OPC Interviews: George Haney
Committee for the Historian
The Committee for the Historian is pleased to announce the monthly appearance on OPC.ORG of portions from transcribed interviews with Orthodox Presbyterians from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church archives. Historians Charles Dennison and John Muether conducted the interviews, which span over a twenty-five year period. It is the Committee for the Historian's intention that the interviews not only educate concerning the history and life of the OPC, but also provide a glimpse regarding the wonderful Christ-centered servants that the Lord has blessed the OPC with since its earliest days. The first interview is with the late Rev. George Haney, who served four decades as an OPC pastor and general secretary of the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. This interview was conducted on December 14, 1990.
Charles Dennison: George, I would like to begin by asking you about the story of your entrance into the OPC.
George Haney: I was brought up in a home that was not Christian, and, yet a very fine home in many ways with a great deal of love and concern for the two children, my sister and myself. My father was a good provider for the family and a very upright man. My mother was very devoted to the two children and being a housewife. She was also of the opinion that children should go to Sunday school.
When we moved to Bridgeton, New Jersey, we went to a Baptist Sunday school, which was the nearest Sunday school. One Sunday morning, my sister solemnly declared that she was not going to Sunday school and my mother was quite upset and said, "You have to go to Sunday school," and "why not?" My sister indicated that she wanted to go to Sunday school to learn something and she wasn't learning. I wasn't really included very much in the conversation, but mother made a decision that if my sister didn't want to go to that Sunday school, we could go to another Sunday school. She had become acquainted with a couple who lived a couple of houses down who were active members of Calvary OPC in Bridgeton. My mother had been drawn in to a social gathering of some of the women, and, as I look back on it, I believe the effort was being made to reach my mother with the Gospel. So mother said, "I know the Trostles go not only to church, but also to Sunday school and they would be glad to take you to their Sunday school." And so my sister and I went with them and I wasn't too happy. I felt I had been sort of ignored in this whole thing.
So we were taken to Calvary OPC, 137 West Commerce Street, Bridgeton, New Jersey. It was an old house. I guess you would almost call it a mansion. It had an auditorium, a library, and Sunday school rooms. The pastor lived on the second floor, and the third floor was shared by the pastor and also by the church for Sunday school.
When we drove up, I immediately recognized the building because I had been there before playing basketball with some of my friends. A car drove up and man got out of that car and came up to us and said, "Do you mind if I play with you?" He shot a few baskets with us, and said, "Would you like to come over to my place and play basketball rather than here?" And, so, we were a little bit taken back by it, but we went with him. And, again, back in those days, that wasn't particularly suspicious to do that. And, we went and played basketball, and I remember thinking, "I don't see where this is any better than where we were playing." I don't think there were more than five or six of us, and he said, "Well, boys, why don't you come into the house and we'll have a Bible study." And I remember the thought went through my mind: "we have been had!" We went downstairs into the basement and we sat on old rickety chairs with a bare light bulb, and the man was Clifford Smith, who was the first pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church and very much involved in the developments that went into the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. That was pretty much my exposure to Mr. Smith, and I couldn't wait to get out of there. I felt we had been conned!
When we drove up to that building, I immediately recognized that I had been there before, that this was where Clifford Smith had had this Bible study. Well, we began to attend Sunday school there. By that time, Richard Gray was the pastor at Calvary Church, and he immediately latched upon our presence. He was in our home, he was with my parents. It was under his ministry that my sister and I heard the gospel, became serious about studying the Bible, and in the late 1940's I made public profession of faith.
Dennison: Can you identify a little bit further for us your sister?
Haney: My sister Viola was very instrumental in my life, not only as a sister, but one who really was spiritually ahead of me. She made her profession of faith before I did, and was very serious about that commitment from the very beginning and encouraged me in many ways.
