Why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?
John P. Galbraith
I. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church
On June 11th, 1936 a new sun arose on the religious horizon. From the shores of New Jersey to the coast of California ministers with all or part of their congregations, ministers without their congregations, congregations in part without their ministers, and individuals had separated themselves from the Presbyterian Church in the USA because of its official declarations in opposition to the truth of God and had banded together in a new church organization.
The First General Assembly of this new organizationby no means an irresolute body of believersmet in Philadelphia and there displayed, in its first official action, its opposition to all Modernism and other forms of unbelief now sweeping our nation. This action was a declaration of solemn adherence to the infallibility and divine authorship of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Though not an irresolute body, neither may this church, though comparatively small, justifiably be called a sect or group of bigots, for at that same moment, by the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as its secondary standards, it proclaimed itself to be in the direct line of the purest of the great Presbyterian tradition, purposing to carry on the faith from which the Presbyterian Church in the USA had departed. Its founders, therefore, gave to it the name, the Presbyterian Church of America, but due to prosecution in the civil courts this name was changed in 1939 to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
With each passing year this new organization has grown. Groups of Christians have been organized into particular churches; presbyteries throughout the country have been set up; committees on Christian Education, and Home and Foreign Missions, have been organized; missionaries have been sent out with the blessed tidings of Christ's death as the substitution for sinners; by the grace of God souls have been saved from the wrath to come; believers within the Church have grown in the grace and knowledge of their Savior, and Christians in many parts of the world have received encouragement in the battles against the unbelief which they, too, face in their denominations.
In the brief characterization of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church given above it was said that it is neither "irresolute" nor a "sect." It takes its stand squarely upon the Bible as the Word of God and as its only infallible rule of faith and practice, and upon the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as the most faithful interpretation of the Bible known to man.
The chief characteristic of this new denomination is, then, that it is unequivocally, unashamedly, and positively Christian. In this day of the popularity of Modernism, which rejects the divine authority of the Scriptures, and so necessarily the finality of the things which those Scriptures teach, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church stands firmly upon both. Believing that God inspired the writers of the Old and New Testaments so as to keep them from error, this church then must and does accept as truth what the Bible teaches. The Liberal, or Modernist, as he is commonly called, though he may wear clerical robes which are traditionally Christian, and though he may preach from a pulpit of historic Christian heritage, cannot truthfully be said to be a Christian for the simple reason that he rejects the Christian Scriptures. This is self-evident. A Christian may not truthfully be said to be a Mohammedan. Why? Basically because he rejects the Mohammedan Koran. Just as clearly is an individual not a Christian who rejects the Christian Bible. And yet the Modernist will join others in an organization known as "The Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America" (italics ours).
To the Modernist monotheismthe doctrine that there is only one Godis a product of the Jewish mind formed after years of study and evolutionary thinking. To him the Christian doctrines of the deity of Christ, His substitutionary death for sinners to satisfy divine justice, His performance of miracles, and His bodily resurrection from the dead, are only some men's theories. To the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, however, these doctrines at the very heart of Christianity are the absolute truth; they are the revelation of God; they are essentials of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is, then, definitely a Christian Church.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, therefore, holds to what it believes to be the "purest" form of Christianity. It is not Baptist, or Methodist, or Lutheran, or yet Episcopalian. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church differs from these denominations in that it believes what is known as the "Reformed Faith." This is the historic faith of Presbyteriansfrom Machen back through Warfield and Hodge of Princeton, Abraham Kuyper of the Netherlands, John Knox of Scotland, John Calvin of Geneva, and (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church believes) the Apostle Paul. It is, then, not something in addition to Christianity, but it is ChristianityChristianity in its most glorious and consistent form.
To give a brief but faithful characterization of the Reformed Faith is both difficult and necessary. But a fair conception of what the Orthodox Presbyterian Church stands for may be had by observing its governing principle and a few of its distinctive doctrines. (It is to be remembered that these doctrines are held in addition to the so-called "generally Christian" doctrines, as, for example, those contained in the Apostles Creedthe Trinity; creation; deity of Christ; virgin birth of Christ; His atoning death on the cross, resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and glorious return to earth.)
The principle which governs the Reformed Faith is the Sovereignty of God. According to this principle, in all realmsphysical or spiritual, past, present or future, earthly or heavenly, from creation to salvationGod is truly God. That is to say, all things find their source in God, all things are ordained by God, and all things are ordained for God's own pleasure and glory. That is precisely what the Scriptures mean when they say, "of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things: to whom be glory forever" (Romans 11:36).
The doctrines which are commonly used to set forth the distinctiveness of the Reformed Faith are known as "the five points of Calvinism."
The first of the "five points" is the Total Depravity of Man. This teaching means that every man, unless born again, is "utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil." The doctrine is taught in such Scripture passages as Rom. 8:7, "...the carnal mind is enmity against God..."; Gen. 8:21, "... the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth"; Rom. 3:11, "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God"; Eph. 2:1, "You...were dead in trespasses and sins"; Gen. 6:5, "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."
The second point is Unconditional Election, the belief that "by the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death." A few of the many Scripture passages which provide the basis of this doctrine are: Eph. 1:4, 5, 11, "...he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of sons by Christ Jesus to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will...in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will"; Prov. 16:4, "The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil."
