Search Acts in Force

This archive contains a Digest of Assembly legislation which are in force and relevant. Any amendments have been incorporated into the Acts. 

  • You can use the search box for a general search.
  • You can search by subject (e.g. Presbyteries) or by year. 
  • You can find the list of repealed Acts of Assembly here.

Select a Child Category

Select a Child Category

Act 3, 2023 – Licensing of Students

The General Assembly, recognising the need for the Church to protect its doctrinal and historical position, and its role in assessing and approving candidates for the full-time pastoral ministry, enact and ordain as follows:


1.The Purpose. Presbyteries are reminded that the purpose of the examination is to ascertain that the Applicant for Licensing is a suitably qualified person to be eligible to receive a call to a vacant congregation or other full-time ministerial appointment. The Presbytery will ascertain this suitability by focussing on the following:

1.1. Personal. The Presbytery must be persuaded regarding the Applicant’s good character, conduct, and reputation. 

1.2. Participation. The Presbytery must be persuaded that the Applicant is of a peaceable disposition, and that he promotes the harmony and unity of the Church.

1.3. The Formula. The Presbytery must be persuaded that the Applicant is in a position honestly and intelligently to sign the Formula. This includes knowledge of the following:

1.3.1. The Applicant’s understanding of the Word of God.

1.3.2. The Applicant’s understanding of the Westminster Confession of Faith. 

1.3.3. The Applicant’s understanding of Free Church Principles and Practice.

1.4. Preaching. The Presbytery must also be persuaded about the Applicant’s ability to lead the public worship of God and to preach the gospel.

1.5. Applicant. For the avoidance of doubt, the term Applicant in this Act refers to the Candidate for the full-time pastoral ministry who has applied to the Presbytery to be taken on examination for licence to preach the gospel. 

2. Training Programme. The General Assembly instruct Presbyteries to take cognisance that an Applicant for licensing who has successfully completed the Church’s Training for Ministry programme will have achieved the following outcomes which are aligned with the criteria for the suitability of those who are to be licensed to preach the gospel:

2.1. Character. The minister-in-training must show that he is of good conduct and character and gives evidence of continual growth in love for Christ and likeness to Him.

2.2. Convictions. The minister-in-training must hold, own, and believe to be true by personal conviction the teaching and doctrine of the Word of God, the confessional position of the Church, and the principles and practice of the Free Church in government. This includes the person’s philosophy of ministry and his understanding of the role of the minister and involvement in the leadership of the Church.

2.3. Competence. The minister-in-training will demonstrate his ability to preach. The training programme will focus on developing competence in preaching and teaching the Scriptures. The programme will also help the minister-in-training to develop competence in pastoral care, communication skills, leadership, administration and organising services.

2.4. Cooperation. The minister-in-training will understand the need for cooperation between individuals, congregations, and Presbyteries. He will show in his development, his understanding of the presbyterian structure of the Church and his understanding of the need for participation in the life of the wider Church.


1.Application. The Board of Ministry will contact all Candidates for the Free Church ministry, who are in the final year of their training for ministry course, by 31st December to establish whether they wish to seek licence to preach the gospel or not.     

1.1. Notice to Presbyteries. The Clerk of the Board of Ministry shall forward the names of the Applicants to all Presbytery Clerks, indicating the Presbytery to which the Candidate is making application.

1.1. The Clerk shall do so by 31st January of the year on which the application will be taken up. 

1.1.2.  The letter shall remind Presbyteries that the Presbytery to whom the student is applying shall proceed with the examination of the Applicant unless objections are received within two months of the notice being given.

2.Rights of Presbyteries. The licensing of students to preach the gospel is a matter of interest to the whole Church and Presbyteries have the right to object.

2.1. Rights. The covering letter from the Board of Ministry will indicate that the Presbytery is at liberty to object to any Candidate whose name appears on the list being taken on the examination process.

2.2. Deadline. Presbyteries will be reminded that if they wish to exercise the right to object, they must submit their objection to the Presbytery to whom the Candidate has applied with reasons not later that 31st March.

2.3. Examination. If no objections are received from any Presbytery within two months of notice being given, the Presbytery to whom the Candidate has applied shall proceed towards examination of the Applicant for licence.

3.Objections. An objection to the Applicant being licensed to preach the gospel may be raised by any member of a Presbytery.

3.1. Reasons. A competent objection will be that which is raised regarding Applicant’s character, conduct, reputation, or ability. 

3.2. Presbytery. The Presbytery where the objection is raised will hear the objection and will first pass judgement on its competence. The Presbytery will then deliberate on the matter before coming to their finding. The following two outcomes are competent when concluding the matter:

3.2.1. The objection is sustained, and the matter communicated to the Principal Clerk. The Presbytery will appoint representatives to present the objection at the Bar of the Presbytery to which the Candidate has applied.

3.2.2.The objection is dismissed, and the matter is closed.

3.3. Right to be Heard. Any Presbytery that sustains an objection to the licensing of a Candidate shall be entitled to send representatives to state its objections at the Bar of the Presbytery to which the Candidate has applied.

3.4. Notification. The sustained objection must be submitted to the Assembly Clerks’ Office by 30th April.

4.Hearing. The Assembly Clerks will notify the Presbytery to which the Candidate has applied, of the objection and its reasons.

4.1. Special Meeting. The Assembly Clerks’ Office will instruct the Presbytery to arrange a special meeting (pro re nata) to hear the Objection on a date prior to the date appointed for the Applicant to be examined.

4.2. Hearing. The Objection will be heard at the Bar of Presbytery at the special meeting.

4.2.1 The representatives of the Presbytery raising the objection and the Candidate will be the parties at the Bar.

4.2.2. If the Objection is upheld, the Presbytery will record this in their minutes, the Applicant will be informed of the outcome, and the application process will be terminated. The Candidate will be informed of his right of appeal to the General Assembly or its Commission.

4.2.3. If the Objection is dismissed, the Presbytery will record this in their minutes and proceed with the licensing application as previously appointed.

4.3. Right of Appeal. If the representatives of the Presbytery who raised the Objection find themselves unable to acquiesce in the Presbytery’s decision, they shall have the right to Appeal to the General Assembly or its Commission.

4.4. Sisting Procedure. Such an Appeal shall automatically sist procedure until a final decision is pronounced by the Superior Court.


1. General. The Presbytery shall proceed as follows regarding arrangement for the examination of the Applicant:  

1.1. Notice of Motion. The Presbytery shall fix a date on which they will examine the Applicant(s) for licensing by way of notice of motion to be considered at the next ordinary meeting of the Presbytery.

1.2. Age Limit. No student shall be taken on examination for licence who is under twenty-one years of age.

1.3. Communicant Membership. No student shall be taken on examination for licence unless he has been a communicant member of the Free Church of Scotland for a minimum period of two years prior to the date of his being taken on the licensing examination.

1.4. Training Programme. No Applicant will be examined for licensing unless he has completed the course of training and study prescribed by the Board of Ministry in consultation with Edinburgh Theological Seminary.

1.5. Prerequisites. The Presbytery shall not agree to the motion on behalf of the student unless the requirements of Paragraphs Two and Three below are met.

1.6. Notice to Applicant. The Presbytery shall inform the Applicant(s) of the proposed date of the licensing examination. They will give him details of the examination and the appointed examiners and instruct him to await contact directly from them.

2. Documentation. The Presbytery must have the following documents before it proceeds with the examination:

2.1. ETS. A completion certificate from the Senate of Edinburgh Theological Seminary indicating that the applicant has satisfactorily completed his studies, including the Presbyterian Church Ministry Module, and that his conduct, so far as is known to the Senate, is consistent with the high office he has in view.

2.2. Board of Ministry. A completion certificate from the Board of Ministry indicating that the Applicant has successfully completed his assigned course of studies and training.

2.3. Training Church. A character reference from the Training Church giving confirmation of the Applicant’s good character, conduct, and reputation.

2.4. References. In exceptional circumstances, where the Applicant has not worked in the Training Church as part of his assigned course, the Presbytery will proceed as follows:

2.4..1 If the Applicant has been resident in a Presbytery other than the supervising Presbytery, the Presbytery will request a reference from the Presbytery under whose bounds he resided regarding the Applicant’s character, conduct, and reputation. 

2.4.2. In such circumstances, the Presbytery will also request a reference from the Kirk Session of the congregation in which the Applicant worshipped during the time of his studies and training.

2.5. Seminary Dissertation. A copy of his Seminary Dissertation duly sustained.

2.6. Miscellaneous. At its discretion, the Presbytery may also ask for copies of any essays or assignments submitted by the student as part of his programme of studies.

3. Assignments. The Presbytery will give the following assignments to the Applicant in preparation for the licensing:

3.1. Preaching. The Presbytery should be satisfied that the Applicant is competent to preach and conduct public worship of God.

3.1.1. The Presbytery will normally arrange for the Applicant to conduct public worship, including sermon, and shall appoint representatives to attend and report on the competence of the student.

3.1.2. In circumstances where the Applicant has not worked on a Training Church during his course of studies, it will be compulsory for him to undertake a preaching assignment.

3.2. Doctrine. The Presbytery will examine the Applicant on doctrine and in doing so will appoint a member or members to examine him on the Westminster Confession of Faith.

3.3. Church Principles. The Presbytery will examine the Applicant’s understanding of the Church and will appoint a member or members to examine him on Free Church Principles and Practice.


1. Notice of Motion. The Presbytery will take up consideration of the notice of motion made at the last ordinary meeting to examine the Applicant(s) suitability to be licensed to preach the gospel. If the motion is passed, and no objections have been received, the Presbytery will proceed with the examination.

2. Private Session. The Presbytery shall meet in private when discussing each stage in the process.

3. The Review. The Presbytery will consider the following in proceeding to decide on the application for licensing to preach the gospel.

3.1. Annual Reports. The Presbytery will note the annual reports of the Board of Ministry and ETS regarding the Applicant’s character, conduct, achievements, and the confirmed suitability of the Applicant as a Candidate for the Free Church Ministry.

3.2. Certificates. The Presbytery will note the final Board of Ministry and ETS certificates regarding the Applicant and confirmation or otherwise of him having successfully achieved the outcomes of the Training for Ministry programme.

3.3 References. The Presbytery will note references regarding the Applicant’s character, conduct, and reputation, from the Training Church Kirk Session.

3.3.1. In exceptional circumstances where the Applicant’s training did not include working in a Training Church, the Presbytery will note references received from the Presbytery within whose bounds he resided during studies and training, and Kirk Session of the congregation in which he worshipped during that time.

3.4. Preaching Assignment. In cases where Applicant has been assigned to lead public worship and preach a sermon to confirm ability to preach, the Presbytery will receive the report of members appointed to be present to assess the Applicant.

3.4.1. If the representatives report themselves satisfied, the Presbytery will proceed with the examination. If they report themselves dissatisfied, the Presbytery shall resolve not to proceed any further with the examination.

3.4.2. If the Presbytery resolves not to proceed further, they shall note their reasons and shall inform the Applicant accordingly.

3.5. Other Assignments. In cases where the Applicant has been assigned an examination on doctrine and on Free Church Principles and Practice, the Presbytery will appoint a committee to meet with the Candidate to carry out the examination.

3.5.1. The Presbytery shall assign the specific areas of the examination.

3.5.2.The Committee shall report to the Presbytery on completion of the examination with recommendations. 

3.6. Records. The Presbytery will record in its minutes that the documents and certificates listed in Section C, Paragraph 2 above have been received according to individual circumstances.

3.7. Interview. The Applicant will be called into the meeting and will be interviewed by the Presbytery and an opportunity given to members of the Presbytery to ask further questions for clarification, after which the Applicant will leave the meeting.

