Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster

This denomination is not related to the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland or the Free Church of Scotland
Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster
Classification Protestant
Orientation Fundamentalist Calvinism
Polity Presbyterian
Moderator Rev. Thomas Murray
Associations Whitefield College of the Bible
Region mainly Northern Ireland but also in mainland Great Britain[1]
Founder Ian Paisley
Origin 17 March 1951
Crossgar, Northern Ireland
Separated from Presbyterian Church in Ireland
Separations FPCNA
Congregations 61 (Northern Ireland)[2]
22 (elsewhere)[3]
Members 15,000
Official website

The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster is a Christian denomination founded by Rev. Ian Paisley in 1951.[lower-alpha 1] Doctrinally, the church describes itself as fundamentalist, evangelical, and separatist. Most of its members live in Northern Ireland, where the church is headquartered. The church has additional congregations in the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain and Australia,[3] and a sister denomination in North America that has congregations in Canada and the United States.

The current Moderator of the Church is Rev. Thomas Murray, elected in September 2015.


The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster began on 17 March 1951 (St Patrick's Day) as the result of a conflict between some members of the local Lissara Presbyterian[4] congregation in Crossgar, County Down, Northern Ireland, and the Down Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

At a meeting on 8 January 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 not were informed of this is disputed. The Presbytery met with the Lissara Session 90 minutes before the mission was due to begin on 3 February 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 60 members of the congregation withdrew from the Down Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.[5]

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 (albeit with fewer members), and a number of dissenting members later returned. However Free Presbyterians from Crossgar dispute that there ever was such a mission.

Lisburn Free Presbyterian Church

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 (PCI) to unseat Professor Davey for his controversial views, membership in the World Council of Churches (which the PCI later left), and poll irregularities in the election of elders.[6] In that year, under the leadership of Paisley, four new congregations joined together to form the Presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.

Sydney Lince served as Moderator of the new church for a few months, but perceiving that Paisley was keen to take on the role, he stood down and asked Paisley to replace him.[7] 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.[8]

Recent history

Internal strife

The appointment of Paisley as First Minister of Northern Ireland in May 2007 led to a great deal of controversy within the Free Presbyterian Church. Many members of the church claimed that such an appointment put Paisley, as Moderator, 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's office is responsible for protecting LGBT rights in Northern Ireland. One of Paisley's strongest critics was his erstwhile ally and former prison cellmate Ivan Foster. A stormy meeting of the Presbytery of the church in September 2007 resolved the crisis by agreeing that Paisley would step down as Moderator in January 2008. The Presbytery met in Dungannon on 18 January 2008 to elect a new Moderator and selected Ron Johnstone, who had been Deputy Moderator. Paisley was therefore replaced as Moderator after more than 50 years in the post.[9]

Opposition to homosexuality

Following a number of high-profile comments made by Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Member of Parliament (MP) Iris Robinson, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a finding that an advertisement placed by the Kirk Session of the Sandown Free Presbyterian Church breached advertising codes. The church had taken 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." [10][11][12] The decision was later overturned and the church cleared of all wrongdoing.


The church adheres to Calvinist doctrines. It also self-describes as fundamentalist which it sees as an appropriate term to describe its stance of being anti-liberal. Christian Fundamentalism has evolved over the years to where the original five essential doctrines that one had to hold to be considered fundamentalist, namely: The inerrancy of the Bible,The literal nature of the Biblical accounts, The Virgin Birth of Christ, The bodily resurrection and physical return of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross, were mixed in with a healthy dose of "biblical separatism" which is a doctrine that advocates avoiding any public or private worship with people of other denominations that it considers apostates or heretics. At the start of Paisley's ministry this separatism was focused heavily on the Presbyterian Church in Ireland a denomination from which it drew many of its initial members. For the FPC the main target of its doctrinal ire, however, has always been and still continues to be the Roman Catholic Church. As of 2015 its main website greets all-comers with a message of how the FPC disapproves of politicians going to the funerals of Roman Catholics as by doing so they were communicating a message that there was "little difference" between the mass and Protestant communion. This message has been on the front page since at least June 2011[13]

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are recognised as sacraments of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. Members are allowed to determine the proper mode (immersion, pouring, sprinkling) and subjects (adult believers or believers children) that they prefer, but the church does 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, nearer to the Baptist Church, and more nearly allied to modern Fundamentalist Christianity than to the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition.[14]

For many outside the church, political and religious opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, considered by the Free Presbyterians to be a Protestant Reformation principle, represents the single most distinctive characteristic of this denomination, not least because this was a distinctive characteristic of Ian Paisley's own theological outlook.


The FPC (on 18 May 2005) published a Book of Church Order in which its governmental policies and procedures are set forth publicly.[15]

The polity of the FPC includes allowing a cleric such as Paisley to hold an apparently indefinite term of office as Moderator. However, following a dispute over Paisley's political activities, he agreed to step down as Moderator in January 2008. He was succeeded by Ron Johnstone.[16] 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 throughout the world, including England, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland (chiefly in County Donegal and County Monaghan), Canada, the United States and Australia. According to the 2011 Northern Ireland census, the church has 10,068 members in Northern Ireland.[17] As of 2004, missionaries were serving in India, Jamaica, Kenya, the Republic of Ireland, Spain, the Philippines and Germany.[18]

In Kenya the church's 4 missionary works with the Bible Christian Faith Church. In Liberia the forming Free Presbyterian Church in Liberia has 4 congregations.[19][20]

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

The church in North America has been independent of the Ulster Presbytery since 2005, and has its own Moderator. Frank McClelland was the first Moderator, and he was succeeded in 2006 by David Mook (a minister in Phoenix, Arizona). The two Presbyteries are in full communion with each other. A 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.

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.

Interior of Tandragee Free Presbyterian Church

Churches usually include the following:

Burning Bush and motto

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, shown at right.

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

See also


  1. As well as founding the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, Paisley also founded the Democratic Unionist Party, although the church is not officially linked, and DUP politicians are not necessarily church members.
  2. "Church List". Presbyterian Church of Ulster. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  3. 1 2 "Free Presbyterian Church Information Page". Free Presbyterian Church. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  4. "What's New - Lissara Presbyterian Church". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
  5. "Free Presbyterian Church - About us". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
  6. Moore and Dick, pp26–30
  7. Clifford Smyth, Ian Paisley: Voice of Protestant Ulster, p5
  8. Moore and Dick, pp151–152
  9. "Church elects new moderator". BBC News. 19 January 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
  10. "Free Presbyterian advert ignites fresh anti-gay storm". Belfast Telegraph.
  11. "ASA find a Church's advert Homophobic". 6 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
  12. "Judge overturns ASA sodomy ad ban decision". BBC News. 22 March 2011.
  13. "FPC website June 2011". External link in |website= (help);
  14. "Free Presbyterian Church - FPC Articles of Faith". Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  15. "FPC Book of Church Order". Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  16. Archived 22 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. Retrieved 28 March 2013. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. "Free Presbyterian Church - Church Information". Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  19. "Kenya | Free Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis". Retrieved 2013-10-08.
  20. "Liberia | Free Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis". Retrieved 2013-10-08.
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