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A History Lesson, by Robert Strong

In Auburn Affirmation (1924), Importance of History, J. Gresham Machen, Presbyterian Church in America, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS], Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Presbyterian Journal, Robert Dick Wilson, Westminster Theological Seminary on 29/07/2013 at 09:28

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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In Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 21/05/2013 at 12:30

02_1936_0521_p160Southern Presbyterian Denomination’s 75th Anniversary [1936]

Borrowing from our other blog’s theme, “On This Day in Presbyterian History,”—May 21, 1936the southern Presbyterian Church celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary. The following text is from a news clipping preserved by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. An image scan of the news clipping is shown on the right:

TIMES-UNION, Jacksonville, May 21, 1936.

Presbyterians Hold Session in Historic Church

Diamond Jubilee of Organization Is Convened at Augusta.

AUGUSTA. Ga., May 21, (UP) — The seventy-fifth anniversary of the building of a church out of the crisis of the War Between the States will be observed dramatically at the diamond jubilee of the Presbyterian Church of the United States.

The annual meeting of the church opened tonight in the First Presbyterian Church here where 75 years ago, December 4, 1861, the Southern division of the faith was established.

The Southern Presbyterian Church’s existence began during the days of the War Between the States. The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America had passed the famous Gardiner Springs resolutions in ’61, calling upon every member of the church to pledge allegiance and loyalty to the Federal Government which was fighting the Confederacy.

The adoption of that resolution left the Southern Presbyterian members with no choice but to withdraw and form their own general assembly. This was done December 4, 1861, at a meeting in the Presbyterian Church here. At that time, Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, father of late President Woodrow Wilson, was pastor of the Augusta church.

The ancient building still stands, and a reminder of the days that caused the formation of the new assembly is seen, in the slave galleries for the negroes. Until the last of them died a few years ago, there were still several colored members who held their memberships from slave days.

A stated clerk to succeed the Rev. J. D. Leslie, who died recently, is to be elected by the assembly. The Rev. E. C. Scott of Dallas, Texas, who has served as assistant stated clerk, is expected to be elected stated clerk.

Three overtures asking that the church take steps to promote an organic union of all Presbyterian bodies in the Nation are to be presented formally to the assembly Friday, but no action is expected until Monday. The Presbytery of Central Mississippi is to file an overture disfavoring the union move.

Memorial for Rev. John L. Girardeau

In Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 20/12/2012 at 19:02

With a recent request for information from the Minutes of the Synod of South Carolina, (in the old Presbyterian Church, U.S.), I have come across this Memorial to the Rev. John L. Girardeau:

REV. JOHN L. GIRARDEAU, D.D., LL.D.

girardeau (2)James Island near Charleston, S.C., has the distinction of being the birth place of John Lafayette Girardeau.

He was born on November the 14th 1825, and was, as his name indicates, of Huguenot extraction.

In 1844 he graduated from Charleston College, and completed his studies at the Columbia Theological Seminary in 1848.

For a short time after he left the Seminary he served the Wappetaw Church. In 1850 he was ordained and installed pastor of the Wilton Church near Adams Run. In 1854 he was invited to take charge of a colored mission work, which grew into Zion, the great negro church in Charleston, whose house of worship was built by wealthy Presbyterians for the religious instruction of the slave population. The immense place of worship was thronged at every service, many whites attending regularly, and hundreds were hopefully converted. No congregation in the State enjoyed the ministrations of a more gifted preacher.

This happy and most fruitful pastorate was interrupted by the war between the States. Doctor Girardeau was elected Chaplain of the 23d South Carolina regiment, and served in this capacity until the conclusion of hostilities in 1865. He was as brave as the bravest, and discharged with tender and efficient fidelity the part of friend and spiritual teacher of the men of his command.

Upon his return to Charleston he became pastor of Zion Glebe Street Church which had under its care for several years his former colored congregation.

zionPC_CharlestonSCUnder his able leadership and labors this rapidly grew into one of the strongest churches in the Southern Assembly, in point of members, charitable work and pecuniary offerings.

In 1875 the St. Louis General Assembly unanimously elected him Professor of Systematic Theology in the Columbia Seminary and in 1876 he assumed the duties of that chair.

