The Protestant Church today owes its existence, in large part and humanly speaking, to the fact that in the early part of the 16th century a Roman Catholic monk was teaching in the University of Wittenberg, Germany. His name was Martin Luther. During his study in preparation for teaching a course in Paul's Epistle to the Romans, his eyes were gradually opened to the marvellous doctrines of salvation by grace taught in that book. So he began to teach them in his classes. He was thus immediately brought into conflict with many common doctrines and practices of his church. Therefore he was forced to assail those things which were to him so plainly contrary to God's Word. He attacked the doctrine and practice of indulgencesthat money paid to the church can warrant the remission of the penalty of sins. He combated the idea of a "treasury of merit"that there is merit available to be distributed by the church to needy sinners. Such things are wholly contrary to salvation by grace. And in God's providence that was brought to Martin Luther's eyes.
His classroom attacks, however, were only the beginning. For on October 31, 1517, he nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg a list of subjects on which he differed with the Roman Catholic Church, and offered to prove that he derived his beliefs from the Bible. From that time on this noble soldier of the faith encountered one difficulty and trial after another, until finally, in 1520, the Pope issued a bull forbidding anyone to follow Luther's teaching. The writings of the monk were ordered to be burned, and Luther was directed to retract his teachings within 60 days or to suffer arrest and be sent to Rome for punishment as a heretic. When a copy of the bull at last reached Luther on October 12th of that year, he had a great bonfire built for the occasion, and into the midst of the inferno he cast the papal mandate, thus signifying, "I must obey God rather than men!" Luther thus definitely broke with the Roman Catholic Church and renounced its jurisdiction.
Four hundred and sixteen years later Martin Luther's departure from the Romish Church had its exact parallel in the exodus of certain members from the Presbyterian Church in the USA. Being an exact parallel, it inexorably follows that if Luther was right, we who have left the Presbyterian Church in the USA are right. And if our action was wrong, then Martin Luther's was wrong and we should all still be in the Roman Catholic Church. But perhaps you will not concur in the statement that the two exoduses are exactly parallel. Well, why was it that Luther left the Church of Rome?
First of all, it was not because there were evils in the church. He did not leave the church as soon as he discovered that the doctrine of purgatory was contrary to the Scriptures, nor when he became convinced that the acceptance of indulgences by the priests was an iniquitous procedure. Luther did not think, nor do we, that there could be a perfect church on this earth, since every one of its members has the corruption of sin within, but he remained in the church for some time, trying to bring about reform. Obviously, he did not leave because of sin in the church. But he left because a new factor suddenly entered: The highest authority in the church ordered him to support that sin. From this order there was absolutely no appeal within the church. To reverse his teachings would have been to proclaim something which he knew to be contrary to the Word of God. To keep silent would have been to cooperate with the bull. He saw immediately that each alternative was equally sinful. He was thus brought face to face with the same question which was thrown up to the early Christian martyrsshould they bow down before men or before God? To do the former was sin, and Christians must hate and flee from evil in all its insidious forms. So Martin Luther had to leave the church.
But where, you ask, is the parallel between Luther's predicament in the Roman Catholic Church, and the situation of Christians today in the Presbyterian Church in the USA? First, the parallel lies in thisthat Christians should not leave the Presbyterian Church in the USA just because there is unbelief in it.
In the recent history of the Presbyterian Church in the USA there is a document known as "The Auburn Affirmation." Its declarations were approved by over 13 percent. of the ministers in the church. (While a few less than this appear in the printed list of signers, the secretary for the group has said that enough others sent in their names after it had gone to press, to put it over the 13 percent. mark.) What does this mean? It means that when this document was signed, over 13 percent. of the ministers in the Presbyterian Church in the USA believed that the doctrines of the inerrancy of the Word of God, the virgin birth of Christ, His miracles, His substitutionary death to satisfy divine justice for sinners, and His bodily resurrection from the dead, are not necessarily to be believed by the ordained ministers of the church. As the Affirmation puts it, these doctrines are not to be elevated "to the position of tests for ordination or for good standing in our church." Three times in this iniquitous document these doctrines, which lie at the very heart and core of Christianity, are said to be only "theories." The doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture is singled out for particular attack, and must be regarded by the Affirmationists as a very dangerous doctrine for they say that it "impairs their [the Scriptures'] supreme authority for faith and life." Are these things not blatant unbelief? Yet this is not the reason why Christians should separate themselves from the Presbyterian Church in the USA.
