Primary Sources for the Presbyterian Masses

May the Church Rely on Independent Agencies? – Part I

In Bible Presbyterian Church, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Robert H. Cox on 28/06/2011 at 19:15

This question of the Church employing independent agencies came of issue in the Bible Presbyterian Church in the mid-1950s. From its inception, the BPC had taken the posture of having each “agency” of the church—home missions, foreign missions, education, publications, etc.—operate independently of the Church proper. This strategy was a result of the Modernist controversy and the idea was that if one agency “went bad” or fell to modernism, then the other ministries might remain unaffected. In effect the policy was to have every egg in a separate basket. But by the 1950s, there were men in the BPC who were arguing for the establishment of a denomination-run school. That in turn led to a debate over the propriety of independent agencies. One pastor, the Rev. Robert H. Cox, prepared the following paper, a copy of which is located among the Papers of Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. [Box 276, folder 15]. The paper is reproduced here as typed in the original.

“VOLUNTARY ASSOCATIONS,” “BOARDS,” “COMMITTEES” —A Compilation and Analysis of Historical Data Relating to Certain Aspects of Church Polity in American Presbyterianism.

THE QUESTION AT ISSUE : Is there a pattern in the history of the American Presbyterian Church for the operation and control of “benevolent, missionary and educational enterprises”? Was it by “independent agencies”? “committees”? “boards”?

I. THE EARLY DAYS OF AMERICAN PRESBYTERIANISM UP UNTIL 1789

“At the first meeting of which the records remain, in 1707, the General Presbytery adopted the following resolution : ‘That every Minister of the Presbytery supply neighboring desolate places where a Minister is wanting and opportunity of doing good offers.’ At the first meeting of the Synod of Philadelphia it was resolved that it be ‘proposed to the several members of the Synod to contribute something to the raising [of] a fund for pious uses, and that they use their interest with their friends on proper occasions to contribute something to the same purpose ; and that there be chosen a Treasurer to keep what shall be collected, and that what is or may be gathered be disposed of according to the discretion of the Synod.'” (Page 385, What Is Presbyterian Law As Defined By the Church Courts, J. Aspinwall Hodge)

“At the first meeting of the General Presbytery of which we have any record (1707) the missionary character and duty of the Church was recognized.” (ibid, Page 428)

“They (these missions) were under the supervision of the Synod, and appropriations were yearly made from the ‘fund for Indians’ and the collections from the churches. the missionaries were appointed by the Synod. In 1768 a committee of twelve members of Synod was formed and ordered to meet at Elizabethtown, ‘to draw up and concert a general plan to be laid before this Synod at their next meeting, to be approved by them, in order to prepare the way to propagate the Gospel among these benighted people (the Western Indians). Nothing, however, was done. When the General Assembly was formed in 1788, missions among the Western Indians were maintained by the Synod of Virginia, and upon the division of that Synod these missions fell to the Synod of Pittsburgh. Other missions were conducted by other Synods, as among the Southern Indians by the Synod of the Carolinas. Reports were annually made to the General Assembly by the Synods, who appointed the Missionaries and directed the work through a Committee on Missions and a Board of Trust.” (ibid. page 429)

“The Synod of the Carolinas and the Synod of Virginia from the outset managed the missionary business within their own bounds.” (Presbyterians, A Popular Narrative of Their Origin, Progress, Doctrine, and Achievements, George P. Hayes, page 154).

IT IS EVIDENT IN THIS OPENING PERIOD OF AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN HISTORY THAT WE FIND NOTHING OF “INDEPENDENT AGENCIES”, OR EVEN “BOARDS” BUT THE COURTS AND DULY APPOINTED COMMITTEES CARRYING ON THIS WORK.

[To be continued]

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