In Response to The Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland and the Revolution Settlement by Rev. Kenneth stewart
by J. Parnell McCarter
Rev. Kenneth Stewart has written an article appearing at https://www.rpcscotland.org/history/the-reformed-presbyterian-church-of-scotland-and-the-revolution-settlement/ . As a member of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPCS), I have been asked my response to it.
Let me begin by referencing articles I have written in the past related to the topic at least indirectly:
Let me also note from the brief article at http://www.puritans.net/news/magistrate072804.htm what lies at the heart of the difference between historic “Reformed Presbyterianism” versus Revolution Settlement Presbyterianism (such as the Seceders): the doctrinal difference relating to the civil magistracy. Historic “Reformed Presbyterianism” has asserted that the civil government in Britain was not legitimate which did not uphold the Solemn League and Covenant, whereas Revolution Settlement Presbyterianism has asserted that the civil government in Britain has sinned and erred in not upholding the Solemn League and Covenant but is nevertheless legitimate. The Westminster Confession itself is not silent on the issue, for in its chapter on the civil magistrate it teaches: “"Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrate's just and legal authority, nor free the people from their obedience to him…" The historic “Reformed Presbyterianism” is described at https://www.localprayers.com/XX/Unknown/409293559204900/Reformed-Presbyterian-Covenanted thus:
It is also noted at http://www.westyrpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/20091212-Evening-Study-1688-1761.pdf : “In 1733, Erskine, Wilson, Moncrieff, and Fisher seceded because the CoS allowed Arians but criticized the Marrow Men. They established the Associate Presbytery. • Differences between the Covenanter Societies and the Associate Presbytery o Seceders said that an uncovenanted government was a legitimate covenant. o Covenanters said that a government in a Christian land, which repudiated the covenants, is not a legitimate government. At this point the Covenanter’s application of the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ became a distinction. • Why do we care about the AP? The RP and the AP were so close in doctrine, that the covenanter societies could have joined the Associate Presbytery. The doctrine of the Mediatorial Kingship of Christ kept the RP and AP separate from many more years...1761 Act, Declaration, and Testimony: The High Water Mark of Covenanter Separatism. • This document included the first RP Testimony. The Act, Declaration, and Testimony stated a history of the 2nd Reformation, reasons for rejecting the reformation, differences with the Seceders, and a summary of RP principles.”
Noticeably absent in Rev. Stewart’s article is a clear acknowledgment and defense of this central historic Reformed Presbyterian position relating to the civil magistracy. Could it be that Rev. Stewart is embarrassed by it and knows that he cannot defend the indefensible? Could it be that he strains at gnats in the Revolution Settlement church but swallows camels in the Reformed Presbyterian (RP) church of yesterday and today? Many modern RP churches like the RPCNA (the North American sister of the RPCS to which Rev. Stewart belongs) lack full subscription to any reformed confession and so are effectively doctrinally latitudinarian, accept critical text positions that thoroughly undermine the true reformed doctrine on the word of God, and accept ungodly standards at their schools so as to get government funding.
With that background, let’s consider some quotes from Rev. Stewart’s article, and respond to them:
1. Rev. Stewart asserts: “The proper role of the state when establishing the church is simply to receive from the church the constitution which she has framed and enacted by her own intrinsic and independent authority, and then, after mature and serious consideration, to grant it the civil sanction.”
This statement is contrary to the Bible and to the Westminster Standards. It is contrary to the Bible, because kings David, Hezekiah and Josiah were commended but went far beyond that in their relation with the church. It is contrary to the Westminster Standards, because the civil government was much more involved than that in getting the Westminster Standards themselves crafted and adopted.
2. Rev. Stewart asserts: “…the proof texts were not received and neither were the Catechisms, the Form of Church Government or the Directory of Public Worship – all of which had been received unalterably by the Second Reformation church in the exercise of her God given freedom and authority – as part of her fixed and covenanted constitution! Significantly, although Prelacy was abolished, the fact that the Form of Church Government was not accepted meant that Prelacy was not abolished on the ground that it was ‘contrary to the Word of God’ – the ground on which it had originally been abolished – but only on the lesser ground that it was a ‘great and unsupportable grievance and trouble to the nation, and contrary to the inclinations of the generality of the people’.”
This statement is erroneous because: a. It fails to see that the Westminster Confession comprehends in its principles all of the principles contained in the Catechisms, etc. The concrete meaning of the Westminster Confession is fully discovered in these other documents, such that in adopting the Confession one is implicitly adopting the doctrines contained in these others. b. History after 1690 vindicates that the Westminster Confession comprehends in its principles all of the principles contained in the Catechisms, etc. Much went wrong as years wore on in the Church of Scotland following 1690, but disuse of the Catechisms, prelatical convictions in the Church, etc. were not among the problems.
3. Rev. Stewart asserts: “…King William favoured Episcopacy and was only too happy to establish Erastianism in England”.
This statement is historically inaccurate. Prior to his arrival in England, King William was not Anglican, but rather was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. As a Calvinist and Presbyterian, when William became king in England, he was now in the unenviable position of being the head of the Church of England, which was Anglican. And England was politically, militarily and economically the most important part of Britain. The English did not want Presbyterianism but Anglicanism, and King William had to go along with it in England or else forfeit the throne in England. In contrast, in Scotland he could get away with re-introducing presbyterianism as the church government of the established church there, which he did. The Jacobite faction in Scotland came almost exclusively from prelatical supporters there, not Presbyterians. King William was a pragmatist, so he gave the English what most of them wanted (Anglicanism) and he gave the Scottish what most of them wanted (Presbyterianism) in their respective established churches. But to accuse him of personally favoring Episcopacy is unfair to him and not acknowledging the true situation he faced.
4. Rev. Stewart asserts: “…the Revolution Parliament revived the earlier Act of 1592 as the new Magna Carta of the Established Church. However, this Act of 1592 – passed before the church had attained to its full covenanted commitments – gave the civil magistrate the authority to appoint the time and place of the meeting of the Assembly. It declared that ‘the king’s majesty, or his commissioners appointed by his Highness, be present at each General Assembly before the dissolving thereof, and nominate time and place when and where the next General Assembly shall be held’. Clearly, no true Presbyterian could grant the King such power: not only does it put it within the power of the King to defer or prevent meetings of the General Assembly indefinitely; it is fundamentally quite incompatible with the headship of Christ and the independence of His church.”
No less a Presbyterian than Andrew Melville did not leave the Church of Scotland under the Act of 1592: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Melville . The Westminster Confession says this as a general principle regarding calling of synodical assemblies: “The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.” The Church of Scotland accepted this with qualification in the 1640s. To make this an excuse for not joining the Revolution Settlement church of 1690 would be unwarranted. And there is little or no evidence such was abused by the British monarch following 1690 to prevent Church of Scotland assemblies.
5. Rev. Stewart asserts: “The Revolution Settlement appeared to abolish Patronage once more – but, in reality, it was not properly banished. Rather, it was declared that ‘the heritors of the parish being protestants, and the elders, are to name and propose the person to the whole congregation, to be either approven or disapproven by them, and if they disapprove, that the disapprovers give in their reasons to the effect that the affair may be cognised by the presbytery of the bounds’. Where there was no land-ward parish, the right of patronage was vested in the magistrates, town council and Kirk Session of the burgh. Significantly, it was ordained that ‘in recompense of the said right of presentation, hereby taken away, the heritors and life renters of said parish, and the town council for the burgh, should pay to the said patrons the sum of six hundred merks’. These provisions were unacceptable to faithful Presbyterians because, first, they demand a civil as well as a religious qualification in order to exercise of a spiritual duty—the heritors and the town council being associated with the Kirk Session in ‘naming and proposing the person to the whole congregation’. This is an unacceptable infringement of the rights and privileges of the people of God.”
It is doubtful that there ever would have been an established church during the time of Knox or Melville if Rev. Stewart’s criteria are insisted upon for there were in existence similar arrangements in the Church of Scotland of their day. Rev. Stewart is simply wrong as to what the Bible and the Westminster Standards allow regarding the relation of church and state. He is demanding an un-Biblical level of separation of the two. It is within the purview of what the Westminster Confession teaches thus: “ The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed.” The civil magistrate has an interest in who serves as a church officer, but the magistrate has no right to take on functions reserved for church officers, nor to force on congregations men wholly unqualified for the reformed ministry. It should be kept in mind though that the civil elders may also be elected as ecclesiastical elders (albeit not ministers), so even in this way overlap is possible. What is truly objectionable is if the civil magistrate, contrary to the expressed determination of the church, thrusts upon the church officers who are professed enemies of the Biblical gospel and the reformed faith. That situation cannot be long tolerated by the church officers and members, without rupture.
6. Rev. Stewart asserts: “The Disruption Fathers sought freedom for the congregation to call and induct a man of their own choice – although the church had lived with the Act authorising this since the Patronage Act of 1712. It would have been far better to have stood in 1690 and asserted the following in no uncertain terms before the State: that Presbyterian Church government is of divine right; that the whole of the Westminster Standards were to be re-adopted as they were in the 1640’s; that her Assemblies were to be entirely free from State interference; that all the Acts of the Free and Independent Assemblies during the Second Reformation were to be retained in force and, in short, that all the attainments of the Second Reformation were to be maintained.”
Conflating the patronage situation of 1690, 1712 and 1843 ignores many important distinctions among these different situations relevant to determination of church affiliation. Furthermore, there is no guarantee even if things were perfect and ideal in 1690 in church and state that such would have remained to 1843 and beyond, given we live in a fallen world. What is more likely is this: insistence on the ideal in church and state before one will join an established church is a recipe for never joining an established church.
In summary, I fear that Rev. Stewart places such a high bar on ever joining an established church, that in a fallen world where things will always be far below an ideal, the establishment principle effectively becomes a mere abstraction. Also, it strikes me that most critics of the Revolution Settlement Church of Scotland of 1690 are joined to denominations that have many more problems than that established church did. Finally, I wonder if these words (“What about Original Westminster and all of that extra-biblical baggage such as no make up, jewelery, stage plays, etc. You cannot claim that the FPCS holds to the original standards therefore we need to join them- and then also require all of the Scottish cultural baggage.“- see http://www.puritans.net/news/churchunion022508.htm) of a man now a minister in the RPCNA come closer to the real reason more do not want to join the FPCS than issues with the Revolution Settlement Church of Scotland of 1690. Is it perhaps easier to poke holes in the Revolution Settlement Church of Scotland of 1690 rather than admit you do not want to join the FPCS because you want to engage in movie entertainment?