Central Presbyterian Church

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As settlers moved ever westward in North America, the problem of planting churches in these new regions forced questions of Christian unity and cooperation. So it was that in 1801 that a Plan of Union was agreed to, first by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and a year later by the Congregational Association of Connecticut, which would allow a pastor of the one denomination to gather and serve a church of the other denomination. But within some thirty-odd years, the Plan was increasingly seem to be causing problems. For one, the Congregationalists who had been almost unanimously Calvinistic at the turn of the century, were now charged with being infected with elements of heterodoxy, and the influence of these elements was seen as making inroads among Presbyterians. There were other issues and problems, voiced from both sides, and for the Presbyterians, the matter came to a head at the General Assembly of 1837. In the weeks before the Assembly, those opposed to Plan of Union met in conference and drew up a fifteen point Memorial, citing their complaints with the Plan and other matters. These “memorialists” then arrived at the General Assembly, organized and prepared to take action. What follows is E.H. Gillett’s account of that Assembly and the action by the memorialists to bring the Plan to an end. This was the battle between the Old School (the memorialists) and the New School:—

Abrogation of the Plan of Union [1837]

The General Assembly of 1837 met in the Central Presbyterian Church, in Philadelphia, on the 18th of May, and was opened with a sermon by the Rev. John Witherspoon from the words (1 Cor. 1: 10-11), “Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared to me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.

The parties into which the Assembly was divided were ably represented. On one side were Rev. Messrs. Breckinridge, Plumer, Murray, and Drs. Green, Elliott, Alexander, Junkin, Baxter, Cuyler, Graham, and Witherspoon. On the other were Drs. Beman, Porter, of Catskill, McAuley, Peters, and Cleland, and Rev. Messrs. Duffield, Gilbert, Cleaveland, Dickinson, and Judge Jessup. The respective strength of the parties was declared in the vote for moderator, the candidate of the former receiving one hundred and thirty seven votes, while the other candidate, Baxter Dickinson, received but one hundred and six. Thus encouraged, the memorialists were confident that they should now be enabled to adopt decisive measures.

The Committee on Bills and Overtures consisted of Messrs. Witherspoon, Alexander, Beman, Cleland, Murray, Todd, and Latta, with four elders. To them along with overtures from Presbyteries on the same subject, the memorial was referred. The report of the committee recommended the adoption of the testimony of the memorialists concerning doctrines, as the testimony of the Assembly. Objection was made. The list of errors noted was fifteen in number. Some members thought that others should be added. One member proposed four others. Dr. Beman thought the list already too long. Of some mentioned in it he had never before heard. It was finally resolved to postpone the question for the present, and to take up the portion of the report bearing upon the Plan of Union.

This subject came before the Assembly on the afternoon of Monday, May 22. It was resolved, first, that between the two branches of the Church concerned in the Plan of Union, sentiments of mutual respect and esteen ought to be maintained, and that no reasonable effort should be spared to preserve a perfectly good understanding between them; secondly, that it was expedient to continue the plan of friendly communications between them as it then existed; but, thirdly, that as the Plan of Union adopted for the new settlements in 1801 was originally an unconstitutional act on the part of the Assembly,—these important rules having never been submitted to the Presbyteries,—and as they were totally destitute of authority as proceeding from the General Association of Connecticut, which is vested with no power to legislate in such cases, and especially to enact laws to regulate churches not within her limits, and as much confusion and irregularity have arisen from this unnatural and unconstitutional system of union, therefore it is resolved that “the act of the Assembly of 1801, entitled a ‘Plan of Union,’ be, and the same is hereby, abrogated.” The vote upon this important measure, which tested the relative strength of the parties in the Assembly, stood one hundred and forty-three to one hundred and ten.

So the Plan of Union was ended. Those interested in reading further in Gillett’s account may click here.

