Results tagged “Scotland” from Reformation21 Blog

Advocates of "family-integrated worship" -- a fancy term for keeping kids of every age in church services rather than shuffling them off to the nursery/crèche, Sunday School (UK), or Children's Church (US) -- generally claim their practice as the historical one up until rather recent times. "What we advocate," writes one proponent of family-integrated worship, "is nothing new, but is rather the practice of historic Christianity. [...] It was not until the philosophy of age-segregated education inflitrated [sic] the educational regimen of the nations, and then was adopted in the churches, that the people of God had to face so many family disintegrating forces." With considerably more levity, the brilliant forces behind Lutheran Satire recently named age-segregated worship as a modern invention (courtesy of Mr. Thompson and the Vicar) fundamentally at odds with "the multi-generational model of worship so foolishly employed by all the Christians in the history of forever until five seconds ago."

Whatever the merits of including children from early on in church services (and there are, I think, many), I'm not convinced the evidence for such being the unequivocal practice of previous ages is all that strong. Too often the argument from history on this matter seems to be one from silence more than anything else. Moreover, Kirk session records from the sixteenth-century suggest that Scottish church leaders at least thought keeping younger kids out of church services might be in the best interest of the whole congregation, even if there is, admittedly, no evidence that they spent any effort devising a wholesome alternative to corporate worship for the youngsters.

In her fascinating work The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland, Margo Todd observes that infants and young children were "systematically excluded... from Sunday sermons" in sixteenth-century Scotland in the interest of making sure that more mature parishioners were hearing and benefiting from the preaching of God's Word. Indeed, presbyteries and sessions went so far as to impose monetary fines on parents who breached ecclesiastical regulations against bringing potentially distracting youngsters to Sunday worship. Glasgow's churches apparently made 8 years of age the "cut-off" for attending the sermon. Aberdeen excluded children from corporate worship until they had reached school-age and demonstrated their ability to "take themselves to a seat." In Kingsbarns, just south of St. Andrews, the laity were ordered not only to exclude "little ones and young children" from worship, but to keep them enclosed at home (to prevent them from distracting worshippers by "running up and down" and making a racket in the vicinity of the church building). Church legislation in Perth in 1582 threatened parents with a hefty fine of six shillings and eight pence and/or imprisonment for bringing their "bairns... [to] kirk in time of preaching."

As Todd astutely points out, the exclusion of infants and children from worship presented a difficulty when it came to baptismal services "since one could hardly exclude the baby" to be baptized from such. Perth legislation of 1587 offered a resolution to this issue by ordering that infants "be holden in some secret place til the preaching is ended" and then brought forward for baptism, lest the crying of the baptismal candidate create "din in time of preaching, so that others incoming thereto are stopped from hearing."

Such efforts by early modern Kirk authorities to regulate the attendance of infants and young children at church might prove to be a historical anomaly. But I suspect that some digging would demonstrate that early modern Protestant churches elsewhere engaged in similar exercises. Of course, we need not necessarily follow the lead of our (Scottish) forebears on this particular issue. Personally (for what it's worth), I'm in favor of including kids in worship from pretty early on. I suspect that carpeted floors and the amplification of the preacher's voice has made some (though not all) of early modern kirk sessions' worries about the distraction children might cause other congregants less pressing in our day. Regardless, it seems to me that such worries shouldn't be permitted to trump the reality that faith comes through hearing, and so the benefit of situating our covenant children under the authoritative preaching of the Word of Christ from their earliest days (Rom. 10.17).

Perhaps the most appropriate lesson to be learned on this point, then, is simply not to make assumptions too quickly about how Christians did things in the past. It's all too easy to project our own ideas and customs on to persons or groups that inhabit days gone by, and then to turn around and claim historical precedent for our ideas and customs on that (illegitimate) basis. We must, rather, engage persons from the past truthfully and charitably. After all, the Scriptures that urge honesty (Ex. 20.16) and charity (1 Cor. 13.7) upon us in our interactions with others contain no qualifications about whether the "others" in question are living or dead. 

On Long Sermons and Family Feuds


As is generally known, the Reformation entailed a recovery of preaching as a central feature of worship, a recovery which was rooted in the recognition that Scripture names proclamation of God's law and gospel as the means of creating and sustaining faith in those divinely ordered to eternal life. The recovery of preaching was reflected in the central role that pulpits came to occupy in sixteenth-century Protestant churches, and in Protestant confessions of the period. So, for instance, the Second Helvetic Confession, one of the most widely embraced doctrinal standards among early modern Reformed churches, acknowledges that "the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God." And thus: "when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called, we believe that the very Word of God is proclaimed, and received by the faithful; and that neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven."

