A Question about the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
July 4, 2023, 10:47 AM

Question: Where I live there are a handful of ARP churches (Associate Reformed Presbyterian). My question is what do they believe and hold as doctrine and how does it line up with the Bible?

Answer: Hi and thank you for your question. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC) is a Confessionally Reformed Protestant denomination. By "Confessional," I mean that the denomination requires formal subscription to a confession of faith for its churches and officers (ministers, elders, and deacons). The ARPC subscribes to the Westminster Standards. These include the Westminster Confession of Faith and both the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These documents detail a theology that is Calvinistic (emphasizing the sovereignty of God in salvation) and Presbyterian (each church is governed by a plurality of ordained elders, and there are higher courts of the church at the presbytery, or regional, level and at the general assembly, or national, level).

When I say that the ARPC is "Reformed," I mean that the ARPC, like other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, traces its heritage back to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th & 17th centuries. Reformed churches adhere to the "Five Solas" of the Reformation: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria, and Sola Scriptura. Otherwise known as: We are saved through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone all according to the Scriptures alone. It is the "alone" that sets apart the Reformed from other Christian traditions, namely Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. While Rome would not (officially) deny the necessity of faith, grace, Christ, or the Scriptures, they would (officially) deny the "alone" part of those formulations. For example, in Reformed Theology, we are justified (that is, declared righteous) by grace alone through faith alone in the saving work of Christ alone. Rome does not see justification as a declaration on God's part, but a process by which the believer is made righteous, thus justification comes, if it comes at all, at the end of one's life. If not, then there is time spent in purgatory to remove any remaining sin before one enters into Heaven. The main difference is that the Reformers saw justification as based on something outside of the believer, namely, the righteousness of Christ received through faith. Rome teaches that justification is inherent in the believer and is achieved and maintained through their sacramental system.

Another example is regarding the ultimate authority in the church. The Reformers turned to Scripture alone as the sole, infallible rule of faith & practice in the church. Rome, on the other hand, saw Scripture as a source of authority in the church, but also saw church tradition as another source of authority in the church. Thus, Rome subscribes to a dual source of authority (Scripture and Tradition). The problem lies in while we can always turn to Scripture to adjudicate in situations in which there is a dispute on doctrine, there is no such infallible source of church tradition. In fact, the great, German reformer, Martin Luther, was famous for saying that popes and church councils can (and often do) err and contradict one another. What kind of way is that to govern a church?

Finally, when I say "Protestant," I mean that the ARPC stands in the tradition of the Protestant churches that came out of the Reformation. While is it a shame that there couldn't be greater agreement between the Lutherans and the Reformed, there is enough uniting these traditions against the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church from which they were born and against whom they "protested."

The particular history of the ARPC traces its roots back to the Scottish Reformation in the 17th century. The "Puritans" (as they were called) wanted to complete the work of reformation in the Church of England. After a back and forth with the monarchy (Henry VIII to Edward VI to Mary to Elizabeth to James I to Charles I), the English Revolution led to the Puritan takeover of Parliament. With the Puritans in power, they went about completing the English reformation by reworking the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer into the Westminster Standards (1646). The Church of Scotland adopted the Westminster Standards as their confessional documents, but there were two successive splits within the Church of Scotland. The first was the "Covenanters," a group who essentially refused to acknowledge the authority of the English monarch. They eventually moved to the colonies and formed what would be called the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA). Another group later broke off from the Church of Scotland over doctrinal disputes and called themselves the "Seceders." This is the group that would later become the ARPC.

Today, the ARPC has 260+ churches with 22,000+ members. It is mainly concentrated in the American south. The denominational headquarters is in Greenville, SC. The ARPC is a member of both the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) and the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC). In fact, my own denomination, the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) is also a member of both organizations. 

All this to say, I believe a Confessionally Reformed Protestant church is a biblical church. Thus, as a whole, I would feel safe in recommending the ARPC to anyone looking for a biblical church. Though I would still recommend visiting a particular church for a number of Lord's Days to get a feel for that particular pastor and congregation (you get a better feel for a church by going a number of Sundays). While I would recommend the ARPC, each church will have its own "persona." I would also recommend visiting with the pastor and elders to ask them questions regarding what they believe, how their confessional stance shapes their preaching and teaching, etc.

I hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl