Our HistoryDo not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set. Proverbs 22:28
Grace & Truth RPC
History of the Congregation
Grace & Truth Reformed Presbyterian Church is a Mission Church established in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ through the Presbytery of the Alleghenies, which is an organized group of congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). On June 25th, 2013, the Presbytery of the Alleghenies met during the 2013 RPCNA Synod Meeting and received the core group of families in Harrisonburg, VA as a mission work. This is an excerpt from the minutes:
“The Church Extension Committee recommended the group in Harrisonburg, VA be organized as a Mission Church with the Trinity RPC Session serving as the TGB (temporary governing body). The recommended was approved. Pastor Jerry O’Neill offered prayer establishing the Harrisonburg group as a Mission Church in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ the King and Head of the Church.”
The temporary governing body, consisting of Pastor Steve Bradley, Elder David Merkel, Elder Tony Gazo, and Elder Brad Stewart, met as a Session on July 9th, 2013. They decided that Grace & Truth RPC would begin evening worship services at 6:00 pm on the first and third Lord’s Days beginning on August 4th, 2013, at Good Shepherd School, 352 Neff Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA. On the second, fourth, and fifth Lord’s Days, Grace & Truth would meet at 6:00 pm at Good Shepherd School for a time of fellowship and Bible Study.
Grace & Truth RPC has been richly blessed since that time. God moved within the people a desire for worship services every week in the morning hours. Therefore, the temporary governing body met as a Session on November 12th, 2013. And “the TGB approved starting morning worship services on December 8th, (2013) at 11AM, and continue each Sabbath thereafter.”
The next step for the Mission Church is to become a fully-organized congregation by God raising up a Session of elders in Harrisonburg, Virginia, for the oversight of the congregation. Also, there will need to be a Board of Deacons responsible chiefly for the ministry of mercy and stewardship.
Reformed Presbyterian Church in the Three Kingdoms
History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church
The RPCNA is different from the Presbyterian churches most people are familiar with today. The RPCNA is not a branch of any American Presbyterian body, but it is the remnant of the original Presbyterian Church of Scotland, whom the Holy Spirit used to birth what is commonly called “the Second Reformation.” In 1643, this reformation solemnly covenanted together Scotland, England, and Ireland “by the providence of GOD living under one king, and being of one reformed religion, having before our eyes the glory of God, and the advancement of the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST,” to produce unity “in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of GOD.” From this reformation came the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, Form of Church Government, and Directory for Public Worship, which many Presbyterian bodies still use today as standards subordinate to the Word of God. The RPCNA was built on this concept of unity by covenanting. Therefore, for many years, the church was known simply as the “Covenanters.”
This unity, however, disintegrated due to King Charles II. In 1651, King Charles took a vow to uphold the covenant that unified the kingdoms. However, the king broke his vow several times, chiefly when he signed into law the Corporation Act of 1661, which forced all ministers to renounce the very covenant which the king had vowed to uphold!
When God allows Satan to attack the unity of His Church, there almost always follows persecution. With the power of the Corporation Act and some similar laws, called the Clarendon Code, Satan commenced his attack against the Church, forcing non-Biblical worship practices onto the churches and making the State the ruler over the Church. The Covenanters’ blood was spilled for decades, so much so that one historian named the period from about 1660 to 1688 the “Killing Times.” Therefore, the RPCNA is a church grown from this root of suffering.
God is amazing in His ways! Wherever there have been Covenanters, God has built His Church. The Killing Times caused many to flee to Ulster, Ireland. These Covenanters formed into congregations and, eventually, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland. Many of the persecuted fled to the New World, to Pennsylvania, New York, and South Carolina. From these Covenanters, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North Americawas later formed. For those who remained and endured persecution in Scotland, God raised up congregations and, in 1743, formed the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, holding the first Synod in 1811. And so, the RPCNA is also a church possessing a root of organization.
