The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC)

Having made an introduction of NAPARC, we will now begin introducing in alphabetical order the member churches of NAPARC. Since the first member church we will consider is a Presbyterian church, we want to explain some distinctions. Although there is complete agreement in doctrine and in the confessions, there are differences in polity between the Presbyterian and the Dutch Reformed churches. In Dutch churches, the relations between classis and consistory are described as broader. In Presbyterian polity, the presbytery is higher than the session. Classis exists only as a delegated body, and when it closes business, it no longer exists. In Presbyterian polity, the presbytery is a body that always exists and meets frequently. In Dutch polity, ministers are not members of classis but of their local congregation. The Presbyterian minister is a member of presbytery on loan to a local congregation. The presbytery in Presbyterian churches is comparable to the classis in Continental Reformed churches; the Presbyterian general assembly is comparable to the synod; and the session is comparable to the consistory. In Presbyterian churches, the minister is called a teaching elder, while the appointed elders of the congregation are called ruling elders.

Presbyterian churches subscribe primarily to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The Continental Reformed churches subscribe primarily to the Heidelberg Catechism. Both also subscribe to the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort. All these doctrinal standards are recognized to be in complete agreement with each other by both confessional Presbyterian and Reformed churches. These different confessions were adopted at different times and places in history for their own particular need to clarify and defend the Reformed doctrines, the Heidelberg Catechism in 1563, and the Westminster Standards in 1646.

Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) History. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church as we know it today comes out of a lengthy history of service in two lands, the British Isles and North America. It had its beginnings in the preaching of John Knox in Scotland, where the Scottish church became the official Church of Scotland in 1560. As is always the case when the church and state become too closely allied, controversy and bitter strife over control became a way of life for church and state alike. Things improved somewhat under King William III in 1688, as he reorganized the Church of Scotland into the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In spite of the improvement, a great number of problems still existed, and in 1733 a pastor named Ebenezer Erskine led a group of Christians in forming a separate Associate Presbytery (from thence comes the first part of the denomination’s name). Ten years later, another group of Christians who for years had suffered problems with the established church organized themselves into the Reformed Presbytery.

Both churches spread to Northern Ireland, as the Scots were forced to emigrate, and both came to America with those Scottish and Irish people. The immigrants came to the Pennsylvania area first, and it was there that both the Associate and the Reformed Presbyteries of Pennsylvania were organized in the 1750–1770 period.

In the New World all the old alliances were called into question. The new America was emerging, and at the same time, the forefathers of these Presbyterian immigrants were seeking to create a new church. Formal union talks between the Associates and the Reformed began in 1777, and by 1782 the Associate Reformed Synod came to be in Philadelphia. This synod included churches in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. Not all Associates and Reformed participated in this union.

Eight years later, the Associate Reformed Presbytery of the Carolinas and Georgia was formed in Abbeville County, South Carolina , followed some twenty years later (1803) by the division of the entire church into four synods and one general synod, with the headquarters of the church in Philadelphia. In 1822 the Synod of the Carolinas was granted separate status and by the end of the century was the sole remaining body of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, as several mergers over the years had absorbed the rest of the denomination into the old United Presbyterian Church. The remaining ARPs in the southeast continued on as the denomination that exists today.

The Present. Today the ARPC is composed of about 23,196 communicant members in approximately 294 churches and mission congregations. They are located primarily in the southeast United States.

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church holds to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Their ordination vows include this question, “Do you accept the doctrines of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, as founded on the Word of God and as the expression of your own faith, and do you resolve to adhere thereto?” They allow the ordination of women deacons, although this is a historic practice not linked to the feminist movement of the latter half of the twentieth century. They are officially opposed to lodge membership, but it is tolerated in a number of their congregations, seemingly without complaint from others.

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is a member of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) and the World Reformed Fellowship. They have fraternal ties with most of the NAPARC churches. In 2011 they withdrew from the International Conference of Reformed Churches and ended fraternal relations with the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is in a phase 1 relationship with the United Reformed Churches in North America. Phase 1 is exploration, with the intent that by correspondence and dialogue, mutual understanding and appreciation may develop. Because of geography and the ARPC’s former ties with the CRC, no formal meetings have been held between the URC Committee of Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU) and the ARPC Inter-Church Relations Committee since November 2003. Continued dialogue is anticipated now that ties have been broken with the CRC.

Presbyteries. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church is divided into ten presbyteries:

Canadian Presbytery—Constituted to be effective January 4, 2004, it was formed by the division of the Northeast Presbytery at the Canadian border and includes the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec.

Catawba Presbytery—Constituted in 1919 by the division of the First Presbytery. It includes all of the state of South Carolina, except for most of the western counties; the state of Louisiana; and the state of Texas.

First Presbytery—Constituted in October 1800, it was formed by the division of the Associate Reformed Presbytery of the Carolinas and Georgia. It includes the state of North Carolina and most of the counties in Appalachia.

Florida Presbytery—Constituted October 16, 1963, by the division of the Second Presbytery and includes the state of Florida. Mississippi Valley Presbytery–Constituted in 1931 when the Memphis and Louisville Presbyteries merged. It includes the states of Arkansas, most of Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and the western part of the state of Tennessee west of the Tennessee River. Northeast Presbytery—Constituted January 1, 1987, it was formed by the division of the Virginia Presbytery. It now includes the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, DC, and parts of Virginia and West Virginia.

Pacific Presbytery—Constituted July 10, 1997, when the general synod entered into a covenant relationship with certain ministers and congregations of the independent U.S. Presbytery to establish the Pacific Presbytery. It includes the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Second Presbytery—Constituted in October 1800, it was formed by the division of the Associate Reformed Presbytery of the Carolinas and Georgia. It now includes the state of Georgia and most of the western South Carolina counties.

Tennessee–Alabama Presbytery—Constituted in 1937, it now includes the state of Alabama, most of the eastern two-thirds of the state of Tennessee east of the Tennessee River, and the Cleveland Street Church in New Albany, Mississippi.

Virginia Presbytery—Constituted in 1854, it includes most of the states of Virginia and West Virginia Complete details about the ARPC can be found on its website at Information for this article comes the ARPC website. Mr. Myron Rau  is the chairman of the board of Reformed Fellowship. He is a member of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.