The commitment that I made was a genuine result of the work of God in my life. I was introduced to what we would today call the Reformed faith and Calvinism. I had great difficulty with some of the teachings, particularly, the doctrine of election. I told Mr. Gray that I didn't believe this teaching of election, and, therefore, I probably should not become a member of the church. He encouraged me to meet with the session and to tell the session what my concerns were. And, I remember doing that even though I was a teenager. I remember telling them that I believed that I was a sinner, and that Christ was my only hope of salvation, and that I was trusting in Christ, but I didn't believe all these teachings that had been set before me. I remember one of the elders asking me what those teachings were. I latched on to election, and he said to me, "If you keep studying the Bible, and you find that the Bible really teaches that, would you believe it?" I remember my answer was: "well, of course I would." And, the session said, "Keep studying the Bible." They accepted me into membership upon public profession of faith. And that struggle with election did continue for quite a few years.
Dennison: This gets you into the OPC. You are in your high school years and you are off to college. Where did you end up?
Haney: I remember that Mr. Gray was very, very upset when I elected to go to Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He was pulling for me to go to Wheaton College, but I didn't have the credentials to go to Wheaton College, or to any other colleges. Of the schools to which I applied, the only one that accepted me on the basis of my high school record was Gettysburg College. I went to Gettysburg, which was formally connected with the liberal branch of the Lutheran church.
My newfound faith was immediately challenged. In the Old Testament course I was introduced to what I now know to be the documentary hypothesis. I really began to wrestle with this and could not respond to the kind of teaching that I was sitting under. I could not refute it. I came very close to denying the faith that I had professed on the grounds that if I could not defend that faith, then it wasn't a faith that was worth holding to. That kind of thing I was subjected to, and it made a tremendous impression upon me because I had no answers. I remember the civilization course and the professor making the blanket statement that no one today who has any kind of intellectual integrity can possibly be a Calvinist and that Calvinism is literally fatalism. I couldn't deal with that.
Well, when I had this difficulty in college, I turned to my pastor, Mr. Gray, for help and he gave me Machen's Christianity and Liberalism That was the beginning of a turning of my thinking. Then I read Machen's What is Faith? When the virgin birth came up, he introduced me to Machen's book, The Virgin Birth. I guess it probably around the third year of college that I began to come back to my roots because the struggle that I had was being resolved in seeing that there were men of scholarly ability who had heard this kind of teaching that I had been subjected to, and there is intellectual defense of the faith. There is an answer, and I didn't know that at first.
Out of that, I think that the Lord gave to me to a concern for others who go through that struggle, not only a concern for the lost as I was. I had understanding where people were coming from, the need to hear the gospel, and a need for a scholarly defense. And so by the fourth year, the thought of the gospel ministry was planted in my mind and I shared that with Ralph Clough who had followed Dick Gray as pastor. Little did I realize that there was no question in Ralph Clough's mind where one would go. Ralph Clough introduced me to Westminster Seminary and told me that if I was considering preparation for the gospel ministry, Westminster was the place to go, I went to Westminster Seminary in 1953, and graduated in 1957.
Dennison: What happened to you while you were at Westminster? Were there changes in your thinking? I imagine there were.
Haney: Yes, I became Reformed in my understanding of biblical teaching. I had the privilege of sitting under many members of the original faculty. Their scholarly ability I came to appreciate because it prepared me to really have tools for ministry for the rest of my life, their strong adherence to the Word of God, their grounding in apologetics and systematic theology, the ability to go to the Word of God and exegete the Word. But, there was something more that we had. We had the privilege of going to these men, being in their homes, and letting our hair down talking to them on a one-to-one basis. I had the privilege of walking that so-called "Murray mile" with Professor John Murray. Murray lived on the third floor of Machen Hall. He ate with us in the dining hall. He communicated with us very freely, and I had the privilege of having that kind of contact.
In addition to the formal teaching, I was able to share some of my difficulties in terms of accepting the teachings of these men. I remember how Dr. Cornelius Van Til spent time with me on the doctrine of election. He brought me around on that one and it was mostly in private conversations with him.
Dennison: Tell me now about your pastorates.
