By Parnell McCarter



Recently on a Yahoo list I received this response to a question:



Christopher Cole <ccnc1999@yahoo.com>


Mon, Apr 30, 2007 6:12 pm




Ø     I would be very interested to hear a FCC man explain
> the reasons for
> the difference between the FCS and FPCS today.
> - Parnell McCarter

I asked the pastor of the FCS-C in Atlanta, GA, that
very question. The only thing he said is that FPC
requires a minority to stand down, once the Synod has
sent down a ruling. In contrast, the FCS-C permits
appellants to continue their appeals until either
their consciences are satisfied, or the Synod changes
its mind in their favor.



I would first suggest that the differences between the Free Church of Scotland- Continuing (FCC) and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland (FPCS) are greater than this issue of the “right” of continued protest, as I point out in my article at http://www.puritans.net/news/fcc042007.htm .  But this FCC minister’s response raises the whole question of the “right” of continued protest, which the Free Church of Scotland- Continuing alleges.  It is not often that I find myself agreeing with Rev. David Robertson of the Free Church of Scotland (indeed, in the past Rev. Robertson told me I would not be welcome in his church, after I informed him that my political philosophy matched that of Westminster commissioners Gillespie and Rutherford), but on the narrow issue he speaks of below, I do:


The FCC did not agree and decided to go ahead with the court case. The main reason is apparently something called the ‘right of continued protest’. Neither I, nor anyone else, are quite sure what this is. The way the system works in the Church is that if you disagree with something done by one of the Church courts you can dissent and protest to the next court. So let us say that someone in my congregation does not like something we do and they feel so strongly about it they complain to the local elders (the Kirk Session). If the Kirk Session reject their complaint they can dissent and protest to the Presbytery. If the Presbytery reject it, they can complain and protest to the Synod. If the Synod reject it then they can go to the highest court of the Church, the General Assembly. If the Assembly rejects their complaint then they can protest and appeal to God. By doing so they absolve themselves of the decision and we leave it up to the day of judgement. Obviously if they did not accept that and went back and started all over again you would end up with anarchy and chaos within the Church. However in the Free Church you can protest and disagree with the Assembly. What you cannot do is keep coming back, again and again and again, until eventually you wear everyone down and get what you want. Which is what this ‘right of continued protest’ seems to be.” (see http://www.freechurch.org/issues/2004/sept04.htm )


The Ecclesiastical Law Journal offers this helpful information at journals.cambridge.org/production/action/cjoGetFulltext?fulltextid=648968 :




For the pursuers, the crux of the matter was the right of continued protest as a fundamental principle inherent in the Constitution, it being essential to the nature and the fabric of the church and its development.  The right was linked to the ordination vows of the office-bearers to assert, maintain,and defend the Constitution of the Free Church ....The ordination vows, when read together, required

the Constitution to be defended, provided that lawful decisions of the church courts were not disobeyed while so doing. The right of protest did not extend to decisions reached after due observance of the laws of the church, but did extend to decisions which had not been taken in accordance with due constitutional process.13 They also relied upon the toleration extended by the FC to the members of the

original Free Church Defence Association, formed during the latter half of the nineteenth century, with Dr James Begg as convener,to resist the proposed union with the United Presbyterian Church.14 The defenders averred that there was no such principle. ‘Protest ’is a term of art in presbyterian canon law.  It was by protest that Thomas Chalmers, David Welsh and their colleagues left the Church of

Scotland and founded the Free Church during the 1843 General Assembly; and it was by protest that Donald Macfarlane of Raasay left the Free Church in 1893, after the Act Declaratory anent the Westminster Confession was passed, and founded the Free Presbyterian Church (hereafter, FPC).


We have been here before. Brentnall v Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland 15 turned precisely on the nature of protest. Two ministers, John Brentnall and Moshe Radcliffe, overtured their presbytery as to whether a protest against a decision of Synod 16 might be necessary on grounds of conscience. When their overture was rejected, they took it to Synod, only to have it dismissed without discussion. They then entered a protest against the refusal by Synod ‘of a scriptural discussion anent protest ’but avowing that we hereby declare that by this protest we do in no way separate ourselves from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland or resign our respective charges or act contrary to our ordination vows or impugn the authority of this Venerable Court or call the integrity of this Venerable Court into

question.  Nevertheless, they were promptly suspended sine die –hence their action for reparation.


Protest remains of enormous importance to the Free Presbyterian Church but, it would appear, for entirely different reasons from those espoused by the FCS(C).  Many Free Presbyterians still regard the FC as having fallen into heresy in 1893 when it passed the Declaratory Act anent the Westminster Confession as a prelude to union with the United Presbyterians: so, unless Donald Macfarlane’s protest at the Free Church General Assembly immediately separated him and his two colleagues from the ‘heretical ’Free Church, then the FPC ’s continuity with the ‘pure ’pre-Declaratory Act Free Church was broken and, consequently, their claim to be the one true Reformed Church of Scotland falls. On the FPC ’s analysis ‘continued protest ’is an intellectual impossibility, because a protest immediately severs the protester from the Church…




The Lord Ordinary found for the defenders on several grounds; but she began by ruling that she had only limited jurisdiction in the matter, following Lord President Cooper ’s conclusions in Mackay and others v MacLeod and others 18 (in which the parties were members of the FPC) that, in a case where the court was invited to adjudicate between two parties, each claiming to be the beneficiaries entitled to certain trust property, it is the duty of the court to take cognisance of relevant matters of belief, doctrine and church government for the purpose, but only for the purpose, of informing themselves as to the essential and distinguishing tenets of the church in question, and of discovering the differences, if any, which can be detected in the principles to which the competing claimants respectively profess adherence.For us all such matters are matters of pure fact, which we investigate with the limited object of enabling us to apply the provisions of the trust; and it is not our province to form, still less to express,any view of our own upon the truth, reasonableness, propriety or relative importance of the various doctrines, standards, or matters of ecclesiastical polity to which our attention may be

directed, nor to decide any question of ecclesiastical principle which is not inseparable from the question of patrimonial right. She concluded that the supposed right of continued protest did not constitute a

fundamental constitutional principle of the FC.Neither the preamble to the Act of Assembly of 1851,19 nor any of the other foundational documents, disclosed any fundamental right of continued protest.20 Nor did the toleration of the activities of Dr Begg and the original FCDA demonstrate such a right…”


My own personal view corresponds with that of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland on this issue.