REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,
[originally self-published, Wilmington, Delaware, in 1968]
I have been asked by many of our friends to record in permanent form the historical material presented in a series of messages given on successive Wednesday evenings at Augusta Street Presbyterian Church, Greenville, S.C., in 1961 and 1962. We have sought to remove the preaching material so that all of the readers of this material may have facts of history concerning the background and development of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. This denomination was constituted in 1965 by the union of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, General Synod, and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church was formerly known as the Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc., which was established in 1938. The change of name, Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc. to Evangelical Presbyterian Church, was made in 1961 at Tacoma, Washington, so that this church would not be confused with another denomination which took a similar name and was organized in 1956.
Growth of Unbelief in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.
from 1900 to the Auburn Affirmation
According to the Form of Government of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., candidates for the ministry are to answer in the affirmative eight questions, the first three of which are as follows:
1. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice?
2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith of this church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures?
3. Do you approve of the government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America?
However, in 1889, fifteen presbyteries overtured the General Assembly asking that some change be made in the doctrinal standards. In response a committee recommended that the following questions be submitted to the presbyteries:
1. Do you desire a revision of the Confession of Faith?
2. If so, in what respect and to what extent?
Some revision was favored by 134 presbyteries and a committee was appointed for the purpose. In 1891 a report was brought before the General Assembly recommending many revisions of the Confession and also revisions in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. These were then submitted to the presbyteries and were defeated.
The causes of defeat were:
1. There was strong leadership for the conservatives by Dr. Francis L. Patton and Dr. B.B. Warfield of Princeton Seminary.
2. An important heresy trial against Dr. Charles A. Briggs, which brought to light the fact that the doctrinal viewpoint of some who favored revision was the same as that of Dr. Briggs, namely, that the Scriptures are not free from error.
In 1893 Dr. Charles A. Briggs was declared guilty of heresy and was suspended from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., because he believed the Scriptures were not free from error. This action is clearly recorded in the minutes of the General Assembly of 1893, page 166.
In the early 1900s pressure for the revision of the standards was again in evidence. Several doctrines were called in question, but the most important one was the doctrine of election. In 1903 the standards were changed in order to make them more palatable to Arminians. That this action was for weakening the stand of the church on Gods sovereign election is evidenced by union with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1906, which church maintained a weak view of Gods sovereignty. In succeeding years pressures grew in the church for greater tolerance toward those who held variant views with respect to the Scriptures and the Confession.
In 1918 three churches united to form First Presbyterian Church, New York City. They called as pastor Rev. Mr. George Alexander, D.D., and as associate pastor, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Baptist. On Sunday morning May 21, 1922, Dr. Fosdick preached a famous sermon titled: Shall the Fundamentalists Win? In this he contrasts the conservative and liberal views on the Virgin Birth, the inspiration of Scripture, the Atonement and the Second Advent of Christ and pleads for tolerance of both views within the church. In 1923 Dr. Fosdick gave the Lyman Beecher lectures on preaching before the Yale Divinity School, which were later published under the title: The Modern Use of the Bible. This material clearly sets forth the liberal beliefs of Dr. Fosdick which are at complete variance with clear Scriptural teaching.
In October 1922 by a vote of 72 21 the Presbytery of Philadelphia overtured the General Assembly as follows:
The Presbytery of Philadelphia hereby respectfully overtures the General Assembly to direct the Presbytery of New York to take such action as will require the preaching and teaching in the First Presbyterian Church of New York City to conform to the system of doctrine taught in the Confession of Faith.
The General Assembly met in May 1923. There were two candidates for moderator: Rev. Mr. C.F. Wishart, D.D., president of the College of Wooster and the Honorable William Jennings Bryan, Secretary of the State under President Wilson. Wishart represented the liberals and Bryan represented the conservatives. Wishart was elected by 24 votes. In this Assembly the Overtures Committee recommended rejection of the Philadelphia overture and favored allowing New York Presbytery to conduct its own investigation. A minority report was presented by Rev. Mr. Gordon A. MacLennan, D.D. of Philadelphia. It was signed by Dr. MacLennan only. This report called on the Assembly to direct the Presbytery of New York to require the preaching and teaching at First Presbyterian Church to conform to the Bible and the Westminster Confession of Faith. It went on to ask the Assembly to reaffirm its faith in the infallibility of the Bible, the Virgin Birth of Christ, His Substitutionary Atonement, His Bodily Resurrection and His mighty miracles as essential doctrines of the Holy Scriptures and in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
After strenuous debate the minority report was adopted by a vote of 439 359. This decision was hailed by the conservatives as a great victory for historic Christianity, and then they went to sleep. The liberals, on the other hand, were greatly aroused and became determined to bring the witness of the church into conformity with their point of view.
New York Presbytery, very evidently angered by the Assembly action, immediately issued a protest against the action on the following grounds:
1. The decision was not substantiated by evidence.
2. The Assembly passed a judgment on a matter not properly before the Assembly.
The New York Presbytery met on June 11, 1923, and acted in such a way as to defy the Assembly by licensing two young men, Henry P. VanDusen and Cedric O. Lehman, both of whom refused to affirm their faith in the Virgin Birth, one of the doctrines affirmed by the Assembly and attacked by Dr. Fosdick. At this same meeting a committee was appointed to deal with the General Assemblys action concerning the doctrines taught at First Presbyterian Church of New York City. We see in this action the liberals uniting for attack against the reaffirmation of faith adopted by the Assembly of 1923.
