Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

The Modernist Controversy through a Journalist’s Eyes, Part XI (1933)

In Uncategorized on 29/06/2009 at 22:10


Is there a prospect that Christianity Today will approach the record of the old Presbyterian in upholding the standards of the Presbyterian Church?  Some observers are pessimistic.  Writing along this line just three months ago, “Will the Presbyterian Church set up its ancient banners again? We fervently hope it will, but we know nothing in history which furnishes ground for hope.  When Churches decay they seldom, if ever, return to their original purity.  One might point to the Established Church in the Netherlands where the forces of orthodoxy are stronger and more numerous than fifty years ago, yet even in this Church heresy thrives in the congregations and councils.  Conservatives seem to be fighting a losing battle in the Presbyterian Church.  The establishment of Westminster Seminary by several former leaders of Princeton was a heroic effort to create a new educational stronghold for orthodoxy, but. . .”

All of which is indubitably true.  Conditions in the Church are bad and the precedent cited is against hope.  Moreover any influence which Christianity Today may have, perhaps is less exercised horizontally over this period than vertically over coming years.  But ten years hence, if God spares him, Dr. Craig’s labor and fidelity may show rewards like those of 1916, 1920, 1923, and 1928.  Historically the Presbyterian Church is a faithful Church and certainly within ten years should respond again to the call of its own blood.  God repeatedly has healed backslidings worse than ours and re-established His people in other generations.  Some indications of His purpose seem to be manifesting themselves even now, demanding attention and work.

Professor Henry P. Van Dusen, of Union Theological Seminary in New York, who ought to know, says that Liberalism is done for.  He is quoted as follows in the New York Herald-Tribune of January 21st, 1933:  “Liberalism stands condemned.  Its premises are being subjected to devastating criticism. . . It is significant that those who stand somewhere between radicalism and traditionalism, are today as loath to be labeled Liberal as they were to be called Modernist some years since.”  This authority may not wholly represent the body of ideas he presumes to voice but Liberalism, a foe familiar to Presbyterians, can be subdued, and there is no better instrument to help finish the needful work as far as Presbyterians are concerned than Christianity Today.  Dr. Machen regularly contributes to Christianity Today and Dr. Machen is a man the Liberals have yet to answer.

How shall Presbyterians deal with Buchmanism, the so-called Oxford Movement?  Print the facts.  Christianity Today in its February issue had illuminating articles on the fascination of Buchmanism for its disciples, with endorsements from two conspicuous Presbyterians, President Stevenson of Princeton Seminary and Secretary John A. Mackay of the Board of Foreign Missions.  Another side is described by Dr. A.C. Gabelein and Dr. W.M. Rochester.  We read of its fashionable convocations at luxurious hotels, the intimate meetings at house parties, and the insistence upon the interchange of confessions that shall have no reserves.

Two truths emerge.  The social embellishment of the fellowship is a new departure in Christian practice.  By the widest stretch of interpretation it cannot be said to be derived from Apostolic example notwithstanding the Oxford Group’s claim to First Century authorization.  And new is the theory that it is wholesome for young people, or older people, to share confessions bound to lead to topics which Paul declares are “not once (to be) named among you. . . for it is a shame even to speak of those things.”  Mr. Edward D. Duffield harshly calls Buchmanism soul-baring, “Christian nudism,” and until a more delicate metaphor is provided it will warn unwary enthusiasts of the danger to their minds and memories in the “sharing” factor of the cult.  A sinner may and must go straight to God with his sin (Psalms XXXII and LI), and the safeguards limiting human interchanges are specific (Matthew XVIII, 15; Acts XIX, 18-19; James V, 14-16).  Print the facts and Buchmanism will cease to operate in the fold of Christ.

This year our Board of Foreign Missions may be constrained to resume first principles.  For months Dr. Craig has been publishing news of a crusade for the purification of our missionary enterprise that will restore confidence to the Church if it can be carried to a length that will show the Board how in earnest we are about it.  An unswerving faithfulness in the proclamation of the Gospel as it is contained in the Word of God, and an utter unwillingness to make common cause with any other Gospel, whether it goes under the Name of Christ or not, soon must become the announced principle of our Board of Foreign Missions or the Board’s activities will defeat their own purpose on the mission fields of the world.  Mergers with Modernists, Liberals, and Buchmanites; and compromises with heathenism, are suicidal missionary measures.  The race is between orthodoxy and catastrophe in the mission stations of China and Japan and India, and the Board of Foreign Missions has not a great deal of time to halt between two opinions.  Why should we falter in an honest attempt to restore the missionary enterprise to its elementary task?

Indeed can there be any discharge from the war against false teaching while it prevails in the Presbyterian Church?  One would devoutly hope that at least some Presbyterians will be sufficiently intolerant never to tolerate it in pulpits and mission fields.  Outside the Church, false teaching may be comparatively unimportant.  It is the strong man armed guarding his own court, and his goods are in peace only until a stronger than he shall overcome him and take from him his whole armor wherein he trusteth.  But within Christ’s Church, even the shortest reign of heresy is ghastly in destructiveness.

Our ministers and missionaries are urged simply to preach the Word.  Christianity Today’s appeal for a revival of old-fashioned Gospel preaching is the root of the matter.  Ministers are spokesmen for God’s Word or else they are nothing, just as the Presbyterian Church is a Church separated from the world, or nothing.  Glossing over the miracles which tell of God’s power lest some biologist raise his eye-brows in incredulity, does no honor to a Christian minister, and an honest-minded biologist probably would be the first to tell him so.  Omitting the warnings of Christ about hell for fear of wounding a congregation’s sensibilities is not a brave performance.  Prevailing notions that the blood-bought atonement of the cross is a discredited tradition, have ruined much preaching and many a preacher.  The Bible, as it is written, has satisfied generations of men.  People are entitled to hear it today, and they want to hear it.  Let us ministers have done with the idea that we must have a new thing to attract and hold people.  Learn the Bible; proclaim it; let eternal truths ring out!  Such preaching does not empty the pews of a Church but widens the Church’s walls.  Preaching the Word, the whole Word, and nothing but the Word, will demonstrate the power of God.  When Paul told Timothy how to make full proof of his ministry, he said, “Preach the Word.”

Christianity Today is convinced that the key to the future peace, usefulness and prosperity of the Presbyterian Church is with the theological seminaries.  Put young men under professors who themselves are believers and can give a reason for the hope that is in them.  Build up theological students in their most Holy faith.  Keep them in the love of God.  Send them forth like Paul, not primarily with excellency of speech or of wisdom, but declaring the testimony of God.  Results will take care of themselves.

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