Haney: When I graduated from Westminster Seminary, I remember that Bob Atwell kept pushing for the Orthodox Presbyterian Church as the only place to serve when you graduate. Bob was the pastor at that time at Calvary OPC, Glenside, right across the street from the seminary, and that was where I worshiped. Those of you who know Bob and Betty know how hospitable they were, and so I had many, many Sunday dinners in their home. Bob influenced me not only through his preaching ministry, but also on a one-to-one basis. He was a great promoter of the OPC.
Still, my friends from Westminster and I were frustrated in those days on how to go into the ministry of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. We didn't have the internship program we have now in the OPC, which is something of a stepping stone. I had an offer in hand from the Canadian Presbyterian Church to plant a church in Saskatchewan. Around that time, I also began to question the legitimacy of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This is real confession time.
Dennison: Sounds like the history of many, George.
Haney: I shared with John Murray this invitation I had to the Canadian Presbyterian Church and I remember how graciously he dealt with it. He didn't tell me what to do, but he helped me to understand that the Canadian Presbyterian Church ... So he never told me, "You shouldn't do it," but he certainly helped me to see what some of the issues were at the time. And, of course, he was right. And I listened to what he had to say, but at the same time on my own I was studying the history of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in greater depth and I became very convinced that there was certainly justifiable cause for the founding fathers to establish the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and I felt a greater commitment to serving the Lord in that denomination.
About that time, Professor Paul Woolley posted on the bulletin board an announcement that a call had been received from an elder in Waterloo, Iowa asking if there were any seminarian willing to go out to them during the coming summer because their pastor, Oscar Holkeboer had died. I went there, and in the course of that summer, they issued me a call to be their pastor, and I became the pastor of what was then the First Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Waterloo, Iowa.
It was a growing experience. I still feel sorry for that congregation, what they went through with this young man right out of seminary. Several of them had come out of the Christian Reformed Church. They heard about this Orthodox Presbyterian Church and they united with it, and they saw the similarity in doctrine between their background in the Christian Reformed Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Christian Reformed and Dutch emphasis was an integral part of the First Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and it was beautifully balanced out by a charter member, Mrs. Anna Rath. Her husband was one of the co-founders of the Rath Packing Company and her father was a very influential pastor in the German Reformed Church.
When I went there, I would say that she was in her eighties. She had become a personal friend of Dr. Machen, and had been in correspondence with Dr. Machen, and Dr. Machen had, of course, enlisted her support, enlisted her financial support at Westminster Seminary. Bob Marsden who served as executive secretary for Westminster Seminary told me that, humanly speaking, Westminster Seminary would have gone under financially in a certain year if it had not been for the financial support of Mrs. Rath from Waterloo, Iowa. So when I went there and became pastor, I had a picture in my mind of this well-to-do lady, and I thought, how am I going to relate to this? And I can remember the pleasant surprise when I met her, one of the godliest women that I have ever met in the course of my ministry. Gracious, loving, kind. I lived in the manse and the people next door said one day, "We understand that Mrs. Rath is in your church." One lady said, "What a wonderful woman that woman is," and, "You know during the depression years she was well-known for what she did here in Waterloo." She said, "I know of instances where people needed coal, or they needed food, and they would call Mrs. Rath and they would tell you about the need. And if they needed a ton of coal, she would call up the coal company and say deliver it to such and such an address. And if there was a need for food, she would go out to the grocery store and buy a supply of food and then come in her chauffeured driven car and deliver that food to that home." That is the kind of person that she was, and I had the privilege of knowing her.
When I would visit her home, I remember a few occasions where she would make some comment about my sermons. She never forthrightly criticized my sermon, but a couple of times she said something like this. "Yes, I really appreciated what you said about that passage in John's gospel, and when I came home, I took down father's commentary on the gospel of John by so and so and I noticed there," and then she would share insights into the text that I had completely missed. She was a very important person in the early days of Orthodox Presbyterian Church, in the early days of Westminster Seminary, and also in the beginning of what was known as the First Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Waterloo, which met in her living room for worship services when that work was first begun.
