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Overview | Short History

UP FROM RECONSTRUCTIONISM; or,
A Short History of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton

by Michael Wagner
© 1996

Note: This history is not complete, as it only retells the events up to 1996.


The Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton was founded in November, 1989, as a congregation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States (RPCUS). At that time, a number of Edmonton Reconstructionists were unhappy with their existing ecclesiastical connections, and wanted to form a Reconstructionist church. As a result of the Christian Heritage Party of Canada holding its national convention in Edmonton in 1989, Geoff Donnan (then a missionary of the RPCUS) was in town. To make a long story short, we (the Edmonton Reconstructionists) convinced Donnan (who consulted with some fellow RPCUS ministers by phone) to accept us as an RPCUS mission church. Then in April, 1990, one of our members, Mr. Greg Barrow (brother of the notorious publisher Reg Barrow) was ordained as an elder by the General Assembly of the RPCUS in Atlanta, Georgia.

During the course of 1990, most of our people became convinced of the truth of the "regulative principle of worship," namely, that God could only be worshipped in ways prescribed by Scripture. This meant that the church would sing only psalms, and would not allow the use of instruments during the worship service. Due to conflicts generated in part over this issue, the church became separated from the RPCUS.

We continued to grow in our understanding of the biblical truths taught by the Puritans and early Presbyterians, and changed our practices as we learned. During this time we received some "refugees" from the Bible Presbyterian Church of Edmonton, including Elder Lyndon Dohms. Sometime later, in the summer of 1994, we called Greg Price, an Orthodox Presbyterian Teaching Elder from California, to be our pastor. Price had also come to see that the doctrines taught by the seventeenth century Puritans and Presbyterians were the true biblical doctrines. Shortly after his arrival in Edmonton, Price was instrumental in helping to organize the Puritan Reformed Church of Prince George, British Columbia, a congregation consisting primarily of ex-Charismatics who had become Reformed through reading materials obtained from Still Waters Revival Books and having discussions with people in the Edmonton congregation (mainly Reg and Greg Barrow). Indeed, it is entirely accurate to say that both the Edmonton and Prince George congregations owe their existence (speaking from a human standpoint) to the literature ministry of Still Waters Revival Books, which was increasingly offering works by the most faithful authors and ministers of the Reformation.

With a session now consisting of Greg Price, Greg Barrow, and Lyndon Dohms, the church also became involved with a group of small Presbyterian churches (and various elders) that would come together to form a denomination called the Reformation Presbyterian Church.

During the latter half of 1995, many of our people began to seriously study the unique theological claims made by the "Covenanters." Again, Reg Barrow (and his Still Waters Revival Books) was in the vanguard of this effort. Throughout the church's short life-span, it was continuously moving in the direction of becoming increasingly conformed to the position of the original Westminster Standards and the Covenanted Reformation of the mid-seventeenth century. This process culminated with the church officially adopting the six "Terms of Ministerial and Christian Communion in the Reformed Presbyterian Church" (i.e., the Covenanter church - but not to be confused with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America [RPCNA]), early in 1996. At this point the church was properly constituted in terms of the Westminster Standards and the historically descending covenant obligation that rests upon the visible church as a moral person. Since the Reformation Presbyterian Church was not duly constituted on the same basis, continuing ecclesiastical fellowship was not possible.

Most of us in the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton became Christians as young adults and were first involved with evangelical or fundamentalist churches. Through studying the Scriptures we all became Reformed. But after travelling through various churches, becoming Reformed, and forming our church, we didn't stop studying; we continued to hunger after the meat of the Word. The Lord rewarded our diligent study with continued spiritual growth. Our deepening understanding of Scripture and history made clear to us that the Reformers, especially the leaders of the Second Reformation in Britain, had a more accurate understanding of Bible doctrine than anyone (uninspired) before or since. Much of what we learned from Reconstructionist authors was a partial introduction to the doctrines of the Covenanted Reformation (a kind of "Covenanter's kindergarten" to use Reg Barrow's phrase), and to that extent was very beneficial to us. It liberated us from the much more superficial Christianity that constitutes twentieth century North American evangelicalism. But Reconstructionism itself is not enough.


