How to Detect a Liberal in the Pulpit

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.


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. Continue reading “How to Detect a Liberal in the Pulpit”