The Nationalism of the Protestant Reformation: John Knox and The Scots Confession (1560)

October 11th 2023

By Dr. Adi Schlebusch

This October marks 506 years since Martin Luther initiated the Great Reformation of the Church of Christ. In celebration thereof Pactum will be publishing a series of blog posts on the nationalism of the Reformation in the run-up to Reformation Day on October 31st.

With this third installment in our series we will be focusing on the Scots Confession authored by the Reformer John Knox (1514-1572). Having spent several years in Geneva and Frankfurt, Knox returned to his homeland in 1559 for the express purpose of reforming the church among his own people.  Knox petitioned the Scottish Parliament, who directed him to draw up a confession of faith that was to become the national confession of the Scottish people. The Scots Confession was consequently drafted in 1560 by six Protestant theologians, with John Knox playing the leading role in the process. By virtue of its very name and historical context, the Scots Confession is an expressely nationalist document, but its theological content also reflects the biblical doctrine of ethno-nationalism. The very first paragraph of the Confession’s preface states:

The Estates of Scotland, with the inhabitants of the same, professing Christ Jesus’ holy evangel: to their natural countrymen, and unto all other realms and nations, professing the same Lord Jesus with them, wish grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the spirit of righteous judgment

Note the mention of “natural countrymen,” who are addressed first—a clear reference to the bonds of kinship as appreciated and cherished as a providential gift by the authors of the confession. Then, only after addressing their kinsmen first, the authors proceed to address “all other realms and nations” as two distinct categories also found in the New Testament and indicated by the Greek words basileía and ethne. In case an objection may be raised that this particular distinction in the preface may have served nothing more than a mere poetic-rhetorical—as opposed to theological—function, note the wording of chapter 16 of the confession which addresses the doctrine “of the Kirk”:

[the] kirk is Catholic, that is, universal,­ because it contains the elect of all ages, all realms, nations, and tongues, be they of the Jews, or be they of the Gentiles; who have communion and society with God the Father, and with his Son Christ Jesus, through the sanctification of his Holy Spirit;

Here again we find the express reference to civic distinctions (realms), ethnic distinctions (nations), linguistic distinctions (tongues), and finally even racial distinctions (Jews/Gentiles). Chapter 16 of the Scots Confession is theologically incompatible with the liberal errors of civic nationalism, propositional nationhood, and multiculturalism. Without a doubt the authors of the confession appreciated, valued, and practically utilized divinely ordained distinctions with regard to nation and race with the purpose of glorifying God. These men understood that there is a higher purpose to the very real and material distinctions implanted in God’s created and providentially sustained order—an order to which they willingly submitted for the sake of pleasing God. For this reason the Confession also states in its 24th chapter on the civil magistrate that 

empires, kingdoms, dominions, and cities [are] distincted and ordained by God: the powers and authorities in the same (be it of Emperors in their empires, of Kings in their realms, Dukes and Princes in their dominions, or of other Magistrates in free cities), to be God’s holy ordinance, ordained for manifestation of his own glory, and for the singular profit and commodity of mankind. So that whosoever goes about to take away or confound the whole state of civil policies, now long established, we affirm the same men not only to be enemies of mankind, but also wickedly to fight against God's expressed will.

Here the disregard for the borders is condemned as contrary to the will of God as expressed in Scripture. The Confession here condemns any globalist ideals aimed at homogenizing all forms of government without recognizing the cultural and national distinctions which give rise to different countries, realms and forms of government in the first place. Those who confound providentially ordained distinctions are enemies of mankind and of God, and therefore mass immigration, demographic replacement, democratic imperialism, and open border policies are, per the Scots Confession, destructive and contrary to the law of God.