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Old School Presbyterian’s Proposed Reform – Philadelphia Convention (1837)

In Old School/New School Division, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. on 13/04/2010 at 18:35


Such being the state of things in the Presbyterian Church, we believe that the time is fully come, for the adoption of some measures, which shall speedily furnish relief from the evils already referred to. Under this conviction, we present ourselves respectfully before you, praying you to lose no time, in so adjusting the important matters at issue, as to restore at once purity and peace to our distracted Church. We are obliged to record our most solemn and settled belief, that the elements of our present discord are now too numerous, too extensively spread and essentially opposed, to warrant any hope that they can, in any way be composed, so long as they are compressed within the limits of our present ecclesiastical organization. Mutual confidence is gone, and is not to be restored by any temporizing measures. This is a sad, but a plain truth. It is a result over which the Church has long mourned, and at which the world has scoffed–but for the production of which we, and those who agree with us, cannot hold ourselves responsible, firmly believing, as we do, that we are, in this controversy, contending for the plain and obvious principles of Presbyterian doctrine and polity. In a word, it needs but a glance at the general character, the personal affinities, and the geographical relations of those who are antagonists in the present contest–to be satisfied that our present evils have not originated within, but have been brought from without–and are, in a great degree, the consequences of an unnatural intermixture of two systems of ecclesiastical action–which are in many respects entirely opposite in their nature and operation. Two important families in the great Christian community, who might have lived peacefully under different roofs–and maintained a friendly intercourse with each other–have been brought beneath the same roof, and yet without an entire incorporation. Contact has not produced real union, except in a comparatively few instances : on the contrary, original differences of opinions and prejudices in relation to the principles of government and order, in many points of great practical moment, have, for a number of years, been widening instead of narrowing–and those who would have been friendly as neighbours, have, at last, by being forced together into the same dwelling, after many and painful conflicts, furnished abundant evidence of the necessity of some effectual remedy. We cannot consent to meet any longer upon the floors of our several judicatories, to contend against the visible inroads of a system, which, whether so designed or not, is crippling our energies, and which, by obvious but covert advances, menaces our very existence. We are in danger of being driven out from the home of our childhood.

While, however, we complain and testify against the operations of this unnatural, unwise, and unconstitutional alliance just referred to, we wish it to be distinctly understood that we do it, chiefly because of our sincere belief that the doctrinal purity of our ancient Confession of Faith is endangered–and not because of the preferences we have for a particular system of mere church government and discipline. We hold the latter to be important mainly from their relation to the former. Hence, we wish it to be distinctly understood, that we have not, nor do we wish to have, any controversy with the system of Congregational church government upon its own territory. Towards the churches of New England, which stand fast in the faith once delivered to the saints–towards the distinguished and excellent brethren in the Lord in those churches, who are now testifying against the errors which are troubling them, as they are troubling us, we entertain the most fraternal esteem and affection. Let there be no strife between us : and there will be none, so long as there is no effort made by either body to intrude upon the domestic concerns of the other. We want no more than to be allowed the fair and unimpeded action of our own ecclesiastical principles. We desire to stand upon our own responsibility–and not to be made involuntary sharers in the responsibility of other bodies and systems of action, with which we cannot entirely harmonize. We desire to perform our Master’s work upon principles which we prefer, because they are the first principles of our own ecclesiastical system of government–recognizing at every step the propriety and necessity of responsibility, and refusing to commit to any man, or body of men, large and important trusts, without the right of review, control, and, if needs be, speedy correction.

These being our views, we earnestly urge upon the attention of the Assembly, the following items of reform.

1. While we wish to maintain, as heretofore, a friendly correspondence and interchange of annual visits, with the evangelical associations of New-England–we are anxiously looking to the General Assembly in the hope and belief that it will take into immediate consideration the plan of union adopted by the Assembly of 1801, (See Digest, p. 297, 298)–and that it will perceive in the original unconstitutionality and present pernicious operations of that plan, reasons for its immediate abrogation. Read the rest of this entry »

New School Errors of Discipline – Philadelphia Convention (1837)

In Old School/New School Division, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. on 11/04/2010 at 19:54

Continuing the next section in the Testimony and Memorial of the Philadelphia Convention (1837), here is their listing of the New School errors in relation to church discipline:


That a state of affairs even approaching to that over which we now mourn should obstruct the exercise of Discipline, may not only be easily supposed, but unhappily the very evils which rendered it imperatively necessary, conspired to prevent the possibility of its regular exercise. A Church unsound in faith is necessarily corrupt in practice. Truth is in order to Godliness; and when it ceases to make us pure, it is no longer considered worthy of being contended for.

