The Church That Sponsors Geneva - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)
Geneva College

Geneva College Blog

RSS Subscribe Print   

January 26, 2016

The Church That Sponsors Geneva

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) is a Presbyterian church of about one hundred small congregations historically concentrated in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Kansas, and more recently in Indiana. It grew in size from 1798 to 1891, shrank until 1980, and has since been growing.

Originally the RPCNA was an immigrant church of Scots and Scots-Irish Presbyterians descended from the final holdouts against the persecuting zeal of England’s Charles II and James II, who tried to make the Church of Scotland episcopal like the Church of England. When the English Lords overthrew James II in 1688, persecution ended, but the Society People, as they were called, rejected the Revolution settlement, because the new king William claimed to be head of the Church of Scotland (only Christ is head), because he did not enforce the National Covenant of 1638 or the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 (hence the nickname “Covenanters”), and because “lay patronage” (i.e., local aristocrat chooses parish preacher) gave the local lord control of the local church. Refusing to vote or hold office, they dissented from the civil government because it did not uphold the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant.

Organized like the English Quakers, the Society People existed after 1689 for two decades with no pastors, and then with only one for another 25 years. They met weekly, retelling stories of suffering and martyrdom, memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism, discussing Bible passages, and singing the Psalms. In 1743, with two preachers, they organized a presbytery and re-formed the Presbyterian Church of Scotland of the Covenant of 1638.


In the new United States, the RPCNA dissented from the American government for a new reason: the 1787 Constitution because it departed radically from the faith of Christendom, making no mention of God, or Jesus Christ, or the Bible, or even the Church. It also protected slavery. The RPCNA forbade church members from owning slaves. As a result, the large Covenanter settlement in South Carolina left, moving north and west. Covenanter congregations and Geneva College were very active in the Underground Railroad.

In the late 19th Century, the RPCNA founded the National Reform Association, which lobbied Congress to amend the Constitution to recognize Jesus Christ as the true source of law and authority. The NRA later joined the crusade for Prohibition. The RPCNA sent missionaries to the Ottoman Empire and to China, and in the U.S. established missions among Indians in Oklahoma, freed slaves in Selma, Alabama, Jewish immigrants in Philadelphia, and Chinese workers in Oakland, California.

After World War II, Navigator influence enlivened RPCNA evangelism, while Geneva Bible Professor J.G. Vos’ writing made it more attentive to the Westminster Standards. In 1967, Geneva College adopted The Foundations of Christian Education, turning the College more self-consciously in a Christian direction; one result was to tie Geneva College more tightly to the RPCNA. Today the national Synod of the RPCNA elects the Corporation of 12 members that controls the Charter that is the college’s legal basis for existence, writes the College Bylaws, and elects the Trustees. The Trustees elect the President, who with the Trustees operates Geneva College.

It is in the historical DNA of the RPCNA not to change easily with the times or in response to outside pressure. Things that seem strange about the RPCNA are nothing more than the continued practice of what many churches once did; for example, keeping the Lord’s Day carefully, or singing the Psalms a capella (Latin for “as is done in chapel”), or upholding the ideals of Christendom. Perhaps the RPCNA's slowness to change in response to outside pressures is one reason that Geneva College remains committed to historic Christian teaching over 165 years after its founding. Few colleges of its age have remained true to their original Christian commitments.”

The Geneva College motto, Pro Christo et Patria, encapsulates the RPCNA commitment to Christ and to a country obedient to the Lord. It is quite in keeping with the outlook of the RPCNA that Geneva College has appealed to the Supreme Court not to be required to take part in providing abortifacient agents as part of its medical coverage of its employees. Stay tuned!

Bill Edgar
Interim President

comments powered by Disqus