The Presbyterian Conflict

Edwin H. Rian

Chapter 6. The Independent Board

THE CONTENTION and the belief that the boards and agencies of the Presbyterian Church in the USA were, and are, under the control and domination of those who do not hold to historic Christianity was a vital concern to the Board of Foreign Missions. For many years the conservatives of the church were critical and distrustful of the actions and missionary appointments of that board. While the other agencies were likewise under scrutiny, and in many cases considered even more liberal in their operation, it was the Board of Foreign Missions which received most of the attention. This may be explained on the ground that foreign missions have always been regarded as most intimately concerned with the real mission of the church in preaching the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. An examination of the other boards in a later chapter will reveal that what is stated here about the foreign board is equally true of the others.

In the fall of 1923, the Rev. Robert Dick Wilson, D.D., LL.D., professor of Hebrew and Old Testament literature at Princeton Seminary, wrote an article in which he criticized the board on two counts. He averred that the board had allowed itself to become entangled with bodies of missionaries differing in doctrine and polity from the Presbyterian Church in the USA, and that missionaries had been hindered from joining such a doctrinally sound organization in China as the Bible Union. He wrote,

While believing that it is our duty to give adequate support to the missionaries already on the field who are loyal to the doctrine of the church, I cannot refrain from stating my conviction that the Board, and especially some of our secretaries, have erred grievously in some of their policies with regard to the work entrusted to them by the church.[1]

In addition to the two causes which Dr. Wilson gave for lack of confidence in the board, others felt that the public repudiation by three members of the board of the doctrinal deliverances of the 1923 General Assembly, when they signed the Auburn Affirmation, made that board unworthy of the church's support.[2]

At the General Assembly in May, 1924, the agitation against the Board of Foreign Missions found expression in the report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Missions. The following resolution of the committee was adopted:

That while maintaining loyally the policy established by past General Assemblies in repeated enactments with regard to cooperation with other Evangelical bodies in our Foreign Missionary Work the Board be directed to exercise due care with regard to the Evangelical character of all such union and cooperative enterprises, and if there should arise in the work of these enterprises a situation in which teachings unsound or injurious to the Evangelical Faith are given, the Board, as it has declared to be its policy, should either secure the correction of such a situation or failing such withdraw from further participation.[3]

As far as is known, the board did not withdraw from any union enterprises, however questionable they were.

The discontent with the policy of the board increased in extent and intensity, and was brought to a climax in 1932 by the publication of a book entitled Re-Thinking Missions, which was issued as a report of the "Commission of Appraisal of the Laymen's Inquiry after One Hundred Years," the chairman of which was Dr. William E. Hocking, professor at Harvard University and a leader with strong liberal leanings. The minister representative of the Presbyterian Church in the USA was the Rev. William P. Merrill, D.D., a signer of the Auburn Affirmation. The work of the commission was largely financed by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who had voiced his opposition to historic Christianity.[4]

Representatives of seven denominations—Congregational, Methodist, Episcopal, Northern Baptist, Protestant Episcopal, Presbyterian Church in the USA, Reformed Church in America, and the United Presbyterian Church—met unofficially in New York City in 1930 to consider the foreign missions enterprise. This group constituted the thirty-five directors of the Foreign Missionary Inquiry, of which seven formed an executive committee. The inquiry resulting was independent of the denominational mission boards, but it received their cooperation in securing the facts. The inquiry was restricted to Burma, China, India, and Japan, and the work was divided into two parts; first, an accumulation of data, and secondly, "an appraisal of these facts in the light of the widest possible consideration of the meaning of the mission enterprises and of the world condition in which it is now, and is to be, carried out."[5]

The Institute of Social and Religious Research was engaged to gather the data and research workers were sent to the designated fields for this purpose. In September, 1931, this part of the report was completed and the facts were placed in the hands of the Commission of Appraisal of fifteen members. These commissioners made a visit to the several mission fields with the following purpose in mind:

To aid laymen to determine their attitude toward Foreign Missions, by reconsidering the functions of such Missions in the world today. With this general aim,
a. To make an objective appraisal of their activities in the fields visited;
b. To observe the effect of Missions on the life of the peoples of the Orient;
c. In the light of the existing conditions and profiting, though not bound, by missionary experience to work out a practical program for today, offering recommendations as to the extent to which missionary activities of every sort should be continued or changed.[6]

In September, 1932, seven volumes were issued by the commission containing the data gathered concerning the various aspects of the foreign missions enterprise and also the book, Re-Thinking Missions, which summarized the facts according to the foregoing expressed purpose. The last named book is of the most importance and contains three parts: I. General Principles, chapters 1-4; II. Aspects of Mission Work, chapters 5-12; III. Administration, chapters 12-14.