The third point is the Definite Atonement. This doctrine refers to the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and means that Christ designed, by His substitutionary death, to save a definite number of peopleall those and only those whom He had chosen from before the foundation of the world. This is supported by, among others, the following passages. Matt. 1:21, "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins"; John 19:12, "...I lay down my life for the sheep"; John 10:26, "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep..."; John 17:9, "...I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me."
The fourth point, which teaches that a person believes and is saved only because God the Holy Spirit has made him willing and able, is Efficacious Grace. I Peter 2:9, "...show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light"; Titus 3:5, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according m his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost"; Col. 2:13, "and you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses."
And finally, there is the doctrine of the Eternal Security of believers, which simply means "once a Christian, always a Christian." This doctrine is clearly taught in many passages, such as John 6:51, "I am the living bread...; if any man eat of this bread he shall live forever"; John 10:28, "I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them our of my hand"; Phil. 1:6, "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ"; Rom. 8:38-39, "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
These doctrines, to repeat, are distinctive of the creeds of Presbyterian churches. To them, all who take ordination vows in those churches must subscribe. And with all these doctrines the Orthodox Presbyterian Church most sincerely agrees. The question, then, and a most logical one indeed, arises in the minds of many: "Why is a new church necessary?" They reason: "If these people believe in the Bible as the Word of God, and the truth which it teaches, and if they believe in the same doctrines that are taught in the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, why should they leave it? Certainly, we see that they couldn't belong to a Methodist or Lutheran Church, but why can't they belong to any Presbyterian church?" This question was asked before June, 1936, when the formation of such a church appeared to be imminent. And it has been asked since that time. It is to this questionWhy the Orthodox Presbyterian Church?that the present paper would provide the answer.
The events which were the immediate occasion for the separation from the Presbyterian Church in the USA of these Christians who formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church had occurred in Syracuse, N.Y., during the 148th General Assembly of that body, meeting from May 28th to June 3, 1936. They were events of a most extraordinaryyes, uniquecharacter. The General Assembly had suspended a man from the gospel ministry for daring to organize a Bible conference whose speakers were not allowed to be appointed by the Church. It had ordered another minister's pastoral relation with his congregation to be severed because he would not ask his people to support the Boards of the Church without regard for their teachings. And it had suspended still others from preaching in the denomination because they, through a board independent of the Church, had sought to send out missionaries to preach the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ's atonement. Such actions were, as the Rev. Dr. Clarence E. Macartney (tragically silent since then) said in the Syracuse (N.Y.) Post-Standard for June 3, 1936, "unthinkable." Dr. Macartney drew attention to the suspension of the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen as an example. The reason for the suspension was not that Dr. Machen was an unbeliever, for the very opposite was true. He had written such books as The Virgin Birth of Christ, The Origin of Paul's Religion, What Is Faith? and Christianity and Liberalism, and in each of these and in all his other writings Dr. Machen had steadfastly upheld the gospel. His voice had become the outstanding voice of his generation throughout the world in defense of orthodox Christianity. What Dr. Macartney found "unthinkable," therefore, was that "a man known throughout the Christian world as a defender of the Christian faith has been suspended from the Christian ministry." Unthinkable! But an historical fact!
II. History of the Decline of the Presbyterian Church in the USA
The ejection of men because they stood for the Truth was up to that time a phenomenon. But it was not an unpredictable phenomenon. No building collapses without some previous internal decay. Thus the process of internal disintegration can be traced as far back as the year 1801! We shall profitably trace the process of events within the church from that time, and see the gradual but steady decline of that church's witness to the gospel. Furthermore, we shall see that those momentous events at Syracuse were but the logical outworking of that defection from the faith. They were the climax of the church's departure from the Truth.
Presbyterianism in the United States may be traced back as far as the early Puritans, but it received no real impetus until about 1660 when Scotch-Irish immigrants began arriving from Ulster. The spread of Presbyterianism was not rapid, though it was steady. The first presbytery to be set up, the Presbytery of Philadelphia, had its first meeting in 1705. Growth continued. New presbyteries came into being, and they were organized into the Synod of Philadelphia in 1717. In 1741 there was a withdrawal to form the Synod of New York. The synods continued to expand until in 1788 they met and constituted, with new synods and presbyteries, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA. Candidates for the ministry were required to subscribe to the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechismsthe "generally Christian" doctrines and the Calvinistic doctrines.
In the year 1801 a plan of union was adopted whereby the General Assembly and the General Association of the State of Connecticut (Congregational) should work together, rather than in conflict. This union marks the discernible beginning of the decline of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, for those Congregational churches were under the influence of what is variously known as "Hopkinsianism" or "New School Theology"a school of thought which differed from the Presbyterian creeds mainly in two respects: (1) it opposed the Reformed teaching of Adam's federal headship of the human race, i.e., that the guilt of his sin is imputed to every person born into the world, and (2) it taught a universal atonement by Christ in contrast to the Reformed doctrine of the definite atonement of Christ. The flood gates had now been opened to liberal theology.
Thirty-six years later, in 1837, the General Assembly abrogated this union. As a result the "New School" group at once withdrew from the churchsome 533 congregations with 100,000 communicant membersalmost half of the Church. Undoubtedly it was thought that the Church was now sound, and there was nothing to fear. But the damage had been done and its results were far-reaching.
Among other things, Auburn (N.Y.) Theological Seminary had been founded to teach the New School Theology; Albert Barnes, a proponent of it, had been called to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, and a group of the adherents of this liberal belief had united to found Union Theological Seminary of New York.
