October 17: Machen & the IBPFM

Time and Again, God Triumphs Over Our Sin

Attempts to reform the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church, USA were led in part by some of the faculty and board members at Westminster Theological Seminary. When those efforts failed, it was on June 27th in 1933 that the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM) was organized and on October 17, 1933, its constitution was adopted and officers were elected: Rev. J. Gresham Machen serving as president, Rev. Merrill T. MacPherson as vice president, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths as secretary, and Murray Forrest Thompson, Esq. as treasurer. The General Assembly of 1934 had put the issue rather bluntly, declaring that members of the IBPFM either were to resign or else face church discipline for violation of their ordination vows.

As new evidence kept coming forward, concerning continued modernism in the Board of Foreign Mission, more and more people made the decision to begin supporting the IBPFM. This support of the new board so worried the denomination that it became a major issue at the next general assembly held in Cleveland, Ohio, in May 1934. For one, remember that this was taking place during the depression, and charitable funds were especially tight. That reason is not offered to excuse what happened next, but it does help to explain it. Perhaps it was not surprising then that the 1934 General Assembly adopted a deliverance that stated that every member of the church was required by the constitution to support the missionary program of the church, comparable to the way that each member must take part in the Lord’s Supper.

The Assembly then mandated that each Presbytery was to take action against any of its members who were also members of the IBPFM. Thus the deliverance became known as “The Mandate” and in typical Presbyterian fashion, the consequences of that action unfolded slowly. Over the course of the following two years, about a dozen men and one woman were charged, tried and cast out of the Church. On March 29, 1935, Dr. J. Gresham was declared guilty and suspended from the ministry of the PCUSA, on March 29, 1935. His trial was a travesty, with all doctrinal evidence prohibited by the court. Dr. Roy T. Brumbaugh was tried in absentia. It was a sad conclusion to this chapter in the history of the Church, but one which led to new beginnings. As some of the old Puritans used to say, “God never removes one blessing, but what He gives a greater.”

Pictured below is a letter from the Rev. Walter Vail Watson, in which he mentions his discussions with Dr. Machen and sketches out what must have been some of the first outlines of the later formation of the IBPFM:—

IBPFM_origins
Next, (and I realize this may be more difficult to read), is the text of the press release issued by Dr. Machen upon the official formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, on October 17, 1933:—

ibpfm_press_release

 

 

A Prayer for Our Times:
Lord, give us honest, godly leaders who will do what is right, regardless of the cost to themselves. Give us leaders who, in all humility, fear You and who thus fear no man. And may we be a humble, repentant people capable of following such leaders, seeking Your glory in all that we say and do.

Images: The documents pictured above are from the J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Manuscript Collection, preserved at the  PCA Historical Center.

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