The Presbyterian Conflict

Edwin H. Rian

Chapter 12. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church

THE SPIRIT and the decisions of the 1935 General Assembly made it clear that the conservatives of the church would have to organize and unite on a definite program of reform and preparation for what seemed like the inevitable—a split in the church. Accordingly, a letter was written by two elders and a layman and addressed to 100 or more conservative leaders in the East, inviting them to be present at a meeting in Philadelphia on June 27, 1935, for the purpose of considering a plan of united action.

Approximately 100 attended the meeting at which time the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union was organized, officers elected, an executive committee formed, and a constitution adopted. A campaign was launched to obtain signers of the covenant, to form chapters, and to promote the program of the Covenant Union. The covenant read as follows:

We, the members of this Covenant Union, are resolved, in accordance with God's Word, and in humble reliance upon His grace, to maintain the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., (1) making every effort to bring about a reform of the existing church organization, and to restore the church's clear and glorious Christian testimony, which modernism and indifferentism have now so grievously silenced, but (2) if such efforts fail and in particular if the tyrannical policy of the present majority triumphs, holding ourselves ready to perpetuate the true Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., regardless of cost.

It became obvious that the officers and executive committee of the Covenant Union were determined not only to expose modernism in the boards of the church and to attempt a reform, but also to prepare for the probable division in the church if the members of the Independent Board were ousted. This was certain from the second part of the pledge.

Immediately, the Covenant Union was attacked not only by the church machine but also by the Rev. Samuel G. Craig, D.D., a former member of the board of trustees of Westminster Theological Seminary and a former member of the Independent Board, because the Covenant Union by its pledge committed men to withdraw from the church if members of the Independent Board were expelled from the church.

While in our opinion one of the planks of that platform should commit its supporters to the defense of the members of the Independent Board against the unchristian and unconstitutional mandate of the 1934 Assembly, we are persuaded that it must be broad enough to provide seats for many who think that the formation of the Independent Board was unwise or premature, and even for some who think its formation of questionable constitutionality. It is high time, it seems to us, for a conference of representative conservatives or evangelicals or fundamentalists—call them what you will—to discover whether it is not possible to agree on such a platform and in such leadership.[1]

Such outspoken criticism and opposition on the part of one who was editor of Christianity Today, the paper which had been launched in 1930 to carry on the fight against modernism in the church, and to which the conservatives in the church looked for leadership, called for an important decision. If the Covenant Union could not express its views and promote its program through the pages of Christianity Today, then another journal had to be started which would further the aims of the Covenant Union and those who were carrying the main burden of the conflict.

Prior to this Dr. Machen, as well as other members of the Independent Board, had carried on an extensive correspondence with Dr. Craig because of his indirect attacks on the Independent Board. Dr. Machen contended that in 1933, Christianity Today and the editorials in the paper had defended the Independent Board.[2] An editorial in the paper, June, 1933, stated, "As matters now stand, they [Bible-believers] must either make their contributions to Foreign Missions through non-Presbyterian channels or they must establish a new agency." In the September, 1935, issue of Christianity Today, Dr. Craig assumed an entirely different attitude. He then defended a third alternative, namely, the designation of gifts to sound missionaries under the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

In answer to this allegation, Dr. Craig argued that the first editorial was written by Mr. Griffiths, then managing editor of Christianity Today, and so the opinion expressed was not his own, yet now Dr. Craig claimed, "Whatever of praise or blame is due its editorial policy should be placed wholly to the account of its editor."[3]

Dr. Machen made further criticisms of Dr. Craig's policy, among them the lack of attention given to trials of members of the Independent Board, particularly in the September, 1935 issue, when all of the Independent Board trials which were the center of controversy in the church were dismissed with a third of a column in the paper.

This "drift" in the policy of the journal which left the conservatives in the church without an adequate organ of expression, and this open attack on the newly organized Covenant Union, brought the resignation of the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths as managing editor of Christianity Today, and the establishment of the Presbyterian Guardian as a paper directly under the sponsorship of the Covenant Union and edited by Mr. Griffiths, with Thomas R. Birch as assistant editor. Mr. Griffiths was also made general secretary of the Covenant Union and offices were opened in Philadelphia.

This division in the ranks of the conservatives was a great blow to their cause and a source of satisfaction to the leaders of the church. It was founded upon a fundamental difference of approach to the whole problem of reform and the battle for the faith, which will be considered in detail in another chapter under the title, "Reform from Within."

In the very first issue of the Presbyterian Guardian, Dr. Machen set the standard for the movement when he wrote,

We cannot trust the world; we cannot trust that elusive something known as "civilization!" We cannot, alas, trust the visible church. But when God speaks we can trust Him. He has spoken in the Bible. We can find our way through all the mists if we will make that blessed Book our guide.

