« Prev Church Union in Scotland Next »

Church Union in Scotland.

In 1929, the "rents" within the Reformed Church of Scotland were healed by the union of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church of Scotland.22552255The Proceedings and Debates of the General Assembly of the Un. Free Church of Scotland, May and Oct., 1929, together with the Proceedings and Debates of the Assembly, Nov. 1928, 371 pp., Edinb., 1929. Includes notable addresses on union by the moderator, Alexander Martin of New College.—Report of the Committee for Conference with the Ch. of Scotland, Nov., 1928, 106 pp.—Proceedings of the Union Assembly, Church of Scotland, Oct., 1929, 120 pp., giving addresses of Cosmo Lang, Abp. of Canterbury, Lord Davidson, former Abp. of Canterbury, President Henry Sloane Coffin, Union Seminary, New York, Rev. Dr. John Hutton, etc.—Buchan and Principal Geo. Adam Smith: The Kirk in Scotland 1560–1929, 244 pp., London, 1930, gives a brief history of the Church of Scotland and an account by Principal Smith of the Union Assembly, of which he was a member. The most notable of the ecclesiastical divisions of Scotland occurred, 1843, over the question of patronage by a secession from the Church of Scotland, led by Thomas Chalmers, and the organization of the Free Church of Scotland. Three years later, the United Church of Scotland was formed. These two bodies, 1900, were merged under the name of the United Free Church of Scotland, a small number dissenting and popularly known as the Wee Frees. Declaratory 939Statements were issued by the United Presbyterian Church, 1879, the Church of Scotland, 1889, the Free Church, 1892, and the United Free Church, 1906, modifying or explaining certain sections of the Westminster Confession bearing on the universal intent of the atonement, the real offer of the Gospel to all men, and the salvation of infants dying in infancy unbaptized.

The movement looking towards the consolidation of the Church of Scotland and the United Free Church started in 1909 in an agreement 'to enter into unrestricted conference on the ecclesiastical situation in Scotland and the main causes which keep the Churches apart, in the earnest hope that by God's blessing, misunderstandings and hindrances may be removed and the great object of Presbyterian union in Scotland be thereby advanced.' The war interrupted conferences but did not quench the spirit of union. In nine articles drafted, 1921, the Church of Scotland asserted the separate and independent jurisdiction of the Church and the Church's right to legislate for itself. The same year, the United Free Church Assembly adopted a Brief Statement of the Church's Faith, being 'an expression of the great Christian certainties and of the Christian ideal of Life.' In 1896, all obstacles being removed, a Basis of Union or Uniting Act, was agreed upon by committees of the two communions and, under the so-called Barrier Act of 1697,22562256The Barrier Act provided that no 'rules or constitutions' should be binding upon the Church unless proposed to the Assembly as an overture, then passed by the presbyteries and finally reported to the Assembly and approved by it. adopted by their presbyteries. A group of only 22 out of the 1,200 ministers of the United Free Church refused to go into the union.

The consolidation was consummated May, 1929. The two Assemblies met separately in the forenoon of Oct. 2. for 'services of thanksgiving and dedication,' and at 10.20 the members, passing out from their own halls, marched in procession to St. Giles'—the building in which John Knox preached, speaking to the entire Scottish nation—where they joined in singing the 100th Psalm, the reading of the Scriptures, prayer, the recitation of the Apostles' Creed and the Te Deum and other services preparatory to the formal declaration, in the afternoon, of the union, as consummated by the following resolution:

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland having been regularly constituted and meeting together 940in joint session this 2nd day of October, 1929 years; devoutly acknowledging the mercy and long-suffering shown by Almighty God to themselves and to their fathers, rendering humble and hearty thanks for the gracious guidance bestowed upon them in this their endeavour to heal the divisions in His Church and to promote His glory, and entreating Him to pour out His Spirit upon His servants and upon those who shall come after them, that as good stewards of the manifold grace of God they may with growing power minister to the people of this land and to the nations that have not yet received the Gospel; do now as in the presence of God adopt the Uniting Act, including the Basis of Union and the accompanying Plan of Union with the Questions and Formula for use at the Ordination and Induction of a Minister, and do hereby, in terms and in pursuance of Deliverances of their respective General Assemblies, with approval of the Presbyteries of the respective Churches in accordance with the provisions of the Barrier Act, Enact and Declare in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Head of the Church, that these Churches, being historic branches of the Reformed Church in Scotland, do and shall henceforth constitute one Church, and that the name of the united Church shall be The Church of Scotland.

