“The English Church shall be free and shall have its rights undiminished, and its liberties unimpaired.” So says the very clause of the Magna Carta, the “great charter” signed by King John and the Barons of England on 15 June 1215. Only four of the Magna Carta’s 63 clauses have remained a part of English law to this day. This is one of them.
In 1537 a royal decree by King Henry VIII made it legal to read from the English Bible in public. This was then reaffirmed by a royal decree of King Edward the VI in 1547.
The freedom to interpret the Bible, established by the 1559 church-state settlement of Queen Elisabeth I, laid the foundations for religious tolerance in England.
The Church of Scotland Act 1921 affirmed as lawful the Articles Declaratory of the Constitution of the Church of Scotland in matters spiritual, which had been drawn up earlier in the twentieth century, thus recognising the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national Church but independent from the State with regards to spiritual matters. The fourth article of the Articles Declaratory begins:
“This Church, as part of the universal Church wherein the Lord Jesus Christ has appointed a government in the hands of Church office-bearers, receives from him, its Divine King and Head, and from him alone, the right and power subject to no civil authority to legislate, and to adjudicate finally, in all matters of doctrine, worship and government, and discipline in the Church.”
The Articles Declaratory are still in force. Section 5 of the Church of Scotland Act states:
“This Church has the inherent right, free from interference by civil authority…to declare the sense in which it understands its Confession of Faith, to modify the forms of expression therein, or to formulate other doctrinal statements…but always in agreement with the Word of God and the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith.”
The Church of Scotland Act sets out separate spheres of authority for Church and State, similar to the 1559 church-state settlement in England. The freedom to interpret the Bible without government interference is now being undermined.
To quote a former US President: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same” (Former President, Ronald Reagan 1981-1998).
Freedom is going, going, going!
“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
“If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).