Another article in the same issue stated, "By the grace of God we will contend against all forms of unbelief. We shall not cease to maintain and defend the inspired Word of God and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. 'regardless of cost.'"

The Covenant Union began immediately an intensive campaign to interest individuals in the support of its program and to form chapters throughout the nation. Public rallies were held in support of the new organization and in opposition to the tyranny of the church in its apparent determination to force the members of the Independent Board from the church. Not only did the Covenant Union add members to its cause, but in line with the pledge to bring about a reform in the existing church organization, a full exposé of modernism in the other boards and organizations was begun. Even in the Board of Foreign Missions more evidence was produced of its unfaithfulness to the Bible and the doctrinal standards of the church.

Nine articles by different men were written concerning unbelief in the Board of Christian Education. What was exposed in that agency corresponded largely with the facts discovered in the Foreign Mission Board. Signers of the Auburn Affirmation were found in places of authority in the educational program of the church,

(1) Two, as members of the Board; (2) One, as an officer of the Staff of the Board, in charge of the Department of Colleges, Theological Seminaries and Training Schools; (3) Five as Field Representatives who are responsible at headquarters to the Secretary of the Board, who work under the supervision of synodical or presbyterial committees on Christian Education in order to make the Board's program effective; and (4) Ten among the university pastors...[4]

The literature issued by the board was found to be not only silent concerning the great and central doctrines of Christianity, but in some instances opposed to them. The books recommended included three written by outstanding modernists of the day, among them, The Meaning of Prayer, by H. E. Fosdick, and The Life of Prayer in a World of Science, by William Adams Brown. The various departments under the sponsorship of the board were found to be anything but faithful to the central message of Christianity. For example, the direction of the board's program in higher education was under the leadership of Dr. W. L Young, a signer of the Auburn Affirmation.[5]

In order to implement these charges against the Board of Christian Education in the way provided by the constitution of the church, an overture was introduced in the Presbytery of Philadelphia asking that the board exercise care in electing members, secretaries, in issuing literature, and in cooperating with union movements, in order to keep modernism from the board's program.[6] Dr. George E. Barnes, newly elected Auburn Affirmation moderator of the presbytery, ruled this overture out of order.

Strangely enough, this overture was worded in the accustomed way. In fact, it followed the wording of the overture concerning the Board of Foreign Missions which had been passed by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in 1933. The difference was that in 1933 the conservatives controlled the presbytery, but in 1936 the Auburn Affirmationists were in the saddle.

An overture from the Presbytery of Philadelphia North was presented to the 1936 General Assembly, asking that the Board of Christian Education see to it that its literature be in accord with the standards of the church.[7] This overture was referred to the Board of Christian Education and more or less forgotten.

A similar overture was presented by the Presbytery of Milwaukee and referred to the Board of Christian Education by the 1936 General Assembly for due consideration.[8] An exposé was also begun with respect to the Board of National Missions and the same results obtained—modernism held the upper hand.[9]

Of the seventeen minister members of the Board of Christian Education, seven were signers of the Auburn Affirmation and of these seven at least one, the Rev. Henry Sloane Coffin, D.D., president of Union Theological Seminary, New York City, is one of the leading modernists in America. Not only did he sign the Auburn Affirmation, but his books reveal clearly what his opinions are concerning the great doctrines of the church. In his book Some Christian Convictions, he writes as follows about the canon of holy Scripture:

He [a Protestant] is not bound by the opinion of others, however many and venerable; and unless a book commends itself to his own spiritual judgment, he is under no obligation to receive it as the Word of God to him. As a matter of fact every Christian does make such a Bible of his own; the particular passages which "grip" him and reproduce their experience in him, they, and they alone, are his Bible.[10]

Nothing could more flatly contradict the Westminster Confession of Faith on the canon of holy Scripture and the authority of all Scripture. Chapter I, section II, after naming the sixty-six books of the Bible, states, "All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life."

The Rev. W. H. Boddy, D.D., pastor of the large and influential Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, not only signed the Auburn Affirmation, but also was a member of the National Committee of the Modern Missions Movement, whose avowed purpose was

... to foster the further consideration of the possible world service of Christianity as indicated by the Laymen's Foreign Missions Inquiry; to serve as a medium of information; and to cooperate with any Board, Church or other agency which is making effective the principles and recommendations of the Report [Re-Thinking Missions] and of the Regional Reports by the Commission of Appraisal.[11]

The anti-Christian religion of Re-Thinking Missions has already been considered.

Not only were some members of the board aligned against biblical Christianity, but also the general secretary, the Rev. E. Graham Wilson, D.D., was a signer of the Auburn Affirmation. The literature issued by the board was also examined and found to be wanting in its adherence to the Confession of Faith.[12] And so another board of the church was proven to be untrue to the Confession of Faith.

