There are a lot of churches with the name “Presbyterian” and figuring out what each split-p believes and why they exist can be a bit overwhelming. In this section we want to describe what it means to be an Associate Reformed Presbyterian.
Associate- The first letter in our name does not refer to an association or to an associate relationship with another current denomination. “Associate” refers to a group of churches who were formed in 1733 under the leadership of Ebenezer Erskine (pictured) who were associated with the Church of Scotland. They found themselves in disagreement over the liberalizing of the CoS and the requirement that local landowners have a say in who the local pastor was going to be. The Associate Presbyterians existed as a separate body from the mainline church when they immigrated to the colonies.
Reformed- The second letter in the initials “ARP” does not mean our doctrine (though we are Reformed in that sense as well) but to another group of Christians who came to the American colonies from Scotland. The “Reformed” descended from a group of Presbyterians called Covenanters (see the link for more) who found themselves unable to join the new church of Scotland in 1690 because of what they considered to be unbiblical requirements of membership. They faced great persecution from the civil authorities and often had to meet in fields and valleys. (see photo below). Many Covenanters came to the middle colonies of New York and Pennsylvania. This is where they came into contact with their fellow Scottish and Scots-Irish refugees from their homeland and formed together with their Associate Presbyterian brethren in 1783.
This union is the beginning date for our denomination.
Presbyterian- The last letter “P” points to our form of government. Presbyterianism is “rule by elders”. What this means for the local church is that we are a bottom-up organization instead of a top-down episcopal organization with Bishops, etc… Each level of church government is made up of Ministers and Ruling Elders. We have no one man to whom the local church is accountable, but each congregation is represented and accountable through their Minister and one of their Ruling Elders at the Presbytery and then the Synod level. It is best to think of these next two entities as horizontally and not vertically related to the local assembly.