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Machen on Fellowship and Conflict

In Fellowship, Harry Emerson Fosdick, J. Gresham Machen, Modernism, Prayer on 28/10/2011 at 22:38

Though this article is undoubtedly included in Machen’s bibliography (I didn’t check), no copy of it could be located on the Internet at this time. So it seemed good to post it. This is yet another item from THE PRESBYTERIAN.

Christian Fellowship and the World-Wide Conflict*
By Professor J. Gresham Machen, D.D. 

*Le Christianisme est-il crétien? Quartre conférences avec Notes documentaires et critiques. Par E. Doumergue, Doyen hononaire de la Faculté de Théologie pretestante de Montauban. Editions de l’union des chrétiens evangeliques, 32, boulevard de Vincennes, Fontenay-sous-Bois (Seine), [final three words of this text obscured]

Gradually the conviction is gaining ground among Christians throughout the world that Modernism and Christianity are two separate and distinct religions between which there can be no common ground.  In America the issue has been raised in the clearest possible way in what the Modernist opponents of Christianity call the “Fundamentalist controversy.”  In England and on the continent of Europe the controversy has sometimes been belittled as a curious American phenomenon like Prohibition or the Ku Klux Klan ; but the very attention which has been given to it — for example, in the recent elaborate series of articles in The British Weekly — shows that it is not so despicable as the advocates of theological peace-at-any-price profess to believe. The truth is that there is a larger number of evangelical Christians in the world than might be supposed by readers of The British Weekly or the Christliche Welt, and that what was done by Dr. Clarence E. Macartney, for example, the moderator of the last General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, at the beginning of the “Fosdick case,” was simply the raising of a standard of revolt which Christian men throughout the world, suffering under Modernist tyranny, had been inchoately longing to see.

Already the presentation of the issue has had beneficent results. There have been, it is true, many sad disappointments : men whom we thought to be our friends have been found fighting, in the councils of the church, with the enemies of the gospel ; men who profess to accept the great redemptive facts have acted exactly as though they did not accept them. But for these disappointments there have been immense compensations. If some whom we thought to be our friends have turned out to be our opponents, yet it is true on the other hand that some whom we feared to find on the opposing side have, despite all their personal relations with the Modernists leaders, proved to have Christian hearts, and, when the time of testing has come, have witnessed bravely and simply to the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In this time of conflict, some alliances, like the Triple Alliance in 1914, have been found to exist merely on paper ; ecclesiastical regularity, it has been found, means absolutely nothing, and indeed there are probably no more bitter opponents of Christianity anywhere than some that are to be found in the ministry of the American Presbyterian Church. We do not, indeed, despair of our own church ; it is quite possible that the issues may prove to have been raised in time, that the influx of anti-Christian elements into the ministry may be checked and the Christian character of the church preserved. But meanwhile it sounds strangely antiquated when ecclesiastical regularity is held to be a presumption in favor of a man’s having a Christian mind or a Christian heart. Presumptions of that kind are of course altogether fallacious, and Christian men, if they are deceived by them, are living in an unreal world. In the presence of such unreality, it is high time that we should face the facts.

But if ecclesiastical associations are at the present time often a mere pretense, that does not mean that true Christian fellowship is altogether absent from the world. On the contrary, the very presence of the formidable opposition has given Christian men a new sense of solidarity. The devotional exercises of the church at large often, it is true, leave us quite cold ; in them a Christian could hardly give free expression to what lies closest to his heart without seeming to engage in polemic against the Modernist opponents of the Christian faith, who by a curious anomaly are ostensibly uniting with him in the solemn act of prayer. But it is very different, for example, with the little groups of Christian men who during the last two sessions of the General Assembly, pled with God in a very agony of prayer, that the witness-bearing of the church might be preserved and that even the opponents of the faith, so numerously represented among the commissioners, might ultimately be led back to the gospel of Christ.

This true fellowship of prayer is not limited to our own church or to our own country, but is world-wide. It is indeed very different from what Dr. Macartney has aptly called the “ramshackle unity of federations and boards” ; and we are far from advocating any sickly inter-denominationalism or any new universal “Fundamentalist church,” which shall substitute a hastily constructed summary of “essential” doctrines for the great historic creeds. But we do hold that there can be among true Christians of various names a fellowship of prayer which will be made all the closer and dearer by the presence of the common enemy.

To the existence of that fellowship a real testimony is rendered by the book which forms the occasion for the present article. The book is written by Professor Doumergue, the distinguished author of the great definitive “Life of Calvin,” which is now in process of publication. And in his case even those confessional differences of which we have just spoken do not appear at all. In him, on the contrary, we have a noble representative of our own “Reformed Faith” — the faith which appears in the Westminster Confession that we love so well. And in reading his clear presentation of the great religious issue of the present day, not only are our minds illuminated but our hearts are warmed by our sense of that true Christian communion which is so great a solace in the midst of a hostile world.

Professor Doumergue’s book is not intended to be a complete or systematic presentation of the issue between Modernism and Christianity, but deals, in the form of four lectures with appended notes, with certain aspects of the question. It is very pleasant, by the way, to note the abundant use which the author has made of our own Princeton Theological Review, particularly of the recent illuminating articles by S.G. Craig and F.D. Jenkins. We are encouraged by knowing that so distinguished an author thinks that we in America may give as well as receive.

It will not be possible here to give any extended summary of the book. We can only say that, despite its somewhat occasional character, it is not lacking in the typical French virtue of clearness. That virtue is sometimes claimed especially for the French opponents of Christianity who have followed in the tradition of Voltaire. But it may be claimed with at least equal justice for the French defenders and exponents of Christianity from Calvin down to the present time. And in this noble succession the author of the great “Life of Calvin” has a right to an honored place.

In the present book, Professor Doumergue rightly points out the mystical and anti-intellectual character of Modernism — a character which it has derived from Schliermacher and (in France) from his spiritual descendant, Sabatier. And the double use of terms, which is so dear to Modernists throughout the world and particularly in America, is convincingly exposed. Evidently we are dealing everywhere with essentially the same phenomenon — an attack on the very vitals of Christianity which depends for its deceptive power upon the use of Christian terminology in a sense entirely different from what that terminology was originally intended to mean. Such an attack can ultimately be defeated only by the mysterious power of the Holy Spirit who will finally turn the hearts and minds of men away from the vagaries of that which Sabatier and his many followers falsely called the “Christian consciousness” (but which ought to be called the self-sufficiency of the natural man), back to the Bible as the Word of God. But the great revival for which we long, whenever it comes, will have free course, not in the darkness, but in the light. In the fog of present-day religious discussion, what is needed above all else is clearness. And such clearness is exemplified by Professor Doumergue in a manner which is not only typically French, but typically Christian.

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