This committee reported in October as follows:
1. They were convinced that the doctrines of Grace were being proclaimed in the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church.
2. They expressed their confidence and loyalty in the session of the church.
3. They expressed their readiness to receive more reports.
4. They affirmed their faith in the Bible.
5. They believed the sermon, Shall the Fundamentalists Win? was perhaps ill-advised and had been distributed without the knowledge of the session.
Conservatives immediately objected to this report, but the Judicial Commission of the General Assembly ruled that this was a satisfactory answer to the Assemblys mandate to deal with the situation at First Presbyterian Church.
In December of 1923, 150 ministers of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., met in Auburn, New York, and issued a now famous document which made abundantly clear their position on the Scriptures. This document is commonly called, The Auburn Affirmation.
It is important to understand that legal matters concerning this Affirmation will not be dealt with here. The doctrinal position of men who signed the Affirmation is the concern of this history, not the legality of the actions of assemblies. We are not concerned with technicalities of government in this history, but we are very much concerned with the historical facts concerning a departure from the historic, established position of the church on its attitude toward the Scriptures.
The Affirmation states:
The previous paragraph from the Affirmation makes it clear that the signers deny inspiration as reaffirmed by the Assembly of 1923, and yet affirm belief in Inspiration. Evidently any definition of inspiration which makes room for errors in the Scriptures would be acceptable, but such a definition as, The Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error, is declared to be out of harmony with the Scriptures or the Westminster Confession of Faith, according to the Affirmationists.
It is true that the Confession of Faith does not state in so many words that the Scriptures are without error, but the Confession does say:
The Affirmationists declares that the Confession does not teach that the Bible is without error, but how can these things taught in the Confession be true if the Bible does contain error? For example, the Confession says the Scriptures are the infallible truth in Chapter I, Section 5. What is the difference between a book which is infallible truth and a book which is without error?
This is the greatest point at issue in the Auburn Affirmation, for it must be clear to every reasonable mind, that if the Scriptures are declared by men to contain error, man then becomes the judge of what is error and what is truth. This would make man the judge of the Scriptures. How can one receive the Scriptures as the only infallible rule of faith and practice and then sit in judgment upon the rule? Yet this is exactly the mental gymnastics of the Auburn Affirmation.
Once having rejected the authority of the Scriptures, the Affirmationists then relegate to the level of theory such precious doctrines as the Virgin Birth of Christ, His Miracles, His Substitutionary Atonement, and the Resurrection of His Body. All of which are clearly supported by the Scripture and the Confession.
The Auburn Affirmation states the following:
The fact that men could sign this document and still remain in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., in good and regular standing indicates a willingness of the Presbyterian Church to tolerate open denial of the authority of the Word of God, the Bible. The Bible and the Book of Discipline of the church demand heresy trials for those holding such views, but conservatives failed to bring men to trial. The end result was the take-over by the liberals.
When the highest governing body of a Presbyterian Church allows unbelief of Scriptural doctrine to remain in its organization, such as is evidenced by allowing Affirmationists to remain in the church, the next step is that agencies for education and mission activity will reflect the views of these deniers of the faith.
Princeton Seminary, strongly conservative until 1900, began to show signs of change shortly thereafter. In 1914 Dr. J. Ross Stevenson became president. This man, who believed in allowing various views of doctrine in the church, was elected by one vote. He believed the Seminary could not represent the entire constituency of the church and continue to emphasize only the conservative position. His policy was to represent the church, but most of the faculty wanted to remain true to the Westminster Confession and the charter of the school.
The faculty was right in their attitude. Men are not called upon to make an institution of God conform to the views of men, but rather to conform to the standard of God, which is the Bible. A seminary is a place to train prophets of God and not a place to promote doctrinal standards broad enough for belief and unbelief to dwell together. The great tragedy in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., was that conservatives accepted the doctrine of co-existence of belief and unbelief within the denomination.
Since the liberals prevailed in the courts of the church, the organization of Princeton was completely changed in 1929. At this time two Auburn Affirmationists were placed on the Board of Trustees, with the result that four strong conservative scholars refused to continue as members of the teaching staff: Robert Dick Wilson, J. Gresham Machen, Oswald T. Allis, and Cornelius Van Til.
These men took the lead in the formation of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was organized as an independent seminary by ministers of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. It was free from any control by the courts of the church. The seminary trained young men and sent them into various Presbyterian churches without any hindrance. The ministers who started the seminary were not in any way censored for starting this independent seminary. They continued to operate as an independent seminary within the frame work of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. There was a precedent for this in that liberals operated Union Seminary of New York as the same type of independent agency, with the purpose of training men in their viewpoint.
The desire to allow for the co-existence of belief and unbelief in Princeton Seminary was also evidenced in the foreign mission board. There are many evidences of this, including the following:
1. The book Rethinking Missions was issued as a report of the Commission of Appraisal of the Laymans Inquiry After One Hundred Years.
The Presbyterian minister representative on this Commission was Rev. Mr. William P. Merrill, D.D., a signer of the Auburn Affirmation. A statement from this report suggests a new attitude on the matter of missions:
Christianity finds itself in point of fact aligned in this world-wide issue with the non-Christian faiths in Asia. . . There are thus several factors conspiring to one end: namely, the necessity that the modern mission make a positive effort, first of all to know and understand the religions around it, then to recognize and associate itself with whatever kindred elements there are in them.
This is completely opposite to the object of foreign missions. The objective of foreign missions is to convert people from every false religion to the one true religion, Christianity. Christians are under commission of the Lord to go and to preach the Gospel and to teach all nations the truth of the Word of God. There can be no compromise with existing religions.
2. The attitude of the Foreign Missions Board toward Pearl S. Buck, a missionary in China.
Dr. Machen exposed before the Board the non-Christian beliefs of Mrs. Buck. In reference to Christ she said: To some of us He is still the divine Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. But to many of us He has ceased to be that. In reference to sin, she said, I do not believe in original sin. I agree with the Chinese who feel their people should be protected from such superstition.
3. The Board of Foreign Missions had Auburn Affirmationists as members and also as missionaries.
The office of the candidate secretary, which is entrusted with the task of reviewing prospective missionaries, fell into the hands of an Auburn Affirmationist. This led conservative men to see the need of a new board of missions which would promote only Biblical missions. To this end, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was established. The Independent Board was organized and operated exactly as the independent agencies of Westminster Seminary and Union Seminary had been, but members of the Independent Board came under severe attack of the church and were censored by the church courts.
Trials of Conservatives
In Acts 5:29 the Apostle Peter in response to the demands of the religious leaders of his day said: We ought to obey God rather than men. The issue was a doctrinal one, having to do with the acceptance or rejection of the person and work of Jesus. This word from the apostles was one of the Scriptural bases for, and a definite encouragement to, the men of the Independent Board for Foreign Missions when the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. ordered these men to either resign from the Board or suffer judicial censure. We have carefully pointed out the Independent Board was formed after the same plan as the independent Union Seminary of New York City and the independent Westminster Seminary of Philadelphia. This Board was formed by Presbyterian ministers and elders in the interest of Presbyterian missions. It was independent of the church in the same manner and to the same extent as the seminaries. The legality of board membership of Westminster Seminary was never questioned, but with the formation of the new Independent Board a question of constitutional legality was raised almost immediately.
The 146th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., meeting in Cleveland in 1934 issued a Deliverance on the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. This Deliverance says:
This section of the Deliverance places the authority of the courts of the church on a par with the authority of Scripture. It makes support of boards of the church mandatory regardless of their actions. Yet, the constitution of the church affirms that courts of men are subject to error.
Presbyterian ministers and elders at ordination agree:
In order to be true to this vow, efforts were made from 1923 1933 to rid the foreign missions board of the church of those who differed inn doctrine with the historic position of the church. These efforts were not successful and thus the Independent Board was formed. The General Assembly failed to deal with modernism, but they were very quick to deal with what they falsely construed to be insubordination to the Constitution.
The Deliverance directed officers and presbyters as follows:
Most of the members of the new board stood firm and refused to obey the demands of the General Assembly which demanded action they believed to be contrary to the Word of God, the Bible. In accordance with the direction of the General Assembly, members of the board were brought to trial with their only offense being refusal to resign from the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.
The trials of J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Carl McIntire, H. McAllister Griffiths, Merrill T. MacPherson, Edwin H. Rian, Charles J. Woodbridge, Paul Woolley, and Harold S. Laird were held in compliance with orders of the Deliverance issued by the Assembly. These trials really effected a breach in the church which led to the formation of a new church, The Presbyterian Church of America. This makes it abundantly clear that the so-called separatist churches came into being as a result of the suspension of conservative, Bible-believing men. The church has greatly changed. At first men were suspended because of their denial of the Inspiration of the Scripture; now we find men being suspended because they refused to support boards and agencies which had men who denied the Scriptures.
Let us note that the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. specifically states: The Supreme Judge by whom all controversies of religion are to be determined. . . can be none other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures. The courts of the church however in the case of these men refused to hear the Scriptural case against their own board of missions, and passed judgment on these men who had established a board which would perform the work of evangelism abandoned by the church-controlled Board of Missions. They did not allow any defense. These men were put out of the church because of a commandment of men which they could not obey without disobeying the Word of God.
Development of Fundamental Churches
Men of God were suspended from the ministry simply because they would not give up their freedom to promote missions under an independent board. These men were not guilty of heresy; they were as a matter of fact, condemned because they stood for the Word of God as verbally inspired and against those who took a liberal view of Scripture.
After the suspension of God-fearing men from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., many who shared their beliefs began to realize that unbelief, such as was evidenced by Auburn Affirmationists, was in control of the Presbyterian Church. It was clear that the schools, mission board, Christian Education Committee and other agencies were in control of men not committed to the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and life. As a result these people began to search the Scriptures as to their responsibility in view of the apparent condition of the church. God in His providence used the suspension of God-fearing men to point up more clearly many Scriptures which required separation from apostasy and unjudged unbelief.
Having examined the Scriptures carefully and realizing the call of God to separate from apostasy and unbelief, many separated from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and formed a new denomination. This is the only course of action agreeable to the Word of God when unbelief is in control of a denomination, and it is evident that the leadership cannot be changed. A church which condones unbelief in its midst is not worthy of the fellowship of those who are completely committed to Christ and the Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
Unbelief may enter any denomination, but it is the responsibility of the courts of the church (not civil courts) to put out of the church any who openly reject the authority of the Scriptures. The Discipline of all denominations provides for the suspension of men who deny the truth. For example, Chapter I, Section VI, of the Book of Discipline of the Presbyterian Church says:
And in Section VIII it says:
While the struggle between conservatives and liberals in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. was going on, the same struggle was going on in the Northern Baptist Convention, in the Methodist Church, and other churches with similar results. Thus various fundamental groups were established. The Bible Protestant Church is made up of Methodists who took the fundamental position. The Continuing Methodist Church in the South, which refused to go along with union, developed fundamental churches. The Evangelical Methodist group came out of the Northern Methodist denomination. The General Association of Regular Baptists and the Conservative Baptist Convention are fundamental groups which have broken off because of unbelief in Baptist Conventions. The Scriptural requirements of separation from apostasy and unbelief led to the formation of all of these fundamental churches and many others. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, came into being on the basis of Scriptural requirement also.