The parts of the book which have to do with personnel and methods are not so important to this study, but the recommendations of this commission with reference to the approach of Christianity to the other religions, and the message which missionaries should preach, are of the utmost concern in this study. The commission makes it plain that Christianity should unite with the other religions, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism, in a common front against materialism, naturalism, and immorality.

It is no longer, which prophet? or which book.? It is whether any prophet, book, revelation, rite, Church is to be trusted. All the old oracles are seeing a new sign: the scorn on the faces of students who know the experiments in anti-religion in Russia and non-religion in Turkey, and the actual religionlessness of much western life.... The case that must now be stated is the case for any religion at all.[7]
... Thus it is that Christianity finds itself in point of fact aligned in this world-wide issue with the non-Christian faiths of 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.[8]

There is no need to multiply these quotations because the whole attitude of the book is predicated upon the assumption that the germ of truth exists in all religions and that it is the duty of the missionary to recognize that germ of truth as the least common denominator and build thereupon.

In regard to the message of the missionary it is stated,

The original objective of the mission might be stated as the conquest of the world by Christianity: it was a world benevolence conceived in terms of a world campaign. There was one way of salvation and one only, one name, one atonement. this plan with its particular historical center in the career of Jesus must become the point of regard for every human soul. The universal quality of Christianity lay not alone in its valid principles of truth and morals, but in an essential paradox, the universal claim of one historical fact: the work of Christ.... Hence, in respect to its central fact Christianity was necessarily dogmatic—it could only say Ecce Homo, Behold the Man; and it was committed to a certain intolerance, beneficent in purpose—in the interest of the soul it could allow no substitute for Christ.[9]

Concerning this point of view, the following hope was expressed, "In that case, the hope would be that Christianity, instead of tying itself to the sinking bulks, would hold itself clear and give a distinctive version of what religion, in its purity, may mean.[10]

It is very plain from these quotations that the modernist message of missions is entirely different from that of historic Christianity. According to historic Christianity a missionary is not to make common cause with pagan religions, but to show these religionists the error of their ways and to point them to the one way of salvation through Jesus Christ. This was the method and the message of the apostles and has been for the Christian church these many centuries. In other words, the recommendations of the commission would mean a radical departure for the mission enterprise.

Since the commission and its report had received such wide newspaper comment, the publication of Re-Thinking Missions focused the attention of the Christian world upon foreign missions and demonstrated anew that drastic changes in missionary work and in the missionary message were taking place within the Protestant church. Ministers and organizations in practically every Protestant church made some mention of the report. In fact, it was the issuance of this book, as well as the presence of Pearl S. Buck on the foreign missionary roster of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, which crystallized the thoughts of Dr. Machen on foreign missions as they were related to the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

This Pearl S. Buck was no obscure missionary in a forgotten part of the world, but one of the most prominent and successful novelists of the day who lived in China and was associated with Nanking University. What makes the situation more reprehensible from the standpoint of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA is the fact that Dr. Robert E. Speer, senior secretary of the board, was president of the board of founders of Nanking University. In fact, Dr. Speer's attitude was a source of amazement to Christian leaders.[11]

The manifest indifference of the board toward Pearl Buck's unbelief and the compromising attitude of the board toward Re-Thinking Missions produced the conviction that the time to take drastic action had come. Dr. Machen felt compelled to make public his opinion to the New Brunswick Presbytery of which he was a member. This he did in the form of an overture.