For eighteen years in this Institution, with an untiring devotion and zeal, he assisted in preparing young men for the Christian Ministry. Because of an age limit in the constitution of the Seminary, he resigned in 1895, and resisted the most earnest appeals to permit his re-election. To him there must have been a premonition of his approaching end, for during the winter following his powers began to fail, and after lingering for more than two years, the Master called him, and he passed to his reward upon the 23d of June 1898.

Of Dr. Girardeau’s intellectual gifts there can be but one opinion. He was an incessant and thorough student. He hungered for knowledge. There was nothing superficial in his search for truth. His mind was acutely analytical and logical, and once having assured himself of his premises he pushed them remorselessly to their conclusion. His convictions, therefore were strong and he held to them tenaciously without fear or favor.

In his reading he ranged the fields of history, and poetry, and philosophy and metaphysics, and his memory held for ready service  the treasures they had been made to yield.

As a Professor he was unusually attractive and efficient, painstaking and thorough he invested with peculiar charm the lesson of every day. No recitation dragged with him. He knew how to excite enthusiasm, to stimulate thought, to encourage investigation, to get at the measure of a student’s acquaintance with the subject, and at the end of the hour each one left the class room intellectually richer than when he entered it.

As a Presbyter he was an example of regular attendance upon our church courts. No one ever saw him unattentive to the proceedings. He was ready for any work that might be assigned to him. He held closely to the regular methods of conducting business, was prepared to participate in the discussion of every important question, and was always an alert, vigorous formidable, but courteous antagonist in debate.

As an Author, he has left numerous magazine articles upon a variety of topics, “Instrumental Music in the Public Worship of the Church,” “Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism,” “The Will in its Theological Relations,” and the Manuscripts of “Philosophical Discussions,” “Theological Discussions” and “Life Letters, Poems and Sermons.” It is to be hoped that these last, in printed form, will soon enrich the literature of our day.

Oglethorpe College conferred upon him the degree of D.D. in 1868, and the South Western Presbyterian University that of LL.D., in the year [1874?].

girardeauGrave01As a Preacher, though probably his greatest fame was won, and it is as a preacher more than likely that he will be lovingly remembered.

Of him it can be truly said he “magnified his office.” The Bible was his Book of books. Its teachings lived in his life. His knowledge of it was profound. He loved his Savior, the Divine Christ, with all of the intense ardor of his being. He believed in his very soul, that men are lost sinners and that their only hope is in the royal gospel of God’s free grace. He shunned not to declare therefore, the whole counsel of God, but with the tender pathos of “the beloved disciple,” and the logical power of a Paul.

His presence was commanding, his voice clear, musical, far reaching; his imagination chaste and brilliant, his diction oppulent and superb, and his delivery, as a rule unhampered by manuscript, was always graceful, often thrillingly impassioned.

With a master’s hand he swept, at will, the entire key board of human feeling.

As a Teacher, Presbyter, Debater, Author, Preacher, John L. Girardeau easily takes an enduring place among the most distinguished men of the Southern Presbyterian Church.

—W. T. Thompson, Chairman.

Image sources:
1. Rev. Dr. John L. Girardeau. Photograph courtesy of Rev. Dr. Nick Willborn. Used by permission.
2. Zion Presbyterian Church, Charleston, South Carolina. Photograph by Dr. Barry Waugh. Used by permission.
3. Grave of Rev. Dr. John L. Girardeau, in the Elmwood Cemetery, Columbia, South Carolina. Photograph by Dr. Barry Waugh. Used by permission.

Ruling Elders as Moderators

In Elders, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 02/08/2012 at 09:36

The moderator of the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was a ruling elder–the Hon. W. Jack Williamson. Since that time, the PCA has established a tradition of alternating between ruling elders and teaching elders in its nomination and election of moderators for the General Assembly. But this practice remains unusual among Presbyterian denominations. Even within our own ecclesiastical heritage, it wasn’t always so, as Rev. R.C. Reed explains in this review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1914 :

“The Assembly elected a ruling elder to preside over its sessions. The law which makes the ruling elder eligible to the moderatorship of all our church courts is but a corollary of a fundamental principle of Presbyterianism–the parity in authority of all Presbyters. Our church did right to put this corollary into the form of law, and it ought not to suffer the law to lapse into a condition of innocuous desuetude. We cannot be accused of working it overtime. The law was enacted in 1886. It was seven years after that date before it received its first practical recognition in the election of Hon. J.W. Lapsley. Only four ruling elders have presided over our Assemblies in the twenty-eight years since the way was open for them to be honored with this responsibility. Always there is good material among the ministerial members to fill the office, as there was in the last Assembly, and there is never any reluctance on their part to serve, but they, as well as others, allow the propriety of occasionally electing a ruling elder in order to do justice to the principle of parity.”