While the Covenant Union was continuing its attempt to reform the existing church organization by bringing the true situation to the attention of the members of the church, the prosecution of the Independent Board members went on unabated, and the goal toward which the rulers of the church were working came closer with each month. Philadelphia and Chester Presbyteries were reorganized so as to be controlled by those in sympathy with the princes of the church. The Rev. Roy T. Brumbaugh, D.D., pastor of the First Church, Tacoma, Washington, and a member of the Independent Board, was forced to leave his church building and with over five hundred members formed the First Independent Church of Tacoma. Kalamazoo Presbytery refused to receive the Rev. G. H. Snell from the Presbytery of Cincinnati because of his unwillingness to pledge support of the Board of Foreign Missions without qualification. The Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly upheld the action of Lackawanna Presbytery in erasing the name of the Rev. Henry W. Coray from its roll because he had become a missionary of the Independent Board, and in interpreting his action as making him "independent" even though he did not declare himself "independent." The Judicial Commission of the Synod of Wisconsin upheld the Presbytery of Milwaukee in dissolving the pastoral relationship of the Rev. J. J. DeWaard because he refused to cease his criticism of the boards of the church, and it sustained Winnebago Presbytery in suspending the Rev. Arthur F. Perkins from the ministry because he had established an independent Bible camp and had criticized the boards. All of these actions made the terminus ad quem of the whole conflict certain. The members of the Independent Board would be suspended from the ministry and a new church organization would be launched as a result. The "machine" of the church was rolling along, crushing all opposition in its path and making the victory at the end a hollow one.

The inevitable took place, for in Syracuse, New York, in June, 1936, certain members of the Independent Board were suspended from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in the USA. This action had been foreseen by the Covenant Union so that its first annual convention had been called for June 11-14, 1936, in Philadelphia. To this gathering came delegates from thirteen states who realized what the meeting meant and were prepared for action. The Covenant Union was dissolved and on the afternoon of June 11, 1936, thirty-four ministers, seventeen ruling elders, and seventy-nine laymen signed an act of association and doctrinal statement.[13]

The ministers and elders then constituted themselves the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., who had led the conflict against unbelief, was elected moderator without a dissenting vote, and the long-awaited, long-prophesied parting of the ways between Bible-believers and the Presbyterian Church in the USA became a reality.

The first general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America was concerned largely with the election of committees which would prepare the necessary organization of the church in readiness for the next assembly, which was called for November 12-15, 1936. On the other hand, several important and far-reaching decisions were made which stamped the Presbyterian Church of America as thoroughly Calvinistic in its doctrine and fair in its recognition of the rights of congregations to retain their local properties.

A Committee on the Constitution was elected with the power to recommend the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, and the elimination from these standards of the 1903 amendments and the Declaratory Statement.[14] The changes in the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the USA which were made in 1903 and which were discussed in chapter one, impaired the church's testimony to the Bible and the Reformed faith.

A resolution with reference to church property grew out of the unfair practice of the Presbyterian Church in the USA in claiming all church property for the denomination, even though the church building had been erected and paid for by the local congregation. Each local church under this provision is allowed to retain its property, which shall only revert to the Presbyterian Church of America if the congregation becomes extinct.[15] Committees on home missions and Christian education were also elected.

Another action was taken making the decisions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA regarding the members of the Independent Board invalid. In part, it read,

All censures inflicted by courts of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., upon any of the defendants in judicial Cases 1-5 mentioned above who are now connected with this church, are by the action of this Assembly, as the supreme judicatory of this church, terminated, lifted, and declared at an end.[16]

One outstanding characteristic marked the first general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. It was a truly deliberative body where every commissioner had an equal opportunity to express his opinion and where lively debate preceded each action. There was no attempt to shut off discussion, to call for the previous question, and to use all sorts of parliamentary tricks to force motions to a vote. When a matter had been thoroughly considered, each man voted according to his convictions, unafraid of any recriminatory measures later by a coterie of office-holders and office-seekers.

