What We Contend For
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, and
- 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.
How We Worship
God, the Creator of all things, requires every human being everywhere to worship Him. “O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6). Worship – or “worth-ship” – means ascribing worth to the true and living God who is infinitely worthy of all praise and honour and glory.
Worship must be with the heart. The Lord condemned those who drew near to Him only with the lips of outward performance, and kept their hearts far from Him (Isa. 29:13). But that does not mean that we can do anything that we feel like doing when we worship Him. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). The things that we do in worship must be right.God must be approached in worship rightly. He is holy, so we must worship Him with seriousness and reverence. “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before Him, all the earth” (Ps. 96:9). We must depend on Christ the Mediator for access to God, for without Christ, God is a consuming fire to sinners like us.
The variety of worship in churches today tells its own story. In the days of the Judges there was no king and every man did what was right in his own eyes (Jdg. 17:6, 21:25). Those days seem to have returned, for each church worships in its own way according to its own preferred worship “style”. However, the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church, has spoken in Scripture about this aspect of the Church’s life as much as any other. All churches must worship only in the way that He has appointed.
The distinctives, grounded in Scripture, of Free Presbyterian worship, will be found throughout this section of the site: matters such as singing only the Psalms of Scripture, without musical accompaniment; focusing mainly on preaching; standing for prayer; using only the Authorised Version of Scripture; not recognising any of the “festivals” such as Christmas and Easter.
It is far from claiming perfection for a branch of the visible Church to contend earnestly for purity of worship. The Regulative Principle of Worship is an essential part of Reformed Christianity. How we worship ought to matter to us,because it matters to the Lord Jesus. For the Scriptural principles governing Free Presbyterian worship, see Why We Worship This Way.
The Bible is the one and only supreme document for Christian belief and practice. But in God’s kind Providence, the church has been led into attainments as to what the Bible teaches, and these have been recorded in creeds and confessions. Also, in defending the truth against its enemies, the church’s witness in contending for various Biblical principles has likewise been recorded.
Among these creeds, the Westminster Confession of Faith is the official, subordinate standard of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Church adheres to it unwaveringly, believing it to be entirely Scriptural in all that it says, and sees it as the absolute minimum around which the whole visible Church should unite.
The early centuries of the Christian era saw a number of historic creeds, recording the Church’s understanding of the basic elements of the gospel, and the doctrines of the Trinity and the Person of Christ. Four main ones were: the so-called Apostles’ Creed; the Nicene Creed; the Athanasian Creed; and the Definition of Chalcedon. The doctrines of these are included in the documents accessible from the links below. These summarise a rich and precious heritage bestowed upon the church of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century.
Of all the national reformations from Popery in the 16th century, none was as thorough for its return to Scripture as the Scottish. Three notable constitutional documents arose from that period:
The Scots Confession – This summary of doctrine was drawn up in 1560 by John Knox and five others (John Douglas, John Row, John Spottiswood, John Winram and John Willock). It was adopted by the Scottish Parliament on 17th June 1560 as “wholesome and sound doctrine, grounded upon the infallible truth of God’s Word”.
The First Book of Discipline – Drawn up in 1560 by the same six ministers as the Scots Confession, this was the first attempt to set out the polity and discipline of the Kirk of Scotland and also of the reforms needed in the nation. It should be read in the light of the unsettled state of the Reformed Kirk in the nation at the time of her infancy.
The Second Book of Discipline – Passed by the General Assembly in 1578, with Andrew Melville at the helm, this document reflects the more settled state of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland 18 years after it had been established.
The Second Reformation
Reformation attainments met many setbacks at the hands of the enemies of truth, until the Lord intervened to restore those attainments during the period known as the Second Reformation.
The National Covenant – in opposition to King Charles I’s attempts to overthrow the attainments of the Protestant Reformation, this document was signed by thousands in 1638, to affirm their continued commitment to Biblical, Reformed and Presbyterian principles.
The Solemn League and Covenant – This document was signed in 1643, whereby the three nations (as they were then) of England, Scotland and Ireland bound themselves to Reformed religion: to preserve it as it was already established in Scotland; to reform it in England and Ireland according to the Scottish pattern; and to rid the land of Popery and Episcopacy.