So great, in fact, had been the weakening influence of the New Theology in the Church that only thirty-two years later, in 1869, the Liberals were allowed to returnlock, stock, and barrel. Despite the vigorous and continued opposition of Charles Hodge, the great Princeton theologian, the vote was so overwhelming that only nine ballots were cast against the actiontruly a "corporal's guard"! With the Assembly's enthusiastic reception of the Liberals another step in the downward trend had been taken.
However, about 20 years later two events took place which heartened conservatives in the Church. First of all, in 1889 an attempt was made to liberalize the Confession of Faith. The General Assembly even went so far as to appoint a committee on the subject. But when the 1892 Assembly finally sent the proposed changes down to the presbyteries for concurrence they were rejected. The conservatives were led by the faculty of Princeton Theological Seminary, and as was to be expected they opposed the changes because they represented departures from the Bible. The liberals, uniting with the conservatives, also opposed the revisions, but for reasons far differentthe revisions simply didn't go far enough! A hollow victory for the conservatives, indeed.
In the meantime Professor Briggs, of Union Seminary in New York, had been brought to trial for heresy. Among other things, he denied the infallibility and sufficiency of the Scriptures. He had been acquitted by his presbytery; but upon an appeal to the General Assembly of 1893 he was finally convicted and suspended from the ministry. On similar charges Professor Smith of Lane Seminary in Cincinnati was convicted by his presbytery and the Assembly sustained the conviction. However, these actions, commendable though they were, now are seen to have been merely a meteor-like flash of orthodoxy across a darkening Liberal sky.
A brief decade later another point in the descent was reached. A movement was on foot to unite the Church with a smaller Presbyterian body, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. This was "descent" because although the latter was Presbyterian in government, it was not Reformed in doctrine, whereas the Presbyterian Church in the USA was supposed to be Reformed.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church had been founded in 1810 by a group which separated from the Presbyterian Church in the USA on doctrinal grounds. Around the turn of the century there had been a great increase in membership due to a revival, and ministers having both the educational and doctrinal qualifications required by the Presbyterian Church in the USA were at a premium. In fact, there were not enough. Those, therefore, who were soon to form the Cumberland Church urged that the requirements for ministers be lowered. When the General Assembly refused to change the ministerial requirements the dissenting group left the Church body and, setting up their own standards, formed the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Though the reason for this group's lack of insistence on the doctrinal soundness of their ministers had been apparent from the first, the evidence was incontrovertible when they adopted their doctrinal standards in 1813. They used the Westminster Confession of Faith with, they said, the fatalism left out. In other words they were an Arminian, not a Reformed church.
Accordingly, in 1903, in order to prepare the way for union with that body, the Presbyterian Church in the USA revised its doctrinal standards so as to satisfy the Arminian church. To the original Westminster Confession of Faith they added two chapters and a "Declaratory Statement," and altered three chapters. These changes may be found in any copy of the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church in the USA published since that time.
It is well, perhaps, to make a brief examination now of these revisions. They are very important, for by them the Church made it possible for Arminians to be ministers, elders, and deacons in good standing in the Church. In other words, the Church was no longer uncompromisingly Reformed. These are serious charges, but they are verified in the first place by the willingness of the Cumberland Church to unite after the revisions were made. The union was consummated in 1906, but let us examine the revisions ourselves. We shall just note a few of the details briefly.
There is then, first, a change in Chapter XVI, Section 7, on the works of unregenerate men. The section deals with the total depravity of man. The original form says that though the works of unregenerate men may be "of good use both to themselves and others" they are nevertheless "sinful and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God." The revised form of the section both omits the statement that the works of unregenerate men are "sinful, and cannot please God," and also says that these works are not only useful, but also "praiseworthy." It is quite patent that a thing which is not pleasing to God is certainly not praiseworthy. Then, too, the revised form fails to do justice to the omission of these works. It says merely that that is "sinful and displeasing unto God," whereas the original form more accurately said they are "more sinful, and displeasing unto God." The effect of the change is a weakening of the force of God's condemnation upon the works of the unregenerate man. It can be seen how this new form was more acceptable to the Cumberland Church than the old.
Of the two chapters which were added to the ConfessionChapters XXXIV and XXXVthe latter is perhaps the more important. Chapter XXXIV, "Of the Holy Spirit," is dangerous because of what it does not say, rather than for what it does say. That is, what it says is all right; it simply does not say enough. This omission is significant in view of the clearer statements in the rest of the Confession. The omissions are obviously purposeful; they are to create ambiguity, thus permitting either a Calvinistic or an Arminian interpretation. The purpose of all these revisions of 1903 must always be kept in mind, viz., union with the Arminian Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Chapter XXXV is entitled "Of the Love of God and Missions." It is pure, unadulterated Arminianism. There is not one statement in it which could not receive the most wholehearted support of the most ardent Methodist or Lutheran. Though indeed God loves "the world" and gave His Son "that whosoever believeth in him might have everlasting life," yet it would seem that if the doctrine of election were to be brought in anywhere it would be in connection with a chapter dealing with God's love and missions, for the proof of God's love is that He "hath chosen us...before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). Also the reason the great missionary Paul was told to remain longer in Corinth to preach on his second missionary journey was that God had "much people in this city" (Acts 18: 10). As to the redemptive work of Christ, the standard Arminian position is taken in this chapter. It says that Christ merely "provided" a way of life and salvation for all. The manner in which that salvation is to be applied to the individual is left entirely open. In fact, the plain implication is that redemption is to be applied by man's free choice. The Westminster Confession says that Christ's elect people are "by him...redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified," and that "to all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same." The Scriptures say, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16).
