Church History

History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is part of the universal Church of Christ, but her separate existence as a denomination goes back to 1893. In that year, the Free Church of Scotland passed a Declaratory Act undermining subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Two Free Church ministers left and constituted a new body, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which retained the strict creed subscription that the Free Church had abandoned. The Free Presbyterian Church maintains that this separation in 1893 was justified and necessary, and that therefore the Free Presbyterian Church is entitled to be regarded as the true spiritual heir of the Scottish Reformation Church of 1560.

Since 1893, the Free Presbyterian Church has endeavoured to uphold the full reformed position, not only in Scotland but in England and other parts of the world. The twentieth century saw immense changes in the professing Christian Church, which was overrun with liberalism and error, but the Free Presbyterian Church has sought to maintain the same scriptural doctrine, worship, and practice that she inherited in 1893. Her position is essentially that of John Knox and the Scottish Reformed Church of 1560, which in turn was essentially the position of the Apostolic Church at the day of Pentecost.

Further information is available in History of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1893-1970 and One Hundred Years of Witness.


Formation 1893

In 1892 the Free Church of Scotland followed the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland (1879) in passing a Declaratory Act to relax the strictness of subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith. One Free Church minister, Rev. Donald Macfarlane, protested against this step; and when the Declaratory Act was not repealed the following year he separated to form the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In this, he was joined by a second minister, Rev. Donald Macdonald of Sheildaig, and together they constituted a Presbytery at Raasay on 28th July 1893. Many other people, mainly in the Highlands, severed their connection with the Free Church of Scotland and joined the new body. By 1907 the denomination had twenty main congregations and twelve ministers.

Consolidation and growth 1893-1919

During this period there was rapid expansion from the original number of two ministers who had almost no material resources to call upon in establishing the Church. The number of places of worship increased from 26 in March 1894 to 53 in March 1895 to 70 in March 1896. By 1918 the denomination had twenty ministers. It was a time when the Church needed to give a strong note of protest against compromise with Romanism in national life and against Sabbath desecration.

In 1900, the Free Church of Scotland entered a union with the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church of Scotland. A small conservative minority with twenty-six ministers remained outside this union and retained the name Free Church of Scotland. Between 1905 and 1918 there were several proposals from the Free Church that the Free Presbyterian Church might unite with her, and several ministers left the Free Presbyterian Church to join the Free Church during this period. There were several reasons as to why the Free Presbyterian Church declined to pursue this union.

One reason was that, although the Free Church repealed the Declaratory Act in 1906, it stated in doing so that it had ‘always adhered’ to the Confession of Faith. This statement was erroneous and condemned the position of the Free Presbyterian Church in 1893 as schismatic; and the refusal to remove this false statement fixed the two Churches in their separate positions.

Another reason was the failure to discipline the Free Church Divinity professor, William Menzies Alexander, who had recently published a semi-heretical work on Demonic Possession in the New Testament.