“which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.” (1 Timothy 6:15–16)
On Sunday 23rd July, 1637 the service began at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh and the minister began to read from the new Scottish Book of Common Prayer. King Charles I, and his rather less than popular Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, had ordered that this new book be used throughout Scotland but the locals we less than impressed by all this high Anglicanism. As the minister began to intone the collects, one Jenny Geddes - a vegetable seller - picked up her folding stool and hurled it at him. According to tradition she shouted out “deil colic the wame o’ ye, false thief; daur ye say Mass in my lug?”. For those not conversant with Scots: “devil cause you colic, false thief: dare you say the Mass in my ear?"
The rest of the congregation followed her lead, and soon the air thronged with stools, sticks and stones. The rebellious worshippers were ejected, but the rioting grew in the streets of Edinburgh and soon the city’s officials were holed up in the City Chambers. They had to negotiate with the crowds, and then sought to convince Charles to withdraw this Anglican prayer book from Scotland.
Typically, Charles refused and riots followed. Thousands signed the National Covenant, pledging to resist the changes, and the General Assembly Church of Scotland voted to expel the bishops the king had imposed upon it. Incensed, the king raised troops and the ‘Bishops’ Wars” between the king and the people began, which eventually spread to the the Civil Wars in England, Ireland and Scotland. On the losing side, the king - and also Archbishop Laud - ended up losing their heads.
So it is that to this day that the Church of Scotland is not Anglican. When she crosses the border, the Queen is not “Supreme Governor” of that church since in Scottish law it is recognised that Jesus is the “King and Head of the Church”. When the monarch attends church, she does so simply as a member the church amongst many others.
The lesson in all this? Faith is not something you can impose, and it is deeper than national policy. Throughout the world, even now, Christians are persecuted for their faith but they know that there is a higher authority than the state. The church is God’s, and no-one should seek to usurp his place.