Dennison: After Waterloo, it is the 60s and then Bangor.
Haney: I was called in '61 to Bangor, Maine which was a denominationally-supported home mission's work that had come upon very hard times. I didn't realize how difficult things were until I got there. The small group had gotten into a lot of difficulties, financial and well as otherwise. The man who had been the pastor there had been asked to leave by the presbytery, and I was called into this situation.
So, I went to Bangor in a very challenging situation, but it appealed to me because it seemed to me that there would be more opportunity there to have the kind of ministry that had an appeal to me, to really be reaching out. We were fairly young in our married life, and without children, and so we were able to open our home to servicemen at that time. There was an Air Base outside Bangor. We also drew people who wanted a Reformed church from the surrounding community. It was a very rewarding experience.
Dennison: I am interested, George, in what you said about Bangor because I would judge in many places in the OPC, there are men who are facing what might be judged desperate situations. And you have painted a picture here that actually this church was reconstructed in some fashion, salvaged by the grace of God.
Haney: The first year, I remember saying to myself, "If I had known that the challenge was this great, I would not have come." I was frustrated. I felt that I was in over my head. But then I had to come back to the fact that this was a call from the Lord to these people. I began to appreciate at that time that what God calls us to is—he enables us to do it, if we really are dependent upon him and not trusting in our own abilities, but we are really dependent upon him. The people were disheartened when we arrived. And they took heart, and they saw again the vision of ministry that was there when the work was started. When the work was started, it was started in a very interesting way. Can I go back to when the work was started?
Haney: Charles Stanton is not all that well known in the OPC today, but God used him in the development of churches, and, therefore, the OP churches in the state of Maine. I believe that I am correct that even today the only Presbyterian churches in the state of Maine are all Orthodox Presbyterian Churches. That was true a few years ago; I believe it is still true today. That's significant, isn't it? Charles and his wife Fern went from town to town in Maine. They went to many places that today there isn't an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, but as a result of his labors years ago, there may be a church that today is preaching the gospel. He was not supported for many of those years—probably most of those years—by the denominational Committee on Home Missions. It was mostly his endeavors. He and Fern and their family lived very frugally.
Going back to Bangor, Mr. Stanton was instrumental in the beginning of the work years ago in a little community known as Cornville. One day, Charles and Irvin Rhoda, an elder at that church, were talking and Irwin said there ought to be an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Bangor. And Charles agreed that there ought to be, but he didn't know how he could really afford to drive over to Bangor, which is fifty, sixty miles, and do the type of calling that should be done. Charles was that kind of missionary—a real calling-door-to-door, block-by-block. So, Irvin said, "I'll put the gas in your car for you to go over." So, Irvin Rhoda put the gas into Charles Stanton's car, he went over and did calling and made contacts.
At that time, there was a doctor who was in a congregational church across the river in Brewer, Dr. Joseph Memmelaar. He had background in the Christian Reformed Church, but there was no Reformed church of any kind in Bangor. So he settled on what was a broadly evangelical congregational church, and he began to teach and taught Reformed theology, and was particularly strong in Reformed apologetics. He was a personal friend of Dr. Van Til. So when this pastor resigned in this congregational church, Dr. Memmelaar and these others tried to bring a Reformed man into the church. But after a while, the cat came out of the bag as to what was going on there, and the liberal element in the church got into gear and contacted the fringe membership. People came out of the woodwork and they promptly stopped this movement, much to the disappointment of Dr. Memmelaar and others. And then it happened about this time Irvin Rhoda puts the gas in Charles Stanton's car. Dr. Memmelaar and Charles Stanton eventually met, and then Mr. Stanton begin to the see the possibility that there could be a core group (as we would say today) for the establishment of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Dennison: Good, that is the kind of stuff that we love for these interviews.
Haney: As I indicated after six years of the Lord's blessing, and they were rich years, they were challenging years, the Lord gave us our four children in Bangor ...
Dennison: Now, you were married in ...
Haney: Waterloo ...
Dennison: You married a member of the church there?
