Constitutionalism

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Subsections

Creeds

History of Subscription to Creeds

Historic, Reformed Books of Church Order, Discipline and Minutes

The Right of Continued Protest

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Order of Contents

Introduction
Start Here
Articles
Books
Scottish History
.   Whole Span
      Medieval
.       1500’s-1900’s
           1500’s-1700’s
.                Church
               State
      The Free Church of Scotland
.             at 1900
.             at 2000

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Introduction

What is Constitutionalism?

Constitutionalism is a name for the fundamental principles inherent to any binding agreement of persons to a constitution, especially as it relates to the Church.

A Church’s constitution, subordinate to the Word of God, defines the being and public testimony of the Church.  As God has directed the Church to ‘hold fast the form of sound words’ (2 Tim. 1:13) and to commit this body of doctrinal teaching to faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2), it is proper for the Church to secure a summary form of the deposit of revealed truth God has entrusted to it, and its own fundamental laws (taught in and based upon Scripture), in a public constitution.

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What are the Principles of Constitutionalism?

The constitution expresses the public teaching of the Church, forms the rule by which all subsequent proceedings are to be in agreement, and defines the rights and terms of the union of its churches, officers and members.  Vows by Church officers to the constitution ensure that their service is subordinated to (and not contrary to) the public interest of the Church.

Officers’ vows to uphold the constitution of the Church make it immoral for officers to seek to change the constitution of the Church (apart from the process the constitution itself may prescribe).  Needless to say, allowing officers to teach contrary to the constitution can only undermine the integrity of the constitution and the Church.  If an officer finds his convictions out of accord with the vows he has made to the constitution, the only honest thing to do is to forego the bond he had previously entered with the Church, rather than to use the Church’s name, authority and resources to an ulterior cause.

The constitution, grounded in Scriptural truth, protects the Church from the winds and changing fashions of the times.  Faithful minorities, who simply desire the founding-interest of the Church, are also given a great legal protection in being able to appeal to the constitution against majorities who may use their sway for other interests.

A constitution, blessedly, protects against separatism.  Not every defect in the Church is constitutional.  There, in fact, may be a diversity of practice and secondary laws in the Church contrary to the constitution, and yet the constitution may still be appealed to in order to reform and overturn those practices and laws.  In such a case, it is the constitution that yet still defines the fundamental, public teaching and practice of the Church, and obliges the officer to the Church by his original vow, in spite of things in the Church that may be contrary to her constitution.

As the constitution defines the essence of the Church, if the Church changes its constitution, it has effectively become a new Church (whatever name it may bear).  If a minority, in historical continuity, continues the original constitution of the Church (never having left it, but remaining under it), this minority legally continues the original Church.

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Constitutionalism in Church History

The theoretical underpinnings for the concept of an inviolable constitution, while having precedent in the Scottish Reformation from 1560, came to its mature expression in the writings of Archibald Bruce (1746-1816, an Original Secession Church minister) and the Constitutionalist party within the Free Church of Scotland.  Sherman Isbell writes:

“Apparently no church has given as much attention to issues respecting
constitutional change as has the Free Church of Scotland.  The matter
was debated in presbyteries, general assemblies, in print, and finally in
civil court, for over forty years [1860-1904]…”

The Constitutionalist party included James Begg, James Buchanan, George Smeaton, Hugh Martin, John Kennedy of Dingwall, Horatius and Andrew Bonar, James Gibson and Alexander Moody Stuart.  Their main focus was upon resisting proposed unions that would have compromised the constitution of the Free Church of Scotland.

Historically in the Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland, and in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) today, there is no category of ‘exception’ by which officers are able to disagree with the original Westminster Confession (which is part of the Church’s constitution).  This, of course, is because the original Westminster Confession of Faith is held to be true, being what Scripture teaches, without exception.  If one would be a teacher in the Church, and one disagrees with the Westminster Confession, he needs to go back and learn what God’s Word teaches again.  Then, he may be a teacher in the Church.