Development of Faith Seminary and Bible Presbyterian Synod
On June 11, 1936, thirty-four ministers and seventeen ruling elders constituted themselves the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. This was the official parting of the ways between those who stood for the purity of the church and those who were willing to tolerate unbelief and outright denial of historic Christian doctrine. God was honored by those who stood opposed to evident unbelief in the old church. God honored these men in allowing them to suffer for the cause of Christ by being suspended from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
After the establishment of the new denomination, the Presbyterian Church continued its vicious attack upon these men and the new church. On August 13, 1936, a complaint was filed in the civil court against the use of the name, Presbyterian Church of America, on the ground of its similarity to that of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The court handed down a ruling in June 1938 in favor of the plaintiff and the new church changed its name to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
The able leader of the new church was Dr. J. Gresham Machen. He was not only a man of conviction, but a world-famous theologian. Even those who remained in the old denomination recognized his position. Caspar W. Hodge, Ph.D., professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Seminary wrote: I regarded him as the greatest theologian in the English speaking world. Dr. Machen was not destined to continue as leader for long. The church was formed in June 1936. Dr. Machen was elected moderator without a dissenting vote, but God in His providence called him home in January 1937. This event undoubtedly had much to do with the difference that rapidly developed over questions of Christian liberty and the pre-millennial return of Christ. The young church, suffering the loss of its most outstanding leader, developed factions on these two matters.
The difference became so acute that a division was effected. One group continued as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the new group was known as the Bible Presbyterian Synod. Members of this Synod were immediately instrumental in forming Faith Theological Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware. This seminary was carried on in the building of First Independent Church of Wilmington, Delaware, pastored by Dr. Harold S. Laird.
Some in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church immediately charged that those who organized the Bible Presbyterian Synod when there seemed to be no way to settle these differences in the church were guilty of schism. Schism, of course, is the rending of the body without sufficient Scriptural warrant. Bible Presbyterians asked, Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3). Certainly peace and harmony were better served by the formation of the new denomination and Faith Seminary, and God in His providence has been pleased to bless and use both of these denominations for His own glory.
Development of Collingswood Synod
and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church
Following the establishment of Faith Seminary and the Bible Presbyterian Synod, the church continued to grow for eighteen years. A new denomination was formed under the leadership of Dr. Carl McIntire. This group selected as its name the Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood Synod, and there were three issues involved which caused its formation:
1. Unwillingness of the Bible Presbyterian Synod to participate in censorious judgment of Christian brethren.
2. The withdrawal of the Bible Presbyterian Synod from the American Council of Christian Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches.
3. A difference in viewpoint on the nature of true Presbyterianism.
The first has to do with a difference of the interpretation and application of Scripture; the second has to do with a disagreement concerning practices of the American Council and International Council of Christian Churches; and the third has to do with church government, or the application and interpretation of the Constitution of the church.
The Scriptures are very strongly against censorious judgment. The word, censorious is defined by Webster as addicted to censure; severe on others. This type of judgment is distinctly forbidden by our Lord in Matthew 7:1, where we read, Judge not, that ye be not judged.
This text does not forbid all kinds of judgment, for this would be in contradiction of other Scripture. In this same chapter the Lord gives principles of judgment and in verse 20 specifically says: Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. The whole tenor of Scripture is simply against harsh censure of men, and especially of the motives of men.
The Bible Presbyterian Synod, while very young, joined with Bible Protestants and others to form the American Council of Christian Churches, and later the American Council called for the formation of the International Council of Christian Churches. The purpose of the American Council was to raise an effective voice against the unbelief, or modernism, of the then-called Federal Council of Christian Churches. [Ed.: Later renamed the National Council of Churches] The purpose was good and the Council did accomplish some good objectives. There can be no doubt that if the Council had continued this emphasis, harmony would have continued; but unfortunately a new emphasis developed.
Leaders of the American Council of Christian Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches began harsh judgment of Christian brethren. An example of this type of judgment is in a book titled, Servants of Apostasy, by Dr. Carl McIntire. Dr. McIntire, one of the leaders of the councils and a member of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, discussed a criticism of the International Council to the effect that the Council was not interested in evangelism. His answer was that each of our churches was evangelistic, which was true. Following this answer, Dr. McIntire turned upon his critics (the National Association of Evangelicals) with this statement:
Here we see the type of judgment to which exception is taken. This is a clear judgment of the motives of men, which judgment may or may not be true. Only God knows what constrained these men to emphasize evangelism.
is the answer to the criticism of the National Association of Evangelical
ministers that separatist men are not spiritual. On this matter
the writer turns upon his critics the statement:
How can the writer claim to know so perfectly the motives of these men? Did they act in order to justify disobedience? Did they indeed assume a pious attitude? Only God knows.