Words to Live By:
In retrospect, Rev. Witherspoon’s opening sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:10-11 was both plaintive and somewhat prophetic of events to follow that week in 1837. While he was a leading voice among the “memorialists,” John Knox Witherspoon [1791-1853] was also the grandson of Dr. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], a prominent founding father of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Perhaps it was in the light of that heritage and so as something of a statesman for the Church that John Knox Witherspoon delivered his sermon that day, knowing what was ahead, yet hoping for better things. Pray for the Church when self-seeking, bitterness and needless contention arise; stand peaceably for the truth of God’s Word and for the unity of the Body of Christ, remembering that the battle is the Lord’s.

Now, I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared to me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.”

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Keeping in mind that newspapers were little different then than now, subject to the same human foibles*, nonetheless the following coverage of the modernist controversy and the resulting denominational split is interesting, as it offers some different perspectives on what a division means to those involved.

[*There are two errors mainly in the text below, both of which will be noted in brackets in their first appearance.]

This article is from a Wilmington, DE newspaper, dated June 29, 1936, and is found preserved in one of seven scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon, covering the modernist controversy in the years 1935-1939. The photographs have been added and were not part of the original article.

familiesdivided

Dissension with all the heartaches and strained loyalties that civil war brings, is definitely wedged in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

Where it will lead and the effect of the wedge, no one knows.

But this much is already evident in the Presbytery of New Castle, which embraced Delaware and parts of Maryland: families are divided, parents against children, husbands against wives, and friend with friend.

This is a time when members of congregations are torn between loyalty to their established church, when men are being accused of dogmatism, heresy, apostasy and free will.

Out of the seething cauldron has been born a new church, the Presbyterian Church in [sic; should be “of”] America, in contrast to the old Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

The nature of the wedge that is lodged in the church of the U.S.A. today is itself controversial.

Question Not Doctrinal

Those who are remaining loyal say the split is on a church constitutional question and among the loyalists are both fundamentalists and modernists.

“The matter now and never has been a controversy between ‘fundamentalists’ and ‘modernists’ the general council of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. states.

It is a question the general council states, of whether ministers shall disobey the established constitution of a church and agree to the will of the majority.

The secessionists–all fundamentalists–say the differences are based upon doctrinal questions and liberty of conscience.

In any case, the immediate cause of the secession and the controversy has been the Independent Board of [sic; should be “for”] Presbyterian Foreign Missions, a board with no official connection with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

The leading personality in the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions has been the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen of the Presbytery of New Brunswick, N.J.

Four Judicatories in Church

For those not familiar with Presbyterian Church government, it should be explained that the judicatory and administrative bodies of the church are: First, the session, composed of representatives of a congregation, governing the church; second, the Presbytery governing a group of sessions in a district; third, the synod, a group of Presbyteries and fourth, the General Assembly which is the national ruling body of the Presbyterian Church which also is the supreme court and lawmaking body of the entire church.

Also as part of the story of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions is Pearl Buck, a missionary in China, whom it was charged was too much a modernist.

Dr. Machen Heads Movement

machen02Though she resigned, the charges persisted from the militant fundamentalists of the Presbyterian Church against the alleged modernism in the foreign mission groups. In 1933, Dr. Machen introduced into the Presbytery of New Brunswick a proposed resolution to be presented to General Assembly relating to what he called “modernism” in the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.

A large majority of the Presbytery of New Brunswick refused to send this resolution to General Assembly but similar resolutions did reach General Assembly in 1933. The assembly received it and Dr. Machen was heard by the committee to which the resolutions had been presented for consideration.

By a vote of 43 to 2, the committee reported unfavorably and expressed its confidence in the Board of Foreign Missions and by a nearly unanimous vote, the General Assembly approved the report of this committee.

But Dr. Machen did not pause there. Accepting neither the views of the committee nor the “judgment of the General Assembly,” he was influential in the establishment of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions, incorporated in December of 1933, with Dr. Machen as president. It is not a recognized body of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., being just what its name indicates, “independent.”

H. S. Laird Member of Board

lairdhsTo this board came the Rev. Harold S. Laird, pastor of the First and Central Presbyterian Church of Wilmington, an ardent fundamentalist.