In examining the "Declaratory Statement" we find the same weakness and tendency. The "Statement" is made as a "formally expressed...disavowal" of some inferences drawn from the Confession of Faith. Among other things it attacks Chapter III, which deals with "God's Eternal Decree." Instead of the forthright declaration of the predestination of some to everlasting life and others to eternal death contained in Chapter III, there is here employed an ambiguous reference to God's eternal decree being held "in harmony with the doctrine of His love to all mankind." The Arminian can subscribe to this also.
It is obvious, therefore, that these 1903 revisions provided for the entrance, in good standing, of an Arminian ministry, thereby driving home the wedge of naturalism within the Church. Calvinism alone goes the whole way in declaring a supernatural Christianity. For the Calvinist, and according to the Westminster Confession, salvation is all of God. For the Arminian, and according to these revisions of the Confession of Faith, salvation is part of God and part of man. God, he says, provided it; man must apply it. Man is, then, in the last analysis, sovereign. By these revisions of its creed the Church has thus effected a compromise with naturalism. We shall see what fruit the grafted tree bears, and that without changing the creed further the "compromise" has become "adoption."
The effect of these changes was then allowed to work itself out in the life of the church until by 1918-20 the spirit of compromise had so permeated the denomination that a "plan of organic union" with other Protestant bodies, presented at that time by the Rev. Dr. J. Ross Stevenson, was passed by some 100 presbyteriesor over one-third of the Church. This may not at first be shocking to some, but when the basis of this proposed union is seen its appalling character will be plain. Having compromised in 1903 on certain distinctively Reformed doctrines, the movement now had grown to the point where the Church would compromise on the "generally Christian" doctrines. The creedal basis of the proposed union had become so inclusive that any liberal, even the so-called "high priest of Modernism," Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, could subscribe to it readily.
This creedal basis was the "desire to share, as a common heritage, the faith of the Christian Church, which has from time to time found expression in great historical statements"; and a common "belief in God our Father; in Jesus Christ His only Son our Savior; in the Holy Spirit, our Guide and Comforter; in the Holy Catholic Church, through which God's eternal purpose of salvation is to be proclaimed and the kingdom of God is to be realized on earth; in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as containing God's revealed will; and the life eternal."
What could be a more loose statement of truth than this? Many people who are not Christians mistakenly think God is their Father. The Modernist will say that Jesus was the most divine of all men and thus can be called the "only Son," and he will call Christ his Savior because He taught him to save himself. The Liberal can interpret the phrase "the kingdom of God is to be realized on earth" so as to warrant the preaching of a purely moralistic religion. And to say that the Old and New Testaments contain God's will is a far cry from saying that the Old and New Testaments are God's will. Almost any Modernist will say the former. None will say the latter. The plan of union provided for the presence of these unbelievers in the fellowship of the Church. In 1903 Arminians had been admitted. Now, in 1918-20, more than one-third of the Church was ready to receive those who were at variance with historic Christianity.
These things, however, were not unobserved by some of the watchmen on Jerusalem's walls. They saw that the Church was fast decaying, and that if the process were allowed to continue the Church would crumble into complete ruin. Something must be done to stem the tide of Modernism threatening to inundate the Church. It was no longer just a defense of Calvinism against Arminianism that was needed; that time had passed, and the Arminians had won. What was now needed was a defense of the very essentials of the Christian faith. Preaching in the First Church, New York City, Dr. Fosdick had denied some of these essentials and had left that pulpit because of this. However, there was an unmistakable undercurrent of sympathy for his position throughout the denomination.
Accordingly, in 1923 the General Assembly felt it necessary to reemphasize the necessity of its ministry holding to the basic truths of Christianity. It did this by singling out five particular doctrinesthe infallibility of the Scriptures, the virgin birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, Christ's bodily resurrection, and His miraclesand saying that each is "an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our standards."
Now it might be thought that this declaration by the Assembly would have been received with rejoicing and gladness by every person in the Church. And most certainly it would be so received by every true Christian. But was that the case? No! On the contrary, within a year there appeared a nefarious document signed by over 1300 of the ministers in the Church which protested against the staunch witness of the 1923 General Assembly to the gospel and declared that the five verities were but men's "theories," not necessarily the teaching of God's Word.
Indeed, the Affirmation explicitly says in the last paragraph of Section I that "there is no assertion in the Scriptures that their writers were kept from error"! The Bible's claim to be the Word of God, however, patently rules out any form of error. But not satisfied with the statement of Section I, the Affirmationists go beyond that and tell us that this doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is actually a dangerous thing, for it "impairs their supreme authority for faith and life."
The paragraph from which we have just quoted dealt solely with the Scriptures. Section IV, however, takes up all these doctrines together: "...we are opposed to any attempt to elevate these five doctrinal statements, or any of them, to the position of tests for ordination or for good standing in our Church."