When members of the Bible Presbyterian Synod protested against harsh judgment of Christian brethren, they were accused of being soft on separation, which accusation is false. I have been accused as one of those illustrating softness, but the argument used does not prove the contention. The basis on which men were accused of a soft approach is that they forsook the American Council and the International Council of Christian Churches and that the Bible Presbyterian Synod withdrew from the American Council and the International Council, which, to Dr. McIntire, means one has removed himself from the controversy with apostasy. This, of course, does not follow.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, which continues the testimony of the Bible Presbyterian Synod is as much involved in the struggle with unbelief as ever. No concession has been made to unbelief; but neither is the censorious judgment of the self-styled militant supported. The militants position in this matter is clearly contrary to the Scriptural injunction against censorious judgment, and this is the true difference. Our church continues to believe in the principle of separation from apostasy and unbelief, but it refuses to participate in this kind of judgment of brethren. The leadership of the Collingswood Synod has concluded that this position makes one soft on separation, while the real issue is unwillingness to participate in judgment of Christian brethren in a manner forbidden by the Scripture.
The practices of the American and International Councils, which were objected to by the Bible Presbyterian Synod, revolved around statistics, pronouncements of the councils and the inability of the denomination to elect representatives to the Executive Committee of the councils.
The American Council released to radio and government that the American Council membership was 1,524,160. The controversy with regard to this figure was that, by no stretch of the imagination, did the American Council ever have the membership equaling this statement. This figure was based upon signatures which were obtained by asking the American Council to represent individuals on radio only. It is admitted by the Council that these signatures were never actually counted. It is further admitted that such signatures were not available at the time the complaint was issued against the Council. The leadership of the Council, however, only agreed to remove these names in accordance with certain pre-suppositions which they themselves were willing to make. We quote from the report of the statistician of the American Council, given in 1954:
Assuming that the original signers of these petitions would all be dead within fifty years, this would mean that they would die at the rate of 5,000 per year. Spreading this over the ten year period from 1944 to 1954, we could reasonably assume that 25,000 of them, by this time, found their way into American Council churches. This, in my judgment, would leave us abundantly on the safe side in claiming 175,000 in this classification.
This is submitted as evidence of the unwillingness of the American Council in 1954 to present accurate statistics which could be certified to anyone. There are many other indications of the unwillingness of the leadership of the Council to face the facts concerning statistics, but the above paragraph shows the lengths to which men will go to justify unwarranted statistical claims.
Many of the members of the Bible Presbyterian Synod were against the Councils constant resolutions on purely governmental matters. The church has the responsibility for the proclamation of the Gospel; the church has the responsibility to stand against unbelief; the church has the responsibility to speak on moral issues; but the Councils pronouncements went much beyond matters of concern to the church.
The Bible Presbyterian Synod was concerned that the denominational viewpoint should be properly represented on the Executive Committee. To accomplish this, the Synod suggested that it should have the right to elect its representative to the Executive Committee. Delegates of the Bible Presbyterian Synod to the American Council were willing to go along with allowing the Synod to nominate three men out of which the American Council could elect a delegate to represent the church. The American Council refused to allow denominational groups to even nominate their choice for representation to the Executive Committee. The Council operated under Constitutional provision in Article VII, Sections 1 and 2, which were as follows:
Section 1: The officers of the Council shall be: a president, vice-president, recording secretary and treasurer.
Section 2: The executive committee shall consist of these officers, six members at large, and one member from each General Constituent body of the denominational groups, all to be elected by the Council.
Thus, the denominations had nothing to do with the selection of the Executive Committee, which is really the controlling committee of the Council..
The right of the Council to adopt this practice is recognized. However, a church which believes it should have the right to name its representatives on an Executive Committee of a council of churches also has the right to withdraw from a council which refuses to allow the denomination to elect, or at least nominate, its representative to the Executive Committee of the council. This was a basic issue with the men of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, who voted to withdraw. These men felt that they could best select the member of their denomination which would represent the viewpoint of the denomination on the Executive Committee. The American Council refused to recognize the reasonableness of this request and the Bible Presbyterian Synod withdrew from the councils. The Collingswood Synod was formed by men who were determined to continue membership in the councils.
The third issue which caused the formation of Collingswood Synod had to do with the interpretation and application of the Constitution of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, which states:
This clearly gives the Synod the right to operate under Synod-controlled boards and agencies or independent agencies. A Synod-controlled agency is one established by the church to do a specific task for the church. It is an agency which has board members elected by the Synod and recognizes responsibility to the Synod.
An independent agency is made up of a self-appointed group to work in a certain area, such as missions, education, etc. Usually this group is self-perpetuating, which means that board members re-elect themselves to the board or may invite others to join the board. It tends to be an ingrown thing. It is responsible to no one but itself. It makes appeals to the churches of the Synod for support, but it is not responsible to the Synod.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types. The Synod-controlled agency may be forced to operate a little more slowly, desiring to obtain Synod approval for a course of action before the action is taken, thus reflecting its responsibility to the Synod. An independent agency is free to act at any time and may quickly dispose of matters which arise. This was suggested to the Committee on National Missions as a reason why it should consider becoming independent.
Some of the men of the church contended that the section of the Constitution quoted above was written to limit the development of Synod-controlled agencies; others viewed this section of the Constitution as a protection against a man ever being put out of the Synod because he was a member of an independent agency. For example, men were put out of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. because they continued membership in the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. ruled that this was insubordination to the church. With the provision of Chapter 10, Section 6, in the Bible Presbyterian Constitution, a man clearly had the right to be a part of an independent agency and maintain membership in the church.