The Covenanters

In 1638 the Presbyterians of Scotland took the National Covenant of Scotland as a common bond of resistance to the unbiblical worship practices that King Charles the first wanted to impose on the churches. Then in 1643, the civil governments, national churches, and a large percentage of the general populations of England, Scotland, and Ireland, took the Solemn League and Covenant with the goal of forming a "covenanted Presbyterian uniformity" in church and state. That meant (among other things) that they wanted true Reformed Biblical Christianity to be the established religion of all three countries, and practiced in a uniform manner in all three countries (Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Philippians 2:2). But in time ungodly and covenant-breaking leaders (Cromwell, other Independents, Episcopalians, Papists, etc.) came to power and persecuted (to a greater or lesser degree) those individuals who insisted that the terms of the Covenants be fulfilled. The persecution reached its height under the papist King James the second, who was then overthrown by William Prince of Orange in the so-called "Glorious Revolution" of 1689. The worst of the persecution ended, but William was unwilling to fulfill the terms of the Covenants. William, in fact, was an Erastian and a tolerationist, leaving much of the Covenanted Reformation buried under prelatical (Episcopalian) rubbish.

The Scottish reformation in its purest form was deliberately abandoned in [William's] Revolution Settlement -- Both the Church and State concurred in leaving unrepealed on the Statute-book, the infamous Act Rescissory, by which the National Covenants were declared to be unlawful oaths, and all laws and constitutions, ecclesiastical or civil, were annulled, which approved and gave effect to them. The Revolution Church was, in every respect, an entirely different establishment from that of the Second Reformation. Its creed was dictated by Erastian authority -- its government established on the ground of popular consent and not of Divine right -- its order and discipline were placed in subjection to Erastian civil rulers -- and the Scriptural liberties of the ministry and membership interfered with; and corruption in doctrine, and ordinances of worship, without the power of removing it, extensively spread throughout the ecclesiastical body. How sadly different a structure did this appear to the eyes of faithful men, who lamented that the carved work of a Covenanted Sanctuary had been broken down, and the "beautiful House where their fathers worshipped, was laid waste!" Nor could the civil and political part of the Revolution Settlement have any pretensions to be a proper carrying out of the civil system of the Reformation era. In this the federal deeds of the nation were the compact between rulers and ruled, and were an essential part of the oath of the Sovereign on admission to supreme power. Civil rulers were required to be possessed of scriptural and covenant qualifications -- and were taken bound to make a chief end of their government the promotion of the divine glory in the advancement of the true reformed religion, and the protection and prosperity of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Houston n.d., 61-62).

Surprisingly, like William most Presbyterians, who were elated that King James had been overthrown, were also unwilling to uphold the Covenants. Those who did insist that the terms of the Covenants be upheld refused to support a covenant-breaking government or join with a covenant-breaking (though professingly Presbyterian) church. These "old dissenters" and their spiritual descendants are known as "Covenanters" because they believe "That public social covenanting, is an ordinance of God, obligatory on churches and nations under the New Testament; [and] that the National Covenant and the Solemn League are an exemplification of this divine institution" (Terms of Ministerial and Christian Communion in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. For a complete Scriptural defence of covenanting see The Ordinance of Covenanting by John Cunningham, a bound photocopy available from Still Waters Revival Books).

There is much more at stake here than a few decades of British history. The Westminster Standards (including the Confession of Faith and Catechisms) were the fruit of the covenanted uniformity aimed at in the Solemn League and Covenant. The relationship between the Westminster Standards and the Solemn League and Covenant is so close, in fact, that to truly adhere to the Standards requires that an individual or church also adhere to the Solemn League and Covenant. In other words, all true Presbyterians must also be Covenanters. This is clear from "The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers" in the original (1648) Westminster Standards' "Form of Presbyterial Church-Government" where it says that every candidate for the ministry must "bring with him a testimonial of his taking the Covenant of the three kingdoms," i.e., the Solemn League and Covenant. All faithful Presbyterian ministers must adhere to the Covenant. As well, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ruled in 1648 "that all young students take the covenant at their first entry to colleges; and that hereafter all persons whosoever take the covenant at their first receiving the sacrament of the Lord's supper." In other words, people who would not take the Covenant could not partake of the Lord's Supper.


