In 1875 the Presbyterian Church in Canada was formed. Up until that time the various Presbyteri- an groups in Scotland had replicated themselves here in Canada with a va- riety of mission works which, largely through Scottish immigration, had become quite numerous.
For some time before 1875 there had been discussion about the possi- bility of union, but for reasons which were mostly cultural and traditional, it took quite some time for union to come about.
One National Presbyterian Church
What the various expressions of Presbyterianism had in common was their ethnicity and their professed ad- herence to the Westminster Standards, the Confession and its Catechisms. The problem was that while they all agreed on paper that the Westminster Standards were their confessional ba- sis, just how that played itself out in each group varied considerably.
For this reason, some Reformed Presbyterians and Free Church Pres- byterians declined to take part in the union movement and some of those congregations continue in those de- nominational affiliations to this day. However, the vast majority decided to put aside their differences and unite to form one national Presbyte- rian Church.
United Church in Canada Formed
As you might suspect, this lowest common denominator, confessional- ism, was the breeding ground of larg- er troubles. While much worthwhile mission work took place in the west and north, not everyone was happy. Presbyterians who were scattered thinly across Canada’s vast landscape began looking around; and because many had begun to see their confes- sional standards as historical rather than authoritative documents, this spirit of lowest common denominator confessionalism soon led to church union talks with Congregationalist churches and with the Methodists. In 1925 the Congregationalists, Meth- odists, and the vast majority of Pres- byterians united to form the United Church in Canada (UCC).
Clearly a reformed theological un- derstanding of the Church had been lost. It had been lost not in 1925 but generations before then. The UCC soon became a socially active and a theologically liberal mainline church that stood for nothing resembling re- formed Christianity.
Another Departure from Orthodoxy
Unfortunately, the Presbyterians who remained behind often did so for reasons other than confessional fidelity. W.W. Bryden, principal of Knox College, the leading theological school of the continuing Presbyteri- ans, wrote a book called, Why I Am a Presbyterian. Polity, tradition, and some theology formed his arguments, but Bryden was not confessionally or- thodox. In fact, he was a devotee of the then rising star of neo-orthodoxy – Karl Barth.
Bryden’s teaching and ideas satu- rated the denomination. With no
authoritative Bible and no authorita- tive Confession, Canadian Presbyteri- anism found itself adrift. The depar- ture from orthodoxy was slower than in the UCC but it was just as certain.
A Clear Lesson
If our confessions cease to have any real authority in the life of the Church, we will end up adrift and find ourselves with nothing to say to the world around us. Certainly con- fessions, apart from the Word and Spirit, will save no one and will not guarantee a living Church. But when our Confessions are subscribed to as a vibrant theological summary of what we believe the Spirit of God through the Word of God teaches us, then they form a reliable bulwark against the destructive tide of modernity in which so many before us have floundered.
The question stands before us, “Do we really accept the doctrines of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, as founded on the Word of God and as the expression of (y)our own faith, and do [we] resolve to adhere there- to? (FoG 9.30.3)