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Presbyterian theological college emerges in Newcastle

July 2020 | by Benjamin Mitchell

All around the world, there are seminaries teaching their students an English doctrinal standard: the monumental Westminster Confession of Faith. In Brazil alone, there are no less than nine such seminaries. For nearly a century, however, England lacked an educational institution to uphold her own Confession. The last Presbyterian theological college in England, Westminster College, Cambridge, succumbed to liberalism around the time of the first World War. Now, at long last, Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, located in Newcastle, has emerged to assume the mantle of Westminster Confession Presbyterianism in her native land.

Why Newcastle and not, say, London? Newcastle has a rich Presbyterian heritage. Did you know that John Knox ministered in Newcastle before his time in Edinburgh? Did you know that Robert Morrison, the pioneering Bible translator and missionary to China, or the famous Architect David Stephenson, also grew up in the city? These are only a handful of the many famous Presbyterians to have benefitted from the rich Presbyterian heritage established in this Northern city. Newcastle was the capital of English Presbyterianism in the latter portion of the 19th century with numerous large churches (perhaps 60 in a five mile radius) serving the city alone, one of which habitually hosted the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England. This rich heritage has paved the way for the seminary to be established.

The aim of the seminary is to train men to faithfully preach the gospel and care for the flock of Christ deeply: ‘holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict’ (Titus 1:9). It is the only Presbyterian seminary in England and is evangelical and reformed in nature. It believes that God has given the church an unambiguous mission — to make disciples — and the means to do so: the Word of God, the sacraments, and prayer. These ‘ordinary means of grace’ appear foolish and weak so that God receives the glory when he works through them. The church does not need new means of achieving its mission, but renewed confidence in God’s promise to act by his Holy Spirit in this ministry.

Consequently, WPTS seeks to train faithful men who labour with compassion, perseverance, and full dependence upon God. The seminary also affirms the Regulative Principle of Worship — that Scripture has taught us how we are to worship God and we are not to imitate the world around us or invent new ways of worshipping him. Rather we should worship God as he has ordained. Next, the seminary seeks to promote the reality of following God being a matter of the heart as well as the head. As Jonathan Edwards put it, true religion consists in genuine affections as well as true doctrine. This has been called experimental — or experiential — Calvinism. It is in stark contrast to formalism (‘going through the motions’), and rationalism (which denies God’s supernatural activity in the world today). Furthermore, the seminary officially holds to a literal understanding of Genesis — that the days mentioned in the historical account of creation are six ordinary days.

Jonathan Edwards
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The faculty includes Revd Dr Ian Hamilton, Revd Dr Kevin Bidwell, Revd Dr Peter Naylor, Revd Dr Revd Dr Bill Schweitzer, Revd Richard Holst, and Revd Dan Peters. There are many of their lectures on the seminary website, presbyterianseminary.org.uk. God has been pleased to bless the work and there are plans to purchase a new seminary building, finances permitting. We are delighted that recent graduates of the seminary have been able to start new gospel works in Sunderland and Zurich, with more planned in the future. It would be wonderful if many new gospel works would be started across the UK and continental Europe.

The seminary is also keen to serve the wider church. Each year they hold a conference that is open to Christians from across Europe. This year their conference is on evangelism (15-17 October). Speakers include Geoff Thomas, David Strain, Dan Peters, Bill Schweitzer, Peter Naylor, and Matthew Roberts. Topics include ‘Today’s false gospels’, ‘Prayerful dependence on our sovereign God’, ‘Catechism and youth work’. Previous conferences have included the Holy Trinity and the Reformation. More information about this year’s conference can be found at www.reformedconferences.org. The seminary also has its own free podcast entitled ‘Communicating the glory’ which has featured guests such as Revds Joel Beeke, Geoff Thomas, and Maurice Roberts.

It is hoped that the work of the seminary will continue to flourish and serve the church in the very land that gave us the Westminster Confession of Faith, and in the footsteps of Knox and Morrison. John Knox once prayed, ‘O Lord Eternal, move and govern my tongue to speak the truth,’ and when Robert Morrison was asked on his arrival to China if he expected to have a spiritual impact on the Chinese people he answered, ‘No sir, but I expect God will!

We trust this new work will see men trained in the seminary who, like Knox and Morrison, are ‘bold in our God’ (1 Thess. 2:2) with tongues ‘governed to speak God’s truth’.

Benjamin Mitchell is Development Officer at the Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.