The roots of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland go back, through the historic Church of Scotland, to the Scriptures themselves, upon which the Scottish Reformation was so thoroughly based. Such a precious heritage bestows upon the Church a solemn responsibility to assert, maintain and defend it. “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth” (Ps. 60:4). See Our Free Presbyterian Heritage, an article from 1941 explaining this. Also, this lecture given in 2006 explains why the Free Presbyterian Church came into existence and why it still exists today.
It is a distinctive testimony, as the recently revised version of the Catechism of the History and Principles of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland shows in detail. Though unworthy and weak in ourselves, yet in dependence upon the God of all grace this testimony must be:
- Entirely Biblical
- Thoroughly Reformed (not merely “Evangelical”)
- Reformed in Doctrine
- Reformed in Worship
- Reformed in Church Practice
- Reformed in Godliness
1. Entirely Biblical
- Unreserved belief in the whole Bible as the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of God.
- Unqualified subjection to the final authority of Scripture, as the only supreme guide for what we should believe and how we should live.
- Unquestioning acceptance of the Biblical account of creation in six natural days, with outright rejection of the theory of evolution.
- Absolute commitment to the evangelical gospel revealed in Scripture: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). By His whole obedience culminating in the atoning death of the cross and rising from the dead, the Lord Jesus Christ has obtained eternal salvation for His people.
- Evangelism according to Christ’s great commission to publish the full gospel throughout the world, proclaiming faith in Christ as the only way of salvation for all people.
- Exclusive use of the Authorised (“King James”) Version of the Bible in all English-speaking congregations: the principles and manuscripts used make it the most accurate translation available.
2. Thoroughly Reformed (not merely “Evangelical”)
- Thankful recognition of God’s remarkable work in restoring Biblical truth to His Church through the European Reformation of the sixteenth century.
- Hearty attachment to the foundational principles of the Reformation, as summarised in the Five Solas (“sola” is Latin for “alone”): Scripture alone; Grace alone; Faith alone; Christ alone; and God’s Glory alone.
- Unwavering insistence on the watchword of the Reformation, that justification is through faith alone in Christ alone.
- Vigorous Protestant witness against Roman Catholicism, maintaining the Reformation affirmation that the Papacy is the very Antichrist, that Man of Sin, described in Scripture.
- Decided alliance with the Reformed branch of the Reformation as it was expressed in Switzerland, Holland and especially Scotland, rather than the more liberal Lutheran/Anglican branch.
- Belief in the establishment principle, that nations as nations, and rulers as rulers, are to serve Christ and support His Church.
3. Reformed in Doctrine
- Belief in all the fundamental doctrines of Biblical Christianity, as briefly summarised in What We Believe.
- Unqualified adherence to the whole Westminster Confession of Faith as an entirely Scriptural statement of what the Bible teaches.
- Recognition of the covenantal basis upon which God deals with men: the Covenant of Works made with Adam whereby we all sinned and fell, and the Covenant of Grace made with Christ whereby His people in both Old and New Testament dispensations are saved through Him.
- Unreserved acceptance of the doctrines of sovereign grace, as summarised in the Five Points of Calvinism (also called The Doctrines of Grace): Total depravity; Unconditional election; Limited (that is, Definite) atonement; Irresistible grace; and Perseverance of the saints.
- Full acknowledgment of the inability of fallen sinners to repent or believe.
- Recognition of human responsibility, and therefore the necessity of pressing upon sinners their duty to believe and repent.
- The necessity of preaching the free offer of the Gospel, warmly inviting all sinners without exception to embrace Christ for salvation.
4. Reformed in Worship
- Reverential acknowledgement in worship of the infinite distance between the great, holy God whom we worship and ourselves as sinful creatures.
- Total dependence on Christ the Mediator as the only way of access to and acceptance by God of our persons and worship.
- Decided emphasis on the primacy of preaching, as the chief ordained means of grace for converting sinners and edifying saints.
- Consistent implementation of the regulative principle of worship:
- The inclusion in worship of only what God has appointed in His Word: singing the Psalms of Scripture; prayer; reading and preaching the Word of God; the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
- The exclusion from worship of everything that God has not appointed in His Word: musical instruments; songs other than the inspired Psalms of Scripture; Christian “festivals” like Christmas and Easter; images; and all other man-made inventions.
- For more on worship, see How We Worship.
5. Reformed in Church Practice
- Assertion of the headship of Christ: He alone, speaking in His Word, has authority to regulate all matters in His Church.
- Insistence that Christ has committed Church government into the hands of Church officers, to govern her affairs without interference from civil government.
- Affirmation of Presbyterianism as the Scriptural system of church government to the exclusion of all others. See How We Are Organised.
- Requirement that all Church office-bearers make full subscription to the Westminster Confession. See also the Declaratory Act Controversy.
- Administration of ecclesiastical discipline according to Scriptural principles, in the spirit of love.
- Admittance to Sealing Ordinances (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) through examination by the Kirk Session.
- Administration of Baptism by sprinkling or pouring, not only to previously unbaptised adults professing the true religion but also to their children, in recognition of God’s dealing with families in the administration of the covenant.
- Administration of the Lord’s Supper with the elements of ordinary bread and wine, and the communicants going to and sitting at a table.
- Endeavouring for Scriptural uniformity, by believing and teaching the same doctrine, worshipping according to the same pattern, and requiring the same standards for membership, in all our congregations.
- Acknowledgment that whilst all who profess the true religion should seek ecclesiastical union in one visible church, the Church’s testimony to Biblical truth should never be diluted: therefore our separate stance from other denominations is our unavoidable duty at the present time. Our distinctives from other Presbyterian Churches in Scotland are summarised in the Statement of Differences approved by the Synod in 2019.
6. Reformed in Godliness
- Insistence on the necessity of the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the soul, producing real experimental acquaintance with Christ, contrary to the shallow presumption prevalent in so much professing Christianity.
- Insistence that although salvation is by grace alone through faith alone without works, yet true saving faith will always be evidenced by the testimony of godliness expressed in good works.
- Maintenance of the Biblical view of practical godliness, with the moral law summarised in the Ten Commandments being the believer’s rule of life, and that glorifying God and enjoying Him extend to all aspects of everyday life.
- Insistence on the abiding requirement of Sabbath-keeping, the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day being on the first day of the week.
- Recognition of the Biblical requirement for daily family worship, along with all the duties of family religion, in husband-wife and parent-child relationships.
- Recognition of the vital necessity of daily individual worship in secret, each one alone with God, in prayer and study of the Bible.
- Testimony against the worldliness that has infected so much of the professing church as being incompatible with a profession of godliness.
- Maintenance of Scriptural distinctions between male and female in roles and appearance, including clothing, hair length, and (in public worship) headcoverings.
Rev Keith M Watkins