I am presenting this Overture not because I desire to do so but because I am compelled to do so. I should be far happier if I did not know certain things about the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.; but I do know those things, and the knowledge of them places upon me a duty which I cannot evade. My membership in a Presbytery seems to me to be a sacred trust, and it is in discharge of the obligations of that trust that I am presenting the proposed Overture and some of the reasons which have compelled me to advocate it.[12]

The overture was presented to the presbytery at its meeting on January 24, 1933, and made the order of the day for April 11, 1933. Dr. Robert E. Speer was invited to be present as the representative spokesman for the Board of Foreign Missions. The overture called for care on the part of the board to keep modernists from the board and the roll of missionaries, and to avoid doctrinally compromising union enterprises.[13]

Dr. Machen's argument in favor of the overture was printed in a 110-page pamphlet entitled, Modernism and the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and sent, before the meeting, to every minister and elder in the presbytery as well as to every member and secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions.

The drama and meaning of that day will remain long in the memory of those who were present to hear the debate. Before that large audience in the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Trenton, New Jersey, appeared two men, one the outstanding conservative theologian of America and the other the missionary leader of American Presbyterianism.

It was more than a conflict between two brilliant men set for an academic debate and verbal pyrotechnics for the entertainment and intellectual stimulation of the audience. It was even more than the clash of two opponents each ready to prove that his presentation of the case was right. In reality, it was a dramatic meeting in which two conceptions of Christianity were presented by two of the ablest men in the Christian world, one the historic orthodox point of view and the other the doctrinally indifferent attitude. One stood for a militant defense of the gospel and the other advocated a pacifistic view toward those ministers and missionaries of the church who were modernistic in their theology. The final outcome of the struggle in the church warrants the claim that this debate was one of real historic significance, and one that has had an influence on individuals and churches wherever the Presbyterian Church in the USA is represented both in America and abroad.

At the very outset Dr. Machen made it plain that his sole standard of judgment was the Word of God, and that every missionary, every institution, and every piece of literature supported and endorsed by the board must be tested and judged by adherence to the Bible. There are many standards of judgment, he said, but the Presbyterian Church in the USA has stated in its Confession of Faith, "The Supreme Judge, by whom all controversies of religion are to be determined, ... and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture."[14]

With these preliminary remarks he plunged into the main stream of his argument and mentioned briefly the evidences of modernism in the Board of Foreign Missions contained in his pamphlet. Only one hour was allowed for the presentation of these facts, but the pamphlet had been sent to the presbyters well in advance of the meeting, so that the supporting evidence for his address was known to everyone present.

The moral earnestness, the dignity, and the tender appeal with which Dr. Machen closed his argument brought a hushed silence over the audience. He pled with them to return to the Word of God, to forsake the wisdom of man, to turn against the trend of the age, and to be faithful to the Christ of the Bible.

The main thesis of Dr. Machen's charges against the Board of Foreign Missions as stated in his pamphlet was that the board had become so entangled with modernism that the need for reform was imperative. He proceeded to prove this contention by making six charges against the board, all substantiated by evidence.

His first complaint had to do with the attitude of the Board of Foreign Missions toward the book Re-Thinking Missions. The board issued an official "Action of the Board of Foreign Missions," passed on November 21, 1932, and published in pamphlet form as well as in the Presbyterian Magazine, January, 1933. In this statement the board made no clear-cut pronouncement against the appraisal commission's report, which had made "an attack against the very heart of the Christian religion."[15] Mr. James M. Speers and Mrs. John H. Finley were members of the Board of Foreign Missions, and at the same time members of the Laymen's Foreign Missions Inquiry. Dr. Machen asked the question,

Did it [the Board] agree with its Vice-President, Mr. Speers, and another of its members, Mrs. Finley, in their action in issuing the Appraisal Commission's Report, or did it repudiate this action of these two of its members, and pronounce the Report of the Appraisal Commission as being, what it clearly is, hostile to the roots of the Christian religion?

Dr. Machen answered his own question: "It made no answer to these inquiries. It dodged the issue."[16] The statement of the board relative to the aim of missions reads,

The supreme and controlling aim of Foreign Missions is to make the Lord Jesus Christ known to all men as their Divine Saviour and to persuade them to become His disciples; to gather these disciples into Christian Churches which shall be self-propagating, self-supporting, self-governing; to cooperate, so long as necessary, with these Churches in the evangelizing of their countrymen and in bringing to bear on all human life the spirit and principles of Christ.[17]

In reply to this Dr. Machen said,

Where is there any reference here to the things really distinctive of Christian missions, where is there, at least, any reference to such things in terms which are not often distorted by modern unbelief to mean something entirely different from what they used to mean?[18]

The second charge of modernism against the board concerned its vacillating attitude toward Pearl S. Buck, the author of The Good Earth. Dr. Machen quoted largely from two articles by Mrs. Buck, "The Laymen's Mission Report," and "Is There a Case for Foreign Missions?" Dr. Machen's quotations from her articles very plainly show outspoken opposition to historic Christianity:

The first three chapters [Re-Thinking Missions] are the finest exposition of religion I have ever read.[19]
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... I do not believe in original sin.... I agree with the Chinese who feel their people should be protected from such superstition (Biblical teaching about salvation from sin).[20]

Such statements are so obviously opposed to historic Christianity that Dr. Machen hardly felt called upon to answer them.

When Dr. Machen first made these damaging charges against the board for allowing Mrs. Buck to remain as a missionary, the board had done nothing about it. At a later date, Mrs. Buck resigned as a missionary and the board accepted her resignation "with regret." The minute of the board reads,

A letter was presented from Mrs. J. Lossing Buck, of the Kiangan Mission, requesting to be released from responsible relationship to the Board. The Board had hoped that this step might be avoided, but in view of all the considerations involved and with deep regret it voted to acquiesce in her request. The Board expressed to Mrs. Buck its sincere appreciation of the service which she has rendered during the past sixteen years and its earnest prayer that her unusual abilities may continue to be richly used in behalf of the people of China.

On May 31, 1934, Dr. Robert E. Speer in writing to the Rev. Carl McIntire stated,

The Board did accept Mrs. Buck's resignation with regret... Its regret in Mrs. Buck's case was because she was unable any longer to hold and proclaim the Christian faith as she had held it on her first appointment by the Southern Presbyterian Church as a missionary to China and her appointment as a missionary of our Church when she married Mr. Buck.[21]

Dr. Speer's answer seems rather strange, particularly when it is recalled that he had been president of the board of founders of Nanking University with which Mrs. Buck had been associated for many years, and must have known her attitude. Furthermore, on the face of the matter surely no one would possibly interpret the action as Dr. Speer interprets it.

Dr. Machen's third accusation concerned the board and its attitude toward the Auburn Affirmation. He made it clear that one of the most important officers of the board, the candidate secretary, Rev. Lindsay S. B. Hadley, was a signer of the Auburn Affirmation. Dr. Machen wrote,

To the Candidate Secretary is entrusted the delicate task of interviewing candidates for the foreign field and of encouraging or discouraging them in their high ambition. Is there any agent of the Church who ought to be more completely clear as to what the Church's message is than the occupant of this position?[22]

In 1926, Dr. Machen had written to the board asking for an explanation of the presence of five signers of the Auburn Affirmation on the board. In reply Dr. Speer wrote, "We know of not one who does not accept the Constitution and Standards of the Church and who is not truly and loyally evangelical."[23] At the time that this letter was written there were five out of fifteen members of the board who were signers of the Auburn Affirmation. To such a state of affairs Dr. Machen made the reply, "It must be said very plainly that Bible-believing Christians can have no confidence in a Board whose standards of what is truly and loyally evangelical are such as that."[24]

The fourth count against the board concerned the modernist propaganda by the candidate department. This department recommended such books as The Meaning of Faith, by Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Marks of a World Christian, by D. J. Fleming, and The Devotional Diary, by J. H. Oldham. Dr. Machen examined these books and, judging by the standards of the Bible, he found them to be contrary to historic Christianity. As a matter of fact, the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, D.D., is regarded as one of the most outstanding modernist ministers in the bounds of the nominally Christian church. The other two authors are not as well-known, but their books which were there recommended are as offensive to the gospel of the Bible as the book of Dr. Fosdick.

Dr. Machen's fifth charge against the board was its commendation of such men as Sherwood Eddy and Kagawa. Dr. Machen made it clear that the teachings of Sherwood Eddy and Kagawa strike at the very heart of the Christian message as understood by the church for these many centuries.

The last indictment of the board was concerned with the fact that the board cooperates with modernist union enterprises in China. For evidence in this respect Dr. Machen depended upon communications from Dr. Albert B. Dodd of the North China Theological Seminary, a missionary of the church, and Chancellor Arie Kok of the Netherlands legation in Peiping. The citations of modernist propaganda and cooperation with modernist union enterprises in China of the board are overwhelming.

