Independent Board

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On June 6 of this year, our post featured a look at the life and ministry of the Rev. Richard W. Gray, architect of the 1965 union of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Synod [1833-1965] and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church [1961-1965]. On the occasion of that union in 1965, Dr. Gray delivered the following sermon, titled:—


grayRichardWIn 1936 I was a senior in Westminster Seminary about to launch upon a cause which, to me and many others, showed great promise. I had become acquainted with this cause at Wheaton College where, with Dr. Buswell as president, I learned something of the conflict and of the gathering storms in the Presbyterian Church in the USA. It was there I was introduced to the works of Machen and I heard him speak for the first time, and came to know some of the men of this assembly.

During my first two years of seminary there was the upheaval at Westminster when the policy of “no compromise” caused the resignation of the president of the board, Dr. Clarence McCartney, and of one of the original faculty members, Dr. O.T. Allis. It was while I was in seminary that I went with a number of students and sat in the lovely, colonial, historic sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church of Trenton. On the platform were five or six men comprising the Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of New Jersey. I heard them read out five or six indictments against J. Gresham Machen and I saw him humbly but firmly, stand and plead on each one “not guilty.” Then I saw this trial of justice become a fiasco when they refused to permit doctrinal consideration and said the only issue at stake was whether or not Dr. Machen belonged to the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

In 1936 I was preaching for one of the commissioners to the Syracuse Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA when Dr. Machen, Dr. Buswell, Dr. Laird and others were having their cases reviewed by that Assembly, sitting as a judicial court. It upheld the convictions of these lower courts—in effect, defrocking these men, or at least removing them from the rolls of the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

Then, I sat on that day in June in the New Century Club in Philadelphia with a group of people known as the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union. There the constituting act for the Presbyterian Church of America was adopted. There stepped to the platform the young professor of philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania, Gordon H. Clark, and in “Clarkian” style he took from his pocket two 8 1/2 x 11 pages and delivered a terse but brilliant nominating speech which made J. Gresham Machen moderator of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America.

It was like standing upon a tower. There was a great vista before us. I felt as though I was a part of church history and in my bones were some of the great convictions of the Reformers and of the early Christians. But within one year I was to know something of the disillusionment and the discouragement that causes the Psalmist to cry out in the first three verses of Psalm 60. This initial group split and each side tagged the other with labels which it has taken about 25 years to wash off.

We went, some of us, to our local churches, working in store-fronts and in houses against the great odds which were now upon us, being labelled with every kind of name. In the course of two decades each of these groups broke again and we became known all over the country as “splinterers.”

“O God, thou hast cast us off.” I do not think I cried this out literally, but I am sure these were my feelings.

We had felt that the hand of God was on that movement when the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union became the Presbyterian Church of America and Dr. Machen became its first Moderator. But now we felt like crying out: “O God, thou hast cast us off; thou hast scattered us, thou hast been displeased. Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it; heal the branches thereof; for it shaketh. Thou hast showed thy people hard things; thou hast made us to drink the wine of astonishment.”

Discouragement? Well, some of you may never known such discouragement as was experienced then. Vaguely there was still the sense of calling which is described in the next two verses, the calling and the prayer. “Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed in the cause of truth. That thy beloved may be delivered; save with thy right hand, and hear me.” It was not much more than a gasp. Where was the banner with which we began?

Now a banner is a standard raised in warfare. We believed in 1936 that we belonged to the Church Militant. I want to say that we still belong to the Church Militant. The Lord Jesus Christ is not carrying on His work on this earth with tin soldiers. It is a life-and-death struggle.

I believe we are still in the warfare and we still have the same banner. The banner raised in the cause of truth was raised for the turth against compromise in ecclesiastical matters. We were standing for the purity of the visible church. We felt that the organized church had been instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ and it was not simply an association of convenience, or an organization that one joined because he wanted to get ahead, or even merely to give one the opportunity of preaching the gospel.

Also the banner of truth was raised against compromise culturally. We believed that Christianity was not only a fire escape from hell, so to speak, but it was a life-and-world view. We still believe this. We held this against the encroaching secularism of the day, against the deadening formalism of the church, and against the contaminating worldliness with which the church had become tainted.

