On October 3, 1983, three theological students attended their first day of classes in the Theological Hall of the Free Presbyterian Church in its North American context. That day marked the beginning of the second year of the training program. Eventually, that ministerial training program became Geneva Reformed Seminary with its physical location in a building adjoining the main church building on Haywood Road in Greenville. The teacher, almost exclusively, was Dr. Alan Cairns, then in his fourth year as the minister of Faith Free Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. I was one of the students on that October morning. For me, the ministry of Dr. Alan Cairns (1940-2020), who died on November 5 at the age of 80, yielded a profound and life-altering impact.
Alan Cairns visited Greenville to supply the pulpit in the summer of 1978, just a few months after the congregation affiliated with the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. He disavowed, in direct terms, any interest in being considered as a candidate for the church’s pastorate; however, he returned to Greenville in 1979 for another period of pulpit supply. The leaders of the small congregation, including Dr. Gail Gingery (1928-2019), developed a growing interest in calling the Ulsterman to take up the leadership of Faith FPC. Upon accepting the call of the congregation and resolving that the Lord had directed him to move his wife and young son to the United States,
Rev. Cairns indicated that he was not sure why the Lord wanted him to be in Greenville. In the early months of his pastorate in Greenville, Rev. Cairns and his wife, Joan, met severe challenges that did not daunt them in their pursuit of the will of God. The formation of the Theological Hall, a move about which members of the Presbytery of Ulster expressed reservations, marked the beginning of the Lord’s answer about the reason for His call to Dr. Cairns.
Dr. Cairns was a pioneer in the Let the Bible Speak radio ministry in Northern Ireland. People in Greenville often heard Dr. Cairns on WMUU. On his arrival in the United States, he began producing a daily version of Let the Bible Speak for North American listeners. In addition, Dr. Cairns launched a career as an author, publishing early in his Greenville ministry Dictionary of Theological Terms, now in its third edition. His encouragement was instrumental in Mr. Steven Lee launching Sermonaudio in 2000, now one of the world’s major internet outlets for the preaching of God’s Word.
In June 1984, the congregation of Faith FPC opened its new building on Haywood Road. In March 1985, two other North American ministers, Dr. Frank McClelland and Rev. John Greer, joined Dr. Cairns and four of the students in the inaugural Week of Prayer. In 1987, under the urging of Dr. Cairns, the ordained ministers and licentiates organized the Standing Commission of the Presbytery for North America. It became the forerunner of the presbytery of the Free Presbyterian Church of North America. The Ulster presbytery formally constituted the new denomination on May 17, 2005.
More often than not, Dr. Cairns labored behind the scenes, anxious that his colleagues be more prominent. He was the first moderator of the North American Commission, but after serving for a while, deferred to the leadership of his colleagues. The Lord used Dr. Cairns, along with his close friend, Dr. McClelland, and their younger colleague, Rev. Greer, in the expansion of the Free Presbyterian Church across North America, including in more recent years, the extension of the work into Mexico and the Caribbean. God worked through the tireless efforts of His servant to enlarge God’s kingdom.
In part of his series of sermons on the Lord’s Prayer, Dr. Cairns gave special emphasis to the petition, “Thy kingdom come.” He desired the growth of Christ’s kingdom through the ministry of the Word and emphasized consistently the liberating power of the gospel of justification by grace alone. The Lord’s servant who touched and continues to touch so many lives around the world has laid down all of his burdens. Those who labored alongside him miss his personal presence and fellowship, but they know that the work of Dr. Alan Cairns was not in vain. His legacy is far-reaching, not least in the generations of Free Presbyterian ministers on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean who rejoice in his steadfast testimony and praise God for his perseverance in the truth to the end.