Camden M. Bucey
New Horizons: October 2022
Also in this issue
by Danny E. Olinger
by John R. Muether
by Lane G. Tipton
Although he is undoubtedly a foundational figure of OPC history, details of Ned B. Stonehouse’s life remain vague, his theological contributions are often unrecognized, and the positions he took in ecclesiastical debates are sometimes surprising and even perplexing.
Ned B. Stonehouse (March 19, 1902–November 18, 1962) was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. He was a founding member both of the faculty of Westminster in 1929 and the Presbyterian Church of America (later OPC) in 1936. He married Winigrace (1904–1958; née Bylsma) on August 30, 1927, in Grand Rapids. They had one child, Bernard John (Chip) Stonehouse (1937–1999). After Winigrace died in 1958, Stonehouse married Margaret Robinson in 1959.
Stonehouse was an internationally recognized biblical scholar and wrote several books and articles mostly addressing the Gospels and the New Testament canon. He was editor of the Westminster Theological Journal and the Presbyterian Guardian, in which he wrote many articles on theological and ecclesiastical matters. He also served as editor of the New International Commentary on the New Testament and as president of the Evangelical Theological Society for one year, in 1957.
But he is perhaps best known as the biographer of J. Gresham Machen, a book on which he labored for seven years. John R. Muether notes how at times Dr. Stonehouse thought the biography might be the end of him. But when finally published in 1954, it proved to be a great blessing to him and others.
Stonehouse was particularly suited to write Machen’s biography. He had worked closely with Machen as a junior colleague in Westminster’s New Testament department for seven years and, among those both at the seminary and in the church, likely knew Machen the best. His bond is evident in the memorial he published in the Presbyterian Guardian upon Machen’s death in 1937:
Our hearts are deeply wounded but not unto despair. . . . to us he was a dearly beloved Christian brother whose life touched ours for good at a thousand points. Indeed, he was far more than a brother to many of us. He was a father in Israel and we have become orphans.
Stonehouse filled the void left by Machen in many areas. He fought the fight for the young church, yet he did so, in the words of Charles G. Dennison, as the “consummate gentleman” and “diplomat.” Stonehouse was unique in that he was neither indifferent to doctrinal disagreements nor quick to pursue separation. His default posture was to make room for as many as possible within the church without ultimately compromising the church’s confession. On more than one occasion, he took stands within the courts of the church that differed from those of his colleagues at Westminster. Three notable cases demonstrate this posture, serving as useful examples of how Stonehouse sought to follow Christ by maintaining the peace, purity, and unity of the church.
Having left the PCUSA to form a distinct body in 1936, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (as it was renamed in 1939) was struggling to find its distinct identity. Members of the new church debated several cultural and doctrinal issues, including dispensational premillennialism. Stonehouse and John Murray had written several articles in the Presbyterian Guardian on the subject, and some had taken these criticisms of dispensationalism to be criticisms of premillennialism in general, including historic premillennialism, which was a position held by several ministerial members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Stonehouse clarified, “Our criticism of Modern Dispensationalism is not concerned with an attack upon the belief that Christ’s return will be followed by a dispensation lasting a thousand years.” He readily admitted that the presence of historical dispensations in Scripture were not an issue per se. It was the specific content of dispensationalism,
where one dispensation is set so sharply against another that the Bible is regarded as setting forth more than one religion. The result is that the Bible no longer is received as giving a unified testimony to the one way of salvation, and the doctrine that under every dispensation man is saved solely through God’s grace is greatly obscured.
On this doctrinal point, Machen and Stonehouse sought to keep the Orthodox Presbyterian Church broad enough to include historical premillennialists, such as their friend and colleague Paul Woolley, provided it did not come packaged with dispensationalism. But here they differed from others, such as Cornelius Van Til, who were convinced that all forms of premillennialism were out of accord with the Westminster Standards.
Nearly forty years later, the OPC general assembly voted to amend its constitution to remove language in the Standards that stood as an obstacle to premillennialists. The proposed changes regarded Larger Catechism Questions and Answers 86–89, which speak of the resurrection and the day of judgment. This was part of the proposed Plan of Union with the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod (RPCES) in 1975. Only fifty-seven percent of the RPCES assembly voted for this Plan of Union, however, falling short of the required two-thirds majority, and our Larger Catechism remained unchanged.
We can only speculate whether Stonehouse would have supported these changes, but it seems clear from his earlier writings that he felt the church should have included historic premillennialists from its beginning.
This event provides a glimpse into Stonehouse’s thinking regarding the breadth of a particular denomination, but how did he view the relationship of denominations with one another? We learn of his position in Stonehouse’s work on ecumenicity.
While he was opposed to the Federal Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches that would seek church union through a lowest-common-denominator approach, Stonehouse nevertheless advocated for advancing ecumenical relations, provided they did not compromise the OPC’s confessional fidelity. The most notable cases were the prospect of joining the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC) and the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC), both led by Carl McIntire. McIntire had been instrumental in the division of 1937, which led to the formation of the Bible Presbyterian Synod. If Stonehouse had any hard feelings regarding this separation, they appear to have completely dissipated a decade later.
Stonehouse corresponded with Carl McIntire for several years on this matter. More than offering polite and official commentary regarding these ecumenical efforts, Stonehouse repeatedly expressed to McIntire his desire for the OPC to join these institutions. Even after membership in the ACCC was rejected by the general assembly in 1949, he advocated for joining its international counterpart.
After much deliberation, the general assembly determined to apply for membership in the ICCC provided that the organization would emend its constitution to clarify its doctrinal position as being in alignment with the OPC’s. But after the ICCC was unwilling to make all the requested concessions, it became clear to many that the ICCC was not interested in the OPC’s doctrinal concerns. In 1952, the general assembly terminated its membership in the ICCC. Stonehouse labored intensively to establish and maintain these ecumenical ties, but he found himself opposed to many of his Westminster colleagues, including R. B. Kuiper, John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, and John Skilton, who viewed these efforts as compromising the church’s distinctly Reformed witness to the world. This would not be the last time he would find himself on the other side of an issue. While the circumstances were different, Stonehouse’s Christian charity would place him at odds with his colleagues within the Presbytery of Philadelphia once again.
In the late 1940s, a dispute arose in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church regarding several people involved with the Peniel Bible Conference and charismatic teachings on revelation and the Spirit’s guidance. Several of these figures had been students at Westminster Theological Seminary, including Raymond Meiners and Herman Petersen, but it was a complaint involving Grover Travers Sloyer that concerned Stonehouse most significantly.
Sloyer served as stated supply at Redeemer OPC in Philadelphia. When Sloyer’s license was revoked (a second time) by his presbytery due to his view on spiritual guidance and sanctification, Stonehouse vigorously supported his former student. However, Stonehouse later recognized the effects of Peniel’s doctrine upon the church. He worked on a presbytery committee that delivered a decisive report in response to the complaint from Sloyer and the Redeemer session. Reflecting on the dispute in the Presbyterian Guardian, Stonehouse revealed a tension that he seems to have carried throughout his ministry:
Although the [Peniel Bible] Conference is an inter-denominational organization and, accordingly, is not under the jurisdiction of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the fact that several ministers and members of this Church are affiliated with it and even are numbered among the leaders of the Conference underscores the fact that the issue has a strongly ecclesiastical aspect. As a church that is deeply committed to purity in doctrine and holy living the Orthodox Presbyterian Church may not, without losing its integrity and even forfeiting its very right to separate denominational existence, be indifferent when a question of this kind is drawn to its attention. On the other hand, to be sure, the fact that many of the adherents of the Conference are brethren and sisters in the Lord and have made the same commitments which we have to the Christian faith and life places upon all of us the very special responsibility to deal with them and the issue involved with the utmost fairness, understanding and patience.
Even when Stonehouse expressed strong disagreement with those involved with the Peniel movement, he did so while maintaining church order and in a spirit of Christian love and charity. Stonehouse did not always “win” in terms of persuading the church courts to concur with him, but even in his disagreements he sought to maintain the peace, purity, and unity of the church.
Our concern must always be to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Yet we must also seek to remain connected to the body of Christ. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). In his high priestly prayer, our Lord prayed that his people would be sanctified in truth (John 17:17) and that they would be one (verse 23). Stonehouse may not have succeeded in every instance. Nevertheless, his effort to follow Christ by faith in these matters was commendable.
 Ned B. Stonehouse, “A Clarification of Some Issues,” Presbyterian Guardian 3 (March 13, 1937): 217.
 Ibid., 218 (emphasis original).
 Just after the formation of the new church, Van Til reported to his countrymen in the Netherlands, “Now there came a proposal to the synod that contained the following content: ‘that a Declaratory Statement be appended to the Confession of Faith to this effect, that The Presbyterian Church of America does not interpret any part of the Westminster Confession of Faith or Catechisms as being opposed to the Premillennial view.’ One can see how great a danger is threatened here: the confession should not be so interpreted that it excludes premillennialism. But considering now the fact that the confession, and that very clearly, excludes even moderate premillennialism and, in short, does not want to know anything about a millennium, the obvious danger was that thousands of full-blooded chiliasts would flood the churches. At least they had a semblance of legitimacy in such a Declaratory Statement. Then, of course, nothing would have come of a renewal of the Reformed life. With joy I may, however, report that this proposal has been rejected and that no proposal at all regarding premillennialism has been adopted.” From Cornelius Van Til, “The General Assembly,” De Reformatie 17/12 (December 18, 1936): 94–95 (forthcoming translation by Daniel Ragusa).
 Darryl G. Hart, Between the Times (OPC Committee for the Historian, 2011), 297.
 Minutes of the Sixteenth General Assembly (1949), 31.
 See “Complaint against the Presbytery of Philadelphia,” Bernard R. Grunstra, Walter T. Oliver, and G. Travers Sloyer (November 18, 1957); Charles G. Dennison, History for a Pilgrim People (OPC Committee for the Historian, 2002), 173–174.
 Ned B. Stonehouse, “Certain Aspects of the Peniel Issue,” Presbyterian Guardian 26 (November 15, 1957): 154.
The author, an OP minister, is Historian for the OPC. New Horizons, October 2022.
New Horizons: October 2022
Also in this issue
by Danny E. Olinger
by John R. Muether
by Lane G. Tipton
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