The Westminster Assembly
The Westminster Assembly of Divines began meeting in London in 1643. Most of its members were from England, but there were a few notable commissioners from Scotland, including Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie. The documents that the Assembly produced, commonly called the Westminster Standards, together with a few that have always been associated with them, have formed the backbone of Reformed Christianity in the English speaking world ever since, and wherever British Presbyterianism has reached.
The Westminster Confession of Faith – The greatest of all the creeds of the Christian Church. Since its first publication in 1646 it has remained unsurpassed as an accurate and concise statement of Christian doctrine. It was approved by the Church of Scotland in 1647 as being “in nothing contrary to the received doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of this Kirk”, and continues to be the unqualified creedal statement of belief throughout the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
The Larger Catechism – Drawn up by the Westminster Assembly and adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1648, and rightly recognised for its comprehensive nature, this Catechism puts the Reformed faith into helpful question and answer form.
The Shorter Catechism – Drawn up by the Westminster Assembly and adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1648, this was originally designed for those of “weaker capacity”, but has proved over the centuries to be an incomparable means for establishing young and old alike in the foundational teachings of Scripture.
The Directory for Public Worship – Avoiding a liturgy with prescribed wording for prayer, this general and helpful guide for worship was produced by the Westminster Assembly, and was adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1645.
The Form of Presbyterial Church Government – This document setting out the Presbyterian form of church government was adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1645.
The Sum of Saving Knowledge – This document, which applies the Westminster doctrine of salvation for the reader’s benefit, was not produced by the Assembly, but by David Dickson and James Durham, notable Scottish ministers of the 17th century. It is usually included with the Westminster documents. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the saintly minister of the 19th century, traced to this document the beginnings of a work of grace in his own soul.
The Directory for Family Worship – Again, this document was not produced by the Westminster Assembly itself, but it was approved by the Church of Scotland in 1647. It deals most helpfully with individual, private worship as well as family worship.
The Free Church of Scotland Disruption
In 1843, 450 ministers, together with many office-bearers and people, broke away from the established Church of Scotland, to preserve the independence of the Church of Christ from interference by the state. In this way the Free Church of Scotland was formed.
The Claim Declaration and Protest – This document, prepared in 1842 and presented to Parliament, set out the spiritual independence of the Church of Christ, and her rights from Christ to govern herself according to His Word, without interference from the state.
The Protest – When the 1842 request was rejected in January 1843, this Protest was the document by which the separation from the Church of Scotland was effected.
The Free Presbyterian Separation
As the 19th century continued, the Free Church of Scotland departed increasingly from her constitution, culminating in the passing of the infamous Declaratory Act, which allowed men to be appointed to office who did not agree in an unqualified manner with the Westminster Confession of Faith. In protest against that, and to preserve the original constitution of the Reformed Church of Scotland, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was formed in 1893. More can be read at Declaratory Act controversy.
The Deed of Separation – This was the document that effected the separation of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland from the Free Church in 1893.
Frequently Asked Questions
These FAQs are arranged in sections and deal with the following:
- The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland
- The Sabbath
- Christian Life
- Male/Female Distinctions
The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland
Q. Why are you called the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland?
A. There are reasons for each part of the name:
- We are called “Free” because we are the true successors to the Free Church of Scotland formed in the 1843 Disruption from the established Church of Scotland, to keep the Church of Christ free from state interference.
- We are called “Presbyterian” because we adhere to Presbyterianism, the only Biblical form of Church government.
- We are called “Church” because that is the New Testament name for Christ’s body on earth in its visible form, of which we are a branch.
- We are called “of Scotland”, not because we are geographically limited to Scotland, but because we adhere to all the Scriptural attainments of the First and Second Reformations in Scotland, and claim to be the true constitutional representative of the historic Church of Scotland.
Q. Are you a “broad church”?
A. When theologians in other churches claim to be in a “broad church”, they mean that there is a wide breadth of interpretation of the Bible allowed. We do not accept the dishonest interpretation of Scripture which only too often explains away the plain meaning. The Apostle Peter calls it wresting – or twisting – the Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16).
The Lord Jesus Christ warns us against broad-way Christianity. “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. . . . Beware of false prophets. . . . Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:13,15,21-24).
Q. Does that mean that you are narrow-minded, in that you do not accept all the different expressions of Christianity?
A. True Christianity adheres to the Bible. What the Bible teaches, it accepts and believes. What the Bible does not teach, it rejects and condemns. This is not narrow-mindedness, but faithfulness to the Head of the Church who said: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: . . . Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). The Scriptures give a fixed deposit of unchanging truth, which it is always the Church’s duty to assert, maintain and defend. “Earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Q. Are you ecumenical?
