A Brief History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster

Early in 1950, the Committee of the Crossgar Mission Hall approached the 24-year-old Rev. Ian Paisley to determine whether he would conduct a Gospel Campaign in the town. After careful consideration and prayer, the date was fixed for February 1951. The Campaign Committee, the majority of whom were office-bearers or members of Lissara Presbyterian Church, feeling that the Mission Hall would be too small, decided to ask their Kirk Session for the use of the local Presbyterian Church hall for the campaign. This was unanimously granted at a meeting of Session.

However, in what local people saw as evidence of the liberal agenda that was becoming increasingly evident in their church, the Down Presbytery meeting on Monday January 8th 1951 ruled that the mission should not go ahead in Lissara Church hall. It is doubtful that the local elders were ever properly informed of this because the plans for the mission continued. Certainly the ordinary members knew nothing about the ruling.

Matters were drawn sharply to a head when on the evening of Saturday 3rd February 1951, just 90 minutes prior to a march of witness to advertise the mission, Down Presbytery held a special meeting to which Lissara’s Church Session were summoned. At this meeting the Moderator of Down Presbytery demanded that the Lissara Session reverse their decision to grant the use of the church hall to the missioners.

The evangelicals, who had already been battling against liberalism in their own congregation, saw these moves as further evidence of the downward trend in their denomination. They could not believe that the Presbytery would ban a gospel mission in their own church hall. For two of the elders, Hugh James Adams and George K. Gibson the high-handedness of the Presbytery was too much. They refused what they saw as an anti-gospel demand by Presbytery officers to immediately cancel the gospel campaign. For this they were suspended.

These events were as yet unknown to those who were at that time gathered for a March of Witness. They made their way to Lissara Church Hall only to discover that the Down Presbytery had closed the doors of the hall to the preaching of the gospel and to them. One of the abiding memories of those who were on that March of Witness is having to shelter from torrential rain in the porch of their own church hall from which they had been locked out.

The Mission however, went on in the Killyleagh Street Mission Hall and was blessed of God in the salvation of 94 precious souls. Dr. Paisley speaking in the Crossgar Church in 1997 said, “My memory of those meetings was not the packed house that we had overflowing each evening, the great spirit of blessing and the joy of leading precious souls to Christ but it was of the continued sessions of prayer – one on Tuesday night and one on Friday night when we went on past midnight and past two o’clock in earnest intercessions before God. For a crisis would arise at the end of the campaign- back to the Church that put out the light of the gospel or outside the camp to bear reproach for the Lord Jesus Christ. That was the decision and choice that had to be made.”

  The Formation of the Free Presbyterian Church

The opening service and constitution of Crossgar Free Presbyterian Church was held on the 17th March 1951. The Newsletter carried the following:

“Every seat was taken in the Killyleagh Street Church Hall, Crossgar on Saturday afternoon, when the Rev Ian R K Paisley of Ravenhill Evangelical Church, Belfast conducted the opening service constituting the Crossgar congregation of the Free Presbyterian Church. Extra forms had to be brought in to accommodate the congregation. Five elders of Lissara Presbyterian Church, from which the seceding Church is a breakaway, were inducted as elders of the congregation. They are Messrs James Morrison (clerk), William Miscampbell, Hugh J Adams and George K Gibson. Mr William Emerson was ordained and installed as elder.” Rev George Stears was installed as minister pro tem.

That year saw the formation of the Presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. From four congregations in that first year, the growth of the new church continued until its witness spread to all parts of Northern Ireland. The church was founded to faithfully preach and defend the gospel of Christ in an age of growing compromise and apostasy. That determination is still to be found in every Free Presbyterian Church.

The church has now spread well beyond the boundary of Northern Ireland. Today there are over one hundred Free Presbyterian churches and extensions throughout the world; in Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, the Irish Republic, Australia, Canada, USA, Germany, Jamaica and Spain with missionaries in many other places. Recent years have seen the formation of sister Presbyteries in North America and Nepal.

The spirit of family fellowship among all these far-flung churches, missionaries and ministries is deep and sweet, united in the common desire to preach Christ in all His fullness while endeavouring to lead souls to saving faith in Him.

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