[excerpted from “The General Assembly of 1914” by R.C. Reed, in Union Seminary Review 26.1 (October 1914): 4.]

This change to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. was enacted in 1886, as Rev. Reed notes. The overture to enact this change first came from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, in 1884. The Minutes of the 1885 Assembly (p. 432) note that:

The Committee on Bills and Overtures reported on the overtures from the Synod of Virginia and from the Presbytery of Chickasaw, which were sent to the last Assembly and referred by it to this (see Minutes of 1884, pages 249 and 250), asking an amendment of the Form of Government in reference to the duties of ruling elders when elected moderators of church courts. Pending the discussion, a substitute was offered by the Rev. P.T. Penick, which was adopted, and is as follows:

That the request contained in these overtures be granted and that the Assembly hereby recommends and sends down to the Presbyteries for their advice and consent thereunto the following:

That to the clause in the Form of Government, Chapter IV., Section 3, Paragraph 2, stating that ruling elders “possess the same authority in the courts of the Church as the ministers of the word,” shall be added this sentence, “When, however, a ruling elder is moderator of a Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly, any official duty devolving upon him the performance of which requires the exercise of functions pertaining only to the teaching elder, shall be remitted by him for execution to such minister of the word, being a member of the court, as he may select. Read the rest of this entry »

No Time to Debate It.

In Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 01/08/2012 at 13:15

This is a portion of an interesting review of the 1914 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern), written by Columbia Theological Seminary professor, R.C. Reed [1851-1925].
His report is interesting for dating the noted change in the conduct of the Southern Presbyterian Assembly, from that of a more deliberative body to something more akin to a business model. The Assembly had been in the habit of meeting for nine days, and now had been meeting for only six, since 1912. Here Rev. Reed complains of the hurried nature of the Assembly and the resulting lack of patient, reasoned debate. Elsewhere we have noted that on one occasion, the Rev. John L. Girardeau spoke at length for two hours on the floor of the Assembly, in 1880. More remarkable still, the Assembly paid attention to his every word!

From the Union Seminary Review, vol. 26, no. 1 (October 1914)

The General Assembly, reviewed by Rev. Professor R.C. Reed, Columbia, SC.

The fifty-fourth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, met in the Central Church, Kansas City, Mo., May 21, 1914, and was dissolved at 3:30 P.M., Thursday, May 28th. This is the third Assembly in succession which has limited the span of its life to six working days. These precedents will probably have the force of law for the future. Time was when the Assembly had to rush its business toward the close, in order to dissolution by the end of the ninth day from date of organization. The volume of business has increased rather than diminished. The recent Assemblies have shortened the time not by covering less ground, but by increasing the speed. The liberty of speech has been abridged. it has come to pass that by the time a speaker gets fairly launched, the cry of “question,” “question,” warns the speaker that further effort to get a hearing for his views will be useless. Age and distinguished services do not secure immunity from such discourtesy. The Assembly is ceasing to be a deliberative body, and coming to be an organization merely for business routine.

Obviously, our Assemblies are inoculated with the speed-madness of the age. It could hardly be otherwise. The members, who compose the Assembly, are accustomed by the use of the telephone, rapid transit, and other time-saving devices, to dispatch business at a rate that would have made a former generation dizzy. The speed at which we live is constantly increasing, with the result that we are growing more and more restless. The slightest delay is irksome. The train that pulls into the station ten minutes late creates almost a mob-spirit in those who have been constrained to lose so much of their precious time. When men, who live and move and have their being in an atmosphere charged with the frenzy of hurry, come together in a General Assembly, it is not surprising that they should begrudge every minute that does not show a decided progress in the calendar of business. They are not in the habit of having time to spare. Speech-making is not business, rather it is a clog on the machinery, and the less of it the sooner the members can record their votes and get at something else. The moderator is a good moderator in proportion as he rushes the grist through the mill. Read the rest of this entry »

Death of James Henley Thornwell

In James Henley Thornwell, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 31/07/2012 at 21:23

The following brief report of the death of the Rev. James Henley Thornwell comes from The Christian Observer in August of 1862. :

DEATH OF REV. DR. THORNWELL

Just as our paper of last week was put to press, a telegraphic dispatch brought the sad intelligence of the death of the Rev. Dr. James H. Thornwell, of Columbia, S.C. He departed this life at the home of his friend, E. White, Esq., of Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, the 1st of August. His removal at this important crisis in the church and country is lamented as a public calamity. The mind of Dr. Thornwell was of high order, richly endowed with intellectual attainments which qualified him for the important position he held in the Church. His talents as an able theologian, accomplished writer and eloquent debater and speaker gave him a wide influence in the church and country.

