The Scottish Reformation Society held a successful conference in Edinburgh to mark the 500th anniversary of the birth of Scottish reformer John Knox. The Knox 500 Conference was held at the Faith Mission Bible College in Edinburgh, running from 4-5 April. The attendance was good throughout, with more than 100 people present from all over Scotland, representing a number of different denominations. The sessions were marked by a devotional atmosphere utterly unlike a secular academic conference, and a consistent theme of thanksgiving to God for the work of Knox.
The conference opened with a warm introduction from SRS Chairman Rev Dr James Millar, who strongly emphasized the present need for Reformation in our own day. Speakers and questioners throughout the conference repeatedly echoed this call as a priority for the present day.
The first speaker was Rev David Silversides on ‘John Knox and Church Government’, who emphasized the Scriptural principles that guided Knox’s teaching on the governance of the Reformed church in Scotland. He showed how the incipient principles of Presbyterianism, which would only be fully brought into practice after Knox’s death, were all present in the Church of Scotland’s First Book of Discipline (1560), co-authored by Knox.
This address was followed by three short papers on different aspects of Knox’s life. Rev Alasdair Macleod discussed Knox in relation to the Edinburgh High Street, especially his ministry at St Giles, the different houses he lived in, and the question of his linkage to the “John Knox House”. Rev John J Murray discussed Knox in relation to the Cowgate – the southern part of the Old Town of Edinburgh – especially his links to the historic Magdalen Chapel, which is now owned by the SRS and used as its headquarters. Rev Douglas Somerset discussed Knox’s courage, rebutting the criticism frequently leveled against Knox that his conduct in certain circumstances lacked courage, as in his flight to the Continent on the accession of “Bloody Mary” to the English throne. Dr Somerset showed that Knox had no settled ministry within the Church of England, and thus had no responsibility that bound him to England as Cranmer, Latimer and others had, and was able to exercise an important ministry to English refugees in Frankfurt and in Geneva.
Knox’s English ministry was discussed more fully by Rev Keith Watkins, who demonstrated that his robust understanding of the Regulative Principle of Worship was central to his work in England, and that he won an important victory over the sacerdotal tendency in the Church of England by obtaining the assertion of the “black rubric” in Edward VI’s prayer book, that kneeling to receive communion did not imply reverence addressed to the communion elements. Equally edifying was a paper by Dr Donald John Maclean on ‘John Knox on the Lord’s Supper’, showing how Knox exhibited a full and clear Calvinist understanding of the sacrament as a genuine means of grace, without involving any change in the elements themselves.
Matthew Vogan discussed John Knox as a writer, showing his rhetorical and poetical skill as an author, and particularly his love for nautical imagery. He pointed out Knox’s continued emphasis on the theme of comfort, in contrast to his militant reputation, notably exhibited in his published exposition of Psalm 6. He also stressed the ongoing interest and historical value of Knox’s “History of the Reformation in Scotland”.
Finally, Rev Gavin Beers addressed ‘John Knox and Church-State Relations’, demonstrating that Knox’s teaching of the Establishment Principle clearly defined the spiritual independence of both Church and State, while also stressing the absolute responsibility of both institutions to obey God rather than man. The challenging application of this doctrine to the institutions of the present day again reminded the Conference of the present, pressing need for new Reformation.