Immediately following the first general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, congregations and ministers began to leave the Presbyterian Church in the USA, the Knox Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, being the first to unite with the new body. Within two months after the new body had been formed, seventy-five ministers were under its jurisdiction, nine presbyteries had been erected (California, the Dakotas, Iowa, the Northwest, New Jersey, New York and New England, Ohio, Philadelphia, and Wisconsin), and there were congregations or groups of the Presbyterian Church of America meeting for worship in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.[17]

Even before the Presbyterian Church of America was formed, it was certain that the Presbyterian Church in the USA intended to continue its persecution of the Independent Board members even though they were in another church body. The Christ Reformed Episcopal Church, 43rd and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, had extended the courtesy of the use of its building to the Covenant Union for its evening meetings during the convention of June 11-14. To prevent this and to persuade the Reformed Episcopal Church to cancel the contract with the Covenant Union, the Rev. Lewis S. Mudge, D.D., stated clerk of the General Assembly, and the Rev. George Emerson Barnes, D.D., moderator of Philadelphia Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, appeared before the vestry and actually convinced it that to allow the former ministers of the Presbyterian Church in the USA to use the Reformed Episcopal Church building would be to violate comity relations between the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church in the USA.[18] However, the Reformed Episcopal Church of the Atonement in Germantown offered its auditorium to the Presbyterian Church of America, and a telegram of greeting was read to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America from the Rev. Robert Westly Peach, presiding bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church.

In an almost ludicrous session of the Philadelphia Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, the five minister members of the Independent Board, who had been ordered suspended from the ministry of that church by the General Assembly, were formally ordered suspended, even though these men had already renounced the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church in the USA and so were no longer members of it. The same procedure was reenacted by the Presbytery of New Brunswick in the case of Dr. Machen. And to make the whole proceeding even more ridiculous, five ministers, the Rev. A. A. MacRae, the Rev. Ned B. Stonehouse, the Rev. Robert Moody Holmes, the Rev. Albert B. Dodd, D.D., and the Rev. David Freeman, all of whom had renounced the jurisdiction of the Presbyterian Church in the USA and had joined the Presbyterian Church of America, were ordered to face trial before the Presbytery of Philadelphia.[19]

The full force of vindictiveness against the Presbyterian Church of America on the part of the Presbyterian Church in the USA was yet to come. On August 13, 1936, just two months after the formation of the Presbyterian Church of America, a bill of complaint in equity was filed in the Court of Common Pleas No. 5 in Philadelphia by Henry B. Master, moderator of the General Assembly, Lewis S. Mudge, stated clerk of the General Assembly, et al., claiming to represent the Presbyterian Church in the USA versus J. Gresham Machen, Paul Woolley, et al., and all officers and members of the Presbyterian Church of America, asking the court to enjoin the defendant church from using the name on the ground of its similarity to that of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.[20]

On April 28, 1937, the hearing began in the Court of Common Pleas No. 5 before the Honorable Frank Smith. The plaintiff's arguments fell under three heads. First, the Presbyterian Church in the USA was by general consent the largest and most representative Presbyterian Church in the United States. It had invested millions and millions of dollars in buildings and organizations, and these had to be protected. Secondly, in a proposed union between the Presbyterian Church in the USA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America, the name "The Presbyterian Church of America" had been mentioned as the one for the united church. Thirdly, the Presbyterian Church in the USA had carried on happy comity relations with many churches, and it would be unfortunate if the Presbyterian Church of America should enter these areas with a competitive spirit and by a misleading name confuse its identity in the minds of the public.

To prove that the Presbyterian Church of America had been confused with the Presbyterian Church in the USA in the mind of the general public, one letter and one telegram were produced which had been mailed by a newspaper office to the Presbyterian Church of America and incorrectly addressed to the office of the stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.[21]

In answer to these arguments, the defendants stated: First, while the Presbyterian Church in the USA is the largest Presbyterian body in the United States, it is not the Presbyterian Church and has no more right to the name "Presbyterian" than any of the other ten or more churches in America using that descriptive title. "Presbyterian" designates a certain form of doctrine and church government developed by John Calvin and others, so that any body conforming to this well-accepted historical type of church is qualified to use the word "Presbyterian" in its title. Furthermore, there is no such thing as property rights in the future contributions of members of any church. It is a totalitarian conception of the church that members of evangelical churches must support the official agencies of the church to the utmost of their ability.

In the second place, the proposed union between the Presbyterian Church in the USA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America, which was to use the name was voted down by the United Presbyterian Church years ago and any attempt to revive this movement would have to be started de novo. Certainly, it was misleading to create the impression that a proposed union which was defeated warranted the Presbyterian Church in the USA in preempting the name Presbyterian Church of America. In fact, such an implication was absurd.

