Who is the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Covenanted)?
We are the remnant of those that hold to the whole of the Covenanted work of Reformation as attained in Scotland between the years 1638 and 1649. We trace our spiritual lineage through the Covenanters who fought against both ecclesiastical and civil tyranny. It is a line including such men as George and Patrick Gillespie, Samuel Rutherfurd, John Brown (of Wamphray), Robert M’Ward, Richard Cameron, Donald Cargill, William Guthrie and James Renwick, men who contended earnestly for the faith once delivered. At the Revolution establishment, in 1690, our spiritual forefathers refused to join with the usurped Church of Scotland in their latitudinarian basis of union. The remaining three ministers did join this establishment and, thus, they were left without public gospel ordinances. However, they continued to meet in societies (i.e., fellow-ship meetings) to worship according to the dictates of sanctified conscience. The United Societies (as they were known in Scotland) were left without preaching, sacraments or government from 1690 until 1706. In 1706, Mr. John M’Millan, a minister of the Church of Scotland, acceded to the Societies and remained the only ordained minister among them until 1743. In 1743, Mr. Thomas Nairn, an ordained minister of the Secession Church, dissatisfied with the way in which the Seceders had renewed the Covenants (i.e., National and Solemn League), acceded to the Societies. Thus, in 1743, the Reformed Presbytery was organized. This root grew into the Reformed Presbyterian churches that are found throughout various parts of the world.
In 1712, at Auchensaugh, the Covenants, National and Solemn League, were renewed by the Societies (known as “Covenanters”), under the leadership of Mr. John M’Millan and a licentiate, who was never ordained (he died before the Presbytery was organized), named Mr. John M’Neil. At the renewal, the covenant bonds were recognized as binding the descendants of those who first entered into those bonds. The Covenanters, however, sought to display the true intent of those Covenants with marginal notes. These notes explained that the Church of Jesus Christ, in Scotland (and around the world), must not join hands with any political power in rebellion to the crown rights of King Jesus. The Covenanters pledged the Covenanted Reformed Presbyterian Church to the support of lawful magistracy (i.e., magistracy that conformed itself to the precepts of God’s Word) and declared themselves and their posterity against support of any power, in Church or State, which lacked biblical authority. This renovation exemplifies the proper method of covenant renewal for a witnessing remnant.
In 1761, the Reformed Presbytery emitted its “Act, Declaration and Testimony, for the Whole of our Covenanted Reformation, as Attained to, and Established in, Britain and Ireland; Particularly Betwixt the Years 1638 and 1649, Inclusive.” In this document, the Reformed Presbytery defends the crown rights of Jesus Christ in Church and State. It utilizes history to demonstrate that the Church of Scotland, at the Revolution, was established on principles antithetical to the Reformational principles attained in Scotland. It uses argument to show the inconsistency of Seceder principles with Reformational principles, on the head of Civil Magistracy. It testifies on behalf of the received doctrine, government, worship and discipline of the Church of Scotland in her purest (i.e., reforming) periods.
These documents, together with the Westminster Standards, as received by the Church of Scotland, form the basis of ecclesiastical union and communion. It was to seal the doctrine, government, worship and discipline herein displayed that countless martyrs died (see the “Cloud of Witnesses”).
Why do we say “Reformed?” We have been reformed from the popish and prelatic perversions of biblical doctrine, government, worship and discipline. We seek to maintain the faithful testimony on behalf of true protestantism against the spirit of Antichristian Romanism; whether maintained by the Roman Catholic church or so-called “protestant” churches which are manifestly daughters of that Mother of Harlots. We are Calvinistic in doctrine, presbyterian in government, and puritan and reformed in worship and discipline.
Why do we say “Presbyterian?” We believe that the government of the Church of Jesus Christ derives from its Head. All power in the Church is purely ministerial and declarative. Any power exercised in the Church, without reference to the precepts of the King of Sion, is usurped. Any power that is exercised to the tearing down of our Covenanted work of Reformation is backsliding. Any power usurped or backsliding does not exist in the Church by divine precept and is, therefore, unlawful (i.e., lacking the authority of the Lord). Such power is, in reality, ecclesiastical tyranny. It is the duty of believers to submit to those over them in the Lord, but not those over them by ecclesiastical tyranny.
