June 2012

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Transitional Presbytery Organized 

Someone came up with the bright idea for sure.  Why not set up a transitional presbytery for conservative Presbyterian churches who are in the process of leaving the liberal Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to join temporarily, until they decide property issues and denominational choice?

And so it was on June 20, 2007, in response to a suggestion by the conservative churches in the Wineskin organization itself, that the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) voted overwhelmingly at their General Assembly to set up a New Wineskin Transitional Presbytery, to aid the varying time schedules of those churches in the PCUSA in joining it.

This new non-geographical transition presbytery was to have a five-year history to it, designed to come to a close on July 1, 2012.  At that time, all the churches in it were to make decisions about  joining the EPC, or have the opportunity to decide otherwise.  While the time has now been extended to December 31, 2013, in the light of the 2011 decision by the PCUSA General Assembly and presbyteries  to allow homosexual clergy into  church ministry, this methodology has brought many new congregations into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  From July 2010 to May 2011, twenty-six former Presbyterian Church in the USA were received into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  And that number is expected to grow.

Understandably, the UPUSA, seeing many of their congregations depart to the EPC, brought accusation of what amounted to “sheep-stealing” against the EPC.  But the latter rebutted their charges that they are only responding to legitimate requests for church fellowship from interested churches.  No evidence was ever brought forward to justify the charges of the UPUSA.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which began in 1981, continues to grow numerically from all these joining churches.  And the Transitional Presbytery organized back in 2007 was a way for departing churches to “catch their spiritual breadth,” and fully access the mutual expectations, before committing to a momentous move of affiliation.  It was a brilliant idea.

Words to Live By:  It was Solomon who first observed in Proverbs 15:22 that “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, But with many counselors they succeed.” (NAS)   In times like these, especially in the church world, the consultation of other presbyters or elders, teaching and ruling, bring plans to fruition instead of frustration.  Don’t be afraid to contact your Session or Presbytery for help in times of need.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 17 – 19

Through the Standards: Uses of moral law agree with the gospel

WCF 19:7
“Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requires to be done.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Charles Hodge enters into eternity

Early in July of 1878, on the pages of The Christian Observer, this brief note appeared under the title, “Calvinism and Piety,” :

The Christian Union, which has no friendship for Calvinism, closes its article on the death of Dr. Hodge, as follows:

Dr. Hodge, who was the foremost of the old Calvinists in this country, was, in character, one of the sweetest, gentlest and most lovable of men. His face was itself a benediction. We doubt whether he had any other than a theological enemy in the world. Curiously too, the peculiar tenets of his theology were reserved for the class-room and for philosophical writings. In the pulpit he preached a simple and unsectarian gospel; his favorite texts were such as “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;” and his sermons were such as the most successful missionaries delight to preach in foreign lands. In Princeton he is regarded as without peer in the conduct of the prayer meeting. His piety was as deep and as genuine as his learning was varied and profound. The system of theology of which he was the ablest American representative seems to us, in some points, foreign to the teaching of the New Testament, but the life and personality of the man were luminous with the spirit of an indwelling Christ.

Words to Live By: May we all—those of us who name the name of Christ and who also claim that same biblical faith commonly called Calvinism—so find our maturity in Christ as to live in a similar way, luminous with the spirit of the indwelling Christ, pointing all men and women to the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 14 – 16

Through the Standards:  Special and particular uses to saved and unsaved, in the catechisms

WLC 96  — “What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?
A.  The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ; or, inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.”

WLC 97 “What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A.  Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule to the obedience.”

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Covenant Presbytery begins in 1973

Covenant Presbytery was one of the original sixteen Presbyteries constituted upon the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, and it is specifically numbered as the seventh PCA Presbytery.

From the Minutes of the organizational meeting of the Covenant Presbytery (PCA), we read that the meeting was held at the First Presbyterian church of Indianola, Mississippi, at 10 AM on June 18, 1973. The host pastor, the Rev. John W. Stodghill, preached a sermon on John 17:1-26, titled “One in Christ.” Following this, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was observed, conducted by Rev. Stodghill and assisted by ruling elders of the host church.

