Auburn Affirmation

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The document known as the Auburn Affirmation was presented to the public in January of 1924, bearing the signatures of 150 Presbyterian pastors and elders. But just four months later, on May 5, 1924, that list of signatures had grown to 1274 names, a significant percentage of the pastors and ruling elders of the Church as that point in time. How many more might have signed had it been convenient, and how many more were complacent or apathetic about the matter? In sum, the Auburn Affirmation attempted to reduce orthodox Christian doctrine to mere opinion and theory. As much as all of this was a shame upon the denomination, perhaps the greater shame was the almost entire lack of response from theologically conservative Presbyterians. They were caught flat-footed and unawares. Of those that did take notice, most thought that the Auburn Affirmation was just a flash in the pan and would come to nothing. Remarkably, substantive discussion of and opposition to the Affirmation was not voiced until almost a decade later.

Sound doctrine had been under concerted attack since at least the 1890’s. The situation was accelerated somewhat by the 1903 revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and even more so by the 1906 inclusion of most of the anti-Calvinistic Cumberland Presbyterian denomination. Thus by 1910, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. felt constrained to pronounce certain doctrines “essential.”

This Doctrinal Deliverance, as it was called, was produced by the Committee on Bills and Overtures in response to a situation arising out of the New York Presbytery in which three candidates for the ministry were ordained even though they refused to affirm the doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ. [Here it is worth noting that J. Gresham Machen spent much of his career defending this particular doctrine.] While the 1910 PCUSA General Assembly dismissed the complaint brought against the three men, it did instruct its Committee on Bills and Overtures to draft a statement which all future candidates would have to affirm in order to be ordained. The Committee’s completed Doctrinal Deliverance set out five articles of faith (reproduced below) which were judged “essential and necessary.”

That was in 1910. Such was the state of the Church that the General Assemblies of both 1916 and 1923 were compelled to reaffirm the Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910. Thus it can be seen that the 1924 Auburn Affirmation was written almost entirely in opposition to this Doctrinal Deliverance. Sadly, by 1927 the General Assembly overturned the Deliverance with the conclusion that the Assembly cannot mandate certain doctrines as “essential and necessary.” In so doing, the 1927 Assembly effectively loosed the Church from its moorings.

The Doctrinal Deliverance of 1910 [reiterated in 1916 and 1923]:

1. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide and move the writers of the Holy Scriptures as to keep them from error. Our Confession says [Chapter I, Section 10]: “The Supreme Judge, by whom all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.

2. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. The Shorter Catechism states, Question 22: “Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her, yet without sin.”

3. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, that Christ offered up “himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, and to reconcile us to God.” The Scripture saith Christ “once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened in the Spirit.” [Cf. the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 25]

4. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our Standards, concerning our Lord Jesus, that “on the third day he arose form the dead, with the same body in which he suffered; with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession.” [Cf. the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter VIII, Section 4]

5. It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God as the supreme Standard of our faith, that the Lord Jesus showed his power and love by working mighty miracles. This working was not contrary to nature, but superior to it. “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” [Matthew 9:35]. These great wonders were signs of the divine power of our Lord, making changes in the order of nature. They were equally examples, to his Church, of charity and good-will toward all mankind.
These five articles of faith are essential and necessary. Others are equally so…

Resolved, That, reaffirming the advice of the Adopting Act of 1729, all the Presbyteries within our bounds shall always take care not to admit any candidate for the ministry into the exercise of the sacred function, unless he declares his agreement in opinion with all the essential and necessary articles of the Confession.
[Minutes of the General Assembly, 1910, pages 272 – 273.]

Words to Live By:
As the Rev. Bill Iverson is fond of saying, “God has no grand-children.” By that Rev. Iverson means that the work of evangelism must be done afresh in every generation. The Church can never rest from that good work. And we must constantly bear in mind that salvation belongs to the Lord. Our preaching and our witnessing must be done in complete reliance upon the Lord to bring about conviction of sin and conversion to saving faith. If the Church strays, it is because the people have strayed.  

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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. 

aubaff_1924When 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.

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This Day in Presbyterian History : 

The Root of the Presbyterian Apostasy

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.

[« 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)

Through the Scriptures: Genesis 27 – 29

Through the Standards: The Clarity of the Scriptures

WCF 1:7
“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”

For more on the Auburn Affirmation—the text of the document, along with links to a number of biblically conservative responses—click here.

 

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