November 12: The Trial of Henry Coray

The following account comes from the pages of Christianity Today [the original series, 1930-1949 and published by Samuel Craig], recounting something of the opposition encountered by missionaries trying to be obedient to the Scriptures and faithful to God’s call. The case had been convincingly made that their denominational board was sending modernists and even unbelievers out onto the mission field. Rather than work in that context, an Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was begun, though almost immediately the denomination declared that involvement with this Independent Board was illegal and “unPresbyterian.” (this, despite the fact that the denomination itself had utilized independent agencies in the 19th-century.

The Rev. Henry W. Coray entered onto the mission field of China about 1935, under the auspices of the IBPFM, and labored there until the War forced missionaries to return home. Stateside, Rev. Coray soon found a new calling as the organizing pastor of the Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, California, and he labored in that pulpit until 1955, when called to establish a church in San Jose. Blessed with a long life, Rev. Coray entered into his eternal reward in 2002.


The Case of Mr. Coray

On November 12, 1934, the Presbytery of Lackawanna (Synod of Pennsylvania) without process voted to erase from its roll the name of the Rev. Henry Warner Coray [23 June 1904-20 October 2002], who was at that time already serving on the field in China as a missionary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM).

That action was taken because Mr. Coray went to China to preach the gospel without the consent of the Presbytery. The permission of the Presbytery was refused, as is plain from the action taken by the Presbytery at meeting on September 26, 1934, because Mr. Coray announced his intention of going to the foreign field under the appointment of the Independent Board. On September 26th the  Presbytery had decided to notify Mr. Coray of its intention to erase his name from the roll if he left “his field to labor under this so-called Board.” It should be noted that the report of the Presbyterial Council, which was adopted by the Presbytery, was presented by the Rev. Peter K. Emmons, a member of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.!

The report recited that its recommendations were made in view of the action of the General Assembly “condemning this so-called Board as a repudiation of the jurisdiction of the General Assembly and of those terms of fellowship and communion contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church.”

No charges were ever filed against Mr. Coray. He served his church with distinction and left it with the blessing of those to whom he ministered. Nevertheless he was expelled from the Church without a trial! Without making a technical examination of the action of the Presbytery, which was professedly taken in accordance with Chapter VII, Section 2 (b) of the Book of Discipline, we want to make one observation. If the Presbytery wished to raise the question whether Mr. Coray had the right to do as he did, it could have filed charges against him. In that event Mr. Coray would have had an opportunity to defend his conduct and to raise the pertinent question whether the Presbytery’s command was a lawful one. It has been well said that “Henry Coray’s name was erased from the roll of his Presbytery simply because he refused to lay down the call of God at the command of men . . . Had he gone out under the official Board the same Presbytery would doubtless have banqueted in his honor. But he goes out under the Independent Board. ‘You must preach the gospel to the heathen under our auspices,’ says the Presbytery in effect, ‘or you must stay at home.’ Henry Coray went and thereby deserves lasting honor.”

[Source: CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 5.9 (February 1935): 214-215.]

Words to Live By:
It matters not what the world says. It matters not what friends and family may say. It matters not what governments, princes, armies and magistrates may say. If contrary to the very Word of God, then we must stand firm upon the Scriptures, unmoved, looking to our only Lord and God, knowing that all truth resides with Him.

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