The development of Presbyterianism in the 1570s

The Books of Discipline

First Book of Discipline

In the First Book of Discipline of 1560, John Knox wrote his ideas for the new Reformed Church in Scotland. He wanted a number of changes:

  • The new Protestant Church to gain the properties and lands of the Catholic Church.
  • Superintendents, without specific religious powers, would organise the Church in their areas
  • Congregations were to play a key role in the new Church by appointing their ministers.
  • The Protestant Church to provide education and look after the poor.

However, nobles in Parliament were concerned about a variety of issues - such as property, and matters like who would select superintendents - so rejected this First Book.

Second Book of Discipline

As a result of Melville’s agitation, the Second Book of Discipline was drawn up in 1578. This outlined Melville’s views that the Kirk received its authority from God, not the state.

It also outlined his opposition to bishops. Melville proposed a Church organisation from which bishops were excluded. Some of the most important functions of the bishop were to be taken over by a group of ministers and elders called the Presbytery which administered a group of about a dozen parishes.

This resulted in meetings between ministers of different parishes to discuss matters of faith and religious teaching.

The Scottish Kirk by 1581

By 1581 the Kirk had planned for 13 Presbyteries, giving the Kirk control over such matters as the appointment of ministers, disciplinary matters and the attendance of representatives at the General Assembly.

It appeared at this point that the Kirk could become independent of the King and influence of nobles.

Decisions at parish level were made through the Kirk Session which was made up of elders and deacons.

Kirk Sessions set appropriate standards of behaviour, fined individuals for wrong-doing, and amongst other things, stressed the need for attendance at daily and Sunday services.

This strict discipline gave the Kirk influence and authority over members of the congregation.

In 1584, when the Ruthven Raid had shown King James just how far the Presbyterian leaders were prepared to go. James persuaded Parliament to pass what were known as the “Black Acts”. They included a number of recommendations:

  • No minister would in future be exempt from the judgement of the ordinary courts.
  • Anyone who criticised the King, even from the pulpit, would be punished.
  • No church court could sit in judgement except with the consent of the King.
  • Royal supremacy over the Kirk was clearly established.
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