08 March, 2007

Some Reformed Presbyterian History

It was purchased by the RPCNA in 1923. )

I have doing a lot of reading on the history of the RPCNA. What amazes me is the number of congregations that disappeared between the years 1888-1930. There was a major division in 1899 in which the church lost nearly 50% of its membership. It does seem as though the Lord has been pleased to cause her numbers to grow in the last 40 years though. Pray for her.

On the account of the high attainments, unpopular principles, and strict
discipline of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, her numerical growth has been
slow, but her moral strength and salutary influence have been greatly increased…
The ‘ridicule’ once made of them for advocating their principles of Bible civil
government has changed to the ‘admiration’ of those who have the grace to preach
the rights of King Jesus over the nations of the earth… All that is needed for
the reformation of society and the settlement of all controversies is a faithful
application of the Word of God.
William Melancthon Glasgow, Growth of the Covenanter Church. Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter. Vol. XXVI. No. 12, December 1888, p.27


Andrew Duggan said...


How do you think that reconciles with the RPNCA ban on alcohol which they deceptively referred to as temperance? They made their ban of alcohol an oath (regardless of what they might have called it) for office bearers.

How does their high language of King Jesus mix with their identifying the use of the same substance He used in instituting His Holy Supper as sin? How does it mix with putting their own law above His? That is some view of Kingship?

What does that say about a denomination that bound the consciences of its members and office bearers?

Do you think their change in policy regarding alcohol was done in a way that suggests repentance?

shawn said...

It was in 1888 that they began to ordain women into the deaconate.

Nate, what did the denomination split over in 1899?

Nate said...

I believe that the ban on alcohol was a mistake. There is a movement within the denomination to move towards exclusive wine in the Lord's Supper.
As for the denomination repenting of this- they just toned down the rhetoric against alcohol. It is still considered a good choice to abstain.

1899 was voting in civil matters.

Daniel Ritchie said...

I don't think the RPCNA helped itself by having such a high view of membership in the past. I think we should have strict rules for office-bearers but allow a much greater degree of freedom for members.

Notliberal said...

Does the alcohol ban for office bearers still exist?

Nate said...

I would disagree. If we look at the Dutch churches requiring that all memebers believe and submit to the 3 forms, we will see that their churches have maintained faithfulness much better than Presbyterians have.

They do not require this of office bearers or members. Consumption of alcohol is Christian liberty.

Robbie said...

Touche Nate!
the prohibition vs. alcohol vanished close to 20 years ago and the 8th vow of Covenant Membership dropped

Mark said...

I think their obvious commitment to semper reformanda (sp?) was just awesome. It's obvious they've made some mistakes in the past, but they've changed their ways while doing their upmost to maintain unity.

Notliberal said...

That is a new change because I recall Brian Schwertley being required not to consume alcohol back in the late 90's.

Andrew Duggan said...


So how do you reconcile the mere toning down of the rhetoric and their saying its a good choice to abstain from alcohol with there being a movement for exclusive use of wine in the Lord's Supper. Sounds like a house divided against itself.

Then you must consider those officers that took the pledge and made an oath not to consume alcohol. Even if we're talking about two decades here, I think there are still substantial numbers of men (and deaconesses) who are so bound. Either the oath to abstain was sinful and those who took it must repent (if they've not already), or they are still bound, and so there is still likely another 20 years before any meaningful progress would be made toward exclusive use of wine in the Lord's Supper.

My overall point, is that you should take a longer and deeper look before you make a with respect to denominational affiliation. While hanging out in Beaver Falls might not be practical for you, I think there might be more to the RPCNA than what the paper-work reveals.


Andrew Duggan said...


Sorry -- one more comment, so you say it was a mistake. Should I take that you do not believe that the use of wine in the Lord's Supper is required? If it is required (as I believe it is) then forbidding it is sinful. If not, then why would it even be a mistake? Also with respect to Christian liberty, is it ever simply a mistake for a church to forbid something in which the Christ has given them liberty and bind the consciences (5th commandment) of their members/officers? (c.f. WCF 20) I know I'm not leaving you much (if any) wiggle room, but I think this is important.

Nate said...

Not much wiggle room for sure!

Andrew, what denomination are you in? I will come back to answer these questions BTW.

Notliberal: I believe that it was in the 80s that this was dropped. 1981 was the last revision to the testimony.

Robbie said...

Some are still bound under the oath they took as their conscience permites and binds them. Those who took the oath 20+ years ago are allowed to drink as their conscience allows them. Some do, Some dont plain and simple. It is a debate that many conservative denominations have today, even some larger ones (for example this past Southern Baptist Convention last year made hard statements on drinking)

It certainly is not a house divided, instead they promote and maintain unity allowing both perspectives to be held in each congregaton. Ultimately it is a debate of subscription.

Before you accuse Nate of not knowing who he talks to and is joining - The same principle goes for you.

It is amazing how people will not commune with each other over the issue of wine and alcohol... What Nate is concerned with is a larger issue- the regulative principle of worship.

Daniel Ritchie said...


While I believe members should be five point Calvinists (because this is the Biblical gospel). I do not believe that members should have to agree with every secondary issue that the church holds, otherwise you would have to excommunicate someone for questioning exclusive psalmody.

Nate said...

Daniel: Just for the sake of discussion:
Are these secondary issues?
-the Trinity?
-deity of the Holy Spirit?
-image worship?
-Sabbath observance?
-worship of a false god?
-defaming the name of God?

Who are we to say what issues are really secondary? The Standards that Presbyterians have been handed down answer each one of these... they also answer the question of exclusive Psalmody?

Just for discussion?

BD said...

Wow, this has turned into a fun discussion.

I just wanted to throw in that I attended the RPCNA church where every Elder in the congregation said they would leave the RPCNA if the presbytery made wine mandatory for the Lord's Supper. I would say that the issue is quite divisive (the only people that don't view it as such are those who feel wine is appropriate).

Though I love the RPCNA’s form of worship, the issue of alcohol in the church is one that is not going away anytime soon.

Nate, reading through your posts raised a quick question: Would you say that strict subscription to a churches confessional standard is mandatory to partake of the Lord’s Supper? Looking forward to your answer.

God be with you, hoping to see you at our wedding.


BD said...

I wanted to correct something I said in my last comment:

Every elder I spoke with about the issue said they would leave the RPCNA...

Sorry about misspeaking myself.

Daniel Ritchie said...


Many of the doctrines you mention are definitely not secondary issues (the Trinity, Arianism etc). When I speak of secondary issues I am talking about things that orthodox believers can disagree on (that is why I mentioned Calvinism, because Arminianism is heresy).

Moreover, someone living in gross sin (ie adultery) is not living a life consistent with a Christian profession. You can hardly say the same about people who sing hymns?

Also, the high view of church membership contradicts the Westminster Confession's chapter on 'communion of the saints' which says that we are to cultivate worship and fellowship with all who love the Lord Jesus.

However, when we talk about 'secondary' issues we are not saying that these things are unimportant, but that they should not be used to bar other orthodox Christians from fellowship.

Nate said...

I think that the elders that say that are over-reacting. I would defend the use of wine in worship, but I would not lead a church split over it. Cultural baggage (even within the church) is hard to shake. It would have to be dealt with pastorally and through TEACHING. Tyrants that come in to a church to change such things are not maintaining a spirit of unity and peace. We need to teach the weaker brother so that he grows...not beat him or chase him out of the church.

As for a strict subscription, I do believe in it. But there are other considerations as well- such as, younger believers who have not been thoroughly discipled. They should have the means of grace, but they do not understand all that is in the confession and catechisms.

Daniel, the Westminster standards were written as the document to unify the Reformed churches in the UK. The corpus of teachings are what are to be embraced. That does not mean that we do not have fellowship with people that stand outside of them. I would love to fellowship with John Owen or John Gill- I just do not think that they should be joining Presbyterian churches. :)

Does this help?