Dr. Thornwell visited North Carolina about six weeks before his death with the hope of improving his impaired health.—After spending two weeks at Wilson’s Springs he came, to Charlotte, where he had made arrangements for meeting Mrs. Thornwell and setting out with her on a tour among our western mountains. The day after his arrival here, he was taken violently ill with an attack of the dysentery—a disease of which his father, a brother and other relatives died, and to which he had long been subject.

By this afflictive providence, God seems to be saying to his bereaved people—”cease ye from man;”—”Trust not in an arm of flesh; Confide in the Lord Jehovah, the Everlasting strength of his people.”—He will afflict and chasten—but He will never cast off his Church.

The Board Controversy, 1841-1861

In Charles Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, Old School/New School Division on 26/04/2012 at 10:05

Some of our readers may be aware of the famous debate in 1860 between James Henley Thornwell and Charles Hodge over the matter of church boards and whether such agencies were legitimate church structures.
As it turns out, this debate did not spring up overnight, but had actually been brewing for more than twenty years, basically ever since the 1837 split of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. into its Old School and New School factions.
A recent request for a few articles from that debate prompted some investigation and I’ve been posting the results of that research on this web page:

Jure Divino Presbyterianism and the Board Debates, 1841-1861.

Everything you’d ever want to know and more!

But if you just want a basic introduction to the story, there is an excellent introduction to this debate provided by the Rev. John Bailey Adger in his autobiography.  Adger had written a review of the PCUS General Assembly of 1860 in which these debates played such a central part, and twenty-five pages of his autobiography are spent in review of the debates, under the title of “The Board Controversy”.  I’ve provided a shortened version of that account here.

Adger begins his account with an intriguing comment from Dr. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, stating that this board controversy was a leftover from the Church’s division of 1837 :

The Board Controversy. [pp. 362-387 of My Life and Times, by the Rev. John Bailey Adger.]

Dr. Palmer well remarks that there was left over a “residuary bequest”—”a sort of remainder”—from the original controversy with which the church was rent in 1837-’38 [see Palmer’s Life and Letters of Thornwell, pp. 182-221.] This bequest and remainder was the board controversy. One expression which he uses in relation to this very point is liable to be misunderstood. He says, “During the period, when the church was brought under a species of vassalage to Congregationalism, the great national societies, which usurped her functions, conducted their operations by the agency of boards. The church had become familiar with that mode of action,” etc. No one will deny the influence of Congregationalism upon the Presbyterian Church, especially in those portions of it most contiguous to New England; nor that in the Northwestern wilderness, where the American Education Society and the American Home Mission Society chiefly operated, there was brought about a vassalage of the Presbyterian Church to Congregationalism. Of course, Dr. Palmer did not mean to apply his remark to our church in all its parts and portions. Neither is he to be understood as meaning that our whole church had become familiar with that mode of action in the sense of becoming, in any degree, satisfied with it. The sturdy Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, and the Carolinas, who constituted the bulk of our Presbyterian Church in those days, had been educated better by their fathers, and could not approve the mixing up of the church with voluntary associations. They tolerated the Plan of Union, but, from the first, they did not like it, and it was influence from such quarters that finally overthrew it. Read the rest of this entry »

Lottery in the Synod of Mississippi

In Benjamin Morgan Palmer, Presbyterian Church in the U.S. [PCUS] on 04/04/2012 at 10:19

Benjamin Morgan Palmer served a long pastorate in the city of New Orleans and had a fruitful ministry there. His was an important voice in the larger community outside the church, as well. When gambling interests sought to re-establish and continue a lottery in that city, he spoke against it. What follows is the report of Rev. Palmer’s efforts, as found in C. W. Grafton’s history of Presbyterianism in MississippiThe title to this account is a bit misleading in that, of course, the lottery was not something sponsored by the Synod of Mississippi, but rather was a grievous concern occurring within their borders.
[Note: Grafton’s work was never published, but we are pleased to have a photostatic copy of  the original typescript here at the PCA Historical Center, received by the kind donation of the Rev. Vaughn Hathaway.]

