It is my task to present to you something
of that sad condition. I was asked last fall to research the records
of our church, for evidences of her decline. Frankly speaking, it
has been this research that has driven me to the position that I
now take. That is, I now stand as one who feels duty bound to separate
himself from his mother Church. It has not been an easy decision
to make. I was, as many of you have been, reared in the Presbyterian
Church in the United States. I have never belonged to any other
denomination. Both sides of my family go back into the history of
early American Presbyterianism in this country. I have a brother
who is a minister in the PCUS, and one who has been a ruling elder
in it. My father was a ruling elder in the Church. His brother was
a minister. His uncle, John Rockwell Smith, was one of the pioneer
missionaries to Brazil, whose son, James Porter Smith, was late
Professor of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in
Richmond. All of whom were sound in the faith.
My mother was reared in the Presbyterian Church
in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where her father was ruling elder for
many years, and his father had been a minister in the Presbyterian
Church. On her mother's side the descent is traced through the Mortons
and the Venables and the Watkins for whom several of the buildings
at Hampton Sydney College are named. In fact, the record has been
preserved of the conversion of Little Joe of Southern Presbyterianism
in Virginia in the 1740s. Yes, my roots are deeply laid in the Presbyterian
Church here in the South. It is hard to break with the denomination
which has so proudly borne the Presbyterian banner for over a century
now here in the southland. And yet to do so, is not to break faith
with one's ancestors, but to stand for the faith which they confessed.
For they were Presbyterians in the true sense of the term. They
believed the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms. The same cannot
be said for many professed Presbyterians today. Sad to say, the
same cannot be said for many of the recent General Assemblies, which
have acted out of accord with the Bible, and the Confession and
It is my task to trace something of this sad
The Historic Position of the Presbyterian Church in the United States
In order to realize how dim the gold of the
PCUS has become, we must see that gold in its original brightness.
Let me give you just a few items of our rich heritage in the PCUS.
As we are all aware, this denomination came into existence during
the War Between the States. She came into existence in response
to the Gardner Spring Resolution which had been adopted by the U.S.A.
Assembly in the spring of 1861. That resolution had demanded that
every Presbyterian support the United States Government. The Southern
people had already seceded from the United States, and looked upon
themselves as members of a separate nation, namely, the Confederate
States of America. To demand loyalty to a foreign power was to demand
treason of citizens of the Confederacy. There was no alternative
but to insist that the Church had no right to seek to settle the
political issue. So it was that Benjamin Morgan Palmer, the first
moderator of the Southern Presbyterian Church, preached on the Kingship
of Christ as the opening sermon of that 1861 Assembly. This sermon
called for Presbyterians in the South to stand for Christ, His cross
and His crown. It was reminiscent of the stand of their Scottish
ancestors when they also had stood for Christ and His crown rights.
That opening Assembly immediately adopted
the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms
and the Presbyterian Book of Church Order as her constitution. As
Palmer said, "The time-honored standards of the Presbyterian Church
had been explicitly adopted, without equivocation or reservation
as their interpretation: the watchman in Zion seeing eye to eye,
and all being of one mind to rise and build up her broken walls."
May it be that if a new church is to be founded again in the South,
that we will declare without hesitation our allegiance to the Reformed
faith as set forth in the Westminster Standards.
From the outset the Southern Presbyterians
declared themselves as believing in the spiritual mission in the
Church. She said; "The one has no right to usurp the jurisdiction
of the other. The state is a natural institute, founded in the Constitution
of man as moral and social, and designed to realize the idea of
justice. It is the society of rights. The church is a supernatural
institution, founded in the rights of redemption, and is designed
to realize the idea of grace. It is the society of the redeemed.
The state aims at social order. The state looks to the visible and
outward; the church is concerned with the invisible and inward.
The badge of the state's authority is the sword, by which it becomes
a terror of evildoers and a praise to them that do well; the badge
of the church's authority is the keys, by which it opens and shuts
the Kingdom of Heaven, according as men are believing or impenitent.