Haney: No, my wife, Grace, was Grace Vanden Bosch, so I guess that says something about her background. I mentioned that the First OPC was the only Reformed church in Waterloo, and that was true in the early years. Then, later on, the Christian Reformed Church decided to start a home mission's work, and they located between Waterloo and Cedar Falls. They consulted with the Orthodox Presbyterians and had no intention of trying to pull out of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church those who had Christian Reformed backgrounds. They called a home missionary who was there a short time, and then he was followed by a graduate of Calvin College. He graduated the same year that I graduated from Westminster, and his name was Tom Vanden Bosch. The OPC and that Christian Reformed Church immediately established a relationship with each other and would have joint activities together like the New Year's Eve service we had together.
Dennison: Why not seal it with a marriage?
Haney: We're getting to that part! You'll see what unfolds. The Vanden Bosches—Tom and his wife Laura—very graciously received me and had me over for dinner. So we developed a relationship, and, of course, then they swung into gear. I didn't realize it at the time. Tom had a single sister down the road in Pella teaching in the Christian School there. And, so, she was somewhat homesick and would travel up to see her brother. She had stayed with Tom and Laura when she went to Calvin College and they were very close in their relationship. Tom and Laura said, "Come up for a weekend," and then after they met me, they decided that it would be nice if I met Grace. Through them, one thing led to another. We [got] engaged to be married and have lived happily ever after.
Dennison: Great story.
Dennison: We're in Menomonee Falls now, I believe.
Haney: The Menomonee Falls work was started to a large extent as a result of a desire to continue to minister to young people, in particular, who had grown up in two larger churches in Cedar Grove and Oostburg, located north of Milwaukee. These young people would find employment limited in the rural communities and naturally would gravitate to the Milwaukee area. Don Stanton, the pastor up in Oostburg, and Henry Fikkert, the pastor in Cedar Grove, along with an elder by the name of Voskuil, who had bought the gas station in Cedar Grove, were the missions committee of presbytery. They had good vision of starting churches, and using their churches as supporting churches. And, they also had this concern for their young people, so this mission church was started.
Dennison: Coming to the Home Missions general secretary, I would like you to say a little something about that.
Haney: The denominational committee on Home Mission and Church Extension extended me a call in early 1974 to be general secretary. I accepted that call and tried to capitalize on the experience that I had in home missions work in Bangor and then in Menomonee Falls. Then I was called to be pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia. I had not served ten years, but I had met with a subcommittee of the denominational committee after six or seven years of ministry, and discussed with them the term of the general secretary. General secretaries in the earlier years had served for a number of years, and I began to wonder if that was a wise thing. I shared that with the committee. I felt that as church had grown and became more stable, the challenges, seemingly, became greater and there were more complexities involved in giving leadership to our denominational committees, that, maybe, we should begin thinking in terms of more of a turnover and tapping into the gifts of different people.
So, I did receive a call about the ninth year of my time with the denominational committee from Grace Church. I had not anticipated that particular kind of call, thinking that when the day came when God would call me from what I was doing, that it would be another home mission work. But, as I responded to the initial invitation to look into the situation in Vienna, I saw some similarities between the situation there and a home missions work. I accepted that call, and served there for three years, and then developed a health problem—a heart problem. I was told by my cardiologist that I should resign the pastorate, which I did.
I was asked to come back and serve in the office as a financial administrator for the Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension. I did that for about two years, and when the general secretary resigned rather abruptly, the Committee asked me to return and to serve as general secretary. I accepted that call, and, in the meantime, the heart problem was under control, and the cardiologist here saw no reason why I couldn't undertake that ministry. I concluded a three year term, and was asked to return for another three years, and I had just indicated my acceptance and became ill and was diagnosed as having inoperable cancer, which led to my resignation of July of this year (1990).
Dennison: With regard to your stints as general secretary, now, you have a very interesting situation historically, George. You are almost like bookends to a very controversial era for Home Missions.
Dennison: How do you see the Home Missions Committee in relationship to that span in which you have been involved? You took over for LeRoy Oliver, who I would say was generally a conservative.