Anonymous said...

It would have to be dealt with pastorally and through TEACHING. Tyrants that come in to a church to change such things are not maintaining a spirit of unity and peace. We need to teach the weaker brother so that he grows...not beat him or chase him out of the church.

I really appreciated that comment, Nate, and I hope that the situation is handled wisely and well.

As for a strict subscription, I do believe in it. But there are other considerations as well- such as, younger believers who have not been thoroughly discipled.They should have the means of grace, but they do not understand all that is in the confession and catechisms.

Thanks for answering my question, I can see the wisdom in your position.


Rachel said...

Notliberal, you are correct that the prohibithion of alcohol for officers was still in effect when Mr. Schwertley was ordained. I seem to recall, though, that he took exception to that vow, so it was my understanding that he was not bound by it. Of course, I was a little girl at the time, and my memory may not be correct. :) The vow was changed sometime after that, but I don't know exactly when.

Nate said...

How long was Brian Schwertly in the RPCNA? When was he ordained?

Rob Somers said...

As to when the alcohol prohibition was ended, I have a notion that it was in the late nineties. I will check with my pastor (so don't quote me just yet!). The reason I suspect this date though, is that my pastor speaks of the matter like he was at the synod where the prohibition was dropped, and I believe he has only been ordained since the mid nineties or so...

Nate said...

I could be wrong about the date- it would not be the first time. I will check as well.
I know that the issue is still hot in some circles!
Praise the Lord for the win on Christian Liberty though!

Rachel said...

I think he was ordained in the early to mid nineties, like Notliberal said. I don't remember exactly what year. Sorry I'm not much help here!

Rachel said...

Oops, Notliberal said late nineties. I looked it up, and he was ordainded in 1996.

Rob Somers said...

I just spoke with my pastor, and it is his recollection that the prohibition was lifted six or seven years ago. I also asked about those who had already taken the vow, and he believes that there was provision made for them also, that they were no longer bound by their previous oath as it was not lawful.

The issue of temperance is apparently still quite hot, particularly with elders from the midwest, where the temperance movement was historically very strong.

Sean said...

As I recall, the split you're thinking of occurred in 1833, not 1899 -- it was the Old School / New School split which resulted in the forming of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod (the New School). Many of the earlier ministers mentioned in Glasgow's History of the RPC went with the New School in that split, including some of the Wylies and the M'Masters. Through various mergers, that denomination eventually made its way into the PCA.

Notliberal said...

That's right, it was 1996. I recall Schwertley not drinking because of that oath. While he may have objected, I think he was still required to refrain from drinking.

Nate said...

Imagine: 1981 the testimony is changed and it takes 15 years to give up the practical outworkings of it.

I have heard that this is what has kept GI Williamson out of the RP for so many years!

Penumbra said...

robbie writes: "It is amazing how people will not commune with each other over the issue of wine and alcohol..."

In regards to church discipline, this seems to be a primary issue; the issue being requiring things of Christians that are not found in scripture. That is unscriptural and legalistic. The gospel writers certainly felt it an important enough topic to mention of all the things they could have mentioned. I would not want to become a member/commune/take membership oath in a denomination that requires something of me that scripture does not require.

Andrew Duggan said...


Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. I will tell you I am in the OPC, but I am in the original Exclusive Psalmody acappella (and wine in the Lord's Supper, 52 holy days (the Lord's Day) per year, aka no *mas, easter, etc.) congregation thereof.

(Yes, that makes me a pariah.)

The issue of temperance is one of the reason's why I cannot be a RPCNAer (I would say Covenanter, but they're not that any more and eschew the name; they even changed the name of their magazine!)


Please read/re-read the WCF on Oaths and Vows. It's not a matter of conscience, it's a matter of sin and repentance.

From Psalm 15 metrical,

When to his hurt he swears, naught changes he...

