Bishops in the Church of Scotland
There have not been bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

s in the Church of Scotland
since the 17th century, although there have occasionally been attempts to reintroduce episcopalianism.

Like most Reformed Churches
Reformed churches
The Reformed churches are a group of Protestant denominations characterized by Calvinist doctrines. They are descended from the Swiss Reformation inaugurated by Huldrych Zwingli but developed more coherently by Martin Bucer, Heinrich Bullinger and especially John Calvin...

, the Church of Scotland
Church of Scotland
The Church of Scotland, known informally by its Scots language name, the Kirk, is a Presbyterian church, decisively shaped by the Scottish Reformation....

 has a presbyterian structure
Presbyterian polity
Presbyterian polity is a method of church governance typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session or consistory, though other terms, such as church board, may apply...

 which invests in a hierarchy of courts the authority which other denominations give to bishops. Nevertheless, the Church of Scotland does have the concept of a bishop, and there has been debate about widening this concept.

Historical background

The word bishop is derived from Greek episcopos, meaning "overseer". The word is used in the New Testament, but it is not certain what exactly the function of this office entailed in the Early Church. By the third century, however, both the Eastern (Orthodox
Orthodox Christianity
The term Orthodox Christianity may refer to:* the Eastern Orthodox Church and its various geographical subdivisions...

) and Western (Catholic) Church had a system of bishops as spiritual rulers. After the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

, the Lutheran and Anglican (Episcopalian) traditions retained the episcopal system. The churches of the radical reformation, however, mostly rejected bishops, believing this concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals to be one of the causes of what they perceived as the corruption of the pre-Reformation Church. In Scotland, the reformer John Knox
John Knox
John Knox was a Scottish clergyman and a leader of the Protestant Reformation who brought reformation to the church in Scotland. He was educated at the University of St Andrews or possibly the University of Glasgow and was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1536...

 initially wanted bishops in the Church of Scotland, but the transparency of the Presbyterian system, where all decisions are made in public meetings, was ultimately preferred.

During parts of the 17th century there were conflicts between the Presbyterian and Episcopalian tendencies in the Kirk (see Bishops' Wars
Bishops' Wars
The Bishops' Wars , were conflicts, both political and military, which occurred in 1639 and 1640 centred around the nature of the governance of the Church of Scotland, and the rights and powers of the Crown...

), with Episcopalianism (patronised by the monarch) sometimes in the ascendancy. Presbyterianians finally gained the upper hand, leading to the establishment of a separate Episcopal Church of Scotland in 1690. For a list of the 17th-century Church of Scotland bishops, see Bishop of Edinburgh
Bishop of Edinburgh
The Bishop of Edinburgh is the Ordinary of the Scottish Episcopal Diocese of Edinburgh.The see was founded in 1633 by King Charles I. William Forbes was consecrated in St. Giles' Cathedral as its first bishop on 23 January 1634 though he died later that year...

, Archbishop of Glasgow
Archbishop of Glasgow
The Bishop of Glasgow, from 1492 Archbishop of Glasgow, was the ecclesiastical head of the Diocese of Glasgow and then, as Archbishop of Glasgow, the Archdiocese of Glasgow...

 and Bishop of Aberdeen
Bishop of Aberdeen
The Bishop of Aberdeen was the ecclesiastical head of the Diocese of Aberdeen, one of Scotland's 13 medieval bishoprics, whose first recorded bishop is an early 12th century cleric named Nechtan...


Use of the term "bishop" in the Church of Scotland today

Although the Church of Scotland had no bishops after 1690, the term "bishop" is Biblical and it is not surprising that a Presbyterian Church, with its focus on the Bible, should retain the word in its basic sense of "one who has oversight". Specifically, a minister
Minister of religion
In Christian churches, a minister is someone who is authorized by a church or religious organization to perform functions such as teaching of beliefs; leading services such as weddings, baptisms or funerals; or otherwise providing spiritual guidance to the community...

 who is placed in charge of a person training for the ministry is referred to as the student's bishop. This term is used in the context of theology students doing "student attachments" (work-experience placements) in parishes and later of graduates who must complete a probationary year in a parish prior to ordination
In general religious use, ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination itself varies by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is...

. Most lay people in the Church of Scotland, however, would be unaware of this usage.

Proposals to reintroduce episcopacy

In the latter part of the 20th century, there were a number of moves to reopen the debate on episcopacy. Presbyteries may be more transparent than bishops in their wielding of power, but they have often proved rather less good at the pastoral care of parish ministers, a problem with which the Church has frequently wrestled. One proposed solution, under the catchphrase "incorporating episcopacy into our system", was for presbyteries to appoint full-time or part-time bishops to minister to the ministers on the presbyteries' behalf. These bishops would not have the power of bishops in other traditions, but would have analogous pastoral functions. Precedents for such a "mixed system" were to be found in the Uniting Church in Australia
Uniting Church in Australia
The Uniting Church in Australia was formed on 22 June 1977 when many congregations of the Methodist Church of Australasia, the Presbyterian Church of Australia and the Congregational Union of Australia came together under the Basis of Union....

 and elsewhere.

The most serious presentation of such proposals came in the 1980s when a union between the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church
Scottish Episcopal Church
The Scottish Episcopal Church is a Christian church in Scotland, consisting of seven dioceses. Since the 17th century, it has had an identity distinct from the presbyterian Church of Scotland....

 was attempted. A precondition from the Episcopalian side was that the united church should have a form of episcopacy recognisable to their tradition. Negotiations for the proposed union were almost completed, and were ratified by the General Assembly, but were voted down by the Church of Scotland's presbyteries when referred to them under the Barrier Act
Barrier Act
In the ecclesiastical law of the Church of Scotland, the Barrier Act is a provision which prevents the General Assembly from taking decisions which might profoundly affect the polity of the Church without first referring these to the presbyteries...


In the 1990s, the "Scottish Churches Initiative for Union" (SCIFU) aimed to unite the Church of Scotland, Scottish Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church (in Scotland) and the United Reformed Church
United Reformed Church
The United Reformed Church is a Christian church in the United Kingdom. It has approximately 68,000 members in 1,500 congregations with some 700 ministers.-Origins and history:...

(in Scotland) by 2010. An element of the proposed structure was again a form of episcopal oversight, whilst retaining elders from the Presbyterian system. After considerable debate, the SCIFU proposals were rejected by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in May 2003.
The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.