Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Dr. Harry Uprichard and the PCI

Martyn McGeown and Rev. Angus Stewart


The 2005-2006 moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI), Dr. Harry Uprichard rejected an invitation to participate in a service involving joint worship with Roman Catholics (4 June, 2006). Alf McCreary, religious correspondent of the Belfast Telegraph and Presbyterian elder was scathing in his condemnation, referring to people who share Dr. Uprichard's viewpoint as "Presbyterian mullahs and blinkered conservatives" (22 April, 2006). 

Many conservatives in the PCI hailed Dr. Uprichard's appointment to the "top post" (an unbiblical idea in a supposedly Reformed church) as a victory for the evangelicals in the denomination. But what has been achieved by Dr. Uprichard's "Back to the Bible" campaign since he became moderator in 2005? The PCI's Union Theological College in Belfast, which trains her ministers, still teaches higher criticism of the Scriptures. Contrary to the Bible to which Dr. Uprichard wants the PCI to return, the PCI still ordains women as pastors, elders and deacons (I Tim. 2:11-14); the heresy of Arminian free-willism is still spewed with impunity from many pulpits (Rom. 9:16); and unbiblical ecumenism and will worship (Col. 2:23) are still endorsed, for the PCI's Westminster Standards (which summarise the teachings of the Scriptures) are a dead letter, and faithful church discipline is rarely, if ever, enforced. Yet God's Word presents church discipline as a test to see whether a church is obedient to Jesus Christ (II Cor. 2:9; I Cor. 5). Only those unwilling to face the facts refuse to see that the PCI has apostatised to such a degree that church reformation is virtually impossible.

When Dr. Harry Uprichard was appointed in June 2005, he chose as his theme the motto, "God's Word is Truth," but he has consistently failed to speak out about the evils infesting the PCI (Isa. 58:1; Ezek. 33:8). The ecumenical antics of his predecessor, Dr. Ken Newell are notorious, yet, when he took office, instead of rebuking him (I Tim. 5:20; Titus 1:13), Dr. Uprichard warmly commended Dr. Newell, and enthused about the friendship he enjoys with him (II Chron. 19:2). Dr. Newell will be representing the PCI in June at the aforementioned ecumenical event, so nothing has been gained by Dr. Uprichard's refusal to attend. Furthermore, Dr. Uprichard will be passing "the baton" to another ecumenist, Rev. David Clarke of Terrace Row Presbyterian Church in Coleraine, when his term as Moderator ends.  Is not this alternation between conservative and liberal moderators in itself a fatal compromise of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is this earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3)? Is this not simply another clear instance of permitting the leaven of false doctrine to corrupt the whole church (Gal. 5:9)? "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" (I Cor. 5:6). Does anyone in the PCI see this? 

The excuse given for this compromise is "broad churchism," the idea that light and darkness, the truth and the lie, Christ and Belial, can co-exist in one denomination (II Cor. 6:14-18). Thus the denomination's unity is not in the truth as it is in Jesus but in compromise and hypocrisy. Gone are the "unity of the Spirit" and the "one faith" of Scripture, and therefore the denomination no longer has "one Lord" (Eph. 4:3-4).  

In an interview in 2004 with the Presbyterian Herald, Dr. Uprichard made reference to the idea of broad churchism.  Referring to the encouragement he received from all parts of the PCI on his nomination to Moderator he said,

Indeed, that support has also included those who would not perhaps share my own particular theological emphases. In that sense, it is good within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland to belong to a "broad church" where we can agree to disagree over differences but hold to a unified agenda in terms of a biblical evangelical understanding of the gospel founded on and agreeable to the Word of God and consistent with our subordinate standards. Where the "broadness" of the church compromises this, it is not so good. Hence our motto "semper reformanda"—always to be reformed—is a welcome safeguard.

This pathetic admission that compromise is "not so good" reminds one of Jehoshaphat's ineffectual rebuke to Ahab, "Let not the king say so" (II Chron. 18:7). The sins against Scripture and the Westminster Standards are legion in the PCI, yet Dr. Uprichard seems to be oblivious to the facts.  A motto such as "semper reformanda" avails nothing if nobody makes any effort to push for reformation! A small group has made some attempts in the past but their website (http://www.concerted has been inactive since early 2005! How can the PCI be reformed, if heretics are never disciplined? Has anyone been disciplined for heresy in the last 75 years? Has discipline even been attempted? Is this not a tacit admission from the conservatives that they have already lost the battle? Without discipline, leaven will continue to spread (I Cor. 5:6).

