The Covenant Reformed Presbyterian
Church ( CRPC) was formed in 1998, from churches and ministers that
were looking for an ecclesiastical home. The larger conservative
bodies (such as the PCA and OPC) did not look promising; and there
were concerns about some of the smaller conservative bodies, which,
at least from the outside, seemed perhaps at times to be driven by
powerful personalities. Hence the desire to form a new affiliation,
yet one which also was willing to unite with people of like faith,
as opportunity would present itself.
At present, there is a handful of congregations in the CRPC stretching from Wisconsin to Florida to Paramaribo, Suriname (thus being one of the few conservative denominations that can boast having a “First Presbyterian Church” in a national capital). There is only one presbytery above the local level, which was originally called the National Presbytery, but the name of which was changed in January 2005 to American Presbytery (the concern being that, since it is an international body, the Presbytery did not want the church in South America to feel left out). There is provision in the documents for regional presbyteries, but all the duties of such courts, for the moment, devolve upon the American Presbytery.
The CRPC subscribes to the original Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, rather than one of the Americanized versions. It is believed that the document as formulated in the 1640s more accurately proclaims the Lordship of Christ over every area of life. (For more information see The Superiority of the Original Westminster Standards).
One of the distinctives from the beginning was that the CRPC self-consciously borrowed from not only the Presbyterian, but also the broader Reformed tradition. Reflecting an appreciation for the Continental doctrinal standards, the Three Forms of Unity (the Belgic Confession, the Canons of the Synod of Dordt, and the Heidelberg Catechism) were specifically recognized as part of our Constitution. However, there is still a predisposition towards the British standards, as reflected in the fact that if there are any real or perceived contradictions between the Continental standards and the Westminster Confessional Standards, the Westminster Standards govern.
Another result of the Dutch and Continental influence is seen in the fact that ministers are members of a local congregation, rather than holding their membership in the regional presbytery (or the American Presbytery). With regard to matters of doctrine, ministers are under the sole authority of the regional (or broader) court; but with regard to morals and ethics, the congregational presbytery (or Session) is the court of original jurisdiction.
The rationale for having the minister subject to the local presbytery is basically two-fold. First, there is the thought that the local elders should know, and presumably love, him better than those from a distance. Secondly, there is the desire to avoid any type of clericalism, in which ministers might be tempted to protect one another in ways that are not appropriate. The emphasis is upon a de-centralized approach, in which the local churches and ruling elders play a significant role. Another manifestation of this approach is that a minister is not entitled automatically to having a vote in the regional presbytery or American Presbytery. Each congregation is entitled to send two representatives (a minister and a ruling elder) and, if a minister is not available, two ruling elders may be sent.
The CRPC studiously eschews all bureaucracy. For example, there is no Stated Clerk as such; all correspondence is handled by a Communications Secretary. There are no standing committees. The office of Moderator of the American Presbytery exists only for the duration of the Presbytery meeting itself. All mission churches are under the authority of congregational presbyteries, and not the regional presbytery (although when it comes to particularization, the regional presbytery must organize the new church). The contemporary church has witnessed how bureaucracies take over and squeeze the life out of a church, and the CRPC wants to avoid such.
The CRPC has not been stand-offish, but rather has sought to enjoy fellowship and even union with other of the “micro” Presbyterian denominations. Towards that end, the American Presbytery at its January 2005 meeting approved the establishment of the Society of Presbyteries and Reformed Churches (SPARC), which would enable other presbyteries and unaffiliated congregations to have formal mutual relations. This organization has not been activated, as the CRPC is still awaiting another presbytery to adopt its proposal. Nevertheless, the fact of having taken this step is indicative of a desire to be broader than itself. Another indication of this our ecumenical spirit, has been the fact that representatives of other denominations have been at CRPC meetings; and in October 2004, the Presbytery gathered with other groups in Manassas, Virginia, in a Convocation of Presbyteries.
One of the results of interaction with brethren in some of these other denominations has been a reappraisal of documents and approach to church life. Like most denominations, the CRPC Constitution had been comprised of a variety of documents, which included not only doctrinal statements containing universal truths, but also polity manuals which contain circumstantial matters, such as quorums for meetings, etc. The result is a mixture of documents, with varying levels of personal subscription expected, and with no clear delineations among them. In the PCA context, the result has been, literally, a loose-leaf Constitution. It has also meant that on substantive issues such as women’s ordination, there was no unambiguous commitment required on the part of ordinands.
The CRPC believes in sola scriptura (or we might say the “regulative principle”) not only with respect to doctrine and worship, but also with respect to church government. Accordingly, the CRPC revamped its Constitution so as to reflect that understanding, by laying out those universal truths and principles in all three areas (doctrine, polity, and worship) to which theological subscription is expected. On this web site, you will find the Constitution, which contains not only the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (and other historic creeds and confessions), but statements regarding polity and worship. These latter statements are culled mostly from the Westminster Assembly’s Form of Church Government and Directory for Publick Worship, and largely reflect the wording of the church’s seventeenth century forefathers.
On the same level as these documents is a statement of “clarifications and exceptions,” which not only makes crystal clear opposition to, among other matters, abortion, homosexuality, and socialism, but also support of doctrines that have been under attack even in “conservative” Presbyterian churches, such as six-day creation and a worldwide Noahic flood. Moreover, the “exceptions” allow a measure of flexibility with respect to worship. Therefore, there is allowance (as an “exception” to the Westminster Standards) for churches to employ Bible-based hymns and a modest use of musical instrumentation for the purpose of congregational accompaniment.
Underneath the Constitution are the By-Laws: Principles and Practices of Church Life, which contain the Directory of Church Order, the Directory of Church Discipline, and the Directory of Church Worship. These are the application of the universal truths contained in the Constitution, to this particular denomination. Although the CRPC continues to perfect its By-Laws, the young denomination is hopeful that it has pretty much come to a settled position with regard to the church’s Constitution.
The members of the CRPC are excited about its new Constitution, and believe that it helps establish a firm ground with respect to the three essential points of doctrine, polity, and worship. There is also the hope that this approach is an attractive one, which sets forth exactly what the church believes and why—an approach that presumably would appeal to those who are looking for answers, and are tired of bureaucratic machinations and loose-leaf Constitutions.
The CRPC is also very missions-minded, as is seen in the theme of this website. Groups in several states have been contacted, in the hopes of beginning CRPC congregations there. A CRPC church in Florida oversees Reformation Christian Ministries (RCM), which coordinates missions efforts in numerous places, including Suriname, Italy, U.K., Russia and Albania with many contacts in other lands such as China, Congo and Zambia. One of RCM’s ministries is Reformation International Theological Seminary (RITS), a distance-learning school which brings graduate and post-graduate seminary education to the World. Another RCM ministry is Reformation International College (RIC) which offers college education at the graduate and post-graduate level in Christian Thought and Education fields with additional schools of study being planned. (While this was originally developed for the mission fields outside North America, there is an increasing number in the industrialized world, including the United States, entering these programs.)
One of the more exciting CRPC ministries is that of Christian Liberty Academy (CLA) in Paramaribo, Suriname. The school ministers to both primary and secondary students from around the world, including not only Christians, but Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists and others. It also serves as an extension of the RIC and RITS programs in the region.
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