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Written by Dr Rowland S. Ward   
Tuesday, 24 June 2008 14:17

Brief History of the PCEA

A full, illustrated history of the PCEA 1846-1913 (194pp) is available from the author, Rowland S. Ward at $15 post paid in Australia. Now available as a free download at .

The two main founders of the PCEA in 1846 were the Rev William McIntyre, MA in New South Wales, and the Rev James Forbes MA of Melbourne. They withdrew from the Synod of Australia then existing because it continued its legal and moral tie to the established Church of Scotland when that church had accepted the interference of the State in the spiritual affairs of the church.

The action of the Scottish church in 1843 brought about a massive split called ‘the Disruption’, when nearly 40% of the ministers gave up state-provided churches, manses and stipends because the conditions under which they accepted them were changed to give the state the right to interfere in the spiritual affairs of the church. Those who withdrew formed the Free Church of Scotland – free of the unscriptural encroachments on the prerogatives of Christ in his church.

William McIntyreWilliam McIntyre (1806-72) arrived in 1837 as chaplain to the immigrants on the Midlothian. He was minister at Maitland and later of St George’s PCEA, Castlereagh Street, Sydney. He was a Highlander, a fine scholar, founder of the High School of Maitland, and a faithful men. Many of the Gaelic speaking settlers on the rivers north of Sydney agreed with his stand, as did other conservative Presbyterians. One of his students, later Sir Samuel Griffiths, a Premier of Queensland and Australia’s first Chief Justice, described him as a remarkable man, whose name deserved to be remembered as one of the foremost worthies of New South Wales.

James Forbes

James Forbes (1813-51) was a Lowland Scot, the first Christian minister of any denomination appointed to Melbourne (he arrived in 1838), and the minister of Scots Church, Collins Street, from which he resigned in 1846. He was a very active and much loved minister. Described as ‘Victoria’s first public educationist’, he founded several schools, including Scotch College in 1851, and was active in every worthwhile community movement, including ministry to the indigenous people.

The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia was formed in Sydney on 10 October 1846 by McIntyre and several others. This was the first use of the term ‘Presbyterian’ in a denominational name in Australia. (Previously ‘Church of Scotland’ had been used.) In Victoria Forbes, because of distance and the potential for development, formed a parallel organization called the Free Presbyterian Church. Both bodies were independent of Scotland, but of necessity depended on the Free Church of Scotland to supply ministers.

Only with the enormous population growth and revolution created by the discovery of gold in 1851 were ministers more readily available, but pragmatism not principle took root in church matters. Union of the different Presbyterian bodies in Victoria occurred in 1859, but involved a compromise of the position Forbes had adopted. A similar result occurred in New South Wales in 1864/65.

So it was that a small remnant holding the position McIntyre and Forbes had maintained continued. In 1953 the Free Presbyterian Church of Victoria was absorbed into the Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia to make one compact body.

Although still a small group of a dozen or congregations from Queensland to Tasmania, the PCEA has maintained an evangelical and reformed position down the years. When most Presbyterians in the major body united with the Methodist Church and most Congregationalists to form the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977, the PCEA and its sister church in Scotland were able to give help to those who continued the Presbyterian Church of Australia.

One minister from the PCEA served as Professor (later Principal) of the Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, another from Scotland as a Professor at the same place, and another as Principal of Presbyterian Ladies College, Melbourne. Another PCEA minister has written extensively on Australian Presbyterian history and teaching.

Today we still maintain our distinct position of unqualified adherence to the Scriptures, with the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) as our subordinate standard. Unlike the larger Presbyterian Church of Australia we do not have an ambiguous ‘Declaratory Statement’ that gives an ill-defined relief from wholehearted commitment to the teaching of the Confession, and leads to problems.

In our worship services we continue to maintain that only what is warranted by God’s word is allowable in the church as regards teaching and worship. Our worship is simple, and in the public services we confine ourselves to the unaccompanied singing of the Psalms of the word of God. We find these deeply spiritual, and full of Christ when approached in the right way.

We have mutual eligibility of ministers with some other churches, such as the Free Church of Scotland, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the USA. We are active members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches. Missionary outreach overseas is done with our partner churches. One PCEA minister is National Director of Australian Indigenous Ministries.

The historic building at 12B Chapel Street,

East St Kilda was used 1864-1986.

Churches now exist at Wantirna (Knox), Narre Warren, Mulgrave (All Nations) & Carrum Downs.

We have a vision for healthy growth of gospel witness. We are keen that those who love the Lord and his word, and who want to build on a good foundation, join with us. We hope this describes you.

A selection of articles, and electronic copies of our monthly magazine, The Presbyterian Banner, may be found on our website:

Our testimony and Biblical teaching can be found in:

A Witness for Christ: The Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia 1846-1996 (Melbourne 1996). Copies available from Rev Dr Rowland S. Ward.

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 April 2018 21:07