But before he joined the independent board, he consulted with his session. He did not join against their counsel.

Another point, not widely known, is that Mr. Laird during his pastorate at First and Central Presbyterian Church never solicited for the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

“It was only after much earnest prayer and careful consideration,” he said, “that I came to the conviction that this movement was of God, and being thus convinced, I agreed to throw what little influence I have in the church to the lifting high of this standard. This was my primary motive in allowing myself to be elected a member of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

“It is from this board that I was ordered to resign. I believe the board is of God and I also believe that my call to membership on that board was of God. Under such circumstances, how can I resign? Shall I obey man rather than God?”

Taking note of this independent board and that ministers and elders were prominent in its membership, the General Assembly directed that all ministers and laymen affiliated with the board sever their connections with the organization.

Those who declined to obey this direction were ordered tried by their Presbyteries. A number were found guilty and either rebuked or suspended.

Mr. Laird tried before the Presbytery of New Castle, protested that his affiliation with the independent board had been guided by his conscience and that in refusing to sever his connection, he was placing the word of God above the courts of man.

Rebuked, But Not Suspended.

Mr. Laird, however, was found guilty, with one dissenting vote in his favor. He was ordered rebuked but allowed to remain [in] his pulpit.

But Mr. Laird continued in the membership of the independent board. The Presbytery recently suspended him from the ministry–an act regarded as illegal by Mr. Laird who immediately renounced the authority of the Presbytery.

Words to Live By
Unity is a precious thing, to be cultivated and prized. But Christian unity must be centered on the saving Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Where we have that unity, it is glorious. Without Jesus Christ as our Cornerstone, there can be no Church.

Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.
52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three.
53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Psalm 133 (KJV)
1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

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How the West Was Won

From The Christian Observer, vol. 52, no. 40 (1 October 1873): 1, column 6.

Rev. S. J. P. Anderson, D.D.

andersonsjp04The life of Dr. Anderson, up to the time of his failing health, and retirement from the ministry, had been one of remarkable success. He was born in Prince Edward county, Virginia, on December 5th, 1814, the son of Sterling C. Anderson, of Appomattox, VA. The early years of his life were spent in the country, on the farm of his father, where, at a village school, and with the aid of a tutor at home, he was prepared for college. In 1831, he went to the University of Ohio, at Athens, and afterwards to Hanover College, Indiana, where he graduated in 1835. His theological course was pursued at Union Theological Seminary.

[Above right:  One of several images of the Rev. S.J.P. Anderson preserved at the PCA Historical Center. The actor Henry Fonda bore a striking resemblance, don’t you agree?]

The first charge of Dr. Anderson was at Danville, Virginia, where he remained five years, the pastor of a large and constantly increasing congregation. From Danville, he removed to Norfolk, VA, where he soon took rank as one of the ablest and most effective preachers in that State—so famous for its preachers.

AndersonSJP02After remaining five years at Norfolk, he was called to St. Louis, and in 1851 was engaged as the pastor of the Central Presbyterian church in that city. At the time that Dr. Anderson took charge of the church it was far from being in a prosperous condition. It was yet in its infancy, few in numbers, embarrassed with debt, and greatly afflicted by the death of its first pastor, Rev. Alexander Van Court, of precious memory! The task before him was a difficult one; but, by faithful preaching and earnest work, with the blessing of God, he was enabled to accomplish it with success. Under his ministry the church grew steadily, was increased by considerable accessions from time to time, until it became, at length, one of the largest and most influential churches in the city.