Chapter 24
Lottery in the Synod of Mississippi

At the very beginning of the Presbyterian church in Mississippi a strong decided attitude was taken against all ungodly amusements.

The Presbytery of Mississippi was organized in 1816 and in the second or third meeting it passed strong resolutions against card playing and games of chance. They say “All games of chance are so many inconsiderate and irreverent appeals to divine providence. If we may not take the name of God in vain, neither may we trifle with his providence, or make sport of it for our amusement. Games of chance being abused for the purposes of gain are odious to the feelings of the moral and upright. Christian feeling has long since proscribed games of chance and all forms of gambling. There is but one sentiment on this subject among the truly pious and it has become the moral sense of the Christian church. To offend this sentiment is to offend the church.”

For a long time in early days the habit of raising money by lottery prevailed throughout the land. But it proved to be a most vicious and destructive agency in polluting the morals of the people.

The city of New Orleans and the whole state of Louisiana, we must continue to remember, were a part of the Synod of Mississippi and did not become separated from the Mississippi Synod till 1901, when the Synod of Louisiana was organized.

The Legislature of Louisiana had chartered a corporation in the state to raise money by lottery. In 1891 the license was about to expire and its promoters throughout the state were inaugurating a big effort to have the charter of the company renewed. It was a critical period in the history of the state. The evil effects of the lottery had been set forth during a long period of years and there was a growing spirit in Louisiana against renewing the license.

The Christian citizens all over the state agitated the question and were outspoken against it. The money power in favor of the lottery was very strong and it seemed as if the great evil was about to be fastened anew upon the state. The good people of all the neighboring states sympathized with Louisiana and they held meetings far and wide condemning the lottery.

In the fall of 1891 a great meeting was held in New Orleans in order to stir up the heart of the people and warn them to use all efforts to arrest the spirit of public gambling.

Some fine addresses were delivered, but Dr. Palmer of the Synod of Mississippi delivered the crowning address. His whole heart was aflame with the subject and the sympathy of the big congregation was with him. His address struck the right chord at the right time and it broke the backbone of the lottery. It was a great address and for the purpose of embalming it in the memory of our young people, we are giving it word for word as delivered that night. We leave out the cheers and the plaudits and the handclapping which were in evidence all through the speech. Read the rest of this entry »

Ramsay: The Office of Ruling Elder

In Franklin P. Ramsay on 20/06/2011 at 12:38

Church government, or polity, is one of my continuing interests, particularly in relation to the historical background of the PCA’s BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER. 
The following article by Franklin Pierce Ramsay [1856-1926] appeared posthumously in the July 1930 issue of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, as explained below. Ramsay had written a commentary on the Southern Presbyterian BOOK OF CHURCH ORDER, which was published in 1898 and so the article below can be seen both as an appendix to that volume and as a charge to a ruling elder. Much of the content of Ramsay’s EXPOSITION remains pertinent for the PCA’s BCO, since in many cases the text of the modern edition is still unchanged some 113 years later. Even where the comparable paragraph has changed, Ramsay’s comments still offer good insights into the underlying principles which remain. 

The Office of Ruling Elder : Its Obligations and Responsibilities
By the Rev. F.P. Ramsay, Ph.D.
[Christianity Today 1.3 (July 1930): 5-6.]

The following address was made by the late Dr. Ramsay on the occasion of the installation of his son, R.L. Ramsay, Ph.D., professor of English in the University of Missouri, as an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Columbia, Mo., on March 25, 1925. It came into our hands through another son, the Rev. Mebane Ramsay of Staten Island, N.Y., who found it among the papers left by his lamented father.

As one is to be here inducted into the office of Ruling Elder of the Presbyterian Church, my remarks will seek to be appropriate to the occasion.

At this induction into office the elder makes a declaration of his doctrinal belief, that the Scriptures are the Word of God, and that the Confession of Faith (and Catechisms) contain the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures; and he promises to study the (doctrinal) purity of the Church. This is the covenant that he enters into with the Church when inducted into this office. Here is the difference between an unofficial member and an officer in the Presbyterian Church : the member simply professes his personal faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ; the officer professes his belief in the Church’s doctrinal system. One may become a member who does not believe that the Confession of Faith contains the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures, or even that the Scriptures are the Word of God, if only he trusts in Jesus Christ and means to obey Him ; but one cannot become an officer in the Presbyterian Church without accepting its doctrinal system and intending to strive for the Church’s doctrinal purity–unless he is willing to come into his office on a false profession.

