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.

Relevance

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.