In the third place, the argument against proselytizing struck at the very heart of religious freedom in the United States. Even Dr. Mudge had to admit on the witness stand that he would urge the Presbyterian Church in the USA to proselytize among Unitarians.[22] Every church has a right under the constitution of the United States to proselytize. At this point it is well to note that the judge in the case refused to allow the introduction of evidence by expert theologians to prove that a fundamental difference in doctrinal belief caused the members of the defendant church to withdraw from the plaintiff body. Therefore, argued the defendants, since the great doctrinal conflict which separated the two churches could not be introduced, only one valid issue remained, namely, the question of confusion of the names in the minds of the general public. This hearing took place nearly a year after the defendant church had been organized, and yet the plaintiffs could only produce two pieces of evidence of mistaken identity. This was no positive proof that any state of confusion existed. On the other hand, the defendants cited many secular and religious papers to demonstrate that no obscurity or confusion whatsoever obtained in the minds of the writers.[23]

The court handed down a decision on June 27, 1938, in favor of the plaintiff church.[24] The defendants gave notice of appeal to the State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, but the appeal was not taken. On February 9, 1939, at a specially called Fifth General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church of America adopted the name "The Orthodox Presbyterian Church," and the suit was terminated.[25]

The Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America in November, 1936, only five months after the formation of the church, was held in order to adopt a Confession of Faith and so provide an adequate doctrinal basis for the new body. It claimed to be the "spiritual succession" of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, so that the Westminster Confession of Faith would logically be its doctrinal confession. However, in 1903 certain changes and additions had been made to the Westminster Confession of Faith by the Presbyterian Church in the USA, which changes toned down the biblical and Calvinistic witness of the Confession, and these had to be eliminated if the Presbyterian Church of America were to continue in the true tradition of the Reformed faith.[26] Therefore the Committee on the Constitution was given power "to recommend the elimination, from that form of these Standards [The Westminster Confession of Faith], of the changes made in the year of our Lord 1903." The committee did recommend the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith with the elimination of most of the 1903 amendments, but with the retention of two small changes in chapter XXII concerning oaths, and chapter XXV, section Vl, which designates the pope as the antichrist.[27] By an overwhelming majority the recommendation of the committee was adopted.[28]

Another subject already discussed in chapter four developed into the central issue of that assembly, namely, the question of modern dispensationalism and premillennialism. As has been stated, professor R. B. Kuiper of Westminster Theological Seminary had written an article, "Why Separation Was Necessary," which first appeared in The Banner (Christian Reformed), and was reprinted in the Presbyterian Guardian of September 12, 1936. The section which received the most attention read,

It would have warmed the cockles of the heart of any Christian Reformed minister to hear how closely they [candidates for ordination at general assembly] were questioned about the two errors which are so extremely prevalent among American fundamentalists, Arminianism and the Dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible. The Assembly wanted to make sure that these prospective ministers were not tainted with such anti-reformed heresies.

Prior to this, professor John Murray of Westminster Theological Seminary had been discussing "The Reformed Faith and Modern Substitutes" in a series of articles appearing in the Presbyterian Guardian on the general themes of Arminianism and modern dispensationalism. One article in particular was given over to this latter subject.

In entering upon an exposition of what we called "Modern Dispensationalism," and the establishment of our thesis that it contradicts the teaching of the standards of the Reformed Faith, in particular those of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., it is necessary to remind our readers that we have no objection to the word "dispensation," nor to the idea of designating the various periods that may and must be distinguished in the divine economy of the history of the world as distinct "dispensations." What we are intent upon showing is that the system of interpretation widely prevalent in this country, and set forth, for example, in the Scofield Reference Bible and in the books of various Bible teachers of prominence, is palpably inconsistent with the system of truth embodied in our Presbyterian standards.[29]

It is well to take cognizance of the fact that the word "premillennial," or reference to premillennialism, does not occur in either professor Kuiper's or professor Murray's articles. Mr. Murray made it clear that...

The "Dispensationalism" of which we speak as heterodox from the standpoint of the Reformed Faith is that form of interpretation, widely popular at the present time, which discovers in the several dispensations of God's redemptive revelation distinct and even contrary principles of divine procedure and thus destroys the unity of God's dealings with fallen mankind.[30]

Furthermore, Dr. Machen emphasized that as such the premillennial view of the return of Christ, namely, that Jesus Christ "will return before a thousand-year period held to be mentioned in the Book of Revelation, that during that period He will reign upon this earth, and that after that period will come the final judgment," was not being attacked. In fact, he pointed out definitely,

Can a person who holds the premillennial view be a true Calvinist; can he, in other words, hold truly to the Calvinistic or Reformed system of doctrine which is set forth in the Westminster Standards? We think that he can; and for that reason we think that Premillennialists as well as those who hold the opposing view may become ministers or elders or deacons in The Presbyterian Church of America.[31]

In spite of all these precautions and carefully worded statements safeguarding the liberty of view of the individual minister and congregation with respect to the return of our Lord, the Christian Beacon, edited by the Rev. Carl McIntire, pastor of the then Independent Presbyterian Church, Collingswood, New Jersey, and a minister of the Presbyterian Church of America, carried an editorial on October 1, 1936, claiming that attacks were being made upon premillennialists, as especially manifested in professor Kuiper's article, "Why Separation Was Necessary." Mr. McIntire insisted that "The remark in regard to the 'Dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible' is an attack upon the premillennialists, as heretics." Professor Kuiper replied to the editorial, but Mr. McIntire refused to publish it. Among other things professor Kuiper stated in his reply,

