July 3: Bolters Reply to Presbytery

Today’s post provides a good example of  press coverage of the modernist controversy during the 1930s. On July 3d, 1936, the following news item appeared in the Wilmington, Delaware newspaper. The Rev. Harold S. Laird has been mentioned before on TDPH, but today we also have the added names of Doctors Roy and Bertha Byram, as well as the Rev. Robert H. Graham. The Byrams went on to serve as medical missionaries in Manchuria and were imprisoned by the Japanese during WW2. Rev. Graham, who was born in 1905, remained a pastor with the PCofA/OPC and passed away on February 27, 1993.  At this time, I do not have birth and death dates available for the Byrams. This article also mentions a few lesser known conservative groups, The League of Faith (a PCUSA renewal group), and The Elder’s Testimony, both of which will have to be discussed at some later date.

“Bolters” appears to have been an apparently derogatory term used to describe those leaving the PCUSA in the 1930s. The term may have been one chosen by journalists, or it may have simply been picked up by them, as they heard it used by PCUSA loyalists. The term appears in a number of the news clippings preserved in the Welbon Collection. While it is a somewhat descriptive term, I suppose the intended implication was that these men, women and churches were leaving rashly and without having properly thought the matter through.

BOLTERS REPLY TO PRESBYTERY

Fundamentalist Pastors In­sist They are Loyal But Hit Rule of Few

Declare Issue is Doctrinal, Deplore Conferring Author­ity on Small Group

Fundamentalist ministers of the Presbytery of New Castle, including those who have renounced its author­ity and that of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., yesterday announced here a statement, which they had adopted in answer to a recent one by the Presbytery setting forth its doctrinal beliefs and stand in the fundamentalist–modernist controversy.

Harold Samuel LairdThe Rev. Harold S. Laird, formerly of First and Central Presbyterian Church, recently suspended by Presbytery for continuing to refuse to resign membership on the outlawed Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions; and Dr. Roy M. Byram, who recently resigned from the Presbyterian Board  of Foreign Missions to join the independent one, and accept appointment to Manchukuo, with his wife, also a medical missionary, attended the meeting of fundamentalists in Pittsburgh, where the statement was drafted. The Drs. Byram formerly were supported on the mission field at Kankei, Korea, by First and Cen­tral Church.

Loyalty Is Affirmed

byramThe fundamentalist statement, endorsed here by that group, follows:

“As loyal Presbyterians, loyal in the Lord to our beloved Church and her standards, and desirous of being loyal to her boards and agencies, we believe that the issue which is troubling the peace of the Church is primarily doctrinal and are convinced that doctrines not in accord with her standards are being tolerated and even fostered by boards and agencies of the Church.

“Believing heartily in the great educational and evangelistic mis­sion of the Church, we hold that voluntary giving only is acceptable to the Lord, and that conscientious scruples should be respected in the case of all who are loyal to the con­stitution of the Church.

Church Held Democratic

“We believe that the Presbyterian Church is a democratic and repre­sentative church, and we hold that the concentration of authority and power in the hands of a few, the making of boards and agencies the masters, and not the servants, of the people, the attributing to adminis­trative acts of casual majorities of the General Assembly of supra-constitutional authority, is all contrary to the constitution, destructive of true Presbyterianism, and should be resisted.

“We deplore the severe treatment which has been meted out to men of our communion conspicuous for their loyalty to the doctrines of our Church and for zeal for its purity, and we call upon all to work and pray for the healing of a breach in our communion that has brought shame and sorrow upon the Church.

Three Proposals Made

“Believing that the supreme need of the Church is return to full loyalty to her historic standards, we make the following proposals:

“1. We request the national com­mittee of the Elders’ Testimony and the League of Faith to issue from time to time statements to the eld­ers and ministers of the church in­forming them regarding the great doctrinal and ecclesiastical issues that are now before the church, especially with a view to exposing the invasion of unbelief, and the tyranny of organization.

“2. We recommend that The Presbyterian and Christianity To­day be urged to become the chan­nels for this militant testimony.

“3. That copies of these resolutions be sent to the League of Faith and the National Committee of the Elders’ Testimony, with the request that they take the necessary steps to call a national convention in the autumn for the purpose of furthering the ends herein expressed, and that should no steps be taken by those two organizations, a meeting of this group be called by its chairman and its secretary in the autumn.”

Forest Church Defers Action

Forest Presbyterian Church, Mid­dletown, whose pastor, the Rev. Robert H. Graham, has already join­ed the Presbyterian Church of  America, and which had indicated that it probably would also seek admission, has decided to continue in its independent status for at least a month longer.

It has been expected that Forest Church would follow Eastlake Church here in joining the new church.

This action was taken at a congregational meeting Wednesday night, when, according to Mr. Graham. a large number of the members who believe that they should remain loyal to the Presbytery of New Castle, attended than at the earlier meeting. He said the vote Wednes­day night did not indicate strong opposition to joining the new church, but that those in favor felt it might be wiser to defer action.

Mr. Graham is one of five min­isters suspended by the Presbytery in connection with their renuncia­tion of its authority and other of­fenses of which the Presbytery ac­cuses them in connection with the fundamentalist–modernist dispute here and nationally. Four, of whom Mr. Graham is one, were given temporary suspension, pending trial, while Mr. Laird was suspended indefinitely. He was tried and con­victed on charges of disobedience to the government and discipline of the church.

The Rev. Dr. John W. Christie, a member of Presbytery’s permanent committee on National Missions, to which was delegated the task of supplying the pulpits of churches of the temporarily suspended ministers and all others where there are no pas­tors, visited Middletown yesterday afternoon and last night. He con­ferred with officers and members of the Forest Church who have re­mained loyal to Presbytery.

[transcript of a news clipping from The Wilmington Morning News, 3 July 1936. This clipping is preserved in Scrapbook No. 3, page 279, in the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection.]

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  1. Robert W. Graham’s avatar

    I’m proud of the stand my father took in 1936. It took a great deal of courage as a young pastor to stand in the face of great power.

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