Generally overlooked, however, is that this early modern renewed emphasis on preaching introduced a problem which the medieval church, with its lack of sermons and adherence to established liturgies for church services, did not face: how long should the preacher preach?

Scholars agree that sermons in Puritan England and Presbyterian(ish) Scotland regularly passed the benchmark of an hour, a fact causing at least one writer to quip that Reformed pastors were apparently trying to make up for a millenium-long dearth of preaching prior to the Reformation. Determining an appropriate length for sermons was (thankfully?) an issue which, at least in Scotland, Kirk sessions and presbyteries were keen not to leave to any minister's sole discretion. As noted by Margo Todd in her wildly entertaining book The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland, such sessions and presbyteries eventually began to impose monetary fines upon their ministers for exceeding some determined, appropriate time limit for preaching. So, for instance, Edinburgh's presbytery ruled in 1587 that preachers exceeding an hour in their sermons be fined 18 pence. Elgin's Kirk session went even further by threatening long-winded preachers with a fine of six shillings and eight pence -- slightly more than the equivalent of day's wage for your average laborer in Scotland's capital at that time.

Of course, insistence upon time limits for sermons in early modernity raises an obvious question: how could sermon-length be realistically monitored in the absence of wrist-watches or mechanical clocks internal to church buildings? The solution to this problem came in the form of hour-glasses (or "sand-glasses") affixed to pulpits. Quite a few early modern pulpits-with-hour-glasses have survived to the present-day, both in England and in Scotland. Visitors to St. Salvator's chapel in St. Andrews can view the rather fantastic sixteenth-century pulpit (complete with functioning hour-glass) that once occupied Holy Trinity church in the center of town.

One of the most intriguing facts about pulpit hour-glasses is that they were visible to the congregation as well as the minister, thus preventing any attempt on the minister's part to fudge on whether or not his hour was up. Of course, more clever ministers could find ways to cheat the system. The same Scottish session that imposed rather steep fines upon their ministers for excessively long preaching had to reprimand one David Philp in 1622 for apparently "forgetting" to turn the hour-glass when he mounted the pulpit (see Todd, p. 48-49, n. 95). The folk in Elgin apparently liked their Sunday lunch on time. (The folk in nearby Gardenstown, where my wife grew up, still do, at least in my experience).

A rather unforeseen and unfortunate consequence of lengthy sermons (coupled with compulsory attendance at church) presented itself on the Isle of Skye in 1578. On a misty Sunday morning, members of the clan MacDonald ran their ships ashore in Ardmore Bay and walked up to the nearby church, where members of the clan MacLeod, long-time enemies of the MacDonalds, were worshiping. The lengthy sermon being received inside provided the MacDonalds ample time to bar the doors from the outside and set fire to the building. Only one individual survived the flames and managed to raise the alarm. The MacDonalds paid for their crime (which, to be fair, was itself retaliation for earlier injuries received) -- not to mention their lack of foresight -- when they returned to the bay and found their boats stranded on the beach by a receding tide and a mob of angry MacLeods approaching.

There's nothing like the church's past to put present-day ecclesiastical problems in perspective.

Despite its premature appearance on Mark Jones's Top Ten List Of Books That Will Never Make A Top Ten List, tomorrow marks the official release of Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology 1560-1775 (Bloomsbury Academic). Scholarly views on the nature of Reformed theology in the centuries following the Reformation have changed quite a bit in the last several decades. Persons wishing to bring themselves up to speed on the state of research into post-Reformation Reformed theology would do well to start with the late Willem van Asselt's essay "Reformed Orthodoxy: A Short History of Research" in Brill's Companion to Reformed Orthodoxy (van Asselt's entire chapter can be accessed using the preview function of Google Books). The essays included in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland generally aim to bring new and improved scholarly views on post-Reformation Reformed theology in toto to bear upon the study of individual divines and theological issues in the particular context of early modern Scotland. It includes chapters from established scholars like Richard Muller, Donald Macleod, Paul Helm, and Joel Beeke, as well as contributions from a number of younger academics working in the field.

Older works on post-Reformation Scottish theology (such as T.F. Torrance's Scottish Theology: From John Knox to John Macleod Campbell) tended to be dominated by the issue of that theology's fidelity to Calvin, an issue scholars now deem largely inconsequential. More recent work (including the essays in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland) tends to focus on the relationship of orthodoxy to movements substantially larger than the thought of any one reformer (patristic theology, medieval scholasticism, humanist scholarship, early modern philology and philosophy, etc.), and so provide a more robust perspective on orthodoxy as such.

