reunion response

The Reunion paper by Kenneth Stewart has prompted a good deal of discussion behind the scenes (and here). Now a Response has been published, co-authored by David Campbell and Matthew Vogan:

It’s detailed, thoughtful, plain, and realistic – go and have a read.


64 thoughts on “reunion response

  1. To be honest two things strike me. This paper seems to, in the main, discuss what Mr Stewart does not say as much as he says. That’s fine up to a point. Particular criticism is aimed for Mr Stewart not discussing key scriptural principles But I think the authors themselves miss an opportunity in not entering into that “full discussion of and engagement with the relevant scripture portions relating to the unity of the visible Church and the nature of schism” which they quite rightly state at the outset are so important. They do refer briefly to these principles “summarised as follows: union is an absolute duty except where it would require one to sin; schism is a serious sin (1 Cor. 1:10 and 12:25) that is contrary to the nature of the visible Church (Eph. 4:4, 12-13) and produces obnoxious effects (1 Cor 3:3); separation is only lawful when continued union would oblige one to sin” but that is all. For example a fuller discussion of the first and last points from scripture would have been most useful.


  2. I’d also be interested to see a fuller discussion of the scriptural principles, although I guess the general gist comes across from the brief sketch you’ve quoted.

    I think this paper does also make its own contribution as well as critiquing Mr Stewart’s. One thing it calls for is more openness from the different denominations in “presenting a clear testimony for their separate position”. Something I appreciated about Mr Stewart’s paper was how prominently it highlighted what the various denominations share (although this response queries whether the APC shares the same relationship to the WCF as the other three). However I think the response is right to say that we can’t just proceed on the assumption that these denominations are only separate by historical accident, as though each has an equally good basis for its separate existence. Some are on very shaky grounds and (at least in my own perception) have never really seemed to acknowledge the enormity of taking up their separate position. The admittedly painful process of exploring the justifications for each of these denominations existing at all, is something that really does need to happen before there can be serious consideration of reunion.

    The other positive contribution of this response is i think that it starts to articulate some reasons for people to consider the FP church as a realistic alternative. Going back to Mr Stewart’s paper, he suggested there were 2 options – either a new church or an existing church acting as host. For the role of host church, Mr Stewart’s paper proposed the RPs, but there would also be reasons in favour of nominating the FPs. Not to make it sound like a sales pitch, but they do have a clear testimony (1893 was about commitment to the Westminster Confession), they are serious about adhering to the whole Confession (as the very doctrines taught by Scripture), they take schism seriously (reluctant to paper over the cracks via informal fellowships while sidelining true organisational unity), and they are open to unity (on solid grounds, to maintain Reformed doctrine, worship, and discipline). The response by mentioning these factors is I think advancing the discussion by offering a concrete alternative suggestion.

    What we do need above all is frank and honest discussion. I must say i find it very heartening that Mr Stewart’s paper and now this paper by Mr Campbell and Mr Vogan are both getting to grips with these huge issues and both in a spirit of respectfulness and a concern to see things reformed.


    • Not sure where to post this but I think the fact that the discussion below has zoned in on the right of rebellion against a magistrate may indicate that our areas of significant disagreement are hard to find or else that we are trying too hard to prove sole apostolic descent.

      I would respectfully suggest that it may be more beneficial simply to discuss the proposition that all those persuaded of the original Westminster documents should reconstitute around them so that all join one another instead of trying to establish true apostolic lineage for an existing denomination. I think that latter quest is doomed to failure – and I believe God is making that manifest to us all.


      • “We cannot escape the conclusion that doctrine per se was not the primary barrier to union. Arguably, the real barriers were those of size, practice, identity and ethnicity.

        Too much can be made of points like these, to be sure, for they are more often matters of perception than of substance. But it is important to reckon with the reality that doctrinal agreement is in practice rarely enough to make churches embrace organic union.

        A people’s sense of identity is a powerful force in their thinking. The mere thought that it might disappear gives pause and requires, at the very least, the triumph of faith over the pull of present attachments and long-standing sentiments.

        It also requires a vision of future possibilities sufficient to overcome the doubts and fears over what will be lost in the changes that must take place.

        The 1876 union occurred because in practice the Majority Synod R. P’s. and the Free Kirkers of the time; they knew one another and found themselves to be so much of like mind, that they were persuaded that the union was right and desirable. At every level, they were at ease with one another.

        They therefore worked hard – for fourteen years – to make the union happen.”

        – Gordon J. Keddie ‘The Reformed Presbyterian Church or Scotland and the disruption 1863’ (1993)


        • The more people from the churches mingle I’m becoming convince that the secret to ‘organic union’ is in that last paragraph:

          “They knew one another and found themselves to be so much of like mind, that they were persuaded that the union was right and desirable.”


  3. The biblical justification underlying the principle that “we should maintain unity always unless sin is required” centers around a full understanding of the true meaning of separation. When denominations are separated from each other, there is an implicit claim being made on both sides that the other side is committing the sin of schism. (This assertion is discussed in the article that is the subject of this post as well as the article I just linked to in my last post.) Since this is the case, we ought not to make such a charge without biblical justification. We are required to maintain the unity of Christ’s church. We cannot separate ourselves from unity with God’s people. When a church requires sin of us and forces us to separate from it, it is not really we who are separating; it is the church that has separated from us (committing the sin of schism) by driving us out. We are never allowed to separate from the church, but a church can force us into separation by its actions.

    Here is another good article (from the OPC) on church unity:


  4. I would like a discussion on these churches uniting their efforts where possible in setting up a Christian school!! There’s a desperate need in Glasgow especially.


  5. Education is definitely a big concern Janneke. Thanks for commenting :-)

    In a sense though it’s just one of many problems that the fragmented church can’t adequately respond to, precisely because of being disunited.

    So an interim solution might be to put to one side the reasons for fragmentation, in order to address a pressing practical problem.

    But that couldn’t be the whole solution because it would leave the root problem unaddressed – the disunity of the church itself.

    Ultimately, to be consistent presbyterians, we need to acknowledge that stopping short of real structural reunion – even to deal with huge concerns like education – is just sweeping things under the carpet.

    I’ll see if I can post up something about education in the next wee while though. It’s definitely a topic that needs attention!


  6. The Free Church of Scotland Continuing congregation in Shettleston is actively exploring the possibility of acquiring a very recently defunct, immediately neighbouring Royal Mail sorting office. We had originally intended it solely for purposes of worship and outreach work but those who have seen it and are very committed to the idea of Christian schooling have been vey excited that its excellent facilities might also provide premises for the small beginnings of a Christian day school.
    However our finances are streched and limited as it is as we are a relatively small if predominantly young cish congregation. It is in the Lord’s hands. But any interested folks should contact us by e-mail.


  7. As a matter of interest, does anyone know what the current plans for denominational alignment that the former Church of scotland congregation, St George’s Tron, is pursuing? Having upped sticks and left the Kirk, bizarrely they seem still to be entrenched in the St George’s building which presumably is owned by the Kirk. I realise their form of worship puts them out of the running for the talks the Rev. Kenny Stewart had in mind but obviously what all of the disaffected former Church of Scotland people do in the long run must be of concern.


  8. …and of course, coming from a Church of Scotland background their exact relationship to the Westminster Confession is not at all clear! Will it even be uniform from one group to the next?
    Still my symapthies lie with them. Only the other day I read an advert in the Metro for ‘Christian Science’ healing meetings in, of all places, the Renfield Centre, the headquarters of the Glasgow Presbytery of the Church of Scotland!! Christian Science is a detestable heresy.


  9. Thanks Cath!
    I agree that it is not ideal but nevertheless… In the Netherlands many reformed churches work together in providing Christian schooling even though they are a lot more divided than over here. My view is that if we don’t act soon in sorting this issue then soon there will be no next generation left to fill the pews of a (united or divided ) church with (humanly speaking of course). Anyway, that’s a whole different discussion :-)


  10. Love what you are saying Janneke on Christian Schools, it has been laying on me for a while to ask the RP presbytery about the possibility of opening one.

    Ewan, I was out @ Shettleston for the YF a few weeks ago and heard about the interest in the post office I didn’t know what for – very interesting.
    And I haven’t heard anything about what the Tron going to do. However recently it was announced that the CoS would be taking them to court for building and manse (Tron not expected to fight this).


