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 CHURCH GOVERNMENT
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
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:
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
- The unity of the church. The Scripture picture is not one
of a great number of totally independent churches. Acts 15
makes this clear.
- 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
- 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 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.
WHAT FREE PRESBYTERIAN IMPLIES
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.