One of the relations not explored in the chapters of Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland, or, to my knowledge, in other scholarly literature, is that of Scottish orthodoxy to early modern Scottish uses and abuses of tobacco. This constitutes a rather regrettable lacuna in scholarship, one much in need of filling. The existence of some relationship between the fine theology produced in early modern Scotland and the use of tobacco is certainly suggested by the literary record. In 1614 William Barclay, a "Master of Art and Doctor of Physicke" from north-eastern Scotland, published a work on "the vertues of tabacco" in which he referred to the plant as nothing less than "divine."  William Barclay was, interestingly though unimportantly, a contemporary of several notable Scottish divines. And Barclay himself at least dabbled in theology. Several years after the publication of his treatise on tobacco he penned a defense of the Scottish reformer and humanist scholar George Buchanan's Latin paraphrases of the Psalms. Likewise interesting though unimportant is the fact that William's grandparents Patrick and Janet, Laird and Lady of Towie, are buried in the remains of St John's Kirk in the north-eastern coastal village of Gardenstown, where my wife was born and raised.

Barclay's work on tobacco, published by the Edinburgh bookseller Andro Hart (who was responsible for printing the Kirk's Psalters during the same period), is an intriguing read. His basic purpose is to highlight the medicinal -- and by good and unnecessary consequence, recreational -- merits of tobacco. Tobacco serves, he suggests, "to cure the asthma, or shortnesse of breath, dissolve obstructions, heale the olde cough, burning ulcers, wounds, migraim, Colicke, suffocation of the mother, and many other diseases, yea almost all diseases." Tobacco also is a "soveraigne helpe, and a present purgation, and approoved preservative against... Arthritis, the gowt, Lithiasis, the stone in reines or bledder, and Hydropisie." The social benefits of tobacco also merit mention: "It is the only medicament in the world ordained by nature to entertaine good companie, insomuch that it worketh never so well, as when it is given from man to man, as a pledge of friendshippe and amitie."

Modern readers might be surprised to learn of these medicinal benefits of tobacco. The apparent failure in our day to capitalize on said benefits might, however, have much to do with the manner in which we use tobacco. Barclay provides some detailed instructions upon how to make use of the "medicament" in question, depending upon one's particular ailment. Most of the maladies noted above can be treated by smoking tobacco. But Barclay is concerned to stress that tobacco should only be smoked on an "emptie stomack." He criticizes, in this connection, the "English abusers" of tobacco, who apparently smoke on full stomachs and, in any case, far too often. Barclay's recommended dosage of "suffumigation" comprises "the smoke of a pipe of fine Tabacco" once "every day" after "fasting in the morning."

For the particular ailment of excess phlegm a different method of ingestion is in order. "Take of leafe Tabacco as much as being folded together may make a round ball of such bignesse that it may fill the patients mouth, and incline his face downward towards the ground, keeping the mouth open, not moving any whit with his tongue, except now and then to waken the medicament. There shall flow such a flood of water from his brain and his stomacke, and from all the parts of his body that it shall be a wonder." 

Barclay concludes his treatise with a series of poems praising the virtues of tobacco.

Both here and there it worketh wondrous cure / And hath such heavenlie virtue hid in store.

He likewise seizes a final opportunity to rebuke in verse the abusers of Tobacco:

Why do you thus abuse this heavenlie plant / the hope of health, the jewell of our life? / Why do you waste it without feare of want, /  Since fine and true Tabacco is not ryfe?

Though Barclay himself draws no explicit connection between "fine Tobacco" and the fine Reformed theology of his day, it seems fairly obvious that some connection must exist. I leave it to scholars better than myself to identify and explore that connection -- perhaps a task for the highly regarded researchers who regularly contribute to the Nicotine Theological Journal? Barclay, as an aside, also wrote two treatises praising the virtues of the spring waters found in Aberdeenshire and Fife. A connection between Scottish Reformed orthodoxy and Scottish waters also very likely exists, even if Barclay forgot to mention in those further treatises that the virtues of said waters follow primarily from their being combined with malt in a mash tun and subsequently distilled.