It is a matter of common knowledge that there is ever so much more to the dispensationalism of the Scofield Bible than the mere teaching of Premillennialism. Nor do the two stand and fall together. There are premillennarians who have never heard of Scofield's dispensations. More important than that, there are serious students of God's Word who hold to the premillennial return of Christ and emphatically reject Scofield's system of dispensations as fraught with grave error.[32]

The Presbyteries of California and New Jersey overtured the General Assembly, asking that some declaratory statement be adopted setting forth "eschatological liberty" in the church.[33] The assembly did not adopt such a declaration, nor write such a statement into its constitution, as the Presbytery of California demanded, because members of the assembly believed that such liberty already existed within the constitution of the church.

But another question began to absorb the attention of the Presbyterian Church of America, namely, that of Christian liberty. In numerous private and public utterances, Westminster Seminary and its faculty were attacked as an institution and a faculty which encouraged its students to drink fermented beverages. The source of such baseless attacks appeared to be those who were followers of the Rev. Carl McIntire and supporters of the Christian Beacon.

Dr. J. Oliver Buswell published several volumes at this time, one of which, The Christian Life, dealt with the subject of Christian liberty and worldliness. The thesis that moderate drinking inevitably leads to drunkenness is defended rather strongly, and total abstinence is upheld as the requirement in this matter for Christians.

In order to answer these charges, an editorial appeared in the Presbyterian Guardian stating the historic Presbyterian position concerning the subject of Christian liberty.[34] The Bible was set forth as the only rule of faith and morals and as the only guide to right conduct. There must be no appeal to the rules of men unless they agree with the Word of God. Certain things are expressly forbidden in the Bible, while other calls to duty are by "good and necessary consequence" deduced from the Scriptures. Every Christian must obey these injunctions and if he does not, he is engaging in sinful practice. On the other hand, certain things either expressly or through silence are regarded by the Bible as indifferent in themselves. Engaging in these practices is a matter of the individual's Christian liberty. He must be guided by the circumstances in expressing his Christian liberty, always keeping in mind the weaker brother and the high standard of holiness set by the Word of God. The editorial then continued to deal with the particular problem of the use of wine.

The principle enunciated was that, according to the Bible, it is not wrong at any and all times to partake temperately of wine. The Bible condemns intemperance, but clearly it allows the moderate use of wine under certain conditions. The editorial concluded with the warning, "In every instance we must keep before us the goal of the salvation and the edification of men's souls through our testimony to Christ. And let us take care that our testimony to Christ be to the Christ of the Bible. Jesus said, 'Blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me!"'

This issue came to a climax in the Presbyterian Church of America at the third general assembly. Three overtures to the assembly recommended total abstinence as the principle to maintain, while a fourth warned the assembly against man-made rules and urged the church to re-study the subordinate standards of the church, particularly the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as containing the principles of holy Scripture which is the guide to godly living. The three overtures relative to total abstinence were defeated, and the fourth overture was adopted directing the attention of the church to the Westminster Standards as containing sufficient and adequate instruction on this subject.[35]

The question of independency in church government also became a live issue in the third assembly as it related to support of the Independent Board. The church had organized a committee on foreign missions, but because most of its missionary volunteers had been sent out to the foreign field under the Independent Board, the foreign committee had always recommended the support of the Independent Board.

In the fall of 1936, however, a disruption had taken place in the Independent Board over the question of church government. The pledge of the Independent Board requires approval of the charter of the board, which charter in section III demands a belief in the "fundamental principles of Presbyterian church government." After the 1936 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, there began to develop a pronounced tendency toward independency in church government on the part of some members. The November, 1936 meeting of the Independent Board produced a clash over this issue.

Dr. Machen had been president of the board since its founding, but now certain members of the board had grown discontented with his policy of preserving the board's Presbyterian character and doctrine. These members had met before the meeting of the board and had decided to attempt to remove Dr. Machen from the presidency. The discontented members placed an ecclesiastically independent member in nomination for president, and he was elected. Thus a non-Presbyterian point of view had gained control of the board and its original purpose to support "truly Biblical and truly Presbyterian" foreign missions was abandoned.

Another example of this spirit of independency among board members was the Rev. Merrill T. MacPherson, vice-president of the Independent Board, who formed an independent church known as the Church of the Open Door of Philadelphia in June, 1936. Its constitution, article VII, section 1, forbids any relationship with a denomination.