Further, the banner of truth was raised against the compromise doctrinally. Many of us had come out of fundamentalism which united on five brief doctrines. We thanked God for that fundamentalism which stood in the gap and really brought us to a knowledge of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. But when we were introduced to the Westminster Standards, those documents which set forth the system of truth taught in the Word of God, we found something that satisfied our souls in depth. We felt that that also was a part of the standard and it was our calling to hold and raise this standard that God had given us—a banner for the cause of truth against compromise ecclesiastically, against compromise culturally, and against compromise doctrinally.

But you can well imagine that we did not exactly carry that banner with heads up. We were kind of disheveled looking after the reverses and the discouragements of 1937 and of the next decade. We would wait for the strange-looking stare that usually came and we wondered whether God had cast us off.

But then the encouragements began to come. As the Psalmist said, “God hath spoken in his holiness; I will rejoice.” I remember about ten years ago in the midst of some of these discouragements trying to convince myself that I could take a pulpit in the United Presbyterian Church about a year or two before the union with the Presbyterian Church USA, was to be consummated. It was a large pulpit and a rather influential one. I did my best to convince myself that I could take this. But somehow or other I could not quite give up on the calling that I felt God had given to me to raise this banner and to display it in the cause of truth.

I was still convinced, as I am sure many of you were, even though I did not feel it, that God had spoken in His Holiness and I clung to the promises by performances. Some encouragements began to appear. When I had a pastorate in southern Jersey just across the river from Wilmington I became acquainted with some of the brethren from whom I had been separated for ten or fifteen years. We began to work together on The Witness and the National Missions Reporter, which later became the Evangelical Presbyterian Reporter with basically the format of The Witness. That was an encouragement in the right direction.

Then the Columbus Synod occurred, and what was to be known as the Evangelical Presbyterian Church took form. Several men of that Synod went to Houston, Kentucky, to a little group known as The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America. They said, “You know, we believe the same things you do. Cannot we get together?” I was not part of it then. They, too, had had their discouragements. Their difficulties had come before, and I think none of the older Reformed Presbyterian men would deny that discouragement had set in.

So now channels began to open. The next year some of us who had no ecclesiastical home and who had become somewhat discouraged and disillusioned, went to Coulterville, where we observed the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Presbyterian Churches discussing union. It was only a year later that we were a part of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. And now, praise God, we are a part of the united church.

Although during the last five years there have been many dark days as far as this union is concerned, during the preceding 25 years there were even darker days, God gave His encouragement, we kept working and praying, and here we are.

I feel today the way I felt in 1936, when I thought I was about to launch upon a crusade with great promise. Before us at this synod there stretches the vista of large opportunity. It is the feeling one gets as he looks from the tower of Covenant College across vistas that include seven states.

But as we look out over this beautiful territory, we also see an enemy ensconced in his fortified city and we ask, “Who will bring me into the strong city, who will lead me into Edom?” You know, I think we can look at the strong city of Presbyterianism with the powerful enemy within its borders, and we can do so with a certain confident expectation regarding the future. A few weeks ago I received a phone call from a prominent conservative layman in the Presbyterian Church of the USA. He said, “I suppose you’ve seen the write-up in Time magazine about the change in the Creed. Last July I was in Princeton and I heard Dr. Dowey say the Westminster Confession of Faith was the death of theology.”

Then he made this statement to me: “You know 20 years ago they said to us that the conservative strategy should be one of co-existence and cooperation, but where has it gotten us?” I agreed that that would have been a great strategy if the hierarchy had “bought” it. The devil may allow the conservatives to win some tactical victories but certainly no strategic victories. He is certainly not surrendering the source of ministerial supply to any conservatives in that church or any other church if he can help it. Then he continued: “If you can do anything to arouse the conservatives in our denomination to reconsider this question I wish you would do it.”