The whole question of whether boards and agencies should be controlled by Synod or operated independently is a matter of judgment. The Bible Presbyterian Synod clearly had the constitutional right to establish Synod-controlled agencies, yet when new Synod-controlled agencies were established, certain men who took exception to this action, which is clearly in line with the Constitution, withdrew from the Synod.
In 1955 the Synod took action to move in the direction of establishing Synod-controlled agencies. A Committee on Christian Education was established in the same format as the Committee on National Missions. On this same day, the establishment of a Magazine Committee was approved and a Committee for the establishment of a liberal arts college was approved. On completion of the vote on the college, Dr. McIntire and others left the Synod floor and met outside. This meeting resulted in the establishment of what they called A Committee for True Presbyterianism. It was a small group of ministers and elders who took this action.
It was these differences which made it increasingly difficult for the majority of the church to work together with the minority of ministers who left the floor of Synod on this occasion. During succeeding months, there was considerable letter writing and publication concerning the difference between the two groups. The division was visible from the time Dr. McIntire and his people left the floor during the St. Louis Synod, whether the Collingswood Synod is willing to recognize this fact or not.
The next meeting of the Bible Presbyteian Synod, Inc., was in April 1956, at the YMCA in St. Louis, Missouri. This Synod was boycotted by most of those who had formed the Committee on True Presbyterianism. The stated reason for boycotting was the accusation that this Synod was not called in accordance with the Constitution. This is simply not according to fact. According to the Constitution, each Synod was responsible for appointing the time and place of the succeeding Synod. In the history of the church, when a time and place could not be definitely ascertained, the responsibility for naming the time and place of the next meeting was delegated by the Synod to a responsible party.
In the 1955 Synod it was moved that the choosing of the time and place of the meeting of the next Synod be referred to the Moderator. This was seconded and passed. This action is in perfect harmony with the Bible Presbyterian Constitution and past precedent. When Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. called for the meeting of the 19th General Synod, April 5 11, 1956, in St. Louis, Missouri, it was clearly his prerogative to do so.
Dr. J. Gordon Holdcroft, at the opening of the 19th Synod, presented a paper titled, "Reasons for Objecting to the Time and Place of the 19th General Synod. They are five in number:
1. When at the 1955 Synod, the Moderator was given authority to set the time and place of the 1956 meeting of Synod, we believe Synod by no means contemplated so great a change in time.
This is irrelevant. Action taken in 1955 authorized the Moderator to call the meeting, and to set both the time and place.
2. Because of meeting at this unusual time, some churches are deprived of Elder representation because in these churches Elders could not obtain leave of absence from their employment at this time.
This, of course, is true of any Synod and is irrelevant.
3. In addition, there is a considerable number of churches which will not be represented at all because they consider it to be highly irregular to meet this early without previous decision of Synod.
There is nothing irregular about a meeting called in complete accordance with the 1955 Synod action. This is clearly constitutional.
4. Also at a time like this when there are so many and such grave questions confronting us, a primary consideration in calling any Synod should be the obtaining of as near a complete representation as possible, so that whatever decisions are arrived at they would be, and would be recognized to be, as nearly as possible the decisions of the whole body eligible to participate in the making of those decisions.
Members of the Synod agree that there were grave questions confronting the church, and this necessitated the calling of this meeting at the time and place requested by a large number of ministers and elders of the church. Dr. Buswell, as the Moderator of the 1955 Synod, could be charged with dereliction of duty, if he refused to respond to 146 petitions to call this meeting. The grave questions referred to should have caused men to give this Synod priority over other matters.
5. A fifth consideration is that a number of institutions and agencies cannot possibly make and submit complete reports of their work this early in the year.
The grave questions referred to were the reason for the over-riding consideration which caused petitions to be submitted to Dr. Buswell for the 19th Synod. To delay Synod for the preparation of reports of agencies and institutions with critical matters needing attention would have been to make the agencies and institutions more important than the questions needing attention.
Dr. Holdcrofts objections were heard and inserted into the minutes, and a reply by Dr. Buswell was also heard and inserted into the minutes. To any unbiased judge, the call and proceedings of the 19th Synod will be found in keeping with the Constitution and previous precedent and evidence good judgment.
The 19th Synod made provision for the 20th Synod as follows:
For elders of the church to boycott the meeting in St. Louis, which was held in accordance with the Constitution, and join in the establishment of a Synod with no legal foundation in the Constitution of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, constitutes the establishment of a new denomination. At this point, the division was not only visible, but two organizations actually did exist.
At the pro-re-nata meeting of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc., held in Columbus, Ohio, on November 27, the following action was taken:
It was moved and seconded that this motion be substituted for the pending motion. It was moved to amend the substitute motion by adding the words unless they repudiate their affiliation with such Synod. This was seconded and passed. Synod then proceeded to vote on whether to substitute the motion of the committee, as amended, for the pending motion, or not. The voting resulted in the substitution being made.
The motion of the committee, now the main motion, was adopted. This action simply indicates on the part of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc., that it recognized the action in Collingswood as establishment of a new church and recommended dismissal of members from Presbytery who had joined what became known as the Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood Synod.
It was not the desire of any member of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc. to effect this division. It was hoped that differences might be settled, but with the establishment of the new Synod November 23 27, at Collingswood, New Jersey, this was no longer possible.
The Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc. continued and the Bible Presbyterian Church, Collingswood Synod continued. There were two distinct bodies. In 1961 the Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc., though it represented the large majority of churches and ministers, changed its name to Evangelical Presbyterian Church, in order to avoid confusion with the newly established Collingswood Synod group. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which is the continuation of the original Bible Presbyterian Synod, continued under the same Constitution and with the same objectives, principles, and rights of continuity as the Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc. which began in 1938.
