Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

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.

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