March 22: The Spirit Behind a New Church

Among the many oral history interviews preserved at the PCA Historical Center in St. Louis, there is one interview with the Rev. Paul Settle, dated March 22, 1972, which stands out among the rest for several reasons. As I read through this interview, there were several portions which could have been used to comprise our post for today, portions which would have told something of what the PCA’s founding fathers were up against as they fought for years to turn the mother denomination away from error and back to faithfully preaching the Word of God. But it was the closing section of this interview that probably best conveys the heart of those men who became the founding fathers of the Presbyterian Church in America. In his closing summary, Rev. Settle reviews the Scripture text of his message and reinforces the powerful message that God’s truth, faithfully proclaimed, will prevail:—

As we come to a close, let’s think again about Jehoshaphat. In the 15th chapter of II Chronicles, we’re told that people were having a time of adversity, that there was no peace in the land. We’re told in that first verse that there was no teaching priest in Israel; the people were without the law, without the book of the law of the Lord. And this is how we find ourselves pretty much today, isn’t it? For a long time in our denomination, we have had no teaching priests as such. Our official literature, our official programs and policies have not been through and through Biblical; they’ve become increasingly radical, socialistic, activistic, neo-orthodox. There’s no question about this. There is no peace in the land in our denomination; the people are vexed, and God is sending us strong adversity. Simply as already has been pointed out, many of us have actually abdicated our responsibility in leadership roles down through the years. But God, in the 20th chapter of II Chronicles, tells us that all of Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the Lord. And that’s a fantastic difference between chapter 15 and chapter 20. What happened?

We’re told that God raised up Jehoshaphat, who did a number of things. First of all, we’re told that he sought to walk in the ways of the fathers. And that’s what we’re calling God’s people to do in these days. We’re calling them to walk in the ways of the fathers. We’re calling them to walk again in those ways that are the ways of our Lord Himself, and of the Apostle Paul, and of the early church fathers, and of Calvin and Luther and Knox and Edwards. We’re calling God’s people to walk again in the ways of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. But we’re not calling God’s people just to be conservative in that sense; we’re not calling them just to give their allegiance to a creed in that sense, for we have too many dead orthodox churches in our denomination today.

But Jehoshaphat did another thing; Jehoshaphat not only walked in the ways of his fathers and of David, but Jehoshaphat also sought the face of the Lord God, and that’s what we call God’s people to do. We call them not just to be conservative, but we call them to be conservative because they know the Lord, to be conservative because they believe that God is and that God has spoken, that God has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture, and that’s why they walk in those ways, because those are the ways of the Lord God Himself, who has spoken once and for all for all men of all ages. We’re calling God’s people to look to the Lord, person to person.

You know, we talk a lot about a true church, and we realize that no church is ever perfectly true, for we’re all sinners. But you know, that true church we talk about and pray for is going to be true only to the extent that you and I are true. That true church is going to walk in the ways of the fathers and seek the face of the Lord God only to the extent that you and I walk in those ways and seek His face today. How many in this sanctuary tonight, for instance, every day, have a time on their knees with the Lord with the book open before them? How many in the sanctuary tonight have a close, intimate, thrilling, exciting walk with Jesus Christ moment by moment, day by day? How many here have known the thrill and know that thrill daily of sharing the good news with precious souls? It’s awfully easy for us at Granada and Trinity and Coral Ridge and in churches all across this land to stand up for the faith, but does it really get down into our lives? That true church is going to be true only to the extent that you and I are true today. We need to walk in the ways of the fathers because we have sought the face of the Lord God. These are times for prayer, on our knees, earnest prayer, fervent prayer, prayer with tears and weeping and contrition and broken hearts. This is a time not just for the reading, but for the meditation in the Word of God, a time for the living of the Word.

Jehoshaphat did something else; Jehoshaphat also went up on the hillside and tore down the groves and the idols, those groves under which people committed awful orgies in the names of their gods. And we’re doing that, too, these days, hopefully in love. We’re tearing down idols and groves. We’re not calling people apostate or heretics; we’re just saying a man is what he is. We’re not saying he is a heretic, but we’re saying that what he has written is false. It’s impossible to be positive without also being negative. It’s impossible to say “thus saith the Lord” without also saying “thou shalt not.” And so, as we exalt the Lord Jesus, we must also do battle with the devil.

And in these days, we seek to point out to God’s people that there’s much that’s wrong with our denomination. All of our leaders are not apostate; many of our leaders are men who love the Lord Jesus, but who have blind spots ecclesiastically and theologically in many places. Some of them are dear friends. But they’re wrong, and we would be unfaithful to the Lord if we refused to point out wherein they’re wrong and to take our stand for the truth.

And then Jehoshaphat sent out men, just with book of the law of the Lord in their hands, to teach in those days. That’s what we’re trying to do, just to get out to as many people as possible and to say “here are the issues as we see them.” Now the decision’s yours. If there is an escape clause [i.e, a way for churches to leave with their property], and that’s the only way that the congregations will have a chance to vote, then the decision’s going to be yours. I’ve already made mine. But you’re going to have to decide. And so we’re not saying sign anything; we’re not asking you to follow us. We’re just saying: “Here it is as we see it.” Now the decision’s yours. And we pray for that day, down the road, when we shall all be together before the Lord with our little ones, our wives and our children. That’s going to be a great day. But only if we walk in those ways and seek His face, only then will it be great. God help us all. God help us to be true to Him. Let us pray.

[Words to Live By:]
Dear Father in Heaven, we pray that Thou wouldst forgive us if tonight we have spoken in malice or with anger or with hatred. We pray that Thou wouldst forgive us even for frustration in the deepest sense, for we realize, Lord, that Thou art in control, that Thou art sovereign. And we trust Thee; we do trust Thee. And we trust Thee to bless Thy people in these days as they seek Thy truth, and as they prepare for that which is being done to them by men, who, for whatever reason, have departed from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Lord, we pray for those men—in a very real sense our enemies—but we pray for them. We pray Thy blessing upon them. We pray health and safety for them. But we pray that Thou wouldst dissemble them, that Thou wouldst frustrate their intentions, that Thou wouldst scatter them, that Thou wouldst not allow Thy church to be destroyed. Lord, bless us as we seek to preserve Thy church, a continuing church that is true to Thee and Thy word. May everything we do be done in love. May everything we do be done only that the Lord Jesus would be magnified. Bless this congregation, these faithful people; Lord, lead them in these days. May they walk in those ways of old, hand in hand with Thee. Do thou bless now, and grant us even tonight to behold Thy glory. For we pray in Jesus’ name, whom we would pray would come even quickly, Amen.

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