The Bible Presbyterian Synod, Inc. continued the same testimony which was established in 1938 with the same constitution, and the continuity of the Bible Presbyterian Church remains with this group.
In 1957 Dr. R. Laird Harris, Chairman of the Fraternal Relations Committee and I, as General Secretary of the Committee on National Missions, met with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, General Synod, at their annual meeting at the Houston Mission, Houston, Kentucky, May 15 19. This was an informal approach to the Reformed Presbyterians to ascertain their interest concerning the possibility of their considering union with the Bible Presbyterian Synod. These representatives were permitted to address the body and answered questions concerning the outlook of the Bible Presbyterian Synod and expressed their interest in fellowship with those of like precious faith. This meeting was reported to the Bible Presbyterian Synod at its meeting in June 1957 and is reported in those minutes on page 29.
During the years between 1957 1964 constant contact was maintained with the Reformed Presbyterians. It should be carefully noted that the group with which union was finally effected must be known by the full title, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, General Synod, because there are other denominations with Reformed Presbyterians as a part of their name. A brief historical statement was given at the time of union by the Clerk of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and some of the important aspects of this are as follows:
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Scotland religion and politics were mixed and closely associated. There was no separation of church and state. In 1638 there was signed a National Covenant, in which Presbyterians refused to bow to the kings demand that the church become Episcopal, with the king as its head. King Jesus alone was to reign in ecclesiastical affairs. In 1643 the Solemn League and Covenant was signed by the English and Scottish Parliaments, guaranteeing religious freedom to Scottish and English Presbyterians. The years 1680 to 1688 mark a time of severe persecution for these Covenanters, as they became known because of their signing of covenants and their stress upon covenant theology. They were also called Cameronians after one of their leaders, Richard Cameron, who was martyred for his faith. They were first called Reformed Presbyterians about 1701; Reformed for their theology and Presbyterian for their government.
From the middle of the seventeenth century many of these Reformed Presbyterians immigrated, or were banished, from Scotland to the American colonies. At mid-century, Rev. Mr. John Cuthbertson arrived from Scotland and spent the ensuing twenty years endeavoring to form these Covenanters into congregations. By 1774 there were several congregations and praying societies, and the first American Presbytery was formed in that year. In the same year William McGuffey and his family immigrated to Philadelphia from Wigtown, Scotland. He was a Reformed Presbyterian and his grandsons, William Homes McGuffey and Alexander Hamilton McGuffey were the authors of the famous McGuffey Readers, that were used for seventy-five years or more all over America.
The church of Scotland was asked to send non-voting advisors to the Westminster Assembly. They sent eight. It is said that when the committee working on the Shorter Catechism needed an answer to Question No. 4, What is God?, it bowed in prayer for divine guidance. Rev. Mr. George Gillespie, youngest member of the Assembly, and a member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, was called upon to lead in prayer, and he began his request with words similar to these: O God, who art a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in Thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth. . . The committee immediately recognized that it had its definition!
In 1782 in America all the ministers and many of the people of the Reformed Presbyterian Church united with the Associated Presbyterians to form the Associate Reformed Church. The remaining families without ministers, continued their societies and carried on their worship and work. Mr. James McKinney arrived from Ireland and began to organize these people. Regular societies were formed and the church grew in Pennsylvania and New York. It was about 1795 that the oldest present congregation in Duanesburg, New York, was formed.
The first Synod was constituted in Philadelphia in May 1809 with Rev. Mr. Gilbert McMaster as Moderator and Rev. Mr. John Black as Stated Clerk. There were three Presbyteries: Northern, Middle and Southern. By 1856 there were seven Presbyteries: six in the United States and one in India. Unfortunately there was a division in 1833 over the question of civil relations. The India Mission was founded in 1836. Today there are two mission stations and five congregations with Indian pastors and elders.
During its long history the church has had disappointments and setbacks. There are many reasons: population shifts have caused decreases in church memberships, disagreements over the singing of Psalms, the use of musical instruments in worship, refusal to compromise the faith with modernism, to mention a few. This, in very brief form, introduces the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, General Synod, with which the Evangelical Presbyterian Church united.
In 1964 a Plan of Union was finally adopted which included the following matters:
1. The Constitution, which would include:
a. The Westminster Confession of Faith in an early American form.
b. The Shorter Catechism in its original form.
c. The Larger Catechism
d. Form of Government
e. Book of Discipline
2. Resolutions on:
a. The Christian Life and Testimony as follows:
Since the standards of our church mention many of the sins commonly committed in the day in which they were drawn up, therefore:
Be it resolved that we counsel our ministry and membership against the temptations to impurity that are found in pornographic pictures and magazines, the moving picture theatre, television programs, and the modern dance.
Be it resolved that we warn against the harmful effect on the body caused by the use of tobacco, and the influence its use may have on the young, and that we oppose the liquor traffic and the traffic in harmful drugs.
Be it further resolved that we warn against the sin of gambling, including gambling to raise money for church or benevolent causes.
Be it further resolved that with regard to moral questions we remind our people that in the Ten Commandments under one sin all of the same kind are forbidden, together with all the causes, means, occasions and appearances thereof and provocations thereunto. (Larger Catechism, Question 99, Answer 6).
