Why Am I a Free Presbyterian?
Evangelism has always been a vital part of the ministry. It has at its heart the great objective of leading sinners to knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour.
The late Noel Grant was well known for conducting Gospel campaigns around the country with his friend Matt Boland. He was also renowned as a writer of Gospel tracts. One of the little pieces of literature he distributed was a tract entitled “I have my own church.”
Inevitably this is the reaction of many when confronted with the Free Presbyterian Church. The response, “I have my own church”, is all too familiar when a door is knocked or a Gospel tract offered. So why should you attend, or join, the Free Presbyterian Church? How does this denomination differ from the plethora of others around in the twenty-first century?
Converted in my early teens, I was not brought up in the Free Presbyterian Church. However, under God, I was led to this denomination while in secondary education through the influence of a friend. One of my abiding memories as a budding Christian is my first Bible Class in the denomination. I had been struggling with a particular issue, and on that very morning the leader, unaware of my situation, opened the Bible and dealt with that very matter in a clear and Scriptural fashion. The approach of turning straight to the Bible for the answer immediately drew me to the Free Presbyterian Church, together with other distinctive marks of our church.
So what does set the Free Presbyterian witness apart from other churches out there?
The administration and activity of the Free Presbyterian church is regulated by the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. This is undoubtedly the key tenet of our denomination. We are thoroughly scriptural in all aspects of church life. The worship services on the Sabbath day, weekly ministry, outreach activities, and governance at a local and denominational level are all regulated scripturally. That is our foundation. The constant and overarching principle is, “What saith the scripture?” (Romans 4:3)
Worship is an issue that is hotly debated today, perhaps because of the failure to understand what worship actually is. Someone has defined it as “devotion and allegiance pledged to God.” This devotion and allegiance must then be expressed and displayed in tangible ways.
The Bible shows that the way to express this devotion is to come together as a body of God’s people (Hebrews 10:25). This is not merely for fellowship, although that is a part of worship (Acts 2:42). The New Testament pattern of corporate worship consists of prayer and praise (Psalm 105:1 – 4; Acts 2:42), the reading (Luke 4:16-17) and preaching of the God’s Word (Luke 4:18-20; Acts 13:5; 2 Tim. 4:1-2), giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2) and the administration of the sacraments
(1 Corinthians 11:23-24). This worship is to be spiritual (John 4:24) and not ritualistic. Worship is not just singing! It embraces every aspect of the service. Sadly, the modern way is to elevate singing at the expense of other elements of worship, particularly preaching. One of our distinctives is that preaching is still upheld as the central act of worship. This was a view held within historical Protestantism, and it has a clear Scriptural basis.
(1 Corinthians 1:17)
Prior to Christ’s ascension into heaven, He left His disciples and their successors with the challenge of the Great Commission: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel”. Our denomination is Calvinistic in its belief, holding to the sovereignty of God in salvation, but we are also evangelistic in our outreach. Evangelism has always been a vital part of the ministry. It has at its heart the great objective of leading sinners to knowledge of Jesus Christ as Saviour. Evangelistic preaching is a major aspect of the weekly ministry, particularly on the Sabbath day. Intermittently, Gospel campaigns are held, again with the aim of bringing the Gospel to the local community. Ministry to children, utilization of media outlets, and street and door to door evangelism are but a few of the other means used.
The scriptural stance that the denomination upholds on separation, both ecclesiastically and personally, is another which commends the church to those interested in a Biblical ministry. Amos 3:3 asks “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” and we are instructed to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). In response to the liberalism, modernism, Romanism and ecumenism of today, the duty and the need for ecclesiastical separation are plain!
Separation is often viewed as purely negative, but there is a positive aspect to it as well. Separation is from evil, but it is also separation unto Christ. “Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). An organization that denies Christ and His Word, or departs from His finished work of atonement, is not a true Bible believing fellowship. When we separate from such, we are actually separating unto Christ.
However, separation is not isolation. We seek to stand with others who have a love for the Scriptures and the furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even when they do not endorse all our positions on matters not fundamental to the Gospel.
Another unique distinctive of the denomination is its accommodation of differing opinions on matters such as Christian baptism and eschatology. The Free Presbyterian Church allows brethren to worship and serve together in mutual respect even though they may differ on the mode and the subjects of baptism. The same attitude prevails on the issue of eschatology, the doctrine of last things. Belief in the classic orthodox statements is unwavering, but on many aspects of how the events of the last times will develop and fit together there is acceptance of a diversity of opinion.
This is by no means an extensive list, but just a glimpse at some marks of the Free Presbyterian church. We are by no means perfect, nor will we be until the consummation of the church (Ephesians 5:25–27). Yet we seek to remain faithful to the Word of God, and to preach Christ at every opportunity. These distinctives drew me to this denomination and explain why, today, I am a Free Presbyterian.
Rev Julian Patterson.