This denomination traces its origin to eighteenth century controversies in the Church of Scotland. One controversy was over the right of a Presbyterian congregation to call its pastor. Protesters challenged the British law that gave noblemen in certain parts of Scotland the right to select pastors, and when courts ruled in favor of the nobility, some pastors and people withdrew from the Church of Scotland and formed new Presbyterian congregations and denominations. A theological controversy, involving some of the same protestors, challenged the moralism of the Church of Scotland and of the Scottish Enlightenment and emphasized a covenant of grace.
Scots and Scots-Irish immigrants brought this Presbyterian tradition to North America. In 1782 the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States was organized in Philadelphia. The Associate Reformed Synod of the South, later called the General Synod, was organized in 1803 and became known as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
While the denomination has always been small and has never had the theological or cultural influence of the larger Presbyterian denominations, it has had remarkable cultural cohesion and the loyalty of generations of Associate Reformed Presbyterian families. This cohesion and loyalty have been particularly obvious in South Carolina, where Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary have served as bearers of the tradition and as institutions that have nurtured deep loyalties. ARPs have been well known in South Carolina for their Sabbatarianism and their insistence on singing only psalms in worship.
Burleigh, John H. S. A History of the Church of Scotland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1960.
Ware, Lowry Price, and James Wylie Gettys. The Second Century: A History of the Associate Reformed Presbyterians, 1882–1982. Greenville, S.C.: Associate Reformed Presbyterian Center, 1983.