Covenant Union

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A Plan of Action for Revival

If you look at some of the early Presbyterian Guardian issues on-line, you will notice on the masthead the name of the Constitutional Covenant Union.  What was this organization?

The Constitutional Covenant Union was an independent agency organized after the 1935 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  That national meeting brought some powerful indications that the conservative Presbyterians days were numbered in the visible church.  So there went out a call to the supporters of the true Presbyterians to come to Philadelphia for a meeting on June 27, 1935.  Over one hundred people answered the call.  The Constitutional Covenant Union was organized, with officers elected, an executive committee named, and a constitution adopted.  Chapters were to be organized, and a program of reform of the Presbyterian Church USA promoted.

That program was set introduced by an opening statement.  The purposes were two-fold.  It said, “we, the members of this Covenant Union are resolved, in accordance with God’s Word and in humble reliance upon His grace, to maintain the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, (1) making every effort  to bring about a reform of the existing church organization and to restore the church’s clear and glorious Christian testimony, which modernism and indifferentism have now so grievously silenced, but (2) if such efforts fail, and in  particular, if the tyrannical policy of the present majority triumphs, holding ourselves ready to perpetuate the true Presbyterian Church, USA, regardless of cost.”

The meeting in Philadelphia would last from June 11 to June 14.  It was upon its closing promptly attacked by not only the church machine of the denomination, but also from a surprising corner in the Rev. Samuel Craig, editor of Christianity Today.  The latter magazine had been set up by Samuel Craig to expose the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church USA.  But there were changes being made in his purposes around this time.  Instead of supporting the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, he had resigned from both it, and the Board of Trustees of Westminster Seminary.  Now Craig was advocating the support of sound missionaries of the official Board of Foreign Missions.  When that became known, the Rev. McAllister Griffiths resigned as managing editor of Christianity Today, and became the editor of the Presbyterian Guardian.

Rallies began to be held in all parts of the country sponsored by this Covenant Union, with chapters formed in those areas.  However, even with this remnant meeting, it was obvious that the second purpose of the Covenant Union would be realized.  When the 1936 General Assembly met, and the supporters of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions were disciplined with expulsion, there was a call for another meeting.  Taking place on June 11 – 14 in Philadelphia, the Covenant Union was dissolved and the Presbyterian Church of America came into being.   (See June 11)

Words to Live By: J. Gresham Machen said on this occasion that we cannot trust the world.  We cannot trust civilization.  We cannot trust the visible church.  When God speaks through His Word, we can trust only Him.  His words are still true today.  Make the Word of God be your guide this day.

A Note on Forgotten History:
Early in 1930, the Rev. Samuel Craig had been dismissed from his position as editor of the Philadelphia-based periodical, The Presbyterian. Wasting no time, Craig quickly established the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, in part with investment capital supplied by Dr. J. Gresham Machen. The first publication of the new firm was a monthly magazine titled Christianity Today, and this magazine was issued consistently from May, 1930 through the Spring of 1941. Thereafter the magazine was issued sporadically until the final issue of May, 1949. Another magazine, which currently bears this same name, began in 1956 and was originally based in Washington, D.C. It bears no connection, other than name, with Dr. Craig’s publication.

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What Constitutes Schism?

pgMay36p2smIn the May 4, 1936 edition of the Presbyterian Guardian (now on-line), Dr. J. Gresham Machen wrote an article on a proper definition of schism.  The times in which he was writing were perilous times for both Reformed ministers and the members of their churches. Already a Mandate had been passed by the 1934 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., which threatened suspension of any elder, teaching or ruling, who would support by their presence, purse, and prayers any board outside of the denominational boards. Indeed, young pastors could not be received into churches or presbyteries who refused to support the official boards of the church. In the midst of this, a Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union had been set up by the small Presbyterian conservative faction in the church.  One of the principles of that Covenant union plainly contemplated separation from the main-line church if it continued in its apostasy.

Responding to that Covenant Union were those ministers and churches who denounced the sin of schism, plainly inferring that any who contemplated separation would be guilty of the sin of schism.  It was that false charge which Machen proceeded in this article to refute, and refute very strongly.

machen03Consider his words here.  He wrote just eight months before his untimely death, “It is not schism to break away from an apostate church.  It is a schism to remain in an apostate church, since to remain in an apostate church is to separate from the true church of Jesus Christ.”  He then went on to explain that as of May 4, the Mandate of 1934 and 1935 had yet to be declared constitutional.  It was simply an administrative pronouncement up to that time.  If the General Assembly of 1936, to be held in several weeks, approved it, then it would be an action of the church.  If that happened, as we know from the position of hindsight that it did, then all true believers had it as their duty to depart from the denomination because that church had placed the word of man above the Word of God and has dethroned Jesus Christ.

Dr. Machen  was seeking to go to the last measure to keep the church from going down this path of apostasy.  Yet it would be a vain seeking as the May 1936 General Assembly did approve the Mandate of 1934, and the die was cast.  All those ministers, who had rejected the earlier Mandate, and had appealed to the next highest court their suspension from the ministry by their respective presbyteries, had their appeals denied.

To read the full article by Dr. Machen, click here.

Words to Live By:  God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from any doctrines or commandments of men, (a) which are in any respect contrary to the Word of God,or (b) which, in regard to matters of faith and worship are not governed by the Word of God.

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