The power of the church is exclusively spiritual; that of the state
includes the exercise of force. The constitution of the church is
a divine revelation; the constitution of the state must be determined
by human reason and the course of providential events. The church
has no right to construct or modify a government for the state,
and the state has no right to frame a creed or polity for the church."
This concept of the spiritual nature and mission
of the church is stamped upon the life of the PCUS from its earliest
days up to the 1930s. She adopted a glorious statement on missions
in that first Assembly, seeing that her chief task was to go into
all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.
Around the turn of the century, Dr. R. C.
Reed, Professor of Church History at Columbia Theological Seminary,
sets forth several distinctives of the Southern Presbyterian Church.
I shall just mention these briefly:
1. The most prominent characteristic of this church is jealous loyalty
to the Westminster Standards. It holds with unwavering firmness
to the undiluted Calvinism of these Standards. It acknowledges no
need of any new statement of old truth.
2. This jealous loyalty demands of the minister and elders strict
3. The church stresses the principle of the spiritual mission of
the church, and excludes from its courts all discussions of political
4. It stands by the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Bible, believing
that this is the claim which the Bible makes for itself.
5. It persists in maintaining, as did the undivided church in 1832,
that to teach and exhort or to lead in prayer in public and promiscuous
assemblies is clearly forbidden to women in the Holy Oracles.
6. A point not made by Reed, but by other writers of that period
is that it developed the Presbyterian polity with the complete parity
of the ruling and teaching elders.
These then were the distinctives of the Southern
Presbyterian Church. These were the things by which she was known
for her first seventy-five years. Let us look now at the decline
that has been manifested since that time.
II. Departures from the Historic Position on Scripture
It is sometimes asserted by the liberals in
the church that the Presbyterian Church in the United States has
never believed in the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture with
the resulting infallible Word. In 1867 the General Assembly said;
"The Assembly would earnestly impress on the minds of all having
in charge the government and instruction of our theological seminaries,
the vital importance of training our future ministers not only to
be able and faithful ministers of the Word, but also to be fully
imbued with an implicit faith in the plenary and literal inspired
authority of the Sacred Scriptures."
Strictly speaking, all of the problems that
we have faced in the Church today stem from the departure from this
high view of Scripture. One of the most explicit expressions of
this came to the fore in the 1972 General Assembly in a paper adopted
by the Assembly entitled, "The Meaning of Doctrinal Loyalty in the
Ordination Vows." In this paper the Assembly says that when we adopt
the Scripture as the "only rule of faith and life" that "neither
by the Reformers nor in the Westminster Standards was it used in
the strict literal sense of affirming the Bible as the only authority
to govern Christian belief. The authority is thus a complex including
the Bible, the Church, human reason and experience...." (p. 197).
This is essentially the same position as that held by the Roman
The paper posits the position that the testimony
of the Church and the witness of the Holy Spirit, that brings us
to conviction that the Bible is God's Word, are separate authorities
in addition to the Bible. The fact is the Westminster Standards
clearly teach that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith
and practice. The reference to the internal testimony of the Holy
Spirit being required to bring us to conviction that the Bible is
the Word of God, is due to our depravity. The Spirit does not add
additional content to what is in the Word. The writers of the Confession
did not see the operation of the Spirit separated from the Scripture.
Rather, the authority of Scripture is that of the Holy Spirit speaking
in the Scripture. In other words, the position of the Westminster
Confession is that the Bible is the only infallible rule of faith
and practice because it is the very Word of God.
As late as 1939 the General Assembly declared
"that it regards the acceptance of the infallible truth and divine
authority of the Scripture as being involved in the ordination vows
to which we subscribe." The 1972 statement now denies this position.
III. Departures from the Historic Position on the Confession
The 1972 General Assembly went on to say what
was never explicitly stated by an Assembly before. It is to the
effect that the ordination vows of our Church are to be understood
as "broad" and not "strict", as our forefathers took them to be.
We have already noted that R. C. Reed speaks of the strict subscriptionism
as one of the distinctives of the Southern Presbyterian Church.
The 1972 General Assembly explicitly departs from that distinctive.
