The Faith of the Ulster Scots 1600’s onwards
Reformation – A Common Faith
In many ways the faith of Ulster Scots was a common faith (belief, teachings and practice – with notable exceptions between the various groups of churches) of the Protestant Reformation (an interesting treatment of the history of the Reformation). There has been extensive treatment of the faith of the Ulster Scots (Covenanters and Church of Scotland) but it can be summed up in these words: Presbyterian and Calvinistic or more accurately Reformed. See also The Calvinist Corner for more information. But as we will see both Congregationalism and the Baptist tradition were to take root among Ulster Scots.
We can see that in many ways a common faith came out of the Reformation but with differences on such things as the role of the secular authorities, church government, the sacrament (Lord’s Supper) and baptism. Reformation theology ephasised salvation by grace through faith and was totally reliant on the teachings of the Scriptures (Sola Scriptura). It was summed in the five solas:
- Sola Scriptura – by Scripture alone
- Sola Fide – by faith alone
- Sola Gratia – by grace alone
- Solus Christus – Christ alone, or through Christ alone
- Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone
Out of the Scottish migrants to Ulster the Presbyterian Church of Ireland was born. But this was not the only church that grew out of the plantation of Ulster. The Church of Ireland was also significant among the migrants . (See also the notes on Congregationalism and the Reformed Baptist tradition).
The Presbyterians and the Anglicans were, and are a significant influence within Ulster Scot culture and are seen by many as the dominant forces within our community. But as the Reformation progressed in the UK and Ireland, Ulster began to mirror the rest of the UK when it came to religious diversity.
I will not deal with the Roman Catholic Church in Ulster as this was largely a Gaelic church and on the most part were not significantly influenced by the Reformation (except to oppose it).
The religious diversity within Reformed theology can be seen by looking at three movements within this framework. There are others of course but by looking at Congregational and Baptist theological foundations (especially in the UK and Ireland) we will see the clear commonality. Of course there are differences when it comes to issues like church government and baptism but the commonality is striking.
What we notice very quickly when looking at the shared beliefs and practices within the Reformation Churches are their total commitment to the five solas and that they were all Confessional. For Reformation Churches these principles are the only foundation for Christianity and our understanding of God and salvation. In the Useful Links section of this web site you will find many useful links that illustrate this. Within the Baptist tradition there is evidence that Baptist beliefs and practice pre-dated the Reformation but we are concerned with the Reformation and how this influenced and moulded the Ulster Scots.
At their roots Presbyterianism, Congregationalism and the Baptist tradition (including Anglicans) are Confessional in nature. This means that they Confessed (articulated) their faith and their understanding of God in written statements which were meant to be guiding principles for Christians. They are meant to help Christians understand Who God is and what salvation is, but they are also meant to regulate belief and practice. These `Confessions’ expounded what the Scriptures taught in a clear and logical fashion but were, and are, subordinate to the Scriptures and are meant to be held up to the illuminating light of Scripture. Some may be more familiar to the term Creed.
The three worth mentioning for our purpose (although see here for a comprehensive archive):
The Westminster Confession of Faith – Presbyterian 1646
The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order 1658 – Congregational
THE BAPTIST CONFESSION OF FAITH OF 1689 – Reformed Baptist
Thirty-nine Articles 1571 – Anglican
This is the faith of the original Ulster Scot and the faith that the author holds to (Reformed Baptist).