Why presenting the Gospel of Christ to everyone remains so important

Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church.
Martyrs Memorial Free Presbyterian Church.

The year 1935 was an eventful one for Belfast. In the middle of the worst violence since the foundation of Northern Ireland in 1922, the Ministry of Home Affairs banned all parades in Belfast from June 18, then lifted this prohibition for the 12th of July parades.

Glentoran triumphed 1-0 over Larne in the Irish Cup Final, but only after a second replay. Lord Edward Carson, Unionist leader and barrister, died on October 22 and was laid to rest in St. Anne’s Cathedral four days later.

With all of these events unfolding, the formation of the new Ravenhill Evangelical Mission Church in the east of the City was an event that passed largely unnoticed.

An overwhelming vote in the 1927 General Assembly of the Irish Presbyterian Church that acquitted modernist professor J.E. Davey of all charges of heresy, horrified a substantial number of people.

Several of the elders of Ravenhill Presbyterian Church had supported the presentation of charges against Davey – the names of three of them appear on the official record of the trial.

It was these elders who, in 1935, with the majority of the committee, the Sunday School teachers and 70 families, led the secession out of Ravenhill Presbyterian Church to form the new independent Mission Church.

Nine years later, on August 1, 1946 (a few months after another famous Belfast son, George Best, was born), Rev. Ian Paisley commenced his 65-year tenure on the Ravenhill Road upon receiving a call to be the new minister of this independent congregation.

After the formation of the first Free Presbyterian Church in Crossgar in 1951, the Ravenhill Evangelical Mission Church linked up with this Co. Down congregation to help this newly-fledged movement on the road to denominational status.

Ian Paisley conducted a series of gospel campaigns that resulted in many hundreds of people turning to Christ. The old Ravenhill church had to be enlarged to house the swelling congregation. After the imprisonment of Revs. John Wylie, Ivan Foster and Ian Paisley in the summer of 1966, the church witnessed a period of phenomenal expansion.

The Ulster Hall became the home of the congregation while the Martyrs Memorial church was being built. Foundation Stones were laid for this new building on October 14, 1967; within two years the construction had been completed, with the Opening Service taking place on October 4, 1969.

The Jubilee Complex was added in 1997 at a cost £1.4 million to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the preaching of the Gospel by the Minister and Church Moderator, Rev. Dr. Ian R. K. Paisley. In November 2011, after a ministry that had spanned over 65 years, Dr Paisley announced his retirement from the pastorate of the Martyrs Memorial congregation. His final sermon was delivered to a packed audience on December 18, 2011.

The vacancy created by Dr. Paisley’s retirement was filled when the communicant members of Martyrs Memorial issued a call in May 2013 to myself - I had been minister of the Free Presbyterian congregation in Londonderry for 26 years. I commenced my ministry in Martyrs at the beginning of August 2013.

I am currently Clerk of Presbytery in the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster and teach Historical Theology at the Whitefield College of the Bible. I am married to Gillian, who I met and married within a year of arriving in Londonderry and am father to Joel, Aaron and Chloe.

My main purose is to present the Gospel of Christ to everyone, because I, you, and everyone else needs the forgiveness of sins that He alone provides if we’re ever going to live life to the full on earth and make it to heaven at the end. No matter how fast paced - and complicated - life has become, Christ is still the answer. (Video link: https://vimeo.com/71460819).

The commodious facilities Martyrs offers are regularly used for Free Presbyterian Convention meetings. Already this year it has played host to the Annual Youth Council Rally, the Easter Convention meetings, a week-long Free Presbyterian International Congress just concluded last evening featuring contingents from USA, Canada, Spain, and the Czech Republic, and a Creation Rally is pencilled in for Friday, 12 September, when Dr. Taz Walker (Australia) will be the guest speaker. (Youth Rally Video: http://vimeo.com/89878156).

Children and Youth Ministries at Martyrs are led by Philip Hartin, whose father, Rev. Jim Hartin, was minister of the Free Presbyterian Church on Mount Merrion Avenue before his retirement. These ministries reached out to hundreds of Belfast children during 2013/14, taking the form of Explore Bible Clubs, School Assemblies, The Reach and Children’s Meetings at the Ravenhill Road church and at Taughmonagh.

The Reach is a youth ministry geared for the older children, that runs alongside the Ravenhill and Taughmonagh Explore Children’s meetings. Reach gives young people the opportunity to engage in discussion about issues they are facing in their lives and discover how relevant God’s Word is for their lives.

Each Thursday morning Martyrs is again a scene of activity as parents, carers and toddlers converge on the church for ‘Little Ones,’ our Parent and Toddlers class. At the recent end of term party over 100 were in attendance, drawn from a variety of religious backgrounds and nationalities. Each child received an attendance award, and a Gospel of John in English and Polish (kindly provided by the Revival Movement Association).

This summer our community outreach in the Ravenhill area continues with a Children’s Bible Club from Wednesday July 23-25 @ 1.30pm each day at Martyrs Memorial Church.