This is, in effect, to deny the original adopting
act of American Presbyterianism made in 1729. The 1729 action was
commented on by the Synod in 1736, because there had been some misunderstanding
as to just what was intended by the original adoption of the Confession
and Catechisms. Let me quote from that official comment on the Synod's
action. "That the Synod do declare, that inasmuch as we understand
that many persons of our persuasion, both more lately and formerly,
have been offended with some expressions or distinction in the first
or preliminary act of our Synod, contained in the printed paper,
relating to our receiving or adopting the Westminster Confession
and Catechisms, etc.; that in order to remove said offense, and
all jealousies that have arisen or may arise in any of our people's
minds, on occasion of said distinctions and expressions, the Synod
doth declare that the Synod have adopted and still do adhere to
the Westminster Confession, Catechisms, and Directory, without the
least variation or alteration, without any regard to said distinctions.
We do further declare that this was our meaning and true intent
in our first adopting of said Confession, as may particularly appear
by our adopting act which is as follows:... "
It was clearly the intent of the forefathers
in the American Presbyterian Church to establish, by the adoption
of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, a distinctly Presbyterian
and Reformed Church. All future ministers and officers were to be
required to subscribe to the Confession of Faith, in the same terms
with which the 1729 Synod had subscribed. The 1972 Assembly, on
the other hand, tries to assert that Presbyterianism has always
been broad. It said "up until the second or third decade of this
century, even with such differences as those between the Old and
New Schools, there was, in contrast to today's wide divergencies,
sufficient consensus in the essential and necessary elements of
the faith to make the term fundamentals relatively clear and useful.
In the present situation it is much more ambiguous, and whether
it can still be useful will depend in part on the degree of theological
unanimity now desired by the church. Meantime the Presbyterian Church
in the U.S. operates with a detailed Confession, the fundamentals
of which are interpreted with considerable latitude."
In this description of the present situation,
the Assembly admits to the diversity of theological views now in
the Church. It should be observed that the reference to the Old
and New School differences in the PCUS is not accurate. The PCUS
was historically an Old School Church, and their union with the
New School Churches in the South was on Old School terms. There
is a sense in which the modern problems can be likened to that of
the Old and New School conflict of a century ago. It is true that
the liberals of today have imbibed various new elements of theology
as contrasted to the New School Church of a century ago, but both
hold to loose subscriptionism. Both hold that the Church may be
involved in more than the spiritual mission given by Christ in His
Great Commission. It would have been more accurate for the 1972
Assembly to have admitted that the PCUS had been essentially an
Old School Church, until the second and third decade of this century.
Since that time there has been a distinct change in the stance of
the PCUS to the effect that the Old School theology and viewpoint
are found only in the minority, at least at recent General Assembly
meetings. Now the Assembly, however, seeks to justify a broad church
view, in contrast to the historic position of the PCUS.
IV.Departures of the Confession and Catechisms -- Changes Enacted
Many of our friends insist that before a separation
can legitimately take place, we need to have a change of confessional
stance. It is interesting to observe that the PCUS has already made
a number of changes in her confessional documents. We shall not
try to list all of these, but give a reference to the most significant
ones. In 1939 there were a number of grammatically and linguistic
changes which tended to weaken the position of the Church's Confession
on a number of points.
One of the more significant changes took place
in 1942, when the Assembly approved the insertion into the Confession
of two chapters entitled "Of the Holy Spirit," and "Of the Gospel."
The Committee which had made the original recommendations in 1937,
that were finally adopted in 1939, had made a study about the possibility
of such chapters being added to the Confession, and had concluded
that they were not necessary. They included in their report the
teachings on these subjects found throughout the Westminster Standards,
which made it unnecessary to have new, separate chapters added to
the Confession. Essentially, the chapters proposed are those found
in the Confession of the PCUSA. These chapters had been adopted
by the denomination in order to encourage the reunion of the Cumberland
Presbyterians with the PCUSA Church.
The Cumberland Presbyterians had departed
from the UPUSA Church in 1810 over the issue of predestination,
and the requirement for an educated ministry. The ministers who
had been ordained on the frontier, without a thorough education,
had not been trained in the Reformed faith, and thus rejected the
predestination doctrine. They re-wrote their Confession on this
matter. The USA Church watered down the testimony of the Confession
by the addition of these two chapters in order to have a union with
the Cumberland Church in 1905.