Dennison: You also seem to have a rather conservative disposition, and yet, bracketing now the Lewis Ruff era and the philosophy of ministries that are at play ...
Haney: As I see it, Charlie, when I began to serve the committee in 1974, the denomination as a whole was very supportive of all three of the standing committees, the Committee on Foreign Missions, Christian Education, and Home Missions and Church Extension. Under the leadership of LeRoy Oliver, the committee was moving aggressively in a direction of what we termed "de-centralization" of home missions. I concurred in the direction that was already set before I became general secretary, and therefore, I tried to implement that approach.
As I look back on it, as the expression goes, "easier said than done." I don't think we had any idea in all that would be involved in that kind of de-centralization. The de-centralization plan was tied into the development of more presbyteries. We had more presbyteries, but we didn't foresee how difficult it would be for those presbyteries to function as presbyteries. I think we thought that just because we were narrowing the geography, that more ministry would be better done, and it would be for the good of the churches to limit the geography. I look back upon it, and I think there was a fallacy in that. With the division, there was also a weakening that made it very difficult for the de-centralization plan to really take hold. It was very difficult to establish meaningful relationships with all the presbyteries' missions committees. There were some presbyteries that didn't really have functioning home missions committees. I remember one presbytery that did have a mission's committee, but it was primarily to promote foreign missions in that presbytery. I have nothing against that, but that was the primary orientation of that committee.
At that time also we didn't really have an understanding or a vision of presbytery-oriented missions. We had some ideas, but we really hadn't solidified in our understanding of how presbyteries should be functioning in starting new churches. The idea was that the denominational committee would work hand-in-hand with the presbyteries. The work of home missions and church extension certainly should not be relegated to the denominational committee at the exclusion of the presbyteries, and, ideally, that the presbytery can do it better than the denominational committee. And so I am still committed to that, but to get to that goal has been extremely difficult.
Even today, now as an older minister, I would caution younger men in their zeal to take some of our existing presbyteries and divide them. I know what it was like to go to Presbytery of Dakotas meeting when you were in Abilene, Texas and the presbytery meeting was in North Dakota. But, as is often the case, when times are hard, it is interesting what God's people do. That is when they come through, when the times are hard. I remember being at meetings in the Presbytery of the Dakotas and the camaraderie that was there, the good committee work that was done. It was astounding. There were geographical problems; nevertheless, the presbytery in many respects functioned very well. From my point of view, one of the aspects of presbytery that sometimes I believe gets shortchanged is the sharing and the interaction that takes place among the presbyters. We are Presbyterians. We are members of the presbytery. I think it is factual that some of these presbyteries, where distance is not a problem, you have such poor attendance, but in the Presbytery of the Dakotas, you had good attendance. I think that good attendance contributed to a better working of the presbytery because it was functioning the way that a presbytery ought to function.
Dennison: I am especially interested in the philosophy of ministry, George, because that is the question that has been raised in the past. I think from what I have heard from various people that it seems as you moved to a de-centralized position into the presbytery that you have to be willing to accept a certain amount of diversity, then ...
Haney: That's right.
Dennison: ... in the product that comes and I think that some of the frustration for some of the men in the church during the Lewis Ruff years was that there was a certain kind of church that was acceptable.
Haney: Perceived to be acceptable.
Dennison: Perceived to be acceptable, yes.
Haney: It created tension; there is no doubt about it. Therefore, my last three years was spent in seeking to address that matter and to try to bring about more of a pulling together and dealing with some of these issues, and that is what they have been. I believe that the denominational committee has broader support for its ministry and its work now than it did at one point, that some of those tensions have been relaxed. That's not to say that the committee is backing off on some of these issues. I think there are significant issues before us, and you can't pussy-foot around. You have to deal with those issues and you have to come up with a position. I think we are struggling with that, we are struggling with a basic philosophy of ministry and the establishment of churches, the matter of form of worship, the regulative principle, and all those things are very important. But my hope and prayer is that will not divide us, that we will deal with this, and it is not just home missions that's involved. This is a matter that established churches are wrestling with too.