It was a humble beginning, with only two teaching elders and seven ruling elders numbered as official participants. Another eleven ruling elders were present as observers from other area churches and an audience of some forty-seven church members also attended. The meeting proceeded with the Rev. Stodghill elected as moderator and the Rev. Robert L. Mabson, pastor of the Eastland Presbyterian church, Memphis, TN, was elected as Clerk.

At this first meeting, the new Presbytery was careful to adopt a resolution stating certain foundational principles and in particular resolving:

  1. That we, the undersigned, do covenant together to form an association to be known as Covenant Presbytery; and,
  2. That this association shall have as its purpose to perpetuate the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as it is proclaimed in the Scriptures and declared in the Westminster Standards; and,
  3. That we, the undersigned, met in Indianola, Mississippi, at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, June 18, 1973.

An appended document defined the rights of particular churches, with noted attention to insuring the property rights of local congregations.

Also noted among the audience at that organizational meeting of the Covenant Presbytery were two seminary students, Mr. Tom Barnes, approved as temporary student supply for the Itta Bena and Morgan City churches and Mr. Edwin Elliott, approved as temporary student supply for the First Presbyterian church, Water Valley, MS and the Oak Ridge church, also of Water Valley, MS.

From those humble origins, the Covenant Presbytery has grown to now number fifty-three churches, making it one of the largest Presbyteries in the PCA. The Presbytery represents a total membership of nearly 9,000 communicant and non-communicant members.

Words to Live By:
Pray for this Presbytery and for the deliberations at General Assembly, as the Presbytery now comes before the 40th General Assembly this June 19-22, 2012 and seeks, under Overture 42, to incorporate churches from the dissolved Louisiana Presbytery :

OVERTURE 42 from Covenant Presbytery (to MNA)
“Expand Covenant Presbytery Upon Dissolution of Louisiana Presbytery”
Whereas, Louisiana Presbytery has initiated the process of dissolving as a presbytery; and
Whereas, Covenant Presbytery includes all of Arkansas excluding the counties of Miller,
Lafayette, Columbia, and Union, which are currently part of Louisiana Presbytery; and
Whereas, the Joining and Receiving Commission of Louisiana Presbytery has encouraged Covenant Presbytery upon their dissolution to receive these counties; and
Whereas, Covenant Presbytery has expressed a desire to see churches planted throughout Arkansas with a prayerful goal of one day planting a new presbytery in the state; and
Whereas, there are no existing churches or works in these counties;
Therefore, Be It Resolved that Covenant Presbytery respectfully overtures the 40th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to redraw the boundary of
Covenant Presbytery to include the whole state of Arkansas upon the dissolution of
Louisiana Presbytery.
Adopted by Covenant Presbytery at its stated meeting.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 11 – 13

Through the Standards:  Special and particular uses of the law to saved and unsaved

WCF 19:6
“Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty , it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining  themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience.  It is likewise to use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruption, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law.  The promises of it, in like manner, shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works.  So as, a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourages to the one and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Their Plans Were Spoiled

As biblical separation took place in the mid thirties over the apostasy in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., more and more pastors and church members were struggling to hold on to their properties which they had built and paid for out of their own pockets.  This battle was expected.  They all knew that the Special Committee on Legal Procedure of the PCUSA had specifically stated that “the members of the individual Presbyterian Churches cannot by solemn resolution repudiate the authority of the PCUSA, then by subsequent resolution attempt to take their church property out of the denomination, even if their effort in so doing is unanimous.”

One church would be an exception to that rule.  The First Presbyterian Church in Leith, North Dakota, had voted unanimously on August 2, 1936 to renounce the oversight of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.  Their pastor, the Rev. Samuel Allen [1899-1954], had already done so, and was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, which later on became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Despite this oneness of heart, the Presbytery of Bismarck brought suit in civil court against the leaders and people of the Leith congregation.  Their purpose was simple.  It was to gain possession of all properties of the church.  It took three years for the decision to come down from this court.  But it did come down.

