Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

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

METHOD OF REFORM.

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.

2. While we desire that no body of Christian men of other denominations, should be prevented from choosing their own plans of doing good–and while we claim no right to complain, should they exceed us in energy and zeal–we believe, that facts too familiar to need repetition here, warrant us in affirming that the organization and operations of the so called American Home Missionary Society, and American Education Society and its branches of whatever name, are exceedingly injurious to the peace and purity of the Presbyterian Church. We recommend accordingly, that they should be discountenanced, and their operations as far as possible prevented, within our ecclesiastical limits.

3. We believe that every Church, Presbytery, or Synod now in nominal connection with this Assembly, but which is not organized on Presbyterian principles, should be immediately brought into order, dissolved, or disconnected from the Presbyterian Church.

4. We believe that it is highly important, that, at the present time, Presbyteries should be directed to examine henceforward all licentiates and ministers applying for admission from other denominations on the subjects of theology and church government, as well as personal adoption of the Confession of Faith, and Form of Government.

5. We desire that immediate measures be taken, in order that such members of any Presbytery as hold any of the errors, or practise any of the disorders now testified against, may be subjected to discipline : that such Presbyteries and Synods as tolerate them, may be cited and tried, and such of these bodies as are believed to consist chiefly of decidedly unsound or disorderly members may be separated from the Presbyterian Church–provision being made at the same time for the reunion of orthodox churches, private members, or ministers, who may be found in any of them with other convenient bodies.

6. As these are times of high and dangerous excitability in the public mind, when imprudent or partisan men may do great injury, especially when they have facilities for operating on a large field, this Convention is of opinion that the General Assembly ought to make known to our national societies, not previously noticed in this memorial, that the Presbyterian Church expects of them great caution in the selection of their travelling agents, and that it ought to be regarded as peculiarly unkind in any of them to give to the correspondence or general bearing of their institutions, a bias against the strictest order, and soundest principles of our beloved branch of the Church of Christ.

CONCLUSION.

And now we submit to the highest tribunal of our Church–to all our brethren beloved in the Lord–and to the generation in which our lots are cast–a Testimony which we find ourselves unable to weaken or abridge, and keep a good conscience towards God and man. We have performed a duty to which the providence of God has shut us up. We have done it, in reliance on his grace, and in view of his judgment bar. Whatever the issue may be, we rejoice in the sense of having discharged a great and imperative obligation, manifestly required at our hands, and all whose issues ought to promote the purity, the peace, and the unity of the Church of Christ.

The whole responsibility of future results, is from this moment thrown first upon the General Assembly now in session; and afterwards upon the whole Church. The Assembly will of course, pursue such a line of conduct as will appear to acquit it, before earth and heaven. The destinies of the Presbyterian Church, as now organized, are in its hands–and our Saviour will require a strict account concerning it. The great body of the Church, must needs rejudge the whole action of the Assembly–and on her judgment we repose, with a sacred assurance, second only to that which binds our hearts and souls in filial confidence to her glorious Lord. For ourselves, the hardest portion of our work is past. Hearts which the past has not broken, have little need to fear what the future can bring forth. Spirits which have not died within us, in the trials through which we have been led, may confidently resign themselves to His guidance, whose words have rung ceaselessly upon our hearts “This is the way, walk ye in it”–and whose cheering voice comes to us from above, “Fear not, it is I.”

By order of Convention.

GEO. A. BAXTER, President.

C. C. CUYLER, Vice President.

THOS. C. BAIRD,

HORACE S. PRATT, Clerks.

Philadelphia, May 18, 1837.

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