The large gulf in theology between Scottish Presbyterians is becoming ever clearer. The issues are coming to a head after a debate between Rev David Robertson, the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, and Rev Scott McKenna, a Church of Scotland Minister.
Robertson who’s an outspoken advocate of reformed evangelicalism, and McKenna whose church website describes his theology as “rational, progressive” epitomise the split which, while it has been evident for many years, seems to be deepening.
First, a little explainer for those not familiar which the church scene in Scotland. During the Reformation, under the leadership of John Knox, the Church of Scotland was created as a fully reformed, protestant denomination with a Presbyterian ecclesiology. In other words, as opposed to the Church of England, which kept some forms of Catholic ecclesiology – Bishops, for instance – the Church of Scotland embraced a way of doing church that was more in tune with the reforms of Calvin. Presbyterian governance means that a council of elders make the decisions in the running of the local church.
The Free Church of Scotland was created as a result of ‘The Disruption’ of 1843 (in which many of the more evangelical clergy of the Church of Scotland created their own denomination – the Free Church – in a dispute over the appointment of ministers). The Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland are both Presbyterian in their governance, meaning that there is little control for the central church structures – many decision are made locally.
But whereas for the Church of Scotland, this has come to mean a wide spectrum of beliefs from evangelical to liberal across different congregations, the smaller Free Church of Scotland has remained more homogenous theologically – maintaining what adherents think of as the spirit of the Reformation – reformed Calvinist theology, the pre-eminence of the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith.