Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster

Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster

:"This Presbyterian denomination is not related to the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland or the Free Church of Scotland"

Infobox Christian denomination
name = Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster

| imagewidth = 120px
caption =
main_classification = Protestant
orientation = Fundamentalist
polity = Presbyterian
founder = Ian Paisley
founded_date = March 17, 1951
founded_place = Crossgar, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
separated_from = Presbyterian Church in Ireland
leader/moderator = Rev. Ron Johnstone
parent =
merger =
separations =
associations = Whitefield College of the Bible
area = Northern Ireland
congregations = 60
members = 12,000
footnotes =

The Free Presbyterian Church is a Presbyterian denomination founded by the cleric and politician, Ian Paisley in 1951. [As well as leader in the founding of the "Free Presbyterian Church", Ian Paisley also founded the "Democratic Unionist Party" in Northern Ireland, although the Church is not officially linked.] Most of its membership live in Northern Ireland. The church has branches in North America, Canada, Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and Australia.


The "Free Presbyterian Church" began on March 17, 1951 (St Patrick's Day), as the result of a conflict between some members of the local [ Lissara Presbyterian] congregation in Crossgar, County Down, Northern Ireland and the "Down Presbytery" of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

At a meeting on January 8, 1951, the "Down Presbytery" banned the elders of the local congregation from using the church hall for a Gospel mission, but the date when the Lissara elders were informed of this is disputed. The Presbytery met with the Lissara Session ninety minutes before the mission was due to begin on February 3 with an "Opening Witness March." When two elders refused to accept the Presbytery decision, they were immediately suspended. As a result of this disagreement with the Presbytery, five of the seven session members, all the Sunday School teachers, and sixty members of the congregation withdrew from the "Down Presbytery" and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. [ [] Free Presbyterian Church - About us]

College lecturers of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland have suggested that the above story, though often quoted, is incomplete. While the Gospel Mission was a reason for the breakaway church forming, the Presbytery objection was not to the Mission or to the Gospel, but to the invited preacher, Ian Paisley. The Lissara Mission went ahead with a different preacher and [ Lissara Presbyterian Church] continued to exist with fewer members), and a number of dissenting members later returned.

The departing elders felt the Presbyterian Church in Ireland denomination was inconsistent in allowing dances and parties to be held in the church halls, while at the same time refusing a Gospel mission under the leadership of Ian Paisley. The "Free Presbyterian Manifesto", which was published during the time leading up to the founding of the new church, also mentioned other reasons for the secession, such as the failure of the 1927 heresy trial in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to unseat Professor Davey for his controversial views, membership in the World Council of Churches (which the PCI later left), and poll irregularities for the election of elders (Moore and Dick, 26–30). In that year, under the leadership of Rev. Paisley, four new congregations joined together to form the "Presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster".

One of the inaugural elders of the new church, George Gibson, was expelled for his views on the doctrines of holiness and subsequently rejoined [ Lissara Presbyterian Church] in 1958. He had been the first secretary of the new church, had served as the architect of the first church building in the new denomination, and his office had been used as the registered office of the denomination (Moore and Dick, 151–152).


Doctrinally, the church describes itself as fundamentalist, evangelical, and separatist. Baptism and the Lord's supper are recognised as sacraments of the "Free Presbyterian Church". Members are allowed to determine the proper mode (dipping, pouring, sprinkling) and subjects (adult believers) that they prefer, but the church will not sanction Baptismal Regeneration. The Lord's supper is observed monthly, unless a local congregation prefers a more frequent observance. Alongside the Free Presbyterian Articles of Faith, the Westminster Standards are considered doctrinal standards subordinate to the Bible. On account of their additional adherence to the Articles of Faith, and because of their baptismal views, some regard the church as only nominally Presbyterian, and actually nearer to the Baptist Church, and more nearly allied to modern Fundamentalist Christianity than to the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition. [ [] Free Presbyterian Church Article]

For many outside the church, political and religious opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, construed by the Free Presbyterians as Protestant reformation principles, represents the single most distinctive characteristic of this denomination, not least because this is the single most distinctive characteristic of Dr. Ian Paisley's own theological outlook.


There is some debate about whether the denomination is truly Presbyterian. Unlike other Presbyterian churches, the FPC (in spite of its fifty-year existence) has never published a Book of Church Order, in which its governmental policies and procedures are set forth publicly. Consequently, some have gone so far as to refer to the FPC as the "Presbyterian-Free Church." [ [ Your thoughts on Ian Paisley? [Archive - The Fighting Fundamental Forums ] ] A number of former FPC pastors, members, and congregants have complained of being excommunicated (or otherwise involuntarily removed) from their respective congregations without a typical Presbyterian judicial process. The absence of a Book of Church Order leaves the denomination with no ability to counteract such accusations.

Another suspicion about the Presbyterian polity of the FPC is the fact that Rev. Ian Paisley held an apparently indefinite term of office as Moderator of the FPC. However, Dr. Paisley agreed to step down as Moderator in January 2008. He was succeeded by Rev. Ron Johnstone. [ [] Church elects new moderator] The North American branch of the denomination has elected its own moderator since 2005.

Churches worldwide

From four churches in 1951, the denomination has grown to about 60 congregations in Northern Ireland, and a total of about 100 through the world, including England, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Canada, the United States and Australia. According to the 2001 Northern Ireland census, it has around 12,000 members in that country. Missionaries are currently (2004) in India, Jamaica, Kenya, the Republic of Ireland, Spain, the Philippines and Germany. [ [] Church List - FPC]

The church currently operates the Whitefield College Of The Bible in Banbridge, County Down, and the Geneva Reformed Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina, USA.

As from 2005, the church in North America has been independent of the Ulster Presbytery, having its own Moderator. Dr. Frank McClelland was the first Moderator, and he was succeeded in 2006 by Rev. David Mook (Minister in Phoenix, Arizona). The two Presbyteries are in full communion with each other and the inaugural Free Presbyterian International Congress was held 19–23 June 2006 in Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church in Belfast. This event saw Free Presbyterians from all over the world gather in Northern Ireland for a week of meetings. The intention is to hold the Congress biennially, alternating between Ulster and the United States. A Congress is planned for 2008 in Greenville, South Carolina.

Church Leadership

As of 18 January 2008, the following men are currently in office in the Free Presbyterian Church [ [] Church elects new moderator] (list incomplete).

"Moderator": Rev. Ron Johnstone

"Deputy Moderator": Dr. Lindsay Wilson

"Clerk of the Presbytery": Rev. Ian Brown

"Minute Secretary": Rev. Timothy Nelson

"Treasurer"; Mr. David Browne


In 2006 a production team from BBC Northern Ireland conducted an investigation into a child abuse scandal in Toronto Free Presbyterian Church. The resulting documentary, screened in June, asserted that the church had denounced a young woman for adultery, although she was 13 years old at the time of the first incident, whereas the male participant was 22 and married. Officers from the church appeared on the BBC programme arguing that the young girl was guilty of adultery and seduction. (BBC Northern Ireland 'Spotlight' 13th June 2006)

James Doherty, a layman in the Free Presbyterian Church, was accused of raping and molesting two sisters over a period of eleven years. The court evidence included claims that Ian Paisley and other church officers knew of the accusations but ultimately took no action against Doherty. [ [ BBC NEWS | Northern Ireland | Paisley 'meeting on abuse claims' ] ]

The appointment of Dr. Paisley as First Minister of Northern Ireland in May 2007 led to a great deal of controversy in the Free Presbyterian Church. Many members of the church claimed that such an appointment put Rev. Paisley, as Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church, at odds with many of the core beliefs of his church. The church had declared some years previously that it would be unbiblical to have terrorists or ex-terrorists in the government of Northern Ireland. The church is also strongly opposed to homosexuality, yet the First Minister of Northern Ireland's office is responsible for protecting gay rights in Northern Ireland. One of Dr. Paisley's strongest critics is his erstwhile ally and former prison cellmate the Rev. Ivan Foster. A stormy meeting of the Presbytery of the church in September 2007 resolved the crisis for the time being by agreeing that Rev. Paisley would step down as Moderator in January 2008.

The Presbytery met in Dungannon on Friday 18th January 2008 to elect a new Moderator. The meeting was supposed to be held on the first Friday in January (4th Jan.), but was postponed due to bad weather. The new Moderator is Rev. Ron Johnstone, who had been Deputy Moderator. Dr. Paisley was therefore replaced as Moderator after more than 50 years in the post. [cite news |title= Church elects new moderator |url= |work=BBC News |date=2008-01-19 |accessdate=2008-01-19 ]

Following a number of high profile homophobic comments made by DUP MP Iris Robinson, the Belfast Telegraph reported that Advertising Standards Authority were investigating whether an advertisement placed by the Kirk Session of the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church breached advertising codes.The church took out the 540-word advertisement in the News Letter on 1 August(one day before the annual Belfast Gay Pride event) describing "homosexuality as an abomination, defined homosexuals as perverts and called on religious followers to maintain a very public stance against the gay community". []

Church Layout

Free Presbyterian Churches are usually of simple design, cohering with Protestant ideals, dating back to the Reformation. This contrasts with traditional Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches, which tend to be well-ornamented in design. The church states that this shows humility and allows the member to focus on worship.

Churches usually include the following:

* Pulpit - Generally centre focal point, adorned with a pulpit fall

* Communion Table - Sits in the centre of the church, at the front, usually in front of the pulpit (if the pulpit is in the middle.

* Pews - These differ in design and shape.

* Organ/Piano - Nearly all churches will have some sort of musical accompaniment - this is usually in the form of an organ, with larger churches owning a piano.

* Verse of Scripture - A verse of the Bible is placed on the wall behind the pulpit, where it is most visible. This can be painted or plastic letters screwed to the wall.

* Prayer Room/Creche - A Prayer Room is located via a different door to the main hall. Depending on the financial capabilities of the church, the Prayer Room and Creche may be together. The Creche is used for young children, and has a window whereby one can see the preacher, and perhaps a speaker system, for audio.

* Once again, the facilities that a church can have depend on the size and finance of the church. Extra rooms such as Youth Fellowship rooms, Sunday School Rooms and Kitchens (which can be found in many churches) are subject to these parameters.

Church Motto and Logo

The motto of the Free Presbyterian Church is the same as the Presbyterian Church in Ireland; "Ardens sed Virens" - "burning but flourishing". It is incorporated in a scroll form on the logo, seen right.

In the Bible, in Exodus 3:2, Moses heard the voice of God coming from a burning bush which was alight, but not burning. This was after he fled from Egypt, and God called upon him to go back and free the Israelites from Egyptian rule.

: "Main article" : Burning Bush

In all Free Presbyterian Churches, the pulpit fall bears the Motto and Logo of the Church, albeit in slightly different designs.


Glynn Moore and Sharon Dick "The History of Crossgar Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, A New Beginning .."(Crossgar, Co. Down: Crossgar Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, 2001) ISBN 1-84030-116-3


ee also

*Religion in the United Kingdom
*Free Presbyterian Church (Australia)
*Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland a different denomination, begun in 1893 (a paragraph of comparison between the two is included on the page about the Scottish denomination).

External links

* [ Official Web Site]

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