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Report of the Committee on the Constitution

Presented to the Second (1936) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

General Assembly reports are thoughtful and weighty treatises on important matters but they are not constitutional documents. Only the Confession of Faith and Catechisms, the Form of Government, the Book of Discipline, and the Directory for the Public Worship of God of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church express the church’s official understanding of what the Word of God teaches.


The Report

[The following report was submitted to the Second General Assembly (1936) by the Committee on the Constitution (Minutes, pp. 13–14), consisting of the Rev. Ned B. Stonehouse, Chairman, the Rev. J. Gresham Machen, and Elder Murray F. Thompson. At the First General Assembly (1936), the moderator, J. Gresham Machen, was named a member of all committees ex officio. He then nominated as members of the Committee on the Constitution of the Church the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, the Rev. Ned B. Stonehouse, and Murray F. Thompson, Esq. However, Mr. Griffiths withdrew from the church prior to the Second General Assembly. Therefore, the report was presented by Messrs. Stonehouse, Machen, and Thompson. The report was adopted by the Assembly on a vote of 57 to 20. The opposition was concerned that premillennialism would not be regarded as consistent with the Confession and Catechisms; these men soon left to form the Bible Presbyterian Church.]

The Committee on the Constitution desires to make the following report of its work and recommendations:

I. The charge to the Committee was as follows:

A. It "shall present for adoption to the General Assembly meeting in the autumn of 1936 the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as the confession of the faith of this church. The Committee shall take as the basis of its considerations the particular form of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms which appears in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1934 edition. The Committee shall have power to recommend the elimination, from that form of the Standards of the changes made in the Year of our Lord 1903, but it shall not have power to recommend any other changes. The Committee shall also have power to recommend what relation this church shall bear to the Declaratory Statement of 1903."

B. "It shall also prepare for submission to the next General Assembly a Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for the Worship of God."

II. With respect to IA the Committee reports that it has carefully considered the changes made in the doctrinal Standards of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1903, and that it is unanimous in recommending to the General Assembly the adoption of the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in the form which they possessed before these changes were made, with the following two exceptions:

A. We recommend the retention of the change which was made in Chapter XXII, Section 3, by the omission of the sentence: "Yet it is a sin to refuse an oath touching anything that is good and just, being imposed by lawful authority."

B. We recommend the retention of the change made in Chapter XXV, Section 6, in so far as it involved the elimination of the words: "but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God." If this recommendation is adopted, section 6 will read as follows: "There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof." In connection with this recommendation it may be well to point out that questions of copyright seem to make it advisable not to use certain material added in recent years.

III. The recommendation under II involves the adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms without the following changes which were made by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1903:

A. Chapters XXXIV and XXXV of the Confession of Faith with their Preamble.

B. The Declaratory Statement of 1903.

C. The Revision of Chapter XVI, Section 7. In the unrevised form the section reads:

"Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the Glory of God; they are therefore 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 to God."

In recommending the elimination of the sections which are enumerated in the preceding paragraph, the Committee desires to state that it does so on the ground that these changes seriously impair the testimony of the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to the system of doctrine which is taught in Holy Scripture.

IV. With respect to lB the Committee reports that it has been unable to complete the task which was assigned to it. It has not been able to prepare a Directory of Worship. It is not prepared to recommend for adoption a Book of Discipline, although it has prepared a preliminary draft of a considerable portion of a Book of Discipline. If the Committee should be continued it would be able to complete its work, and present a Book of Discipline and a Directory for Worship a reasonable time before the next General Assembly.

The Committee does, however, recommend the adoption of the Form of Government which is submitted herewith. Since the draft was printed, in response to suggestions made to the Committee, four changes have been made in the proposed form of Government:

1. In Chapter X, Section 1 (p. 9), the substitution of the words "consisting, as it does, of" for the words "being divided into."

2. In Chapter XI, Section 2 (p. 12), adding the clause "and two or more elders from every collegiate church in proportion to the number of its pastors." This addition will bring this section into harmony with Chapter X, Section 3.

3. In Chapter XVIII (p. 31, line 8), adding the following after the words "The parties appointed"; "and that the parties appointed will speedily place themselves and their work under the jurisdiction of any Presbytery within whose bounds they may be laboring."

4. The revision of Chapter XXIII, Section 3, to read as follows: "The Board of Trustees of a particular church shall ordinarily consist of the acting ruling elders and deacons in that church, but other communicant members of the church may be elected as Trustees if it seem desirable, provided, however, that the number of such members shall be less than half the total membership of the Board; its duties shall be confined to the discharge of the business described in Section 1 of this chapter."

In making this recommendation the Committee desires to call attention to the fact that the proposed Form of Government is to a large extent the Form of Government which has been in use in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. for over a hundred years. The most substantial changes have been in the interest of eliminating provisions for synods, and other matters which obviously cannot be included in our Form of Government. Some of the principles set forth in the new draft have been revised and restated in view of questions of copyright. Some sections have been altered in the interest of lucidity. The revision has been a very conservative one on the whole, and material changes have been dictated by the desire to present a Form of Government that is true to the fundamental principles of Presbyterian Church Government.

A motion to approve the recommendation of the Committee with respect to I-A was amended to read that we consider these recommendations by paragraphs. The amended motion was carried.

The Moderator ruled that the substance of paragraph II was properly before the Assembly.

A motion to hear overtures from the Presbyteries relating to this paragraph was carried.

Action by the Second (1936) General Assembly concerning the Report

The previous question (that the Assembly proceed to vote on the recommendations of the Committee with respect to the doctrinal standards of the Church) was moved and carried. The Assembly determined that the vote on this part of the report of the Committee should be by roll-call.

The vote was as follows:

In favor of adopting the report of the Committee regarding the Confession of Faith and Catechisms: Ministers: Adair, Agnew, Allen, Atwell, Clelland, Coie, E. Cooper, T. Cooper, Cummings, DeRuiter, DeVeIde, DeWaard, Dodd, Dunn, Dyrness, Faucette, Freeman, Gordon, Graham, Hamilton, Holmes, Jongewaard, Long, Machen, Marsden, Marston, Mitchell, Rankin, Rian, Shaw, Skilton, Sloat, Smith, Sterling, Stonehouse, R. Strong, W. Strong, Thwing, Tucker, Van Til, Vining, Voorhees, Woodbridge, Woolley, Young, and Elders: Bernard, Bovard, Falw, Freytag, Hubbard, Jacobs, McNeal, Morrison, Roberts, Worcester, Frazer, Ferguson; total 57.

Against adopting the report of the Committee regarding the Confession of Faith and Catechisms: Ministers: Arcularius, Buffler, Buswell, Harris, Jamison, MacRae, McIntire, Pitcher, Simpson, Thomas, Toms, Vaughn, Wall, Welbon, Wortman, and Elders: Cooper, Hall, Hodge, MacCorkell, Stam; total 20.

The report of the Committee regarding the doctrinal standards of the Church was declared to have been adopted.

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