Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

About That Motto

In Presbyterian Church in America on 12/04/2012 at 16:16

Someone has asked today about the history of the PCA’s motto, the one you see every year at General Assembly, emblazoned on various banners around the room, “True to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith and obedient to the Great Commission.”

Apparently that motto has gone through some changes over the years!

One of the earliest examples of the phrase, perhaps the first, is provided by the Rev. Don Patterson, as he announced the formation of the Steering Committee, in 1971, leading to the eventual formation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Rev. Patterson said, in part,

“These groups have reached a consensus to accept the apparent inevitability of a division in the Presbyterian Church U.S. cause by the program of the radical ecumenists, and to MOVE NOW toward a continuing body of congregations and presbyteries loyal to the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards…”

In that same issue [Bulletin no. 22, September 1971] of The Concerned Presbyterian, the masthead motto changed from the previous motto,

“Dedicated to Returning the Presbyterian Church, U.S. to its Primary Mission—Winning the Unsaved for Christ and Nurturing all Believers in the Faith.”

to a new motto, reflecting Patterson’s words :

“Dedicated to the Formation of a Continuing Church True to God’s Word and Loyal to Historic  Presbyterian Doctrine and Polity.

Elsewhere in that same issue of the Bulletin, there was mention of “. . . Presbyterians who will be forming a continuing Church faithful to God’s Word and loyal to historic Presbyterian doctrine and polity.”

But surprisingly, even in the very first Bulletin issued by the Concerned Presbyterian group, in March of 1965, there were hints of this motto, as yet unformed. Announcing their organization they issued a statement of core concerns, and said this in summary :

“This is the avowed purpose to endeavor to return the control of our Church once more to those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice, that unswerving loyalty to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms is vital and essential to the work of our Church, and that leading the unsaved to Christ and nurturing believers in the Faith should take precedence even over every other proper activity in the Church’s program.

Because Ruling Elder Ken Keyes was the editor of The Concerned Presbyterian Bulletin, he was probably the author of the lead article in that first issue and so it is probably safe to attribute the above statement, and thus the root form of the motto, to Mr. Keyes.

[If you want to do your own research, all of the Bulletins issued by the Concerned Presbyterian group can be viewed here. The URL for that first issue is http://www.pcahistory.org/findingaids/concerned/bulletin01.pdf]

A later variation of the motto, perhaps the more familiar version, appears in Paul Gilchrist’s last letter as Stated Clerk (1998), where he reported

26th GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS HISTORY
Our hearts were blessed as we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the PCA at the General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. How good it was to hear how the Lord moved in the hearts of our founding fathers to establish a “continuing Presbyterian Church” that would be true to the Scriptures and to the Confession, and obedient to the Great Commission.

Obviously we could probably track some variations on the motto through the years, from 1971 to present, but most of those variations probably appeared because someone was working from memory.  For one thing, the motto was never officially adopted, so far as I can determine. If I’m wrong about that, please let me know. For now, barring other input, I’m satisfied that the motto was first envisioned by RE Kenneth S. Keyes, and later refined and voiced by TE Donald Patterson.

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  1. Wayne: don’t the words of the motto find their roots in the letter addressed to all churches of the world authored by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the CSA (PCUS) and reissued by the National Presbyterian Church (PCA). Knowing how active the founders of the PCA were via telephone lines, letter-writing, and face-to-face meetings, I would suggest that the motto may well have been the result of collaborative minds.
    By the way, do you know of the anecdote concerning Don Patterson and Gerald Morgan at one of those early face-to-face gatherings. I believe it occurred in Jackson, Mississippi. Since Gerald is still around, you might verify the story with him. I was told that Gerald arrived a few minutes after one such meeting had convened and that he had walked up behing Mr. Patterson and placed his hands on Mr. Patterson’s shoulders. Letting his eyes pass over the faces of the gathered distinguished persons, Gerald was alleged to have said, “Don, it looks as if you and I are the only TRs here.” I’m told that Gerald’s remark almost brought the house down.

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