The Free Presbyterian Church was formed seventy years ago on March 17, 1951, in Crossgar, Northern Ireland. It was born in controversy under the leadership of the late Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley, who was twenty-five at the time. The elders of Lissara Presbyterian Church arranged for a Gospel Mission to be held in their church hall with Rev. Paisley as the speaker. However, the Down Presbytery, an hour and a half before the Mission was due to start, withdrew permission for the use of the Lissara Hall. The organizers immediately hired a little tin hall, and the Mission started on time.
It was a blessed time, and many souls came to Christ. Normally new converts would be directed to a good local church, but this was not possible because of what happened. So it was decided to start a new denomination, and the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster (FPC) was born in Crossgar. Dr. Paisley’s congregation voted to join the new denomination, followed by Cabra and Rasharkin. This led to the formation of the Ulster Presbytery.
The mainline churches were most unhappy, and for those hardy souls who joined the movement, life was not easy. They were regarded as traitors to the historic denominations that had largely left off Gospel preaching and joined the ecumenical movement. The World Council of Churches was formed in 1948, and it found an implacable foe in the FPC.
A MOVING OF GOD
Public protests against religious modernism raised the profile of the new denomination in Ulster. Four FPC congregations were formed that first year. Growth was steady for the next few years. There were twelve congregations by 1966. That year was a turning point. Three ministers, including Dr. Paisley, were jailed for three months because of a peaceful protest in Belfast against the Presbyterian Church’s dalliance with the Roman Catholic Premier of the Republic of Ireland. Following their release from prison, the Lord blessed the church with much growth. It was a time of revival. Now you could hardly drive more than ten miles without encountering a Free church.
In those days, we were continually attending ground-breaking services, church openings, and ordinations of ministers and elders.
“GO YE INTO ALL THE WORLD”
In 1976, the Lord opened a door in Toronto, the first FPC outside Ireland. Amidst fierce media and other opposition, Toronto FPC was born.
This was followed the next year by New Town Square, Philadelphia and Greenville South Carolina. Today there are more than twenty congregations in North America with missionaries stemming from them in Jamaica, Mexico, Liberia, Czech Republic, India and Korea and many others under the Ulster Mission Board. The North American Presbytery was formed in 2005, and a thriving Presbytery has been formed recently in Nepal.
NORTH AMERICAN CHALLENGES
One of the biggest challenges facing the North American Free Church is manpower. The Fredericton, NB church has a building but no minister, nor has Victoria, BC, and with the retirement of the current moderator, the Rev. Ian Goligher, this weekend, the Cloverdale congregation will have no pastor. The same will be true for the Phoenix, AZ church when the minister and presbytery clerk, the Rev. David Mook, plans to retire in the summer. The absence of these two brethren will weaken the North American presbytery considerably.
Much prayer is needed that the Lord will make up the breaches and send labourers into these harvest fields.
All churches have been badly hit by the Covid19 pandemic. The Free Presbyterians are to be commended for their use of social media to get God’s Word out. The founder of Sermonaudio, Steven Lee, was a member of the Toronto Church in the mid-eighties until the family moved to Greenville, SC, to pursue business opportunities. Stephen is an elder in Faith FPC. He founded Sermonaudio that now broadcasts the Gospel worldwide.
Jesus gave as one of His last signs of the end-time these words, ‘This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations: and then shall the end come.” [Matthew 24:14].
The Free Presbyterian Church has been happy to play a small part in the furtherance of the Gospel of Christ through these past seventy years.