Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

A Name Changed?

In Periodicals, Southern Presbyterian Journal on 06/05/2011 at 17:53

“I hope that it will become a truly national and truly Presbyterian church.  The issue is doctrinal, not geographical; and I should be delighted to see your influence take root throughout the country and bring into being an honest to goodness evangelical organization.”

With this post I am going to begin merging the content of two other blogs into The Continuing Story.  Life’s just too short to have a separate blog for every division of your life’s work.  So I will soon end the blog set up specifically for PCA History and another blog intended solely to cover news of acquisitions and progress at the PCA Historical Center.  Hopefully by blending these in with the sort of content you’ve been seeing here, the result with be a richer, more interesting blend of information, with more postings, to boot.

I was scrounging through old issues of The Southern Presbyterian Journal today, looking to answer a patron’s question, and noticed a letter that has me wondering if some one of the founding fathers of the PCA had a long memory.  But first a bit of background.

When it came time to organize the Presbyterian Church in America, in December of 1973, most of you know that another name was initially chosen.  Three names were brought forward for consideration:

The Presbyterian Church in America
The Presbyterian Church of America
The National Presbyterian Church

The second name in that list was identical to the name originally chosen by what became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).  They too had quickly come into conflict with their first chosen name in 1936 and had to adopt another [in their case, only because they lost their legal battle.  The PCUSA had been working toward merger with the UPCNA and the PCofA name was one that was under consideration for the merger]. Perhaps the first name in the above list was, in that light, too similar, at least at that moment in time, and so it too was voted down.  The Minutes of General Assembly give no indication of any real debate here and the Assembly simply selected the name “National Presbyterian Church” to be the name of the denomination.

It was only some months later, in 1974 and shortly before the Second General Assembly met in Macon, GA, that we became aware of a conflict.  Another organization also bore that same name.  It was a PCUSA congregation in Washington, D.C., but that congregation had a more national aspect in that they were the sending agency for chaplains in that denomination.  Rather than enter into any sort of legal battle, we decided the more noble course was to simply relinquish that name and pick another. So the matter came again before the Second General Assembly.  Seventeen names were now offered for consideration:

National Reformed Presbyterian Church
The Presbyterian Church of America
International Presbyterian Church
Vanguard Presbyterian Church
Presbyterian Church in America
Presbyterian National Church
Historic Presbyterian Church
Evangelical Presbyterian Church
International Reformed Presbyterian Church
Presbyterian Church of the Covenant
Nationwide Presbyterian Church
Continuing Presbyterian Church
National Continuing Presbyterian Church
American Presbyterian Church
Christian Presbyterian Church
Presbyterian Church of Jesus Christ
Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States

That bewildering array was then narrowed to just three: 1. National Reformed Presbyterian Church; 2. International Presbyterian Church; and 3. American Presbyterian Church.

The Assembly then voted and so from about 7:30 on the evening of September 17th until about 9 AM the next day, we were officially known as the NATIONAL REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH.  But the Rev. Kennedy Smartt, though he had previously voted with the majority the night before, had begun to have second thoughts and so he brought a motion asking for reconsideration of the matter.  Eight names were now placed in nomination:

Presbyterian Church in America
The Presbyterian Church
International Presbyterian Church
Grace Presbyterian Church
Mission Presbyterian Church
National Reformed Presbyterian Church
American Presbyterian Church
Presbyterian Church of the Americas

It was then moved to deal with all of those names which included some form of the word “America”, so that only one such name would be in the final list to be considered.  Of these, “Presbyterian Church in America” was selected.  Then in the final vote, six names were considered, and the vote was as follows:

Presbyterian Church in America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 302
The Presbyterian Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
International Presbyterian Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Grace Presbyterian Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
Mission Presbyterian Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
National Reformed Presbyterian Church . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

On a re-vote, a total of 401 voted in favor of the name Presbyterian Church in America.

That’s the background and all of which brings me back to this letter that I came across today.

First, here’s the letter:

Truly National Presbyterian Church Wanted


Once again let me thank you for the fine paper you are editing.

In a recent issue, (THE JOURNAL, November 7, 1951) the Journal speaks of the anomaly of USA churches being found in the South, and suggests that it would be an equal anomaly if Southern churches were established in the north.

This may be a permissible statement at the present, or I should prefer to say, in the past.  But it is based on the assumption that both denominations are essentially preaching the same gospel.  In my opinion they are not.  There is nothing you can do about it at the moment.  But may I state to you personally, for your consideration, my own view?

If the union of the two churches comes to pass, and if there is a continuing Presbyterian Church in the South, I hope fervently that it will not be a southern church.

I hope that it will become a truly national and truly Presbyterian church.  The issue is doctrinal, not geographical; and I should be delighted to see your influence take root throughout the country and bring into being an honest to goodness evangelical organization.

In the meantime take encouragement, and continue to avoid extraneous issues so that the paramount issue will be clear to all who wish to see.

Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

[excerpt from The Southern Presbyterian Journal 10.32 (5 December 1951): 2.]

So, long story to make a short point — What is intriguing here is the possibility that one of those venerable founding fathers of the PCA might have remembered this letter.  Many of those men would have been faithful readers of the Journal and perhaps one of them was captivated by the message of this brief letter or had enough recollection of this letter to bring that name forward in nomination at the First Assembly.  Too far-fetched?  We’ll never know, of course, but it is an intriguing idea, that the seeds of that original name were sown some twenty years earlier.

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