Below are the historical background of Hanover Presbytery and practices
that are unique to the Presbytery. They are to be read at the beginning
of each Presbytery meeting; or at least summarized; that we may remember
and practice to the end that we “glorify God and enjoy Him forever!”
[We are thankful for our Lord’s servant, Dr. Edwin P. Elliott, Jr.,
for putting Hanover’s history and practice before us.]
"Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod
of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein
thou hast dwelt." (Psalm 74:2)
The Hanover Presbytery story begins in the period leading to the formation
of the Presbyterian Church in America. Opposition to the deadening theology
and social direction of the Presbyterian Church (US) gathered widely
divergent groups in a common cause. The words of Moses come to mind,
"And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds,
even very much cattle." (Exodus 12:38)
Everyone wanted out of Egypt but there was no common agreement on where
to find the Promised Land. From that turmoil Covenant Presbytery emerged
in North Georgia as a rallying point for people interested in restoring
the Southern Presbyterian Church. In the course of Providence, other
ministers and congregations began to rally around the charismatic leadership
of Dr. Joe Morecraft and his suburban Atlanta allies. My father, Sam
Brown, and I eventually appealed for refugee status and were received
into Covenant Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (US).
Dr. Morecraft and I were distracted from denomination building by the
demands of our congregations and our side jobs running for congress
and publishing the major pro-life newspapers and magazines. In retrospect,
the two of us should have paid closer attention to polity but the movement
was growing rapidly and we each assumed the best.
The denomination became big enough for form a synod of four presbyteries.
The northern ministers and congregations formed Hanover Presbytery,
calling to mind the original presbytery formed for evangelization of
the South. On the way to a national synod something went wrong. I agree
with Dr. Ken Talbot that the fundamental problem was unresolved polity
Father, Sam, George Bancroft, and I felt strongly that we should not
stay and fight in the denomination which had given us refuge. The Atlanta
presbytery wanted to move in directions which our congregations would
not accept. As a presbytery, the Hanover men determined to quietly withdraw
without a major controversy and dissolve our presbytery. We wrote a
letter to Atlanta expressing our loss of confidence and offering to
transfer any minister, student, or congregation interested in leaving
At the same time the southern and western presbyteries reached the same
conclusion. In reflection, when three of the four presbyteries wrote
virtually identical letters and only learned of their common concerns,
some effort should have been made immediately to restore unity. I personally
take full responsibility for the failure. Perhaps I was to worn down
from a dozen years of conflict.
The two western presbyteries soon merged to form the Reformed Presbyterian
Church (General Assembly). Under the leadership of the men at Whitfield
Seminary, that portion of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (US) moved
ahead to form a detailed Book of Church Order which would prevent future
disruptions. Hanover has always maintained an open relationship with
our brothers in this body.
Dr. Sam Brown took the offer and sought credentials in the General Assembly.
George Bancroft accepted a call to the mission field which took him
to Australia, Palestine, and England. The remnant neglected to go out
of business and eventually developed a fraternal tie to the Bible Presbyterian
The men who formed Hanover Presbytery were of more irenic temperament
than the times demanded. We simply wanted to live in peace and build
Presbyterian congregations. To that end the presbytery adopted a set
of conventions which remain in force.
1. We hold an annual meeting in
the spring of the year when there is sufficient business to justify
a meeting. That meeting commonly falls in April and the failure to make
regular provision for the next meeting has been a continuing problem
2. We follow the practice of the original London Presbytery by having our
oldest minister present call the annual meeting to call the meeting to order
and provide for a review of our history and customs.
3. At that point a
moderator and a clerk will be elected. The moderator holds office only during
the meeting. The stated clerk holds office until replaced by a sitting court.
Commonly Hanover appoints a page and elects a recording or corresponding
clerk to assist the stated clerk.
4. Each minister or church representative
must affirm the original Westminster Confession, Larger Catechism, Shorter
Catechism, and Form of Presbyterian Church Government and Ordination of
Ministers. We take no vows as such but take these documents as our own testimony.
5. Hanover deliberately set the standard at 1712 when America's first presbytery
organized. That was too clever by far. The first presbytery actually met
in 1706 and as Dr. Bacon has reminded us, the Church of Scotland accepted
some of the peculiar practices of that period with amplifications we should
have stated as well.
6. Recognizing the enormous importance of the ruling
eldership for the renewal of Presbyterianism we placed great confidence
in local sessions, reminding them not at any time to abridge customary rights
of Presbyterians in the churches under their care. Consequently music, voting
styles, and various other things were left to local prudence. In practice
this has meant that local churches have insisted on men obtaining catechism
certificates before making them elders or deacons and sending them to presbytery.
One church operated with a consistory of two deacons for some years because
these older men loved the Presbyterian heritage so much they refused to
be called Elders when they could not recite the catechism.
determined from the first to be open to the most conservative Presbyterians.
We sing only from the Psalter at presbytery, reject ownership of property
above the congregational level, prohibit committees, and assign problems
to ministerial superintendents or local sessions.
