The Free Church of Scotland is a Presbyterian Church adhering in its worship and doctrine to the position adopted by the Church of Scotland at the Reformation. Its divergence from the body known as the Church of Scotland dates from the Disruption of 1843 when, under the leadership of Dr Thomas Chalmers, the Evangelical Party in the Church of Scotland as by Law Established, withdrew from the Establishment to form the Church of Scotland, Free.
The immediate cause of the Disruption was the insistence by the civil courts that the Established Church had to ordain men to the parish ministry irrespective of their acceptability to the parishioners. The Evangelical Party regarded this as an intolerable interference in the spiritual liberties of the church and so they withdrew from the Established Church to form the Free Church. The Disruption was not intended to be a disruption, or division, of the Church. Rather it was to be a severing of the link that bound the Church to the State. However, since the Church was not of one mind regarding the proposed action, the Church itself was split. The Established Church remained; and the Free Church, claiming to be the same church as that which it had left, a church adhering to the same Confession of Faith, loyal to the same principles and differing only inasmuch as in the discharge of its spiritual functions it was to be subservient to no other authority than the will of God as understood by the collective mind of the Church, came into being.
The Established Church and the Free Church were not the only Presbyterian Churches in nineteenth century Scotland. In the eighteenth century there had been more than one secession from the Church of Scotland giving rise to the formation of several groupings with distinctive confessional standpoints. In the late nineteenth century a movement to unite the splintered Presbyterian Churches in Scotland was begun. Not surprisingly, given the different, not to say opposing, nature of the confessional formularies of the various churches, union was found to be possible only on the basis of compromise – an agreement to adopt a confession of faith sufficiently vague and elastic as to allow those holding different views to subscribe it with good conscience. When the Free Church was confronted with this dilemma, a minority took the view that the doctrines which were being treated as open questions were so vital to the faith that the duty of Christian unity had to yield to the higher duty of fidelity to the truth. The consequence was that when the great majority of the Free Church entered the Union of 1900 to form the United Free Church of Scotland (and, in 1929, to reunite with the Church of Scotland) a small minority elected to continue the Free Church of Scotland. The adherents of this ‘constitutionalist’ party, as it was termed, were to be found mainly, although not exclusively, in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Today the Free Church of Scotland although much reduced in size maintains in continuity with the Church of 1843 the system of doctrine and the form of worship adopted by the Church of Scotland at the Reformation. The singing of the Scottish Metrical Psalms unaccompanied by instrumental music is, perhaps, the most distinctive feature of its liturgy, but the chief emphasis of its worship is still to be found in the centrality of the pulpit and the proclamation of a free and sovereign salvation.
The Free Church has continued down until the present day. At the Commission of Assembly in January 2000 a division occurred because a majority was determined to act in a way that was against the constitution or ‘rule book’ of the church, which all office-bearers must uphold. A number of ministers and elders signed a ‘Declaration of Reconstitution’ in which they pledged themselves to continue the Free Church in a constitutional manner. They are the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing). We use this title to distinguish, solely for purposes of administration, the reconstituted Free Church of Scotland from any residual body claiming that title. We remain the Free Church of Scotland.