On June 17, 1939, the civil court awarded the property to . . . the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church!  What made the difference between this case and all the other cases across the country?  In one word, unanimity of the congregation was the difference.   On that basis, the state court recognized that there was no schism on the vote.  And so they awarded the property to the congregation.

While there is no Orthodox Presbyterian Church today in Leith, North Dakota, there is still one in  Carson, the other preaching field of the Rev. Samuel Allen.  God has been faithful to the Presbyterian people of  faith in North Dakota.

Words to Live By: In most cases in those years, the faithful people of God, along with their pastors, had to “let goods and kindred go” as they lost their church properties.  While there were memories associated with those buildings, there were far greater memories associated with their allegiance to the Word of God.  Let us follow their example always.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 8 – 10

Through the Standards:  Uses of the moral law since the fall into sin

WLC 94 “Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?
A.  Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law: yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.”

WLC 95 “Of what use is the moral law to all men”
A.  The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and the will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.”

Image source : Marsden, Robert S., The First Ten Years, page 75.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Little Known Truth

Only a short period of time after the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America had passed that political resolution in 1861 about support for the Union and  President Abraham Lincoln, the southern commissioners returned to their  homes and churches.  It wasn’t long in coming, but on June 16, 1861, Dr. Jacob Henry Smith stood up in his presbytery, which was the Orange Presbytery, and proposed that steps be taken to begin a new Assembly.  By December 4, 1861, that new assembly was known as the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America.

Jacob Smith, with such a common name as “Smith,” was an uncommon man.  Born in Lexington, Virginia in 1820 of Scotch descent on his mother’s side, and German descent on his father’s side, he joined the membership of the Presbyterian Church of Lexington.  He studied at Washington College in his home town, and later, believing that God had called him into the ministry, completed his studies at Union Theological Seminary.

Entering the pastorate at Pittsylvania Courthouse in Virginia in 1846, he labored there for four years before becoming a headmaster at an academy in Halifax County.  The Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia from 1854 – 1859 next enjoyed his preaching.  Many souls entered the kingdom of grace under his ministry.

His  last congregation was the Presbyterian Church at Greensboro, North Carolina, where he labored for 40 years until his death in 1897.  Despite the civil war which raged for the first five years of his pastorate, the Word of God was not bound in any way.  Ten members went into the pastorate, including three from his own home.  It was said that he was a home in the pulpit and a model of a great preacher of the Word.

Words to Live By: Dr. Smith might have been recognized in church history  for his wise counsel to begin what later on became the Presbyterian Church of the United States.  But there was more to this fearless pastor of the Lord.  He was remember best as an expositor of the Word.  And having said that, there really is nothing else to be said, except for you reader to pray much that the challenges of each week in your pastor’s life might not hinder him from preparing adequately for the proclamation of the Bible.  That is his most important calling in life.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 5 – 7

Through the Standards:  The moral law binds everyone to obedience of it

WCF 19:5
“The moral law does for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.  Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

The Death of a Giant

Upon hearing of the sudden death of James M. Boice on June 15, 2000, another pastor prayed in his pastoral prayer the following week in his congregation  that he wished the Lord had called him home instead.  That stark comment illustrates the appreciation which his fellow pastors and Reformed people everywhere had for the man and ministry.

Dr. James Boice was first and foremost a pastor-teacher.  For 32 years, he had fed the people of God at the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  When countless churches were moving out of the inner city for the suburbs, Dr. Boice and his congregation stayed right where they were to be a witness to downtown Philadelphia.  Far from the congregation dwindling, it grew from 350 people in regular attendance to more than 1200 persons in three services.  Under his spiritual leadership, and the local Session of Elders, the light of the gospel was extended beyond the congregation,  to international students, women with crisis pregnancies, homosexual and HIV positive clients, and the homeless.

