presbyterians behaving badly

For badly, read: like independents.

There is nothing inherent in presbyterianism to make splits and schisms happen. Rather, the essence of presbyterianism is to embody one holy catholic church.

John Ross has an article here asking whether the proliferation of presbyterian denominations in Scotland is principled or pragmatic. The answer is definitely not principled. But other than putting on record that he’s stolen the alliterative title I’d been vaguely thinking of using for a different post, I’m going to exercise lots of discretion and say nothing much further that’s directly related to the proposal his post puts forward. (As in, I’m not really convinced. But do go and read it.)

My only thoughts to say out loud are these two.

1) Given that presbyterianism doesn’t allow for a multiplicity of presbyterian denominations, the only explanation for the existence of multiple denominations is a failure of presbyterianism. More specifically, I don’t think it would be unfair to say that most presbyterian denominations at the moment are really only presbyterian on paper – in practice, most people’s thinking (or acting) is independent.

That’s to say, when people are in favour of presbyterianism as a form of church government, it’s more because they like the potential it offers for things like “accountability” and the pooling of resources, than because they’re really convinced it’s the only scriptural method of church government. Not that you necessarily hear people saying so in so many words, but as far as the eye can see, this is the only principle that can make sense of people’s behaviour when it comes to the crunch. Either, setting up new denominations implies that there’s not much of a vision for being *the* church of Scotland (at least not on principles that Scotland’s greatest churchmen of the past would recognise). Or else, framing new church plants as the solution to intra-denominational difficulties is something that surely only makes sense on the assumption that things beyond the horizon of the local congregation don’t really matter (doubly so, for plants in communities that are already perfectly well supplied with several reformed options). Neither alternative can plausibly be justified on genuinely presbyterian convictions.

2) History matters too. Mr Ross’s post gives a shamefully long list of presbyterian denominations. But not all of the names on this list have equally good reasons for existing. Two if not three came into being on the back of disciplinary disputes, at least two aren’t even native to Scotland, one, when it relaxed its distinctives, failed to unite with any body it had now made itself identical to, … and so on. The back stories to these denominations make a huge difference to how to understand their separateness, and this is especially true for the ones which went their separate ways as a result of actual theological and/or ecclesiological struggles. Revisiting these doctrinal and constitutional disputes might not be pretty, but one way or another if there is to be any dissolving of unnecessary denominational boundaries it will have to be on a truly principled basis, a basis that our impeccably presbyterian-principled forefathers (Knox, Rutherford, Boston, Chalmers) would recognise as theologically both robust and informed. No denomination should prioritise its own interests over the Christian good of Scotland, but there are definitely denominations on this list which serve and would serve the Christian good of Scotland better than others. What we need … —

Ok, here’s where I need to bite my tongue so that I still manage to stop short of disputing with Mr Ross’s proposal. See what you think for yourselves.

41 thoughts on “presbyterians behaving badly

  1. I’ ve always thought alliteration a device best left to mediaeval poets.

    To ask a serious question (as they say) albeit possibly a dumb one, why is it Scottish Presbyterianism? That is to say, missions notwithstanding, why are the boundaries of the denomination coextensive with the boundaries of the state?


  2. Another interesting read, Catherine – all the stronger for your tongue biting.

    I agree entirely with your point anent pragmatism – an often unchallenged and entirely ruinous influence on the presbyterian landscape.


  3. @ Ben

    Yes, I’d be interested to know what the background to that is theologically. I know the Lutheran view is that a church is wherever the word is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments rightly administered. Given that there is clear scriptural warrant for some form of ‘supervision’ (episkope) beyond that, if you take the Calvinist view, that would be provided by the Presbytery etc. But why in principle can’t there be several Presbyteries with supervision over different congregations in one territorial area? (Beyond the obvious pragmatic objections.)

    (From a Catholic point of view, provided the ‘supervisors’ (in our case bishops) are all regularly appointed by the Church, there is no problem in individual congregations in the same geographical area have different ones (the case, eg, with the Anglican Ordinariate in the UK).)

    Not an attempt at critical comment! Simply a plea for explanation from someone who is profoundly ignorant in the area of Calvinism!