A. Being a Presbyterian church we believe in the unity of congregations in a Presbyterian structure. We do not believe in the spurious unity of the modern “ecumenical movement” which minimises doctrinal difference between the Protestant churches and which is leading towards reunion with Roman Catholicism under the pope. We believe in the unity of all Spirit-taught, born-again, believers in Christ throughout the world, and that this should be expressed ecclesiastically in Presbyterian church government.
Q. What are your standards?
A. The Church’s supreme standard is the Bible, which is the inspired and infallible Word of God. The subordinate standard of the Church is the Westminster Confession of Faith – the doctrines of which all office-bearers in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland swear by solemn ordination vows to assert, maintain and defend.
Q. Compared to many churches, you seem to be old-fashioned and behind the times. Should you not modernise and move with the times?
A. Unlike fashions, which come and go, Scripture does not change. The Biblical gospel is always relevant to the needs of human beings, in every age and place. We do not need to modify it to make it fit our day and age. Its timeless principles are applicable at all times. The Free Presbyterian Church sees no reason to alter its testimony to Reformed doctrine, worship and government. “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16).
Please see How We Worship above. However, here we briefly answer some of the questions that tend to be asked.
Q. What do you sing when you praise God?
A. We praise God from His own inspired song-book, the Book of Psalms, arranged in a metrical version for singing. We do not sing anything else in God’s worship, because only the Psalms have been authorised by God for His worship. See Exclusive Psalmody.
Q. Which musical instruments do you use when you sing?
A. We do not use any instruments at all in the worship of God; just the human voices of the entire congregation. This is God’s own will for New Testament worship. See No Musical Instruments.
Q. Who sings in your worship? Do you have choirs, and soloists and bands?
A. The whole congregation sings in united praise to the Lord. Without a musical instrument, it is necessary to have a precentor to begin the singing, but then the whole congregation sings together. There is no warrant in God’s Word for choirs and soloists. Singing is worship directed to God, not entertainment directed towards man.
Q. Do you have Christmas, Easter and other special services according to the church calendar?
No. We do not recognise these festivals at all, on the grounds that God has never commanded His Church to keep them. See No Christian “festivals”.
Q. You seem to have some unusual views on worship, compared to almost all other churches. Should you not try to fit in with the majority?
No. Our views on worship may put us in a small minority in these days of backsliding from Scripture, but historically many Churches (especially those connected with the purer branch of the Protestant Reformation) believed and worshipped as we still do. In any case, we must always follow Scripture, even if we are alone.
Q. Is there a fundamental, underlying reason for worshipping the way you do?
A. Yes there is. It is called the Regulative Principle of Worship, which expresses the Bible’s teaching that in worship we should do only what God expressly requires us to do. Of course, we must not do what He forbids. But also, we must not do what He has not told us to do. We are not free to introduce anything into worship without His Word. See Regulative Principle of Worship.
Q. What is the emphasis in your worship?
A. The emphasis in Free Presbyterian services is on the Word of God. Therefore, to the glory of God, it is preaching that takes up the largest part of the service. A ten-minute sermon once a week is unlikely to convey much biblical teaching. That is why the Free Presbyterian Church teaches its congregations through sermons of up to an hour or so, twice on the Lord’s Day, and usually (for a shorter time) at midweek prayer meetings. If people are to come to a saving knowledge of Christ they must find this knowledge in the Bible. Yet surveys show that even members of many churches seldom or never read their Bibles. This has resulted in widespread biblical illiteracy and ignorance.
Q. Do you exercise the “charismatic” gifts like tongues, prophecy and healing, in your services?
A. No. Scripture teaches that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for a temporary period, during the lifetime of the apostles, for the first establishing of the New Testament Church, until the Scriptures were completed. Modern day claims for the restoration of these gifts are unscriptural and false. See The Gifts have Ceased.
Q. I have been told that the atmosphere at a Free Presbyterian service is austere and forbidding. Why is that?
A. This is a mistake. Certainly, our services are not light and flippant, but reverent, ordered and Scriptural. For sinners to worship the holy God is a solemn matter, and our attitude and demeanour in worship should reflect that. It is true that in our age of disrespect, informality and irreverence, our services will appear formal. And so they should. “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him” (Ps. 89:7).