His ministry also went beyond the four walls of the church.  For a decade, he served as Chairman of the International Council of Biblical Inerrancy.  He founded the Alliance of Confession Evangelicals in 1994, calling for a new Reformation among American churches, its pastors and people.

America did not solely have his gifts of teaching either.  More than thirty countries of the world had his teaching ministry delivered to them.  Yet for many of us, it was his forty books on both Bible books as well as biblical themes which brought the gifts of this man to us.  We who were pastors had the privilege of using his biblical commentaries as core books for pulpit series.  We knew that there would not be doctrines or practices which would be contrary to either our biblical faith or for that matter, our creedal summaries of doctrine.  We could quote from his many pages with complete confidence.    Lay people could read for their devotions or Christian sabbath reading his books for their edification.  That reading would supplement what their pastors said to them from the pulpit.  It was thus a memorable  ministry to the people of God in this generation.

Words to Live By:  Even though we finite beings on earth have thoughts on when a person’s ministry may be over on that earth, God in His sovereignty is the real source of wisdom on the length of a  person’s ministry.  And God did exhibit that wisdom in taking James M. Boice home to Himself at the time He did.  We still have the benefit of his books which continue to be printed by publishing houses for the church.  Get your hands on any of these books, and your hearts and minds will be richly blessed.

For more on the hymns composed by Dr. Boice, click here.

Through the Scriptures: Songs of Solomon 5 – 8

Through the Standards: Judicial law passes away

WCF 19:4
“To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.”

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The Peaceable Fruit of Biblical Ecumenism

In the Message to all Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the world, (See December 7) the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (though it was called originally National Presbyterian Church)  had specifically stated that they invited “into ecclesiastical fellowship all who maintain our principles of faith and order.”  It was at the Fifth General Assembly of PCA, meeting in Smyrna, Georgia, that the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod sent a communication requesting closer relationship and engagement of cooperative ministries.

Two assemblies later in 1979, a small committee with a long name, namely, “The Ad Interim Committee to Discuss Areas of Agreements, Differences, and Difficulties with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America” was constituted by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  They would meet many times in the two years of discussion with representatives of the various Presbyterian churches.

In June of 1980, at the Eighth General Assembly of the PCA, that body issued invitations to the aforementioned denominations to join the PCA.  The invitation was not to be a long courtship but rather a quick “tying of the knot” by simply merging into the PCA by a common commitment to the subordinate standards of the Westminster Assembly and the Book of Church Order.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, citing exclusive psalmody and other considerations, pulled out of the discussions.  The invitation to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church come up to a vote of presbyteries in both bodies.   It failed by a narrow margin to arrive at the necessary vote by both assemblies, first by the PCA and then by the OPC.  Fraternal relations continue between both bodies with each other.

For the remaining two denominations of the Presbyterian Church in America and the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, joint General Assemblies were scheduled for their next national meetings at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The pivotal vote of the RPCES on June 14, 1982  accepted the union by a majority vote of 322 – 90.  Elected as moderator was former RPCES scholar and minister, Dr. R. Laird Harris, from Covenant Theological Seminary.

By this union, the PCA received 164 churches, 416 ministers, 20,615 communicant members, 6,139 covenant children, Covenant Theological Seminary, Covenant College, a direct line to the Scottish Covenanters from the Reformed Presbyterian Church branch of the former RPCES, and the God-given experience of  recognized theologians, teaching and ruling elders in both churches.

The “marriage” has lasted now  30  years (as of 2012), with continued prayers and work to make it a lifetime of married bliss.

Words to Live By:
Here is true biblical ecumenism.  We ought to unite together on the basis of the Word of God and the Westminster Standards with all churches which have that common basis.  By it, the Church is strengthened to meet the secular challenges of the age in which we live; the divisive character of too many a religious body in the eyes of the watching world is removed, and God’s people are built up in the holy faith.  Work where God has placed you to make this a reality more and more.

