Church or State: Who Rules?

Did the Scottish Government close the Churches in March 2020? When the Churches were given the green light to re-open in July, did the Government put a stop to congregational singing?

The spirit in which these directions were issued - whether as an order or as advice - is debatable. However, the spirit in which the Church received them is not. The Church receives all such directions from the Government as advice and recommendation, not as order and instruction.

As such, in March, the Kirk Session of Kinloch Free Church took the advice of the Government and, on that basis, made the decision to close. In July, they took further advice to refrain from congregational singing and then made the decision to implement that advice. These decisions were not made at the level of Government ministers but, rather, at the level of Church elders. Had the Kirk Session deemed the advice to be un-Biblical or unnecessary, it would not have hesitated to have ignored it - nor would it have been wrong to do so.

Two Governments

Aside from the family, which has its own legitimate government, the Bible sanctions two forms of government, each having authority from God and, therefore, worthy of our respect. In Romans 13, Paul tells us that 'the powers that be are ordained by God' and that 'every soul [ought to be] subject unto the higher powers.' In Scotland, these 'powers that be' are the democratically elected Parliaments of both Westminster and Holyrood and they have jurisdiction over the civil matters of our country.

They do not, however, have jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical (Church) matters of our country. For that, God has elected a separate government. The nature of that government is described in one of the questions that ministers, elders and deacons in the Free Church of Scotland are asked at ordination or induction:

Do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, as King and Head of the Church, has therein appointed a government in the hands of Church-officers, distinct from, and not subordinate in its own province to, civil government, and that the Civil Magistrate does not possess jurisdiction or authoritative control over the regulation of the affairs of Christ’s Church?

The Church has Jesus Christ as its King, the Bible as its statute book, elders as its governors, and believers as its members. It is the duty of these governing elders to serve their King, to be faithful to His Word, and to care for His members.

Two Jurisdictions

It follows that, if Church and state have separate governments, they will also have separate jurisdictions. As a general principle, the state deals with civil matters such as the rule of law and the economy, whereas the Church deals with spiritual matters such as doctrine and the regulation of public worship. It is not the place of the Church, therefore, to dictate economic policy or international relations, and neither is it the place of the state to dictate what the Church's doctrine should be or what its worship should look like.

The principle of separate jurisdictions was, perhaps, never so bluntly illustrated as it was at a meeting at Falkland in Fife between Andrew Melville and King James I (VI of Scotland) in 1596. Grabbing the King's sleeve, Melville called him 'God's silly vassal' before going on to explain to him that:

There are two kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: there is King James the head of this commonwealth, and there is Christ Jesus the King of the church, whose subject James the sixth is, and of whose kingdom he is not a king, nor a lord, nor a head, but a member. Sir, those whom Christ has called and commanded to watch over his church, have power and authority from him to govern his spiritual kingdom both jointly and severally; the which no Christian king or prince should control and discharge, but fortify and assist.

The state has a duty to support the Church and uphold the Christian religion, but it has no jurisdiction within the Church, just as the Church has no jurisdiction in Westminster or Holyrood.

That is not to say, of course, that there isn't interplay between Church and state. It is perfectly acceptable and right for the Church to advise and even urge the state to make laws, for example, to protect the unborn. It is also right and proper for the state to advise and urge the Church, for example, to close its doors during a dangerous pandemic. However, in every case, it is advice that is given. Whichever direction it comes from, it comes as a recommendation, not as an instruction.


This may sound like a case of small-man-syndrome. However, we ought to remember that the greatest cause of strife, disunity and martyrdom in Scotland since the Reformation has been a violation of this principle. State-rule of the Church, or Erastianism as it's called, is what spilt the blood of the martyrs in one generation and what tore the Church into factions in another.

In a day when the Church is small and despised, there is an increasing likelihood that its right to self-govern will be stolen from it by a power-hungry state. It is our duty as a Church, not only to defend our right to self-govern, but also to ensure that we do not inadvertently and naively surrender that right.

It is our hope that the Government will continue to give good guidance and that we, as a Church, will continue to follow that good guidance. However, should the guidance become bad guidance, the Church should not hesitate to exercise its right to make its own decisions.

News: Resumption of Corporate Worship

Dear Congregation,

On Thursday 9th July, the First Minister announced that it would be safe for places of worship to resume congregational services as of Wednesday 15th July. As such, the Kirk Session of Kinloch Free Church met and agreed to open the Church building for public worship as soon as would be practical after that date.

It was felt that opening the Church for the prayer meeting on Thursday 16th July would not allow sufficient time for preparation. However, we are glad to intimate that we hope to have the Church open for public worship on Lord’s Day 19th July at 12 noon and 6pm. In order to facilitate cleaning requirements, the prayer meeting will be temporarily moved to Wednesday nights at 7.30pm (beginning 22nd July). Other congregational activities, including creche, sabbath school, youth fellowship, WfM, toddler group, Bible studies, etc., remain closed for the time being.

Initially, our services will be slightly different to what has been customary. 2 metre distancing must be maintained inside and outside of the building. There will be no congregational singing. Pew Bibles will not be available so you are advised to bring your own Bible. You will be both seated and led out of the Church at the direction of an office-bearer. Families/bubbles are encouraged to arrive and be seated together in order to save space. Windows will be open to increase ventilation so please dress accordingly.

You are advised to take your own temperature before leaving home to ensure that you do not have a fever. On entering and exiting the Church, you are required to use sanitising hand-wash. Throughout the service, please practice good personal hygiene, especially with regards to sneezing and coughing.The Government is not requiring that face-masks be worn during congregational worship. However, we encourage you to wear one if at all possible. Cleaning between services is an important requirement so we ask you to touch as little as possible while in the building.

At present, the Government is advising that attendances be restricted to 50 people. As such, in order to stop us having to turn people away, we ask that those intending to attend services would let me know in advance which service they hope to attend and, if both, what their preference would be (morning or evening) in the unlikely event of over-subscription. Please let me know by email or phone by Friday night. If you fail to get a hold of me on the phone, please indicate your intention to Donnie Macleod, elder. If you do not have contact details, please respond through the contact page of this website.

Note that the Government is asking us to keep a register of attendees for contact tracing as part of NHS Scotland's Test and Protect. By stating your intention to attend, you are agreeing to us keeping your details (name, address, contact) on record for 21 days in line with GDPR.

Those who are showing symptoms of COVID-19, as well as those self-isolating, are advised to stay at home. Those who are shielding or in any of the ‘at-risk’ categories are also advised to stay at home. If you begin to feel unwell during a service, you are advised to leave immediately. People from outwith the district of Kinloch are strongly discouraged from attending services at Kinloch Free Church at the present time.

We hope to continue to broadcast services on YouTube in the short-term for those unable to attend at this stage.

A copy of our full Risk Assessment will be made available by request. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch with myself or one of the other office-bearers.


Rev Paul Murray