Education The Free Church

The Free Church and Education

The week of speeches continues – After talking about church planting amongst the poor at the Assembly, then religious freedom at the Scottish Parliament, it was back to the Assembly to talk about education.  I moved the following:

The General Assembly recognise that there is a fundamental onus laid on the Church to communicate a Christian world view to its young people. They recognise the importance of Christian education in the history of our church.   They also recognise that the Scottish State education system has moved far beyond anything envisioned by the 1872 Act in which the Free Church gave its schools to the State. They recognise that the Missions board were not able, due to pressures of work, to fulfil the remit of organising a conference on Christian education, to consult with others involved on this field and to report on the subject. The General Assembly instruct the General Trustees to establish a sub-group to look at the question of Christian Education and to report to each future Assembly.

These are the notes of my speech:

Moderator, Fathers and Brethren,

I would apologise for coming with another amendment – but I can’t – because I’m an old fashioned Free Church man and think that the Assembly should be a place where we debate and make policy not just a display where we approve the already pre-determined policy.
My amendment is concerned with the fact of how we do things. The Missions board were charged to give a full report on the subject of Christian education to this Assembly and were unable to do so. I have every sympathy with them – we have so re-organised the church and its committees that we have given far too much to our boards to do.

9815514551646813981257007The Mission Board have more than enough on their plate.   However there is a second factor at play here – at the end of the day you can take a Presbyterian to water but you can’t make him drink. I don’t think that this is considered important enough.

I have been banging on this drum for many years – but perhaps I have not been clear or coherent enough. But again I would to urge the Assembly to take seriously the education of our children. In the words of the Moderator, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. But can I ask that we do a bit more than imagine?

Deut. 4:9         Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Forgive me for again referring to our history….

Because we were the People of the Book, we could read books.

It was John Knox’s maxim that where you have a church there you have a school. The connection between the Reformed Church and education is well documented. It was largely because of the Reformation that Scotland became the most literate nation in the world. Because we were the People of the Book, we could read books. Now as we have rejected the book, one in five of us is functionally illiterate.

When the Free Church was formed in 1843, it never crossed anyone’s mind that we would not build schools. We built 700 churches, 400 manses and 751 schools by 1851 – with two teacher training college in Edinburgh. 408 teachers in schools joined the breakaway Free Church. 513 schoolmasters were being paid direct from a central education fund (they didn’t have to raise their own funding) and over 44,000 children being taught in Free Church schools.

In 1872 we handed all our schools back to the State on the condition that they remained not just Christian but Protestant Reformed. Things have changed.

The cuckoo of atheistic secularism has taken over the state education system that we set up.

Let me bring you up to today – walk into a classroom in Scotland. There are 20 13-14 year olds. The teacher tells me that I will be lucky if I get 5 minutes teaching in a 55 minute period. Immediately I start a boy shouts out and starts being abusive. “Why are you such a homophobic bigot? You’re Westboro Baptist…” In the ensuing discussion he also told me (I will leave out the expletives) “that the Jews deserved it”. I was quite strong with him…afterwards I was discussing with the teacher. She said that there were four or five pupils that wanted to learn but she couldn’t teach them because of the disruptive pupils. She regularly faced physical violence and verbal was normal. The school was ordered by the Council to have a no explusion policy.   Why do I tell you this story?

Because this is the situation that many in our failing education system fail.  The combination of broken homes, poverty, social media, the internet, and moral confusion in society is creating havoc. I recall the German sociologist who retrained as a teacher because she wanted to help the poor. Went to a school to the West of Glasgow and gave up after a year because she was being asked to babysit not teach.

Let me also say that the fundamental philosophy of education has changed. The cuckoo of atheistic secularism has taken over the state education system that we set up.


Let’s look to the example of Thomas Guthrie and his Ragged schools. 70,000 children educated.

If you want to know about fundraising look at Guthrie  who raised £116,000 in one tour of Scotland for new manses. That doesn’t sound a lot but in today’s terms that is £15 million!

So here is a suggestion….appoint this sub-group, committee. And adopt a radical strategy

  • Make sure your sermons, Sunday schools and youth groups teach a Christian worldview – use others. Use materials….Solas…The Free Church should look to produce some….A.S.K.  Restart the practice of catechising.
  • Look at setting up after school clubs, Saturday academies.
  • Work with other Christians in seeking to set up full Christian schools.
  • Let’s discover our inner Guthrie. Every time we build a new church building in a poor housing scheme – let’s make it a school. And let’s employ a teacher as well as a minister.

“I never engaged in a cause, as a man and a Christian minister that I believe on my death-bed I will look back on with more pleasure or gratitude to God, than that he led me to work for Ragged Schools. I have the satisfaction, when I lay my head upon my pillow, of always finding one soft part of it: and that is, that God has made me an instrument in His hand of saving many a poor creature from a life of misery and crime” Thomas Guthrie and Sons, Autobiography and Memoirs (London, 1896, p 496).

The Assembly passed my motion.  Let’s hope we can act upon it…

Parents Take Back Control – The April Record Editorial

Education and the Poor




  1. That’s the problem with you Wee Frees; if you had your way, you’d change the nation…

    1. I know…we would love to change it. We would love a more equal and diverse nation – where people did not have to go to food banks, where everyone had decent health care, education and housing. We are not conservatives – wanting to keep everything the same – we want change. Don’t you?!

      1. Yes – it was a tongue-in-cheek comment expressing admiration ; I hoped you’d realise that.

  2. You could also start supporting and sending your children to the Christian schools that already exist. Two in Edinburgh. One in Glasgow. One in Stornaway. And one starting in Glenrothes.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this with us and we are so glad to hear your motion was passed. Yes, indeed, let us hope that it is acted upon and that the action is swift and not left to an undefined time in the future!

    Our children are being severely mentally and emotionally abused by liberal amoral education as well as media / entertainment services. Children are so very precious and their innocence so very beautiful….anything that seeks to replace moral innocence with carnal knowledge before they are capable of understanding the ramifications of moral choices and decisions is absolutely abusive.

    All parents in Scotland, and not only those with the means, should have the choice about which ‘worldview’ they wish to have their children educated by and into.

    Come on Church – the need is desperate!

  4. Hi – I’m currently researching the history of schools in the Scottish Highlands. Could you possibly let me know your source for the following: ‘We built 700 churches, 400 manses and 751 schools by 1851 – with two teacher training college in Edinburgh. ‘ Many thanks, Jan

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