Historic Documents in American Presbyterianism

The Ecclesiastical Trial of Dr. J. Gresham Machen, February/March 1935:

Newsclipping from the Henry Welbon collection - (news copy text reproduced here:)

The Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, "fundamentalist"leader, at left, is conferring with his counsel, Rev. H. McCallister Griffiths, also of Philadelpha. Dr. Machen is being tried on six charges relating to his support of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

Members of the Judicial Commission appointed by the New Brunswick Presbytery to try Dr. Machen in the First Presbyterian Church, Trenton. William A. Cooley, the Rev. Dr. Cordie J. Culp and the Rev. Edward A. Morris are seated left to right. Standing, left to right are the Rev. William T. Magill, Trenton; John A. Hankinson, Dr. Harry B. Kummel and the Rev. John E. Kuizegna, chairman.

"The trial itself took place at a series of sessions during February and March, 1935. First of all the defense unsuccessfully challenged the right of various members of the judicial commission to sit in judgment. Dr. J. Cordie Culp, the moderator, was a signer of the Auburn Affirmation; Dr. John E. Kuizenga was a member of the Princeton Faculty, and in view of the recent Princeton history hardly an objective judge. Thereupon the question of jurisdiction was argued but once again the defendant's position was not sustained. But these reverses were nothing compared with that which developed at the third session when the commission, following Machen's solemnly entered plea of "Not Guilty" to all the charges, ruled that it would not admit evidence bearing on several crucial matters. It would not accept or hear any arguments concerned with the Auburn Affirmation, with the question of the soundness of the Board of Foreign Missions, or with the history of the Princeton-Westminster controversy, and thus it ruled out much of the argument that Machen was prepared to present in defense of his position. But these rulings were still mild compared with the amazing ruling that it could not accept or regard any arguments questioning the legality of the Assembly's mandate. Thus with one stroke Machen was denied the right of having his day in court to prove that the order which he disobeyed was an unlawful order. It remains almost incredible that a Presbyterian court should thus have flouted the most elementary principles of justice. That it happened can only be attributed to a shocking disregard of the basic Protestant principles that God alone is Lord of the conscience and that the Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice by which all controversies are to be judged."
[-Stonehouse, Ned B., J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1954), pages 490-491.]

 

The Ecclesiastical Trial of Dr. J. Gresham Machen
What follows is a reproduction of a news clipping from an unidentified paper, providing a contemporary account of the ecclesiastical trial of Dr. J. Gresham Machen in 1935:

PRESBYTERIANS TO DISCIPLINE ACTING ELDER
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Assembly Orders Synod To Act Against J.E. Bennett, Of N.Y.
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REFUSED TO QUIT INDEPENDENT BOARD
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Dr. Machen's Group Loses New Move; Church Rift Widened
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[By the Associated Press]

Syracuse, N.Y., June 1
-- The one hundred and forty-eighth assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. ordered disciplinary action today against a New York city acting elder for his participation on the Independent Board of Foreign Missions, a fundamentalist group. The assembly instructed the Synod of New York to instigate action against James E. Bennett, New York lawyer, for his refusal to resign from the independent organization. Previously the Presbytery of New York had refused to act.

Formed by Dr. Machen
Formation of the independent board in 1924 by the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Philadelphia, rivaling the officially recognized group, precipitated a fight between fundamentalists and modernists. Dr. Machen and several associates already have been tried on charges of refusing to resign from the board, decisions in which are expected to be handed down by the judicial committee either tomorrow or Wednesday.

Told To Quit Quarreling
The 1,000 clergymen and laymen attending the assembly heard an appeal today to quit "quarreling about how you interpret the Bible and make God known to the children." Offered in the form of a floor motion, the appeal came form David Bogue, of Portage, Wis., an elder, after several hours discussion on various subjects, participated in by fundamentalists and modernists.

Wild Applause Given
The assembly broke into wild applause. The motion was referred to the general council for consideration. Only a few moments before the assembly heard the Rev. Robert L. Vining, of Mifflinburg, Pa., criticize the Board of Christian Education for distributing literature "saturated with modernism and typical of much of the literature published by the Board of Christian Education." The Rev. Mr. Vining mentioned these booklets specifically. They were titled "Christian Beliefs" and "A Survey of New Testament History," by Eliot Porter, widely used in Presbyterian conferences, and a primary teachers' pamphlet. The Pennsylvania minister attempted to amend the board's program for the coming year to eliminate "such expressions of modernism," but the assembly voted to refer the motion to committee.

Vote Is Delayed
The fundamentalist minority suffered a further setback when the assembly refused an immediate vote on its proposal to restrict members of the Board of Christian Education "to only such members who are faithful to the doctrinal standards." The proposal, drafted by the fundamentalists headed by the Rev. Dr. Machen, was referred to the committee on policy.

Long Delay Seen
This action, it was pointed out, generally means a deferment of consideration for at least another year, or may "pigeon hole" the measure for all time. The fundamentalists sought to instruct the Board of Christian Education "that no one who denies the absolute necessity of such loyalty to the Bible, to the confession of faith, shall serve on its staff." The assembly's action further widened the breach between the fundamentalists and modernists, marked within the last twenty-four hours by another attack by Dr. Machen upon modernist doctrines.

Developments Listed
These were the rapid-fire developments as the one hundred and forty-eighth assembly moved into its fifth day:
1
. Dr. Machen, fundamentalist leader, reiterated that the Judicial Commission decisions last week against his faction "renders inevitable a division in the church," and charged that the present organization is "dominated by a modernism which is profoundly opposed to the Christian religion."
2. Announcement of a meeting tomorrow night of Machen followers to discuss preliminary plans for creation of a separate church, preparatory to the Philadelphia convention late this month of the Constitutional Covenant Union.
3. Fundamentalists protested what they termed modernistic policies by the Board of Foreign Missions in China, and prepared to demand a reorganization of the Board of Christian Education "so as to assure the teaching of our doctrines."

Preaches Sermon
Dr. Machen's latest attack upon the modernist doctrines was made in a Sunday sermon in which he criticized what he termed the church's demand that "we ministers submit our consciences to a living and shifting human authority." "To that demand, he declared, "we must say very simply that 'we ought to obey God rather than men.' We cannot agree to take the Bible from our pulpits and put the last minutes of the General Assembly in its place.

[article transcribed from page 3 of an as yet unidentified newspaper]