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Why "Free Presbyterian"?


Presbyterian refers basically to a form of theology and of church government. The form of theology is that exposition of Scripture which is called "Reformed." It sees the Bible as a basic unity, with both the Old and the New Testaments declaring the one triune God, one Saviour from sin, one way of salvation, and one covenant of grace. Presbyterians see all of Scripture falling under two covenants, the covenant of works and the evangelical covenant of mercy. The covenant of works was made by God with Adam prior to the fall (Gen. 2:16-17; Hos. 6:7, margin). After the fall God never set before men the possibility of eternal salvation by works. We reject the notion that God placed fallen man under the series of probations. Man's probation ended with the fall. After that he could be saved only by grace without any merit arising from his own works. Thus, throughout Scripture the Lord presents us with a covenant of mercy or grace that sets forth His sovereign terms for saving sinners. He has administered that covenant in various ways, progressively leading up to the full revelation of His grace in the incarnation and atonement of His Son. Galatians 3 and Romans 4 show that Old and New Testament believers are seen by God in the same covenant. Romans 11 makes the same point under the figure of the olive tree. We are grafted into the tree of the Old Testament church. In both Testaments God's people are saved on the ground of the righteousness of Christ received by faith (Rom. 4:1-13; 5:1). It is a mistake to think that in the Old Testament God's people were saved by their personal obedience. The law always exposed sin and condemned even the most religious Jews (Rom. 7:7-11), but it was attended by a ceremonial code of sacrifices that prefigured the coming oncefor- all sacrifice of Christ. Even during the period from Moses to Christ, God saved men only by free grace through faith. Hebrews 11 shows just how real and powerful the faith of the Old Testament saints was.

We believe it is vital for us today to maintain this basic unity of Scripture. It opens up the Old Testament in a wonderful way and enables us to see Christ as its central message--and, after all, He saw Himself in the same way (Luke 24:27; John 5:39).

Thus, true Presbyterianism maintains the centrality and all-sufficiency of Christ in all its preaching. It sees in Him the perfect revelation of God to men (John 1:18; Matt. 11:27). It refuses to deal with such subjects as God's predestination, or Christ's particular redemption of His people by His blood, or man's moral responsibility, in mere philosophical terms. These are parts of God's revelation of grace in Christ, and it is in the context of His person and work that we must handle these truths. Hence our theology is as evangelically warm as it is biblically orthodox.


Presbyterian also has special reference to a form of church government that seeks to follow Scripture as closely as possible. It differs from Independency in that it works on the biblical principle of the interdependency of local congregations. It differs from Episcopacy in that is has no clerical hierarchy.

In the government of a local Presbyterian church, the spiritual oversight is committed to elders, or presbyters (which is merely the Greek word for "elders" in an Anglicized form). We believe that in the New Testament the apostles committed the administration of church ordinances and the regulation of church affairs to officebearers, not to a clerical hierarchy or to the congregation at large (1 Pet. 5:1-4). Elders had the responsibility for the spiritual affairs, while deacons had special responsibility for the church's temporal affairs (Acts 6).

In Presbyterianism, as in Scripture (1 Tim. 5:17), some elders are ruling elders, and some are ruling and teaching elders. In other words, a minister or preacher is joined by men appointed and ordained (Titus 1:5) to form the spiritual oversight of a local church. These and all other officebearers are elected by the vote of the communicant members of the church (Acts 1 and 6).

There is clear evidence in Acts 15 that the final court of appeal in church issues does not lie in the local congregation but in a body of elders representing various associated congregations. As Presbyterians we recognize the role of the united eldership of a number of associated congregations as a court of appeal for matters originating in a local church. This presbytery, as it is called, expressed the unity of churches with a common doctrine banded together for mutual support and prayer, for the protection of their common testimony, and for joint efforts to spread the gospel and establish new churches.

We could sum up the Presbyterian belief on this principle of interdependency as follows:

  1. The unity of the church. The Scripture picture is not one of a great number of totally independent churches. Acts 15 makes this clear.

  2. Ultimate ecclesiastical authority is not vested in the local church, but in a presbytery made up of elders from the constituent congregations. In Acts 15 the principle of the lesser church court being subordinate to the greater is also established.

  3. The equality of the elders. At the general council in Jerusalem, there is no hint of an hierarchy, and the language of Galatians 23 confirms this. Indeed, the Greek of Acts 15:2 makes it clear that the apostles sat on that council as elders, while the Greek of verse 6 indicates that there were elders who were not apostles. The distinction between elders who rule and elders who rule and teach is made in 1 Timothy 5:17, but both have equal standing and power in the courts of the church.

  4. The right of the people to a real part in the government of the church by means of electing the officebearers of the church. Acts chapters 1 and 6 give instances of this in the early church. Yet, as Acts 15 shows, this part in government does not extend as far as in modern Independency.
As Presbyterians we do not deny the legitimacy of churches that disagree with us on church government, but we do believe that the polity we practice is "founded on and agreeable to the Word of God," to use the language of the Scottish ordination formula.


The Free in our name refers to our total dissociation from the major Presbyterian denominations of the world, which have largely repudiated the historical Christian faith. We have no affiliation with the World Council of Churches or any of its international, national, or local organizations. Thus Free speaks of our liberty to stand without compromise for Christ in a day of apostasy. Many evangelicals have stayed in apostate churches. Others have separated but have not made any strong protest against the betrayal of the gospel by apostates and by the compromise of those evangelicals who have put denominational loyalty before obedience to the biblical command to separate. We view our freedom as liberty to stand resolutely for Christ, to defend the gospel, to oppose apostasy and compromise, and to urge God's people to cease all fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. For us freedom is freedom to be holy, observing both personal and ecclesiastical separation unto the Lord.

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