview of our history (particularly our origins) and our present position, which includes our current Basis of Faith and Practice.
As its name suggests, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland is a ‘Reformed’ church. As such, it belongs to the family of Churches which ‘re-formed’ out of Western Roman Catholicism in the 16th century. It is also ‘Presbyterian’ in that it belongs to the particular family of Reformed churches governed by a plurality of Presbyters (Elders) ruling in parity. However, its roots go deeper than the Reformation, and, resting upon the ancient creeds of Christendom and, ultimately, upon the Word of God itself, it confesses itself to be a constituent member of the catholic (or’ universal’) church, which is the house and family of God, ‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone’ (Ephesians 2:21).
More immediately, the origins of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, as a distinct denomination of Christians, can be traced back to the First Reformation in Scotland in 1560 and the original Reformed Church of Scotland from which it claims unbroken descent. Since that time, there are two highly significant and formative dates in the history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland;
In this year, after a period of tremendous upheaval and bloodshed endured by Presbyterian Covenanters as a result of the King’s attempt to impose Episcopacy upon Presbyterian Scotland, the Church of Scotland was re-settled by means of the Revolution Settlement. However, many men and women, who were Reformed and Presbyterian in their convictions, chose to remain outside of the newly settled Church of Scotland and formed themselves into Covenanting Societies. The reasons for this choice were as follows:
In general terms, they considered that the Revolution Settlement failed to protect and promote certain important attainments made by the Scottish church. These attainments, made in the period encompassing the First and Second Scottish Reformations (1560-1649), involved the elucidation and application of the doctrines of the exclusive headship of Christ over his own church and of the spiritual independence of his church. These attainments had found clear expression, and practical application, in the National Covenant of 1638, in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and in various important Acts of the Church of Scotland General Assembly enacted throughout the 1640’s. These attainments had been fought for, at great cost, by the ‘Covenanters’ prior to the Revolution Settlement.
In more specific terms, the Revolution Settlement, in its language and approach, was of an Erastian nature – that is, one which was made for the church rather than by her – and, in evidence of this, the following may be noted:
- The Settlement failed to establish Presbyterianism on the specific ground that it was the system of government mandated by the Word of God (which was the ground on which the Church of Scotland had originally legislated a Presbyterian system of government) but on a lower ground of being ‘agreeable to the Word’ as well as being the will of the people. This was done to please the King whose intention it was to bring the churches together under an Episcopalian system;
- The Settlement failed to revive many of the free acts of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which had been repealed by the King;
- The Settlement failed to protect the Presbyterian nature of the church by admitting a considerable number of Episcopalians into the Ministry of the newly settled Presbyterian church;
- The Settlement failed to guard the spiritual independence of the church by allowing landowners the right, effectively, to intrude ministers into congregations;
- The Settlement failed to acknowledge the Covenants – particularly the Solemn League and Covenant, which bound the nations concerned, as nations, to promote and preserve the attainments of the Reformation in all the nations concerned.
Those men and women who remained outside the Revolution Church were not prepared to accept such a ‘settlement’ and established themselves into fellowships known as Covenanting Societies.
In this year, when a second Minister acceded to the Societies – another Minister having already joined the Societies from the Church of Scotland in 1706 – the Covenanting Societies were formally organised into the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland wishes to present a positive testimony to the gospel in general, and to Reformed and Presbyterian principles of religion in particular, in Scotland and throughout the world. In other words, the church is not, primarily, a protesting church – although it is that – but a confessing church: a church which seeks to be a living, positive, and witnessing church, striving to fulfil her mission which she understands as being nothing less than to ‘go and teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19,20).
In doing so, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland recognises that much of her testimony is shared by other members of other Presbyterian Churches in Scotland. As such, while preserving what it sees as essential to a full and genuine witness that is both Reformed and Presbyterian in nature, it wishes others who share the same vision to join with it in order to secure the existence of one established church, truly Reformed in doctrine, worship, government, and discipline, in each nation.
In seeking to attain this end, it wishes to do two things: First, to make significant statements regarding its view of its own past, and second, to present its constitutional Basis of Faith and Practice – one which is not merely presented as its own Basis of Faith and Practice but as a standard around which all who agree may gather.
Statements on Issues of Contention in History
First, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland acknowledges, with gratitude to God, the importance of both the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant in binding the nations of the British Isles to the Reformed and Presbyterian worship of God. The Reformed Presbyterian Church recognises and advocates a real and continuing obligation arising from those covenants, one which rests upon both church and state, to seek a truly national and established church – spiritually independent and thoroughly reformed in doctrine, worship, government, and discipline – working together with the state to secure the recognition of Christ’s Kingship in the Land.
Second, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland would point to the ensuing struggles within the Church of Scotland after the Revolution Settlement – particularly those concerning the landowner’s power of patronage which issued, most notably, in the Secession of 1733 and the Disruption of 1843 – as vindication of the decision not to accept the terms of the Revolution Settlement. However, while the defective nature of the Revolution Settlement has been the source of much strife in the church and in the land, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland also acknowledges the good work done by many who entered into the newly settled church then and the good work done subsequently by others in its various branches.
Third, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland also acknowledges, with gratitude to God, the attainments of the Second Reformation and both the importance and legality of the various Acts of the Assembly, enacted in the period of the Second Reformation (1638-1649), which adopted the various Westminster Standards as they were produced. These Acts adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Form of Government, The Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the Directory of Public Worship. These acts, later rescinded by Royal Statute, were not recalled under the terms of the Revolution Settlement. This being so, these documents – with important qualifications (see below) – are given their rightful place and form part of the constitution of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
These statements reveal a church which grants real and substantial recognition to the attainments of the First and Second Reformations without being bound to every decision arrived at in General Assembly. This is reflected in the following Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland Basis of Faith and Practice to which every officer in the Reformed Presbyterian Church must give assent. This Basis of Faith and Practice distinguishes between what is fixed and what may be altered in the constitution of the church and the way in which such alteration ought to be made. It is important to note that the requirements for admission to the ordinary membership of the church are much less than the requirements for bearing office and these are detailed in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland Book of Government and Discipline.