PCEA History

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Hence a minority in the Synod of Australia, led by the Rev. William McIntyre of Maitland and the Rev. James Forbes of Scots Church, Melbourne, upheld the truth that "A Church must honour Christ in the way she orders her life, even if it means considerable cost. She must back up her words with consistent behaviour." They declared, "We are not prepared to prefer the Established Church over the Free Church for our supply of ministers. And in any event we ought to be an independent body." McIntyre and three colleagues withdrew and formed the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia (PCEA) in Sydney on the 10th October, 1846. In Melbourne, James Forbes acted similarly and the body he founded, the Free Presbyterian Church of Victoria, co-operated with the PCEA and in 1953 became fully part of it. Other Free Presbyterian Churches were founded in South Australia and Tasmania.

To The Present Day

By the 1860's most Presbyterian denominations had come together in the various Australian colonies. These union movements were backed by seemingly persuasive arguments, and the various colonial Free Churches lost ground as large sections of those Churches joined the unions. Unfortunately such unions were only achieved by leaving various important matters open questions. In 1901, the State bodies formed the Presbyterian Church of Australia (PCA), but again allowing compromise on important matters. The PCA also adopted a Declaratory Statement, which incorporates an ambiguous "liberty of opinion" clause, that has made it easy for error to come in and hard for effective action to be taken against it.

Meanwhile the PCEA maintained its distinctive witness. The later part of the nineteenth century saw a widespread acceptance in many Churches of destructive biblical criticism and the discounting of Christian doctrine. This trend has worsened to the present day. Throughout, the PCEA has sought to maintain a stand for the 'old paths.' It has not been easy, but we believe it has been right. More than once the demise of this denomination was predicted but the Lord has upheld it for His own good purpose. And if there were attacks from without there were also troubles within. Even in New Testament times the Church was subject to all types of assaults upon her peace and unity. We are to expect opposition, within and without, if we remain faithful to Christ. At the same time, no one can pretend that our Church did not bring some of its troubles upon itself. Indeed, given almost a 150 years, one would be surprised not to find evidence of the adverse impact of strong personalities or unwise decisions!

In 1977 a majority of the PCA withdrew to form with others the Uniting Church in Australia. Today, friendly relations are often enjoyed with the (continuing) PCA at the local level. We rejoice that there has been a return to Reformed faith by many in the PCA and evidence of a growing rejection of that liberalism which stifled evangelical vitality for much of this century .However, there remain significant points of difference between the two bodies which ought not to be minimised. We believe the distinctive and, as we would respectfully maintain, more biblically consistent testimony of the PCEA continues to be needed today.

The PCEA is the oldest Presbyterian denomination in Australia. It now consists of some twenty-seven congregations organised into fourteen charges. There are three Presbyteries and the Synod of Eastern Australia meets annually. A continued and close relation exists with the Free Church of Scotland.

Hence the reason PCEA congregations are sometimes known as "Free Church" or "Free Presbyterian." These titles should not be confused with a number of other bodies, such as the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland or the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster, which have congregations in Australia.

An Introduction To The Presbyterian Church Of Eastern Australia, Rev. Peter A. L. Hill, The Church & Nation Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, 1994.


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