What is a Reformed Presbyterian Church?
“Reformed” refers to the acts of the faithful (particularly during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe who “protested” against the apostasy in the Church of Rome) in (1) removing corrupt doctrines and practices contrary to the teaching of Christ, His prophets, and His apostles in the Old Testament and in the New Testament (2 Chronicles 23:16-17; Mark 11:15-17; 1 Timothy 4:7); and (2) re-establishing Christ’s truth (2 Chronicles 23:18-19; Mark 7:7-8) and setting it forth in confessions, creeds, catechisms, covenants, and directories (2 Timothy 1:13) in order to promote a biblical unity (1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 3:16) that is founded upon that which is agreeable to the supreme standard of faith and practice, God’s alone inspired and infallible Scripture (1 Timothy 3:16-17).
Though we are thankful to God and to many faithful and courageous Protestant Christians who promoted reformation throughout Europe, we especially follow in the footsteps of God’s people and the reformation that was blessed by the Lord in the Kingdom and Church of Scotland where the highest degree of biblical reformation was accomplished (Song of Solomon 1:8; Jeremiah 6:16; Hebrews 6:12).
Though we look back to the reformation accomplished by God’s power and grace and seek to uphold those faithful attainments of truth, we know that all reformation this side of heaven will always be incomplete and will be ongoing among God’s people until the Lord Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6; Philippians 3:13-14).
“Presbyterian” refers to the biblical form or type of government that Christ has established to rule on His behalf among God’s people (1 Timothy 4:14). It is the divinely appointed government of qualified “presbyters” or elders (Titus 1:5-11) that Jesus Christ has called to lead in love by teaching, preaching, worshipping, exhorting, and correcting in submission to Jesus, the King of the Church (Acts 2:36; Revelation 15:3), and in service to Christ’s flock entrusted to them (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-15).
The authority of the eldership is not absolute (1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:24)—only the authority of Christ is absolute (Matthew 28:18). Jesus, as King of His Church, grants His authority the eldership to lead His people only according to His Word (Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Corinthians 13:8) and only for their edification (2 Corinthians 10:8).
Jesus has appointed this church government of eldership to extend beyond one local church and to include Christ’s church united in regions throughout a nation (Acts 15:1-35). This is the biblical view of true church unity—one form of church government binding together through solemn covenants (as in the Solemn League and Covenant) all churches of a nation by means of confessing and promoting the same doctrine, worship, discipline, and practice (as in the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, and Directories approved by the faithful Church of Scotland).
“Church” refers to the visible body of Christ’s people called out by Christ through the proclamation of God’s truth and who profess the true Christian religion in doctrine and practice, which church also includes their children (Acts 2:38-39). This one Church of Christ is established in the Old Testament (Acts 7:38) and continues to be built by the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament (Matthew 16:18).
Christ’s Church is God’s people—a spiritual building and not a physical building (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22). Christ’s Church are called out in order to hear and practice Christ’s truth revealed in Scripture through faithful ministers (Matthew 28:18-20), to grow in knowledge (Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 6:35; Ephesians 4:15; Colossians 1:10; 1 John 4:10), faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), love (1 Thessalonians 3:12), and obedience (John 14:15; 2 Corinthians 9:10), to be faithful witnesses of the Lord to this lost world (Isaiah 43:10; Acts 1:8), to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10), and to give glory and praise to God for His creation, preservation, redemption, and heavenly glory now and for all eternity (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Revelation 4:11; Revelation 5:12).
At the height of the Protestant reformation, the nations of England, Scotland and Ireland formally pledged themselves, their churches, all their dominions, and their posterity, to God and to each other in a Solemn League and Covenant. It was no small thing that this covenant was ratified by King and parliament, but the promise to be “of one reformed religion” was also sworn by all ranks of the people, (as in Ex. 19:8, 2 Ki 23:3, etc.) and confirmed by an oath to the living God. Nations may wickedly forget their covenants, (Ps. 9:17) but our Lord will not forget the covenant with Him. (Deut. 4, 29) Those nations, as well as the colonies governed by them (including Canada and the USA), remain bound and accountable to the Lord under the terms of this lawful and wise covenant.
“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.” – Galations 3:15
The Reformed Presbytery in North America testifies to all descendants of England, Ireland, and Scotland whether in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand etc., that Christ and our Solemn Covenant with God call us to “one reformed religion” in our lands. The fundamentals of that reformed religion were compiled at the request of parliament, by the five year assembly at Westminster, composed of the most godly and learned pastors and elders in 17th century Britain. The fruit of their efforts was the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), Larger and Shorter Catechisms, Solemn League & Covenant (and affirming the preceding National Covenant of Scotland), as well numerous other faithful documents.
We invite you to look carefully at the Terms of Communion listed on this site, which were put in this form by the faithful Presbyterians who remained true to these covenants and doctrines. No sincere Christian can be content with ‘agreeing to disagree’ with his brother, when the Spirit of God beseeches us to “all speak the same thing”. That great cloud of witnesses pledged, by God’s grace, not to be divided from this blessed union by any terror or persuasion, or to give themselves over to a “detestable indifference or neutrality in this cause which so much concerneth the glory of God”. Through their superb sermons, writings, and shed blood, they cry out to this generation of a thousand denominations, that we have slidden back from the purity of doctrine, life, worship, church government, and civil government to which they attained.
The Reformed Presbytery in North America endeavors, by the grace of our Lord, the Prince of the Kings of the earth, to once again set before you the same example of “real reformation; that the Lord may turn away his wrath and heavy indignation, and establish these churches and kingdoms in truth and peace (Solemn League and Covenant).”
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:10
“Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.”
– Philippians 3:16
Up From Reconstructionism; or, A Short History of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton
© Copyright 1996 by Michael Wagner
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. Not that we consider ourselves worthy of such signal mercies from our covenant Lord. To the contrary, we have been greatly humbled through this sanctifying process. Our pastor and elders have publicly acknowledged their own sinful defection from the truth, and have humbly sought God’s grace in leading the congregation in the old paths of righteousness and truth. Our testimony is not to our own faithfulness, but rather to the faithfulness of our covenant God. 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.
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 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.
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  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.