A New RPCNA Presbytery

At its annual meeting this week, the RPCNA Synod took a significant step toward facilitating the formation of a Reformed Presbyterian Church of Canada by forming an RPCNA Presbytery in Canada. 

This Presbytery has the following congregations and mission works within its bounds: Coram Deo RP Mission Church (British Columbia), Edmonton RPC (Alberta), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (Toronto RPC) (Ontario), Hillside RPC (Almonte, Ontario), Redemption RPC (Quebec), New Creation RPC (Kitchener, Ontario), Ottawa RPC (Ontario), Russell RPC (Ontario), Nissi RP Mission Church (Surrey, British Columbia), and West Vancouver Mission Church (British Columbia).

This new Presbytery will function as part of the RPCNA until it exercises the permission it has been given to form itself as a new denomination sometime before the end of the year on its constitutional documents.

What are the Roots of the RP Church in Canada?

The RP church in Canada traces its roots back to mission works started by Irish and the Scottish RP Churches. It is both a fascinating and a sad story. 

The Irish RP Connection

The first RP missionary to the Maritimes, was an Irishman man called Alexander Clarke. He and his family emigrated to Canada in June 1827, and within five years, a Presbytery had been formed. One historian, quoting the New Brunswick Courier, says Clarke was an “indefatigable missionary.” The following 50 years saw several challenges and successes in the work, and then in 1879, the Irish Synod “somewhat reluctantly” asked the Presbytery to join the RPCNA Synod. 

The Scots RP Connection 

In the early 1800s, many Scottish Presbyterian families, emigrated to Lanark County in Ontario. Initially supplied by RP ministers from America, they were encouraged when, in 1833, the Scottish RP Church sent the Rev. James McLachlan as a missionary minister to them. McLachlan was another “worker” like the Irishman Clarke, and the church work in Upper Canada prospered under his leadership. In 1853, fourteen years before the forming of the Dominion of Canada, the Scottish RP Church took a different approach from that of the Irish. It willingly transferred its members in Upper Canada into the RPCNA, exhorting that they become self-supporting.

With continuing emigration, the church in Canada grew to over 100 preaching stations and congregations. Sadly, the combination of a lack of ministers, and the issue of the elective franchise (not voting in government elections), contributed to seeing, by the 1960s, there were just two congregations left, Almonte (now Hillside RPC) and Lochiel (now Redemption RPC).

What prompted the decision to have an RP Church of Canada?

It might seem like this is a sudden development, but it’s not. At a St. Lawrence RPCNA Presbytery meeting in April 1999, a motion was passed to establish a Canadian Presbytery by July 1999. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. 

In October 2018, the St. Lawrence Presbytery appointed a committee to “initiate discussions among the Canadian ministers and elders and proceed to the formation of a Canadian RP Church.” In the winter of 2018/2019, Rev. Dr. Andrew Quigley, the committee chair, visited each Session in Canada and outlined the reasons for an RP Church of Canada.

Reservations were expressed, but all the Sessions agreed to participate in the process. A number of “Gatherings” of ministers and elders were then held to discuss reasons for establishing an RPC of Canada and to address the potential issues arising from any decision to do so. It became clear that there were two reasons for an RP Church in Canada, one theological, the other practical.

A Theological Reason

God created the nations according to their languages, clans, lands, and the boundaries of their dwelling places (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31-32, Acts 17:26), and the Lord Jesus Christ commissioned His Church to make disciples of every nation (Matt. 28:19-20, Luke 24:45-47). 

Our understanding is that the universal visible Church is distributed regionally among the nations of the earth. We note the prophetic promise in Isaiah 49:23, which states that kings shall be foster fathers and queens nursing mothers to the Church. And the Larger Catechism Q. #191 reminds us that when we pray “Your Kingdom come,” we are asking God to grant that the civil magistrates of every nation will maintain the Church within their lands.

A Practical Reason

In practical terms, the need for a coherent denominational vision required a national RP church in Canada because of the demands of the task. A Canadian Presbytery of the RPCNA, although accepted as a short-term interim step towards an RPCC, would have hampered the realization of that vision.

Progress Made

Despite the disruption caused by COVID, the participating Sessions in Ontario and Quebec presented a request to the St. Lawrence Presbytery in April 2021 that the matter of a Canadian RP Church be progressed. That led to a petition being brought to the RPCNA Synod 2021, asking that the participating Canadian congregations and mission works be sent out from the RPCNA in June 2022 to form a national RP Church of Canada. This petition was granted, and a committee was appointed to discuss the details.

That committee considered how best to process this decision in line with historical precedents and the RPCNA Book of Church government. Having agreed on an appropriate process, the committee recommended to the RPCNA Synod 2022 that an RPCNA Presbytery of Canada should be formed that would then be granted permission to form the new denomination of the RPCC. That recommendation and the other associated recommendations were adopted by the Synod, leading to the formation of the new Presbytery and, ultimately, God willing, the new RP Church of Canada.

Please give thanks and pray.

Please thank God for His Hand of blessing upon this matter and the resulting progress made, given that few thought it would be possible.

Please pray that the Lord would call men to be ministers and elders to join in casting a vision for and serving in the new RP Church of Canada when it is formed later this year.

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