From this point, you can follow the history of the blessing of God upon the Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC). For more on the formation of the Reformed Presbytery in Scotland (1743) and the first Synod of the RPC of Scotland (1811), read this account. For more information on the formation of the Reformed Presbytery in Ireland (1763) and their first Synod of the RPC of Ireland (1811), read this account. But now let us look at the history of the RPC in America, which would later be named the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church in America
History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America
Persecution followed the Covenanters across the ocean to the American Colonies. The influence of King Charles II was not as strong in the Colonies, but the Covenanters felt the yoke of tyranny and the state-enforced, non-Biblical worship forced upon them. Covenanter societies were most numerous outside Lancaster, PA, in a small town called Octorara. The Society became a congregation when they obtained a minister, Pastor Alexander Craighead, from the Presbyterian Church, who led them in a renewal of the Covenants of their forefathers on November 11, 1743. Pastor Craighead wrote many pamphlets against the Presbyterian church, which supported the British Crown and did not recognize the headship and mediatorial reign of Jesus Christ over all nations. One such pamphlet explains in detail his theological reasons for leaving the Presbyterian Church to lead the Covenanter Societies. Pastor Craighead tried very hard to obtain support for his ministry from the Reformed Presbyteries in Ireland and Scotland, but they were not strong enough to help. The frustration of ministering alone for almost a decade weighed heavily upon Pastor Craighead and he left the Societies to take up a more stable position at a Presbyterian church in North Carolina. So, once again, the Covenanters were left alone without any minister.
However, God did not leave them alone for long. In August, 1751, the Reformed Presbytery of Scotland was able to send a minister, Pastor John Cuthbertson, to serve as a missionary to the Covenanters in America. He served faithfully for twenty-two years and God blessed his ministry. In Octorara, they built a few log cabins for worship, but most services were held in groves, private homes, and barns. Pastor Cuthbertson not only ministered to the Octorara Covenanter congregations, but also those throughout Pennsylvania, New York, and the surrounding States, on horseback! God blessed His Church and it grew. Pastor Alexander McDowell left the Presbyterian Church and joined the Covenanters in 1759. In 1766, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland (RPCI) sent Pastor Daniel McClelland. In 1772, the RPCI sent Pastor William Martin, along with a whole colony of laymen, to reside and minister in South Carolina. In 1773, the RPCI sent two more ministers to assist Pastor Cuthbertson as missionaries to the Colonies. Their names were Pastor Matthew Linn and Pastor Alexander Dobbin. And, so, for the first time in the New World, there were enough organized congregations with ministers to constitute a Presbytery. On March 10, 1774, in Paxtang, PA, the first Reformed Presbytery in America was constituted.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church has always been mission-minded, which is why the RPC is truly a global church. Besides Ireland, Scotland, and North America, the RPCNA has a Presbytery in Japan and congregations in Canada. There is also an RPC of Australia. More confidentially, there are Covenanter Societies throughout East Asia. There are Covenanter congregations in Uganda, Southern Sudan, Africa, Cyprus and parts of South America. There are also Covenanter congregations in Israel. There are even more Covenanter Societies that God is making known to the RPCNA in South America through their ministry for the continent called Presbiteriano Reformado. Covenanter history is rich with fearless missionaries, like Reformed Presbyterian Pastor John G. Paton, who proclaimed the gospel to Cannibals! Yes, this is another crucial root of the RPCNA, that she loves her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and aches for all of the nations to praise His name, striving hard for global missions and missionaries for the sake of the expansion of Christ’s kingdom.
The Reformed Presbytery in America joined with the Associate Presbyterian Church on November 1, 1782, and called this unified body the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. This union was not accepted by many reformed Presbyterians because the Associate Presbyterian Church still adhered, in her constitutional documents, to the Revolution Settlement of 1688. This document forced the churches to recognize tyrants as ordinances of God and did not require the governments to acknowledge Jesus Christ as King over the nation. Therefore, some Reformed Presbyterians would not compromise, which is a virtue they are known for.
The Reformed Presbyterians who merged with the Associate Presbyterian Church held their head in shame as the new Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church supported the Constitution of the United States in 1789, even though it said nothing of swearing allegiance to God, Christ, or the Scriptures as supreme over the nation. The truly Reformed Presbyterians, who did not unify with the Associate Church, later wrote a compelling pamphlet against the Constitution. They stated, primarily, that the Constitution was mistaken not to acknowledge Jesus Christ as King over the nation and the Scriptures as the Supreme Law of the land. Secondly, the Constitution allowed for and supported the sin of slavery, which the Reformed Presbyterians have always been against. So God blessed these Reformed Presbyterians. Once again, the RPCs of ireland and Scotland sent ministers to those Reformed Presbyterians who did not compromise and they grew large enough to constitute a Presbytery. The Reformed Presbytery of America began in May of 1798, in Philadelphia, PA.
God blessed the Reformed Presbytery of America and she grew large enough to constitute her first Synod meeting in Philadelphia on May 24, 1809. There is a time for God’s blessing of growth and there is a time for God to ordain division. We do not question His Sovereignty, but rather trust Him completely, while repenting of our sins. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of America officially split in 1833 over differences of political allegiance. Those who took the Historic Covenanter position, believing allegiance can only be given to governments that submit to Jesus Christ as King of nations, were called the Old Light Synod. Those who took a new view, allowing allegiance to governments who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as King, were called the New Light Synod. The New Light Synod gradually declined in numbers and eventually merged into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1965 becoming the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Evangelical Synod), which then merged into the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 1982. Those who did not compromise, but have continued as the Old Light Synod, are called the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. The Synod of 1871, meeting in Pittsburgh, PA, on May 21st, renewed the covenants of their forefathers with the Covenant of 1871. This covenant, and many other historical acts of the RPCNA, attest to the fact that she is a repentant church. Here is an excerpt from the Covenant:
“We do humbly and sincerely confess and lament that we have not duly valued and improved the unsearchable riches of truth and grace in the Holy Scriptures, by making them our constant, earnest and prayerful study, by accepting Christ in all His fulness of saving blessings, and by seeking for the Holy Spirit in His illuminating and renewing grace to apply to our souls the redemption of Christ, and thus reconcile us unto God, and make us partakers of everlasting life.
We acknowledge, with shame, want of faith in God and in the promises and threatenings of His Word, formality in religious services, pride, selfishness, vanity, conformity to the spirit of the world, lukewarmness, untenderness in our walk and in our dealings with others, unwatchfulness, sinful security, and want of spirituality in our disposition and deportment. We are chargeable with remissness in the duties of the closet, the family, the prayer-meeting, and the sanctuary. We have not hallowed the Sabbath by observing it with the care and sacredness required by the divine Commandment. We have shown criminal apathy and unfaithfulness in that we have not cherished love for all men, and especially for the faithful in Christ Jesus, and in that we have not exhorted one another daily, and sought to promote the spiritual growth and holiness of the saints.
We mourn that religion has not been cultivated and practiced in our homes as it should have been. Parents have not felt in any adequate measure their responsibility for the salvation of their children; and in consequence, family worship, reading the Scriptures in the household, instruction in the accepted manuals of the faith of the Church, and pleading the covenant and promise of God on behalf of our seed, are mournfully neglected.
We lament that, as professing witnesses for Christ, we have failed in obedience to His command to preach the Gospel to every creature, to make known His will and law among the nations, and to administer with fidelity the law and discipline of His own house. While property is hoarded up, or wasted upon the luxuries and vanities of life, and in very many cases upon objects pernicious to both body and soul, means are wanting to make known the way of salvation in the sight of the heathen. We confess and bewail our forgetfulness of the obligations laid upon us by the Covenants of our fathers, in that we have often walked contrary thereunto, in not testifying fully and clearly in word and act for the claims of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and the Prince of the kings of the earth. We have sinned, too, in that, while witnessing for social covenanting as an ordinance of God, binding under the dispensation of the Gospel, we have not as a Church in this country, by our own act, performed the duty.
We humble ourselves in the sight of the Just and Holy One…”
We, the RPCNA, know that we are imperfect and must constantly rely on the grace of God in Jesus Christ, day by day, and we confess our manifold sins. Indeed, repentance is a pure root by which God grows His Church.
NOTE: All accounts of history are cursory and a mere summary, as is this account. Therefore, if you desire more details on the history of the RPCNA. I recommend the following resources:
1. The Reformed Presbyterian Archives– This is a great resource for primary resources of Reformed Presbyterian History from 1809 to Present.
2. Glasgow, W. Melancthon. The History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America. – Pastor Glasgow accounts the History of the Church from the Three Kingdoms to his time of 1888.
If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standard existence amongst us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all other parts, consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz., a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshiped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained. When these are kept out of view, though we may glory in the name of Christians, our profession is empty and vain.