Because of the high standard held for teachers (Titus 1:9-11; Mt. 5:19; 28:20; James 3:1-2; etc.), the constitution (Ps. 15:4; 24:4; 61:8; Eccl. 5:4-6) and the generational-spanning teaching and witness of the Church in such faithful Scottish Churches, their constitution has remained the same as it ever was from its founding, and they have not seen the detrimental erosion of their constitution (with its ill effects), as found in much of the American Church.

As Thomas M’Crie (the elder) classically expressed in his work, The Unity of the Church: Her Divisions and Their Removal  Buy  (1821) we are to depend and wait upon God to pour out His Spirit in bringing men to fuller light and convictions of scriptural truth upon which to unite, than to retreat from the light which the Church has received from previous generations, held in possession and vowed to uphold.

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“Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed unto thee, keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.”

2 Tim. 1:13-14

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Start Here

Articles

Isbell, Sherman – ‘The Church in Relation to its Constitution’  2006  12 pp.

Isbell describes many of the various aspects of Constitutionalism, and, specifically, describes the historically significant, European understanding of a constitution (as it was understood, for instance, in the 1500’s and 1600’s).

MacLeod, John – ‘The Reformed Faith in Modern Scotland’  1926  14 paragraphs  being excerpts from an article in The Princeton Theological Review, vol. 24 (1926)

MacLeod (1872-1948) was an eminent reformed scholar and professor in the Free Church of Scotland. 

Winzer, Matthew – ‘The Constitutional Principle of the Scottish Reformation: 1547-1648’  Ref  2012  Scottish Reformation Society, Historical Journal #2

Winzer of the Free Church of Australia gives a historical survey arguing that the principle that the Church’s power is limited by the Word of God was a constitutional principle in the Reformation Scottish Church.

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Books

Free Church of Scotland – Catechism of the Principles and Constitution of the Free Church of Scotland  1882  162 pp.

Collins, G.N.M. – The Heritage of our Fathers: the Free Church of Scotland: Her Origin and Testimony  Buy  1974  171 pp.  Covers 1560-1900’s

The is the best, most thrilling short account of Scottish Church history.  It reads like an adventure story; you will find it hard to put down.  From a mid-1900’s Free Churchman and Constitutionalist who embodied the Free Church principles and ethos.

Cameron, J. Kennedy & Alexander Stewart – The Free Church of Scotland: The Crisis of 1900; 1843-1910: a Vindication  Buy  1910  427 pp

This is a defense of the Constitutionalists in the Free Church of Scotland, who remained separate from the union of the majority part of the Free Church of Scotland with other presbyterian bodies in 1900, forming the United Free Church of Scotland.  The body of the Constitutionalists continued the Free Church’s original name, constitution and spiritual and legal inheritance through the 1900’s.

The work also defends the principles of the Constitutionalists through the 1893 Declaratory Act issue, in contra-distinction to two ministers who seceded from the Free Church of Scotland to remain separate as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

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Articles

1700’s

Bonar, John – ‘The Nature and Tendency of the Ecclesiastic Constitution in Scotland: a Sermon’  Buy  (Edinburgh: A. Donaldson, 1760)

Bonar (1722–1761) was an evangelical Church of Scotland minister.

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1800’s

Hetherington, William –  ‘An Introductory Essay on the Principles and Constitution of the Church of Scotland’  1848  25 pp.  in History of the Church of Scotland

Hetherington was a Free Churchman and Church historian.  Hetherington’s piece focuses on fundamental theological principles rather than specific constitutional documents.

Cunningham, William – ‘Free Church Principles’  1863  33 pp.  in Discussions on Church Principles, pp. 257-289

This chapter is a review of a specific opponent’s arguing for Scottish civil control over the Church.  Cunningham makes numerous references to the Free Church’s constitutional principles. 

Bonar, Horatius & Begg, James – ‘Statement Explanatory and Defensive of the Position Assumed by certain members and elders of the Free Church of Scotland… in regard to the present scheme of Union’  (Edinburgh, 1867)  40 pp.

Bonar & Begg were a Constitutionalists in the Free Church of Scotland who opposed church unions contrary to the constitution of the Free Church.