It is not too much to say of Dr. Anderson, that he was, in his day, a man of eminent usefulness and power in the ministry. He was a preacher of marked ability—earnest, evangelical and eloquent. He was a man of fine scholarship, large reading, and almost faultless taste; his mind was richly stored, not only with biblical, but also with historical learning, and the whole was laid under contribution to the pulpit. His sermons were not only sound and able, as expositions of gospel truth, but they were usually finished productions as they came from his hand, abounding in happy illustration, delivered in a pleasing, captivating style, and with a voice the richness and sweetness of whose tones lent a charm to every word that he uttered. It was indeed a strange providence as we look at it, which, before he had passed the meridian of his life, when he was yet in the vigor of his manhood, and in the full tide of his popularity and success, prostrated his health, deprived him of his voice, and consigned him to retirement and silence. But there can be no doubt that it was meant in wisdom and love. It was of the nature of the disease that Dr. Anderson suffered and of which he died, greatly to depress his spirits, and the latter years of his life were in consequence passed under a cloud of despondency  and melancholy which never wholly cleared away, until the Master sent him the glad message of dismissal, and called him to “Come up higher.”

Amid all the clouds and darkness, however, that gathered about him, his hope of salvation was never for a moment obscured. He was wont to speak often of this as one of the sweet tokens of the favor of God. Everything else in his condition seemed to him to be dark and hopeless, but this blessed assurance of a personal interest in Christ never forsook him. Never did the sky grow so dark above him, but this bright star still trembled on the horizon of his hopes. His faith in Christ was firm as a rock to the last, and simple as that of a little child; his trust was solely on that precious blood that cleanseth from all sin, and he felt that he had nothing to fear. Death, the last enemy, whom we all so dread to meet, was disarmed of its terrors to him.–Old School Presbyterian. The Rev. S.J.P. Anderson breathed his last on September 10, 1873.

centralPC_STL_sm[The Central Presbyterian Church began as the Fourth Presbyterian Church in 1844 and acquired its present name in 1846 when it met in a small building at 6th and St. Charles Streets. Early clergy included Rev. Joseph Templeton and Rev. Alexander Vancourt, Rev. S. J. P. Anderson, and Rev. Robert G. Brank. In 1849 it moved to its own building at 8th and Locust where it remained until 1873. At that time it moved to a temporary chapel at the NE corner of Lucas and Garrison. Forced to retire a few years earlier, 1873 was also the year of Rev. S.J.P. Anderson’s death. A new church was built at the Lucas and Garrison location in 1876. This building was used until 1906 when the congregation moved to Delmar and Clara. The church is currently located at the corner of Hanley Road and Davis Drive in Clayton, Missouri. The architect’s drawing at left shows the church’s last building as envisioned by the architect, though the tall spire was never installed.]

Words to Live By:
Man knows not his time. The Lord may call tomorrow, or our time may come many years from now; but surely we will all die. Keep your accounts current and be diligent, day by day, in what the Lord gives you to do. “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12, NASB)

Published works of the Rev. S.J.P. Anderson—

1845
The influence of the Bible on liberty: an address, delivered before the Union Society of Hampden Sidney College, September 18, 1845. Richmond, H.K. Ellyson, 1845. 32pp.

1850
“Form and Spirit,” in The Southern Presbyterian Review, 4.2 (October 1850) 177-197.

1851
“Notes on the Miracles of our Lord,” in The Southern Presbyterian Review, 4.4 (April 1851) 580-589.

“The Variety of Shakespeare, in The Southern Presbyterian Review, 4.3 (January 1851) 343-357.

1852
“The Unity of the Human Race, in The Southern Presbyterian Review, 5.4 (April 1852) 572-601.

1854
“Commemorative Discourse,” in A memorial of the Rev. Stephen Griffith Gassaway, A. M. : late Rector of St. George’s Church, Saint Louis. St. Louis: Printed at the “Missouri Democrat” Office, 1854.

1856
“The Prophets of the Restoration,” in The Southern Presbyterian Review, 9.4 (April 1856) 513-519.

1858
The Power of a Christian Literature : a sermon on behalf of the Assembly’s Board of Publication. Philadelphia : Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858. 34pp.

1859

“The Fulness of Time, in The Southern Presbyterian Review, 11.4 (January 1859) 556-570.

1861
The Dangers and Duties of the Present Crisis! : A Discourse, delivered in the Union Church, St. Louis, January 4, 1861. St. Louis, Mo.: Schenck, 1861. 18pp.  To view this title, available on the Web, click here.

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