Let's deal with it, but let's try very hard to keep these things from being divisive among us. Again, I still have a high view of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. We are living in a time and a day in which I think we are seeing the attacks of Satan in a very, very concentrated way in our midst in general in the church. What is going on in our country, it is hard to predict. We are moving further and further away from any Christian moorings that we've had, so there are all kinds of attack where in the broad evangelical world denominations are being played down more and more. There is more a spirit of independency, and you find that infiltrating evangelical circles, so we have awful lot that we have to deal with. But, on the plus side, I still feel that throughout the Orthodox Presbyterian Church you have a very high view of the Scriptures. Our history tells us that, the Word of God tells us that. Once you move from the bedrock, once you weaken, once you dilute your view of the Scriptures as being the inspired and infallible Word of God, it's only a matter of time as to all the difficulties that you are going to be in. I have had the privilege of sitting in on some examinations of younger men, and in some cases, there was something to be desired. Nevertheless, I have not yet witnessed that decline of commitment to the Word of God in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I believe if we keep that paramount, and our commitment to the system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Standards, then we ought to be more optimistic than sometimes we are. We ought to be more optimistic, even that God will work in our midst, and despite our losses—and we have sustained losses—that God will honor that commitment, and, therefore, the future isn't as bleak as we sometimes allow it to be.
Dennison: Well, this definitely works with regard to your insights into the original Reformed commitment of the denomination. That is something that you wanted to address, too, before we close.
Haney: I think people today can be helped in their understanding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by our underscoring the nature of the great conflict out of which the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was born. That was an attack upon the integrity of the Word of God; it was attack upon the integrity of the Lord Jesus Christ, an attack upon his deity, a denial of his virgin birth. I think it is hard to understand the significance of that conflict, and our founding fathers paid a tremendous price for the sake of truth. The people who came out of the Northern USA church were for the most part older people who had a deep commitment to the Scriptures and had some understanding at least of the Westminster Standards, but what gripped them was the basic conflict with this rank unbelief.
And, so, when these people came out—such as [at] Bridgeton, where I had my experience—they were godly people who took a stand and made real sacrifices, in terms of standing in the community. They walked away in Bridgeton from a beautiful stone building. Tremendous sacrifices in Depression times, and they were part of what became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. But as I look back on those congregations, I don't think that those people at that point in their development had, or were in a position of really articulating what we fondly and lovingly refer to as the Reformed Faith. And I think that is understandable because the Northern church didn't turn overnight. It was a gradual decline, and so there was less and less emphasis on the fullness of the gospel message which we call the Reformed faith. When the attack came upon the fundamentals of the faith, they were denying the deity of Christ, and they were denying the virgin birth, these people reared up and they took their stand. And, therefore, they came out with that firm conviction for which we thank God, that they were willing to take that stand. But, the congregations in many instances had a certain flavor to them that we would call today more broadly evangelical, and in some cases—and I use this word I think advisedly—fundamentalist, which in a sense they were. Dr. Machen didn't always appreciate that, but he was branded a fundamental and in some respects he accepted that because he was committed to the fundamentals of the faith. But, Dr. Machen had the understanding of the Reformed faith.
The men who served these congregations were Westminster-trained men. They were younger men, but they came to congregations, by and large, which were older congregations. The Bridgeton church I think at that time was not as self-consciously Reformed in its doctrine and practices as it is today. But, this is now some 50 years later, and it took the input of the men at Westminster, the younger men, to do that. But, as you all know as a pastor, you don't change a congregation through your ministry, even though it is maybe a ten year ministry, overnight. There are certain things that you don't change because each church has, as it were, its personality and that personality is developed to some extent by the history. I go back at Bridgeton to Ralph Clough. I think that Ralph and those who followed him—Bob Marshall, and Art Olson—all had a great influence upon that congregation to move it from a more fundamentalist orientation to a deeper understanding of biblical teaching and the glories of the Reformed faith. I think you see that today, and you see that in the leadership of the church.