In preparation for this Synod I wrote several men asking them to assess the situation in Presbyterianism today. A friend of mine who was a part of this movement in 1936 and now has one of the large Presbyterian pulpits in this country wrote. Listen to his note of discouragement. “Blake and Company are riding two horses. They speak of union with others, Episcopal, United Church, and so forth, but at the same time the unforgiveable sin is to buck the machine and not to be 100 percent Presbyterian. 100 percent Presbyterian means to give your all to the denominational program prepared by the professionals. At the same time they are making it easier for anyone to come under the flag of Presbyterianism by offering us a variety of creeds and statements. So you pay your money and take your choice. We can offer anybody anything in the way of a creed in our church. . .”

“The Presbyterian Church, North, is run by professionals who can make us poor preachers look silly when it comes to maneuvering. Note how they so slickly turned Pittsburgh Seminary from the one source of conservative-producing ministers to one of the most scholarly, radical institutions we have. Princeton is by far more conservative than Pittsburgh. They just faked us right out of our buildings.”

He is just utterly discouraged. He says, “I must admit I have not any positive thoughts about your united denomination. I can only point out the weaknesses of the situation in which I find myself, and hope they can be avoided.”

One of the leaders of the Southern Presbyterian Church wrote, “My statement to you uniting men would go along these lines. American Presbyterianism is in a state of sharp decline. The optimism of the late ’30’s over the revival of doctrinal consciousness due to the neo-orthodox movement has proved unfounded, for the rejection of Biblical infallibility by the Barthian group has had the inevitable effect of further unsettling the theological picture.

“The toboggan can be clearly seen in the north. It is not yet in evidence in the south, but a drift of increasing proportions may be easily detected. Conservatives in the southern church at this time are fighting only a holding action. They have the Presbyterian Journal as their rallying point and in this they are truly fortunate, but they lack a consistently conservative seminary which is a major and most lamentable weakness. They should be able to stave off efforts to effect union with the UP-USA body, for the constitutional requirement that mergers must receive an affirmative vote of 3/4ths of the Presbyteries is still adequate safeguard.

“There is a great need on the American scene for a sturdy, conservative Presbyterian denomination. The union of the EPC and the RPC is an important step in achieving this. If next the OPC can be brought to join forces, a truly impressive denomination would resutl. Numerically they would form a pretty good network of churches across the country. Separatist movements usually carry in themselves the seeds of further division as shown again in the days of 1936. The new denomination has learned these lessons it may be hoped.

“If the OPC should come along, too, there would be adequate number of experienced men with balanced judgment to keep the denomination on a sound course, one to encourage steady growth by local progress in attracting to the new church our Presbyterian groups seeking a happy spiritual home.

“To assist” (and I think this is a very important paragraph) “this last suggested development to occur the new denomination should follow a statesman-like policy toward the USA and the Southern church. They might well feel that their role in the south should be to testify without derogating. Criticisms that have to be made in faithfulness to Scripture could be offered in an evident spirit of loving concern, in sorrow not condemnation. It might be indicated that the line of separation that sometimes has to be drawn is often very difficult to decide upon, one man’s conscience not having received the same education as another’s, and Biblical interpretation on the issue of separation not standing out sharply and obviously clearly.”

So you see from these statements. and I think they are typical of the feelings of conservatives in the north and the south, that they are looking at us with somewhat envious eyes, and we must conduct ourselves with proper demeanor. If we ask humbly: “Who will bring me into the strong city? Who will lead me into Edom?” we will be able to reply: “Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off? and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies? Give us help from trouble, for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall gather strength: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies.”

I wonder what it was for which we were not prepared in 1936 that in the providence of God we may be prepared for in 1965 in order to seize the very same opportunity? I think we ought to ponder this question. One thing is that we must rely more upon the sovereign God. This reliance would cause us to carry on the battle in a different manner.

As one of the brethren of this Synod wrote me, “We should avoid the way in which we used to set forth the negative.” I was tremendously impressed by a statement in Phillips’ Your God Is Too Small in which he said that if you set forth the positive clearly and firmly and with conviction, the negative will automatically be there. But we must also exercise our responsibility, and whenever you hold to the Sovereignty of God, you are bound to hold to human responsibility.