Through the Scriptures: Song of Solomon 1 – 4

Through the Standards: Ceremonial law abrogated

WCF 19:3
“Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties.  All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

A Union of Scottish Presbyterians

A noted Reformed Presbyterian theologian was once asked in the early eighteen hundreds in this country to identify his branch of the Presbyterian Church.  He replied that he belonged to no branch of Presbyterians, only to the root of Presbyterianism.  This answer revealed the deep view of history which Covenanter Presbyterians have of their church.

Any article on Scottish Presbyterians must really have an understanding first of the religious  situation  in  Scotland,   to say nothing   of the   Church of Scotland coming out of Romanism in the Protestant Reformation under reformer John Knox.  We don’t have room enough to enter into that topic on this site, but a good perusal or even a scan of any of the books which deal with that history will bring you up to speed on this.   Suffice to say that the American colonies were the happy recipients of countless Scot-Irish immigrants from Scotland through Ireland to this land.  They brought with them their distinctives which were (1)  a perpetual obligation to the Scottish covenants which their spiritual forefathers had signed, many with their blood, (2)  the sole headship of Christ over all, and last, (3) the concept of Christian civil government, where the new nation would be recognized as a Christian nation under King Jesus.

In their Scottish history, there had been many breakaways from the Church of Scotland for alleged errors in doctrine and practice.  One was called the Associate Presbytery, while another breakaway was called the Reformed Presbytery.

The latter was organized in the American colonies on March 9, 1774 as the first Reformed Presbyterian Presbytery of Pennsylvania.  In fact, there is a blue historical sign by the state of Pennsylvania which recognizes this religious event beside one of the roads in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  It was composed of three ministers: John Cuthbertson, William Lind, and Alexander Dobbins.

The first, John Cuthbertson,  was a missionary who traveled all throughout Pennsylvania, visiting the scattered societies, as they were known, ministering to them by the Word and Sacrament.  Often, their place of worship was under the sky and known as a Tent, such as the Junkin Tent in New Kingston, Pennsylvania.  Rev.  William Lind ministered in Paxton, outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in a church.  And  the third minister from Ireland, Rev, Alexander Dobbins, was ministering outside of Gettysburg, Pa.  Thousands eat today as the Dobbins House Restaurant near the 1863 Gettsyburg Battlefield, not realizing that Rev. Dobbins had a pivotal part in the establishment of Presbyterianism in Pennsylvania.

That union of three ministers in the Reformed Presbytery lasted about eight years as another union took place in Pequea, Pennsylvania, on June 13, 1782 between  the Associate Presbytery and the Reformed Presbytery.  Somehow the Scottish distinctions between the two presbyteries were not as relevant in this new land.  This produced the Associate Reformed Presbytery.

Words to Live By:  Their current membership in the various Scottish Presbyterian Covenanter churches might be small in comparison with other Presbyterian churches, but in their minds and hearts, they are the root of Presbyterianism, never just another branch.  It is good to have a clear sense of history of your church.  In fact, this yearly historical devotional has that as one of its purposes.  This contributor desires that you, the reader,  know from where you have come in the past, so you won’t make the mistakes of the past, but labor effectively in the presence and future for King Jesus.

Through the Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 10 – 12

Through the Standards: The moral law after the fall into sin

W.C.F. 19:2

“This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

Adoption Act of Subscription Exceptions Added to PCA Book of Church Order

Can a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America be permitted to honestly express his reservations with  sections of the Westminster Standards to his Presbytery which do not strike at the essentials of religion before ordination? That was the question raised in the denomination, with some presbyteries allowing it and others not providing liberty for it.  The issue was settled with the following section being added upon favorable vote to the Book of Church Order’s Form of Government on June 12, 2003 at the Thirty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.

“While our Constitution does not require the candidate’s affirmation of every statement and/proposition of doctrine in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms, it is the right and responsibility of the Presbytery to determine if the candidate is out of accord with any of the fundamentals of these doctrinal standards and, as a consequence, may not be able in good faith to receive and adopt the Confession of  Faith and Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. (cf. BCO 21:5, Q.2; 24:5, Q. 2).