    • (From a Catholic point of view, provided the ‘supervisors’ (in our case bishops) are all regularly appointed by the Church, there is no problem in individual congregations in the same geographical area have different ones.

      Not quite as straightforward as that. (But of course, I hear you cry!)


  4. The answer for Ben is, because of the Establishment Principle.

    For Lazarus, that idea of ‘supervision’/episkope belongs to a congregation’s “elders”=presbyters=overseers. The elderships of several congregations are organised into presbyteries, which are organised into synods, etc. So (if I understand the question) I don’t think there is any principled reason why congregations in the same geographical area couldn’t belong to different presbyteries? You mean, in the city of Edinburgh, a congregation from the west and the east could belong to Presbytery 1 while another congregation from the east plus one from the north could belong to Presbytery 2? Off the top of my head I can only think of pragmatic objections, but maybe I’m missing something.


  5. The Establishment Principle, but (by way of PS to Ben) it would be more for the sake of the state than the church, as far as I understand it. The area which a presbytery covers needn’t coincide with regional or national boundaries, but the state has the obligation to recognise/establish The True Kirk within its own borders.

    So, I suppose, in theory, it would be Scottish Presbyterianism in the sense that this is the fragment of the one true global presbyterian church (…yeah, i know) which is legally established in Scotland by the lovely Scottish state which lives up to its obligations with respect to the National Recognition of Religion.

    Which I appreciate is an idea foreign to, well, Independents certainly, but also many contemporary Presbyterians in the US especially. But as Free Churchers who know their history know, when Chalmers quit the Establishment, he still maintained the Establishment Principle, and no new reason has ever subsequently emerged which would call that stance into question.


  6. ‘You mean, in the city of Edinburgh, a congregation from the west and the east could belong to Presbytery 1 while another congregation from the east plus one from the north could belong to Presbytery 2? ‘

    Yes, that was the thought. (And then these would in principle be organizable into different synods etc. So you’d get two parallel structures of supervision co-existing in the same territory -which in essence is what’s happening with the co-existence of different Presbyterian churches in Scotland…?)

    I suppose my thought is here that it’s not normally considered a sign of scandal that there are lots of different congregations (from one church) in (roughly) the same geographical area (so long as they get along and don’t undermine each other). So why should we consider it a scandal that there are different structures of supervision within the same geographical area? (And I suppose I’m equating here ‘structures of supervision’ with ‘Church’. Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong?)

    It’s all much easier when you have a Pope!!!


  7. I belatedly realised I was missing your point. I was assuming that these presbyteries would belong to the same synod, or the same something eventually – having odd geographical jurisdictions is only odd in pragmatic terms, not in principle, *if* the jurisdictions are not competing.

    Because actually, two parallel structures is wrong in principle for presbyterianism. It *is* a scandal for presbyterianism that different presbyterian churches co-exist side by side.

    Getting along and not undermining each other is kind of more or less okay as a temporary pragmatic expedient (as in, it would be worse to be openly bickering and sheepstealing) but it is absolutely not the way that the visible church is meant to be. If you in denomination X can get along so well with them in denomination Y, why are you still separate denominations? Being complacent about remaining separate because of how little you care about your denominational distinctives is more a sign of carelessness about disunity than a sign of ecumenicity(-in-the-good-sense). Not to devalue the ‘invisible’ unity that exists across denominational boundaries, but the unity of the church really is meant to be visible. Division in the visible church is a disgrace and should be felt to be a scandal.

    O let it not be said, No unity without Prelacy! (~ The Old Time Presbyterians)


  8. By the way – Matthew Vogan has an extremely helpful article on schism, available here for free download:

    I know it’s short but it’s thorough and thoughtful and I’d say the best contemporary treatment of unity and schism that I’ve yet come across. Particularly towards the end, it pulls no punches. I’d call it essential reading :)


  9. “Given that presbyterianism doesn’t allow for a multiplicity of presbyterian denominations, the only explanation for the existence of multiple denominations is a failure of presbyterianism.” I suppose another explanation could be that all but one denomination has failed. I’m sure there are many people who think this way, and that’s why they insist on keeping their specific presbyterian church separate from the others, as implausible as this may seem to us outsiders. May God help us all.


