What Is Cumberland Presbyterian?
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church is a Presbyterian body formed during the Great Revival of 1800.
The revival caused disagreement within the Presbyterian Church (USA) both over the mechanics of the revival and over allowances the pro-revival faction was willing to make in order to secure ministers for its rapidly expanding following.
In two presbyteries, Springfield and Cumberland, the pro-revival faction dominated. These presbyteries, Cumberland in particular, believed that that the revival to be an extraordinary circumstance which allowed for exceptions to both educational requirements for ordination and the required subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Both Springfield and Cumberland Presbyteries were members of Kentucky Synod of the Presbyterian Church (USA). In Kentucky Synod the faction opposed to the revival dominated. This anti-revival faction took steps to curtail the activities of the revival oriented presbyteries. Frustrated, Springfield Presbytery withdrew from the Presbyterian Church in 1803. In 1804, in order to discipline her ministers, Kentucky Synod dissolved Cumberland Presbytery.
On February 4, 1810, at the home of Rev. Samuel McAdow near present day Dickson, Tennessee, McAdow, Rev. Finis Ewing, and Rev. Samuel King reorganized Cumberland Presbytery, previously dissolved by Kentucky Synod of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
These disaffected Presbyterian ministers did not intend to found an independent Presbyterian body. They felt that they would have greater success resolving their differences with Kentucky Synod as an organized body than as individuals. They also felt that the organization of a presbytery would better enable them to serve their congregations.
Growing rapidly, Cumberland Presbytery became Cumberland Synod in 1813 and, in 1829, when a General Assembly was established, the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination.
Individual Cumberland Presbyterian congregations are governed by elected elders who make up a "session." Presbyteries are made up of ordained clergy and elder delegates from each congregation within their bounds. Presbyteries, in turn, send delegates to synods. Finally, the entire structure is governed by the General Assembly. The Assembly charges various boards and agencies with the day-to-day operation of the denomination.
Cumberland Presbyterian congregations are located throughout the United States as well as in several other countries (Japan, Hong Kong, Colombia, etc.) but are primarily located in the American South, with strong concentrations in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Missouri, southern Illinois, Arkansas, and Texas.
The Cumberland Presbyterian denomination has a socially progressive tradition. Cumberland Presbyterians were among the first denominations to admit women to their educational institutions and to accept them in leadership roles including the ordained clergy.
•The first woman ordained in the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition (in 1889) was Louisa Woosley, a Cumberland Presbyterian.
•Cumberland Presbyterians were early to ordain African Americans to the ministry (circa 1830).
•The 1984 revision of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith was one of the first inclusive confessional documents in the Reformed tradition.
*Adapted from the tract "Who Are Cumberland Presbyterians?" by T. V. Warnick and Morris Pepper.