This Church acknowledges only the Lord Jesus Christ as its Head; the Holy Scriptures as the only infallible guide on matters of faith, discipline and order; the Holy Spirit as its Teacher; and is not and never shall be amenable to or under the jurisdiction or supervision of any other ecclesiastical body of any kind or nature whatever.

Mr. MacPherson has since frequently stated that he has no desire or intention of uniting with any denomination. This spirit of independency was not manifest when he first became a member of the board and while he was pastor of the Central-North Broad Street Presbyterian Church. There were others on the Independent Board who also showed tendencies in the same direction.

Certain members of the board attempted to remedy this situation and to compel the board to remain true to its charter, but they failed and resigned from the board.[36] This left the Independent Board in opposition to the great Presbyterian purpose for which it had been founded. These resignations from the Independent Board caused the Third General Assembly to adopt a resolution urging the church not to support it.[37] A minority report was also presented in which the allegation of independency in church government was denied, and a plea for support of the Independent Board by the Presbyterian Church of America was entered.

As a result of these differences concerning dispensationalism, Christian liberty, and church government, fourteen ministers and three elders withdrew from the Presbyterian Church of America and formed the Bible Presbyterian Synod. The synod immediately announced its intention to revise the three hundred-year-old Westminster Confession of Faith "in any particulars in which the premillennial teaching of the Scriptures may be held to be obscured."[38]

The First General Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Synod took definite steps to alter the Westminster Confession of Faith so that it would express the premillennial view. Changes were made in chapters VIII, XXXII, XXXIII, and XXXIV in the Confession of Faith, and in questions eighty-two, and eighty-four through ninety of the Larger Catechism, in order to make them conform to premillennialism.[39] Thus, in a few months the three hundred-year-old Westminster Confession of Faith, which had been in harmony with the whole Presbyterian and Reformed tradition concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ, was hastily changed to conform exclusively to premillennialism.

The Fourth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America was concerned largely with the adoption of a form of government. The form of government finally adopted is essentially that which has been used by the Presbyterian Church in the USA for over one hundred years. In several instances, however, changes were made in order to guard against the strong tendency of centralization which had dominated the Presbyterian Church in the USA during the last decade. The powers of the presbyteries over the congregations and the powers of the general assembly over the church were limited. The general assembly's powers which had been so abused in the Presbyterian Church in the USA were restricted in this way:

Whenever such deliverances, resolutions, overtures and other actions are additional to the specific provisions of the Constitution, they shall not be regarded as binding unless they have been approved by the general assembly and presbyteries in the manner provided in this Form of Government for the amendment of the Constitution.[40]

Several other minor changes were made, providing that baptized infants should be placed on the membership roll of the church;[41] that only communicant members of the church may vote in congregational meetings;[42] and that amendments to the form of subscription required of ministers, licentiates, ruling elders, and deacons must go through same procedure as changes in the Confession of Faith and Catechisms.[43]

The other amendments are of a very minor nature.

The Fifth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America voted not to continue the suit concerning the name of the church and adopted the name, "the Orthodox Presbyterian Church."

The Directory for the Public Worship of God was adopted by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at the Sixth General Assembly in May, 1939. It contains the same principles as the one in use by the Presbyterian Church in the USA but yet differs from that directory in several important features. First, it only includes forms for the public worship of God and so no burial service, or form for the visitation of the sick is found. Second, an entire new chapter was added on the principles of public worship, and suggested forms which are not part of the directory were proposed for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, public profession of faith, ordinations, and installations. Third, a few changes which are minor but nevertheless significant concern the pronouncement of the apostolic benediction only at regular services of worship, the use of hymns which are in agreement with the Word of God, the celebration of the sacrament only in the church building except in rare cases approved by the session, and the public profession of faith before the congregation.[44] A Book of Discipline has been provisionally adopted and is likely to be adopted finally in the next general assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in June, 1940.

In the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Calvinism was given a new impetus in America. The spiritual heritage of Reformed teaching which had been stifled in the Presbyterian Church in the USA received a welcome in this church body, and the great doctrines of the Reformation, such as the sovereignty of God and salvation by grace alone, came to life again. Upon this high biblical ground the Orthodox Presbyterian Church stands, convinced that God will be pleased to use her to his glory and to the advancement of his kingdom. The original purpose and determination to make the church a truly biblical and truly Presbyterian body which would carry on the spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the USA was insured.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is what its name implies, truly Presbyterian. Its doctrinal standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, are in practically the same form as they were when written by the Westminster divines nearly three hundred years ago. All compromise with modernism has been eliminated and strict adherence to the Presbyterian and Reformed traditions characterizes the testimony of the church. It is a church devoted to the Bible as the final authority for faith and practice and convinced that only through the sacrificial death of Christ upon the cross can men be saved.