In addition to this unbelief among the rank and file of the ministers, all three of the boards of that denomination are permeated with this same leaven. For example, two of the members of the Board of Foreign Missions, three of the members of the Board of Christian Education, and nine of those of the Board of National Missions are signers of the Auburn Affirmation. What effect, you may ask, does this have on the testimony and teaching of the church? Just this: Unbelief is readily supported by those boards. To use an example in connection with the Board of Foreign Missions, we quote from The Chinese Recorder the words of the president of a Chinese university (Yenching) supported by the board. "Jesus," he says, "advocated the abolition of the system of private property and adoption of the public possession of all things." From the succeeding context it would seem that Dr. Wu includes the family in this scheme of things, for he says that "Jesus was not in favor of the family system." Such immoral teaching on the foreign mission field is supported by the Presbyterian Church in the USA. At least, it was before the present war in China. And if that work is not going on now it is not because the church desired it ended, but solely because God took it out of their hands in spite of their desires. But even this is not the reason why Christians should sever their connections with the Presbyterian Church in the USA.
Unbelief has further raised its ugly head in every seminary in the denomination. Nay, I should say that unbelief has climbed up bodily, distorted torso and gnarled limbs in full view, standing on top of the ruins of Christian institutions. For of the 11 seminaries within the denomination there has been not one orthodox institution since Princeton, the last citadel of orthodoxy, fell in 1929. All but two of these seminaries have at least one Auburn Affirmationist on either the board of trustees or the faculty. And it is from these seminaries that the men will come who are to preach in the pulpits of the Presbyterian Church in the USA in the years ahead. A short time ago a survey of the beliefs of 200 students in the seminaries of five denominations was made. Among other things discovered in this survey was that, of this representative group, 91 percent. did not believe in the infallibility of the Scriptures. And there is not one seminary in the Presbyterian Church in the USA which is trying to stem this tide of infidelity. Rather, those seminaries are sending, and will continue to send out, men of the very same stripe to preach in the pulpits and on the mission fields of the world. Nor yet is this why Christians should separate from that denomination.
Finally, we mention very briefly the unbelief manifested in the general assemblies of the church. The assembly supports, to the tune of some thousands of dollars a year, the organization known as The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. To show what kind of an organization this is we just mention the fact that the Rev. Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick is one of its guiding lights. One of the numerous sermons written by this well-known Modernist bears the title, "The Peril of Worshipping Jesus." That is the kind of thing the Federal Council advocates. And the General Assembly supports it. Then also, four of the eight ministers on the Permanent Judicial Commission which tried the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen were signers of the Auburn Affirmation. In other words, unbelievers sit in judgment in the courts of the church. Although the 1938 General Assembly did not choose an Auburn Affirmationist for moderator, it chose a man who showed his approval of all that that document stands for by appointing a signer of it as his vice-moderator. Nor is even this why Christians should depart from the Presbyterian Church in the USA.
If, then, iniquity in such prominent and frequent instances does not constitute warrant and compulsion to leave the church, is there anything that does? If unbelief in the church is not cause for separation, why do we say that Christians should leave it? Simply because everyone in the Church is now inescapably yoked with that unbelief. As long as Martin Luther was not compelled to support the imperfections of the Roman Catholic Church he could remain in it and seek to bring about its reform. But when he was forced to cooperate, or at least be silent, then he had to renounce its jurisdiction. And that is just exactly the situation in the Presbyterian Church in the USA today. There is no possible way for you to belong to that church and avoid either the active promotion of this unbelief of which we have just spoken or, at the least, silent cooperation with it! Of course it goes almost without saying that either to promote sin actively, or silently to cooperate with it, is equally sin. If two men are robbing a jewelry store the man who stands outside watching is just as guilty as the one who opens the safe. To our sorrow every member of the Presbyterian Church in the USA is in one of these two positions. Either he himself is preaching a false gospel or he is aiding others in it. We are conscious of the fact that many do not realize this. But that is just the reason for this article.
So let us examine the facts and discover how every member, even if a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and every minister, even if a true minister of the gospel, are all inextricably bound up with the whole system of unbelief which is running rampant in the Presbyterian Church in the USA. How are those members and ministers in the same position in which the Pope's deliverance placed Martin Luther? And when were they placed in that position?
