The Northern Presbyterian Situation
in the Light of Presbyterian History
by the Rev. Prof. Wm. C. Robinson
[excerpted from Christianity Today, 5.10 (March 1935) 249-250. Bold print reproduced as shown in the original].
The writer is not in any way a supporter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, his loyalties in this matter being to the Presbyterian Committee of Foreign Missions located in Nashville, Tenn. Nevertheless, the prosecution of the members of the Independent Board furnishes interesting food for thought and comparison to the student of Presbyterian history. The official Northern Presbyterian Board in whose interest this prosecution (or persecution) is proceeding was itself organized as an independent Presbyterian board. The General Assembly of 1831 took no action upon the eloquent plea of Dr. John Holt Rice, of Union Seminary (Va.), asking that the Presbyterian Church be recognized as a missionary society. Therefore a group of Presbyterians acting independently of the Assembly organized the Western Foreign Missionary Society with headquarters in Pittsburgh. For five years thereafter, the General Assembly continued to support the interdenomination ABCFM.
The General Assembly, U.S.A. of 1925, in a judicial case, found Mr. H.P. Van Dusen, now Professor Van Dusen of Union Seminary (N.Y.), guilty of holding views in diametric contradiction to the first ordination vow, namely, of refusing to accept the Virgin Birth. No ecclesiastical censure has ever been visited upon Dr. Van Dusen for this offense against the doctrine of Scripture as interpreted by the Westminster standards.
The General Assembly of 1934, without judicial procedure, declared the officers of the Independent Presbyterian Board guilty of violating the fourth ordination vow. And on December the 20th, the same day as that on which the neo-pagans removed Karl Barth from his chair in Bonn, the Presbytery of New Brunswick indicted Dr. J. Gresham Machen for holding office in the Independent Board of Foreign Missions. It is a foregone conclusion that the commission of that Presbytery will declare the Westminster professor worthy of an ecclesiastical censure. The constitution defines an offense as "anything, in the doctrine, principles, or practice of a Church member, officer or judicatory, which is contrary to the Word of God or to those expositions of its teachings as to faith and practice which are contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America." It declares further that God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from the commandments of men that are in anything contrary to or in additiono to His Word. No evidence has been produced to show that Dr. Machen has been guilty of such an offense.
One is reminded of a debate in the Presbytery of Carlisle on the question of the General Council. The pastor of the largest church in that Presbytery urged the adoption of the plan of a General Council in order that the Presbyterian Church might have a head. Others opposed the General Council on the ground that the Presbyterian Church already had a head, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the introduction of a second head, the General Council, would result in a hydra-headed anomaly rather than a true body. It looks like many people in the Presbyterian body are listening to the commandments of men emanating from that body which Dr. C._____ wished to see set up as "the head" of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
In the eighteenth century Dr. John Witherspoon waged a vigorous fight in the Church of Scotland against liberalism in doctrine accompanied by autocracy in administration. In the nineteenth century Dr. Abraham Kuiper faced the same combination in Holland, liberalism in doctrine, autocracy in Church government. The historian of the future will write the same verdict over the current events in the Northern Presbyterian Church, unless the only true Head of the Church by the power of His Holy Spirit turn this great Church away from the heresies of the Auburn Affirmation to a Christian manifesto of faith in the miracles of the Bible and of the Apostles' Creed.