In any case, it's clear that more work remains to be done on Reformed theology in early modern Scotland. While you wait for the definitive treatment of the relationship between Scottish orthodoxy and tobacco/whisky, why not pick up a copy of Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland. Hard copies sell for the equivalent of a week's wage in your average developed nation. Amazon has Kindle versions for $17.95--the mere cost of a cup of fancy coffee at Starbucks (and certain to provide more substantial, albeit intellectual, nourishment).

As is generally known, the Scottish reformers took a dimmer view of Christmas festivities than their continental peers. When Knox and company drafted the (First) Book of Discipline for the newly Reformed Kirk, they identified Christmas -- along with "holy days of certain saints" and "fond feasts of our lady" -- as a "Papist" invention lacking biblical warrant, declared it "abolished from this realm," and affirmed that persons persisting in the celebration of it would be subject to "the punishment of the civil magistrate." (By way of contrast, the Second Helvetic Confession and Canons of Dordt explicitly approved religious celebrations in "memory of the Lord's Nativity.")

Getting rid of Christmas was easier said than done. Kirk session records and repeated legislation by the General Assembly aiming to enforce the abolition of Christmas festivities testify to the common people's reluctance to desist celebrating the birth of their Lord. The 1575 General Assembly implored civil authorities to play their part in reprimanding persons who observed "Yule day" by "banqueting, playing, fasting, and such other vanities." In 1592, the year that Scottish Presbyterianism reached the peak of its influence in the sixteenth century, the Scottish Parliament finally signaled its intention to back the Kirk in suppressing the celebration of Yule. But in a Reformation progress report conducted by General Assembly three years later the Kirk lamented the reality that many superstitious practices persisted among the Scottish people, not least of which was the "singing of carols at Yule." Interestingly, provincial records from these early decades of the Reformed Kirk's existence suggest that ministers were among the most guilty of perpetuating Christmas observance.

Yet, when we look to the seventeenth century, we see some evidence of the Kirk making progress in convincing even lay persons that celebrating Christmas really was naughty. One significant factor working in the Kirk's favor was, somewhat ironically, King James's new-found conviction that Scottish Christians really should celebrate Christmas. James put significant pressure on the General Assembly of the Kirk meeting in Perth in 1618 to adopt, among a variety of liturgical/practical reforms, a religious calendar consisting of at least a handful of religious days, one of which was Christmas. For James, getting the Scots to celebrate Christmas was one small step towards creating uniformity of religious practice in his lands, which as of 1603 had come to include England. In any case, so far as the common people and their proclivity to celebrate Christmas went, it turned out that telling them they must celebrate Christmas was the surest way to keep some of them at least from doing so.

Scottish Christians' increasing enthusiasm for not celebrating Christmas in the face of royal pressure to do so is colorfully illustrated by the case of Edward Cathkin, an Edinburgh bookseller who was hauled into King James's presence in 1619 on charges of harboring in his home the author of a pamphlet criticizing the decisions of the 1618 General Assembly. An account of the conversation between the King and Cathkin suggests that James was well aware of, and unimpressed by, the resistance his imposed "reforms" of worship were meeting north of the border. Here follows extracts from the exchange between James and Cathkin (as discovered in the first volume of the Bannatyne Miscellany [Edinburgh, 1827]):

King: What religion are you of?

Cathkin: Of the religion your Majesty professes.

King: The devil take you away, both soul and body! For you are none of my religion! You are a recusant! You go not to the church!

Cathkin: If it please your Majesty, I go to the church; I think no man will complain of me in that.

King: Was you there on Christmas day?

Cathkin: No.

King: And why were you not there?

Cathkin: Because, Sir, holy days have been cast out of our Kirk, and has ever been preached against since ever I can remember; and we have been taught that it was superstition to keep them.


King: Are you not a Christian? Should you not keep in memory the birth, and passion, and ascension of Christ?

Cathkin: Every day should be the birth and passion day of Christ.


King: You are worse than Turks and Jews! [And turning to address the Lords present:] I can never get an order of this people of Edinburgh. [...] The devil rive their souls and bodies all in collops, and cast them in hell!

The dialogue turns eventually to one specific charge against Cathkin; namely, that he called the 1618 General Assembly at Perth an "unlawful assembly."

Cathkin: I spoke not these words.

King: What was it you spake, then?

Cathkin: If it please your Majesty, I said it had been good if our ministers [at Perth] had aquainted the session[s] of the Kirk before they had brought in these novelties upon us.

King: Farts on you and the session of your Kirk both! When I was in Scotland I kept Yule and Pasch in spite of all your hearts.... You are recusants, that will not come to the Kirk on holy days to hear preachings.

