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The Preaching Ministry in Scotland's First Book of Discipline

  • Robert M. Healey (a1)


On 27 April 1560 the Protestant Lords of the Great Council of the Realm of Scotland covenanted to procure by all means possible that “the true preaching of God's Word may have free passage within this realm, with due administration of the sacraments and all things depending upon the said Word.”1 Two days later they charged a group of ministers “to commit to writing and in a book deliver … judgments touching the reformation of Religion.”2 Three weeks later, on 20 May, the ministers, whose names “have not been recorded in any part of the surviving documents,” delivered to the Lords their recommendations for the organization of a reformed Christian church for Scotland.3



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1. Fleming, D. Hay, The Scottish Reformation (Edinburgh, 1960), p. 93. Most sixteenth century quotations are modernized in this article.

2. The First Book of Discipline, ed. James Cameron (Edinburgh, 1960), p. 85 and n. 3.

3. Ibid., p. 4.

4. Ibid., p. 5.

5. Ibid., pp. 8–12, 70–75; The Second Book of Discipline, ed. James Kirk (Edinburgh, 1980), p. 15;Row, John, The History of the Kirk of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1842), p. 16; compare idem, The Historie of the Kirk of Scotland, M.D.LVIII-M.DC.XXXVII, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1842), 1:6.

6. First Book of Discipline, pp. 3–4; see also Donaldson, Gordon, The Scottish Reformation (Cambridge, 1960), p. 62 n. 2.

7. First Book of Discipline, pp. 90, 92.

8. Ibid., p. 9.

9. Second Book of Discipline, p. 10.

10. Knox, John, The Works of John Knox, ed. Laing, David, 6 vols. (Edinburgh, 1864),2:92.

11. Cameron, James K., “The Cologne Reformation and the Church of Scotland,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 30 (1979): 64.

12. MacGregor, Janet G., The Scottish Presbyterian Polity: A Study of its Origins in the Sixteenth Century (Edinburgh, 1926), pp. 2462;Cameron, , “Cologne Reformation,” pp. 3964;Donaldson, Gordon, “‘The Example of Denmark’ in the Scottish Reformation,” Scottish Historical Review 21 (1948): 5764.

13. MacGregor, , Scottish Presbyterian Polity, p. 61.

14. Second Book of Discipline, p. 4; MacGregor, , Scottish Presbyterian Polity, pp. 2636.

15. MacGregor, , Scottish Presbyterian Polity, pp. xvi, 62.

16. Second Book of Discipline, pp. 2–3, 6–10; Knox, Works, 2:92.

17. MacGregor, , Scottish Presbyterian Polity, p. 66.

18. Ibid., pp. xvi, 66, 132.

19. Knox, John, John Knox's History of the Reformation in Scotland, ed. Dickinson, W. Croft, 2 vols. (New York, 1950), 1:346347.

20. First Book of Discipline, pp. 10–11.

21. “The key to the proposed constitution of the church was the parish minister”; in Reid, W. Stanford, Trumpeter of God: A Biography of John Knox (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1982), p. 197.

22. The First Book of Discipline, p. 116.

23. Ibid., pp. 115–116.

24. Ibid., pp. 98–99.

25. Ibid., pp. 104–105.

26. Ibid., pp. 105–106.

27. Ibid., p. 111.

28. Ibid., pp. 115–116.

29. Ibid., p. 124.

30. Ibid., pp. 127–128.

31. Ibid., p. 135.

32. Ibid., p. 188.

33. Ibid., p. 191.

34. Ibid., pp. 97–98.

35. Ibid., p. 99.

36. Ibid., pp. 206–207; 205.

37. Ibid., p. 130.

38. Ibid., p. 150.

39. Ibid., pp. 108–110.

40. Ibid., p. 178. Most discussions of this passage miss the point the compilers may have been trying to make. Reprintings of the Book of Discipline usually have the key sentence end with the word “Taverns.” The words “neither yet must a minister [etc.]” are then printed as the start of a new paragraph (see, for example, Knox, , Knox's History, 2:311, and Works, 2:236), thus obscuring any conceptual link between ale-houses and the court. However, Cameron's text presents the clauses as one sentence, inferring that the compilers saw “ale-houses” or niggardliness as provocation to ministers to work outside the church by “haunting the court.”

