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The History of the Church of Scotland

How did the Church of Scotland begin?

Free Brown and Teal Roofed Building Under White Sky Stock PhotoWith over 300,000 members, the Church of Scotland is one of the largest organisations in Scotland. But how did this Church begin?

At the heart of the Church of Scotland's history is St Columba, the Irish prince-in-exile, who crossed to the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland later in the fifth century. There on the island, he established a community of monks who spread the Gospel far and wide through Scotland and the north of England.

The first missionary to do this was St. Aidan.

The Middle Ages

In the centuries that followed, as Scotland developed as a nation, the Church moved away from its Celtic roots towards the Roman Catholic Church. This movement was supported and encouraged by people like Queen Margaret. Another deciding point was that the Pope allowed Scotland to be independent of England for church purposes.

The Reformation

Further change, however, was on its way. Throughout Europe in the 1500s, there was a group of people who began to argue against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. This group became known as Reformers.

John Knox was a Scottish clergyman and a leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. He felt very strongly that the Church in Scotland should move away from Roman Catholic rule. Knox is famous for head-to-head debates with Mary, Queen of Scots: the Catholic Queen who returned from France and tried to remain loyal to the Roman system.

By the end of the 1500s, the Protestant Church of Scotland had developed into a Presbyterian Church. This new church - also known as 'Kirk' - had a new system of rule, known as Presbyterian. Unlike the Catholic Church, the Kirk does not have one person who acts as the head of faith, as that role is the Lord God's. So nobody has more power or say than any other.

Kirk sessions oversee the life and work of local churches. They are made up of local elders or leaders and the church minister. It gets its ideas and rules from the teachings of the Bible.

Challenge: Can you read and understand this passage from the Scots Gospel? WHAN JESUS WIS BAPTEEZIT frae 'A Scots Gospel' bi Jamie Stuart cf. Mk.1.1-11 Here is the blythe message o Jesus, Son o God, een as it is pit doon bi Isaiah the prophet - Lo! I send oot ma messenger afore yer face, wha sall redd the wey for His comin; the sang o ane cryin oot i the muirs, ‘Redd the wey o the Lord! Mak straucht his fit-roads!’ Syne kythit John, bapteezin in the muirlauns an preachin repentance bapteezment for the pitten-awa o sins. An there gaed oot til John aa the countraside o Judea, an aa thae o Jerusalem, an they war bapteezit o him in the River Jordan, tellin oot their sins. An John wis cleedit wi caumel hair, an had a lether girth aboot him; an he did eat o locusts an rock-hinny. An quo he in his preachin, ‘Ane starker nor me comes efter me, the whang o whase shoon I amna fit tae lowt doon an lowse! I watter-bapteeze ye, but he sall bapteeze ye wi the Halie Speerit!’ An in thae days it cam aboot that Jesus cam frae Nazareth i Galilee an wis bapteezit o John in the Jordan. An he, comin straucht frae the watter, saw the Hevins apen up an the Speerit, like a doo, comin doon apon him. A voice cam frae abune, sayin, ‘Ye are the Beluvit, ma son; in ye I delyte!’ An syne the Speerit led Jesus out intil the muirlauns.