  10. I know what you mean, and in one sense I agree. On the other hand, it could almost be a reason for optimism if people did think like this. If people honestly think that theirs is the only denomination that hasn’t failed, then hopefully they could put forward some reasons that we could examine and discuss in a move towards better unity.

    What’s in some ways more worrying is that people don’t really think their own denomination is that much better than the next one, and *still* don’t care enough to work towards more unity. If people’s only reasons for staying in a separate denomination just boil down to cultural or ethnic or traditional preferences – that’s actually in its own way more harmful to unity. It suggests that unity is so far down your list of priorities that something that could be as trivial as “well, we’ve always belonged here” takes precedence over the need to be one body.


    • Much of what you say is true. But I do think that at least the 3 Scottish presbyterian denominations which have started up within the last 15 years thought and probably still do think there is a good reason for their independent existence. Otherwise, they would have united with another body from the start.


      • Can I speak frankly?

        All these new start-ups (say the last 15-25 years) have their own reasons for separating instead of uniting with another body I’m sure. But the big question is whether these reasons appeal to or make reference to anything broader than the circumstances of whatever local situation they were reacting against.

        I mean, it used to be the proud boast of all the Scottish factions that (unlike the misguided schismatics in other, far off lands) the divisions were NOT caused by offence caused by mishandled discipline cases, or disputes over matters of practice – instead, Scottish divisions were PRINCIPLED! (Mm.)

        I myself can remember in my childhood a distinct sense that, although there was this undeniable and unwelcome disunity, there was still a shared understanding of where everyone stood – that there wouldn’t be any prospect of reconciliation until people were won over to the principles of X rather than Y. Things that could be put on the table and talked through, and if you still weren’t convinced then your only honourable course of action was *not* to merge, the principles were so fundamental.

        But something has come in since ye olden days which has made this understanding disintegrate, so that now it’s become almost commonplace for “they’re too strict” to be a perfectly adequate reason to start a new denomination in this case and “that discipline wasn’t fair” in that case, and who knows what else in the next case.

        This means people find themselves in the doubly appalling situation of having withdrawn from fellowship with people not simply over irreconcileable principled differences (doctrine, in particular) but actually over things which ought never to result in splits at all (discipline, among other things).

        Which is why i say these new presbyterian denominations simply don’t feel very presbyterian at all. That grasp of what’s meant by the nature of The Church and the implications of saying that those who you’ve separated from are outside of The Church – dunno, people seem to handle the body of Christ so very carelessly – split upon split takes us meanwhile further and further from the New Testament and the Reformation.


        • Well, I’m neither Scottish nor a Presbyterian, but from your comments I gather that you’re referring to the Free Church Continuing. I can sympathize with you comments on that split, though there are some fine brothers there. But I don’t think you can peg the newly formed RPCS as being separate on other than doctrinal grounds. And sometimes, speaking from American experience, even when two denominations appear almost identical on paper, one side may be less infected with certain problems than the other, and see it in the best interest of the peace and purity of the churches in that denomination not to unite with the other for fear of spreading infections like heresy when another denomination professing the same subordinate standards is not applying discipline where needed.


          • The FCC among others :) And yet as you say so many of them would otherwise be kindred spirits. (Recent relevant post.) The RPs, I don’t know: whatever doctrinal issues there were, were apparently not so serious that up-till-then-loyal Free Church people couldn’t transfer membership apparently quite straightforwardly. Dunno. Controversial.

            And yes to the second half of your comment. Where peace exists, even in a splinter of the church, it doesn’t make sense to disrupt the existing unity for the sake of mere ecumenicity.


            • It seems to me the RPCS would have the same doctrinal distinctives today that it did at its founding at the time of the Revolution settlement. Namely, that the current governments of church and state in the UK are morally bound to the Solemn League and Covenant of the Three Kingdoms, that Scotland is bound to the Scottish National Covenant, and that the current UK governments of church and state which reject these covenants are therefore illegitimate powers. Signing these covenants used to be a term of communion in the historic RPCS. Not sure about the terms for the new church today.


              • Distinctives, distinctions, differences … My understanding was that this distinctive (the binding nature of the Covenants) has been removed in the Scottish RPs, and that this is what has made it them so compatible with the pre-2009 Free Church. But then, again just according to my understanding, this surely raises the question of how continued separateness can be justified for the RPs minus their key distinctive. Surely, it was only that particular understanding of the Covenants that kept them separate from everyone else to start with – with that changed, why didn’t the separation end?