Dennison: I think it ties in very well, George, with what you have articulated as one of your major concerns in the training of men presently for the gospel ministry. If, in fact, it took a strong Reformed ministry in those early days to bring the congregations along, if we don't have that strong Reformed ministry, we may be in very difficult straits, not just simply because we don't have the men of that conviction, but our congregations may in turn weaken and not have the strength to recover the theology that they desperately need, the doctrine that they desperately need to help them. You persevere in those types of situations.
Haney: You see, I think one of the reasons that I was challenged by home missions is that the Reformed faith is simply the consistent setting forth of biblical truth. And sometimes it is easier to have a Reformed church made up of a majority of new converts. I guess I was looking for the easy way out in home missions. But, you see, this is the challenge of home missions. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. So you have the power of the gospel, and I believe with all of my heart that when people evidence a solid working of the Holy Spirit and are truly born again, then you expect a commitment to the Word of God. Then you faithfully preach and teach in a home missions setting that Word in all its glorious fullness. Now, the way in which you do that is another topic that we won't get into. I never preached Calvinism, you might say, per se from the pulpit, but I remember every church that I served a series of sermons on five great biblical truths—historic Calvinism, of course. You are proclaiming the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are expecting God to work, you are committed to the Word of God, to the fullness of the Word of God, and you are not going to let down in the preparation of men for office. That is the key in home mission work.
And we struggle with that. It is one of the big things in home mission work. The tendency that we have—the tendency that I have had in moving a work from a mission work into an organized congregation—the tendency and the temptation is to let down a bit in terms of what the requirements are. And it is at that point you have to make that distinction that the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has made historically, and I refer to it in my own personal experience, that what is required for church membership is a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and I believe with all my heart in preparing people for church membership that we are negligent if we do not introduce them to the doctrinal teachings of the church. But you and I know from our pastoral experience that you struggle sometimes over a person as to really where he is with the Lord and whether he can make a credible profession of faith. And there are people who can make a very weak, credible profession of faith who cannot endorse and comprehend the fullness of biblical teaching. And, you see, I go back to my own experience, which I am sure has colored my ministry. I was accepted into the church, even though I could not embrace the doctrine of God's sovereign election. I can't believe that now—how inconsistent can you be—but I was. And we have those foolish thoughts, and we allow for them because I think it is biblical. We are not a church that requires a member to subscribe to the system of doctrine in our Westminster Standards, but we dare not let down in a person giving credible evidence that they are born again by the Spirit of God, that they know what repentance and faith alone in Christ is for salvation. But we dare not let down either when it comes to our officers in terms of their commitment and their understanding of the Reformed faith. And that is what makes for a strong work, but it's hard to get there in a home missions setting, but we dare not do that. And, you see, when that is in place, and that church is recognized by the presbytery as a particular congregation, the foundation has been laid. But if you don't lay that foundation well, you are going to have all kinds of problems down the street, and what kind of a church will it be in five, ten, fifteen, twenty years.
Dennison: Well, that is good stuff, George. I appreciate you sharing.
Haney: Thank you. I enjoyed doing it. I hope that was obvious.
George Edward Haney, Jr. (b) Atlantic City, NJ, July 27, 1931; wife: Grace Vanden Bosch, Sept. 7, 1959; children: Mary (Underwood), David, John, Stephen; Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, PA, 1953, B.A.; Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA, 1957, B.D./M.Div.; (ordained) Presbytery of Wisconsin, OPC, Nov. 5, 1957; 1957-61, First OPC, Waterloo, IA; 1961-1968, Pilgrim OPC, Bangor, ME; 1968-1974, Falls OPC, Menomonee Falls, WI; 1974-1982, general secretary, Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, OPC; 1982-1985, Grace OPC, Vienna, VA; 1985-1987, financial administrator, Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, OPC; 1987-1990, general secretary, Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, OPC; 1990-99, consultant, Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, OPC; death: May 22, 1999.
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