A History Lesson, by Robert Strong

I often come across the most interesting and useful things while searching out a patron’s request for some article or other material. For context, this article was written in the midst of those years leading up to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America. Dr. Strong’s audience would have been those men who were considering leaving the old Southern Presbyterian denomination in order to form a new, faithful Church.

A History Lesson
by ROBERT STRONG [1908-1980, and pastor of the Trinity Presbyterian Church, Montgomery, AL, 1959-1973]

[The Presbyterian Journal, 27.42 (12 February 1969): 9-11.]

The struggle for the faith in the Presbyterian Church USA has been protracted. I grew up in that church and was ordained in it years ago when it was called the “Northern Presbyterian Church.” Thus I knew at first hand the issues as well as some of the people involved in the conflict.

Beginning in the nineteenth century, the strife deepened in intensity in the twentieth century and came to a climax in the 1920’s. Awareness of the rising tide of unbelief, and resistance to it, occurred in a spectacular way:

In 1923 the General Assembly endorsed adherence to five cardinal points of doctrine: the verbal inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, His mighty miracles, His substitutionary atonement and His bodily resurrection.

In reaction came the Auburn Affirmation, so-called because men of Auburn Seminary were its authors and from Auburn, New York it was distributed to gain additional signatures. In time, these amounted to 1100 names.

Cause and Effect

The Auburn Affirmation was in two parts: The first was an attack upon the right of the General Assembly to single out certain doctrines when the Northern Presbyterian Church was already committed to a system of doctrine as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith. This was specious logic. This was illogic! This was evasive action. Continue reading “A History Lesson, by Robert Strong”


William E. Hill, Jr. : We Need Revival!

hillWEThe Rev. Bill Iverson called today, in need of a document, and somewhere in our conversation the name of Bill Hill came up. The Rev. William E. Hill, Jr. is particularly remembered as a faithful pastor, as the founder of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and as a leading voice in the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America. The following article was written by Rev. Hill and published in THE PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL about three years after the formation of the PCA.

Not more organization and programs, but the dividends of Spirit-filling—

We Need Revival!

by William E. Hill, Jr.

We of the Presbyterian Church in America have come through a traumatic experience. New churches have been formed, enduring birth pains sorrowfully yet joyfully.

Some churches have been able to gain their freedom from earlier connections without difficulty. Others have suffered. Ministers and members whose heritage stretches back for generations in one denomination which was their lifelong home now find themselves in a new one. For some, the transition has been relatively easy. For many it has been exceedingly difficult. Some churches and ministers have endured bitter persecution.

However, now that the agony is over, there is joyful elation, very much akin to the joy experienced by people in the early Church as recorded in Acts 2-3. They “ate their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.” So, also, some have been enabled by the Spirit to rejoice that they were ‘‘counted worthy to suffer for His name’s sake.”

We are free at last. This is good, but we are compelled to raise the question: So what? And the “so what?” reminds us that the early Church, after the traumatic experience and joyful elation, still found dangers to be encountered (Acts 4-5). For some, disillusionment was ahead. As in the case described in the epistle to the Hebrews, we face certain definite dangers of disillusionment.

We also face another danger—having escaped one ecclesiastical strait- jacket, we proceed to put ourselves into another, not quite so bad but nonetheless real. We face dangers of infighting among ourselves. We have our hyper-Calvinists, our moderate Calvinists, and our charismatics, our premillennialists and our amillennialists, each a little bit concerned about what the new denomination will do to them.

Looking at the situation after our third General Assembly, we raise the question: Does the PCA need revival? Some may say, “That is a silly question—we are already in revival.” This I question. Some may suggest that we need doctrinal instruction. Others may say we need to perfect our organization and outreach.

It seems to me, however, that what is most desperately needed in the PCA is real revival. Of doctrinal identification we have enough. Of ecclesiastical machinery we have too much. Of debating fine points we are weary. Now the question is or should be: How in the world are we going to meet the needs of many of our small, struggling groups? This is a big question.

Indeed, how are we going to find ministers to pastor these people? Another big question. The answer to all these questions, I believe, is revival. Without it we will degenerate into an ecclesiastical machine, grinding out materials, spewing forth pronouncements, fussing over theological distinctions, and languishing in barrenness and sterility.