                • Your understanding is different from mine. I thought these distinctives (the national covenants in particular) were the main reason for them getting started anew just a few years ago.


                • Hm. Tbh they haven’t featured on my radar an awful lot till so very recently and I’m a bit foggy on the details. As i understood it, they originally date from 1690 although function as more or less separate entities in (N) Ireland, USA, and Scotland, with the commitment to the Covenants (newly) non-obligatory in the US and Scotland. Hence no obstacle for Free Church ministers and elders to overcome in the recent exodus. I should have said 2010 in the last comment btw.


                • Maybe I can help clarify something here our [RP] new constitution has this section on the covenants:
                  “The Reformed Presbyterian Church recognises and advocates a real and continuing obligation arising from those covenants, one which rests upon both church and state, to seek a truly national and established church – spiritually independent and thoroughly reformed in doctrine, worship, government, and discipline – working together with the state to secure the recognition of Christ’s Kingship in the Land.”

                  We did however remove a number of points that were in the testimony but hadn’t been acted on for many decades, eg. no playing of cards, no pleasure walks on Sabbath.
                  Previously, in 1960, synod changed its historic distinctive position on Political Dissent (not voting etc) saying: “the New Testament” did not give “specific guidance on the duty of Christians where the Franchise is concerned,”. The synod decided no longer to discipline members for taking part in the elective franchise.
                  So, I believe the covenants are still a principle we hold but it is our only addition to the WCF. [open to dialogue on this]

                  However, we have to ask “distinctive to whom?”
                  For the RP church to have no add-confessional [is that even a real phrase?] distinctives itself, is not enough to bring it along side the other Scotch Denoms. As they have their own add-confessional distinctives. In this, even in a ‘destinctive-less state’ the RPCS IS distinct from other Scotch Denoms.
                  I would almost say that our distinctiveness is our Lack of any distinctives.
                  For happy unification both parties must drop their distinctives or one party must adopt the other’s distinctives.

                  A personal reluctance to adopt others distinctives is a large put of to church unification.

                  Another massive thing to the Scottish RPC is the global RP family; 15,000-30,000 people in 10 countries.

                  While we are technically different churches we work very close together; joint mission works and mission teams, prayer support, ministerial eligibility, International Conferences and financial support.
                  These blessings offer real fellowship and a beautiful inspiring vision of the global nature of Christ’s Church. We function so closely in fact, that I didn’t know until a few years ago that we were different churches.

                  The RPCS benefits greatly from all of these aspects eg. It relies almost entirely on money from Ireland and America to support the church plant in Edinburgh, We host a 5 week mission team each year organised by the RPCNA, 7 people from Airdrie were able to attend the RP International conference in USA this summer and be blessed to fellowship with the 2100 other RP’s there.

                  So its not like we have nothing to lose by joining someone else, we lose a very lot.

                  The RPCS does desperately want greater unity within Scotland and I think it is very fair to say that she has done more to pursue that than any of the other churches involved. However for me, any solution provided must either retain the close ties to the RP family or offer something definitively better.

                  Sir With a Funny Name,
                  “I thought these distinctives (the national covenants in particular) were the main reason for them getting started anew just a few years ago.”
                  Not really sure what you mean by ‘start anew’, we have always been here, do you mean why people joined us?


                • Thanks Connor, this is very helpful!

                  Can I ask about the statement about the covenants in the constitution – how does this work in practice? Do people have to sign the covenants before they can be members? Is this part of the constitution something which self-consciously makes the RPs distinct from the other available denominations, or is it meant to be worded in a way that people in other denominations can agree with it?

                  Something I’d like to clarify in turn is that the FP constitution doesn’t add anything on top of the confession. The distinctive position which the FPs took up in 1893 was that officebearers needed to continue to subscribe to the WCF in the same way as they had done up until the 1892 Declaratory Act came into force. I imagine that the Free Church since 1900 (and by implication the FCC) share this view of their constitutions.

                  This is why it’s so crucial to zone in on the exact official relationship of the RPs to the Covenants.