When, in the early 1940s our Church was looking
towards the possible merger with the USA Church, it was believed
that it would be good to add these chapters so that we had essentially
the same Confession. We do not have time to get into the criticism
of these two chapters, but let me suggest to you that a careful
reading of them indicates no reference to the doctrine of election,
which is an essential part of the original Confession. These statements
are distinctly more Armenian in tone, and teaching universal atonement,
instead of the particular atonement that the Westminster Confession
It is my personal hope that as the Continuing
Church comes into existence, that we shall return to the historic
Presbyterian Confession, and not include these two chapters in that
Confession. The proposed Confession that the Steering Committee
is suggesting that the Continuing Church adopt does not include
these two chapters, simply because of their inconsistency with the
rest of the Confession. If it is deemed that chapters under these
titles are needed, then they need to be written much more carefully,
so as not to deny or contradict other portions of our system of
The 1959 General Assembly approved changes
in the chapter on marriage and divorce. The result is that the Presbyterian
Church in the United States now endorses divorce and re-marriage
for non-Biblical grounds. This means that all who subscribe to the
present-day Confession are subscribing to a position that endorses
as proper, relationships that Jesus brands as adulterous. All of
us in the PCUS are thus endorsing the breaking of the Seventh Commandment.
This is not merely on the basis of an Assembly action, but it is
a Constitutional action of the Church. Our Church has in the marriage
and divorce chapter departed from the Scripture. She has departed
from her original Constitution. On this point she is distinctly
unbiblical and heretical. Again I point out that this is a Constitutional
matter. Perhaps we should have made more of it in 1959 than we did,
but the fact is that it remains unchanged, and is still part of
the PCUS Constitution in 1973.
The 1961 General Assembly chose to criticize
her constitutional document by saying that she did not believe the
formulation on ordination to everlasting death to be an adequate
statement of faith, because it implies an eternal negative decree.
The protest to the effect that this was an unconstitutional procedure
was to no effect. One wonders how men, who subscribe to the Westminster
Confession as the confession of their faith, can be so critical
of their own Confession of Faith.
Other areas in which the Church has taken
positions that are contrary to the Confession are the matter of
evolution, in which the Assembly says that evolutionary theory and
the Bible are not contradictory (1968); the matter of the charismatic
movement in which the Assembly, contrary to the first paragraph
of the Confession of Faith, declared that speaking in tongues and
prophecies may occur today (1971); the Assembly further declared
that immersion was proper, contrary to the Confession of Faith (1965).
The 1963 and 1964 General Assemblies approved a change of the Book
of Church Order allowing for the ordination of women to office,
in direct contradiction to the historic position of the Church and
to the Scripture, "let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection.
But I permit not a woman to teach or have dominion over a man but
to be in quietness." (I Tim. 2:11-12)
Yet another area in which the Assembly clearly
rejected the position of her Constitution was in the endorsement
of capital punishment. In 1961 it had been ruled that this matter
was unconstitutional. The question was again raised in 1966, and
though it was acknowledged that it was contrary to the Confession,
the Assembly went on record favoring the discontinuance of the use
of capital punishment.
Here we see an Assembly openly standing against
the Constitution of the Church. When the highest court of a body
acts unconstitutionally, the question may be fairly asked as to
whether the constitution is of any real value of the body. This
type of flagrant, unconstitutional action raises serious questions
as to whether the PCUS is still a constitutional church, or not.
The highest court itself will not abide by its own constitution,
and the rule in the Church has become that of the majority and not
that of the objective constitutional standards to which all agree
when they enter into membership and office in the Church. In effect,
such an action nullifies the whole Constitution of the body politic.
For the PCUS this means that the Confession and Catechisms may simply
be ignored at the whim of a majority of any particular Assembly.
For those who believe in constitutional Presbyterianism, is not
just ground for the establishment of a new constitutional church,
in which the bonds of unity, namely the Confession and Catechisms,
will be honored?