Martin, Hugh – ‘Are We To Have No Constitution?’  The Watchword 6 (1871):9

Martin was a Constitutionalist in the Free Church of Scotland, some of whose numerous works have been reprinted by the Banner of Truth.

“For a series of years at the early stage of this conflict [over the constitution of the Free Church of Scotland and possible Church unions] an ecclesiastical duel in the field of journalism was fought.  On the one side was The Presbyterian whose presiding genius was Robert Rainy.  On the other was The Watchword edited by James Begg with Hugh Martin as his right-hand man.” – John MacLeod

From Martin’s article:

“I am ordained into this Church, resigning, we shall say, all other life prospects which I might be warranted to cherish and devoting to her service all my energies and interests, embarking on her prospects also all the temporal interests on my family.  I am then ordained in terms of an Ordination Vow. 

This vow is not an instrument special in my case, not peculiar to me.  It is the vow taken also by all my brothers who in this Church are exactly my peers.  It has been already taken by all the brothers who in this transaction of exacting and accepting my vow represent to me and act the part towards me of the Church.  Not to mention that they are thus bound by the self-same vow already, taking into account merely that they exact and I render this vow in my ordination, is it conceivable that speaking of this one ordination merely I alone became bound by it?  Is this merely a pact on my side without being a compact between me and the Church? . . .

Do I then come under obligation to the Church without the Church coming under obligation to me?  Who would make an assertion so outrageous? The idea of a vow between creatures of God binding only one party in the transaction is a sheer paralogism [piece of illogical reasoning].  This vow entails very weighty obligations on my side and on the side of the Church the weight of obligation is as great.  The obligation is manifestly reciprocal. That inheres in the idea of it.

Laying out of view the contingency of my convictions as to the subject-matter of my vow coming to be changed and my leaving the Church accordingly, I am bound by it, aye, and until the Church shall release me.  Is it conceivable that all this time the Church should have been silently reserving a right to release herself what time she may be able to outvote me?  Is it possible that on what are actually called ‘general impressions’ and considerations of ‘good sense’ it is proposed to regulate anew our Church Communion and I am to be – by a dispensing power, we presume – set free from my ordination vow and the Church from her reciprocal and another is to be substituted in its stead? Has a majority power to do this? Yes, if I have power to change my vow and still continue in the Church. And yes, if the Church was not bound to me by prescribing and accepting my vow. . . .

A majority may prove treacherous to a vow, just as an individual may: nor is it in the power of the multiplication table to settle a question of morals. Our ordination vow taking us bound to our Confession settles that we have a Constitution, clearly enough defines it, renders us answerable to it and pledges the Church reciprocally as amenable to it also.”

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Books

1700’s

[MacLaurin, John] – The Nature of Ecclesiastic Government, and of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland Illustrated  1754  152 pp.

MacLaurin (1693-1754) was a minister in the Church of Scotland in Glasgow and ‘one of the ablest preachers and theologians of the eighteenth-century Church of Scotland.’ (DSCH&T)  This work ‘was arguably the most effective defence of the ‘Popular’ position’ against the civil intrusion of patronage. 

‘In this work, he advanced criticisms of the Moderate position which were never answered, and displayed considerable acquaintance with the work of continental political and philosophical writers.’

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1800’s

M’Crie, Thomas (elder)

Statement of the Difference Between the Profession of the Reformed Church of Scotland, as Adopted by the Seceders, and the Profession Contained in the New Testimony and Other Acts, Lately Adopted by the General Associate Synod  1st ed. 1807, 1871

As the Anti-Burgher Secession Church made constitutional changes to reflect New Light theology (the Voluntary Principle and being against the continuing, moral obligation of the Scottish covenants), M’Crie (1772-1835) here described the difference between the new constitution and the older constitution that they departed from, defending the former. 

The Unity of the Church: Her Divisions and Their Removal, Two Discourses  Buy  1821  174 pp.

This is the go-to classic on principled Church unity.  M’Crie looks to and waits upon the Lord to fulfill His scriptural promises that His church should be one.  We are to depend upon God pouring out His Spirit in bringing men to fuller light and convictions of scriptural truth upon which to unite, rather than retreating from the scriptural truth brought to light by previous generations.