In 1903 a definite cleavage had appeared in the Church between Calvinists and Arminians. But now in 1924 a new cleavage, though actually existing before, had been revealed. It went to the very heart of Christianity. The Affirmationists were definitely heretics from the faith and at odds with the essentials of the Church's constitution. They should have been tried and expelled. But alas, the watchmen had fallen asleep. There was none to cry the alarm. Nothing was done. In 1893 the Church had suspended Professor Briggs for heresy; now the Church had so degenerated that it embraced fondly over 1300 of her ministers who boldly vaunted their heresies. Over thirteen per cent of the Church's ministry! Moreover, the 1300-odd names did not represent the total number of such ministers, for many others who held the same views, including some of the best known and unashamed Modernists in the Church, did not sign the Affirmation. Thus there were now two armies in the Church, drawn up for combat. The one, Orthodox, with the message of everlasting life; the other, Modernists, with a message bringing eternal death. Which was to be the victor? Each held to mutually exclusive religions. Which would determine the Church's message in the future? These were questions to which history alone would give the answer. That answer was not long in coming.
In 1924 one of the leaders of the orthodox army, the Rev. Dr. Clarence E. Macartney, had been elected Moderator of the General Assembly, and the 1925 Assembly declared that the New York Presbytery had erred in licensing two candidates who were unable to affirm belief in the Virgin Birth of our Lord. But Dr. Macartney's election was the last appearance of a champion of the orthodox cause in the Moderatorial chair, and never since 1925 have the orthodox forces been in control of the Permanent Judicial Commission, which tries questions of discipline. Not once in the decade and a half since then to the present time has there been an uncompromisingly orthodox Moderator or Permanent Judicial Commission!
The Church organization, then, had come into the hands of the Modernists. Would the Modernists, therefore, determine the future message of the Church? The orthodox group was declaring the message of the Bible from its pulpits; the Modernists were preaching their message from their pulpits. Because their messages were diametrically opposed they could not long remain together. Which was to replace the other?
The ministry of the church was of course trained in the seminaries which were under the control of the denomination. Some of them, like Auburn and Union (N.Y.) had been weak from their founding. In fact, the very reason for their inception was that Princeton was too orthodox. But there were other seminaries which had been mainly orthodox but had gradually grown weaker. Of the thirteen seminaries in existence at this time Princeton Seminary alone stood out strongly and firmly for the orthodox position. With men on its faculty like William Brenton Greene, Robert Dick Wilson, Casper Wistar Hodge, Geerhardus Vos, William Park Armstrong, J. Gresham Machen, and Oswald T. Allis, it was a veritable Gibraltar which had withstood the pounding of the seas of unbelief since the time of its first professor, Archibald Alexander. From its halls had poured forth the main supply of the orthodox ministry in the church. And if the school continued in its traditional line of teaching there would still be filtering into the church each year 40 or 50 orthodox young men who, though they represented only about one quarter of each year's total, were nevertheless, a sizeable number.
Therefore, with the wisdom of a serpent but not the harmlessness of a dove, a movement was begun to reorganize that great institution so as to introduce different theological views through professors newly appointed to its faculty, to pass these views thence to the students, and finally into the church's ministry. By this time the Modernist forces had grown so much in number and power that in 1929 the reorganization was actually brought about. Men were put on the Board of Trustees who were favorable to the position taken in the Auburn Affirmation. In fact, two of the members of the Board were themselves signers of the Affirmation. To the faculty were then called men whose teachings were a serious departure from historic Christianity. The latest appointments of that kind were of Emil Brunner, and E. G. Homrighausen. The opposition of Brunner (a theologian even more liberal than Karl Barth) to such major Christian doctrines as man's creation and fall as historical events, was well known at the time of his invitation to be guest professor in the department of Systematic Theology for the year 1938-39. The appointment of Homrighausen to the chair of Christian Education was the appointment of a liberal whose many theological fluctuations, though they do not reflect an unsound mind, unmistakably evince an unsound theology. The addition of these men to Princeton's faculty reflects the success of the reorganization performed in 1929. A storm, such as had never arisen before, had torn away the foundations of the lighthouse, and it had crumbled and slipped into the sea. The question as to which forces would determine the future message of the church had been answered. From now on, nowhere within the seminaries of the church could a young man, preparing for the gospel ministry, receive a thorough orthodox training.
In this deplorable fact lies the explanation of the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, in the early autumn of that year. This institution was independent of the jurisdiction of the church so as to be free to teach to its students the doctrines for which "old" Princeton had so staunchly stood, and for which the "new" Princeton had no sympathy. From Princeton's faculty to this new seminary came the brilliant gifts and scholarship of Robert Dick Wilson, J. Gresham Machen, and Oswald T. Allis, and others of equally sound convictions from other sources. Among those coming to its Board of Trustees from the old Princeton's Board of Directors were its first president, the beloved Rev. Dr. Frank H. Stevenson, and Dr. Clarence E. Macartney. The watchmen on the walls had awakened.
Then followed in quick succession a series of portentous events. In 1932 appeared a book entitled Re-Thinking Missions which was actually a report by an interdenominational committee about foreign mission work. This book revealed its authors to have no conception of the finality and exclusiveness of Christianity set forth in John 14:6, "no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Instead, the report favored an eclectic religion composed of the good parts of all religions. One quotation will serve to give the central thrust of the book. The writers say of the missionary, he "will look forward not to the destruction of these religions (of Asia), but to their continued coexistence with Christianity, each stimulating the other's growth toward the ultimate goal, unity in the completest religious truth." Yet though among the Presbyterian representatives on the committee responsible for this book were two members of the Board of Foreign Missions, nothing was done to remove them.