The primary mark of real spiritual awakening for any people or any individual is repentance. On the Day of Pentecost there was real repentance with people crying out, “What must I do to be saved?” as their “hearts were pricked” by the Spirit-filled preaching of the apostles. In the revival at Ephesus (Acts 19-20), the people confessed their sins openly, publicly burning the instruments of their sins. Paul recounted in Acts 20 how he had preached with a twofold thrust, the first of which was “repentance toward God” (Acts 20). Continue reading “William E. Hill, Jr. : We Need Revival!”

50 Days of Prayer for the PCA

I’m pleased to announce that the PCA Historical Center now has a complete collection of the volumes issued annually as part of the “50 Days of Prayer for the PCA” program.

Our thanks to Dr. Michael F. Ross and his administrative assistant, Kim Westbrook, for their invaluable assistance in gathering these materials for preservation here at the Historical Center.  This is yet another way in which we seek to have the materials that will tell the full story behind the PCA. It is also an important collection in respect of the spiritual discipline of prayer.

Since 2002, Dr. Michael F. Ross has headed up a program of prayer for the Presbyterian Church in America that is closely tied to the annual meeting of the PCA’s General Assembly. The first three annual prayer devotionals, 2002-2004, covered the 150 Psalms. Those devotionals were later combined as a single volume and published by Christian Focus in 2006 under the title In the Light of the Psalms.

Dr. Ross is currently the senior pastor of Christ Covenant church in Matthews, North Carolina, and has been an ordained minister in the PCA since 1982. His previous pastorates were with the Surfside Presbyterian church, Myrtle Beach, SC [1982-92] and the Trinity Presbyterian church, Jackson, MS [1992-2006].

The cover of each volume is reproduced below. To view larger images for a given cover, go to this page. To view the text of these volumes, please see the links provided at this page on the Christ Covenant church web site.

Related collections: See also Prayer: A Noble Exercise for the PCA. Prayer guide for the Assembly-wide week of prayer, October 7-12, 1985. Pb, 24 p.


Actions of the 40th PCA General Assembly

Here is the corrected, final edition of Dr. Taylor’s report on the Actions of the 40th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America:

Actions of the 40th General Assembly of the PCA

L. Roy Taylor, Stated Clerk

The Fortieth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America met in the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, June 19-21, hosted by Ohio Valley Presbytery.  A final total of 1,120 commissioners attended (832 Teaching Elders and 288 Ruling Elders).

Michael F. Ross Elected Moderator

Dr. Michael F. Ross, Pastor of Christ Covenant PCA, Matthews, NC, was elected moderator, after being nominated by
Dr. Ligon Duncan, Pastor of First Presbyterian, Jackson, MS.  Dr. Ross is a graduate of Ohio State University, Miami University of Ohio (MBA), Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.Div.), and Reformed Theological Seminary (D.Min.).  He served as founding pastor of Surfside PCA, Myrtle Beach, SC, and Senior Pastor of Trinity PCA, Jackson, MS, before becoming Senior Pastor of Christ Covenant PCA in 2006.  He does adjunct teaching in Pastoral Theology at RTS-Charlotte, NC.  Dr. Ross’s interests in church planting and church revitalization have been evident throughout his ministry.  He and his wife, Jane, have four children.  Dr. Ross’s fairness and graciousness were evident in his moderating of the Assembly, guiding it through a full docket that included debates on several controversial issues. Continue reading “Actions of the 40th PCA General Assembly”

A Working Bibliography on In Thesi Deliverances

A Working Bibliography on In Thesi Deliverances

Following some recent discussion on this topic, I thought a bibliography might be helpful.

[The entries below with added comments were taken from David Coffin’s bibliography on ecclesiastical judicial procedures, in particular, the section, ‘On the Powers of the Assembly in Judicial Cases and the Doctrine of Stare Decisis’]

• Adger, John B., “Deliverances of Church Courts,” Southern Presbyterian Review, 31.3 (July 1880): 535-603.

• Chapell, Bryan, Note 1 of “PRJC Letter Regarding Women in Combat”. [accessed here, on 27 June 2012 : http://www.pcamna.org/chaplainministries/PRJCWomen2004.pdf ]

• Cunningham, William, “Church Power,” being Chapter IX (pp. 235-256) in Discussions on Church Principles. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1863. Reprinted, Edmonton, AB: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991. See particularly pages 245-246.

• Gordon, E. C. (Edward Clifford, 1842-1922), “Laws and Deliverances In Thesi,” The Union Seminary Review, 31.2 (January 1920): 175-183. Continue reading “A Working Bibliography on In Thesi Deliverances”

Just in Time for GA : Index to PCA Minutes

A cumulative index to the PCA’s Minutes of General Assembly is now available, posted here.

