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.