  11. Thanks, Connor!

    Of all the schisms among Scottish Presbyterians that still manifest themselves in present divisions today, I find the division of 1690 to be the most difficult to evaluate. I am extremely sympathetic to the concerns of the RPs regarding the inadequacies of the Revolution Settlement. I think my main reason for favoring the Revolution Settlement church over the RPs is that the RPs adopted the Cameronian position, and, as I understand, only officially stopped claiming it recently. If I am incorrect on this point, I am happy to be corrected.

    If it wasn’t for Cameronianism, I just might go with the RPs. But Cameronianism is simply unbiblical, and I find that blatant unbiblical position to be more alarming than the more subtle “wimpishness,” so to speak, of the Revolution church. In the latter case, as I understand it, while the situation was very non-ideal, yet no requirement to sin was involved in retaining office. But one could not in good conscience embrace the Cameronian error.

    Again, I’m willing to be corrected on this point by those who might know better. I am glad to have an opportunity to possibly learn more about this.

    Here is an article I have written attacking Cameronianism:


    • My attention has just been drawn to this discussion and not having too much time right now and not yet being as familiar with RP history as I would like to be – and perhaps should be! – I want to suggest tentatively that the understanding of the RP position here is flawed.

      The ‘Cameronianism’ being referred to seems to me to be that of the Steelite group, a group led by Rev Steel and which were a more extreme branch of the Covenanters. As far as I am aware, at no point has the RP family of churches ever taught that obeying the civil magistrate was optional. As I understand it, the RP church has repudiated this interpretation of their position all through her existence.

      Of course, the RP church has been more strict in its application of the doctrine of obeying the magistrate through the use of voting in a representative democracy and it has also strenuously defended the right of rebellion against a tyrannical civil magistrate – but please note that this right of rebellion against tyranny is the position of Lex Rex and, although it was roundly denounced when articulated by Richard Cameron in the Sanquhar Declaration, it was only a few years later that the whole of Scotland agreed with him and deposed the last of the Stewart Kings!

      In other words, I don’t think you will find this ‘grave error’ to be true interpretation of the RP position.


  12. To follow up: If the RPs have held the Cameronian error until recently, then even though they may now have abandoned it, yet this still means that the Revolution church, the Free Church, and the FPCS, in my opinion, are the rightful line from the Second Reformation Church of Scotland, and thus the RPs should join with the FPCS rather than the other way around, as far as the most appropriate way forward is concerned. If the RPs remain separate, then, I think this schismatic in a way it would not be necessarily for the FPCS.

    And, of course, there are other differences currently between the FPCS and the RPCS that the paper did not address which need to be addressed.


    • So the thesis is that the Revolution Settlement and all that flows from it is less imperfect than Cameronism? I am beginning to wonder whether there is any church in this land that has a right to claim it is the ‘true’ church. It seems from my (albeit limited!) reading that the RS repudiated many of the attainments of the Second Reformation and rescinded the Acts of Parliament that established them and was itself a largely Erastian imposition. Is this worse than not recognising the civil magistrate? Maybe it is, but you’ll have to convince me. And there is a paradox here. The one was a church created by the state and the other a church that refuses to recognise the state. So neither are really all that good, are they? I would have reservations about staking my all a church just because it has the least dubious history! Seems to me right now that schism is very much in the eyes of the beholder. We need to talk.


    • At the Revolution Settlement in 1688 the constitution completly failed to acknowledge the Solemn League and Covenant and the Divine Right of Presbytery. instead the wicked Episcopalian system was established in England and Ireland. Even in Scotland (some ministers still refer to her as the fairest daughter of the Reformation) heretics and persecutors were accepted as members, office bearers and ministers within the Revolution Settlement Church of Scotland. How can people boast of being part of this heritage when those with the blood of the covenanters on their hands were accepted as members of the church? The rights of Christ over civil affairs were not acknowledged as God’s Word requires and as the Solemn League and Covenant had previously committed the three kingdoms to maintain.

      Just look at the present political system and government of these nations, we have an atheistic, God-hating governmental system which true reformed-thinking Christians cannot support. Even in the supposidly most God honouring part of Scotland, the western Isles, there are Chrisitians who vote for Scottish Nationalists and support socialist canidates.


  13. Sure. Cameronianism, so far as I have understood, teaches that civil magistrates who do not fulfill the biblical requirements of civil magistracy should not be considered legitimate. The Bible requires civil magistrates to be God-fearing men, followers of the law of God, faithful to previously-made covenants, etc. So a Cameronian would hold that an atheistic or heretical magistrate, or one who has broken his promises in the past, or one who cannot trace his power back to some legitimate election according to biblical standards, should not be considered legitimate. (This would, of course, include every civil magistrate on earth today, so far as I know. Maybe there might be one or two very local exceptions somewhere perhaps.) So the Cameronians, for example, would not hold the current governments of Britain or of the United States to be legitimate civil governments requiring our submission and obedience in principle. They would say that the commands in Romans 13 do not apply to these magistrates.

    The Cameronian position is articulated at length here ( in opposition to Seceder views of the time.

    I certainly think the Cameronians have good points in many areas, but I think they are wrong with regard to what I discussed above, and that this is a very serious error.


  14. The question is: is the supposed ‘error’ serious enough to justify division? Considering the moderating of views as well, I personally do not think this particular issue is of such magnitude as to divide brethren. Leave it up to individual conscience.
    Is anything to be gained by insisting which group ‘swallows up’ which other group? In Christian humility we surely can simply join together in the Name of Christ alone?!
    On Bible versions, whilst I personally think the A.V. still is the best, I do have to ask myself if anywhere in Scripture we are shown that only one translation can ever be made and virtually absolutised. The A.V. is neither perfect nor even entirely free of pointless archaisms that could in a very light amendation be ironed out at some stage. I should clarify that I do not think a complete ‘free for all’ use of versions in any denomination is desirable or wise. The Church does have a duty to guard the Word!
    With the Church of Scotland falling apart before our very eyes, the Free Church and the Continuing still locked in often tense negotiations or general property uncertainties, and the various other smaller groups feeling the isolation. I think it inevitable that the Lord will ultimately expect us conservatives to heal historic rifts. Adopting an attitude of ‘splendid isolation’ may in the end turn out not to be so splendid as it hamperss the potential unity of Spirit in the bond of peace the Apostle expects. We all are going to be faced with much soul searching in the coming years.


  15. “Is anything to be gained by insisting which group ‘swallows up’ which other group?”

    Well, one of the reasons this issue is of interest to me is because the historical reasons for division, and the evaluation of whose historical claim to a right to separate existence is the best, is important in figuring out whom we should join. For example, if the RPCS and the FPCS remain separate, I would join with the FPCS, because I believe their claim to have a right to exist trumps the RPCS’s. It would trump it, in my view, even if there were no doctrinal or practical issues dividing the two denominations. The RPCS has only recently abandoned Cameronianism (if they have–I have never seen a clear statement of repudiation), and I think that that error was serious enough that people ought to have joined with the Revolution Settlement church in 1690. (How can it not be a very serious issue when a church says it is a sin to recognize the current civil government?) I think we have a moral obligation to join the denomination with the best claim to separate existence.

    However, i don’t think that means that there cannot be a charitable giving way on some occasions on the part of that denomination. So if the RPCS were identical in doctrine and practice to the FPCS, completely repudiated Cameronianism clearly, etc., then it is possible that circumstances might warrant thinking that the FPCS might not take advantage of all of its rights and might work to join with the RPCS in a way other than simply having them merge with the FPCS. Perhaps this might make sense, perhaps not. But until then, I think there would be a moral obligation to unite with the FPCS.


    • Mark, is it realy fair to suggest that a whole denomination “doesn’t have the right to exist even if it is over 300 years old? How can a church which has only existed since 1893 have a stronger claim than an older one? When the Lord’s people are so dividied thanks to there being rival denominations rather than a more united visible church is the “my church is older than your one” argument really all that important? Satan must be rejoicing when he looks upon the dividied church in Scotland. It must delight him when people look down their noses at members of an other church and say things “they are not like”, and write off other Christians just because they may not dress, speak or act 100% the same as themselves.