If we are relying upon the sovereign God in prayer, then we are raising the banner in the great battle for the truth and exercising our responsibility. And I repeat that on this banner are these three distinctives: We must display the banner of truth against compromise ecclesiastically—standing for the purity of the visible church and yet paradoxically holding equally strongly to the communion of the saints which is fellowship with all believers, personally, individually, regardless of the organization ecclesiastically in which they find themselves.

We must display the banner of truth against compromise culturally, holding to the Christian life and world view, clinging tenaciously to the antithesis, while at the same time paradoxically utilizing Common Grace.

We must hold fast in our displaying of the banner of truth over against doctrinal compromise and I think this is our greatest need. Some of you other men feel the same, that we must cling to the system of truth set forth in the Westminster Standards. We are thanking God for the fundamentalism that brought us to Christ, but we are Presbyterians and we must hold to this system of truth which we believe is truly Scriptural and satisfying. It meets the enemy on many fronts.

At the same time we recognize that this system of truth has something in common with every other Christian system of truth as long as it holds to the infallibility of Holy Scripture and the supernatural doctrines of the Apostles’ Creed. We are Presbyterians in the providence of God and also by conviction. We must not be ashamed of this and if Infant Baptism is the only reason we are Presbyterians we are holding to Presbyterianism for a meager reason. The stronger reasons for being Presbyterian are for the teaching concerning the great doctrines of grace summarized in the five points of Calvinism, and the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace, as well as the Presbyterian form of government.

Who will bring me into the strong city? Who will lead me into Edom the camp of the enemy? Wilt not thou, O God, which hadst cast us off, and thou, O God, which didst not go out with our armies? Give us help from trouble; for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall gather strength; for He is is that shall tread down our enemies.”

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A Casualty of D-Day

The following account comes from THE INDEPENDENT BOARD BULLETIN, Vol. 10, no. 10 (October 1944): 4-7. This was (and is) the newsletter of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.


dieffenbacherAJIn the falling of the Reverend Arthur Johnston Dieffenbacher on the battlefields of Normandy, July 5, 1944, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions has lost its first and one of its best missionaries by death. Few details are known even at this writing but in Arthur Dieffenbacher’s passing his family, the Board, China and a host of friends have sustained a very great loss; yet we know that God’s people should view all things from the standpoint of eternity and therefore we can rest assured that God Who knows all things “doeth all things well.”

Arthur Dieffenbacher was born in Titusville, Pa., April 29, 1909; and thus was but a little over thirty-five years of age when the Lord called him home. His early years were spent at Erie, Pa. where he was graduated from high school at the early age of fifteen. Two years of college work at Erie followed, and two years later in 1927 he was graduated from Grove City College. In 1931 he finished his theological education at Dallas Theological Seminary, with a Master’s degree in his possession and also credit toward a post-graduate Doctor’s degree. He had proved himself precocious during his school days, but he was also in advance of his years in the things of the Lord, his deep interest in these things showing itself, for instance, in his spending the first night of his college life away from home in a prayer meeting with a group which was destined to aid him greatly to the clear insight into God’s word which his later years so fully exhibited.

In September, 1932, Mr. Dieffenbacher was appointed a missionary of the China Inland Mission and in company with his intimate friend John Stam, who himself was destined to become a martyr, soon left for China. There, after language study and a brief period of work in Changteh, Hunan Province, he met in 1934 Miss Junia White, daughter of Dr. Hugh W. White, editor of The China Fundamentalist. Miss White and he were soon engaged, but because of illness and other causes they were not married until June 1938, joining at about the same time also and with the good wishes of the China Inland Mission, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions with the principles and purposes of which both were in full sympathy.

dieffenbacherMrMrs_1940All the years spent in China were filled with adventure which included a flight from Chinese communists in 1935; and the summer of 1938 saw battles raging all around Kuling where Miss White and Mr. Dieffenbacher had been married. Indeed China had been engaged for a whole year then in the war which was to engulf eventually so many lands and was, for Arthur Dieffenbacher, to end so tragically upon the battlefields of Nor­mandy. On their way from Kuling this young bride and groom had to pass through the battle zone, just behind the fighting lines, but God gave them protection and enabled Arthur even then to point a sore-wounded and dying Chinese lad, a soldier, to Christ as the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins.

