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
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.
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 christianwitness.com/) 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"
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
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 (http://www.presbyterianireland.org/about/
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.