The Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland only came together as a denomination in 1910.
For June’s Member Church Spotlight we have a blog from Paul Jeffrey is a Licentiate in the Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church; Assistant to the Clerk of General Synod of the denomination; and Assistant to the Ministers–in–charge in two Non–Subscribing Presbyterian congregations (Belfast Mountpottinger and Moira).
The origins of the denomination extend back to the arrival of Presbyterianism in Ireland in the 1600s. Indeed, events within the Presbyterian movement in the 18th and 19th centuries would heavily influence the shape of the denomination. The Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church has been a member of the ICC since 1923.
What aren’t we subscribing to?
An old joke that other Christians very often share with Non–Subscribers is that they think “non–subscribing” means that we don’t pay in to our churches – to which a polite chuckle has become the traditional response. As such, Non–Subscription (or how we came to have such an unwieldy name) would be the best place to start in describing our denominations. The principle of Non–Subscription first arose in the 18th century in response to a majority of Presbyterian ministers subscribing to the Westminster Confession, a Reformed or Calvinist statement of faith. What we aren’t subscribing to as Non–Subscribing Presbyterians are extra–biblical statements of belief as a rule of faith.
So, what do we believe then?
It has often been remarked that each Non–Subscriber has their own answer to that question. Certainly, there is a great breadth of opinion within our denomination. My answer to this question would be that God is the source of all – and the rest flows out from this point. From here I would say that God is revealed most completely in the person of Jesus; that the Bible is the most complete record and context of that revelation; and that the conscience is the highest court of interpretation. Taken in regard to the question above, this is not to say that to be a Non–Subscriber is to be pathologically opposed to the content of the ancient creeds or councils of the Church. Indeed, an individual Non–Subscriber can be as creedal as their conscience guides them to be. It is to say that such confessions of faith do not have a veto over their conscience. We would not be so different from Cardinal Newman in this respect, who described the conscience as the “aboriginal Vicar of Christ”.
What is the history of the Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church in Ireland?
As mentioned above, our roots are in the Irish Presbyterian movement which can be traced back to 1613. The subscription controversies in the 18th and 19th centuries within that movement shaped Non–Subscription. The first Non–Subscribing Presbytery was formed in 1725, when those Presbyterian ministers who refused to sign the Westminster Confession were placed into the Presbytery of Antrim. A similar disagreement led to the creation of the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster in 1830. In 1835 the two bodies together with the Synod of Munster formed the Association of Irish Non–Subscribing Presbyterians. The Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland became a denomination in 1910 when the Presbytery of Antrim, the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster and the congregations which formed the Free Congregational Union formed the General Synod. The Synod of Munster officially joined the denomination in 1935.
What services do the Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland offer?
Most of our churches meet once every Sunday, although some churches meet less frequently than this. Most churches would worship in a traditional Presbyterian form with an element of their own uniqueness. Over the course of a service we would approach God in prayer; bringing praise, seeking forgiveness and offering intercessions. The service leads up to the sermon, and prior to that there would be readings from the Old and New Testament. Some churches also incorporate extra–biblical poetry and literature in their services. The church also celebrates the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Communion is open to all who feel moved to partake.
What does a congregation of the Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church look like?
Today the Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church has 34 congregations and approximately four thousand members. Generally speaking, Non–Subscribing congregations are made up by those with deep family roots and those originally from larger denominations seeking a more liberal expression of the Christian faith. One of my favourite descriptions is that we are like Quakers with long sermons.
What are the connections between the Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church and other Churches in Ireland?
Given our shared origin, there is a historical connection with the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. However, the denomination has always been well disposed to ecumenism and the establishing of good relations with neighbouring churches across the Christian family is often seen at a local level. The denomination has been a member of the ICC since 1923.
For more information about the Non–Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland visit: nspresbyterian.org