The traditional interpretation of the text as two isolated ideas must be quite powerful; the paragraphing of Cameron's introductory comments reflects the format of Laing, Dickinson, and others rather than the 1621 text he chose for his critical edition. He ignores the reference to ale-houses and taverns (ibid., p. 38, and p. 178 n. 19; but compare The First and Second Booke of Discipline: Amsterdam, 1621,“The English Experience: Its Record in Early Printed Books Published in Facsimile,” no. 893 [Amsterdam, 1977] p. 56).

41. First Book of Discipline, p. 162.

42. Ibid., p. 164.

43. Ibid., pp. 175–176.

44. Ibid., p. 177.

45. Ibid., p. 173.

46. Ibid., pp. 13, 29, 74; Second Book of Discipline, p. 15.

47. See Knox, , Knox's History, 1: 120123, 148;Reid, , Trumpeter of God, pp. 231, 235, 236, 251.

48. See First Book of Discipline, pp. 103 n. 28, 115–128.

49. In 1558 Knox maintained that all citizens shared responsibility for church purity. In the Appellation to the Nobility he stated: “The punishment of such crimes as are idolatry, blasphemy, and others that touch the majesty of God doth not appertain to kings and chief rulers only but also to the whole body of that people and to every member of the same, according to the vocation of every man and according to that possibility and occasion which God doth minister to revenge the injury done against his glory.” In the Letter to the Commonalty of Scotland he argued: “It doth no less appertain to you, beloved brethren, to be assured that your faith and religion be founded and established upon the true and undoubted word of God than to your princes and rulers,” and “ye, although ye be but subjects, may lawfully require of your superiors—be it your king, be it of your lords, rulers, and powers—that they provide for you true preachers and that they expel such, as under the mane of pastors, devour and destroy the flock.” See Breslow, Marvin A., ed., The Political Writings of John Knox (Washington, 1985) pp. 130, 150, 154; see also pp. 132, 134. By contrast the Scots Confession is ambiguous. Chapter twenty-four states: “Moreover to Kings, princes, Rulers, and Magistrates, we affirm that chiefly and most principally the conservation and purgation of Religion appertains: so that not only are they appointed for civil policy, but also for the maintenance of true Religion, and for the suppressing of idolatry and superstition whatsoever.” But does this mean that thc civil ruler is to be the chief reformer, or does it mean that Reformation is to be the civil ruler's chief, but shared concern? A conclusive answer may not be possible. Neither the Confession nor the Book of Discipline was written by Knox alone; both were proposed by a group for action by Parliament. Ambiguity on church and state may have been essential to preserve the unity of framers and to maintain parliamentary support for church reformation. Recent interpretations vary on the thought of Knox and his fellow reformers on church and state. See, for example, Donaldson, , Scottish Reformation, pp. 134135;Kirk, , Second Book of Discipline, pp. 4041;Breslow, , Political Writings, pp. 2933;Reid, W. Stanford, “The Book of Discipline: Church in the Scottish Reformation,” Fides et Historia 18(1986): 3537;Kyle, Richard, “The Church-State Patterns in the Thought of John Knox,” Journal of Church and State 30 (1988): 7273;Greaves, Richard, Theology and Revolution in the Scottish Reformation: Studies in the Thought of John Knox (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1980), pp. 111113, 169179.

50. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1839), 1:74, 206; cited in MacGregor, , Scottish Presbyterian Polity, p. 90 n. 5; p.91 no. 2, 4.

51. Ibid., 1:357; 2:775; cited in MacGregor, and p. 93. The presbytery eventually developed to wield administrative power and authority exercised previously by bishops.

52. Ibid., 2:513, 568; cited in MacGregor, , Scottish Presbyterian Polity, pp. 48, 122.

53. Mackie, J. D., A History of Scotland, ed. Lenman, Bruce and Parker, Geoffrey, 2d rev. ed. (New York, 1978), p. 155;Fleming, , Scottish Reformation, p. 106.

54. See Cowan, Ian B., The Scottish Reformation: Church and Society in 16th Century Scotland (New York, 1982), chap. 8. “Consolidation and Recusancy,” pp. 159181.

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