Coleraine Declaration

Coleraine Declaration

In 1840 two Presbyterian Churches, the General Synod of Ulster and the Secession Synod, came together to form the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

As well as giving thanks for 150 years of service, the 1988 General Assembly decided  to mark this anniversary by arranging a special meeting of the Assembly to look to the future.

850 elders and ministers met at the University of Ulster in Coleraine in September 1990 to worship, study preparatory papers, listen to lectures and take part in seminars.

On the final afternoon, the Coleraine Declaration was 'received' by the Assembly as a document that witnessed to some of the insights and visions gained at Coleraine.

It was sent to the Boards and Committees of the Assembly, to Presbyteries and to Kirk Sessions for prayer, study, reflection and response.
Gathered at this great assembly, 850 of us in all, animated and uplifted by a fresh hearing of God's word, by joyful music and by songs of praise, we have been gripped by the Assembly's theme 'Transformed, not Conformed'.
  • We confess that too often we have been conformed to this world;
  • by our failure to listen to God;
  • by our lack of appetite for God;
  • by our failure to recognise and use the power of prayer;
  • by casually assuming God's presence with us;
  • by our failure to listen to one another;
  • by being bound to the traditions of the past;
  • by being more committed to Presbyterianism than to Christ;
  • by being content with superficial fellowship;
  • by our preoccupation with money and possessions;
  • by our failure to enable all our members to exercise their personal ministries;
  • by ministering to ourselves rather than to others;
  • by our lack of concern for the divisions within the Church, the Body of Christ;
  • by not challenging sectarianism;
  • by being afraid to take risks for our faith.
In spite of all this, we thankfully acknowledge God's mercy in calling us, unworthy as we are, to be His people, chosen and redeemed in Christ. It is our vision that through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be transformed, so that we may
  • be hungry for God - and His truth and righteousness;
  • be open and willing to listen to His word;
  • be enriched in worship as we celebrate God's awesome and joyful presence amongst us;
  • be ready to make each congregation a living example of the family of God;
  • be renewed in our personal and local church life so that members contribute to the total ministry;
  • be willing to adopt a simple lifestyle, no longer preoccupied with money and possessions;
  • be glad to share our time, talents and money for the work of God;
  • be committed to mission, not only in our own country, but in all the world;
  • be responsive to the needs of the world Christ came to save;
  • be present as Christ's love, Christ's justice, and Christ's hope in the world's darkness and decay;
  • be concerned to proclaim with new confidence and joy the saving name of Jesus, both by word and action;
  • be gifted to present Christ attractively and to apply the Word relevantly;
  • be able to affirm our oneness with all who sincerely love the Lord Jesus.
God make us a joyful and expectant Church, confident in Him who has made us His people, and given us a heavenly destiny.

God make us no longer a Church of yesterday, but a Church of today and tomorrow.

God make us mindful of Christ's living presence in our midst, leading us where He wants us to go, no longer conformed to this world, its mind-set and lifestyle, but transformed by the Spirit's renewing power.

To God be glory in the Church, now and ever.

Coleraine Declaration


1.1 The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, met in special General Assembly at the University of Ulster in Coleraine from 10-13 September, 1990;
1.2 gives thanks to Almighty God for His many blessings given to our Church from its first beginnings in Ireland;

1.3 and especially for the Union of Synods in 1840 and for all that we have received from the Lord during the 150 years since we first met in General Assembly.

1.4 We humbly acknowledge before God our many sins and failures, and pledge ourselves anew to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness in our common life, and in our witness to our society, and to the whole world in His Name.

The Mission of the Church

2.1 We rejoice afresh in the mission to which Christ has called us. Recognising His concern for the less privileged in society, we recognise our largely privileged membership, and we urge upon each congregation the need to share Christ's love with people of every kind, so that everyone may be reached with the gospel of Christ, and in turn may be prepared to offer their gifts in the life and mission of the congregation and of the wider Church.

2.2 Mission overseas has been a particular calling and enthusiasm of our Church since the inception of the General Assembly in 1840. We rejoice that God has enabled us to play our part in establishing the gospel in distant lands, and in building up the Churches there. We gratefully acknowledge also all that God has enabled us to receive and learn through the witness of partner Churches overseas, as well as from individual Christians from every continent

2.3 Recognising the enormous changes which are constantly taking place in our world, we affirm that the Great Commission of Christ our Lord is an unchanging mandate to preach the gospel to people everywhere, and we pledge ourselves afresh to the work of mission overseas, not Ieast in Europe. We shall continue wherever possible to do this in co-operation with partner Churches, and we shall endeavour to learn from their vision, insights and priorities how best we may express our solidarity with them in the work of the gospel. We call upon our own Church to give itself heart and soul for the work of mission, and pledge greater resources of personnel, money, and pastoral care to serve this end. We urge congregations to set up overseas mission groups, and try to encourage active involvement, not Ieast by men.

3.1 Mission in Ireland must always be our first and immediate task, but mission has been seriously hindered by the unhappy divisions of Irish society, both north and south.