The book, however, served one good purpose. It aroused the watchmen to further action, and, in particular, the one who was to become the leader of the orthodox forces in the church, the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, world-famed as a defender of the Christian faith, and Professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.
He felt that something had to be done to stem the fast-rising tide of unbelief in the church. Accordingly, in the year following the publication of Re-Thinking Missions (1933) Dr. Machen proposed to his presbytery an overture to be presented to the General Assembly asking that the members of the Board of Foreign Missions be believers in the absolute exclusiveness of Christianity and in the "five essentials" mentioned in the declaration of the 1923 General Assembly. He showed conclusively that both on the Board and among the missionaries were incontrovertible instances of Modernism. But seemingly he asked too much, for the proposed overture was turned down successively by Presbytery and General Assembly. Others, orthodox like Dr. Machen, uncovered further evidence of unbelief among the missionaries and on the Board, but nothing was done. Neither was anything done about removing Modernists from positions on the field and on the Board even when the Rev. Dr. Donald G. Barnhouse returned from a world tour of the Church's mission stations with a verified report that only "the vast majority of our missionary body is personally devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ." A "vast majority" is not enough for a true Christian Church! Dr. Barnhouse furthermore admitted that the Modernism which he was able to discover was not nearly the total sum of such belief, because many would not make their views known to him. Two signers of the Auburn Affirmation were on the Board and their policies were being followed closely; the Modernists were to be allowed to remain, and any resignations of such missionaries were to be accepted "with regret"! Modernism having gained control after a struggle of 125 years was certainly not going to relinquish its hold.
Investigations of the other Boards of the Church by individuals followed. It was found that they were in an even worse state than the Foreign Board. That Board, with all its Modernism, was the best of the three. The Board of Christian Education was found to have three "Auburn Affirmationists" on it, and the Board of National Missions nine. Some have said, "Why appeal to the Auburn Affirmation for proof of unbelief in the Church? That happened 15 years ago; it is a dead issue." But as long as those who signed their names to that document do not retract their affirmation of unbelief, and remain in the church and its offices, it is a very live issue indeed! Its effect is clearly seen in the teaching promoted by the Boards. Within the last year the Rev. Dr. Paul C. Payne, an Auburn Affirmationist, has been made General Secretary of the Board of Christian Education. One need only examine the Sunday School materials being fed the children to realize its unchristian character. One instance must suffice here. On September 17, 1939, the young people studied the life of Dr. Albert Schweitzer. In the lesson material he is held up for the acclaim of every Christian and called "one of the greatest and most Christ-like Christians of this generation." Yet he believes, he says in his autobiography, Out of My Life and Thought, that the historical Jesus must be accepted as "capable of error." Needless to say, the Board of National Missions, with nine Auburn Affirmationists on it, was at least equally corrupt.
We have seen, so far, that unbelief among the ministers of the Church had grown to such an alarming extent by 1933 that all the Seminaries in the Church, from which its future ministers would come, and all the Boards, which controlled much of the teaching of the Church, and the General Assemblies after 1924 were now in the hands, and under the control of the Modernists. There remained now but one more step to take before the Church would be in a state of thorough apostasy from the Christian religion. Let us have the picture clearly in mind. The churchseminaries, boards, and assemblieswas preaching a religion other than Christianity, though as yet Christianity had not been officially condemned. The Church was cooperating with the anti-Christian Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America. It had allowed men within the Church, who denied the essentials of the Christian faith, to remain, and even put them in positions of honor, power, and trust. It had licensed and ordained new ministers who denied Christianity. It now remained for the Church to go one step further and condemn Christianity.
That final, fatal step was taken at the 148th General Assembly in Syracuse, N.Y., in June 1936.
While the investigation of the Boards of Christian Education and National Missions had been going on, and after the organization of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions following the refusal of the Church to reform the official Board of Foreign Missions, the Church had instituted disciplinary action against certain ministers in the Church. Some were directed against members of the "Independent Board" which was claimed to be illegal. Dr. Machen had been one of these members. He and his colleagues had been condemned because they had not obeyed a mandate issued by the 1934 General Assembly which said that it was as obligatory for a Christian to give to the official boards of the Church, no matter what they taught, as to partake of the Lord's Supper. The mandate declares: "A church member or an individual church that will not give to promote the officially authorized missionary program of the Presbyterian Church is in exactly the same position with reference to the constitution of the Church as a church member or an individual church that would refuse to take part in the celebration of the Lord's Supper...." This is clearly an elevation of the word of man to equality with the Word of God. When Dr. Machen realized that to support the Modernist-riddled Board would be to commit sin, and chose rather to obey the Word of God, the Church suspended him from the ministry. The church had again refused to condemn falsehood. Instead, it condemned Truth.
There were, however, two other cases of at least equal importance. The Rev. John J. DeWaard, then of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, was tried, and his relation with his congregation dissolved, because he would not recommend to his congregation that they support the Foreign Board's Modernism. Furthermore, the late Rev. Arthur F. Perkins was tried and suspended because he had organized a Bible conference which could not be influenced by the Modernism of the Church!
In each one of these cases the men had been condemned, not because of opposition to Christ and His Word, but because they stood for the Lord and His Teaching that "there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved." The borderline between a true Christian Church and a false one, after a struggle which began in 1801, had finally been reached and passed. The tree had brought forth fruit.
