April 6: Birth of the RPCES

A Long Tradition Carries On
by Rev. David T. Myers

A new church was born on this date, April 6, 1965, at ten o’clock in the morning. Actually, it was not a new church but simply the merging of two historic Presbyterian bodies dating back to the formation of our country. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church [1956-1965] had come out of the stream of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America [organized in 1789]. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod [1833-1965] had come out of the Scottish Covenanter heritage. Both churches had been courting each other from 1957 to 1964 with continual contact.

Each denomination held dearly to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as being the inspired Word of God, without error in whole and part, the only infallible rule of faith and practice. Each church body held to the subordinate standards of the Westminster Assembly as being a summary of the teaching of the Old and New Testaments. They proclaimed the good news of salvation to a lost world as the only  hope of reconciliation with the holy God. The fundamentals of historic Christianity, being only Scripture, only Christ, only grace, only faith, and only to the glory of God, were part and parcel of their belief structure.

Each church had been weathered by internal divisions in their past history. In the case of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, they had the experience of coming out of the apostasy of the mainline Presbyterian church in the mid 1930’s, where a stand for the fundamentals of the faith translated out to being deposed by the modernists who had gained control of the church. This Church begin in 1938 as a split from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church over issues of eschatology and Christian liberty as well as independent agencies versus synod control agencies; then in 1955, further issues such as truth in Christian living and questions about separation from brethren, brought about yet another division, creating what was initially called the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod, later renamed in 1961 as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Are we confused yet?

In the case of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod, the issue in 1833 was basically the relationship of the church to the civil government. They had no problem supporting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but the Constitution a dozen or so years later was another matter. Should its members vote, for example, in a country which did not recognize itself as a Christian nation?  Should they serve on juries, with oaths involved? Should they serve in the armed forces? Should exclusive psalmody be the standard of  worship services? All these were questions which were asked, debated, and voted upon by the church.

Finally, when these two bodies, the EPC and the RPC,GS met together in 1965 at Covenant College, the issues had been faced squarely by godly men for eight years. Both churches voted for the merger and combined their names into  the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES).

Words to Live By:  The Psalmist David proclaimed words of wisdom for all church bodies and Christians when  he wrote “BEHOLD, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (KJV – Psalm 133:1). In point of fact, it had been the long standing tradition of the RPC,GS to sing Psalm 133 at each meeting of their annual General Synod. The newly created RPCES gladly took up this tradition and carried it on, until that day in 1982 when the RPCES became a part of the PCA. And since that time, the PCA now concludes every General Assembly with the singing of that same Psalm 133. May that continue as our prayer even today, that brethren would dwell together in unity!

 

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  1. LeRoy Christoffels’s avatar

    I am confused by today’s entry, especially the paragraph here:
    Each church had been weathered by internal divisions in their past history. In the case of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, they had the experience of coming out of the apostasy of the mainline Presbyterian church in the mid 1930’s, where a stand for the fundamentals of the faith translated out to being deposed by the modernists who had gained control of the church. Then in 1938 and 1956, further issues over eschatology and Christian liberty as well as independent agencies verses synod control agencies, truth in Christian living, and questions about separation from brethren, brought into existence the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1961.
    If the EPC began in 1961 and they had been having merger talks with the Reformed Presbyterians from 1957 until that merger in 1965, what entities were actually talking with each other? Which body actually came out of the PCUSA in the 1930’s other than Orthodox Presbyterians and eventually from them the Bible Presbyterian church? Or is the later the origin of the 1961 EPC? If someone can clarify this for me, it would be appreciated. Thanks!

  2. Vaughn Edward Hathaway Jr’s avatar

    Are you all disregarding the existence of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church under the name of the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod, that was either formed in 1956 or was identified as a separate Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church in that year? Are you dating the founding of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church simply upon the change of its name?

    Please note that I am not entering into the issue of which Synod of the BPC should be considered the continuing Synod. There are arguments about those identities on both sides. Essentially, therefore, there was a separation that took place in 1956 in what had been known as the Bible Presbyterian Church since 1938 into two Synods, each claiming the name of Bible Presbyterian. There was the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod, taking its name from the city where the 1956 General Synod had been held; and there was the Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood Synod, taking its name from the location of perhaps the lead church of the group that took that identity on the basis that the Columbus Synod had been called unconstitutionally.

    N.B., I am asserting only the fact that this was the claim of the Collingswood Synod.

    I do think it was a wise and gracious action that the Columbus Synod gave up the use of the name Bible Presbyterian Church by renaming itself the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, providing for the identity of the body that merged with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod.

    As conservative Presbyterians we can look back on those days and those actions with a little self-criticism and not a little humor for our antecedents simply added to the soup that Francis Schaeffer had called Split-P.
    .

  3. archivist’s avatar

    The author is speaking here from a bit of an insider’s familiarity. The OPC began in 1936 as a small group of conservatives left the PCUSA. But internal differences brought a further division in 1938 when the Bible Presbyterian Church was formed out of the OPC. In 1955/56, the BPC split into the Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood Synod (the smaller third of the BPC) and the Bible Presbyterian Church, Columbus Synod (roughly 2/3’s of the undivided BPC). So you had two BPC’s, and the Columbus Synod people finally got tired of the confusion and took the EPC name in 1961. Meanwhile, they had also been engaged in merger talks with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod (aka, New Light) since 1957. That merger finally occurred in 1965. And just to keep history confusing, an entirely unrelated group of conservatives leaving the UPCUSA in 1982 took the name Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

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