In this same connection, the approval by the
1970 General Assembly of abortion for socio-economic reasons, is
unconstitutional. Further, the fact that a special fund, out of
which some $90,000 has been spent in the last two years for some
360 abortions, involves everyone of us in the act of murdering the
unborn in the name of Christ by the Presbyterian Church in the United
States. This issue has been on my conscience ever since I realized
what was happening. The absolute refusal of the Assembly to listen
to any protest, or change its position on this matter, virtually
settles the issue. How long can any of us remain in a church that
is thus committing murder? We are corporately involved in this sin,
whether we like it or not.
V. Departures from the Historical Position on Church Government
One of the things for which the PCUS has been
known was its thoroughgoing Biblical polity. This was especially
worked out as the Church sought to carry into effect the parity
of the ruling and teaching elders. Ruling elders actually lay hands
on teaching elders in ordaining them. Further, it is mandatory in
our forms, that ruling elders make up part of the quorum of a presbytery
or commission of presbytery.
Another particular emphasis that comes from
Thornwell, which the Southern Church sought to incorporate in its
original structure, was the use of the church courts themselves
as a society for missions, etc. The original church operated through
committees of the Assembly, and not through boards that could act
independently of the Assembly.
We are all aware of the fact that our agencies
now are called boards, and that last year, there was a major restructuring
of all the boards and agencies into the General Executive Board.
The whole idea of the Assembly operating through subsidiary committees
has thus been abandoned. What we now have is a centralized agency,
namely the General Executive Board, that will direct the affairs
of the Church from a single central headquarters. There will be
lines of control directly down to the individual minister from the
General Executive Board. I do not think that any of us realize how
destructive this is of Biblical Presbyterianism, which maintains
that the rule is to be by elders, elected by the people. In the
graduated system of church courts as we have had it in Presbyterianism,
the congregations participate all the way up to the General Assembly
through their elders.
One of the trends towards this centralization
came in 1937 with the adoption of new paragraphs in the Book of
Church Order that established the Commission on the Minister and
His Work in every presbytery as a mandatory part of our Church's
life. These commissions have been subject to abuse it is obvious
how easily they can be used to change the character of a presbytery.
Those on a commission will tend to approve only men who hold their
same viewpoint. A small minority in a presbytery could soon build
a majority of ministers of their own persuasion, if they could control
the commission in their particular presbytery. This has been the
history of this institution in the Church. Again I would point out
the fact that the proposed Book of Church Order for the Continuing
Church will recognize that such an institution in the Church has
been destructive of the true character of our Presbyterian government.
May it be that we will avoid the establishment of anything of this
sort in the new Church.
Let me suggest another area in which our Church
has brought about its own decline. It was the establishment of the
rotating system of officers. There is nothing of this sort in the
Bible. Congregations that have adopted the rotating system, have
often been subjected to the whims of a particular pastor, who politics
for the election of certain men to office. Just as the commission
of a presbytery level has tended to change the presbyteries, so
has the rotation system allowed church sessions to be changed in
a relatively short time. It has caused a general lack of stability
in church sessions.
We have already noted the serious departure
from the Biblical position with regard to women officers.
A new, unbiblical innovation was introduced
at the 1970 Assembly when it approved the sending of youth delegates
to the General Assembly. These youth delegates are actually granted
vote in committees that write the reports that eventually are adopted
by the Assembly. To date they have not been allowed to vote on the
floor of the Assembly, but one wonders how long it will be before
this happens. As it is, they are actually involved in framing the
actions that the Assembly takes.
Generally speaking, we may say that we see
a departure from the Bible as the basic norm for the kind of government
that the Church should have to those forms and structures that seem
to men to be wise. This is a departure from Biblical Presbyterianism.
VI. Decline in Exercise of Discipline
The exercise of discipline by the Church has
been looked upon by a number of the Reformed churches as one of
the marks of a true church. Certainly where there is true preaching
of the Word, there should be the proper administration of the sacraments
and the exercise of discipline in accord with the Word.
It should be observed that though some say
there is no exercise of discipline at all in the church, there actually
is. In the admission of people to the Lord's Table. This is part
of the disciplinary process. The problem that particularly faces
us here, however, is the exercise of discipline at the highest level.