It is interesting now to note, in closing this brief sketch of the decline of the Church to its death, that instances of departure became more and more frequent during the passage of the years, as unbelievers grew in numbers and power in the Church. It is like the infrequent firing of a cannon by an inexperienced crew, but increasing in frequency with each shot until finally the shells come forth almost with machine-gun rapidity. A table conveniently shows this, beginning with the first defection:
Union with General Association of the State of Connecticut
1869 (68 years later)
Union with New School group
1903-06 (34 years later)
Revision of Confession of Faith
Union with Cumberland Presbyterian Church
1918-20 (15 years later)
Plan of organic union
1924 (6 years later)
1929 (5 years later)
Princeton Seminary reorganized
1933 (4 years later)
Refusal to abolish Modernism from Foreign Missions
1936 (3 years later)
Conviction of Bible defenders
1937 to the present
Continual elevation of Modernists to high position
From this hasty survey of the decline and fall of the Presbyterian Church in the USA it has been seen that the history of that denomination often referred to as "glorious" is not so glorious after all. Certainly its climax was most inglorious, as well as sad.
III. Is the Presbyterian Church in the USA Apostate?
It has been seen that the Presbyterian Church in the USA is corrupt from the core outward. Because of this corruption, what should be done? Certainly something should be done, for Christians must never sit idly by in the presence of sin. There are clearly only two alternatives from which a Christian in that church may choose. Either he should seek to purge the church of its sin, or he should separate himself from the church. Both alternatives aim ultimately at the same thing, namely, the separation of the individual Christian from sin. This is a proper motive. But are both alternatives legitimate means to that end? It will be the purpose of the next few pages to show that in this case both are not legitimate means. It will be shown that the church is apostatea false churchand therefore that a Christian, in obedience to the commands of God, must leave the church. This will be proved by showing what the duty of a Christian Church is, and then that the Presbyterian Church in the USA performs the very opposite function.
Among professing Christians throughout the world there is no disagreement on the position that a Christian must not belong to an apostate church. The difference of opinion enters with the question, When is a church apostate? To put it another way, When must a Christian separate himself from his church?
Three answers usually are given to these questions. The first is that a church is apostate when it is irrevocably committed to falsehood. But there is no such church. The Protestant Church exists today because we believe that the Roman Catholic Church is apostate. This belief was the cause of the Reformation. But under the above definition not even that Church is apostate, for "with God, all things are possible."
The second answer says that a church is apostate when it has altered its creed. This position, too, is untenable, for what is it that makes a church a church? Is it not the fact that it is composed of human beings? A written creed without a group of adherents is not a church, but a group of Christians without a written creed may be a church. A creed is nothing more or less than a statement of what the individuals in the church claim to be and believe. The professions of our mouths, however, do not make us what we are, but as a man "thinketh in his heart, so is he." No one would be foolish enough to say that a sack marked "WHEAT" is a sack of wheat if it is full of barley. So also, a church's character is sometimes indicated by its label, but never determined by it. The Presbyterian Church in the USA is no less apostate because it has not changed its creed.
The third answer to the question, When is a church apostate? is that it is apostate when it forces its members to sin. The very genus of Christianity is that Christ's people should be delivered from sin both in "the life that now is and that which is to come." A church, therefore, whose practices contravene that purpose by forcing members to commit sin, is not a true Christian Church. That is why Martin Luther, after having striven bravely to reform the Roman Church, finally had to leave: the Pope would have forced him to teach things against God's word.
Calvin speaks clearly on this subject of the true and false church: "As soon as falsehood has made a breach in the fundamentals of religion, and the system of necessary doctrine is subvertedthe certain consequence is the ruin of the church, as there is an end of a man's life when his throat is cut, or his heart is mortally wounded.... Besides, if the true church be 'the pillar and ground of the truth,' that certainly can be no Church where delusion and falsehood have usurped the dominion" (Institutes 4.2.1). In sections 9 and 10 of the same chapter he shows why it is sinful to remain in such a church by drawing an analogy to the corrupt priesthood in the time of Jeroboam, king of Israel. He acknowledges that the prophets then "neither offered up sacrifices apart from others, nor held separate assemblies for prayer." The reason was that they had the express command of God to assemble in Solomon's temple. But he then points out two very important factors: first, that in doing this the prophets "were not constrained to join in any superstitious worship; on the contrary, they engaged in no service that was not of divine institution;" and secondly, that when "frequently their assemblies [the Jews' and Israelites'] were iniquitous meetings (Isa. 1:13-14), a concurrence in which were as criminal as a renunciation of God...[they] found themselves under a necessity of withdrawing from all connection with those assemblies." Further, in section 7 Calvin asks, "Who would dare to give the appellation of a Church, without any exception, to that society where the Word of God is openly and fearlessly trampled under foot?" Though written nearly 400 years ago, and against the Roman Catholic Church, these principles apply to the Presbyterian Church in the USA today.
The Presbyterian Church in the USA represents itself as a branch of Christ's church. As Calvin said, Christ's Church is supposed to be the "pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15). The Presbyterian Church in the USA, however, is undermining the truth. In that Church "delusion and falsehood have usurped the dominion"; in fact, not one conservative can be found in a place of power in the councils of the church-at-large. Certainly no one is foolish enough to hold that there is no orthodoxy in the churcheven Calvin admitted that of the Roman Catholic Church; but by rejecting the Word of God and even persecuting those who defend it the Presbyterian Church in the USA has "openly and fearlessly trampled under foot the Word of God," and continues to do so today.