With the woful departures from sound doctrine, which we have already pointed out, and the grievous declensions in Church order heretofore stated, has advanced step by step, the ruin of all sound discipline in large portions of our Church, until in some places our very name is becoming a public scandal, and the proceedings of persons and churches connected with some of our Presbyteries, are hardly to be defended from the accusation of being blasphemous. Amongst other evils, of which this Convention and the Church have full proof, we specify the following;

1. The impossibility of obtaining a plain and sufficient sentence against gross errors, either in thesi, or when found in books printed under the name of Presbyterian ministers, or when such ministers have been directly and personally charged. Read the rest of this entry »

New School Errors of Polity – Philadelphia Convention (1837)

In Old School/New School Division, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. on 09/04/2010 at 18:08

Continuing the text of the Testimony and Memorial issued by the 1837 Philadelphia Convention, regarding the errors being taught by some among what came to be termed The New School:


Believing the Presbyterian Form of Government to be that instituted by the inspired Apostles of the Lord, in the early church, and sanctioned, if not commanded, in the scattered notices contained in the New Testament, on the general subject; our hearts cling to it as to that order approved by revelation of God, and made manifest by long experience, as the best method of preserving and spreading his truth. When that truth is in danger we hold but the more steadfastly to our distinctive church order, as affording the best method of detecting and vanquishing error. That any form of administration should totally prevent evil, is manifestly impossible while men continue as they are; and it is not small praise to the institutions of our church, that they so nearly reach this result, as to be incapable of regular action, in the hands of those who are themselves corrupt. They live with and for the truth; to spread error, they must be perverted; and before a general apostasy, Presbyterian order must always perish.

Thus it has been in these evil times. Abundant proof is before this Convention, and indeed before the whole world, that the principles of our system have been universally departed from, by those who have departed from our faith; and that generally that has been done with equal steps. Or if, as there is reason to fear, some portions of the church, still hold the external form of Presbyterianism, and deny the power of its sacred doctrines, they are those only, who, in attaching themselves to us, have either evaded subscription to our creed–or subscribed without believing it. It is enough that any system should exclude honest errorists–and speedily detect, if it cannot exclude those who are otherwise.

Among the departures from sound Presbyterian order, against which we feel called on to testify, as marking the times, are the following:

1. The formation of Presbyteries without defined and reasonable limits, or Presbyteries, covering the same territory, and especially such a formation founded on doctrinal repulsions or affinities : thus introducing schism into the very vitals of the body.

2. The refusal of Presbyteries when requested by any of their members, to examine all applicants for admission into them, as to their soundness in the faith, or touching any other matter connected with a fair Presbyterial standing : thus concealing and conniving at error, in the very strong hold of truth.

3. The licensing of persons to preach the Gospel, and the ordaining to the office of the ministry such as not only accept of our standards merely for substance of doctrine, and others who are unfit and ought to be excluded for want of qualification–but of many even who openly deny fundamental principles of truth, and preach and publish radical errors, as already set forth.

4. The formation of a great multitude and variety of creeds which are often incomplete, false, and contradictory of each other, and of our Confession of Faith and the Bible; but which even if true are needless, seeing that the public and authorised standards of the Church are full sufficient for the purposes for which such formularies were introduced, namely, as public testimonies of our faith and practice, as aids to the teaching of the people truth and righteousness, and as instruments for ascertaining and preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace; it being understood that we do not object to the use of a brief abstract of the doctrines of our Confession of Faith, in the public reception of private members of the Church.

5. The needless ordination of a multitude of men to the office of Evangelist, and the consequent tendency to a general neglect of the pastoral office; frequent and hurtful changes of pastoral relations; to the multiplication of spurious excitements, and the consequent spread of heresy and fanaticism, thus weakening and bringing into contempt the ordinary and stated agents and means, for the conversion of sinners, and the edification of the body of Christ.

6. The disuse of the office of Ruling Elder in portions of the Church, and the consequent growth of practices and principles entirely foreign to our system; thus depriving the pastors of needful assistants in discipline, the people of proper guides in Christ, and the churches of suitable representatives in the ecclesiastical tribunals.

7. The electing and ordaining Ruling Elders, with the express understanding that they are to serve but for a limited time.

8. A progressive change in the system of Presbyterian representation in the General Assembly, which has been persisted in by those holding the ordinary majorities, and carried out into detail by those disposed to take undue advantage of existing opportunities, until the actual representation seldom exhibits the true state of the Church, and many questions of the deepest interest have been decided contrary to the fairly ascertained wishes of the majority of the Church and people in our communion : thus virtually subverting the essential principles of freedom, justice, and equality, on which our whole system rests.

9. The unlimited and irresponsible power, assumed by several associations of men under various names, to exercise authority and influence, direct and indirect, over Presbyters, as to their field of labour, place of residence, and mode of action in the difficult circumstances of our Church : thus actually throwing the controls of affairs in large portions of the Church, and sometimes in the General Assembly itself, out of the hands of the Presbyteries into those of single individuals or small committees located at a distance.

10. The unconstitutional decisions and violent proceedings of several General Assemblies, and especially those of 1831, 2, 3, 4, and 6, directly or indirectly subverting some of the fundamental principles of Presbyterian government–effectually discountenancing discipline, if not rendering it impossible, and plainly conniving at and favouring, if not virtually affirming as true, the whole current of false doctrine which has been for years setting into our Church, thus making the Church itself a principled actor in its own dissolution and ruin.

New School Doctrinal Errors (1837)

In Uncategorized on 05/04/2010 at 11:24

What follows is excerpted from The Testimony and Memorial of the Philadelphia Convention, dated 18 May 1837.

By the date of the Convention, we can surmise that it met in preparation for the pending General Assembly in June, seeking to present its case in a clear and forceful fashion. I will post additional portions of this document at a later date, but for now, here is the gathered list of the doctrinal errors that were observed to be evident among some of those who were soon to be labeled the New School faction of the PCUSA.


When any portion of the Church of Jesus Christ is called in his providence to take a step which may materially affect their Master’s cause, and influence for good or ill the destinies of large portions of mankind through successive generations;–it is a very plain, as well as solemn duty, to state clearly the reasons of their conduct–the evils of which they complain–the objects at which they aim–and the remedies which they propose. This Convention, consisting of one hundred and twenty-four members, of whom one hundred and twelve are delegated by fifty-four Presbyteries, and twelve by minorities in eight other Presbyteries, all of which members are ministers or ruling elders of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; after mature deliberation, full consultation with each other, and earnest prayer to God for direction, have agreed on the following memorial, and do hereby respectfully lay it before the General Assembly now in session–and through it before all the churches and the whole world, as our solemn, and as we trust effective Testimony against evils which faithfulness to God, and to the world, will no longer permit us to endure.

That we have not been rash and hasty, nor manifested a factious opposition, to errors and disorders, which were only of small extent, or recent introduction, is manifestly proven by the fact that these evils have been insidiously spreading through our Church for many years–and that they have at length become so mature, and so diffused, as not only to pervade large portions of the Church, but to reign triumphantly over the body itself, through successive General Assemblies. On the other hand, that we have not been wholly faithless to our Master and to truth, we appeal to the constant efforts of some through the press and pulpit–to the firm and consistent course of some of our Presbyteries and Synods–to the faithful conduct of the minorities in the Assemblies of 1831, 2, 3, 4, and 6–to the Act and Testimony–to the proceedings of the Conventions of Cincinnati in 1831, and Pittsburgh in 1835, and to the noble Assembly of 1835.

We contend especially and above all for the truth, as it is made known to us of God, for the salvation of men. We contend for nothing else, except as the result or support of this inestimable treasure. It is because this is subverted that we grieve; it is because our standards teach it, that we bewail their perversion; it is because our Church order and discipline preserve, defend, and diffuse it, that we weep over their impending ruin. It is against error that we emphatically bear our testimony,–error dangerous to the souls of men, dishonouring to Jesus Christ, contrary to his revealed truth, and utterly at variance with our standards. Error not as it may be freely and openly held by others, in this age and land of absolute religious freedom; but error held, and taught in the Presbyterian Church, preached and written by persons who profess to receive and adopt our Scriptural standards–promoted by societies operating widely through our churches–reduced into form, and openly embraced by almost entire Presbyteries and Synods–favoured by repeated acts of successive General Assemblies, and at last virtually sanctioned to an alarming extent by the numerous Assembly of 1836.

To be more specific, we hereby set forth in order, some of the doctrinal errors against which we bear testimony, and which we, and the churches, have conclusive proof, are widely disseminated in the Presbyterian Church.


1. That God would have been glad to prevent the existence of sin in our world, but was not able, without destroying the moral agency of man : or, that for aught that appears in the Bible to the contrary, sin is incidental to any wise moral system. Read the rest of this entry »