In the same interview, Dr. Uprichard either shows breathtaking naivety or is being deliberately deceptive.  He says, 

This is unashamedly a "back to the Bible" campaign. The authority of scripture, now reasonably well established within Presbyterianism in particular and Reformed Christianity in general, has ousted the critical attacks of former days. What needs to be stressed now is the sufficiency of scripture, namely that scripture alone, scriptura sola, is sufficient for evangelism, teaching, worship, witness, prayer or whatever else constitutes the church's agenda.

One is tempted to ask, has Dr. Uprichard visited Union Theological College recently?  "Ousted the critical attacks of former days," "the authority of Scripture reasonably well established"?  How can a church which ordains women and tolerates theistic evolutionism have a reasonably well established view of the authority of Scripture?  Furthermore, it ought to be pointed out, that Dr. Uprichard was speaking from America when he told the media of his decision not to attend an ecumenical service in June 2006.  The reason he was in America was "to further strengthen links between the PCI and the PCUSA" (, a denomination which is even more liberal than the PCI, and which has long since abandoned the authority of Scripture.  It was from the PCUSA that Gresham Machen was expelled in the 1920's and which has become steadily worse since then. What in the world is Dr. Uprichard doing trying to strengthen links with that false church? Truly Isaiah lamented, "Her watchmen are blind" (Isa. 56:10).

Dr. Uprichard and like-minded ministers are right to refuse to participate in ecumenical services with Roman Catholics, but they ought also avoid all worship, prayer and fellowship with liberal, Arminian and ecumenical office-bearers both outside and inside their own denomination—but how can this be done!—since they (as well as Roman Catholics) deny the truth of the Reformed faith, which is summarised in the Reformed Creeds, including the Westminster Confession which Dr. Uprichard and all Presbyterian elders and ministers signed at their ordination. 

The problem for conservatives is compounded when one considers that at the meetings of presbyteries and at the general assembly, liberal, Arminian and ecumenical office-bearers are present, and all must be received as brothers (and sisters!) in Christ. During "Assembly Week" they even celebrate the Lord's Supper together (I Cor. 5:11)! Any congregation which still has no women office-bearers in its session ought to know that the PCI's leadership is dedicated to feminism rather to than the Word of Christ, the sole king and head of the church, who declares, "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man" (I Tim. 2:12). The Code, subtitled "The Book of the Constitution and Government of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland" which is "published by the Authority of the General Assembly" (repr. 1997) is of binding authority in the PCI. It states, "Every court, congregation and members (sic) of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland is governed and protected by this Code" (p. 6). In paragraphs 138(a), 31(1) and 215(1), The Code legislates for women ministerial students, women ministers and women elders and thus grants official, legal (though unscriptural) "protection" to women office-bearers and their supporters from faithful church discipline and the clear teaching of God's Word. Thus The Code of the PCI blocks church reformation.

Many conservative PCI members and office-bearers try to ignore the false prophets and unbiblical doctrines and practices in their denomination and/or seek to mitigate it. They argue that, though the denomination is apostatising, their congregation is OK.  This attempt to wash their hands simply will not do. The idea that though the denomination has departed one's congregation is still OK betrays ignorance or rejection of the biblical and Reformed truth of corporate responsibility (Josh 7:11-13; Dan. 9:5ff.). However, the PCI itself won't allow this individualist rejection of corporate responsibility. The PCI website states, 

The word "Presbyterian" describes the form of our Church government which emphasises the individual and corporate responsibility of members. Ministers and members must share in the organising and running of every aspect of the Church's work. Locally this means the provision of worship and teaching along with pastoral care while the corporate work of the Church involves social action, evangelism, mission at home and overseas, training of ministers and working with young people and children ( index.html; italics ours). 

Thus each and every member and office-bearer, even in the more conservative PCI churches, is corporately responsible for the denomination's teaching and activities, in fact, for "every aspect of the Church's work," including liberal, ecumenical and Arminian ministers, preaching, evangelism and missionary work; the higher criticism and modernism taught at the PCI's Union Theological College; the false ecumenism of many of its office-bearers, including former moderators, Dr. Trevor Morrow (who was elected through the votes of 10 out of 21 presbyteries) and Dr. Ken Newell (12 out of 21 presbyteries), and moderator-elect Rev. David Clarke (14 out of 21 presbyteries); women office-bearers; unbiblical worship, etc. This is the emphatic declaration of the PCI itself, for the PCI "emphasises the individual and corporate responsibility of members." Yet Christ exhorts His followers: "have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11). Moreover, all of these unchristian doctrines and activities are funded by the offerings of PCI members, whether they are "conservative" or not. Scripture teaches frequently that one reaps what one sows. Those who sow by financially supporting false teachers, false teaching and false worship will reap further departures from the faith both for themselves and for their children.

"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?" (II Cor. 6:14-16).

To listen to a sermon on "The Believer's Responsibility for the Preaching," click here.