8. While as "1706 Presbyterians"
we are Covenanters, our attitude is best exemplified by Pat Mahoney, one
of America's most prominent defenders of Christian Liberty, who said, "We
need men on their knees in prayer at the Supreme Court more than we need
more position papers."
As such there are no tertiary standards. Even issues
as important as Creation and Abortion do not need position papers because
they are stated in Scriptures and affirmed in the confessional standards.
STANDING UNDER CARE
Because there were no other "1706 Presbyteries," in
the United States, it became necessary to generate a mechanism for receiving
and transferring ministers and congregations when dealing with denominations
holding more complex and democratic polities. Our solution was to authorize
the Stated Clerk to issue "Certificates of Standing under Care."
or congregation moving from independency or status in some other jurisdiction
when known by ministers or congregational officers can apply to the Stated
Clerk for a certificate until the next regular meeting. The status acknowledges
the continuing ministry of the minister or congregation until a full examination
can be conducted by the appropriate court. Such ministers have all the rights
and privileges of office short of voting in presbytery during the transition
period. The status is not intended to be permanent. The Roman system of
graded ministry remains an abominable mockery of Scripture.
ARE MISSING FROM HANOVER
The founders of Hanover Presbytery picked the 1706
reference to exclude the compromises of the last three centuries. The downgrade
process which emerged from the Old Side -- New Side, Restoration Movement,
Cumberland, New Light -- Old Light, New School -- Old School, Fundamentalist
– Modernist, and other conflicts is not our obligatory heritage. "Jesus
said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the
kingdom of God." (Luke 9:60) Hanover chooses to return to the American starting
goal and be the Full-Bible Presbyterian Church.
The newsletter theologies
of the 20th Century have other constituencies and organizations. Let each
grow and see which best please the Lord. God gathered 12 tribes to Jerusalem;
He will tell us which tribes are actually His.
No position paper promoting
the novelties of the times can rival the testimony of Joshua, "And if it
seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve;
whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of
the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for
me and my house, we will serve the LORD." (Joshua 24:15)
IS THE HANOVER
Hanover has never been in a hurry -- even crawl off
into history. The simple historical facts endorse the Hanover hope. The
Associate Presbytery in Scotland began with less than half a dozen ministers.
The Cumberland Presbytery was no larger when it began its meteoric rise.
Springfield Presbytery which gave a start to host of Campbell-Stone denominations
was also a small group of dedicated men. The seeds of great movements just
like the seeds of giant trees begin small and appear to die in the earth
long before the world sees the result.
If indeed God regulates doctrine,
worship, and polity in Scripture as we testify, the church which eventually
hears, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful
over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into
the joy of thy lord." (Matthew 25:21) will be just such an institution as
that which we are gathering.
ZION'S TESTIMONY TO THE CHURCHES
the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where
is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.
But they said, We will not walk therein." (Jeremiah 6:16) "For the LORD
is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save
us." (Isaiah 33:22)
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words
of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God
shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any
man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall
take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and
from the things which are written in this book. He which testifieth these
things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen." (Revelation 22:18-21)
Let me share some peculiarities of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Hanover
Hanover Presbytery is a simple throwback in Presbyterianism.
If you are familiar with the Westminster Standards in the form published
by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland 1 you have most of what you
need to know about us. There you will find our confessions, catechisms,
directories, and form of government. Beginners find it hard to believe we
can function under such a system but we do quite well.
Our roots are in
the Southern Presbyterian and Associate Reformed Presbyterian traditions.
Most of us were ordained in one or the other of these two groups. As Dr.
Roger Schultz of Liberty University put it, "We are just a group of good
Hanover Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church falls
in the historic tradition of the Scottish Relief Church. We honor the founders
of the original Associate Presbytery--five out of work preachers with nothing
to go on but hope and faith.
We do have some usages and traditions which
hide in the shadows. Let me give you an over-view.
1. We require a Biblical
basis for any element of denominational life. Committees are not mentioned
in Scripture. They have been the ruin of Presbyterianism. If presbytery
cannot handle a project we won't touch it. Should a man propose a committee,
he will be scolded. No one has been formally disciplined, but I suspect
the elders would do it if a man made a nuisance of himself in the matter.
Similarly we have no position papers. Courts do not write position papers.
Join the Reformed Presbyterian Church (General Assembly) or the Reformed
Presbyterian Church (US) if you get the itch to write a position paper.
Publish a book, start a magazine, or blog on the internet but don't suggest
a position paper.
2. We reject the holding of property above the congregational
level. American Presbyterians have a long tradition of theft. Jesus said,
"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth
corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves
treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where
thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there
will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)
3. We do not have ordination
vows; they have always been used to dissemble. Either our confessional testimony
is the testimony of your faith or you belong somewhere else. We do grant
standing under care for ministers with faithful records who differ with
us. Such men can function as ministers in our denomination but they cannot
vote in our meetings. On one occasion we gave such standing to a Methodist
minister who was helping to organize a Methodist relief group. The clerk
sent the man a letter upon his honest application and he refrained from
appearing for a theological examination for several years until he was able
to accomplish his objectives. During that time he functioned as a seminary
Several men have
brought unhappy experience to their understanding of the confessions. We
commonly give such people standing under care and direct them to study the
documents for what they say rather than what they are assumed to say. I
think that is an important part of what Brian was telling you. You would
be amazed at the insight which develops when one honestly reads the standards
and examines the footnotes; flipping through the pages as you take the airplane
to the meeting will not sit well with the elders.