      Sometimes people are judged on their outward appearence and on their adherence to unwritten traditions rather than upon their walk with Christ. There are people who may not live up to some peoples’ ideal of a reformed Christian and yet they could put them to shame with their genuine desire to reach the lost and to learn more about Christ. The church has a call to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”, are the denominations, so proud of their unique and distinctive witness obeying this command?


  16. In the context of conservative Presbyterian reunion I think ALL of us involved have a definite duty to strain every fibre to reach whole hearted reunion. We must be humble and we must not dig our heels in over issues that do not have clear Biblical warrant for division.
    On the R.Ps and the franchise/civil government, I am not aware that they have prevented their members from voting in recent years. I have known R.P.s since the early 1980s and even then I recall members in Lanarkshire telling me they voted where conscience allowed them. So far as I understand it the Scottish R.P.s have put ‘in abeyance’ their non Westminster Confessional distinctives.
    In many former denominational mergers the new body adopted an entirely new name so that any question of who swallowed up whom became irrelevant. The point was to join together on an equal basis.
    I am not saying some hard work will be needed to clear the decks as it were but if we are all serious about it the Lord will lead us through. I remain convinced with the Rev Kenny Stewart that four WCF denominations being unable to get proper unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace must be highly displeasing to our Lord.


  17. Campbell and Vogan have stated that “It remains true that the Free Presbyterian Church is willing to consider union with any Church which holds the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith, both in her profession and practice.” Do the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Free Church (Continuing) not hold to the whole doctrine contained in the WCF? If they do then would the FP Church consider union with them or are there some ministers who believe that it wrong to even entertain thoughts of unity? If these churches do not hold to the doctrines contained in the WCF in practice and profession then perhaps those within the FP Church who oppose Union could explain exactly where the RPC and the FCC denominations fail to uphold these standards.


  18. There are a couple of different issues to address:

    1. Cameronianism and the Revolution Settlement. As I’ve said, I think Cameronianism was a grave error, grave enough to put a stumbling block in the way of being both a church officer and a member. It cannot be lightly papered over. It is a serious thing to require one’s members to refuse to recognize the legitimate civil magistrate.

    Everybody I know acknowledges that the Revolution Settlement left much to be desired. The question is, would it have required sin to remain a member and an officer in it? My understanding of the situation thus far has indicated that it would not, because, although there may have been bad cases of discipline, there was a right to protest failures, and there was a right to protest the refusal of the civil government to reaffirm the Solemn League and Covenant, etc. Here is an article by Matthew Vogan I have found helpful here: (see “New Reformed Presbyterian Constitution”). I would be very interested to hear if RP people here find it to be accurate. And, in general, I am interested in learning more details about the situation at the Revolution Settlement. Does anyone know where one might find records that would provide more details?

    So, if sin was required to stay with the RPs, and sin was not required to stay in the Revolution Settlement church, then I would think the right thing to have done would have been to stay in the RS church. In fact, even if the RS church had required sin (such as an agreement not to protest anything done amiss), this would have left us with a situation where the two branches of the church both required sin, which would have warranted the creation of a third group. But that didn’t materialize. In the absence of such a third group, then, we would have had to ask which church was worse/better, and I think it probably would have been the RP church that was worse, because its error and requirement to sin was more blatant and would have applied to members and not just officers, as would probably have been the case in the RS church.

    So these are my reasons for favoring the RS church as the rightful heir to the Reformation Church of Scotland. I think it is important to determine that, because there is a moral obligation we all have to join the church that is that rightful heir.

    2. Why ought we to be concerned with these issues? Why not just forget about the past and join together today? One reason is because the various churches are not sufficiently agreed in doctrine and practice. It sounds good to say, “Let’s just forget about the little things that divide us and unite in the great things we hold in common!” but Christ told us to be concerned for the entirety of the Word of God, not just the “big things” (Luke 11:42, Luke 16:10). It is an awesome task church officers have to preserve the purity of the church. Their task is to teach the whole counsel of God, and wo to them if they bargain away any portion of it for pragmatic reasons!

    For example, I understand the FCC does not enforce Paul’s head covering requirement. Well, they should. The FPCS does, as I understand it. I don’t know about the RPs. Now, we can debate about this, of course; but here is a difference of doctrine and/or practice that cannot simply be swept under the rug. And there are other issues as well. We’re just going to have to deal with them, and it is no use complaining that to insist on this is being petty or arrogant and refusing to care about unity. That is simply a false charge. Those who worry about these things do so because duty commands it.

    Also, history is important. Church officers, when considering mergers with other denominations, have a very important and difficult task–to examine with great care the other denomination and make sure joining with them will not compromise the integrity of the church. For example, the RPs used to embrace Cameronianism as a central distinctive. It sounds like the RPCS doesn’t anymore. But have they clearly repudiated it and repented of it? If not, frankly, that is a warning signal to me. When churches think they can change their doctrines without a peep by sweeping the issue under the rug, that says much for integrity. Now, perhaps the RPCS has done more than I know. I do not make a claim that they have not. My point is simply that this is a kind of issue that needs to be looked at carefully. If I stole a candy bar twenty years ago, I still need to repent today. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. If a church formed under schismatic circumstances hundreds of years ago in connection to a false doctrine, even if now it no longer teaches that doctrine, there is a need to acknowledge and repent of it. We cannot forget the past, for how we deal with the past says much about who we are in the present and who we are likely to be in the future.

    At any rate, it is a big task we have. And all the denominations need to be subjected to the kind of scrutiny I’ve been talking about. And our primary concern must be for the purity and unity of the church of Christ. Denominations are nothing. We should not be like fans of sport teams, rooting for our own denominations. Currently, my reading of the evidence favors the FPCS in terms of that being the church we should join. If more evidence comes in that favors, say, the RPCS, I will change in a heartbeat. I don’t care about the FPCS or the RPCS. i care about the church of Christ. But if caring about the church of Christ means defending the claims of the FPCS because the evidence seems to support it, then that is what I will do.

    So I suggest we talk about the individual issues that are still barriers to unity. I’m sure we can pool our resources and list some of them, perhaps just one or two at a time, for serious discussion. Because it is only through the resolution of those issues that a unity worth achieving will be achieved.


  19. Mark we all agree that it is wrong to sweep issues under the rug, but the question was
    ”Do the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Free Church (Continuing) not hold to the whole doctrine contained in the WCF?

    As far as I am aware the confession doesn’t say anything about head coverings or the covenants or women wearing trousers ect.

    My question then is why cannot “the whole doctrine contained in the WCF” alone be used as the basis of unity (as I understand it was intended to be), a individual member/elder/session may believe and practice more than that, but everyone in the denomonation has in common “the whole doctrine contained in the WCF”.

    Personally I would like to open the arms of unity a little further than you would. But we have to realise that there will always be some variance in practice & doctrine between members/elders/sessions or else we will all be in churches of 1.

    Also I think you are pressing the limits of Cameronianism too hard, harder certainly than it was ever held by the church. It still requires subjection to the magistrate but does not allow for any action that would be seen to support it’s sinful actions.
    (An interesting issue around the US election!)

    As to whether it is still held is a tricky question, it hasn’t been acted on for the past few decades and in the ~60s Synod left the issue to personal conscience.

    But only this summer at the RPCNA conference it was started:
    “It is impossible for unbelievers to hold civil office since the magistrate is to promote biblical truth and justice.” – Dr. Rick Gamble “


    • Head covering probably isn’t mentioned because there was no question or controversy over the practice at the time. The Confession predated the influence of feminist thinking on the Western Church by 300 years or so.


      • I’m sure there was no question over it, but that would not necessarily negate its inclusion in the confession or directory. However, I have to query how much this was based on theological understanding and not cultural convention. According to Samuel Rutherford it was the common practice in Scotland for men to cover their heads during the sermon, this practice seems at odds with the theological interpretation of 1 Cor 11 that requires women to cover their heads during worship.


        • “Though therefore we receive the supper of the Lord uncovered no man can conclude from thence Adoration ” appears to be the the proof phrase for the RPNA in making their case regarding headcovering. David Silversides has a response to the RPNA which brings before us a preponderance of Puritan and other sources which support the historic view regarding head-covering. The Rutherford quote is taken from a passage which is quoted at length here ( It is for the reader to determine just exactly what Rutherford is driving at here. My own reading is that it is primarily a response to the accusation that the Reformed Church in Scotland was guilty of the adoration of the elements and not a polemic re. head-covering. In any case all the Rutherford quote actually asserts is that men received the sacrament with uncovered head. It is an eisegesis to infer that the head was covered before that point. It could just as easily (and more likely) mean that the application of 1 Cor 11 regarding the sacrament in public worship did not mean the elements themselves were being adored as the head was uncovered throughout the whole service. The text is certainly open to interpretation. A fallible text which is open to interpretation should not be asserted as evidence for any principle of Biblical interpretation. He also argues from the practice of the Jewish people historically and appears to make an argument from culture. But that in no way proves that Scottish men had their head covered in church before removing the covering to partake of the sacrament.


          • Thanks Donald, I don’t have a strong opinion either way I really am just querying, and I know that that article is not the most reliable for quotes.

            Just to clarify something, in the following quote are you referring to the Rutherford quote, or 1 Cor 11?
            “The text is certainly open to interpretation. A fallible text which is open to interpretation should not be asserted as evidence for any principle of Biblical interpretation.”

            It does suggest to me that he means that the head was covered before that point but of course you cant build a case on that.

            I realise now that I was thinking of the George Gillespie quote above (thought I read it in a book about Greyfriars – must be getting my quotes mixed up) on second reading its likely talking about women not men.

            My other query then is about preaching caps, how do they reconcile with the aforementioned interpretation of 1 Cor 11?


            • Referring to the Rutherford quote rather than 1 Corinthians 11. The day I refer to the inspired writings of Paul as fallible you should cite me for heresy or convene an RP Inquisition ;-)


  20. Mark, are you not a member of a church which has things like Christmas carols, hymns amongst other things? Maybe your own church needs reformed as much as the RPC does.


  21. Sorry used the wrong WordPress account above.

    Now im not convinced of political dissent, however I do not view it as ‘a grave sin’.
    It would have stopped me from voting but remember that at the time only 10% of the adult male population had the right to vote anyway and of course none of the women.

    As for rebellion against the magistrate, as I said; submission and obedience in accord with Romans 13 was still required. The vast majority of Covenanter battles were in self defence however there were a few obvious examples of action like the Sanquhar Declaration which were open rebellion.

    Was it wise? Maybe not.
    But do I believe there comes a point where a civil ruler must be removed by the people? When they so fail in their Romans 13 responsibilities that they kill innocent people and persecute the church, should we not repudiate them and attempt their removal from power? Yes I believe so.

    I also believe that to describe the failings of the RS as ‘subtle wimpishness’ is a gross understatement. I believe it was indeed a horridly sinful compromise.
    – Brief reasons for that statement to follow in time.


  22. To “Reformed Presbyterian Post”: Yes, I think one of the main issues of disagreement between us is how much doctrinal and practical error should the church tolerate. The FPCS holds that “agreement in the whole of the Confession of Faith,” etc., includes agreement in the whole of what the Scriptures teach. So if the Scriptures teach head coverings, the church should hold to this and not allow officers to contradict or neglect it (just as we all agree that, since the Scriptures teach infant baptism, the churches should not allow officers to contradict or neglect it).

    I find the position that we should unite only around what is explicitly stated in the WCF and deliberately refuse to hold in the same way other things that the Scriptures teach problematic. It seems to me to put the WCF above Scripture. And I don’t see how it is not arbitrary to hold that doctrines explicitly stated in the WCF are not negotiable while doctrines clearly stated in the Scriptures and not in the WCF aren’t. The WCF itself says that the Scriptures are the final rule, and so fully upholding the WCF includes fully upholding the teaching of the Scriptures.

    Regarding Cameronianism, my understanding is that it involves much more than what you have said. If I am wrong, I am interested to be shown exactly where with specific evidence. If Cameronianism simply meant that we should avoid giving countenance to sinful actions of civil magistrates, I would agree with it. I myself did not vote in the recent American presidential election on the grounds that there was no biblically-qualified candidate. But Cameronianism, as I have understood it, traditionally taught also that civil magistrates that aren’t biblically qualified shouldn’t be regarded as legitimate civil magistrates at all, a position I think is contradicted by Scripture. So while I would not vote for Barack Obama, I feel that I owe him respect and obedience (to his lawful commands) as a legitimate civil magistrate.

    “Maybe your own church needs reformed as much as the RPC does.”

    Prometheus: Yes, indeed it does. The OPC needs far more reform, so far as I can see, than the RPCS or any of the churches involved in this discussion. I continue a member of the OPC only because it is the most orthodox Reformed church in the entire state of Utah, so my options are quite limited! : )

    Let me say also that I am quite open to being corrected by further information in anything that I am saying. I know I’m coming across as an FPCS defender, and that is because I currently think it is most likely that their claim to separate existence is the best. But I don’t really care who wins on that score. I have no particular emotional loyalty to the FPCS. (I’ve never even met one single FPCS member in person in my life, though I’ve met some good ones over the internet, as well as members of other good Scottish Presbyterian churches. : )) I am very sympathetic to the RP point of view. As I said earlier, I find the RP vs. Revolution Settlement dispute to be the hardest one to decide in Presbyterian history (at least of those disputes that still have practical implications today).

    I tend to try to cut to the main point in these kinds of conversations. I’m working through these things myself, trying to figure out how we best balance all of our responsibilities and seek the purity and unity of the church. I appreciate all the discussions and feedback and find it very helpful! Thank you!


  23. Connor, I didn’t see your post before I posted my response. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on the Revolution Settlement. I also agree that there are times when resistance to civil powers is called for.


  24. It seems to me that with regard to the historical issues, there are two main issues here (speaking of evaluating the Revolution Settlement church’s claims vs. the RP claims):

    1. Did the situation of the Revolution Settlement church require sin? If one could not be a member or an officer in it without sin (such as by being deprived of the right to protest wrongs and oppose them with one’s lawful authority), then breaking from it would have been justified. If not, then it would not have been. I would be very interested in RP comments on this. It seems to me clear that the Revolution Settlement was awful in many, many ways, and I do wonder if it was not the case that sin would have been required to remain in it. But, if it was possible to remain with protest against evil things, then even an awful settlement should not have been abandoned.

    2. Have the RPs historically taught what has been called Cameronianism (as we have been defining it in this conversation)?

    So far, what I have found is that the RPs have indeed historically taught Cameronianism. Rev. Stewart suggests otherwise, but the Cameronian ideas do seem to be there. I grant that they are often mixed with good ideas about resistance to tyranny, refusal to submit to unlawful demands, etc. What seems to me to have happened is that a very good and necessary refusal to submit to unlawfulness went too far as morphed into a system of recognizing civil magistrates that is unbiblical.

    This morning, I looked back through some RP material through the years, and in a subsequent post in just a few minutes I am going to post some quotations which seem to me to demonstrate that the RPs have taught Cameronianism.

    If they have indeed traditionally taught that, that is a serious problem, because the Bible demands that we submit for conscience’s sake to the civil magistrates he has placed over us. If it was required of members and/or officers to refuse to do this, then this would have been to require sin. In my view, if the RPs adopted and required Cameronianism, then I think this justifies us to look to the Revolution Settlement church, because when the seceding church is just as bad or worse than the church seceded from, I would think we should look on that as negating the secession. I would add that it is possible that a third party ought to have been formed, if sin was required in the RS church. But even if that was so, yet one was not formed, which places us still, I think, under a requirement to trace the rightful line through the RS church’s lineage.


  25. I don’t have time right now to put these in the most ideal, organized form; but I think they are accessible enough that they can be traced to their sources and examined.

    These first quotations are from the Act, Declaration, and Testimony, Part III (

    “Contrary to the very nature of magistracy, as described in the scriptures of truth, where we are taught, that all authority to be acknowledged of men, must be of God, and ordained of God. The divine ordination of magistracy is the alone formal reason of subjection thereto and that which makes it a damnable sin to resist. So the apostle teacheth, Rom. 13:1 &c.: “There is no power but of God; the powers that be, are ordained of God.” Not only is it the current sentiment of orthodox divines upon the place, but the text and context make it undeniably evident, that by power here, is understood, not a natural, but a moral power, consisting not only in an ability, but in a right to command. Which power is said to be ordained of God, as importing not merely the proceeding of the thing from God providentially, but such a being from God, as carries in it his instituting or appointing thereof, by the warrant of his word, law, or precept. So that that power which is to be owned as of God, includes these two particulars, without which, no authority can be acknowledged as God’s ordinance, viz: institution and constitution, so as to possess him, who is God’s minister, with a moral power. ln the divine institution of magistracy is contained, not only the appointment of it, but the defining the office in its qualifications and form, in a moral sense, prescribing what shall be the end, and what the measure of its authority, and how the supreme power shall rule and be obeyed. Again, the constitution of the power, or the determination of the form, or investiture of the particular person with the government is of God: hence our Savior, John 10:35, in his application of these words in the Psalms, “I said, ye are gods,” to magistrates, shows how they were gods, “because unto them the word of God came;” that is, by his word and warrant he authorized them; his constitution is passed upon them, who are advanced by men, according to his law in his word. When therefore a nation acts according to divine rule, in the molding of government, and advancing of persons to the exercise of it; there the government and governors may be said to be ordained of God. But that government that is, not consonant to the divine institution, and those governors, that are not advanced to the place of supreme rule, a Christian land, by the people, regulating themselves by the divine law, cannot be said to be the powers ordained of God. It is not merely the conveying the imperial dignity by men unto any particular person, that constitutes the power to be of God; but because, and in so far as this is done by virtue of a warrant from God, and in agreeableness to his law that the action has the authority of God upon it.”

    In this quotation we see expressed the sentiment that a civil government is does not have lawful authority and require obedience for conscience’s sake unless it fulfills the Scriptural qualifications for civil magistrates. This would exclude all non-Christian governments today, such as in Britain and the US.

    “Both magistrate and minister are, in their different and distinct spheres, clothed with an equal authority from the law of God,—have subjection and obedience equally, under the same pains, required to them respectively, (as Deut. 17:9 to 13;2; Chron. 19:5 to 11; Heb. 13:17, &c.)—and the qualifications of both, as above, stated and determined with equal peremptoriness, making them no less essential to the being and validity of the one than the other.”

    Same point being made, as with those below as well.

    “Again, as this doctrine gives unto men a negative over the Holy One of Israel, it opens a wide door for introducing and enforcing the cause of deism, already too prevalent: for, if all who are set up by civil society, however wicked, and void of the qualifications God has required, while they are acknowledged and submitted to by their constituents, must be equally regarded as God’s ordinance, with those who have those qualifications; then it will follow, that the corrupt will of wicked men legitimates the magistrate’s office and authority, not only without, but in contradiction to the preceptive will of God; and what is this (absit blasphemia), but to exalt man above God, in giving unto the universal Sovereign and Supreme Lawgiver, only a consultative power in the constitution of magistracy, while it ascribes unto man an absolute and definitive power, whereby they have power to receive or reject the law of God (at least respecting magistracy) at pleasure, and their deed of constitution be equally valid, when opposite, as when agreeable unto, and founded upon his righteous law.”

    “The texts of scripture used by them, do prove this general proposition, viz: That it is the duty of the people of God to obey and submit to lawful fulcra in their lawful commands: and that it is utterly unlawful and sinful to oppose such lawful authority. But none of these texts quoted them, prove, that it is the duty of the people of God, blessed with the knowledge of his revealed will, to submit to, and obey, for conscience sake, an authority that is sinful, and opposite to the revealed will of God, both in its constitution and general course of administration. Nor do they prove, that a prelatical, Erastian or popish government, is a lawful government, either expressly, or by right of necessary consequence, over a people, who either do, collectively considered as a church and nation, or are bound to profess all the parts of the true religion, and to maintain all the divine ordinances in their purity: nor do they prove, that any can be lawful rulers over these christian and covenanted nations, who want the essential qualifications required by the word of God, the covenants, and fundamental laws of the kingdoms: or that it is sinful in the people of God, to say so much, in testifying against the joint and national apostasy from God and the purity of religion.”

    “A fourth text used by them for maintaining their erroneous scheme, is Rom. 13:1-8. Without animadverting upon every is not part of their explication of this place of holy writ, it is sufficient to observe: 1. That the power here spoken of by the apostle not a physical, but a moral power; a power that is lawful and warranted, in regard of matter, person, title or investiture. A legitimacy in each of these must go to the making of a moral power; and an illegitimacy in any of these is an illegitimacy in the very being and constitution, and so a nullity to the power as moral, a making it of no authority. As the text speaks only of this moral power, so it excludes every unlawful power (see Mr. Gee on magistracy, on this text). 2. That the being of God, or the ordination by God here spoke of, is not a being of God providentially only, but such a being of God as contains in it his institution and appointment, by the warrant of his law and precept; so that the magistrates to whom the apostle enjoins obedience, are such as are set up according to the preceptive ordination and will of God, as is evinced not only by the author referred to above, and other divines, but what sufficiently appears from the context, where the subjection enjoined, and resistance forbidden, with their respective reasons, are what can only be spoken with respect to powers ordained by the preceptive will of God. Again, by considering the office and duty of the powers, and the end of their ordination, as described, ver. 3,4, which by no means agree to any but those moral powers ordained by the preceptive will of God, it appears a manifest abuse of this text, to apply it to every one advanced by providence to the place of supreme rule, not only without any regard, but in direct opposition to the preceptive will of God.”

    “Say they, “The text speaks only of powers in a moral sense.” And this concession at once destroys their scheme, and confirms what the presbytery plead for, namely, that none are lawful powers but such as are so according to the preceptive will of God in his word;”

    By the way, the people who are being argued against in some of these quotes are the Seceders.

    More to follow . . .


  26. This quotation are from the Informatory Vindication (

    “But more particularly, because our principles are most suspected upon the Ordinances of Magistracy & the Ministry; Therefore we shall plainly unbosom our hearts about these also. We profess then concerning Magistracy (to obviate the suspicion of any unfriendliness towards that Ordinance, & disloyalty to rightful Magistrates) & Declare our minds in these Assertions. (1.) As we distinguish between Magistracy, or the Office (in the abstract) & the Persons invested with the Office; so of Magistracy in itself considered, we say, that as it is not subjectively founded upon grace, so it is a holy & Divine institution, for the good of human Society, the encouragement of Virtue & Piety, & curbing of Vice & Impiety, competent unto & honourable amongst both Christians & Heathens. (2.) As for such Magistrates as, being rightly and Lawfully constitute over us, do act as the Ministers of God, in a direct line of subordination to God, in the defence of our Covenanted Reformation, & the subjects’ Liberties; We declare, whensoever we can obtain & enjoy such rulers, we will own, embrace, obey, & defend them to the utmost of our power, & prove encouraging, subject, & obedient to them in our places & stations. (3.) In things Civil, though we do not say that every Tyrannical act or action doth make a Tyrant, yet we hold, that habitual, obstinate, & declared opposition to, overturning of Religion, Laws & Liberties, & making void all contracts with the Subjects, or when he usurps a power without any compact, or giving any security for Religion & Liberties, or when he is such as the Laws of the Land do make incapable of Government; These do sufficiently invalidate his Right & Relation of Magistracy, & warrant subjects, especially in Covenanted Lands, to revolt from under & disown allegiance unto such a power. In such a case, when the body of a Land collectively considered, or the more faithful & better part of that Land, in the time of National & universal Apostacy, & complete & habitual Tyranny, adhering closely to the fundamental constitutions & Laudable practices of that Covenanted Land (when the fundamental Laws of the Kingdom are directly overturned, & the essential conditions of the mutual Compacts are broken, & such as cleave closely to the Reformation & Liberties of the Kingdom are accounted Rebels, & prosecuted as such) may reject and refuse the Magistratical Relation between the Tyrant & them: yet, before the erection of formal Magistracy, they may not Lawfully arrogate to themselves that Authority which the Tyrant hath forfeited, or claim to themselves the Authority of Judges; though radically they have the Authority of the Law, by their Natural right, & fundamental power, which God allows & is Nature’s attendant; & the Municipal privilege of these subjects; but they cannot act judicially, in either Civil or Criminal Courts, only in the interim they may Lawfully do that which may most conduce to the securing of themselves, Religion, & Liberty. (4.) In Church affairs, we allow the Magistrate a power over the outward things of the Church, viz. {31} what belongs to the bodies of Church officers & members; but not over the inward things of the Church, such as Doctrine, worship, discipline, & Government: We own he may & ought to preserve both Tables of the Law, & punish by corporal & temporal punishment, whether Church officers or members, as openly dishonour God by gross offences, either against the first or second Table; but this he may not do every way, but after his own manner, not intrinsically, but extrinsically, not under consideration of a scandal, but of a crime: We grant he may order such things as are for the well-being & subsistence of the Church, & for that end may Convocate Synods in some cases of the Church, pro re nata [according to exigences], beside their ordinary Meetings (according as that part of Article 2, chapter 31, of our Confession of Faith, is fully and clearly explained by the Act of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, convened at Edinburgh, Aug. 27, 1647, Session 23, approving the foresaid Confession of Faith) & may be present there in external order; but not preside in their Synodical debates & resolutions; He may add his Civil Sanction to Synodical results, but we deny him any power to restrain Church Officers in Dispensing of Christ’s ordinances, or forbid them to do what Christ has given them in Commission: We own that as he ought to take care of the maintenance of the Ministry, Schools, & poor, so imperatively he may Command Church officers to do their duties; yet we deny him an elicitive power, either to do himself what is incumbent to Church officers, or to Depute others to administer Ordinances in his name, or by any Ministerial power received from him: Finally we allow him a Cumulative {32} power, whereby in his own way he assisteth, strengtheneth, & ratifieth what Church officers do by virtue of their office; but we deny unto him a Privative power, which detracteth any way from the Church’s Authority, for he is a Nursing father & not a step-father. In sum, we grant this to be the full extent of the Magistrate’s Supremacy in the Church affairs, to order, whatsoever is commanded by the God of Heaven that it be diligently done for the house of the God of Heaven, Ezra 7.23. And what further he may Usurp, we Disown & Detest.”

    See also the Sanquhar Declaration. The whole of it is very short. It throws off completely allegiance to Charles Stuart on the grounds of his breaking his oaths, etc. Note that this is not merely a declaration of resistance to unlawful commands, but a rejection of the authority of the current magistrate altogether.

    More to follow (but only one more : )) . . .


    • Mark, in commenting on the position articulated in the Informatory Vindication and particularly in the Sanquhar Declaration, you say:

      ‘It throws off completely allegiance to Charles Stuart on the grounds of his breaking his oaths, etc. Note that this is not merely a declaration of resistance to unlawful commands, but a rejection of the authority of the current magistrate altogether.’

      However, the logic of this position would make you a thoroughgoing Jacobite would it not? After all, shortly after Richard Cameron denounced the tyranny of James II, he was deprived of his throne by his subjects who finally wearied of his oath-breaking and tyranny – but how can subjects devoid of the right to resist the authority of the King possess the authority to overthrow him altogether? Should the ‘Glorious Revolution’ ever have taken place?

      Also, it struck me when reading your post that one of the ‘Christian’ Nazi officers who encouraged Dietrich Bonhoeffer with warm encouragement and texts of scripture as he escorted him to his execution justified his position – as many German Christian government officials did – with the importance of civil obedience to ‘the powers that be which are ordained of God’.

      If you would say this was wrong, why would you insist that giving formal allegiance to an explicitly covenant-breaking, unfaithful and tyrannous Monarchy was right?


  27. These quotations are from The Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, Historical an Doctrinal (

    “Another question of very grave importance began to be agitated among the suffering Presbyterians, about the year 1679, and proved the occasion of division among them, during nearly ten years of the persecution. This question respected the propriety of yielding allegiance to the then existing government. The whole body of the Presbyterians had condemned the claim of unlimited obedience advanced by Charles, as despotical, and subversive of their rights, both as men and as Christians. They could neither be induced to pronounce resistance to tyranny as unlawful, nor to bind themselves that they would never, under any pretence whatever, take arms against the king, or decl;n? his jurisdiction and authority. They perceived very distinctly, that if these principles were ad mitted, and if it should please the king to set up a graven image, and command his subjects to worship it, they should have no resource left but unqualified submission or death. Yet although Charles did what was precisely the same in principle, by compelling conformity to an unscriptural Church Establishment, to which a vast majority of the people were conscientiously opposed, it is astonishing that for a period of eighteen years, amidst oppressions and sufferings which have rarely had a parallel, they never seriously thought of disowning his authority. About the time of the rising at Bothwell, however, a number of the Covenanters became convinced, that it was one of the grievous sins of the nation to have done homage to the oppressor so long. This view was held by Cameron, Douglas, and Cargill, and was afterwards adopted into the testimony of the intrepid and pious Renwick. The grounds on which they vindicated their sentiments and conduct on this head, were these: — That Charles had been received by Scotland as a sworn supporter of the Covenanted Reformation, and, by his coronation oath, was bound to maintain the religion and liberties of the nation inviolate ; but that the whole course of his reign had been a deliberate and outrageous violation of his oath; that he had invaded the prerogative of the Son of God, by usurping a blasphemous supremacy over the church ; had overturned the whole fabric of Scotland’s Reformation ; had violently restored Episcopacy, which the nation was sworn to reject and extirpate ; had changed the civil government into an intoler able despotism, filling all the principal offices of state with men profligate in principle, and cruel in disposition ; had poisoned the sources of justice, and multiplied sanguinary laws ; that the best subjects of his kingdom, of all ranks, for peaceably assembling to worship God, had been proscribed, plundered, harassed by a brutal soldiery, immured in filthy dungeons, sold into slavery, and multi tudes of them executed as felons upon the scaffold. Such were their arguments ; and who that reads the history of that period can deny that they were founded on fact ? We are aware that the conduct of that division of the Church, which refused allegiance to the Stuarts, has been viewed by many as an unwarrantable extreme, to which they were driven by intolerable oppression. To us it does not appear in this light. We are unable to discover any plausible ground on which to found an argument condemnatory of their conduct, unless it be made to rest on the doctrine of passive obedience and non-resistance, — a doctrine which the genuine friends of the Scottish Reformation utterly disclaim. It was to be expected that the open renunciation of allegiance by the sufferers, as well as the rising at Bothwell, would have the effect of increasing the violence of the persecution. The fury of the oppressor became so terrible, that none of the surviving Presby terian ministers who had been accustomed to preach in the fields, could be induced to persevere in the service, excepting the few who had fearlessly cast off the tyrant’s yoke. These, or.e after another, fell into the hands of their enemies, and sealed their testimony with their blood. Mr. Richard Cam«ron, one of the most devoted of them, whose intrepid zeal in disowning the government, and preach ing the gospel in the fields, had rendered him peculiarly obnoxious to the persecutors, while reposing in a moor near Airdsmoss, in company with a number of his friends, was suddenly attacked by a troop of horsemen, and gained the crown of martyrdom on the 20th of July, 1680. Yet the standard which had been erected for the royal prerogatives of the exalted Redeemer was fibt suffered to fall. Like the three children, when threatened with a furnace seven times heated, the witnesses displayed increasing fortitude as the danger became more appalling. Although the three kingdoms conspired, or through cowardice consented, to support an idol of jealousy in the person of their king; these good soldiers of Jesus Christ would not dishonour their Divine Master, nor degrade themselves by doing homage to the usurper. As they beheld inscribed on his diadem the complex title — Perjury, Tyranny, Blasphemy, they would not join in the shout of loyalty, nor bend the knee in token of reverence. When it was demanded of them by their unrighteous judges, ” Why will you contradict the Scriptures, by refusing to acknow ledge and pray for the king ? There is no power but of God ; he that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God;” their reply was to this effect — “We do not contradict the Scriptures; but your interpretation of them is as false as your conduct is repugnant to the whole tenor of God’s blessed Word. The powers that are from God can mean only lawful authority ; otherwise, as the Pope is a power, the people who reside in Popish countries would be bound to yield implicit obedience to the Man of Sin. There is no lawful authority but of God ; but no power which, in the habitual course of its administration, is in a state of determined hostility to God and to his law, can be of God — excepting as the power of Satan is of God. The authority which Uod owns, is a terror to evil doers, and a praise to them who do well ; but your government spreads its shield over the vilest malefactors, — perjurers, robbers, and murderers, and employs them in its service, while its main work consists in persecuting and destroying the people of GPp&i We are aware that it is our duty to pray for all men, not excepting our enemies and persecutors; but when prayer is de manded as a test of loyalty to a government of this character, it would be, in our judgment, an act of impiety before God, and of disloyalty to the Messiah to present it”” (p. 90-93).

    “The particulars specified above, in connection with what is con tained in the third chapter of this Fourth Period of our narrative, express the principal reasons why we feel compelled to maintain the position of dissent from the civil government of these lands, in which our fathers have persevered for nearly 150 years. To ua they seem to afford decisive proof that, during that period, Britain has never been divested of the spirit, nor disentangled from the fellowship, of Anti-christian powers. We do not come to this con clusion lightly. We are aware that it must bring with it a train of consequences of a serious and painful nature. With some of these consequences we are already familiar. To avow the sentiment, that the British government embodies immoralities of that peculiar description, which stamp it with the character of Anti-christian, will appear to many, even of those who acknowledge its faults, as an unwarrantable extreme. More moderate opponents will condemn the sentiment as unpatriotic and uncharitable ; and others may denounce it as dangerous and tending to sedition. But the guilt and danger of holding fellowship with the principles, or the policy, of the Anti-christian system — with the head or the horns of the Beast — are represented in Scripture as of such magnitude, that no temporal loss nor suffering can counterbalance them.1 Under these impressions, we cannot proclaim attachment, nor vow allegiance to institutions, which many good men extol and admire : — 1st. Because, in viewing them by the light of Scripture, we believe them to be immoral. 2d. Because we hold them to be Anti-christian. 3d. Because they were erected on the ruins of a more excellent system, both in Church and State, and in opposition to those solemn vows, by which these nations were pledged to preserve that system inviolate. 4th. Because the immoralities of existing institutions were originally introduced, and are still upheld, in opposition to the clearest light of revelation with which any people were ever favoured. This explanation of our sentiments will supply the reason why we do not adopt those forms of prayer for the government of these lands, which are publicly prescribed, or commonly used throughout the churches. We fully recognise the obligation that lies on us, to pray for the peace and prosperity of the land that sustains us, and for the temporal and spiritual welfare of all classes of its inhabitants. Towards the persons of the rulers we cherish no feel ing but that of unfeigned good will. Our heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is, that they may be saved. But we cannot warrantably employ forms of prayer, that would even seem to express approbation of institutions which we believe to be essen tially defective and immoral. We cannot pray for the stability of a system which, as long as it is unreformed, is dishonouring to Christ, and an impediment to the coming of his kingdom. The same reasons are still more cogent to forbid our being incor porated or united with the State, so as to become accomplices in, or morally responsible for, its iniquitous public policy. Such as are in ecclesiastical fellowship with us, cannot, without a breach of their testimony, hold fellowship with the civil government, by composing a part of the legislature, or by taking those oaths, for the maintenance and defence of the complex constitution, which are required of members of Parliament, and others filling public offices both in Church and State. And as the members of our church cannot sit in Parliament themselves, neither can they, consistently, sit there by their representatives ; or commission others to do for them what it would be unwarrantable and immoral for them to do in their own persons. Neither can they compose a part of the executive government, by holding offices under the crown, civil or military, which might require them to co-operate in carrying into practice any branch of an unscriptural code of law. Yet we do not feel debarred from doing what may be in our power, as private individuals, for strengthening those wholesome laws which are necessary for the security of life and property, or for promoting the administration of justice, when permitted to do so without being identified with a corrupt constitution. Should these prin ciples subject us to the charge of uncharitableness, or want of patriotism, we would study to confute the charge by the blameless- ness of our deportment, and by a life of active benevolence” (p. 136-137).

    This quotation should be read in light of the previous one. In light of that, it seems to be not only saying that there should be no participation in lawless oaths and practices, but that the whole government is illegitimate and should not be formally recognized and submitted to for conscience’s sake (although it is said that people should strive to support its wholesome laws, apparently because the laws are beneficial but not because the civil government has authority to make them).

    If I am understanding correctly, these quotations are from documents expressing the historic views of the RP churches and not just the Steelites. If I am wrong, please correct me. It does look to me like Cameronianism, mixed with lots of good things, is taught in these. Do you agree? If I am misunderstanding, I would love to be helped to see how and where.

    What I would really like to see is a member of one of the RS-descended churches (such as the FCC or the FPCS) write a book with a member of an RP church providing alternate arguments for their respective positions–including doctrinal and historical considerations, and suggesting practical conclusions. Such a book would be immensely helpful!


  28. A question: I know that no ministers remained out of the RS church in 1690, but did any ruling elders remain out of it? In other words, were there ruling elders among the dissenters in 1690?


  29. Connor, these are complicated issues and the assertion I am making about Cameronianism requires that I put forward at least some strong beginnings of an attempt to document them.

    Some of my quotes come from Steelite websites, but they are not Steelite documents that I have quoted from, but classic RP documents (so far as I have understood–if I am wrong, I would love to be shown).


  30. Another relevant question here: When would we consider the RP church to have truly split from the RS church? I know that for a time, the RPs remained without ministers (and ruling elders?) and considered themselves not fully separated from the RS church; but eventually that apparently changed. When should we consider that there were two truly distinct denominations?


  31. I was mostly only joking about the length of the posts, but I checked and they came to 5000 words – that’s a lot. Beware of the idiom used round the blogosphere; “Too Long; Didn’t Listen”

    Im not seeing anywhere that the Informatory Vindication was produced/held to by the RPCS

    The Act, Declaration, & Testimony was a Steelite document, however the section you quoted seems to come from the “ORIGINAL JUDICIAL TESTIMONY” of the RPCS which was held for a period before being “emitted by the Reformed Presbytery at Ploughlandhead, Scotland, 1761” but that is just what that page says, you would have to prove it before making an argument based on it.

    The Testimony is indeed produced/held to by the RPCS so comments on that are relevant.


    • Goron Keddie says “She is a church without any solid doctrinal reason for her separate existence from other confessionally Reformed churches in Scotland”. Which does perhaps suggest that the RP Church no longer has a unique witness and therefore should perhaps join one of the other denominations.


      • When the witnesses of several denominations converge from different historical and constitutional starting points what are the criteria for determining who should join who? At what point does history stop mattering in determining what is to be considered the church that is heir to the Reformations and to which all others must join?


  32. First of all, I would like to make a practical suggestion: Perhaps when we are engaging a main line of the conversation, we could all post our posts as a new post at the bottom of the screen rather than as a reply to some individual post. I say that because having new posts scattered throughout the whole thing makes it harder to follow. When I come back and find three or four posts have occurred and have to go find them in the mass of comments rather than having them appear in order at the bottom, it makes it more complicated, at least from my point of view. Just a suggestion! : )

    Thanks, Connor, for that article. I found it very helpful. It confirmed that the Informatory Vindication and the Sanquhar Declaration were classic Society Men (later RP) documents, among other things. I also found its discussion of the disruption in the 19th century and the modern state of the RPCS very informative.

    It sounds to me like the RPCS has abandoned its historic distinctives, even more so now than when the article was written (since the historic Testimony is now “in permanent abeyance” or something like that). If they have, doesn’t that suggest that they now admit they were wrong to maintain them in the past? If there is no need now to require people not to vote, then there was no need in the eighteenth century. So doesn’t this imply that he RPCS itself now testifies that its main reasons for remaining separate back in the old days weren’t good ones? That would seem to be something like a self-disqualification in terms of evaluating doctrinal and historical claims, wouldn’t it?

    “However, the logic of this position would make you a thoroughgoing Jacobite would it not? After all, shortly after Richard Cameron denounced the tyranny of James II, he was deprived of his throne by his subjects who finally wearied of his oath-breaking and tyranny – but how can subjects devoid of the right to resist the authority of the King possess the authority to overthrow him altogether? Should the ‘Glorious Revolution’ ever have taken place?”

    I don’t know. Perhaps it shouldn’t have taken place. I am not prepared now to take a position on it. Either way is consistent with my position on the RS church, which is not intended as an endorsement of everything in the Revolution itself or in the Revolution Settlement.

    These are definitely complicated issues, and I am not universally opposed to resistance in some circumstances to rulers. I am certainly not opposed to civil disobedience to commands that require sin. What concerns me about Cameronianism is rather that it goes further and says that an immoral civil government cannot be recognized as a legitimate civil government at all, a position that seems to me to be a serious violation of Scripture, as I’ve argued in the article “Against Cameronianism” on my blog (linked to somewhere up there – here it is again: This does seem to have been the historic position of the RP churches, from what I have seen. This position would require us to say that neither the current American nor British civil governments are legitimate, Romans 13 civil governments, because they are systematically immoral (Atheistic, condoning abortion and homosexuality, etc.), and I find this position unacceptable Scripturally (and so, apparently, does the modern RPCS). Rev. Stewart, if I may ask, do you accept the modern British civil government as a legitimate, Romans 13 civil government (albeit with grave need for reform in many areas)?

    I am definitely sympathetic with many of the Cameronian concerns, and I think they may have done a better job maintaining a firmness of opposition to civil evils in some cases than RS churches, but I can’t follow them all the way to their true distinctive position.

    “I would respectfully suggest that it may be more beneficial simply to discuss the proposition that all those persuaded of the original Westminster documents should reconstitute around them so that all join one another instead of trying to establish true apostolic lineage for an existing denomination. I think that latter quest is doomed to failure – and I believe God is making that manifest to us all.”

    I agree that the current remaining issues that cause division are more important, although the historical reasons often play into the modern state of things and so are important. It seems to me there are two distinct goals involved in this conversation (well, at least for me there are): 1. Assuming continued separation for a time, which denomination ought we to join? 2. How can we unite the churches? The answer to #1 will be important to the answer to #2. However, godly compromise is important as well. So even if I am convinced that the FPCS has the best doctrinal and historical claims, and so I feel an obligation to join with it, this does not preclude but that it might be right, if all reasons for continuing division between, say, the FPCS and the RPCS were removed, for the FPCS to non-sinfully compromise by joining the RPCS or merging with them in a third denomination. Where sin is not involved, compromise can often be a duty. But these are complicated issues with many nuances. That much is certain! : )


    • Did not the covenanting remnant refuse to join the Revolution Settlement church precisely because she was invalidly constituted and Erastian in character? The RS church subscribed to a settlement which wiped out many of the attainments of the Covenanted Second Reformation. Attainments which good men and women shed blood and gave their lives to defend. The RS was in a real sense a ‘De-formation.’ It was not a very good thing at all. Surely those who held fast to the principles and achievements of the Covenanted Second Reformation were the true heirs of that church and not those who denied it.


  33. Donald McKay, my understanding is that the issues here are much more complicated and nuanced than that. I think everyone agrees that the Revolution Settlement, though an improvement in terms of no longer persecuting people for practicing Presbyterianism per se, left a lot to be desired. It certainly did betray the covenants and many Second Reformation attainments. I would definitely say it would have then and would be now a sin to say the Revolution Settlement was good all around.

    However, I think that commitment to the unity of the church requires that we not split from a duly constituted church unless sin is required to remain in full communion. I think this is the historic Reformed attitude, and the biblical attitude. So the question is not, was the Revolution Settlement good all around? The question is, was sin required of those who remained in full communion with the established Church of Scotland?

    I don’t want to be dogmatic on this point, because I simply don’t know enough. But many people (such as Matthew Vogan in his article “New Reformed Presbyterian Constitution” – claim that sin was not required, because there was adequate room available to conscientiously lawfully protest the deficiencies of the Settlement.

    Before the Revolution, my understanding has been that there was a not a General Assembly of the church separating the United Society people from other Presbyterians. There had been no split. If that is the case, then I think it would have been schismatic for the United Societies to remain separate from the rest of the Church of Scotland after the Revolution without first lodging a formal protest in a GA meeting or something like that. Then, if the GA ruled against them, saying that the church should accept the Settlement and be established, if the United Societies felt they could not agree conscientiously, they could split. But this would be valid only if sin would have been required to continue in full communion. If the GA ruled that the church should accept establishment, but adequate room was allowed to protest deficiencies in the Settlement, then I think it would have been schismatic for the United Societies to have split from the rest of the church.

    So a big question for me, that I would like more thoughts on, is, was sin required to remain in full communion with the established Church of Scotland?


    • The dichotomy seems to be between those who compromised and those who refused to compromise. And the contention is that those who refused to accommodate should have appealed to those who had accommodated in order to vindicate their own conscientious position. Principle need never prove her cause at the hands of those who have yielded up or qualified their own principles. Is the church that which is recognised by the state, that which is greatest in membership, or that which holds most faithfully to the truth and its attainments? In any case, we are I fear, interpreting the past through the lens of the present rather than allowing the past to proclaim its own truth. And I am personally more than aware of the danger of interpreting historical fact to justify present position, however inconvenient some of these facts may be. We need to be as objective as we can possibly be. Surely God requires that of us. I do hope we can come to a shared understanding of the past because it is one of the keys to unlock a shared future.


    • Mark, in the “New Reformed Presbyterian Constitution” article which you mention the author mention that “It seems that there is potential at present for the RPCS to gain congregations in the Highlands at the expense of the Free Church. Are we now to expect a sixth or even in some cases a seventh Presbyterian denomination competing within the communities of Scotland?” There is actualy only one RP congregation in the Highlands and even then it is away on a remote island. If a group of believers wish to form a congregation connected with the RPS rather than join the Free Church, what is the problem with that? The FP church and the FCC also exist at the expense of the Free Church, should they fold up so that there are less denominations in remote places?


  34. Mark, perhaps it was the majority who acted schismaticaly dissenters by entering into the Erastian national arrangement (the “Revolution Settlement”) as It was forced upon the Church and did not adhere to the nation’s previous covenanted settlement. Perhaps those men who formed into societies which eventually formed the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland were the true decendants of the Scottish Reformation rather than those who compromised.

    After the Revolution Settlement, all of the Covenanter ministers who had survived the persecutions may have joined the Established Church (apart from Houston in Ireland), leaving the “United Societies” in Scotland without any ministers for sixteen years but it should be remembered that The Societies numbered about twenty, with a general membership of about seven thousand which is quite a consiberable size when we consider that the FCC, FPC, APC and RPC churhes would hardly have 2000 members and adherants between them.

    Perhaps those who think that the Revolutution Church is the true church are mistaken? That would leave the churches who seceeded from it in a week position and they would have no right to accuse anyone of being schismatic but it looks like instead of there being discussions about possible unity we are more likely to see some people with their backs against the wall defending their seperate position and their churches heritage. It is easy for people to forget the emotional attachement which people have to their own branch of the visible church and their pride in her history.
    Due to the isolation of some denominations it is unlikely that they will have much contact with people from other churches and they may even have developed a sort of snobbish attitude to those from other churches. There may even been a sort of suspicious “they are not like us” mentality. Some might think that other churches are legalistic/liberal and generaly not realy want anything to do with them. While these sort of attitudes prevail it is unlikely that there will be a union of the seperate WCF denominations let alone discussions. It’s more likely that people will spend hours trawling through historical documents and justifying their denominations existance than they will even spare a few minutes to consider unity.


  35. Sorry it took me so long to get back here. I’ve been grading papers and dealing with some other pressing issues for the last couple of weeks, and it has kept me away from the discussion.

    I don’t think I have too much to add at this point anyway. I agree that we should be very careful not to get too attached our denominations in such a way that we aren’t objective in discussing the reasons for separate existence. I also agree that we need to consider the possibility that the Revolution Settlement church was not the right church to be a part of after 1690. As I said before, to show that I think it would be necessary to show that sin was required of members and/or officers, not just that the church had significant defects. This is something (like many things) I am interesting in learning more about.


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