It is difficult to understand how one could read this pamphlet or have heard Dr. Machen and not come to the conclusion that the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the USA had been unfaithful to its trust.

Dr. Robert E. Speer spoke after Dr. Machen, but in no way was his address an answer to the charges in the pamphlet which had been sent to him well in advance of the meeting. In the main he said that the board was a servant of the church and, as such, it was up to the general assembly to take whatever actions were necessary to remedy a bad situation if that obtained. Dr. Speer defended the actions of the board and its missionaries and declared that these men were as faithful to the Bible as the men at home. This latter statement no one would deny, since the ministers of the church at home were probably less true to the Bible. Instead of replying to the charges in the pamphlet, Dr. Speer did attempt to answer the four parts of the overture which Dr. Machen had introduced. Concerning section one, he stated that it singled out the Board of Foreign Missions and so was discriminatory. Section two he declared was out of order because the board had no authority to sit in judgment upon a minister who was in good and regular standing. Dr. Speer could not deny that the candidate secretary was a signer of the Auburn Affirmation. Relative to section three, he stated that the question blanks which were sent by the board to prospective candidates in no way indicated that a tolerance for opposing views was essential to a missionary's attitude. The last paragraph of the overture refers to the dangers which lurk in union enterprises and the necessity for constant vigilance. This Dr. Speer admitted, but he also made it clear that there is danger in separation.

The Presbytery of New Brunswick voted overwhelmingly against Dr. Machen's overture, but this did not stop the questions and doubts which the pamphlet had created in the minds of Presbyterians everywhere. On May 1, 1933, the Presbytery of Philadelphia passed the identical overture so that the whole matter thus forced itself upon the attention of the General Assembly.[25]

When the General Assembly met in Columbus, Ohio, on May 25, 1933, the issue which overshadowed all other items on the docket was the overture from the Presbytery of Philadelphia, which was concurred in by the Presbytery of Aberdeen, and other overtures of a similar nature from Hudson, Chester, and Northumberland Presbyteries concerning the Board of Foreign Missions and its alleged unfaithfulness to the doctrinal standards of the church.[26] Since the boards of the church are the creation of the general assembly, this was the proper procedure for attempting to remedy a bad situation in any board.

The utter weakness of the Board of Foreign Missions' answer to the allegations in the overture was seen by the tactics of those who chose to "whitewash" the activities of the board, and so demonstrate their loyalty to it. Every conceivable parliamentary trick was used to stifle debate and to stir the emotions of the commissioners to loyalty to the boards of the church. In the midst of the majority report of the Assembly's Committee on Foreign Missions, for example, the memorial roll of missionaries was read, a prayer was made, and then the whole assembly sang, "For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest," thus prejudicing the assembly in favor of the report. This show of bad taste in the midst of a controversial issue was evidently done to put the majority report in a good light. Another demonstration of prejudice and bad taste was the introduction which Dr. McDowell, the moderator, gave to Dr. Speer when he said, "Dr. Speer... of whom it could be said, as it was said of his Master, 'In him was life and the life was the light of men.' "[27]

The majority report of the assembly's Committee on Foreign Missions occupied practically all of the time allotted to the subject in extolling the virtues and accomplishments of the board.[28] Those who represented the minority on this committee, Peter Stam, Jr., an elder from Narberth, Pennsylvania, and the Rev. Robert S. Marsden, of Middletown, Pennsylvania, wished to speak in behalf of the overture, but were allotted a sum total of fifteen minutes. The usual courtesy of printing the minority report was denied. The minority made the following recommendations:

Therefore, in answer to the overtures from the Presbyteries of Philadelphia and Aberdeen, and in reply to the other overtures, papers and memorials, the Committee recommends that the following resolution be adopted by this Assembly:
"The 145th General Assembly has learned with sorrow of the acts and policies of its Board of Foreign Missions which have seriously impaired confidence in the minds of thousands of loyal and earnest Presbyterians. This Assembly proclaims anew its loyalty and love for the pure and everlasting gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, declaring to men everywhere that there is only one way of salvation—through the substitutionary, atoning sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, where He shed His precious blood for the redemption of lost and sinful men. The Assembly pledges that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. will, through its Board of Foreign Missions, preach this one, only gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, to the exclusion of all other gospels or false paths to God."
In order to take the first practical step to make this pledge effective and thus to reestablish confidence the Committee nominates the following persons to serve for three years as members of the Board of the Class of 1933-1936:...

Peter Stam, Jr.
Robert S. Marsden

Dr. Machen appeared before the Assembly's Standing Committee on Foreign Missions to defend his charges against the board, but the members of the committee were so obviously prejudiced that he made little impression upon them.

The majority report was overwhelmingly adopted, and the attempt to reform the Board of Foreign Missions in the most effective way according to Presbyterian procedure had failed completely. There was nothing left to do but to announce the formation of an independent organization operating outside the bounds of the church, and separate from the church, which would carry on truly biblical and truly Presbyterian foreign missions. The conservatives who had attempted to bring about a reform in the Board of Foreign Missions were determined to have a foreign mission agency which would be true to the Bible. While still at Columbus, Ohio, Dr. Machen and the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, both of whom had been leaders in the reform movement, issued the following statement:

In view of the action of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. resisting the movement for reform of the Board of Foreign Missions, a new Board will be organized by Bible-believing Christians to promote truly Biblical and truly Presbyterian mission work.[29]

On June 27, 1933, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was formally organized and on October 17, 1933, the constitution was adopted and the following officers elected: the Rev. J. Gresham Machen, president, the Rev. Merrill T. MacPherson, vice-president, the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, secretary, and Murray Forst Thompson, treasurer. The board also issued an invitation to the Rev. Charles J. Woodbridge, a missionary of the church in the French Cameroun, West Africa, to serve as general secretary.[30]

The Rev. Charles J. Woodbridge returned to this country and began serving as general secretary in February, 1934. He accepted the responsibility because he was convinced that the old board was no longer faithful to its trust, and that an independent board which would be truly biblical and truly Presbyterian would have to be established.

With the coming of Mr. Woodbridge the Independent Board began to extend its influence and activities. Mr. Woodbridge, whose father had been for over forty years an honored missionary of the Presbyterian Church in the US in China, was no ordinary general secretary, but a man of exceptional personality and evangelistic appeal. As a result of his work, funds were contributed to the board with such liberality that within two months after his arrival, the Rev. and Mrs. Henry W. Coray were appointed in April, 1934, as the first missionaries of the board to be stationed in China.[31]

Dissatisfaction with the policy of the Board of Foreign Missions, however, was not confined to Philadelphia nor to Dr. Machen. The Presbytery of Chester sent a statement to the board on January 23, 1934, part of which is as follows:

1. ...Rightly or wrongly, the feeling prevails in many quarters that our Board has spoken feebly when the occasion demanded a thunder tone.
2. The Board's Candidate Department, so influential in determining the character of the reinforcements sent to the field, should be above suspicion in the matter of its loyalty to the doctrinal standards of our church....
3. We believe that there is an urgent need of improvement in mission study books recommended to our people....
4. The conviction prevails among many that the nature of some of the educational work in which our Board has a share is of questionable value.[32]

The board's reply to Chester Presbytery gave no new light on the accusations which had been leveled at it by Dr. Machen and others.

In April, 1935, the Rev. Carl McIntire, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Collingswood, New Jersey, published a 96-page pamphlet entitled Dr. Robert E. Speer, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and Modernism, in which he gave additional proof of modernism in the Board of Foreign Missions along the same lines as Dr. Machen, that is, concerning the literature, missionaries, members of the board, and union enterprises of the board. Dr. Speer's reply to these charges was included in Mr. McIntire's booklet, but in most of the instances he denied the charges of modernism and "whitewashed" the board entirely.

Another indictment of the Board of Foreign Missions was made by the Rev. Donald G. Barnhouse, D.D., pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, who had made a sixteen months' tour of some of the mission fields of the church. In his report of this tour Dr. Barnhouse charged that modernism was to be found among some of the missionaries and in some of the missionary enterprises.[33] But his conclusions differed greatly from Dr. Machen's in that he advocated that the church give to the board, especially to its sound missionaries, and urged further that the church try to elect more members to the board who would be loyal to the standards of the church. Although Dr. Barnhouse's conclusions were weak and futile, nevertheless his testimony to modernism in the Board of Foreign Missions added to the weight of the evidence against the board.

In addition to these rather formal protests against modernism in the Board of Foreign Missions, many articles continued to be written and overtures sent to the General Assembly as late as 1935, two years after the Independent Board had been organized.

A strong indictment was delivered in an address by Dr. Charles G. Trumbull, editor of The Sunday School Times, at a mass meeting called by Presbyterian laymen in Philadelphia, February 28, 1935. Under the title, "Foreign Missionary Betrayals of the Faith," Dr. Trumbull asked the question, "What are the policies and practices of our Board of Foreign Missions that are undermining the work of the sound evangelical missionaries in the foreign field? They are the policies and practises of Modernism." He then listed some of those policies and practices as evidenced by members of the board itself, by missionaries, by union enterprises, by the literature issued by the board, and concluded his address by saying, "How can unfaithful Board members and unfaithful Board secretaries be expected to deal properly with unfaithful missionaries?"[34]

Protests and communications relative to modernism were also sent to the Board of Foreign Missions so that the discontent with the board mounted higher and higher. In the meantime, the power and influence of the Independent Board grew as each month saw more converts to its cause. This alarming situation frightened the leaders of the ecclesiastical organization of the church to such an extent that unprecedented and drastic action was decided upon. The General Assembly meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, May, 1934, was to witness the awful tragedy of the issuance of a deliverance which was to cause those who were most loyal to the Bible to resign, and so to deprive the church of a group who had been zealous in maintaining the truths of the gospel. The rulers of the church knew no bounds in their determination to rid the church of the so-called disturbers of the peace.


[1] Robert Dick Wilson, "Friendly Advice to the Foreign Board," The Presbyterian 93 (October 25, 1923), 9.

[2] The Presbyterian 93 (November 22, 1923), 4. See also chapter two.

[3] Minutes of the General Assembly 1924, Part 1, 187.

[4] John D. Rockefeller," The Christian Church, What of Its Future?" The Saturday Evening Post (February 9, 1918).

[5] Re-Thinking Missions (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1932).

[6] Ibid., xi.

[7] Ibid., 32-33.

[8] Ibid., 33.

[9] Ibid., 35-36.

[10] Ibid., 36.

[11] Editorial, The Moody Monthly (January 1934).

[12] J. Gresham Machen, Modernism and the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (Philadelphia: J. Gresham Machen, 1933), 4.

[13] Ibid., 1. See also Appendix, note 10.

[14] The Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section X.

[15] Machen, Modernism and the Board, 6.

[16] Ibid., 7.

[17] Preliminary Reports of the Missionary and Benevolent Boards to the 145th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 16.

[18] Machen, Modernism and the Board, 9. On March 20, 1933, the board took the following action which was not made public until after the meeting at New Brunswick Presbytery on April 11, 1933. "At the meeting of the Board on March 20, 1933, a unanimous vote declared, regarding the first four chapters of the Appraisal Report, that (1) These chapters do not conform to the fundamental aim of foreign missions as expressed in the manual of the Board, (2) The Board affirms its loyalty to die Standards of the Presbyterian Church and maintains the absolute finality, sufficiency and universality of the Gospel of Christ." Report of Board to 145th General Assembly.

[19] Pearl S. Buck, "The Laymen's Mission Report," The Christian Century 49 (November 23, 1932), 1434.

[20] Pearl S. Buck, "Is There a Case for Foreign Missions?" Harpers Magazine (January 1933), 14&150; (these quotations appear in a different order in Mrs. Buck's article—editor).

[21] Rev. Carl McIntire, Dr. Robert E. Speer, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and Modernism (n.p., April 11, 1935), 78.

[22] Machen, Modernism and the Board, 25.

[23] Ibid., 26.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Christianity Today 4 (May 1933), 31.

[26] Minutes of the General Assembly 1933, Part 1, 27-29.

[27] Christianity Today 4 (June 1933), 12-13.

[28] Minutes of the General Assembly 1933, Part 1, 153-60.

[29] Christianity Today 4 (June 1933), 13.

[30] Christianity Today 4 (October 1933), 11-12.

[31] Christianity Today 4 (April 1934), 23.

[32] Christianity Today 4 (February 1934), 22-23.

[33] The Presbyterian 105 (October 31, 1935), 1, 5-10.

[34] Charles G. Trumbull, "Foreign Missionary Betrayals of the Faith," The Sunday School Times 77 (March 23, 1935), 195-99.

[Table of Contents]


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