Let me stress this a little. Not the difference between the unofficial members, who are required only to profess faith in Christ, and the officers, who are required to profess acceptance of a body of doctrine. Thus the Presbyterian Church is both liberal and intolerant.

Not that it is intolerant of disbelief in its system of doctrine on the part of its officers. Why? The Church is a propagandist institution, an organization for the purpose of advocating and propagating certain beliefs. It is true that the Church’s end is to produce and nourish a certain life ; but belief is an inseparable element of that life and necessary to it. Or be that as it may, the Church is organized and works upon that assumption, and so sets itself to propagate certain beliefs. This system of beliefs its officers are required to accept and maintain and propagate. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Detect a Liberal in the Pulpit

In Modernism, Presbyterian U.S. Laymen, Inc. on 16/06/2011 at 08:31

Recently while processing the papers of Dr. Morton H. Smith, I came across one folder with several publications by an organization identified as The Presbyterian U.S. Laymen, Inc.  This was a renewal organization that I hadn’t heard of before, which appears to have operated between 1959-1964. This Laymen group was formed to oppose the modernist takeover of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., and their publications were in particular critical of Ernest Trice Thompson, a professor at the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA and a key leader among the modernists in the PCUS.  The Presbyterian U.S. Laymen organization was short-lived and never large in number; they disbanded as other more significant groups such as Presbyterian Churchmen United and the Concerned Presbyterians came to the fore.
For its first four publications, The Presbyterian U.S. Laymen organization was based in Selma, Alabama. In what appears to be the fifth and final issue published, the group now showed a Jackson, Mississippi mailing address. Where the first four publications were eight and twelve page format, their final issue was a single-sheet legal-size broadside printed on both sides, bearing the single article reproduced below.  The article is an apt summary of the concerns of that day in the fight to maintain orthodoxy in the old Southern Presbyterian denomination.

HOW TO DETECT A LIBERAL IN THE PULPIT

This is a question that confronts Presbyterians today with an increasing urgency. A new liberalism, often called neo-orthodoxy, is making inroads into our pulpits to a degree which threatens the doctrinal integrity and spiritual strength of our church. The liberals who are entering our pulpits under various guises are fully aware of the fact that they are preaching another Gospel and that they are not true to the historic faith of the Westminster Confession and their ordination vows. But their departure from the historic Presbyterian position is concealed by frequent use of an evangelical terminology and a kind of fervor in the pulpit which almost deceives the very elect.

Their blatant dishonesty, when it is exposed and brought into the open, is promptly denied. These liberals claim that they are only making the Gospel relevant to a contemporary culture and are only using a vocabulary which is in keeping with the 20th Century. Nevertheless, even though they carefully conceal their tracks so that their liberalism is hidden from the man in the pew, there are tell-tale signs which make their liberalism very evident.

These signs have to do with what these ministers believe about the Bible and its message and the mission of the church. And most liberals will be found to follow a rather consistent pattern in their theology, ecclesiastical activities, and in their outlook on life in general.

First, let us look at the theology of a liberal. His liberalism in this area is probably the most difficult to detect because so frequently it will be cloaked in a language dear to the hearts of the evangelicals through the ages. He will speak of the sovereignty of God in glowing terms and he will even give the impression that he believes in the doctrine of election. He will even pay great respect to the Westminster Confession of Faith, but the similarity and agreement with historic Presbyterianism is more apparent than real. His apparent belief in the doctrine of Election is simply an excuse for a doctrine of universalism and the covenant theology which he holds is not that of the Scriptures.

Most of these liberals will hold Christ in high esteem and many of them will teach and even insist that He is the Savior of men. But here again, there is not any real dedication to the historic faith, as taught by Christ. They will avoid any theory of the atonement which looks to Calvin or the other reformers, and the liberal will usually depend on some kind of moral theory of interpretation of this doctrine. Yet at the same time he will make much of the necessity of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ or he will possibly even insist that men can only come to God the Father through Christ the Son. Some of these liberals will even seem to accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, although they will probably try to give it some symbolical significance and, if pressed, most of them will deny that this Virgin Birth was an actual event in human history. Read the rest of this entry »