There are two significant cases that we should mention.
The first of these was the Hay Watson Smith
case that began in 1929. The Assembly was asked by the Presbytery
of Augusta to look into the soundness of Hay Watson Smith in Little
Rock, on the basis of pamphlets he had published regarding evolution
and other matters. The Assembly enjoined the Presbytery of Arkansas
to look into this. The Presbytery and the Synod of Arkansas gave
Dr. Smith a clean bill of health. In 1934 there were overtures from
six presbyteries asking that the matter be considered still pending,
and that the Assembly appoint an ad interim committee to investigate
the case. This the Assembly refused to do, thus asserting that the
place of original jurisdiction regarding any minister was in his
The importance of this case is obvious. First,
the refusal of the Assembly to grant permission to members of other
presbyteries or synods to bring charges, or to have the Assembly
enter into matters of charges against a man in a different synod
or presbytery, established a procedure for protection of unorthodox
men in the Church. If a man could find a presbytery that would protect
him from the Assembly, then he could teach anything acceptable to
This was exactly the case with Dr. Ernest
Trice Thompson in East Hanover Presbytery in the 1940s.
It is certainly a basic weakness in the Presbyterian
polity that permits protection of known unorthodoxy within the Church.
There should be some direct means by which the Assembly could move
against a known heretic. Actually, what the presbyteries were proposing
to the Assembly in 1934, namely, that an ad interim committee of
the Assembly look into the matter more fully, was used against the
Synod of Mississippi, because of its orthodoxy and resistance to
the Assembly itself. Had this procedure been used in 1934, one questions
whether Earnest Trice Thompson could have been quite so easily protected
in the 1940s.
The failure to deal with heresy in the case
of Hay Watson Smith in the early 1930s, and with that of E. T. Thompson
in the 1940s, has resulted in a Church in which Biblical discipline
at the highest level is no longer practices. It may well be asked
whether more should not be done in this area before any division
of the Church is attempted. It is argued that there is no use in
carrying out discipline, which will fail at the highest level. The
Bible teaches that we are to put out of the Church those who are
not believers in the Truth. The Bible does not give examples of
orthodox people withdrawing or leaving the Church in the hands of
less orthodox, except for Paul's departure from the Jewish synagogues.
It would appear that one of the duties that conservatives have is
to press their case in every place against unbelief wherever it
is found. If, as a result of such attempts to exercise discipline,
the Church as a whole proves that it is not only unconcerned, but
unwilling to purify itself according to the Word, then it will be
easier to justify separation from such a church.
The action of the 1972 Assembly in adopting
the report on doctrinal loyalty, to which we have already referred,
may well mean that the PCUS is beyond exercising discipline against
a minister. In setting forth a broad, instead of a strict adoption
of the Confessional Standards, the result is the permission of diversity
of view and practice among church courts. With such diversity now
recognized officially by the Assembly, can there be any serious
attempt to hold one accountable for a strict interpretation of the
If this is the implication of the 1972 action,
those who are conservative and remaining in the Church must challenge
this action. Failing in the challenge, to withdraw may be their
VII. The Decline in Worship
I am noted at the Seminary for taking a puritanical
position regarding worship. That position is the position of the
Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The Shorter Catechism says
"the second commandment requires the receiving, observing, and keeping
pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances as God
hath appointed in His Word." Again it says, "The second commandment
forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not
appointed in His Word." The Larger Catechisms is more explicit in
what is forbidden, "Sins forbidden in the second commandment are:
all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and anywise approving
any religious worship not instituted by God Himself; the making
of any representation of God, of all, or any of the three persons,
either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or
likeness or any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or in
it, or by it, and making any representation of feigned deities and
all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious
devices corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from
it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition
from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion,
good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony, sacrilege;
all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances
which God hath appointed."
The PCUS was very strict about this in its
early history as is witnessed in the 1899 Assembly's action regarding
the observance of Christmas and Easter as religious days. "There
is no warrant in Scripture for the observance of Christmas and Easter
as holy days, rather the contrary (see Gal. 4:9-11; Col. 2:16-21),
and such observance is contrary to the principles of the Reformed
faith, conducive to will worship, and not in harmony with the simplicity
of Jesus Christ."