The only way for someone to be free of such a vow is to come to believe that Wine is required in the Lord's Supper and it's therefore a sin to not use Wine. They must then repent of their sinful vow, and use wine in the Lord's Supper. Whether or not it would be lawful to make use of alcohol beyond the Lord's Supper is something they would have determine for themselves by the Spirit and in the light of Scripture. However, that quote from Psalm 15 seems to tell me that one (who made a vow to abstain from alcohol) should continue to abstain except in the case of the Lord's Supper.

The bottom line is this. It is a big deal, its not a little deal. Violating the second commandment is a bigger deal than anything else besides having another god before/besides or alongside of the Living and True triune, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The issues with the binding of consciences, while not as big a deal as breaking the second commandment, are still very important.

Those kinds of things need repentance, not policy change.

I understand these are hard things for people to wrestle with, but I think it's worth the effort.

As for knowing about RPCNA, I have substantial first hand knowledge. I went to Geneva College and worshiped at many different RPCNA congregations, some outside of Beaver Falls. For the four years I went to GC, I worshiped exclusively at "College Hill", "Geneva", and "East Vale" (that was a long walk). I can't say I've read every issue of the Blue Banner Faith and Life (J. G. Vos ed), but I read a lot of them, plus way too many issues of the Covenanter Witness, while it was still called that.

It's not like I'm saying that the RPCNA is apostate or any such thing, but neither do I think you should gloss over some of the serious issues that faces as Nate rightly put it before, that historic church.

I think "bd" has it right, the issue of alcohol is very divisive in the RPCNA, and so if Nate and Co, are looking for those of like mind, I was just giving him some things to think about with respect to that.


Notliberal said...

Duggan brings up some good points that maybe our church should consider. For example, does the RPCNA ban the use of wine during communion? What direction is the synod and presbytery actually moving in? What battles are being waged within the denomination right now and do they have the potential to cause a split? Why is the RPCNA running from the term 'covenenter?' And so on and so forth. It's to easy to sit back and look at the confession and say that we agree with these guys, it's even easier when we sit back and say we agree with them on one point. There are a ton of other issues to consider and I fear we haven't considered all of them.

I'll bet that if we only looked at broad issues like the Confession that we would be in agreement with any number of denominations, some of them quite awful. It's time for our church to look at some of the smaller issues and some of the politics within the RPCNA. In the very least, I am quite bothered by their running from the term 'covenenter' as it suggests what direction the denomination is heading.

Lydia said...

Rev. Lanning explained thoroughly in a Sabbath School last Sunday about the usage of the term covenanters. He would be a good one to direct your questions/concerns to.

Nate said...

Although I agree that their are problems (what donomination does not have them)..

Why would you stay in a denomination that allows for so many things that are against your conscience and not join one that has many things in line with the Westminster Standards?

Many of the OPC churches are allowing contemporary worship, some promote the 'new' perspective, they allow Baptists to be in full communion, yet, you are willing to cut off ties over grape juice versus wine?

Notliberal: The losing the Covenanter name shoud cause no alarm. The fact is that the denomination has changed names numerous times in their history.

-Reformed Presbyterian Witness
-Covenanter Witness
-Reformed Covenanter witness
-RP and Covenanter Witness
-Olive Trees
-Covenanter Witness again
-Reformed Presbyterian Witness again.

This may be indecisive, but it has nothing to do with not promoting covenanter principles. Look at Crown and Covenant publishers and see that this is still very important for them as a denomination. www.psalm4u.com

Andrew Duggan said...


What's the difference between traditional hymns and contemporary worship. I don't think there are any clues as to which is more heinous in the sight of God. I find it hard to take seriously those that object to contemporary worship, when their own worship practice is so blatantly idolatrous. See, I'm not just a Psalm-singer, I'm,one of those nasty ones that thinks that if one's purpose is to praise God in song, then he is limited to the Psalms with out regard to the formality of the setting. Pardon the analogy, but just as there is no place for [adding] water or ice when it comes to whiskey, there is no place for uninspired songs when praising God.