Q. It has been said that visitors do not get a welcome at Free Presbyterian services. Is that true?
A. We cannot of course speak of what has happened at every service at every particular place on every particular occasion. We would certainly regret any occasion when anyone has not received the warmest of welcomes. Many of us have come from other churches and other places and received a warm-hearted Christian welcome in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland that was truly second to none. And that is the welcome we desire to give to others. All are welcome. That is part of Christianity, as far as we are concerned.
Q. In many churches, visitors are especially welcomed during the service itself. We have heard – or experienced – that the Free Presbyterian Church does not do that.
A. Worship is meant to be God-centred, not man-centred. So, on your arrival we will greet you at the door. If you have any special needs, that is the time to ask. Do not expect someone to strike up conversation while you sit inside, waiting for the service to begin. That is time to gather our thoughts and apply our minds to the great and solemn duties ahead of us. And once the service begins, do not expect to receive a man-centred “welcome to visitors” in the midst of divine worship. But do expect a warm welcome to Christ and all His benefits in the preaching of the gospel! After the service is over, if you do not rush off, ordinarily folks will be ready and keen to speak with you.
Q. At the Lord’s Supper, many churches openly invite anyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ to partake of the bread and wine. This means that Christian visitors can go to the Lord’s Table. Does the Free Presbyterian Church do that?
A. No. The Free Presbyterian Church believes that Christ has committed access to the Lord’ s Supper (and Baptism) to those appointed by Himself to govern the Church – the minister and the elders. They can only do that if people have an accredited profession of being God-fearing persons, which they cannot do with visitors whom they do not know. This is not the same as closed communion, which the Free Presbyterian Church does not believe in, as this article on Restricted Communion shows.
Q. Does the Free Presbyterian Church leave it to individuals’ own consciences to go to the Lord’s Table?
A. No. It is the responsibility of the minister and the elders to interview applicants before they can go to the Table. See this explained at Why do the minister and elders interview intending communicants?
Q. Do women and girls cover their heads in Free Presbyterian services?
A. Yes, because this is what the Lord requires during public worship, as is clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 11. This is not an old-fashioned tradition, but an unchanging Scriptural requirement.
Q. What about family worship?
A. Free Presbyterian families are expected to have family worship each day, morning and evening. This is a condition for heads of families in order to be given Baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Family worship fosters the Christian family – the basic unit of the Church and society. It is by holding on to our Reformed heritage that the Free Presbyterian Church and its families are seeking to be intelligent and upright contributors to society.
Q. What about individual, secret worship?
A. Free Presbyterians are exhorted to the exercises of personal religion, getting alone with the Lord to study His Word and call on His name in secret. Without secret religion, there is no true religion.
The Sabbath, or Lord’s Day
There is a whole section of this website dealing with the important duty and blessed privilege of Sabbath-keeping. See this link.
Q. Is the word “Sabbath” suitable for the New Testament?
A. Certainly the word “Sabbath” is found first in the Old Testament. But that does not mean that Christians should cease to use the word:
- When the Saviour spoke of the fall of Jerusalem, which was going to happen in AD 70, He used the word Sabbath in giving advice to Christians: “But pray ye that your flight be not in winter, neither on the sabbath day” (Matt. 24:20).
- The Fourth Commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20:8), is part of the moral law, and is as binding on Christians as it was on Jews, albeit the day of the week has been changed from the last to the first day of the week. The word Sabbath is still appropriate, though it now be the Christian Sabbath.
Q. I have heard that Free Presbyterians try to avoid using the word “Sunday”. Why?
We do indeed try to avoid using the word “Sunday”. Unlike the other days of the week, which Scripture does not name, this day is honoured with two Scriptural titles: Sabbath and Lord’s Day. These are the words we like to use, in an endeavour to “call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable” (Isa. 58:13).
Q. Which day of the week is to be kept holy by Christians?
A. The first day of the week – the day the world calls “Sunday”. “From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, God appointed the seventh day of the week to be the weekly sabbath; and the first day of the week ever since, to continue to the end of the world, which is the Christian sabbath” (Shorter Catechism, answer to Q. 59).
