Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Speaking Personally

Rev. Angus Stewart

(Slightly modified from an article first published in 2004 in the Beacon Lights,
a magazine for Protestant Reformed young people)


On 8 October, 1973, I was born the second child and oldest son of Ronnie and Lorna Stewart. Shortly thereafter I was baptized in the Church of Ireland. My time in the Church of Ireland left me with two indelible impressions. First, I found church very dull and boring, and indeed it was for the true gospel was not preached there. Second, I thought that salvation was by man’s works and that I was basically good.

As a young teenager, like the others my age, I entered confirmation classes preparatory to receiving the Lord’s Supper. After a few weeks I left the classes because I did not think that I was a Christian, and so partaking of Communion would be hypocritical.

Growing up in the state school system, and especially as I progressed through high school, I unconsciously imbibed the unarticulated message of public education: God is irrelevant; man can understand the world without God; science gives us real knowledge; religion is a joke.

As I got older, I began to do those things that unbelieving boys do at that age. This disturbed me. Maybe I wasn’t a good person. And what if the Bible is true and there really is a place of eternal punishment for the wicked? I felt that I was coming to a crossroads. If there was no God, then I should press on with my worldly pleasures and suppress my fears. But what if Jesus really was the Son of God?

I decided that I should examine biblical prophecy to see if Jesus Christ was the One predicted in the Old Testament. My mother, who is a Christian, gave me some books on prophecy and the end times. As I read I became convinced that Christ was the fulfilment of prophecy and that He was coming again. But I could not believe in Him because I loved the world and was afraid of what my friends would think. As Jesus said, "How can ye believe, which receive honour of another?" (John 5:44).

That summer when on holiday in Portrush on the north coast of Northern Ireland, I met four young men in the Faith Mission, a second-blessing, lay-preaching group. One of them was an Arminian, another a Calvinist, and the other two were nearer the former. (These theological evaluations, you understand, I make with the benefit of hindsight.) Through attending their meetings and asking questions, I became more and more convinced of my sin and misery. I experienced the bondage of the will, that though I knew that I must repent and believe to be saved, I could not will it. The truth that God especially used to convert me was that of election. The Calvinist explained that God eternally chooses some and not all, and that only the elect are given faith. This truth staggered me and humbled my proud mind. Yet people think that preaching election is a hindrance to evangelism!

In September, I returned for my last year at high school fearful of what my friends would think of my becoming a Christian. I read the Bible with zest, in part to be able to witness to them. Their questions and comments led me to read Christian books more diligently. Also the young man God used in my conversion wrote me letters, visited me and encouraged me in the Christian life. He spoke of God’s sovereign grace and recommended Calvinistic literature. At the time I thought he was a bit too insistent but I’m glad he persisted!

As a young babe in Christ, I was not able to explain what was wrong with the Methodist church I was attending. I found that I derived more benefit reading the Bible in the pew while the minister was preaching than listen to his sermon. Always keen to learn more about God’s Word, I attended lectures on the Old Testament and on the New Testament at the Methodist theological college. There I heard of the several "authors" of the Pentateuch, the various "Isaiahs" and Gospel source criticism. Though I was unable to recognise it at the time, the Methodist church was blighted with higher criticism, ecumenism, Arminianism, feminism and Charismaticism.

So when I heard of a local Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, I started to attend it, and, a few months later, I became a member. The preaching there was much clearer flowing from a confidence in the inerrancy of Scripture. In that church I received much help, for which I am thankful, though I also fell into the errors of lay-preaching and Anabaptism.

By this time, I was studying at Queen’s University, Belfast, in N. Ireland, where I ended up doing a degree in Biblical Studies. The courses were largely shaped by the concerns and methods of higher criticism. But they had some value in that they gave me further incentive to read the Scriptures and to develop answers to the critics. My university course was not very demanding so I attended other Queen’s lectures on philosophy and history and some night classes, and sat in on classes at the Reformed Presbyterian College.

As I continued reading Reformed literature, I began to see the shortcomings of the Free Presbyterian Church including its Arminianism, its baptistic theology and its disregard for the regulative principle of worship. I tried to divorce myself from some of the departures of the denomination on the basis that things in my congregation were better. The hymns caused me problems, for I could no longer sing the Arminian parts. I read G. I. Williamson’s The Singing of Psalms in the Worship of God and became increasingly troubled about singing human poems in God’s public worship, for if this booklet was right then I was personally engaging in sin.