Be it further resolved that we counsel our ministry and membership that there is widespread apostasy and unbelief in church organizations today, and that we are not to be partakers with unbelievers in their religious activities.
Be it finally resolved that whenever we have connections with believers who maintain associations with liberal church organizations, that we exercise great care and take every precaution to preserve an uncompromising stand with the Lord and His infallible Word, yet all the while dealing with others in grace and love.
We acknowledge that we are speaking in the area of the application of Scriptural principles to Christian living. In such application we recognize that sincere Christians differ. These resolutions therefore are passed with the knowledge that they do not constitute an attempt to legislate.
b. Eschatological liberty as follows:
We declare that subscriptions to the system of doctrine of our Church upon the part of all ministers and ruling elders shall be understood as leaving them free to hold and teach any eschatological view which includes the visible and personal return of our Lord to earth and which is not otherwise inconsistent with the system of doctrine of the Bible and the Confession of Faith and Catechism of the Church, and that the Synod, the presbyteries, the boards and agencies of the Church shall adopt no rule or by-law imposing doctrinal requirements other than those of the Westminster Standards.
3. Recommendations for combining boards and agencies.
4. Recommendations for adjusting presbytery boundaries and standing rules.
5. The name of the united church.
In 1965 the 142nd General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, General Synod, convened at Covenant College, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, on April 2. On the same date and place the 29th General Synod of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church was convened. Each of these synods carried on their work until April 6 when the two denominations were united to become the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. The uniting service was held at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, April 6, 1965, and this service was followed by sessions of the 143rd General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. The business of the united synods was concluded on April 8, 1965.
Agencies of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod
The purpose of the church is best given in the words of the Lord as recorded in Matthew 28:18 20:
All power is
given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach
all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the
Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things
whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even
unto the end of the world.
Here is a divine command to go into all the world preaching and teaching the Word of God. Here also is a divine promise, Lo, I am with you always. This promise of His presence is the guarantee of power to accomplish His purpose in dependence upon Him.
In order to carry out this command of the Lord Jesus, the King and Head of the church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod has various agencies to the end of fulfilling this command. The agencies of the church are as follows:
Christian Training, Inc. This organization continues the work of the Committee on Christian Education established by the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1955 and the work of Christian education carried on by the Reformed Presbyterians. The offices are located in Wilmington, Delaware, and the work is carried on under the leadership of a Director. Christian Training is involved with the work of publications and young peoples activities.
Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary. The college and seminary were organized under the direction of the 1955 Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church. The college and seminary were one agency of the church under the presidency of Dr. Robert Rayburn. In 1956 property was obtained in St. Louis and the school attracted outstanding young men and women and experienced consistent growth. In 1964 because the property was not adequate for future expansion, a new property was acquired at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, and Covenant College moved to the mountain in the fall of 1964. In 1966 a legal separation of the college and seminary was effected in order that each institution might have accelerated growth outreach. Dr. Marion Barnes became president of the college, and Dr. Robert Rayburn continued as president of the seminary which remained in St. Louis. The college is a four year liberal arts college and anticipates full accreditation under the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and expects to maintain a thoroughly Christian testimony while achieving academic excellence.
Covenant Seminary is a three year graduate school offering the degrees of Master of Divinity, Master of Religious Education, Master of Arts in Bible, and Master of Theology. Covenant Seminary is Reformed in doctrine, evangelical in outlook, and thoroughly committed to the separatist position of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.
National Presbyterian Missions. This board is the continuation of the Committee of National Missions of the Bible Presbyterian Church and the national missions work of the Reformed Presbyterians. The office is in St. Louis, Missouri, and is under the leadership of an Executive Director. The board is responsible for church extension. The Executive Director maintains contact with all who may be interested in uniting with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod. The board assists in the organization of new churches by contributing to pastoral support and assists in building programs.
Reformed Presbyterian Foundation. The Evangelical Presbyterian Foundation was established by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in 1963 as authorized by the General Synod of 1962. The purpose of the organization is to assist Christians in giving to the Lords work being carried on by the agencies of the denomination. The foundation is seeking support for the church agencies through advertising, promotion, and personal contacts. After the union of the two denominations the name was changed to the Reformed Presbyterian Foundation, which continues the same ministry.
Reformed Presbyterian Reporter. The Reformed Presbyterian Reporter is the continuation of the work of the Evangelical Presbyterian Reporter: and the Reformed Presbyterians Advocate. The Advocate had been cooperating with the Reporter in publication before the union and the Reformed Presbyterian Reporter became the magazine of the united church. The magazine is published by a committee of the denomination and carries articles of information and interest to Reformed Presbyterians, as well as devotional material.
World Presbyterian Missions. World Presbyterian Missions is the foreign missions agency of the denomination. Before the union the Reformed Presbyterians worked very closely with World Presbyterian Missions. The office of World Presbyterian Missions is in Wilmington, Delaware. This agency is carrying on missionary work in twelve countries and has more than eighty missionaries on the various fields represented. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod has a great interest in the foreign missionary enterprise.
All of the agencies of the church are responsible to the denomination and boards are elected by the Synod at its annual meeting. The churches of the denomination also participate in the work of various independent agencies, including Quarryville Presbyterian Home, Quarryville, Pennsylvania, Cono Christian School, Walker, Iowa, and various faith mission boards.
In the great struggle between the conservative and liberal forces active in the visible church today, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod has much to contribute to the work of those standing for the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ and adhering to the Bible, as the infallible Word of God. The future is bright because of the promises of God to those who love Him and honor His Word.