The history of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church is deeply rooted in the history of Irish Presbyterianism, which traces its ancestry back to the Scottish Reformation. In the closing years of the 19th century ‘Higher Criticism’ of the Bible and modernist theology began to become established in the Presbyterian College in Belfast. One of its leading exponents was Professor J E Davey.
This departure caused great concern amongst people of evangelical and reformed thinking and as a result the Bible Standards League came into being in 1926 to contend for confessional theology. Then a group of evangelical ministers and laity felt compelled to bring five specific charges against Professor Davey, alleging that what he held and taught was contrary to the doctrinal standards of the Irish Presbyterian Church. They charged him with:
Holding and teaching what is contrary to the doctrine: "God pardoneth all our sins and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us."
Teaching what is contrary to Holy Scripture concerning the absolute perfection of our Lord's character.
Teaching what is contrary to the Word of God and the Westminster Confession of Faith regarding the inspiration, infallibility, and Divine authority of the Holy Scriptures.
Holding and teaching what is contrary to the doctrine that "the sinfulness of all sins proceedeth only from the creature and not from God."
Holding and teaching that the doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in the Word of God.
Despite evidence drawn from his own published works, notes taken in his classes and his own defence speeches, both the Belfast Presbytery and General Assembly found him “not guilty” on all five charges. In addition, the Assembly appointed a Commission to deal with James Hunter for non-compliance with Belfast Presbytery’s direction that there should be no public reference to the case before the hearing of Appeals. Hunter considered that its Terms of Reference had unacceptable implications for his freedom to prosecute the battle for orthodoxy in the future and so resigned his membership of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in July 1927. In October of that year the Irish Evangelical Church came into being.
The name of the Church was changed in 1964 to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a title which more accurately reflects the denomination’s stance.