We confess that we have not done all that we should to break down those barriers. Within our Church we are deeply divided between those who would affirm what we have in common with Roman Catholics, and those who feel that to minimise the differences is to compromise the Gospel. Both sections need to listen to each other and learn from each other. For some of us 'Speaking the truth in love' will require new, sustained and costly efforts to build friendships across the sectarian divide; for others the challenge will come in not being afraid, in the context of existing friendships, to witness to reformed truth. Only through a biblical ecumenism which is concerned with both truth and love shall the wounds of the people be healed.

3.2 We believe that amid conflicting cultures God is willing us to create a distinctively Christian counter-culture, in which we distance ourselves from the kind of Protestantism which closely identifies the reformed faith with particular political and cultural aspirations.

We commit ourselves to learning what it means to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

3.3 In Northern Ireland, we need great courage to work for change, and the flexibility to find new ways of enabling the two traditions to relate to one another in a positive and constructive way, developing new structures that will build trust, and help create a just and sustainable community life for the years ahead. Many people of different backgrounds have acted with great courage in the face of violence, intimidation, and deep personal hurt. We urge our people to act with equal courage also in finding new ways forward, playing whatever part they can in public life for the future good of all. To practise neighbourliness, and to bridge divisions with friendship, and care for 'enemies', is the clear command of the gospel.

In southern Ireland, where there is an atmosphere of greater harmony and openness, our people need to be
courageous in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, and in sharing the biblical gospel in fellowship with all those who sincerely love the Lord.

3.4 In the face of widespread indifference to the Church and to the gospel, especially in urban areas, we are freed with a gigantic evangelistic task. The whole Church must make resources available, both in terms of money, and of Church members who are prepared to engage in new and imaginative ways of teaching biblical truth, evangelism and Church planting.

3.5 Sensitive evangelism must take account of the sheer speed of change in recent decades, and what this has done to human life We need to challenge secular assumptions, (e.g. that wealth gives happiness, or that human wisdom has all the answers), and to minister to the confusion and bewilderment they have created, both by our words and deeds. We need to discern what are people's deepest hopes and fears, and to expose the emptiness of the secular sources of comfort to which they turn, and the power of the gospel of Christ alone to meet the real needs of our human condition.

4.1 The task of mission involves both the proclamation of the gospel of salvation, and the demonstration of the love of God through the works of the Kingdom. Evangelism and social concern are linked together inextricably in the purpose of God. We affirm the wide-ranging concerns in which we have been and still are involved. We are determined to work with other Christians as salt and light in contemporary society, challenging injustice, and offering compassion and help to people in their needs. This must involve both biblical insight and adequate social analysis, as well as caring in practical ways in the name of the Lord Jesus. New initiatives will inevitably involve taking risks.

4.2 The constraints of time, manpower and resources inevitably mean setting limits to what we attempt to do, and particularly in the field of social witness. At a local level there needs to be a genuine listening to the community we seek to serve, so that they may have some part in setting the agenda. Local people need to know that our Church not only preaches the gospel, but lives the gospel in the love and compassion of Christ.

4.3 Congregations need to be regularly informed of the wider work of the Church, carried out in their name. A deeper sense of mission needs to be developed, both centrally and locally, so that we become less concerned with the maintenance of buildings, projects and present patterns of ministry, and make mission our priority, sharing the limited resources available to us, and deciding in a prayerful and ordered way what God is leading us to do.

4.4 The Church must develop a strategy for urban mission, adequately financed, as a matter of high priority. Forward-looking policies regarding buildings, co-operation with other Churches, partnerships between suburban and inner-city congregations, the development of team ministries, significant lay leadership, the setting up of mission centres, are all areas that must be explored.

4.5 Three-quarters of our congregations are rural, and this is often where our Church appears at its strongest with much generosity for local needs. Rural congregations, however, are often unenthusiastic about the needs of the wider Church, and lacking in leadership. Their members are often too reserved to share their faith with others. It is important that our Church should develop new ways of rural evangelism, social witness and pastoral care, and of training elders and lay people to be involved in such tasks.

4.6 Recognising the value of small groups from the model of Jesus' ministry and the experience of many congregations all over the world, we would urge the greater use of such groups in our congregations, particularly for evangelism, discipleship training, and to foster community care. Such groups must be carefully integrated into the life of the whole congregation.

The Life of the Church

5.1 Our engagement in the tasks of mission involves a particular understanding of the nature of the Church 'We believe one holy, catholic and apostolic Church...' We confess that, while valuing the diversity of our several traditions, we have been less than enthusiastic about visible unity. The quest for unity is a costly and difficult one, and beset with many problems. We rejoice in the privilege of belonging to the one Church of Christ, and we will seek to give visible expression to this whenever and however we and our sister Churches can in conscience do so.

5.2 The ordained ministry is one of the Church's most important resources. Many ministers are overburdened, and hindered in their spiritual, pastoral and teaching tasks, by the pressures of correspondence, administration and representative roles in the community and the wider Church. Ways must be found, especially at congregational level, of liberating ministers to fulfil their primary tasks.