I'm not sure what you mean by cut off ties over grape juice versus wine, but for most of my life, if the time table is correct, the RPCNA forbad the use of wine even in the Lord's supper, the OPC has never forbidden the use Psalms, even exclusively. They might ridicule it, but they didn't forbid now did they.

Surely you can see the difference - right? There's not much point in continuing this if you don't.

Thanks so much for putting me in a position where I had to be an apologist for the OPC. They have basically asked my little church to leave, and they are likely to get their wish ;-(

As I said to Robbie, I'm not saying the RPCNA is apostate. The RPCNA is one of the churches whose communicant members (in good and regular standing) would be invited to the Lord's Supper in my church. So again what do you mean cut off ties.

My point was to get you thinking so that you were going into this with your eyes open. As long as you are comfortable with being the outermost feather of the right-wing of the RPCNA then you might be happy there.

Just don't make the mistake that because they changed their stance on X,Y, or Z, and that aligns with your position, doesn't mean they actually agree with you. For example, we agree with Rome that abortion is wrong, but is that reason enough to become a Romanist?

Regarding the use of the name Covenanter, are you sure that C&C is really representative? The first hand reports by some members of the RPCNA definitely left me with impression of eschewing the name Covenanter.

One final thought, you say some in the OPC promote the "new" perspective. That's pretty funny considering the OPC denies that any officer promotes either the NPP or F.V. Very much like a Vietnamese villager running from the U.S. military screaming "no V.C. here, no V.C. here", the OPC steadfastly maintains that within its communion "there is no F.V. here..." Care to name names? ;-)

Notliberal said...

Again, Duggan makes some good points. What battles are being fought within the RPCNA and what do they really believe? What we can read on paper isn't per se what's actually happening within the denomination and it certainly doesn't suggest a direction for the church. If we went just on paper alone, the URC looks fine as does the OPC. I think it foolish for us to rest on one issue and one issue alone when deciding a denomination, especially when that one issue isn't prohibited by our denomination.

Robbie said...

notliberal - the best way for you to find out is to contact ministers and talk to them, worship with them, go to their presbytery meetings and synod. At that time you will see the politics of the church in action and should satisfy you in what you are seeking.

Andrew - I agree with you that the RPCNA should not run from her heritage. She should and must uphold her principles- the RGW, Psalmody, Presbyterian Government, Infant Baptism, Expositional, covenantal, reformed preaching, along with reformed soteriology. If she does not then she [we] are no different than those denominations who do not stand for their confessions.

My point about was pointed at divisiveness over smaller and lesser important doctrines. I.e. the incarnation, trinity, soteriology are far more important than the issue of wine vs. alcohol in communion.

And while it was a huge thing years ago, it is not anymore- debated at the Synod level every so often but not beyond that. If you want to read the papers and see what the Church said - look at the minutes. Everything you want to know is on the Web (testimony) or in writing (just contact various RP ministers and i am sure they would let you read the minutes. You will find that Wine in communion is not forbidden.

the motto of the church is Semper Reformanda - that is the motto of the RPCNA and they certainly live it out.

Again to Andrew, in Nate's defence, I have a Greek professor at my college who does promote new perspective. He is OP and not under discipline. I know for a fact there are those within the OPC and PCA who are at the least sympathetic to NT Wright and Steve Wilkins.

Andrew Duggan said...


Perhaps this will help you understand my reply to Nate regarding the OPC and the NPP/FV. The current situation in the OPC is that if an officer in the OPC (deacon, elder or minister) even suggests that the OPC might not be perfect, the officer making said suggestion is himself considered to be in violation of his ordination vows. The only thing forbidden in the OPC with respect to the FV or NPP is to suggest there is any NPP or FV within the OPC.

Did you ever see the movie Fight Club? The first rule about "Fight Club" is that you don't talk about "Flight Club". Similarly, in the OPC, the first rule of the OPC is you don't talk about the F.V. (or NPP) being in the OPC!

So, I was not saying anything either way about there being any FV or NPP within the OPC, (I may be stupid, but I'm not crazy) I was saying the OPC itself denies any FV or NPP within her communion!