4. The Outcome. The Presbytery shall take a careful and combined view of all the documents and reports before them.

4.1.Confirmation. If the annual reports, certificates and references, and the assignments when required, confirm that the Applicant is suitably qualified to answer the Question and sign the Formula, the Presbytery may proceed to the licensing. They shall record the decision in their minutes.

4.2. Unqualified. If the Presbytery forms the opinion that the Applicant is not properly qualified to sign the Formula and to perform the duties of a minister of the Gospel, they shall not grant him a licence.

4.2.1. They shall record in their minutes the reasons on which this opinion is based.

4.2.2. They shall consider what further training may benefit the Applicant to enable him to reach the standard required to be licensed to preach the gospel.

4.3. Notice to Applicants. The Applicant will be recalled to the meeting and the Moderator will inform him of the Presbytery’s decision.

4.3.1.In the case of the successful Applicant, the Moderator will inform him of the arrangements for the licensing.

4.3.2. In the case of the unsuccessful Applicant, the Moderator will inform him of the reasons behind the decision and will advise him as to the suggested further training to continue his development. The Applicant will be entitled to a copy of the reasons in writing.

4.3.3 In the case of the unsuccessful Applicant, the Presbytery will determine, on the basis of the suggested further training, whether to permit the candidate to re-apply for licensing to this Presbytery after a period of one year or after a period of two years. The Moderator will advise the Applicant of this decision.

5. The Licensing. The Presbytery shall then, or at a later public meeting of Presbytery, put to the Applicant the Questions appointed by the General Assembly to be put to Probationers before signing the Formula.

5.1. A Later Meeting. If the Presbytery decides to license the Applicant at a later public meeting, they shall at this point agree the date and venue of such a meeting. They shall instruct the successful Applicant to be present for the meeting and they shall appoint the Moderator to preside at the licensing service. They shall also proceed to announce details of the meeting in an appropriate way.

5.2. Formula. Having given satisfactory answers, the Presbytery shall require the student to subscribe to the Formula. No student shall be licensed to preach the gospel who will not give explicit and satisfactory answers and subscribe to the Formula.

5.3. Licensing. The Moderator, in the name and by the authority of the Presbytery, shall solemnly license the student as a preacher of the Gospel.

5.4. Licensing Statement. The Moderator shall license the Applicant in the following terms – ‘‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church, and by the authority of this Presbytery, we do now license you to preach the gospel of the grace of God, and to exercise your gifts as a probationer for the Holy Ministry.”

5.5. Extract. The Presbytery Clerk shall issue the student with an extract of his Licence.

5.6. Roll of Probationers. Within one week, the Clerk of Presbytery shall forward the name and address of the Licentiate, with the date of his Licence, to the Principal Clerk of the General Assembly, who shall enter the name of the licentiate on the Roll of Probationers.

6. Right of Appeal. The Presbytery are the sole hearers of the examination and the licensing of students to preach the gospel is a matter that belongs to their powers and function. Its decision, therefore, shall be final. However, it shall be competent for the Applicant or for a member of the Presbytery to contest the decision if there is a perceived fault on the part of the Presbytery.

6.1 The Applicant. The Applicant may appeal in writing within ten days of receiving the written reasons for Presbytery’s decision that he was not properly qualified to sign the Formula and to perform the duties of a minister of the Gospel.

6.2. Member of Presbytery. The member of Presbytery may dissent with leave to complain to the General Assembly or its Commission.

6.3. Reasons. It shall be competent to appeal only on one or more of the following grounds:

6.3.1. The irregularity of procedure or a failure to follow due process.

6.3.2. The incompetency of the decision due to a failure to comply with Church law.

6.3.3. The decision influenced by incorrect material fact.

6.3.4 A breach of the principles of natural justice.

6.4. Assembly ClerksOffice. In order to expedite the Appeal process, and to ensure the avoidance of delay, the Assembly Clerks’ Office shall appoint a committee to gather information on the Appeal and to prepare a report for the Appeal to be heard at the General Assembly or its Commission within two months of the Presbytery’s original decision.

6.4.1.The Assembly Clerks will consult with the Assembly Business Committee when appointing the Appeal’s Committee.