“After the union in 1820 of two New Light Secession bodies to form the United Secession Church, M’Crie expressed in print his apprehension about the further development of sentiment away from the original stance of the Secession fathers, and the impropriety of Church unions accomplished at the expense of abandoning the constitutional positions of the uniting Churches..  [this work] is a preview of the constitutional questions which would be raised in the Church union discussions for the rest of the century.” – DSCH&T

Bruce, Archibald – A Review of the Proceedings of the General Associate Synod… in Reference to the Ministers who Protested Against the Impositions of a New Testimony, wherein their protestations and conduct are vindicated  (Edinburgh: George Caw1808)  421 pp.

Bruce (1746-1816) was a Secession (Anti-Burgher) minister author and professor of Divinity (successor to Moncreiff).  This work traces the development of the New Light ministers moving away from their constitution and the Old Light ministers retaining the same.

“…the theoretical underpinnings for the concept of a church constitution which is inviolable, as it comes to mature expression in Archibald Bruce and the constitutionalist party within the Free Church of Scotland.” – Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Reading List

Wellwood, Henry Moncreiff – The Constitution of the Established Church of Scotland, and of the Questions concerning Patronage and the Secession  2nd ed. 1833

Wellwood (1750-1827) was a leader of the evangelicals in the Church of Scotland and one of the most influential churchmen of his day.  His activity in the 1780’s marked the beginning of the decline of Moderatism controlling the General Assembly.  This and other works of his became ‘virtual handbooks for the Non-Intrusion party in the Ten Years Conflict [in the Church of Scotland] between 1834-1843 [which led up to the Disruption].’ (DSCH&T)   

Hill, George – A View of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland  1835  165 pp.

Hill (1750-1819_ was a leader of the moderate party (contra the evangelicals) in the Church of Scotland.  His textbook was widely influential, and according to Thomas Chalmers, was orthodox, though without the warm fervor that should attend evangelical doctrine.

Gibson, James – Speeches… with a Review of the Principles Maintained in the Speeches of Candlish an others on Christian Union  1846  101 pp.

Gibson (1799–1871) was one of the Disruption fathers, a professor of Systematic Theology in the Free Church College and a Constitutionalist.

Begg, James

Free Church Presbyterianism in the United Kingdom: its Principles, Duties and Dangers, Four addresses Delivered in the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland  1865

Begg (1808-1883) was a leading Constitutionalist in the Free Church of Scotland.  Here is a review by the Original Secession Magazine.

Memorial with the Opinions of Eminent Counsel in Regard to the Constitution of the Free Church of Scotland  1874  262 pp.

Innes, Alexander T. – The Law of Creeds in Scotland: a Treatise on the Legal Relation of Churches in Scotland Established and not-Established, to their Doctrinal Confessions  1867

Innes was a lawyer in the Free Church of Scotland.

Kennedy, John, of Dingwall

Unionism and the Union  (Edinburgh, 1870)

Kennedy was a famed Highlander Constitutionalist in the Free Church.

The Present Cast and Tendency of Religious Thought and Feeling in Scotland: Eight Articles  Ref  1879  62 pp.

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The Constitution in Scottish State & Church History

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The Whole Span

Histories of the Scottish Church from a Constitutionalist Perspective

(These are a select recommended, few.  For more, see Scottish Church Histories.)

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Collins, G.N.M. – The Heritage of our Fathers: the Free Church of Scotland: Her Origin and Testimony  Buy  1974  171 pp.  Covers 1560-1900’s

The is the best, most thrilling short account of Scottish Church history.  It reads like an adventure story; you will find it hard to put down.  From a mid-1900’s Free Churchman who embodied the Free Church principles and ethos.

M’Crie, Thomas (the younger) – The Story of the Scottish Church: from the Reformation to the Disruption  (1529-1843)  Buy  1875  602 pp.

This is the best, longer book on Scottish church history there is.  M’Crie was an old school presbyterian in the Scottish Secession Church (who came into the Free Church of Scotland), writing in vindication of the Scottish reformers and covenanters against revisionist historians.

