- The Antiburghers were a faction among the Presbyterians of Scotland in the 1730s who refused to take an oath they interpreted as requiring loyalty to the Church of Scotland.More than a century of Scottish Presbyterian history was marked by a series of controversies that caused the proliferation of independent churches. The first conflict concerned choosing ministers for vacant parishes.At the time of the Reformation, most parish church buildings had been built and were still maintained by the head of the local noble family. It was common for the nobleman to choose, or at least assume veto power over, the local minister, whose salary he would be paying. In 1690, when William of Orange was chosen to be the new king of Great Britain, the right of choosing their own ministers was granted to the Scottish congregations. However, in 1717 Parliament passed what was known as the Patronage Act, which returned that privilege to those nobles who operated as patrons (i.e., financially supported their local church).While the Patronage Act angered many, a real crisis did not occur until the beginning of the 1730s. When one local patron neglected his duty of securing a new pastor, a group of landowners and church elders assumed the task and made a choice. When other members of the congregation demanded a voice, they were ignored. In 1731, under the leadership of Ebenezer Erskine (1680-1754), the congregation seceded from the Church of Scotland and formed what became known as the Associate PresbyteryWithin the Associate Presbytery, a subsequent issue arose over the oath required of all citizens (i.e., burghers), which stated, "I profess . . . the true religion presently professed within this realm . . . renouncing the Roman religion called papistry." Most in the Presbytery saw the operative phrase to be the rejection of Roman Catholicism. However, some saw the oath as expressing loyalty to the Church of Scotland (as the "true religion professed within the realm") and hence refused to take it. The dispute between Burghers and Antiburghers (those who refused to take the oath) led to a split in the Associate Presbytery. The two factions continued through the end of the century.In the 1790s, a new issue arose among both the Burgher and Antiburgher churches over the role of the state. One group in each faction rejected any role for the state in maintaining the church, especially in paying the minister. The other group approved state assistance. At this point, four churches (denominations) existed.In the 1840s, the issue of the congregational right to choose its minister surfaced again within the larger Church of Scotland. After years of wrangling, those who opposed ministers being assigned to parishes against the wishes of the congregation pulled out of the Church of Scotland and formed the Free Church of Scotland. In the 20th century, most of these issues lost resonance, and both the Associate Presbytery and the Free Church reunited with the Church of Scotland, though small factions remained outside.The Burgher/Antiburgher controversy was carried overseas to the British colonies, especially to North America, where some Presbyterian churches aligned with various factions of the Associate Presbytery. They, too, eventually lost the rationale for a separate existence and eventually merged into larger Presbyterian bodies, although remnants continue to the present.See also United Kingdom.Further reading:■ Randall Balmer and John R. Fitzmier, The Presbyterians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994)■ Lefferts A. Loetscher, A Brief History of the Presbyterians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1978)■ Robert Benedetto, Darrell L. Guder, and Donald K. McKim. Historical Dictionary of Reformed Churches (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1999)■ James H. Smylie, A Brief History of the Presbyterians (Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 1996).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.