5.3 The strengths of our traditional theological education need to be released into a new integration of theory and practice. This must address the problems of 'ministry' in inner cities, rural areas, and in counselling, youth work, and social witness. None of these problems will be properly tackled without the kind of training which equips a Ieader to motivate others.

5.4 The scriptural pattern of ministry encourages us to motivate, train and utilise a team in the outworking of congregational life and mission. The ordination of men and women to the eldership has built this biblical perception into the structures of our local churches. The Kirk Session, together with Congregational Committee and the local leaders of many kinds ought already to have experience of working as a team. In practice, we acknowledge we have often been weakened by the absence of vision and lack of resources, team leadership, and training. We urge Presbyteries and Kirk Sessions to review our present practice, and to seek ways to equip elders and others for this approach to ministry.

5.5 Christians are indeed God's pilgrim people in the world; as such they should travel light and live simply. They should not be enslaved to materialism or indulgent living, but ready to share their resources with others. The biblical principle of tithing should be taught and encouraged in our congregations so that, in a willing and cheerful way, funds may be released to further the work of God. Sacrificial sharing of time, energy and possessions, as well as a healthy disregard for their own comfort, should characterise the lives of Christian people.

6.1 The Church is the family of God. As such it incorporates into its membership Christian families, including singles, widowed, childless couples, one-parent families, as well as parents and children. We hold to the scriptural principles of purity before marriage, and fidelity within marriage. Increasingly, however, we are being called upon to offer pastoral care and counsel to those whose marriages are in serious difficulties, or have already come to an end, and to divorced persons seeking re-marriage congregations need to take these pastoral opportunities much more seriously. Training for those involved in counselling, who need not always be ministers, should be made available frequently. Presbyteries should encourage the provision of marriage preparation courses and marriage enrichment courses.

6.2 Loving family relationships are God's purpose for His children and we should do all in our power to instruct our people and to model before them authentic Christian family living, in all its love and discipline. The local congregation in a real sense should be a family and a fellowship should encourage hospitality, using the homes of its people as a base for fellowship, pastoral care and evangelism.

6.3 The majority of those who come to personal faith do so before the age of twenty! Believing in the place of children within the covenant of grace, we need constantly to reassess our ministry to children and young people, as to its effectiveness in leading them to faith in the Lord Jesus, and building them up in discipleship. Church must be for them a place where they know they belong, and where they feel valued and loved throughout their growing years. Both here at Church and in the home they must be taught about the faith so that they are enabled to relate it to life in the world as they know it. There is a desire to re-emphasise the significance of sacramental discipline, and to reappraise the consistency of our approach to it.

The Worship of the Church

7.1 The renewal of the Church, for which we long, depends in the ultimate sense not upon human organisation, but upon the grace of God, bestowed in Christ, and sealed to us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We humbly acknowledge our deep sense of failure and need, as we call upon God to cleanse and forgive us, and to renew us by His Word and Spirit, so that we may serve Him as we ought, and carry out the work of mission faithfully, as He has entrusted it to us.

7.2 In such renewal, worship is central. We rejoice in the gifts of God for the people of God. Biblical preaching must be at the very heart of true worship. It must, of course, be presented attractively, and applied sharply to the actual situations and needs of our time. Yet the nourishment of mind and heart cannot adequately be accomplished by Sunday worship alone. We urge Kirk Sessions to be creative in providing additional opportunities to study the Bible, and we urge our people to take these seriously.

7.3 The sacraments are also gifts of God, and should be celebrated with joy. Careful ordering of the services can go hand in hand with the use of modern worship resources. The biblical practice of frequent communion is worthy of serious consideration by ministers and Kirk Sessions.

7.4 A rediscovery of prayer is also of vital importance to public worship, as well as to personal discipleship and congregational life. It is the clue to the Church's renewal, and to the effective carrying out of her mission. Many of our people miss out on the discipline and joy of personal prayer, and are fearful and ill-at-ease at the prospect of praying with others. These barriers must be overcome if we are to have the joy of seeing prayer answered in the renewal of the Church and the healing of our land. We need to help our people to more disciplined prayer in personal and family contexts, to more meaningful participation in the public prayer of the Church, and to a new commitment to group prayer.

7.5 The singing of praise is another important part of Christian worship. Recognising that music should help to renew the mind rather than the emotions it is believed that music and songs must be related to the worship and the Word. The time has now come for a new supplemental hymnody incorporating some of the best of recent material. The revision of the Psalter ought also to be contemplated, since the Psalms must always have a normative place in Christian worship. We call upon our congregations to give a high priority to improving the standard of Church music, offering possibilities for wider training and experience to organists, choirs and others involved in congregational music. We call on all our people to put new heart into their singing and to let the inspiration and joy of Christian praise be heard in all our Churches.


8.1 The General Assembly records its grateful thanks to all who have organised this special residential Assembly and have contributed to its programme through teaching, discussion, the leading of worship and in any way.

8.2 We offer thanks to Almighty God for all that we have learned and shared together in these days, and pledge ourselves anew to Him, and to the tasks of mission to which He sends us.

To the Living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be glory in the Church now and ever.