The American Presbyterian Church was formed in 1979 by a group of five ministers, all of whom had formerly ministered in the Bible Presbyterian Church. The Bible Presbyterian Church came into existence when the Presbyterian Church of America split in 1936 as a result of conflict between those with a more Reformed (Old School) emphasis and those with a more fundamentalist (New School) emphasis. This same tension, between its Reformed heritage and its New School tradition was reflected in its doctrinal standards, a modified version of the Westminster standards, continued in the Bible Presbyterian Church under the leadership of Dr. Carl McIntire. The founding ministers of the American Presbyterian Church were part of a group that sought during the 1970s to influence the church in the direction of its Presbyterian heritage. It sought to bring the church into a greater conformity with its standards. It opposed the incipient Arminianism and dispensationalism that seemed to be reflected in the ministry of a few of its ministers.
As a result of the presence of Dr. Butler at Faith Theological Seminary the students were brought under a consistently Reformed influence. As this was noted in the church at large it led to the exertion of political influence against his presence at the Seminary. This resulted in Dr. Butler being summarily dismissed. As Faith Theological Seminary was an independent agency, as most of the other ministries of the Bible Presbyterian Church, there was no possible appeal to the Synod of the Church. Those in support of Dr. Butler then formed another independent agency, Reformation Seminary, to carry on the work of theological instruction consistent with the church’s doctrinal standards. This action was perfectly lawful but it led to the expulsion of most of the ministers involved at the Bible Presbyterian Synod of 1976.
As long as they were part of the Bible Presbyterian Church the ministers involved were committed to be loyal to the church and its standards, and were concerned that they not commit the sin of schism. However having in God’s providence been expelled from the Bible Presbyterian Church they felt no further obligation to it or its standards and considered themselves free to now form a Presbyterian Church based on their convictions. For three years they studied the scriptures and historic Presbyterianism and developed a constitution, including doctrinal standards, for a new Presbyterian church. They called it the American Presbyterian Church. It was so named because they felt that they represented historic American Presbyterianism. They identified with the Old Side in the schism of 1741 and with the Old School in the schism of 1837. They were influenced by the great Presbyterian theologians that America has produced, not only such men as Charles Hodge, but also the Southern Presbyterian theologians, especially Dabney and Thornwell.
They held to strict subscriptionism on the part of both members and office bearers. They held to the historic Reformed doctrine of worship known as the “regulative principle of worship”. This included exclusive psalmody in all public worship services, no use of musical instruments, and no observance of unscriptural holydays such as Christmas and Easter. They also continued to hold the Bible Presbyterian distinctives of temperance with respect to alcoholic beverages and a historic premillennialist eschatology. They continued to hold the historic position of American Presbyterianism in rejecting the Westminster doctrine of the civil magistrate with its belief in an established church. Instead they held to religious liberty and that the civil magistrates as God’s ministers should only enforce the second table of the law as an earthly ministry of justice among men.
The American Presbyterian Church has by God’s grace been in existence for over twenty years. Growth has been modest but the Church has faithfully maintained those truths that God has committed to its care. It continues to preach the scriptures, teach the doctrines of historic Presbyterianism, and to maintain those distinctives that it believes God has raised it up to witness to. It invites all believers, and especially professed Presbyterians, to study its scriptural witness to the historic faith and to join with them in the pure worship of God and the faithful preaching of his word.