The URL address, should you want to write it down, is http://www.pcahistory.org/GA/73-11Index.pdf

This index includes all years, 1973 – 2011, and is presented as a text-based PDF file, meaning that the type will remain sharp at any magnification.

Essentially, this index is a simple stringing together of all of the index sections from each volume of the Minutes.

Another index, fully broken out under each subject heading, is being prepared and hopefully will be made available later this year.

The PDF file is fully searchable.  To locate a subject, simply enter the search term in the Find box, located in the tool bar at the top of the screen.

And finally, there is no password required to access this index.

About That Motto

Someone has asked today about the history of the PCA’s motto, the one you see every year at General Assembly, emblazoned on various banners around the room, “True to the Scriptures, the Reformed Faith and obedient to the Great Commission.”

Apparently that motto has gone through some changes over the years!

One of the earliest examples of the phrase, perhaps the first, is provided by the Rev. Don Patterson, as he announced the formation of the Steering Committee, in 1971, leading to the eventual formation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Rev. Patterson said, in part,

“These groups have reached a consensus to accept the apparent inevitability of a division in the Presbyterian Church U.S. cause by the program of the radical ecumenists, and to MOVE NOW toward a continuing body of congregations and presbyteries loyal to the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards…”

In that same issue [Bulletin no. 22, September 1971] of The Concerned Presbyterian, the masthead motto changed from the previous motto,

“Dedicated to Returning the Presbyterian Church, U.S. to its Primary Mission—Winning the Unsaved for Christ and Nurturing all Believers in the Faith.”

to a new motto, reflecting Patterson’s words :

“Dedicated to the Formation of a Continuing Church True to God’s Word and Loyal to Historic  Presbyterian Doctrine and Polity.

Elsewhere in that same issue of the Bulletin, there was mention of “. . . Presbyterians who will be forming a continuing Church faithful to God’s Word and loyal to historic Presbyterian doctrine and polity.”

But surprisingly, even in the very first Bulletin issued by the Concerned Presbyterian group, in March of 1965, there were hints of this motto, as yet unformed. Announcing their organization they issued a statement of core concerns, and said this in summary :

“This is the avowed purpose to endeavor to return the control of our Church once more to those who believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice, that unswerving loyalty to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms is vital and essential to the work of our Church, and that leading the unsaved to Christ and nurturing believers in the Faith should take precedence even over every other proper activity in the Church’s program.

Because Ruling Elder Ken Keyes was the editor of The Concerned Presbyterian Bulletin, he was probably the author of the lead article in that first issue and so it is probably safe to attribute the above statement, and thus the root form of the motto, to Mr. Keyes.

[If you want to do your own research, all of the Bulletins issued by the Concerned Presbyterian group can be viewed here. The URL for that first issue is http://www.pcahistory.org/findingaids/concerned/bulletin01.pdf]

A later variation of the motto, perhaps the more familiar version, appears in Paul Gilchrist’s last letter as Stated Clerk (1998), where he reported

Our hearts were blessed as we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the PCA at the General Assembly in St. Louis, Missouri. How good it was to hear how the Lord moved in the hearts of our founding fathers to establish a “continuing Presbyterian Church” that would be true to the Scriptures and to the Confession, and obedient to the Great Commission.

Obviously we could probably track some variations on the motto through the years, from 1971 to present, but most of those variations probably appeared because someone was working from memory.  For one thing, the motto was never officially adopted, so far as I can determine. If I’m wrong about that, please let me know. For now, barring other input, I’m satisfied that the motto was first envisioned by RE Kenneth S. Keyes, and later refined and voiced by TE Donald Patterson.

Where Were They Educated?

A question sometimes comes up regarding the theological education of the founding pastors of the Presbyterian Church in America. Working from a list of 180 pastors, as found in the Minutes of the First General Assembly, the following list indicates where these men were educated. Of those 180, 172 were educated at seminaries; for 8 no indication has been found of a seminary education and this raises the question of whether those 8 were ordained under the extraordinary clause.
Following each school name, the following dates indicate years of graduation. Concluding this list is a statistical summary. Continue reading “Where Were They Educated?”

