February 10: Milo Jamison

To Tell the Truth

Milo Fisher Jamison proves to be an interesting figure in Presbyterian history. He and his father were both founding members of the Presbyterian Church of America in 1936 (the PCofA was renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1938). Then little more than a year later, both father and son left to become part of the Bible Presbyterian Church.

Milo Jamison was born in Richmond, Kansas in 1899, studied at Princeton Seminary and was ordained by the Presbytery of Monmouth (PCUSA) in 1924. He was the pastor of churches in New Gretna, New Jersey and Hollywood, California before founding the University Bible Church in Los Angeles. While serving as an associate pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, he was engaged in campus ministry at UCLA and it was here that his conservative theology ran afoul of modernists (aka, theological liberals) in the Los Angeles Presbytery of the PCUSA. That in turn eventually led to his departure from the PCUSA.

We could talk at length about the controversy with the Los Angeles Presbytery, but Rev. Jamison’s role in the OPC and the BPC is perhaps more interesting. To examine that role, we turn to the text provided by Dr. Gary North in his book, Crossed Fingers. It turns out that Milo Jamison was the inspiration for that book title.

In the year before his death on February 10, 1985, I spoke on the phone with Rev. Milo F. Jamison, who in 1933 became the first pastor to be thrown out of the denomination because of orthodoxy. [Without a trial, the Presbytery erased his name from their rolls.] He told me the story of a fellow graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary who had just been ordained in the mid-1920’s. Jamison knew that the man did not believe in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Jamison asked him: “How could you tell the examining committee that you believe in the Westminster Confession when you really don’t?” The man answered: “I kept my fingers crossed.” Jamison repeated the man’s statement again, as if to affirm it categorically with a double witness.

But Jamison himself did not believe this historic Confession of Presbyterianism, nor had he believed it when their exchange took place. He was a premillennial dispensationalist. When, in 1937, he was defeated for Moderator at the second General Assembly of the year-old Presbyterian Church of America, he immediately departed with Carl McIntire’s secessionist group. He joined McIntire’s Bible Presbyterian Church, founded in 1938, which revised the Westminster Confession’s section on eschatology in order to make it conform to premillennialism, although the denomination was not formally dispensational. Jamison left the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1968, but in fact he spent his post-1933 career as the pastor of an independent Bible church that taught the Scofield Reference Bible. He did not discuss the Westminster Confession in the pulpit. [Dr. North notes that his own parents were members of this church in the 1960’s] He was not a Calvinist. He had crossed his fingers early.

This was Machen’s dilemma: everyone on all sides of the Presbyterian conflict had his fingers crossed. The strategically relevant question was: On which issues?

Words to Live By:
I think Dr. North overstates his case when he says, “everyone on all sides,” but you get his point. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Where there is no fear of God—where men tell lies to promote their own agenda or to serve their own purpose—then the Church is likely under its gravest threat. Resolve to be forthright and honest in all your dealings. Your prayers first and your example second are your only hold on the behavior of others. The Lord will bless those who stand for the truth.

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