The Moderators of the two Assemblies, Dr. Joseph Mitchell and Principal Alexander Martin, then announced the union in the following words: 'In the faith of Jesus Christ, our Divine King and Head, I do now in the name of the Church of Scotland'—or in the name of the United Free Church of Scotland—' seal and ratify the Union betwixt us made, in token whereof I offer you the right hand of fellowship.' Dr. Mitchell then said, 'And here in the presence of God Most High, we pledge ourselves together in solemn covenant,' to which Dr. Martin added, 'In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we invoke the divine blessing upon our act.' In the united Assembly the Duke of York, as commissioner, represented the King of England who, in a letter addressed to the body, bound himself to maintain the rights of the Church of Scotland in these words: 'We assure you of our unwavering concern for the maintenance of the rights and privileges of the Church of Scotland as happily secured and with our earnest prayer that now and in the years to come, you may be filled with the power of the Spirit and that the grace of God may bless and sanctify your labors.' The Duke of York further announced that 'it was His Majesty's determination to uphold the use of Presbyterian government in Scotland.' The Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, wrote to the Assembly that 'all Scotsmen will join with me in the fervent hope that the reunited Church will use its power and influence to make religion a continuing strength in the Scottish character and Presbyterianism a vital form of national worship.' At the time of the union, the Church of Scotland had 759,625 communicants, the Free Church 539,192.


The Basis of Union or Uniting Act includes four articles, together with two statements bearing on Matters Spiritual and the Spiritual Independence of the Church, adopted respectively by the two Churches, 1906 and 1926, which form an integral part of the uniting agreement.

The four articles are as follows:

I. The various matters of agreement between the Churches with a view to union are accepted and enacted without prejudice to the inherent liberty of the united Church as a branch of the Church of God to determine and regulate her own constitution and laws as duty may require, in dependence on the grace of God and under the guidance of His Word and Spirit, all as more particularly set forth in the after-mentioned Act, 1906, and Articles, 1926.

II. The following are leading documents setting forth the constitution, rules and methods of the united Church. [The list includes the Westminster Standards, the Scots Confession, 1560, First Book of Discipline, 1560, Book of Common Order, 1564, and a number of other documents of historic or binding import, as also the Acts on Matters Spiritual, 1926, and the Spiritual Independence of the Church, 1906.]

As this Union takes place on the footing of maintaining the liberty of judgment and action heretofore recognised in either of the Churches uniting, so in particular it is hereby declared that members of both Churches shall have full right, as they shall see cause, to assert and maintain the views of truth and duty which they had liberty to maintain in the said Churches.

The Churches, in entering into Union, under a sense of responsibility as a branch of the Church of God, acknowledge afresh the obligation resting on the Church to provide the ordinances of religion to the people of Scotland through a territorial ministry and to labour for the universal diffusion of the Gospel, and the duty of her members to contribute, according to their ability, both by their service and their means, for the support of the ordinances of religion in this land and the extension of the Kingdom of Christ throughout the world.

III. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland enact and ordain that all previous enactments and regulations of the General Assemblies of either uniting Church in force at the passing of this Act, unless in so far as modified by the Basis and Plan of Union, shall continue in force in the same manner as prior to the passing of this Act, so long as they shall not have been repealed or amended in accordance with the law of the united Church: provided always that where any such enactments or regulations are found in conflict or where the former practice of the two Churches is materially different and has not been adjusted by the Basis and Plan of Union any necessary legislation to which the procedure of the Barrier Act is appropriate shall be by interim Act only, which shall be transmitted to Presbyteries in accordance with the provisions of the Barrier Act for consent or suggestions before its adoption as a standing law of the Church.

IV. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland enact and ordain that the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the General Assembly of the United Free Church of Scotland, when they have met for the purpose of consummating the Union, and have adopted the Uniting Act, shall thereafter have the powers of a General Assembly of the united Church, and may do and authorise all things necessary or proper and lawful to be done with a view to the orderly inauguration and conduct of the affairs of the united Church, and in consistency with the terms of Union agreed upon.


Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland in Matters Spiritual, 1926.

I. The Church of Scotland is part of the Holy Catholic or Universal Church; worshipping one God, Almighty, all-wise, and all-loving, in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; adoring the Father, infinite in Majesty, of whom are all things; confessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son, made very man for our salvation; glorying in His Cross and Resurrection, and owning obedience to Him as the Head over all things to His Church; trusting in the promised renewal and guidance of the Holy Spirit; proclaiming the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God through faith in Christ, and the gift of Eternal Life; and labouring for the advancement of the Kingdom of God throughout the world. The Church of Scotland adheres to the Scottish Reformation; receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life; and avows the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic faith founded thereupon.

II. The principal subordinate standard of the Church of Scotland is the Westminster Confession of Faith approved by the General Assembly of 1647, containing the sum and substance of the Faith of the Reformed Church. Its government is Presbyterian, and is exercised through Kirk Sessions, Presbyteries, Provincial Synods, and General Assemblies. Its system and principles of worship, orders, and discipline are in accordance with "The Directory for the Public Worship of God," "The Form of Presbyterial Church Government," and "The Form of Process," as these have been or may hereafter be interpreted or modified by Acts of the General Assembly or by consuetude.

III. This Church is in historical continuity with the Church of Scotland which was reformed in 1560, whose liberties were ratified in 1592, and for whose security provision was made in the Treaty of Union of 1707. The continuity and identity of the Church of Scotland are not prejudiced by the adoption of these Articles. As a national Church representative of the Christian Faith of the Scottish people it acknowledges its distinctive call and duty to bring the ordinances of religion to the people in every parish of Scotland through a territorial ministry.

IV. This Church, as part of the Universal Church wherein the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed a government in the hands of Church office-bearers, receives from Him, its Divine King and Head, and from Him alone, the right and power subject to no civil authority to legislate, and to adjudicate finally, in all matters of doctrine, worship, government, and discipline in the Church, including the right to determine all questions concerning membership and office in the Church, the constitution and membership of its Courts, and the mode of election of its office-bearers, and to define the boundaries of the spheres of labour of its ministers and other office-bearers. Recognition by civil authority of the separate and independent government and jurisdiction of this Church in matters spiritual, in whatever manner such recognition be expressed, does not in any way affect the character of this government and jurisdiction as derived from the Divine Head of the Church alone, or give to the civil authority any right of interference with the proceedings or judgments of the Church within the sphere of its spiritual government and jurisdiction.

V. This Church has the inherent right, free from interference by civil authority, but under the safeguards for deliberate action and legislation provided by the Church itself, to frame or adopt its subordinate standards, to declare the sense in which it understands its Confession of Faith, to modify the forms of expression therein, or to formulate other doctrinal statements, and to define the relation thereto of its office-bearers and members, but always in agreement with the Word of God and the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith contained in the said Confession, of which agreement the Church shall be sole judge, and with due regard to liberty of opinion in points which do not enter into the substance of the Faith.

VI. This Church acknowledges the divine appointment and authority of the civil 943magistrate within his own sphere, and maintains its historic testimony to the duty of the nation acting in its corporate capacity to render homage to God, to acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ to be King over the nations, to obey His laws, to reverence His ordinances, to honour His Church, and to promote in all appropriate ways the Kingdom of God. The Church and the State owe mutual duties to each other, and acting within their respective spheres may signally promote each other's welfare. The Church and the State have the right to determine each for itself all questions concerning the extent and the continuance of their mutual relations in the discharge of these duties and the obligations arising therefrom.

VII. The Church of Scotland, believing it to be the will of Christ that His disciples should be all one in the Father and in Him, that the world may believe that the Father has sent Him, recognises the obligation to seek and promote union with other Churches in which it finds the Word to be purely preached, the sacraments administered according to Christ's ordinance, and discipline rightly exercised; and it has the right to unite with any such Church without loss of its identity on terms which this Church finds to be consistent with these Articles.

