Monday, 12 May 2014

Reformed Faith in an Independent Scotland

Having said in a previous post on the differences between the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland that “the FCS is generally hesitant to take stands on issues that do not clearly fall under the oversight of the church. The CoS, on the other hand, routinely takes stands on a host of political issues”, I now find that our forthcoming FCS Assembly will be presented with four papers, (two on either side), on the impending referendum on Scottish independence.

The proposed deliverance will be: 

The General Assembly note that the General Assembly of 2013 instructed the Committee 'in consultation with appropriate bodies, to explore the potential implications which the forthcoming independence referendum might have in terms of 1) the Establishment Principle, and 2) the recognition and place of Christianity, the committee to report to the 2014 Assembly'.

The General Assembly note the four papers examining these matters and encourage all members of the church to be much in prayer about the outcome of the referendum later this year. The General Assembly recognise that across the Church there are a variety of views on independence and that this is a matter for individual consideration. The General Assembly call on the Scottish Government to recognise the role of Christianity and Christian Churches in Scotland as it drafts its proposed constitution and any future legislation.

The General Assembly deplore the increasing momentum of secularisation in Scotland and call on the government to ensure that freedom of religion, speech and conscience are enshrined in legislation. The General Assembly call on the Scottish Government to remember that their authority is God-given and that they have a responsibility to speak up for those who are poor, weak and those who cannot speak up for themselves.”

A number of issues are raised. The first is the Establishment Principle which we discuss here.  The FCS make somewhat of a fetish on the issue of the Establishment Principle.  The FCS father, Thomas Chalmers, is noted as having declared:

“We hold that every part and every function of a commonwealth should be leavened with Christianity, and that every functionary, from the highest to the lowest, should, in their respective spheres, do all that in them lies to countenance and uphold it. That is to say, though we quit a vitiated establishment, we go out on the Establishment principle; we quit a vitiated establishment, but would rejoice in returning to a pure one. To express it otherwise: we are the advocates for a national recognition and national support of religion – and we are not Voluntaries”

We should be clear that the difference between Chalmers and the Voluntaries is not on the general issue of the obligation of the State to recognise Christianity, but on the issue of providing financial support to an established church.  Chalmers believed that it was the duty of the State through taxes and other means to provide endowments for the financial support of the church.

There is an extensive literature on this issue, much of which has been forgotten. The FCS argued primarily on pragmatic grounds, the Voluntaries on biblical grounds.  Somewhat ironically, the FCS which was committed to the principle of Establishment became the supreme demonstration of the power of Voluntaryism as it experienced tremendous growth through the direct givings of its people.

Remember, the essence of the Establishment Principle is that the State should provide financial support for the church.  I have not actually discussed this with FCS ministers, but this is “dead in the water”.  A secular state in Scotland, as currently exists, will never financially support the Reformed church.  It would be no different in an independent Scotland.

Since “The Church of Scotland Act 1921” it is questionable if even the Church of Scotland should be referred to as the Established Church.  It is free of all State control and receives no State subsidies.  It certainly is a vitiated establishment.  It is where the secular State turns when it is looking for something vaguely religious but not specifically Christian, or rather vaguely Christian but not specifically biblical.

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