Preparation for Ministry (1948)

Recently in processing the Papers of Dr. Morton H. Smith, the first Stated Clerk of the PCA, I came across this letter written to Smith when he was just twenty-five years of age and considering a call to ministry and pondering which Seminary to attend.  The pastor of his home church, the Rev. James E. Moore, wrote to offer the following advice.  Moore and his brother Lardner (whose sermon we posted recently) were raised in Osaka, Japan. James  prepared for the ministry at Westminster  Seminary, graduating in 1933 and was pastor of the Mt. Washington Presbyterian church in Baltimore, Maryland from 1934-1951.  He was received into the PCA in 1974.
This letter continues to offer, I think, some sage advice to those considering a call to ministry. The letter also offers a bit of historical insight on the situation as it stood then for theologically conservative Presbyterians, and in that light, it is interesting and even encouraging to compare that situation with where we are today.


22 September, 1948

Dear Morton:

Rockwell told me on his return from the West that you had about decided to go to the Seminary but were undecided as to which one. I’m not sure of the reasons he gave but I did ask him for your address. I have been thinking about the Seminary and what is involved in a Seminary education. I hope you won’t think me presumptuous but I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of expressing my views on the matter. I hope the Lord will take my words and give you help so that you can know without any doubt whatsoever His will may be in your whole future.

The first thing that I would say is that you don’t have to go to the Seminary to preach the Gospel. It is not a necessity because the New Testament doesn’t say one word about it. There was no such school in the days of the Apostles and they didn’t take the time to start one. More, the law of our church does not presuppose a Seminary education. The requirements for ordination are given. Then it says that certain of these parts may be omitted if the candidate is a graduate of a seminary.

If then neither the New Testament nor our church requires a Seminary education, why bother to go to one? The answer should be given along these lines. See how far you can agree with me. First, the Gospel, the only Gospel, which we have to preach is found exclusively in the New Testament, that is, the Bible. God’s message of salvation for a lost world is not found in nature nor in conscience nor in the church. The Bible is the only source of information and instruction. We don’t deny the value of philosophical and scientific truth anywhere, but those truths, regardless of how valuable they may be, do not shed any light on the Gospel. The story of Jesus and His love is found only in the Bible. That will be the first part of our answer. We go to the Seminary to better study the Bible.

Second, we go to the Seminary to study all the Bible. If the Bible is the exclusive source of the Gospel, then we dare not neglect the Bible, lest somewhere it teach something that would have a tremendous bearing on the Gospel. The world can’t be impressed by ill-equipped men who don’t know what they are talking about. The world is educated to-day so that anyone who takes the time to study can know a tremendous lot about the Bible. Therefore a preacher must be equipped so that he knows enough of and from the Bible to be able to declare the “whole counsel of God.” You will appreciate this point of view. You weren’t brought up on the idea that five or six truths were adequate for your life. The Shorter Catechism covers the whole range of Scripture truth. Now it stands to reason that a man studying under those who are competent and experienced can learn more of the Bible than he can by trying to do it himself. Continue reading “Preparation for Ministry (1948)”

Francis Schaeffer on our Presbyterian heritage (1982)

The following quote is taken from an address given by Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer before the Tenth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, on the occasion of the reception of the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod into the PCA.  Dr. Schaeffer’s address was subsequently printed as a separate monograph and it is also available online at the PCA Historical Center’s web site.  The direct link is http://www.pcahistory.org/findingaids/schaeffer/JandR.html

“As Presbyterians our heritage is with a Calvin who dared to stand against the Dukes of Savoy regardless of what it
cost.  Our heritage is with a John Knox who taught us, as I’ve stressed in A Christian Manifesto, a great theology of standing against tyranny.  Our heritage is with a Samuel Rutherford who wrote those flaming words, Lex Rex—only the law is king and “king” under any name must never be allowed to arbitrary law.  Are you Presbyterians?  Have we a Presbyterian body?  These men are the men who give us our heritage—Calvin and his position, John Knox and his, Samuel Rutherford his, and no less than these in our own country, a John Witherspoon who understood that tyranny must be met and must be met squarely because tyranny is wrong.  These who understood that true love in this fallen world often meant the acceptance of the tears which go with confrontation.  None of us like confrontation, or I hope
none of us do.  But in a fallen world there is confrontation, there is confrontation concerning truth, there must be confrontation against evil and that which is wrong.  The love must be there but so must the hard thing of acting upon differentiation, the differentiation God gives between truth and falsehood, between what is just, based on God’s existence and His justice, and injustice.”