VIII. The Church has the right to interpret these Articles, and, subject to the safeguards for deliberate action and legislation provided by the Church itself, to modify or add to them; but always consistently with the provisions of the first Article hereof, adherence to which, as interpreted by the Church, is essential to its continuity and corporate life. Any proposal for a modification of or addition to these Articles which may be approved of by the General Assembly shall, before it can be enacted by the Assembly, be transmitted by way of overture to Presbyteries in at least two immediately successive years. If the Overture shall receive the approval, with or without suggested amendment, of two-thirds of the whole of the Presbyteries of the Church, the Assembly may revise the Overture in the light of any suggestions by the Presbyteries, and may transmit the overture when so revised to Presbyteries for their consent. If the overture as transmitted in its final form shall receive the consent of not less than two-thirds of the whole of the Presbyteries of the Church, the General Assembly may, if it deems it expedient, modify or add to these Articles in terms of the said Overture. But if the Overture as transmitted in its final form shall not receive the requisite consent, the same or a similar proposal shall not be again transmitted for the consent of Presbyteries until an interval of five years after the failure to obtain the requisite consent has been reported to the General Assembly.

IX. Subject to the provisions of the foregoing Articles and the powers of amendment therein contained, the Constitution of the Church of Scotland in matters spiritual is hereby anew ratified and confirmed by the Church.

United Free Church Act anent Spiritual Independence of the Church, 1906.

Whereas the General Assembly judged it necessary in the circumstances of the Church to pass the following Act, and although the principles set forth therein involve no new departure and are not in any sense a constitutional novation, but have been always accepted and maintained by this Church, yet in respect of the importance of making manifest to all that the whole Church explicitly adheres to these principles, the General Assembly deemed it right to send it down as an Overture under the Barrier Act: the General Assembly hereby, with consent of a majority of Presbyteries, declare and enact, as follows:—

Considering the situation created by the decisions of the House of Lords on 1st August 1904, in the Cases of Bannatyne and Others v. Lord Overtoun and Others, and Young and Others v. Macalister and Others, and the grounds on which these decisions were based: considering also the Resolutions relative thereto of the Commission of Assembly at its ordinary Meeting on 10th August 1904, of which Resolutions the Assembly hereby approve; 944and considering that it is needful to make clear the position in which the United Free Church of Scotland stands in reference to the questions thus raised, the General Assembly resolve and declare as follows:—

1. They assert and protest that those branches of the Church of Christ in Scotland now united in this Church have always claimed, and this Church continues to claim, that the Church of Christ has under Him as her only Head independent and exclusive jurisdiction and power of legislating in all matters of doctrine, worship, discipline, and govern­ment of the Church, including therein the right from time to time to alter, change, add to or modify, her constitution and laws, Subordinate Standards, and Church Formulas, and to determine and declare what these are.

2. The General Assembly accordingly declare anew and enact that it is a fundamental principle and rule of this Church that, in dependence on the grace of God, recognising the authority of the Word of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as the supreme unchangeable Standard, and looking to the Head of the Church for the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, this Church has the sole and exclusive right and power from time to time, as duty may require, through her Courts to alter, change, add to, or modify, her constitution and laws, Subordinate Standards and Formulas, and to determine and declare what these are, and to unite with other Christian Churches; always in conformity with the Word of God, and also with the safeguards for deliberate action and legislation in such cases provided by the Church herself—of which conformity the Church herself, acting through her Courts, shall be the sole judge—and under a sense of direct responsibility to the ever-living Head of the Church, and of duty towards all the Church's members.

3. The General Assembly also declare and enact that in all the Courts of the Church a decision of the Court given either unanimously, or by a majority of its members present and voting, is the decision of the Court, and the decision of the General Assembly so reached is final. With respect to Acts which are to be binding Rules and Constitutions of the Church, the Assembly shall have regard to the safeguards referred to in the foregoing resolution.

4.The General Assembly further declare that the Church holds her funds and property, present and future, in conformity with these principles; the Church reserving her right to accept and hold benefactions, subject to specific conditions attached to them by the donor, when and so long as she judges these conditions to be consistent with her liberty and her principles, and to be expedient in the circumstances of the time.

« Prev Church Union in Scotland Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection