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Reformed Presbyterian Church

A body which claims unbroken descent from the Scottish Covenanters* who contended for a pure Gospel, a simple form of worship, national righteousness, and civil and religious freedom. The name indicates that in the matter of church government it is Presbyterian, and in doctrine and practice adheres to the attainments of Scotland's Second Reformation (1638-49). After 1690 the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland consisted of the remnant societies that had adhered to Richard Cameron* and James Renwick.* They had no minister until 1706, and from then until 1743 only John MacMillan served their needs. A second minister enabled them to form a presbytery in 1743, and an increase in numbers led to the forming of a synod in 1811. Ministers were trained at a theological hall in Stirling and Paisley. Dissension on the question of the parliamentary elective franchise split the church in 1863, and the majority who favored leaving the matter an open question joined the Free Church of Scotland* in 1876. A small denomination of five congregations still survives and adheres to the Covenanting position.

The origin of the church in Ireland is related to the coming of Scottish settlers to Ulster in the early seventeenth century. The majority of them approved of the Presbyterian form of church government and signed the Solemn League and Covenant* in 1644. At the Revolution Settlement of 1690 a small minority adhered to Covenanting principles and became the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland. They had no minister after the death of David Houston in 1696 and were dependent on visits from Scottish ministers until William Martin was ordained in 1757. In 1763 a presbytery was formed, and rapid growth after 1800 led to the formation of a synod in 1811. For many years their ministers were educated in Scotland, but a theological hall was established in 1854 and still operates with four part-time professors.

The two churches in Scotland and Ireland united to begin mission work in Syria in 1871. After almost a century in the Middle East, the mission field has since 1963 been Ethiopia. Close links are maintained with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, organized by settlers from Scotland and Ulster in the mid-eighteenth century. Despite divisions and secessions the church still maintains a witness with about seventy congregations. It supports a theological seminary at Pittsburgh, a liberal arts college at Beaver Falls, and active missions in Cyprus and Japan.

The church accepts the continuing obligation of the Scottish Covenants. In worship the Psalms only are sung without instrumental accompaniment. Members do not participate actively in politics and do not join societies which require an oath of secrecy at initiation. The doctrinal standards are the Westminster Confession of Faith* and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Total membership with adherents is estimated at 20,000.