It is too early to evaluate the importance of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the religious life of America, but it is safe to state emphatically that this church is true to the Word of God and is true to the great Presbyterian heritage handed down by the church fathers of American Presbyterianism. While many of the Protestant churches in America are floundering in the quagmire of modernism and its ministers are preaching man-made philosophies and moral essays based upon naturalism, here is one church which relies not upon itself and man's wisdom but trusts emphatically in the Bible as God's revelation to man and as containing God's plan of salvation for man. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church's ministers do not say, thus says so and so, or even, so says the church, but they speak above the clamor of men, "Thus saith the Lord, hear ye Him!"

Endnotes

[1] Christianity Today 6 (September 1935), 74.

[2] See November 1, 1935 letter to Edwin H. Rian from J. Gresham Machen.

[3] Christianity Today 6 (September 1935), 76.

[4] Ned B. Stonehouse, "Modernism and the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.," Presbyterian Guardian 1 (January 6, 1936), 109.

[5] Ned B. Stonehouse, et al., "Modernism and the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.," Presbyterian Guardian 1 (January 6, 1936), 108-109; (February 3, 1936), 140-42, 155; (February 17, 1936), 161-62; (March 2, 1936), 179-80; (March 16, 1936), 198-99; 2 (April 6, 1936), 6-7, 19; (May 4, 1936), 50-52; (May 18, 1936), 72-72.

[6] Presbyterian Guardian 2 (May 4, 1936), 60. See also Appendix, note 20.

[7] Minutes of the General Assembly 1936, Part 1, 25, 28, 74.

[8] Ibid., 74.

[9] Edwin H. Rian, "Modernism and the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.," Presbyterian Guardian 1 (March 2, 1936), 176-77.

[10] Henry Sloane Coffin, Some Christian Convictions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1915), 64.

[11] Modern Missions Movement An Announcement, 9.

[12] Murray Forst Thompson, "Modernism and the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.," Presbyterian Guardian 2 (May 18, 1936), 75-76.

[13] Minutes of the First General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church of America, 3-4. See also Appendix, note 21.

[14] Ibid., 7. See also Appendix, note 22.

[15] Ibid., 19-20. See also Appendix, note 23.

[16]. Ibid., 13.

[17] Edwin H. Rian, "The Presbyterian Church of America," Presbyterian Guardian 2 (August 17, 1936), 213.

[18] Presbyterian Guardian 2 (June 22, 1936), 143.

[19] Presbyterian Guardian 2 (July 6, 1936), 160.

[20] Presbyterian Guardian 2 (September 12, 1936), 235. See Appendix, note 24.

[21] Notes of Testimony in the case of Henry B. Master, Moderator of the General Assembly et. al. versus J. Gresham Machen, Moderator, et al., Common Pleas Court No. 5, June Term, 1936, 50-51.

[22] Ibid., 138.

[23] Ibid., 269-73.

[24] Presbyterian Guardian 5 (August 1938), 160. See Appendix, note 25.

[25] Minutes of the General Assembly of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1939, 11

[26] See chapter one.

[27] Minutes of Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, November, 1936, 13.

[28] Ibid., 18.

[29] John Murray, "The Reformed Faith and Modem Substitutes," Part VI: "Modem Dispensationalism," Presbyterian Guardian 2 (May 18, 1936), 77.

[30] John Murray, "The Reformed Faith and Modem Substitutes," Presbyterian Guardian 1 (February 3, 1936), 143.

[31] Presbyterian Guardian 3 (October 24, 1936), 21.

[32] Presbyterian Guardian 3 (November 14, 1936), 54.

[33] Minutes of the Second General Assembly, 16-17.

[34] Presbyterian Guardian 3 (February 27, 1937), 201-204.

[35] Minutes of the Third General Assembly, June, 1937, 22. See Appendix, note 26.

[36] Presbyterian Guardian 4 (June 12, 1937), 80. See Appendix, note 27.

[37] Minutes of the Third General Assembly, June, 1937, 16-17. See Appendix, note 28.

[38] Presbyterian Guardian 4 (June 26, 1937), 99.

[39] Changes in the Westminster Confession of Faith, adopted at the First General Synod, September 6-8, 1938, held in the Bible Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, N.J., 21-23.

[40] Form of Government of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, chapter XI, section VI.

[41] Ibid., chapter IX, section IX.

[42] Ibid., chapter XXIII, section II.

[43] Ibid., chapter XXIV, section II. See Ned B. Stonehouse, "Some Distinctive Features of the Proposed Form of Government," Presbyterian Guardian 3 (November 14, 1936), 48-49.

[44] See editorial in the Presbyterian Guardian 6 (October 1939), 188, for further discussion of this subject.

[Table of Contents]

Return to Formatted Page