Sunday, 24 August 2008

Covenant in Scottish theology, ecclesiology & politics

This is a response to Jenny Baddley's excellent post on the Scottish Covenanters: Shackled Thoughts: Remembering the Brave.
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Woo-hoo! Go the Scots! Good 'ole Presbyterians, telling the Anglicans where they can stick their bishops! :D
Seriously, though... the idea of "covenant" has been important in Scottish Presbyterian theology, ecclesiology and politics. The church is a covenant community; the nation a covenant nation; baptism is a sign of being in the covenant; Christ mediates the covenant of grace. Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex used "covenant" to argue against against absolute monarchy: in it, Rutherford argues that the monarch is in a covenantal relationship with the people; a covenant that binds the monarch to rule the people justly.
So, "covenant" is deeply woven into Presbyterian identity. As a denomination, Presbyterians have always been activists: they've been relatively quick to protest, even to revolt, against an "ungodly", "imposed" authority. The Covenanters are part of this; so was Rutherford's Lex Rex; so was the Disruption of 1843, when 450 ministers seceded from the church, and formed the Free Church of Scotland. At issue was the fact that wealthy local Lords could impose a minister of their own choosing upon a church. The Free Church held that the people of the congregation could call their own minister - a core principle of classic Presbyterian polity (see the First Book of Discipline, chapter IV, sections 1, 2 and 8). Covenant thinking gave Scots the conviction, the passion, to engage in this kind of counter-cultural action. "For Christ's crown and covenant"!

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