Reconstructionism

Reconstructionism has done a lot to bring some Reformation truths to the attention of evangelicals. Those who are hungry for the truth have thus been influenced in a positive direction. But after becoming Reconstructionists, Christians should not become complacent in their theological position. Reconstructionism has missed some very important issues not least of which include biblical purity of worship and social covenanting. Reconstructionists should diligently study the Bible-based positions of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Reformers to get a clearer picture of biblical truth. In effect, Reconstructionism is a half-way-house between twentieth century evangelicalism and truly biblical Reformation Christianity. Reformation Christianity reached its apex in the Westminster Assembly and the documents it produced. Those documents were created in fulfillment of the goals aimed at in the Solemn League and Covenant.

The Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton was originally formed as a Reconstructionist church. But Reconstructionism had taken us only part of the way down the road to real Reformation. We continued further down the road, discovering the biblical basis to the Reformers' view of worship. More recently, we learned of the highpoint of the Reformation, namely the taking of the Covenants and their effects in seventeenth century Britain. The Reformed and Presbyterian churches of the world will not have much impact until they have recovered the lost theological attainments of our fore-fathers. God does not bless backsliding. We implore Reconstructionists and other Reformed Christians to accompany us back to the "old paths" of the Covenanted Reformation.

This is not asking too much. John Calvin, during the First Reformation, showed that he supported the concept of Covenanted Reformation by requiring all the residents of Geneva to take an oath in support of the Reformation. The "Register of the Council of 24" of Geneva notes as follows:

12 November 1537. It was reported that yesterday the people who had not yet made their oath to the reformation were asked to do so, street by street; whilst many came, many others did not do so. No one came from the German quarter. It was decided that they should be commanded to leave the city if they did not wish to swear to the reformation (Johnston and Scribner 1993,138).

As Calvin had undoubtedly realized, it is essential for true reformation that people covenant to obey and follow the truth -- we see this in the reformations experienced by Israel in the Old Testament. The leaders of the Second Reformation also knew the importance of covenanting, and followed the Biblical precepts to great effect. Thomas Sproull said it well:

"By the National Covenant our fathers laid Popery prostrate. By the Solemn League and Covenant they were successful in resisting prelatic encroachments and civil tyranny. By it they were enabled to achieve the Second Reformation. . . They were setting up landmarks by which the location and limits of the city of God will be known at the dawn of the millenial day. . . How can they be said to go forth by the footsteps of the flock, who haved declined from the attainments, renounced the covenants and contradicted the testimony of 'the cloud of witnesses.' . . All the schisms (separations) that disfigure the body mystical of Christ . . . are the legitimate consequences of the abandonment of reformation attainments -- the violation of covenant engagements"(Reformed Presbytery 1879, 38).

Only by climbing back to the doctrinal attainments of the Second Reformation will we be able to undertake a true Biblical reconstruction of the world.


Citations
The system used for citations in this paper follows the Style Manual for Political Science published by the American Political Science Association (1993). In the text of the paper, a citation includes the last name of the cited author, followed by the date of his work, and then the page number or numbers used. To find the title of the work cited, go to the References section at the end of the paper. Locate the author's last name and the date that corresponds to the one in the citation, and you will find the specific work cited. For example, the citation "(Hetherington [1856] 1991, 124-128)" refers to pages 124-128 in Hetherington's book History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines which was originally published in 1856, and republished in 1991. Where the author's name is not between the citation brackets, his name had just been referred to previously in the text and should therefore be obvious.

References
Houston, Thomas. n.d. The Life of James Renwick. (Photocopy from Still Waters Revival Books).
Johnston, Pamela, and Bob Scribner. 1993. The Reformation in Germany and Switzerland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reformed Presbytery. 1879. A Short Vindication of Our Covenanted Reformation. Philadelphia: Reformed Presbytery.

Other Books Recommended for Further Study
Cunningham, John. 1843? The Ordinance of Covenanting. Glasgow: William Marshall.
Reformed Presbytery. 1876. Act, Declaration, and Testimony, for the Whole of Our Covenanted Reformation. Philadelphia: Rue & Jones.
Reformed Presbytery. 1880. The Auchensaugh Renovation of the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant. Philadelphia: William Syckelmoore.
Reformed Presbytery. n.d. An Explanation and Defence of the Terms of Communion Adopted by the Community of Dissenters. (Photocopy from Still Waters Revival Books).
Roberts, William L. 1853. The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism. New York: R. Craighead.

About the Author
Michael Wagner is a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and three children.


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