There is, I think, much to be learned about human nature from the reality that, to all appearances, Scottish enthusiasm for the rejection of Christmas increased in proportion to royal directives to celebrate the same. The whole exchange between King and Cathkin also imports entirely new meaning to the phrase "King James English."

Aaron Clay Denlinger is Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford FL. He is the editor of Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology 1560-1775 (Bloomsbury, 2015) and the author of a highly disregarded book on covenant theology and original sin in sixteenth-century thought, which book recently won the much un-coveted tenth position on Mark Jones's Top Ten List of Books That Will Never Make a Top Ten List.

The Untied Kingdom?

Over at the British blog, some thoughts on the upcoming Scottish referendum:
The outcome of the Scottish vote will, in some measure, in the shorter and longer terms, change the circumstances in which the saints go about their business. But our business will not change. We are all still citizens of a heavenly kingdom. When all these things are shaken, as they are in time and most certainly will be when the end comes, the kingdom of Christ remains. Our hopes for the kingdom are not shackled to any particular country or individual or system of government. Our fears need not rise or fall with any fall of rise of any person, party, policy or process, need not be yoked to any particular nation-state. Christ's kingdom is not of this world - not absolutely of any part or portion of it, but throughout it and above it.

As Christian citizens and Christian patriots, we have genuine and legitimate interests in such questions as those now being posed. Our responsibilities and concerns as Christians in particular nations are many. There may be pains and pleasures, profits and losses, progress and retreat, as an apparent or untraced consequence of the vote in Scotland tomorrow, one way or the other.

However, when the voting is done, and the dust has settled, and the fallout begins, Christ himself remains our peace. . . .
See it all, if you wish.
Given that the church IN Scotland is much wider and deeper than the Church OF Scotland, I found John Ross's blog very stimulating and thought-provoking. Is it time to re-draw the map? Read John's piece here.

Out and About in Scotland


I have been travelling about a bit over the last couple of weeks, and usually without access to emails, so I haven't been able to comment on the online petition about the General Assembly of the CofS. I never sign online petitions, but I made an exception in this case. I think it is important for us to let our evangelical brethren in the CofS know that they are being remembered around the world, not least in the smaller Presbyterian denominations. The debate (I believe) is to be held on the evening of Saturday 23 May, so we ought to make that a matter of prayer.


However, let's put it all in perspective. Recently I preached at Musselburgh Baptist Church near Edinburgh, a vibrant gathering of believers who are looking to church plant in the Scottish borders where there is little Gospel witness. I then spoke at a Conference on Psalm-Singing and Precenting at Smithton Free Church; it was an in-house Free Church conference, although others attended, where we were reminded of the importance of the psalms and of good quality psalm-singing. The following day I preached at Inverness Free North Church (their website has some terrific examples of unaccompanied psalm singing at God was with us in the services, and it was a privilege to occupy that strategic and famous Highland pulpit. Please remember them in the vacancy.


Yes, there are big things happening that are causing us concern at a national level. Yes, we need national leaders who will guide and lead the church in the ways of truth. Yes, we need a return to biblical authority. We need a genuine revival of the Spirit of God, not an importing of the Toronto blessing through CLAN (Christians Linked Across the Nation) at St Andrews.


The Lord is often not in the earthquake or in the fire, and there is a lot of good work being done across the denominational spectrum in local congregations, where real-life pastors are confronting real-life sitations through real-time proclamation of the Word of God. And for that I am profoundly thankful. 



Praying for Scotland


Two very significant items passed across my desk in the last few days. The first is a new book by Tom Lennie, published by Christian Focus Publications, entitled Glory in the Glen. It is one of the best written studies of evangelical revivals in Scotland from 1880 to 1940. It dispels not a few myths, and is a useful addition to literature on Scottish church history. It will be interpreted differently by modern evangelical leaders, I suspect, but is an inspiring story nonetheless.


The other was a news item on a case coming to this year's Church of Scotland Assembly, where a congregation wants to call a minister who is living in an open gay relationship. The congregation in question is Queens Cross Church, Aberdeen, in which I have some interest, since it was where George Adam Smith (the focus of my doctoral research) began his ministerial career. The church was built under his leadership. Now it has become the focus for a test case that will exercise our brethren in the CofS.


I can't help feeling that there is a link between these two things. If ever we needed revival in Scotland, it is now. The church, as well as the nation, has jettisoned the authority of the Word of God in the name of political correctness. How we need men of mettle and conviction to stand up and to stand out. Pray for us, and for our Scottish Presbyterian denominations.