Doctrinal Position

The supreme standard for belief and practice is the Bible, received as the inspired and inerrant Word of God. In common with all historic Presbyterian churches, the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms are held to be a systematic and accurate summary of the teaching of Scripture. Further expansion of the church’s teaching is found in her ‘Testimony’, which applies these doctrines to various specific topics. These documents are the subordinate standards of the denomination. Reformed Presbyterian theology is apostolic, Protestant, Reformed (or Calvinistic) and evangelical. There is a desire to maintain in its depth and purity the Christian faith handed down from the beginning. The basic principles of the denomination are not different from those held by many other churches. Such distinctives as there are lie in the application and implementation of these truths. In particular, Reformed Presbyterians give prominence to the kingship of Christ. This has implications for human life in all its spheres. Areas which have received special attention (and where Reformed Presbyterian practice is, in this century, somewhat unusual) are worship and politics. The worship of the King must be governed in every detail by what he has required in his Word. The nation is under obligation, once admitted but now repudiated, to recognise Christ as her king and to govern all her affairs in accordance with his will. Words from Colossians 1:18 express the core of Covenanting theology: ‘that in everything he (Christ) might have the supremacy’.

Membership, Government & Ministry

The terms of membership require acceptance of the Scriptures as the Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice, a profession of personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and promises of a teachable attitude towards the doctrines of the church and a sincere endeavour to live a consistent Christian life. Communicant (or full) members are baptised persons who satisfy the Session as to their commitment to these vows. The children of such members, though not yet admitted to full privileges, are also members of the congregation.

The name ‘Presbyterian’ comes from the Greek word for ‘elder’, so each congregation is governed by the Session, a group of ruling elders. These are men, chosen by the people and with no distinction of rank. Each Session sends delegates to the regular meetings of Presbytery, a higher court of the church. Presbyteries, in turn, meet together in a general gathering, or Synod.

The minister of the congregation is one of the elders, of equal rank with his colleagues, though serving as chairman, or Moderator, of Session. In addition to ruling, he has the responsibility of preaching the Word. Ministers are trained, usually after graduation from university, at the Reformed Theological College, located in Belfast since its establishment in 1854. Those who successfully complete the three-year course are awarded a Diploma in Theology.


The only two sacraments instituted by Christ are baptism and the Lord’s supper. Baptism is given to unbaptised adults who profess faith in Christ. It is also administered to the children of believers, who are recognised as included in God’s covenant of grace, of which baptism is a sign and seal. The sacrament is performed with water, which may properly be administered by immersion, pouring or, preferably, sprinkling.

The frequency of observance of the Lord’s supper is decided by each Session, present practice ranging from two to four times a year. In addition to members of the church, believers from other denominations are welcomed to the table, provided that their Christian testimony and practice are known to the elders.



Since Christ is Lord over all of life, the daily work of every believer is a vital part of Christian service, to be carried out to the Saviour’s glory. The covenant family is regarded as a church in miniature and parents promise to hold regular family worship in the home and to pay conscientious attention to the spiritual training of their children. The Lord’s Day is a special blessing, given for rest and worship, apart from duties of necessity and mercy. For over three hundred years Covenanters have met during the week in ‘societies’, home groups for prayer and bible study where spiritual experience is shared and the members can minister to one another in love.


Like most historic reformed churches, worship centres on the reading and preaching of the Bible, with the response of the people to God in praises, prayer and giving. Two areas of distinctiveness in the matter of praise are that the only words used in singing are from the Book of Psalms and that no instrumental accompaniment is used. This is the original practice of Presbyterian churches, which the Reformed Presbyterian church, alone in Ireland, maintains to this day. Her rationale, however, is deeper than loyalty to a historic tradition. Since God has revealed in Scripture how he is to be worshipped, nothing is to be introduced which he has not specifically commanded. Nowhere has he instructed his people to praise him with songs other than those provided in the Book of Psalms. Instrumental music was an integral part of Old Testament sacrificial worship, which was fulfilled in Christ, and there is no example of such accompaniment in the church of the New Testament.

The Book of Psalms provides songs which are inspired, Christ-centred, timeless, non-sectarian and continually relevant, the property of the universal church. Reformed Presbyterians experience profound spiritual fulfilment in singing, usually in four-part harmony, these glorious praises. The basic version used is the Scottish Metrical Psalter, with supplementary alternative versions. The Church has just completed a major process of Psalter revision.


Church & Community

The primary responsibility of the church to the community is that of evangelism and each local congregation is a centre from which the gospel is communicated to the surrounding neighbourhood. Missionary work outside the bounds of established congregations is being carried on in the Republic of Ireland and in France. A Christian bookshop and the Reformed Theological College also have a permanent base in Belfast. Residential accommodation is provided for the elderly in Ballymoney and for students and young people in Belfast. A monthly denominational magazine, The Covenanter Witness, is published for the benefit of the churches in Ireland and Scotland.

A distinctive witness to the nation is borne through an emphasis on the duty of recognising Christ as king, as was once done in the seventeenth century covenants. The church considers the repudiation of those covenants to be a sin, to be repented of and corrected, and Reformed Presbyterians will only support candidates for political office who promise to work for such a national recognition of the authority of Christ. They seek to be good citizens and to support policies and participate in initiatives aimed at the true well-being of the community.


Relations with Other Churches

There are several categories of professing Christians with which the Reformed Presbyterian Church can have no official fellowship. Liberal theology, with its attack upon the authority of Scripture and its denial of the gospel, has placed itself outside the faith and under the condemnation of God. Roman Catholicism’s failure to accept such cardinal doctrines as the sole authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone, together with innovations such as its teaching on Mary and the development of the papacy, render it impossible for Reformed Presbyterians to accept it as a Christian church. It is recognised, however, that there may be individual Roman Catholics who are true believers and all harshness and ill-feeling between Protestants and Roman Catholics is to be deplored.

Closest relations in the family of Christ are Reformed Presbyterian Churches in Scotland, North America, Australia, Japan and Cyprus. The denomination is a constituent member of the International Conference of Reformed Churches, which brings together churches from as far apart as North and South America, South Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. Ministers serve on the boards of such bodies as Scripture Gift Mission, Christian Witness to Israel and the Evangelical Fellowship of Ireland. Links are continually being strengthened with Christians in many other denominations and increasing co-operation with biblical churches is actively pursued.