Q. What about using public transport to get to Church on the Sabbath?
A. The Free Presbyterian Church does not believe that it can be right to use public transport on the Lord’s Day when run in systematic disregard of the Sabbath, even if it is used only to attend public worship. See What about using Public Transport on the Sabbath?
The Christian Life
Q. How could religious life for people in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland be summed up?
A. The answer is simple: Christian doctrine; Christian practice; and Christian experience. According to Scripture, these are the three essential elements in true religion:
- Doctrine – what we believe
- Practice – how we live
- Experience – what we feel
We cannot do without any of these. They are interdependent. John “Rabbi” Duncan, the 19th century professor of Hebrew in the Free Church of Scotland, warned that our emphasis must be proportionate:
If you preach all doctrine, then that is all understanding and that is a monster. If you preach all experience, that is all heart and that is a monster; and if you preach all practice, that is all hands and feet and that is a monster. Preach doctrine, experience and practice.
This balanced Christianity is what faces Free Presbyterians on a daily basis.
Q. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland has a reputation in some circles for being strict and legalistic. Is it?
A. In these days when people think that the most important thing is to live as they please in the expression of their own personal ideas, it is not surprising to find that insisting on people submitting to Scripture will be criticised for being too strict. Absolute and total subjection to Scripture is not legalism. It is the very spirit of the gospel! The Lord Jesus Christ considered obedience to the whole of His will as an aspect of enjoying His friendship – “Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). Legalism means inventing rules and regulations that go beyond Scripture – the Free Presbyterian Church does not do that. Legalism means depending on your own obedience to make you righteous before God – the Free Presbyterian Church preaches against that continually, insisting that Christ alone is the righteousness of His people.
The male/female distinctions which God instituted at creation are being discarded in this generation at an unparalleled rate, in both church and society. Contrary to the pleas for a so-called, but false, “equality”, the Free Presbyterian Church seeks to uphold the Biblical distinctions between male and female. True equality is when each takes their own place as assigned by the Lord. A whole section of the site deals with this subject fully (see Distinctions between Male and Female), but a few of the questions that frequently come up are answered briefly here.
Q. Do you allow women to be office-bearers in the Church?
A. No. Scripture requires that elders (both the ministers and the ruling elders) and deacons all be men, and only men:
- “A bishop [overseer, or elder] then must be blameless, the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2).
- “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife” (1 Tim. 2:12). When the office of deacon was first instituted, the apostles said: “Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business” (Acts 6:3).
Q. Do you let women take a leading role in the worship of God? Do you let them preach the gospel? Do you let them lead in prayer?
A. No. They cannot preach, neither should they lead in prayer. “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:11-12). “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law” (1 Cor. 14:34). For more on why women should not lead in public prayer, see Can women lead in public prayer?
Q. Should men and women dress differently?
A. Yes, they should. “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deut. 22:5). In western culture that means that men must not wear feminine attire like skirts and dresses, and women must not wear masculine attire like trousers (“pants” in American English) and shorts. For a full explanation, see Distinct Clothing for Men and Women.
Q. But was that law about distinction in dress not part of the ceremonial law which was abolished with the coming of Christ, according to the saying of Paul that “there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28)?
A. The distinction between male and female dates from creation, not from Moses. Therefore the requirement for a distinction in dress was not part of the ceremonial law, but part of the creative order. “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (Gen. 1:27). In Christ, both male and female enjoy equal spiritual privileges to the benefits of the covenant of grace such as justification, adoption and sanctification. But the gospel was never intended to obliterate the distinction between male and female, as is clear from the many distinct exhortations given to husbands and wives in the New Testament letters. Therefore men and women should continue to dress distinctly.
Q. But was the prohibition not simply forbidding unclean “cross-dressing” (as it is called today)?
A. No doubt it did prohibit that particularly sinful way of confusing the gender difference between male and female. But the prohibition went much further than that. Every culture must ensure that it clearly distinguishes everyday male and female clothing.
Q. Does the Bible really teach that female hair should be long and male hair short?
A. Yes it does; most clearly. “Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering” (1 Cor. 11:14-15).
Q. Do you really believe that women and girls must wear head-coverings during services of public worship?
A. Most definitely. Women and girls must, and men and boys must not, cover their heads in public worship. This is what Scripture requires: “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head. . . . Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” (1 Cor. 11:4-7,13).
Statement of Differences
Our distinctives from other Presbyterian Churches in Scotland are summarised in the Statement of Differences approved by the Synod in 2019.