In the year 1934 there came a mandate (a bull) from the General Assembly, saying, "A church member or an individual church that will not give to promote the officially authorized missionary program of the Presbyterian Church is in exactly the same position with reference to the Constitution of the Church as a church member or an individual church that would refuse to take part in the celebration of the Lord's Supper or any other of the prescribed ordinances of the denomination as set forth in Chapter VII of the Form of Government" (Minutes, 1934, page 110). Incidentally, Christ instituted the Lord's Supper, and now the church institutes "Giving to the Boards." The latter is as obligatory, says the General Assembly, as the former. Dr. Machen, and others with him, knew that this meant contributing to unbelieving enterprises, such as, for example, the aforementioned Federal Council of Churches. So they protested against that action of the General Assembly which tried to force them to support such blasphemies as the "Peril of Worshipping Jesus" and the Communistic immorality of Dr. Wu. And in June of 1936, because of this protest, they were "suspended" from the gospel ministry. The highest and final authority in the church thus gave its stamp of approval to the 1934 mandate. The General Assembly, sitting in its judicial rather than its administrative capacity, in the name of Jesus Christ adopted the recommendation of the Permanent Judicial Commission "suspending" them because they sent missionaries to preach the crucified and risen Christ in foreign lands through an agency other than the heresy-riddled official Board of Foreign Missions. The fact that the chairman of the Permanent Judicial Commission was a signer of the Auburn Affirmation is just another evidence of how firmly unbelief was seated in the saddle.
To show the significance of this action we quote a statement of one who has become strangely and tragically silent since the climax of the issue began to approach. In the Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard for June 3, 1936, immediately after Dr. Machen and the others had been "suspended," the Rev. Dr. Clarence Edward Macartney is quoted as saying, "The suspension of the Rev. J. Gresham Machen from the ministry is the saddest tragedy which has befallen the Presbyterian Church in the USA in half a century. Other men of distinction, notably in the Briggs controversy in the 90's, have been put out of the church, or left it of their own accord, because they were charged with unbelief. But now the unthinkable thing has happened. A man known throughout the Christian world as a defender of the Christian faith has been suspended from the ministry. That this courageous soul, this distinguished scholar and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ should be suspended is the more appalling when we consider some of those who are permitted to remain in the church...." Do you see the iniquity of the General Assembly?
But that was not all. At the same time that this decision was rendered the Rev. John J. DeWaard of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, was dismissed from his church because he refused to promise support of the unbelief in the boards. And the late Rev. Arthur F. Perkins of Merrill, Wisconsin was "suspended" from the ministry for the terrible offense (in the Presbyterian Church in the USA) of establishing an evangelical young people's Bible conference! These decisions which condemned these men for preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ were delivered "in the name of and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ." It is blasphemy to use the name of Christ to condemn His own gospel.
This is the crux of the matter. Just as there was for Luther no appeal from the Pope's mandate because he was the highest judicial authority in the church, so there is no appeal from these decisions because in Presbyterian polity the General Assembly, sitting as a court of Jesus Christ, is the highest judicial authority. Now if it were possible for members of the church to appeal, your name could be recorded as opposed to the decisions, and you would not have part in iniquity, if in addition it were possible to escape all other support of the unbelief in the church. But since you cannot appeal, your name, just because it is on the rolls of that church, is recorded as sanctioning those blasphemous actions. The church has thus caused you to sin. The sin of the church has become your sin; you stand guilty before God for it. That is a mark of an apostate church. And as long as both the decisions and your name remain on the books of the Presbyterian Church in the USA they are inseparably yoked together. To break the yoke, one of the two must be eliminated.
Then, too, consider these cases in which the denomination is suing in court before unbelievers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:1-8). Did you know that each of these cases is filed "in the name of all the ministers and members" of the church? Many people say that it is a "shameful thing" to take a church building away from a group of Christians. But do you not see, from the phraseology of the complaint quoted above, that every memberincluding those who think it a shameful thinghas a part in these actions? Thus, you see, mere membership in the Presbyterian Church in the USA forces participation in sin. God says, "Come out from among them and be ye separate, and touch not the unclean thing" (2 Cor. 6:17).
Reprinted from The Presbyterian Guardian, November, 1938.