All this was particularly difficult for me because I believed from the time of my conversion that I was called to preach the gospel. But how could this be if I could no longer give 100% allegiance to the church of which I was a member?

Around this time, I came into contact with the Covenant Reformed Fellowship (CRF) through a fellow student who was from Ballymena. We called in with Mr. Callender (the CRF bookstore manager at the time) and picked up some Protestant Reformed pamphlets. I started to attend some of the CRF meetings. Rev. Hanko answered my questions. I met his family and was amazed: family worship and young girls who knew Reformed theology. I had not met the like in Northern Ireland!

In the summer of 1996, I attended the British Reformed Fellowship Conference in Ashburnham, England, on "The Church." The lectures spoke to me of my need to join a Reformed church. A discussion with Prof. Hanko one evening settled it for me.

I resigned from the Free Presbyterian Church, citing in my letter various articles in the Westminster Standards from which the church had departed, and joined the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church (CPRC) which had constituted by then. The preaching opened my eyes to sovereign grace, the covenant, the sacraments, the church, the three marks of the church, the confessions, worship, eschatology, etc.

After concluding four years at Queen’s and managing a filling station/supermarket for a year, I studied for four years at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. Many family members and friends did not see why I needed to go to a seminary in America: "Are none of the colleges in the UK good enough?" When I returned many came to understand.

The four years in Grand Rapids were the most peaceful days of my Christian life. For the first time, I was in an environment that was truly Reformed, where I was not engaged in debates with unbelievers and professing Christians of various theological persuasions. Highlights of my seminary training were the courses on Reformed Dogmatics, Church History and History of Dogma. One man in England recently wrote that the Protestant Reformed Seminary "probably represents the last bastion of Reformed teaching, which contends for the whole counsel of God." Young people, treasure and pray for your seminary!

While at seminary, I found a wonderful wife, an answer to many prayers. I had little idea when we married of Mary’s many talents. I would not be able to serve in the ministry without her.

On 4 July, 2001, I was ordained as the minister of the CPRC in N. Ireland with Rev. Gritters bringing God’s Word. The first year of my ministry was very difficult and yet it was a very rewarding and blessed year. I knew that there were problems in the congregation before I came but I didn’t know how serious they were. A spirit of delusion was abroad in the church. Were all our doctrines really true, and if so were they important? The apostasy came to a head when the elders decided that members no longer had to confess the Three Forms of Unity, merely the Apostles’ Creed as it is explained in the relevant articles of the Heidelberg Catechism. They understood that this would also mean the end of our sister church relationship with the Protestant Reformed Churches.

At a special congregational meeting the majority of the male confessing members voted for the disbanding of the church. "A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (I Cor. 5:6). The disbanding was a relief because we could not go forward with office-bearers and members who no longer believed that the doctrines of the church were "the true and complete doctrine of salvation" ("Form for the Public Confession of Faith"). It was disappointing, though, that the preaching and doctrines of the church meant so little to so many.

Young people, your calling is to "Buy the truth, and sell it not" (Prov. 23:23). Do not let pressure from friends or family, or the allurement of advancement and popularity in this world or in the church, tempt you to give up so much as one iota of God’s truth! It is too precious, for it is through the truth that we know the Triune God in Jesus Christ! Times of sifting come in the lives of individuals and families and churches. The Scriptures teach that "there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (I Cor. 11:19). Only those "rooted and built up in [Christ], and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught" (Col. 2:7) will stand. The rest will be "carried about with every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14). They and their children will depart.

In the last two years, I have had the joy of seeing Jesus Christ build His church here and the saints growing in grace. With the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship founded on the Reformed faith without compromise or concession, unity and peace have returned. In the will of Christ, the disbanding of the CPRC was the way forward.

You, as the youth of the Protestant Reformed Churches, must be convinced that Protestant Reformed churches and missions need to maintain distinctively Protestant Reformed doctrines—the truth of God’s Word—even though the battle is hard and the cost is high. Labouring for the Reformed faith is labouring for a worthy cause, a cause to which you must be dedicated heart and soul.