America’s Dissenting Presbyterian Heritage

By Zach Dotson - Posted at Purely Presbyterian:

American Presbyterians have always punched above their weight class, despite representing a relatively small portion of the American Populous throughout American History. Presbyterians have through their writings, educational institutions, and preaching left their mark on the religious landscape of our nation. American Presbyterians have been on the forefront of every great religious controversy in America, from the Great Awakening to the fundamentalist versus modernist debates all the way to the current resurgence of Calvinism across the American evangelical scene. With the resurgence of Calvinism has come a renewed interest in Confessionalism, or understanding and following the historic creeds and confessions the Church has put forth to summarize Scriptural teaching and explain doctrine. This has put books by Scottish Presbyterians such as Rutherford, Durham, and Boston back into print. English Puritans have become popular as well––Sibbes, Watson, Owen, and Manton all are frequently in the hands of America’s growing Reformed movement. American Presbyterians like Hodge, Dabney and Shedd have popular dogmatics. Other American Presbyterians like Miller, and Archibald Alexander have very practical books that are being rediscovered. Yet, there is one group lacking in the rediscovery of Reformed Convictions thought in America, and this group is actually a number of groups, which I shall simply term “American Dissenting Presbyterians.”

Who are American Dissenting Presbyterians?

America’s Dissenting Presbyterians have somewhat difficult histories to understand but basically they are unified in this fact, for some reason, they chose to separate from the Church of Scotland, and upon arriving in America they could not in good conscience join the mainline Presbyterian Church (which for the sake of ease in this Article I will call the PCUSA). There are today only two groups of dissenting Presbyterians left in the United States and they are the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. Both have different yet somewhat similar histories. The Reformed Presbyterians are known as “Covenanters” they are the Society people that at the time of Revolution Settlement could not in good conscience go back into the Church of Scotland. The Associate Reformed Presbyterians or ARP are a merger of two Presbyterian groups, the Associate Church and the Reformed Presbyterians, to form a uniquely Scottish and American Presbyterian Church in the United States. The things that set the Dissenting Presbyterians apart from their mainline counterparts were strict confessional adherence to the point of becoming in many ways countercultural, holding strictly to the Regulative Principle of Worship, and never assimilating as quickly into American Society as their mainline counterparts.


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