                • “Do people have to sign the covenants before they can be members?”

                  NO. Until 1932 “The ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of the perpetual obligation of our Covenants” was a term of membership. This was taken out in the 1932 revision of the testimony to allow a more open position on membership.

                  Do notice in passing that the requirement was not to sign or subscribe to the covenants but rather to recognise that they are ALREADY binding on yourself.

                  “is it meant to be worded in a way that people in other denominations can agree with it?”

                  I don’t believe so. I don’t see how the other Denoms could agree with that when they do not recognise the covenants as perpetually binding? However, it is given (I believe correctly) a relatively minor position in our constitution, compared to its historical place as the raison d’etre for the church.

                  “FP constitution doesn’t add anything on top of the confession”

                  Thanks for the clarification on that jazz but I had been thinking more of those issues that actually affect daily life, like; headcoverings, gender appropriate dress, exclusive KJV use, use of public transport on the Sabbath. Topics that RP’s would consider issues of conscience, whereas [I believe] other Denoms have official stances on at least some of them.


    • Given the “everyone else should join my church” attitude which tends to prevail whenever Presbyterians discuss unity and schism would there not be merit in establishing a ‘new’ church on Reformation and confessional principles that we could all fold in to without prejudice? Is it not a time for radical thinking? The old thinking clearly isn’t working. Our distinctives, far from distinguishing us seem only to put distance between us. Although we agree on 99% of everything else that is essential. Ought we rather to look forward rather than backward and look to the future and not the past. I am not contending that we ignore the past. We must learn from it. If only in order not to repeat the mistakes of history (though with frail and fallen creatures like me in the church there is no guarantee of that.) And this is not written from a trite ‘what unites us is greater than what divides us’ attitide at all. But what we must ask is now important are these distinctives today? I mean in Scotland today. Perishing 21st century Scotland. If we could all unite around one doctrine, worship, government and discipline would not that be a wonderful thing? It was true once.Why not again?


      • I’d have liked to think more seriously about this, but time has run away on me. So, just quickly:

        In one way, it’s an extremely appealing prospect. If there was a new church, we could freely treat each other as the brothers and sisters that we are, and pool resources, and move forward on the basis of the shared essentials instead of competing for the disputed distinctives. A beautiful vision!

        But …

        1) What kind of church would this be? Would there be appetite for a church that conserved the best of our collective past attainments, where best is defined something like this:
        * doctrinally maximalist, instead of doctrinally minimalist, so that rather than regressing to things like the Nicene Creed, we start from the furthest advances in the articulation of Scripture truth available, the Westminster Confession let’s just say
        * committed to the ordained means of grace, so that we take seriously not just the reading but “especially the preaching” of the Word as the primary means of both discipleship and evangelism
        * committed to purity of worship (no need to spell this out i take it)
        * tolerance for diversity of practice so that people are despised *neither* for being “strict” *nor* for being less “strict” (in all the multifarious ways that strictness may or may not express itself!)

        2) What exactly is objectionable about the distinctives that different denominations are currently so exercised about anyway?
        There’s even a lot of confusion about what counts as a “distinctive” in the first place: people sometimes assume that if something (anything, almost) distinguishes Denomination X from Denomination Y, then that’s a “distinctive” of X. But the most salient distinguishing features are often quite trivial and don’t in fact have anything to do with the actual distinctives of that denomination, in the sense of “the thing that we uniquely stand for which makes us the very church that everyone else should join, actually”. Because although that attitude, ‘everyone else should join mine,’ is from one perspective just thrawn, from another, it could be the only honest option. If it genuinely doesn’t matter what denomination you belong to, then there is absolutely no excuse for all this fragmentation. But the reality is that it does matter. Some of these denominations, though we love their members as our brothers and sisters, have putative distinctives which are truly untenable. Our brothers and sisters should get out of these denominations and join a better one – they never should have made this split or that split in the first place. So I suppose the point I’m working round to is this: that there do exist ways even at the moment for evaluating how justifiable is the existence of Denom A relative to Denom B, and that, maybe, after all, what we need is not so much one new church, but a renewed existing one. Renewed, because not one of the existing ones is perfect, and the best are poor enough – but existing, because our history does matter.