That we have departed from the Reformed principle
of worship, as set forth by our Catechisms, is so obvious that it
needs no documentation. We now find our Assemblies endorsing and
encouraging the use of liturgical calendars, including not only
Christmas and Easter, but the whole year divided into liturgical
observance. The extremes of the decline of worship may be seen in
the psychedelic worship services that took place in Montreat, and
the tacit approval of them by the Assemblies when they were criticized
by various presbyteries the year following.
If one of the marks of the Church is the proper
administration of the sacraments, then it must be concluded that
when the General Assembly itself condones the kind of sacrilegious,
unbiblical forms of observing the Lord's Supper, as were seen at
Montreat on August 4, 1968, it has departed from being a true church
in this particular area. This is not to say that every congregation
in the denomination has thus departed, but it is to say that at
the Assembly level the Church has condoned that which is a radical
departure from the true administration of the sacraments, and thus
ceases to be a true church in its worship of God.
It should be observed that the general observance
of the Sabbath has declined markedly across the board in our Church.
This is true not only among our liberal friends but also within
our conservative circles. Sad to say, it is also true that even
conservative churches have pictures and crosses that are set as
aids to worship, and thus represent a serious departure from the
Bible, and the Confessional position of our Church.
What is desperately needed as a new church
comes into being, is a report of worship. We need to be concerned
that we worship according to the Word of God. If this means removal
of those things that have become sacred to us because of tradition
or usage, let them be removed if they cannot be justified by the
Word of God. Pure worship and orthodox doctrine go together. Orthodoxy
in doctrine should be expressed in orthodoxy in worship.
VIII. Decline as Reflected in Relation to Other Church Bodies
From the outset, the Presbyterian Church in
the United States has been in conversation with various other groups
about possible mergers. Various smaller bodies did merge with the
Church in its earliest years. Conversations have been carried on
with a number of other churches, with which the denomination has
been made for union with the UPUSA Church. As of this date, no plan
for such a union has ever been approved by the necessary three-quarters
of the presbyteries. In 1969 the Assembly approved adding to the
Book of Church Order authorizing Union Presbyteries on the basis
of a vote of only a majority of the presbyteries and not the three-fourth
presbytery vote, which is mandatory for organic union. The result
is that ministers and elders from the UPUSA Church now sit in PCUS
courts without their ever having subscribed to the Confession and
Catechisms of the PCUS.
We of course, are aware of the fact that there
is presently a committee working on a new plan. The lack of good
faith by the committee with regard to the so-called "escape clause"
is what has brought us to this place this day. I shall not try to
speculate about what sort of plan will be reported out to the Assembly
when that committee finally does bring its report. I doubt that
it will be upon a firm basis of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms
that the Southern Church now professes.
One of the saddest chapters in the history
of relations with other bodies is the fact that the PCUS did approve
by a three-quarters presbytery vote the plan of union with the Reformed
Church in America. This plan was distinctly a compromise from the
Southern Presbyterian position. The Biblical office of deacon was
to be dropped out. The ordination vows were no longer to be a profession
of one's faith, but a much looser type of vow.
Perhaps the most serious matter of relation
to other bodies has been the fact that the Presbyterian Church in
the United States has been a part of the Federal Council of Churches
and of the World Council of Churches. We cannot take time to document
or bring charges with regard to these various ecumenical groups,
but it is well known that they do not represent the historic Reformed
understanding of the Gospel. They certainly intermeddle with social
and political affairs. They often represent left-wing attitudes
and movements. Thus they have involved their member churches in
left-wing activities. One of the points that has been brought out
in more recent Assemblies, though not enough has been made of it,
is the fact that though we give a token support to these agencies
of less than $10,000 a year, the actual support that goes to them
from the respective boards and agencies of our Church mounts up
to several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Further,
the program materials that our boards and agencies promote before
our Church are all too often directly borrowed from the National
Council of Churches. Thus, though these agencies theoretically are
not immediately involved with us and seem distant to us, they actually
have greatly affected the life of the PCUS.