“Therefore, in examining a candidate for ordination, the Presbytery shall inquire not only into the candidate’s knowledge and views in the areas specified above, but also shall require the candidate to state the specific instances of which he may differ with the Confession of Faith and Catechisms in any of their statements and/or propositions.  The court may grant an exception to any difference of doctrine only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.”

The key phrase of this Adoption Act is in the last sentence “. . . only if in the court’s judgment the candidate’s declared difference is not out of accord with any fundamental of our system of doctrine because the difference is neither hostile to the system nor strikes at the vitals of religion.”  Time will tell, in this contributor’s opinion,  whether “the court’s judgment” of our presbyteries will defend the faith once delivered unto the saints or allow all sorts of various doctrinal differences to slide in unnoticed into the church.

Words to Live By: How important it is to pray for the teaching and ruling elders of our Presbyterian churches that they will hold solidly to the Reformed faith, not allowing any weakening of “the vitals of religion.”  We have with sadness watched the gradual slide of other mainline Presbyterian churches into departures from the faith.  Let us not imitate them, but resist the temptation of the world, the flesh, and the devil and  stand firm and hold true “the vitals of religion.”

Through the Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 7 – 9

Through the Standards: Definition of the moral law

WLC 93 — “What is the moral law?
A.  The moral law is the declaration of the will of God to mankind, directing and binding every one to personal, perfect, and perpetual conformity and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the whole man, soul and body, and in performance of all those duties of holiness and righteousness which he owes to God and man: promising life upon the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it.”

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Beginnings are Exciting

The meeting was called to order in the auditorium of the New Century Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 11, 1936 at 2:35 p.m.  With those facts before you, this could be any gathering of any group of people for any purpose. But this meeting was unique in that it was the start of a new Presbyterian denomination.

The opening address by the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths stated that the teaching and ruling elders gathered,  were there to “associate ourselves together with all Christian people who do and will adhere to us, in a body to be known and styled as the Presbyterian Church of America.” (Minutes of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, pg. 3)  He then went on to state that “by the warrant and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ we constitute ourselves a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Minutes, pg 3).  Forty-four teaching elders and 17 ruling elders with another seventy-nine lay people were present. Eleven associate teaching and ruling elders wanted their names to be listed as present.

The next section of the opening address was highly important as it laid down the doctrinal, confessional, and ecclesiastical basis of the new church.  It stated, “We do solemnly declare (1) that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, (2) that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, and (3) that we subscribe to and maintain the principles of Presbyterian church government as being founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God.” (Minutes, p. 4)  The minutes states that all teaching and ruling elders, and deacons, shall subscribe to the statement.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen was elected  the first moderator.  The Rev. Paul Woolley was elected clerk of the assembly. A committee was organized to  prepare a second General Assembly to be held on November 12 – 15 in Philadelphia. This committee would recommend which version of the subordinate standards the new church would receive and adopt, the  Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for the Worship of God.  Another committee was set up on Church Organization and Roll. The last committee established by this general assembly was that of Home Mission and Church Extension.

Pictured above, the meeting of the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The photograph is part of the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection at the PCA Historical Center. To my knowledge, no known photograph of their First General Assembly survives.
[With regrets, our scanner is not large enough to include several faces on the right side of the photo, including that of Dr. Cornelius Van Til, seated in the first row).]

There was also a declaration that those attempts to censure  by the Presbyterian Church  USA upon teaching and ruling elders than currently in the Presbyterian Church of America were “terminated, lifted, and declared at an end.” (Minutes. p. 13) Two presbyteries were erected by the General Assembly, that of Philadelphia, and New York and New England.  With that, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America was closed with prayer.

Words to Live By: It was a good start.  Many challenges were ahead.  Faithful ministers who stood boldly for the faith would lose church buildings, manses, and pensions in the years ahead.  We, like them,  are always to look away from things that perish, and keep our hearts and minds set on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Through the Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 4 – 6

Through the Standards:  Moral law prior to the fall according to the catechisms

WLC 92 “What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?
A.  The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in  him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law.”

WSC 40 “What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.”

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