The Root of the Presbyterian Apostasy?
Or simply one of the earliest public manifestations of long-standing sins? Such things do not just suddenly appear out of nowhere. The errors espoused in the Auburn Affirmation had been brewing for decades. Some point back to the influence of Charles A. Briggs and how he continued to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York, even after being found guilty of heresy. Others point to the reunion of the New School Presbyterians with the Old School in 1869, a reunion which failed to address the shortcomings of the New School faction. And there are other problems and issues that might be discussed. But the Auburn Affirmation came at a strategic time, early in the 20th-century. Thus its importance as an historical document.
When church historians evaluate the history of American Presbyterianism, the publication of the “Auburn Affirmation” will stand out in importance like the nailing of Luther’s ninety-five theses on the Wittenberg Germany church door in 1517. Except this Affirmation, unlike that of the German reformer, constituted a major offensive against biblical Christianity.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1923 had repeated the earlier high court’s affirmations of five essential truths which made up the fundamentals of Christianity. They were the inerrant Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, His literal bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day, and supernatural miracles. However the very next year,on January 9, 1924, one hundred and fifty Presbyterian elders issued an affirmation in Auburn, New York which stated that these five fundamentals were not necessary and essential doctrines for the church. Eventually the number of ministers to sign it would increase to 1,294 ordained ministers, about ten per cent of the clergy on the rolls of the Presbyterian church.
[Above right, The Auburn Affirmation as it appeared in its first edition, including a list of 150 signers.]
The Auburn Affirmation used many familiar terms on which unsuspecting Christians might be deceived. Thus, it affirmed inspiration, but denied Scripture to be without error. It affirmed the incarnation, but denied the Virgin Birth. It affirmed the atonement, but denied that Christ satisfied divine justice and reconciled us to God. It affirmed the resurrection of Christ, but denied Jesus rose from the dead with the same body in which He was crucified. It affirmed Jesus did many mighty works, but denied that He was a miracle worker.
The tragedy of this Affirmation was that not one of its signers were ever brought up for church discipline by their respective presbyteries. This sin of omission hastened the apostasy of the church, as many of the signers would later find placement in every agency of the church.
Words to Live By: “Beloved, my whole concern was to write to you in regard to our common salvation. [But] I found it necessary and was impelled to write you and urgently appeal to and exhort [you] to contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints [the faith which is that sum of Christian belief which was delivered verbally to the holy people of God”] Jude v. 3 (Amplified)
For Further Study:
The Auburn Affirmation and the Response of Confessional Presbyterians, 1924-1946.