        Ok, before I blurt out something absurdly controversial for lack of time to think things through properly, I’ll stop. I’m actually going to be away for most of next week with not much email access, but I’ll be very interested in your thoughts.


        • This is just to note a thought before I forget it! My point is not so much that our distinctives are objectionable but rather that they may have become objections. Do they militate aginst or serve to promote our unity. Does historical context prevent present harmony. The suggestion (and it is merely an opening gambit as it were) that a ‘new’ church might , just might be a necessary vehicle for presbyterian unity in Scotland is borne of the observation that is is what distinguishes us that often divides us. Anything new would have to be ‘old’ in spirit. A return to a truly reformed and confessional church. If presbyterians in Scotland can’t come together and agree on that then is there any hope for us? Not hope for the Gospel but hope for the presbyterian church in Scotland as a meaningful vehicle for the propagation of the Gospel. History is undoubtedly important but do we need to start thinking radically about the present and future in terms of denomination. And do we not have to go back much further than the last 159 years for our model and pattern? The idea that we could all fold into an existing church is a compelling one. But which church? Which church in Scotland today lays claim to being the true church. And has she herself, whichever she may be, been actively seeking the reunion of separated brethren? Is any truly reformed and presbyterian church in our nation taking the initiative in this matter? Does it not behove us all to work towards one true church in Scotland and to be prepared to make whatever denominational sacrifices may be required to realise what is ultimately the command and prayer of Christ Himself that we may be one (and be seen to be one!) as the Triune God is one. (That was only supposed to be a three line lunchtime reply…..)


          • Addendum: We can’t ignore the thorny issue of denominational culture either. That might require more sacrifice than the distinctives ;-)


          • Hi,

            Slowly catching up on everything after being away…

            We maybe mean different things by distinctives. For something to be a true distinctive, it has to be something like the Free Church’s stance on the Establishment Principle post 1843 (abandon that principle and you’ve dissolved the Free Church as such), or the FP’s stance on the necessity of creedal subscription post 1893 (abandon creedal subscription and you’ve dissolved the FPs as such), etc. There are also pseudo-distinctives, like whether you sing Psalm 118 in a communion service, or expect ministers to wear clerical collars in the pulpit, etc. It’s nonsense for pseudo-distinctives to be used to justify separateness, but a true distinctive can only divide us, because that’s essentially what it does. [Let me come back to this below.]

            I’d agree, actually, in a way, that we need to go back more than 169 years to recover perspective on this. (That book by James Walker, ‘Theology and Theologians of Scotland,’ would say we need to go back at least as far as Rutherford!) With the benefit of hindsight you can’t help thinking that the rationale and actions of the good guys in 1843 involved a colossal risk and although they wouldn’t have foreseen all the consequences of the step they took, they have (arguably) landed their posterity in a bit of a mess. Not to call in question the rightness of their view that state interference in ecclesiastical jurisdiction is intolerable, but when they set about to disrupt the relationship between Church and State, we can only regret that they couldn’t find a way to do that without breaking up the oneness of the Church itself. It set a very unfortunate precedent, anyway: both in that the church split left a mixture of good and bad on both sides of the split, and in that the awe-ful step of separating, once done, only proved easier the next time round.

            I’m sure there must be more than one church that claims to be the true church of Scotland today. But admittedly: whoever they are, they’re not actively looking outwards or making it known that they’re willing to work towards greater unity on clearly articulated grounds.

            The problem is the dual one that you identify: the need for denominational sacrifices, and the bogeyman of denominational culture. Cultural differences do exist – they typically express themselves in those pseudo-distinctives, which can loom so large in people’s collective consciousness that they can hesitate to accept people into their denominational midst as Christian brothers and sisters on account of them. But at the same time, culture can be a bit of a bogyeman – people are alarmingly ready to believe all sorts of myths and scaremongering about denominations that they don’t belong to – both about how “liberal” some are and about how “strict” others are. So people’s perceptions about the denomination(s) they might potentially move to can be wildly inaccurate, and these perceptions can be at least as much of a barrier to better unity than some of the obstacles that genuinely exist. So on the obstacles that genuinely exist: When these obstacles consist of mere cultural distinctives aka pseudo-distinctives, then here we need to assess honestly what sacrifices we are under obligation to make. Not that everyone has to give up all their time-honoured customs, but these benign customs that have innocently grown up over time in particular places must stop filling the role of hoops for would-be incomers to jump through.