Someone is certain to
ask where you stand on stews or enclosures. Question 99 in the Larger Catechism
has been known to get a work-out. If you were actually a buddy of Rush or
Nigel and can point to a couple of hundred things we should have read--the
way Brian did--it will go easier. Other people get by saying, "Please show
me which part of the standards you have in mind and explain the question
in more detail for me."
4. In the usage of the Reformation era Church of
Scotland, we appoint superintendents to solve problems. Brian is the superintendent
of his congregation and his region; that means he must solve problems, take
charge, and formulate any business from that area which requires the attention
of the entire denomination. Either something is very serious or there is
no need for more than one person to worry about it.
5. Our meetings are
held in the spring of the year when there is enough business to justify
getting people together from all over the country. The senior minister present
announces the meeting, calls for prayer, and then suggests the election
of a moderator for the meeting. Only the stated clerk holds office when
the court is not in session. We sing Psalms A Cappella during the Presbytery
6. Presbytery does not tolerate practices during its meetings which
are offensive to the historic traditions of the Presbyterian Church. That
means we are an exclusive psalm-singing jurisdiction. However, local elders
direct local practices such as music, communion, and worship practices.
If a congregation does not have Psalters, it should not invite the court
to meet with it. I could be wrong but I think we practice weekly, quarterly,
and annual communion according to the determination of the local elders.
Qualification to vote in congregational meetings is also a local matter.
Should such matters necessarily come by appeal to the court, they would
be evaluated by the stated practice of the congregation in question.
Generally, an officer should have a catechism certificate to represent his
congregation and certainly he should have one to vote. However, years of
faithful local service and a reputation for knowing the Reformed faith have
justified seating mature elders and even deacons as congregational representatives.
So far as I know only one congregation at present has a deacon but he has
a catechism certificate.
One congregation has wardens because it has an
Anglican background; they are studying the Larger Catechism under the direction
of their pastor. We had a congregation with deacons come to us and we suggested
a name change but the men said they did not want to insult the office and
that at their ages they did not want to stand examination on the catechism.
They would do the work and promote the doctrine but they didn't want to
be used as an excuse for lowering standards. Heaven is a better place now
that those particular "good ole boys" have entered it.
Commonly all ministers
and ruling elders present vote in our meetings. Check our form of government
and you will see that the formulas common in other groups do not have much
Biblical basis. The elders keep things on track. Start quoting Van Til,
Clark, or Hoeksema and they will put you in your place, prove they can match
you for quotes, and then tell you to start over from the confessional testimony.
I do not think we have any cruel elders, but the ones we have take seriously
the fact that they at least have to take off work to come and they do not
want to spend time listening to younger men demonstrate their academic experience.
8. When a church doesn't have elders it will have a superintendent. When
it does have elders we don't much care what they are called locally. When
the elders meet alone we call them a session. When the composition of the
local body differs, we call it a consistory.
9. Chapter One of the Confession
of Faith is the ultimate deal breaker. Our formal position is that God has
providentially preserved the text. The Majority Text, the Byzantine Text,
the Textus Receptus, and the Church Text are obviously all the same text
but among us the courteous thing is to refer to the Providential Text as
the confession suggests. If you don't like that some elder will probably
suggest you be given a year under care to think about it and can come back
In our community people joke that the Geneva Bible is the best
English Bible but that if you must use a modern language Bible, stick with
the King James. In point of fact, every minister is expected to be able
to work in the original languages and the first chapter demands that the
church make the Bible available in the language of the people being reached.
10. Our perspective on separation is simple. If someone will let you into
his pulpit or on to his band stage with your Bible, seize the opportunity.
If the Anglicans, Hungarians, or Congregationalists want to give you standing
without violating your conscience, enter and preach them into the Kingdom.
Just be prepared to explain to crafty old elders what you are doing. We
have fraternal relations with the Bible Presbyterian Church; try not to
disappoint them in public.
11. Strong stands on historic food fights of
the 20th Century will get you told by someone it is time for you to take
a coffee break and maybe you should make that a two-donut event. If you
want to promote one of the nine position papers of the Orthodox Presbyterian
Church it won't help you if we all agree with you--we will give you a time-out
for tracking that stuff into the room.
We want to hear from those who wish
to be a part of our fellowship. Tell us who you are, where you have been,
and why you are interested in joining an obscure and pedantic group like
ours. Then tell us what you think the Lord proposes to do with you that
makes it worth our while to consider your application. And one other point,
we take ministers' wives very seriously, you might bring your wife to the
meeting or have her write a letter of endorsement for you. Even a simple
phone call to the stated clerk's wife can do. An unhappy current resident
wife is probably the second deal breaker.