Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The First Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland and Membership at a Distance

Are those who do not live locally in the area of an established church, with a full session and ministers, necessarily outside the visible church of Christ, so that they have no right to be considered members of the church?

The historic Reformed answer is no, they are not.  This is evident from the First Book of Discipline of the Church of Scotland, approved in 1650 by the Church of Scotland as a book of church order.  John Knox was one of the primary authors of the document.  When the church in Scotland was first declared reformed by the civil law, there were too few qualified reformed ministers to minister to all areas of Scotland.  Consequently, there were many people who were without a fully functioning, established church in their area.  There was no established local session to fully administer the sacraments, preach the gospel, and engage in ecclesiastical discipline.  So what did the Church of Scotland do about this situation?  Among other things, they appointed readers in the churches, and they appointed what they called "superintendents."  Here are some relevant passages from the First Book of Discipline:

For Readers
To the kirks where no ministers can be had presently, must be appointed the most apt men that distinctly can read the common prayers[2] and the scriptures, to exercise both themselves and the kirk, till they grow to greater perfection; and in process of time he that is but a reader may attain to the further degree, and by consent of the kirk and discreet ministers, may be permitted to minister the sacraments; but not before that he is able somewhat to persuade by wholesome doctrine, besides his reading, and is admitted to the ministry, as before is said. Some we know that of long time have professed Christ Jesus, whose honest conversation deserved praise of all godly men, and whose knowledge also might greatly help the simple, and yet they only content themselves with reading. These must be animated, and by gentle admonition encouraged, by some exhortation to comfort their brethren, and so they may be admitted to administration of the sacraments. But such readers as neither have had exercise, nor continuance in Christ’s true religion, must abstain from ministration of the sacraments till they give declaration and witnessing of their honesty and further knowledge.[3]

Of the Superintendents

Because we have appointed a larger stipend to those that shall be superintendents than to the rest of the ministers, we have thought good to signify unto your honours such reasons as moved us to make difference betwixt preachers at this time; as also how many superintendents we think necessary, with their bounds, office, [the manner of their] election, and causes that may deserve deposition from that charge.

We consider that if the ministers whom God has endued with his [singular] graces amongst us should be appointed to several and certain places, there to make their continual residence, that then the greatest part of this realm should be destitute of all doctrine; which should not only be occasion of great murmur, but also should be dangerous to the salvation of many. And therefore we have thought it a thing most expedient for this time that, from the whole number of godly and learned [men], now presently in this realm, be selected twelve or ten (for in so many provinces have we divided the whole), to whom charge and commandment shall be given to plant and erect churches, to set order and appoint ministers (as the former order prescribes) to the countries that shall be appointed to their care where none are now. And by these means [your] love and common care over all the inhabitants of this realm (to whom ye are equal debtors) shall evidently appear; as also the simple and ignorant (who perchance have never heard Christ Jesus truly preached) shall come to some knowledge by the which many that now are dead in superstition and ignorance shall attain to some feeling of godliness, by the which they may be provoked to search and seek further knowledge of God, and his true religion and worshipping. Where, by the contrary, if they shall be neglected, they shall not only grudge, but also they shall seek the means whereby they may continue in their blindness, or return to their accustomed idolatry. And therefore we desire nothing more earnestly, than that Christ Jesus be universally once preached throughout this realm; which shall not suddenly be unless that, by you, men are appointed and compelled faithfully to travail in such provinces as to them shall be assigned.

The Names of the Places of Residence, and Several Dioceses of the Superintendents
  1. Imprimis, the superintendent of Orkney: whose diocese shall be to the Isles of Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, and Strathnaver. His residence to be in the town of Kirkwall.
  2. The superintendent of Ross: whose diocese shall comprehend Ross, Sutherland, Moray, with the North Isles of the Skye, and the Lewis, with their adjacents. His residence to be in [the] Canonry of Ross.
  3. The superintendent of Argyll: whose diocese shall comprehend Argyll, [Kintyre,] Lorne, the South Isles, Arran [and] Bute, with their adjacents, with Lochaber. His residence to be in [Argyll].
  4. The superintendent of Aberdeen: whose diocese is betwixt Dee and Spey, containing the sheriffdom of Aberdeen and Banff. His residence to be in Old Aberdeen.
  5. The superintendent of Brechin: whose diocese shall be the whole sheriffdoms of Mearns and Angus, and the Brae of Mar to Dee. His residence to be in Brechin.
  6. The superintendent of Saint Andrews: whose diocese shall comprehend the whole sheriffdom of Fife and Fotheringham, to Stirling; and the whole sheriffdom of Perth. His resi dence to be in Saint Andrews.
  7. The superintendent of Edinburgh: whose diocese shall comprehend the whole sheriffdoms of Lothian, and Stirling on the south side of the Water of Forth; and thereto is added, by consent of the whole church, Merse, Lauderdale, and Wedale. His residence to be in [Edinburgh].
  8. The superintendent of Jedburgh: whose diocese shall comprehend Teviotdale, Tweeddale, Liddesdale, with the Forest of Ettrick. His residence to be [in Jedburgh].
  9. The superintendent of Glasgow: whose diocese shall comprehend Clydesdale, Renfrew, Menteith, Lennox, Kyle, and Cunningham. His residence to be in Glasgow.
  10. The superintendent of Dumfries: whose diocese shall comprehend Galloway, Carrick, Nithsdale, Annandale, with the rest of the dales in the West. His residence to be in Dumfries.
These men must not be suffered to live as your idle bishops have done heretofore; neither must they remain where gladly they would. But they must be preachers themselves, and such as may make no long residence in any one place, till there are churches planted and provided of ministers, or at the least of readers.

Charge must be given to them that they remain in no one place above twenty or thirty days in their visitation, till they have passed through their whole bounds. They must thrice every week, at the least, preach; and when they return to their principal town and residence, they must be likewise exercised in preaching and in edification of the church there. And yet they must not be suffered to continue there so long, as they may seem to neglect their other churches; but after that they have remained in their chief town three or four mouths at most, they shall be compelled (unless by sickness only they are retained), to re-enter in visitation, in which they shall not only preach, but also examine the life, diligence, and behaviour of the ministers; as also the order of their churches, [and] the manners of the people. They must further consider how the poor are provided; how the youth are instructed. They must admonish where admonition needs; dress such things as by good counsel they are able to appease;[9] and, finally, they must note such crimes as are heinous, that, by the censure of the church, the same may be corrected.

If the superintendent is found negligent in any of these chief points of his office, and especially if he is noted negligent in preaching of the word, and in visitation of his churches, or if he is convicted of any of those crimes which in the common ministers are damned, he must be deposed, without respect of his person or office.

Where there was no minister to preach the gospel, readers could be appointed to read the Scriptures.  Some ministers were appointed as superintendents.  These superintendents were appointed to particular areas, and they would visit periodically the local communities within their areas.  The members of the church in these areas were often without a fully functioning session for probably the majority of the year.  This was not an ideal situation.  The ideal is to have a fully functioning local session.  But being in this situation did not put these people outside of the visible church.

For more, see articles under the label "Membership at a Distance."

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