            But I guess I keep coming back to this that I can’t clearly understand, that when you pare down the obstacles till you’re left with only the true distinctives, how in practical terms are we going to escape from our histories? Do the Disruption principles not matter any more, eg? – we know they *do* still matter – so how would it work in a ‘new’ church committed to reformed and presbyterian principles – wouldn’t such a church be a contradiction in terms if it didn’t uphold the Establishment Principle now that the 1843 witness to it is a fact of history? so doesn’t that mean we would have to incorporate these distinctives into any new church rather than abandoning them? How do you see it working?


  11. Btw a general thought – obviously I didn’t mean this to be a polemic against forms of church government other than presbyterianism. The question of whether presbyterianism is truly more scriptural than independency (etc) is a discussion worth having in its own right. It’s just a bit depressing when people called presbyterians don’t live up to their own professed principles – things can only get messy.


  12. I never said that. That is not the point. This is not about the Church of Rome.

    I have no problem with the claim that presbyterian adherents desire to be unified in the “one holy catholic church”, but to claim there is noting inherent to Presbyterianism itself that causes splits and schisms to happen is plainly wrong. There is an obvious problem and there was with Protestantism from the beginning of the Reformation, acknowledged and mourned by both Luther and Calvin. That is what I understand Cath to be denying.

    I apologise in advance is I read it wrongly.

    The Catholic Church seeing as you bring it up, has not been totally unified no. But it has been remarkably unified by comparison given its long history , huge numbers and given its understanding of development of doctrine, other controversies and dare I say scandals. By comparison, there is obviously something inherent to Catholicism which causes unity.


    • United in doctrine? Well, perhaps, to some extent, by force, in the centuries between the counter-reformational Council of Trent (around the time the Jansenists were banned) until Vatican II. But certainly since Vatican II Rome has become a different beast. And prior to Trent, there was wide disagreement, including the precursors to Reformation. Some had already been teaching the distinctive Protestant doctrines for centuries within the communion with Rome. It was not until the Pope decided to react against Luther that a split was generated. Then at Trent, Rome had to decide where it stood on these issues, and it defined itself over and against the Reformation, sadly.


  13. Thanks for the history lesson. Forgive me if I insist on sticking to my original point.

    That is that there is something inherent to presbyterianism which causes splits and schisms.

    Fair enough, It might even be the lack of an inherent something rather than the positive existence of an inherent something. But it would be a moot point.

    Either way the weight of historical evidence is conclusive for any impartial observer. If I may say so, in the context of my actual point, you’re defending the indefensible.


    • Hi Catholic Teuchtar.

      I appreciate that I’m a couple of months late in replying to you – I haven’t followed this particular thread for some time.

      Having now claimed three times that there is something inherent in Presbyterianism which causes splits and schisms, would you be so good as to articulate what that something is?

      Those of us who are Presbyterians cannot think what you may be referring to. The 400 years of historical evidence which you mentioned is presumably a reference to the fact that within that period there have been many (lamentable) splits and schisms within the pale of Presbyterianism (if I may use such a term). However, it does not follow that these splits and schisms were caused by something inherent in Presbyterianism – and in fact I cannot think of one such split which was driven by such a thing (though admittedly my knowledge of the multiplicity of Presbyterian denominations is limited to the Scottish scene).

      What is the thing that is an intrinsic part of Presbyterianism and which causes splits and schisms? And given that the splits and schisms within Presbyterianism have been caused (presumably, or at least most of them) by this as yet undefined thing, how do we account for the splits and schisms of non Presbyterian branches of the church (e.g. Baptists, Church of Rome)?


      • I won’t attempt to answer the question you pose (which of course isn’t addressed to me) but a thought occurs: why the apparent assumption that division is necessarily a bad thing? Christians are obliged to separate from error, and a recurrent theme of church history is the introduction of doctrinal heterodoxy, or accommodation of ideas from other religions. Without claiming that these are the only reason for division, surely the extent to which people have been prepared to make sacrifices in leaving their church or denomination for the sake of truth could be a measure of faithfulness.


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