The work includes all the stirring and famous stories that the Scottish church is known for.  Fill your sermons with powerful, thrilling illustrations from church history from these pages.

Hetherington, William – History of the Church of Scotland. From the Introduction of Christianity to the Period of the Disruption in 1843  (431-1843)  1854  500 pp.

Hetherington was a minister and professor in the Free Church of Scotland.

Macleod, John – Scottish Theology in Relation to Church History since the Reformation  Buy  330 pp.

Masterful, dense, and full of jewels.  Macleod (1872-1948) was a Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland minister who became a professor in the Free Church of Scotland.

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On the Constitution Specifically

Home, Henry – Essays Upon Several Subjects Concerning British Antiquities, viz., 1. Introduction of the Feudal Law into Scotland, 2. Constitution of Parliament…  1745  220 pp.

Robertson, Alexander – A Course of Lectures on the Government, Constitution and Laws of Scotland, from the Earliest to the Present Time  1878  355 pp.

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Medieval Scotland

Dowden, John – The Medieval Church in Scotland: its Constitution, Organization and Law  1910  435 pp.

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1500’s-1900’s

The Constitution and Law of the Church of Scotland  1886  200 pp.  with a Preface by John Tulloch

This work describes the laws of the Church of Scotland is they then existed in 1886 and gives very helpful historical summaries of the legislation which led up to that.  Principal Tulloch (1823-86) was a leading Church of Scotland divine who sought to transcend the controversy between the Moderates and the Evangelicals.  His historical writings were very accurate and good.

Mair, William – A Digest of Laws and Decisions Ecclesiastical and Civil
Relating to the Constitution, Practice, and Affairs of the Church of
Scotland  1923  350 pp.

Clark, I.M. – A History of Church Discipline in Scotland  Buy  1929

James L. Weatherhead, ed., The Constitution and Laws of the Church of Scotland  Buy  (Edinburgh: Board of Practice and Procedure, 1997)

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1500’s-1700’s

Church

Calderwood, David

The True History of the Church of Scotland, from the Beginning of the Reformation unto the End of the Reign of King James VI  This is a one vol. abridgment of the 8 vol. set

The History of the Kirk of Scotland, vol. 12345678

Calderwood was a staunch Presbyterian.  This treats in detail the period from 1514-1625.

“…is an official production, but a Presbyterian one, assisted by grants from the Covenanting General Assembly [of 1648].  Less a historian than editor of an enormous collection of constitutional documents and first hand accounts from a cloud of witnesses…”– David Reid, History of Scottish Literature, p. 189

Winzer, Matthew – ‘The Constitutional Principle of the Scottish Reformation: 1547-1648’  Ref  2012  Scottish Reformation Society, Historical Journal #2

Winzer of the Free Church of Australia gives a historical survey arguing that the principle that the Church’s power is limited by the Word of God was a constitutional principle in the Reformation Scottish Church.

Bruce, Archibald – Sections 11-12, ‘Review of the Ecclesiastical Constitution of Scotland, and the Manner of her Reformation’  1802  44 pp.  in A Historico-Politico-Ecclesiastical Dissertation on the Supremacy of Civil Powers in Matters of Religion, Particularly [Against] the Ecclesiastical Supremacy Annexed to the English Crown, pp. 86-130

“…the theoretical underpinnings for the concept of a church constitution which is inviolable, as it comes to mature expression in Archibald Bruce and the constitutionalist party within the Free Church of Scotland.” – Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Reading List

The Reorganized Church of Scotland 1690  ReformedBooksOnline

Steuart, Walter – Collections and Observations Concerning the Worship, Discipline and Government of the Church of Scotland  1709

The classic compilation and history of Scottish Church law from the Reformation up until its time.

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State

Rutherford, Samuel – Question 43: ‘Whether the King of Scotland be an Absolute Prince, having Pre­rogatives above Parliament and Laws?  The Negative is asserted by the Laws of Scotland, the Kings Oath of Coronation, the Confession of Faith, &c.’  in Lex Rex  1644

Young, John R. – The Scottish Parliament, 1639-61: A Political and Constitutional Analysis  Buy  

See this review by David Stevenson.

ed. Balfour-Melville – An Account of the Proceedings of the Estates in Scotland, 1689-90, 2 vols.  Buy  (SHS, 3rd Series, 1954-5)

Bowie, Karen – ‘A Legal Limited Monarchy’: Scottish Constitutionalism in the Union of Crowns, 1603-1707′  2013  27 pp.