Why do we say “Church?” Though we are at present a remnant lacking presbyterial organization (a situation we are seeking to remedy through the help of brethren overseas), we are, nevertheless, still part of the Church. The Church of Jesus Christ consists in all those throughout the whole world that profess the true religion together with their children. The Church is constituted by its adherence to the truth as taught in the Scriptures. To the extent that it does not conform to that rule, it ceases to be a church of Jesus Christ. If it fails to meet that test in doctrine, government, worship or discipline, it cannot claim divine right of existence. The popular confusion wherein the Church of Christ is identified with the government over a professing body is the root of ecclesiastical tyranny and flows from Romish ecclesiology that teaches that the Church is the governments (i.e., pope, archbishops, bishops, priests, etc.). These governments are titled “clergy” and without them there can be no “Church.” The people are grafted into the “Church” by means of the “clergy.” In fact, the apostle Peter refers to the people of God as his “clergy” (1 Peter 5:3; the word translated “heritage” is κλήρων “kleron”). It is true that Jesus Christ has set government in his Church, but that government is not the Church. Any government which claims a right over believers must be able to show its charter from the Word of God.
Why do we say “Covenanted?” We believe that our fathers had the right to bind us to faithfulness to the crown rights of Christ. We believe that there is nothing unbiblical or antibiblical in these bonds as sworn originally; and, that the true intent of these bonds was faithfully displayed in the Auchensaugh renovation, in 1712. The federal principle, combined with the thoroughly biblical nature of these covenants, led our forefathers to view them as such and we concur. We believe that the Covenants, National and Solemn League, continue to bind all presbyterian bodies descended from the original Covenanters; their denial of such notwithstanding. The duties therein sworn, being an expression of the moral law, we believe to oblige beyond geographical boundaries. A person who marries in one country does not cease to be married by crossing national boundaries (and the Church is a moral person—the Bride of Christ, etc.). These covenants, like that of the covenant of marriage, continue to bind until the ends contemplated in the “vows” are fulfilled. Therefore, we are constrained to declare that all presbyterian bodies that refuse to recognize the “vow” are guilty of duplicity against their solemn engagements to the Lord. Furthermore, we declare that those bodies which persist in breaking the terms of these bonds are guilty, not only of breaking God’s moral law (since the terms are founded upon that), and, therefore, are idolaters (i.e., spiritual adulterers), but they add to their spiritual harlotry the sin of covenant breaking.
At present we are a scattered remnant, some of whom can meet in fellowship meetings to worship God in Spirit and in Truth; others of whom have the benefit of small congregations. Approved teachers, whom God set for gifts in His Church, left behind faithful rules by which we govern ourselves. We seek and strive for greater order and organization with the help of some few faithful ministers abroad. As individual believers we must seek to live up to our high calling and refuse to compromise with our backsliding mother. Our fathers set landmarks and, if we will be wise, we will follow the footsteps of the flock. Our terms of ministerial and Christian communion are:
1. An acknowledgment of the Old and New Testament to be the word of God, and the alone infallible rule of faith and practice.
2. That the whole doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, are agreeable unto, and founded upon, the Scriptures.
3. That Presbyterial Church Government and manner of worship are alone of divine right and unalterable; and that the most perfect model of these as yet attained, is exhibited in the Form of Government and Directory for Worship, adopted by the Church of Scotland in the Second Reformation.
4. That public, social covenanting, is an ordinance of God, obligatory on churches and nations under the New Testament; that the National Covenant and the Solemn League are an exemplification of this divine institution; and that these Deeds are of continued obligation upon the moral person; and in consistency with this—that the Renovation of these Covenants at Auchensaugh, 1712, was agreeable to the word of God.
5. An approbation of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus, especially in Scotland, against Paganism, Popery, Prelacy, Malignancy and Sectarianism; immoral civil governments; Erastian tolerations and persecutions which flow from them; and of the Judicial Testimony emitted by the Reformed Presbytery in North Britain, 1761, and adopted by this church, with supplements; as containing a noble example to be followed, in contending for all divine truth, and in testifying against all corruptions embodied in the constitutions of either churches or states.
6. Practically adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour, by walking in all his commandments and ordinances blamelessly.
We recommend the thoughtful reader obtain a copy of the Free Presbyterian edition of the Westminster Confession. This edition contains, besides the Confession and Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, the Directories for Public Worship and Family Worship; the Covenants, National and Solemn League; and the Form of Church Government. The 1761 Testimony (217 pp.) has been out of print since 1876.