Presbyterian Background to Cane Ridge (Caneridge) Revivalism

Cane Ridge: The following is excerpted from History of the Early American Presbyterian Church and the article: Historical Events in Early American Presbyterianism. I recommend that you click on the last link to follow many other links connected to the following excerpts. This background helps explain Cane Ridge.

Historical Events in Early American Presbyterianism

Adopting Westminster Confession of Faith as Test for Synod Membership

The most prominent event in the period of the Presbyterian church from 1729 to 1741, was the passing of the Adopting Act, by which assent to the Westminster Confession of Faith was required of all members of the Synod, and of all candidates for admission to the Presbyteries. The Presbytery of Newcastle had begun, at least as early as 1724, to require the adoption of the Westminster Confession by their candidates for the ministry. No one will be surprised, therefore, to learn that the overture which led to the Adopting Act had its origin in this Presbytery. The Rev. John Thompson, of Lewes, Del., was its author. Under the date of March 27th, 1728, it is recorded that "an overture formerly read before Synod, but which was dropped, being now, at the desire of the Presbytery, produced by Mr. Thompson and read, the Presbytery defer their judgment concerning it until next meeting." When the overture was introduced a second time into Synod, in 1728, "the Synod, judging this to be a very important affair, unanimously concluded to defer the consideration of it till the next Synod, withal recommending it to the members of each Presbytery present to give it to the members of each Presbytery present to give timeous notice thereof to the absent members."

In 1729, the subject was taken up by the Synod, and referred to a committee consisting of Messrs. Andrews, Dickinson, Pierson, Thompson (the author of the overture), Craighead, and Anderson, who brought in a report which, after long debate upon it, was agreed to in haec verba:

Although the Synod do not claim or pretend to any authority of imposing our faith upon other men't consciences, but do profess our just dissatisfaction with, and abhorrence of, such impositions, and do utterly disclaim all legislative power and authority in the Church, being willing to receive one another as Christ has received us, to the glory of God, and admit to fellowship in sacred ordinances all such as we have grounds to believe Christ will at last admit to the Kingdom of Heaven; yet we are undoubtedly obliged to take care that the faith once delivered to the saints be kept pure and uncorrupt among us, and so handed down to our posterity.

And do therefore agree that all the ministers of this Synod, or that shall hereafter be admitted into this Synod, shall declare their agreement in, and approbation of, the Confession of Faith, with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as the confession of our faith. And we do also agree that all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate of the ministry into the exercise of the sacred functions but what declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of said Confession, either by subscribing the said Confession of Faith and Catechisms or by a verbal declaration of their assent thereto, as such Minister or Candidate shall think best.

And in case any minister of this Synod, or any candidate for the ministry, shall have any scruple with respect to any article or articles of said Confession or Catechisms, he shall, at the time of his making said declaration, declare his sentiments to the Presbytery or Synod, who shall, notwithstanding, admit him to the exercise of the ministry in their own bounds, and to ministerial communion, if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge his scruple or mistake to be only about articles not essential to and necessary in doctrine, worship or government.

But if the Synod shall declare them uncapable of communion with them. And the Synod do solemnly agree, that none of us will traduce or use any opprobrious terms of those that differ from us in these extra-essential and not necessary points of doctrine, but treat them with the same friendship, kindness, and brotherly love, as if they had not differed from us in such sentiments.

The foregoing paper was adopted in the morning. In the afternoon took place "The Adopting Act."

The ministers of the Synod then present, with the exception of Mr. Elmer, who declared himself not prepared (but gave in his assent at the next meeting of the Synod), after proposing all the scruples that any of them had against any articles and expressions in the Confession and Catechisms, unanimously agreed in the solution of those scruples, and in declaring the Confession and Catechisms to be their confession of faith. The only exception made was to those articles of the Form of Government which related to the duties of the civil magistrate. In view of the "unanimity, peace and unity" which appeared in these consultations and deliberations of the Synod, the "unanimously agreed in giving thanks to God in solemn prayer and praises." The ministers who were present at this meeting of Synod were Messrs. Andrews, Craighead, Thompson, Anderson, Pierson, Gelston, Houston, Tennent, Boyd, Dickinson, Bradner, T.Evans, Hutchinson, Elmer, Stevenson, Gilbert Tennent, Conn, Orme, Gillespie, and Wilson.

A motion being made to know the Synod's judgment about the Directory, they gave their sense of the matter in the following words:

The Synod do unanimously acknowledge and declare, that they judge the Directory for worship, discipline and government of the Church, commonly annexed to the Westminster Confession, to be agreeable in substance to the Work of God, and founded thereupon, and therefore do earnestly recommend the same to all their members, to be by them observed, as near as circumstances will allow and Christian prudence direct.

After action upon the Adopting Act, the question immediately arose, what do the Synod mean by "essential and necessary articles?" May the new members object to any and all articles not essential to Christianity? This ambiguity in the Act excited immediate dissatisfaction, and the Synod were called upon to say explicitly how these expressions were to be understood. This they did at their meeting in 1730, as follows:

Overturned, That the Synod do now declare, that they understand these clauses that respect the admission of intrants or candidates, in such a sense as to oblige them to receive and adopt the Confession and Catechisms at their admission, in the same manner, and as fully, as the members of the Synod did that were then present

Many persons having been offended with some expressions or distinctions in the first or preliminary act of Synod for adopting the Westminster Confession Catechisms, etc., in order to remove said offence and all jealousies that had arisen, or might arise, on occasion of said distinctions and expressions, the following action was taken in 1736:

The Synod doth declare, that the Synod have adopted and still do adhere to the Westminster Confession, Catechisms and Directory, without the least variation or alteration, and without any regard to said distinctions.

The ministers present at this meeting of Synod were Messrs. Thomas Craighead, J.Andrews, J. Thompson, J. Anderson, Richard Treat, J. Houston, Robert Cathcart, A.Boyd, Robert Cross, Robert Jamison, Ebenezer Gould, H. Stevenson, H. Carlisle, James Martin, William Bertram, Alexander Craighead, John Paul, William Tennent, Sen., William Tennent, Jun., and David Evans. If to these be added those members who, though absent this year, were present when the explanatory declaration of 1730 was passed, viz: Messrs. John Pierson, Samuel Gelston, Gilbert Tennent, Alexander Hutchinson, Joseph Morgan, Daniel Elmer, Thomas Evans, and Ebenezer Pemberton, we have a sufficient list of witnesses as to what were the true meaning and intent of the Adopting Act.

See R.L. Dabney for the prevailing view of instrumental music

See George Girardeau for the still prevailing view of Presbyterians

Those who introduced instruments broke the Restoration Movement!

See Next for Presbyterian Background


Excerpted by Kenneth Sublett.

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