Mason, Roger – ‘Debating Britain in Seventeenth-Century Scotland: Multiple Monarchy and Scottish Sovereignty’  2015  Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, vol. 35 Issue 1, Page 1-24

Bruce, Archibald

Free Thoughts on the Toleration of Popery  1780  480 pp.

Bruce (1746-1816) was a Secession (Anti-Burgher) minister author and professor of Divinity (successor to Moncreiff).  ‘When the British Parliament repealed the penal statutes against Roman Catholocism in 1778, Bruce defended legal restraints in’ this work. (DSCH&T)

A Historico-Politico-Ecclesiastical Dissertation on the Supremacy of Civil Powers in Matters of Religion, Particularly [Against] the Ecclesiastical Supremacy Annexed to the English Crown  1802  152 pp.

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The Free Church of Scotland’s Constitution

at 1900

When the majority of the Free Church of Scotland formed a union in 1900 with the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland upon a new and altered constitution, the Constitutionalists in the Free Church legally continued the same body under its original constitution.

The significant property holdings of the old Free Church (having been put in a civil trust founded on the constitutional principles of the Free Church) were determined by the highest Scottish civil court in 1904 to go to those who continued the Free Church’s constitution (see Wiki: Bannatyne vs. Overtoun).

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Articles

Lowell, Francis C. – ‘The Free Church of Scotland Case’  Columbia Law Review, vol. 6, No. 3 (Mar., 1906), pp. 137-160

An American law journal reviews the case and gives the significance for the American context.

Keddie, John W. – ‘The Free Church Case (1900-1905) Revisited’   Journal of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) Seminary, vol. 3  2017

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Books

Cameron, J. Kennedy & Alexander Stewart – The Free Church of Scotland: The Crisis of 1900; 1843-1910: a Vindication  Buy  1910  427 pp

This is a defense of the Constitutionalists in the Free Church of Scotland, who remained separate from the union of the majority part of the Free Church of Scotland with other presbyterian bodies in 1900, forming the United Free Church of Scotland.  The body of the Constitutionalists continued the Free Church’s original name, constitution and spiritual and legal inheritance through the 1900’s.

The work also defends the principles of the Constitutionalists through the 1893 Declaratory Act issue, when two ministers seceded from the Free Church of Scotland to remain separate as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Fleming, J.R. – The History of the Church in Scotland, 1875-1929  1927

Ross, Kenneth R. – Church and Creed in Scotland: The Free Church Case 1900–1904 and its Origins  Buy  (Edinburgh: Rutherford House Books, 1988)

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Documents

ed. Orr, Robert Low – The Free Church of Scotland Appeals, 1903-4  1904  610 pp.

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at 2000

In 2000 the Free Church, against its constitution, did not look into the numerous serious charges brought against one of its prominent ministers, Donald Macleod.  Upon the continued protest thereof by 40 some office bearers, the officers were defrocked without ecclesiastical trials (which was also against the constitution).  These men reconstituted themselves under the constitution of the Free Church and, out of necessity, added (Continuing) to the name.

In 2010 the Free Church Residuals altered their constitution from that of the historic Free Church of Scotland with respect to worship (Wiki).

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Murchison & Murray – When Justice Failed in Church and State: an Explanation of the Division in the Free Church of Scotland  2001  86 pp.

The in-depth defense of the constitutionalists at 2000 which formed the Continuing side. 

Free Church Defense Association – ‘Free Church Foundations’  Special January Commission of Assembly Issue, Feb. 2000

The first journal issue after the split.

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Related Pages

The Interpretation and Defense of the Original Westminster Standards

Scottish Church History

Creeds

History of Subscription to Creeds

Historic, Reformed Books of Church Order, Discipline and Minutes

The Right of Continued Protest

Unity of the Church

Government of the Church

Against Separatism