IX. The Departure from the Spiritual Mission of the Church as
Seen in the Political and Social Actions of the Assembly
Beginning in 1935, the General Assembly set
up a permanent Committee on Moral and Social Welfare. This committee
has changed names and particular functions down through the years
since that time, and is presently represented by the Council on
Christian Relations. In the early years of this committee, the social
pronouncements were fairly mild. The major things done in those
early years, however, was to establish the principle that the Church
could and should speak on social and moral issues. Since World War
II these committees have spoken on more and more items. They have
involved the Church in speaking directly to the President, the Congress,
various cabinet members, various state governments, etc. They have
tried to tell the government what kind of peace proposals they should
have at the end of the war. They have tried to tell the government
that capital punishment should be abandoned. They have proposed
various policies regarding the Vietnam War. The extreme and radical
social issues that the Church has been involved in recent years
have come from this branch of the Church. One of the most striking
actions of the Assembly in this connection was the 1958 Assembly
in which a paper was adopted which said the Church should and would
speak prophetically, as the Old Testament prophets spoke. This was
to adopt the neo-orthodox view of revelation. That is, the abandonment
of the Westminster Confession's position, namely, to the effect
that all special revelation has ceased, with the close of Scripture.
Now the thought is that God continues to speak through the Church.
In effect this view would elevate the Church to a position similar
to that held by Roman Catholics regarding the Church.
This is an obvious departure from the historic
position of the Southern Presbyterian Church, which set forth in
its opening Address the principle of the spirituality of the Church,
and the spiritual mission of the Church. This view of the Church
marked the Southern Presbyterian Church until 1935. Since that time
it has been an abandoned position.
It is my belief that this position is the
more Biblical position regarding the Church, and that as we call
a new Church into being, we should return essentially to this same
view regarding the Church.
In this address, I have tried to summarize
something of what I have found in my own research, and that is to
be published in the book entitled, "How Is the Gold Become Dim!"
There is so much more that could be said. The departures of the
Presbyterian Church U.S. from its historic position is so massive,
that it is difficult to deal with it in a brief time such as we
have had here today. I do not even feel that the book which I have
produced covers it at all adequately. It would take volumes really
to document all that this Church has and is doing against the faith
of her forefathers.
I do not say that the Presbyterian Church
in the U.S. is apostate as a whole. I do say, however, that there
is much apostasy within the Church. And far too much of it has been
manifested at the Assembly level.
It seems to me that we are faced with a two-fold
possibility. If one maintains that a church must be declared apostate
before he leaves it, then he may feel called upon to remain within
the bounds of a church like the PCUS. If he does so, however, it
must be with a sense of obligation to work for reform at every level
and on every front. To fail to do this is to fail in one's Christian
duty to his Church and to his Lord.
For those who, though admitting that the PCUS
is not totally apostate, and yet who believe that to remain within
this church involves them in sin, and thus it becomes a matter of
conscience for them to leave, they, too, must seek for reform.
Simply to separate from the PCUS is not going
to make a better Church. If we separate but are not concerned about
our real commitment to the Bible, both in profession and in life,
we cannot expect to have a better Church. If we separate but are
not concerned about adhering strictly to our Confession and Catechisms,
we will not have a Reformed Church. If we are not concerned about
maintaining true Biblical Presbyterian polity, we will not have
a Biblical Church. If we are not concerned about our worship being
pure, and in accord with the Word, we will not be worshiping God
aright. If we are not concerned about the exercise of discipline
at every level; congregational, presbytery, synod, and General Assembly,
we will not be able to maintain a Church that is true to the Word
and the Reformed faith. If we are not concerned about carrying out
the spiritual mission of the Church, namely to evangelize the world
and to nurture those who are in the Church in the faith, then we
will not have a better Church.
What we need, whether within or without the
PCUS, is a genuine Biblically-based reformation, in which we
individually and as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ are reforming
ourselves more and more in accord with the
Word of God. May God help us, whatever our individual course may
be, to bring about such reform. Amen.