For every individual member of the Presbyterian Church in the USA the importance of this is that he is cooperating in these sins whether he knows it or not. He "is constrained to join" in false worship. If he contributes to the Board of Christian Education he aids the publication of literature which denies that Christ gave His life a ransom to satisfy the justice of God and redeem from their sins all those that call upon Him. If he contributes to the Board of National and Foreign Missions he helps support Modernistic missionaries. Even if he designates his money to sound missionaries, the financial setup of the Boards is such that even his careful designations release to the support of Modernists, money which would otherwise be used for the conservatives to whom the money was designated. Furthermore, just as much as a man's wife bears his name, so does each member of the Presbyterian Church in the USA bear the name of that denomination; so also are the actions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA the responsibility of each member. What the denomination does, each member does, whether or not he is a Christian, or a member of a conservative congregation or Presbytery. When the church refused to remove from the Foreign Board and the mission fields those who denied the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, every member of the church who did not fight that action gave his silent but certain assent, for Jesus said, "He that is not for me is against me." And the church ejected those who did fight against the Christ-crucifying refusal. Since every member is a part of "the Church," every member had his part in condemning those men who stood for Christ and His Word. When the Church refused to condemn sin, every member participated. When the church condemned the good, every member participated. The church had forced every member to sin, and does so every day. To remain in the Church in order to reform it would be to commit sin that good might come. In Romans 3:8, God expressly forbids this, no matter how extenuating the circumstances. We must never sin. A Christian Church points out deliverance from sin, but the Presbyterian Church in the USA brings sin upon its members. "Wherefore, come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you" (II Corinthians 6:17).
There are, as is well known, many true Christians, ministers as well as other members, who are still in the Presbyterian Church in the USA. Some may wonder why! One of the principal reasons is that these Christians do not realize the extent to which unbelief has gone in their church, that the denomination has reached a state of apostasy. But there are other reasonsreasons presented by those who knew at least some of the facts, and even by some who in times past have attacked the unbelief of the Church. These reasons may be classified as "objections" to leaving the church. There are objections purporting to be based on Scripture, and objections simply based on expediency, with no regard for what the Bible says.
Under the former group comes, first, Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43, which says that the tares (unbelievers) growing among the wheat (believers) should not be torn up for fear of tearing up the wheat also. It is said that this parable teaches that the church should be allowed to contain both wheat and tares. But in v. 38 Jesus says he is talking about the "world" not the church. The passage, therefore, does not apply at all. The second passage is Rev. 3:2, in which the "angel of the church of Sardis" is told to "be watchful and strengthen the things which remain." It is said that this command applies to any situation whether to obey leads to disobedience to other commands of the Bible. But God's Word does not contradict itself. The extreme to which this interpretation can lead may be seen from the fact that one minister who held this view said that he would see nothing wrong with accepting a call to a Catholic church if he could preach what he wanted. A third reference to the Scriptures is the instance of the priests and prophets in the time of Jeroboam with which we dealt earlier in this paper. The fourth passage is II Cor. 6:17, "Wherefore, come out from among them and be ye separate." It is said that this refers to a specific situationidolatry in Corinthand consequently has nothing to do with us. If this were a true principle we could not use the Gospels because Jesus was talking to the people of that time, and we could not use Paul's epistles because he wrote them to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and others. It disregards the facts that God uses particular situations to set forth general principles, and that His principles are eternal.
Finally, there are those who disregard what the Scriptures say, and maintain that for some reason or other they should remain in the church. This is pure expediency, and expediency often leads to sin since sin is determined by God's holy law, and nothing else. For example, there are those who say, "But look at the fine building we would have to relinquish," and "Think of the endowments we would have to turn over to the modernist machine if we left," and "I would be giving up a big field of service here." All that can be said to these objections is, if they cannot trust God to supply what they would give up for devotion to Him, how can they trust Him to save their souls? What God wants above all other things is obedience (I Sam. 13:22). Then there are some who, disregarding all history, think the church will get better; there are others who say they are in a "conservative" Presbytery; and there are still others who assert that they "have felt led" to stay in and reform the church. But what has been the progress of the Roman Catholic Church toward betterment? How much better is the Presbyterian Church in the USA today than in 1900? Is not the "conservative presbytery" a part of the denomination which is apostate? Furthermore, is not the Bible our only source of guidance? The Bible leads us, whether we "feel" led or not. Let us never depend on our feelings; let us depend only on God and His Word with a wholehearted devotion!
It is asked, Why the Orthodox Presbyterian Church? Because the members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church believe that God's Word is Truth. Because the members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms interpret that Truth most truly. Because the Presbyterian Church in the USA forces each of its members to cooperate in teachings and actions opposed to God's Truth. Because, in other words, to be a member of the Presbyterian Church in the USA is to commit sin. "Wherefore, come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord"!
Would that every Christian in the Presbyterian Church in the USA might have Philippians 3:8 burned into his very soul, and put aside all other considerations than humble submission to God's Word and say with Paul, "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ!"
Would that they all might sing with the Martin Luther of l529 and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of 1939,
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God's truth abideth still;
His kingdom is forever! Amen!
The above account was published in booklet form by the Committee on Christian Education of the OPC in 1939. It remains to this day an accurate account of the reasons for the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. We believe it will also prove instructive for those who face a similar situation today because of the liberal takeover of their denomination. The author is a retired OPC minister.