This trip led to Harbin, Manchuria, the “Manchukuo” of the Japa­nese, where two years of happy, fruitful work ensued, years which saw the beginning of what despite the hardness of the soil of that great cos­mopolitan city might have developed into a much greater work had it not been for the tyranny of Japan and the war which was so soon to bring to an end so much Christian work both in the Japanese empire and in China. In the testings of those years in regard to Shinto and the Japanese demands upon Christians Arthur and his wife remained faithful.

In the summer of 1940, after eight years in China, Mr. Dieffenbacher returned to America with his wife on furlough. There on June 19, 1941, a little daughter, Sara Junia, was born. As war conditions were gradually spreading it was thought that Mr. Dieffenbacher ought to return alone to Manchuria and so passport and passage were obtained but ere he could sail the events of December 7, 1941, compelled all such plans to be abandoned for the time being, and as it proved in Arthur’s case, forever.

In America Mr. Dieffenbacher proved to be a good and effective mis­sionary speaker. He also rendered efficient aid at his Board’s headquarters in Philadelphia. Later he held a brief pastorate in the Bible Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. But when the American Council of Christian Churches obtained for its member Churches a quota of Army chaplaincies, Mr. Dieffenbacher applied for a chaplaincy and was appointed and joined the Army on July 18, 1943.

In the Army Arthur Dieffenbacher won recognition for two things. For one, he took with his men, for example, the whole system of training including the dangerous and difficult “infiltration” course and other things which were not required of chaplains, but which he did that by all means he might win some. This ambition to win men to Christ was the second notable trait of which we speak. Indeed it showed itself not alone while he was in the Army but also throughout all his life. He always preached to convince, convert and win. On his way to England with his unit he with two other God-fearing chaplains, won eighty-four men to Christ. A brief letter home, mentioning this asked, “Isn’t that great?” Truly it was great and not merely in the opinion of his friends, we believe, but also in the sight of the Lord. Some of his friends are praying that from among those eighty-four after the war some may volunteer to take Arthur Dieffenbacher’s place in China. God is able to bring such things to pass.

The time from April to June 24, 1944, was spent in England. There, too, Arthur Dieffenbacher was constantly on the search for souls and also for that which would bring inspiration to his men and to his family and friends at home. Some of the poems he found and sent home testify at once to his love for good poetry and for the things of the spirit, especially for the things of the Lord. He believed thoroughly that he was in God’s will. He longed to see his wife and child and mother again but assured them that “no good thing would the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly.” He rejoiced in full houses of soldiers to whom to preach the Gospel of salvation. He was often tired after a long day of duties done, but preached and lived that we are “More than Conquerors” through Christ. With it all he learned to sew on buttons and patches and to wash his own clothes and his good humor bubbled over into his letters when he said, “Oh, boy, you should see the result!” Up at the front large at­tendances at services were the rule, men searching for help, for strength, for God, as they faced the foe. Perhaps a premonition was felt of what was to come. He wrote, “There are so many chances of getting hurt in war or in peace that which one affects you is by God’s permission. Hence I don’t worry, but take all reasonable precautions and trust the rest to God. His will is best and His protection sufficient.” On July 3, he wondered how they would celebrate the Fourth, and knew not that on the morrow of that day he would celebrate humbly but joyfully in the Presence of God. When killed by German artillery fire his body was recovered by his senior chaplain, Chaplain Blitch, and later an impressive funeral service was held.

“Faithful unto death” are words which characterized the whole life of Arthur Dieffenbacher. The realization of that fact brings an added meas­ure of consolation to his mother, Mrs. Mildred J. Dieffenbacher, to his wife and will, in time, to his little three-year-old daughter as she comes to understand what her father was and what he did. It brings consolation also to The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and to all his friends. But as Arthur Dieffenbacher himself would have been the first to say, all he was and did he owed to Christ in whom he was called, chosen and empowered and made faithful till that day when surely he heard the welcome “well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

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Regrettably a day late, but as we haven’t shared any Machen news lately, we’ll squeeze this one in. The following news item appeared in THE PHILADELPHIA BULLETIN on April 22, 1936. This news clipping is from the scrapbook collection gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. When the General Assembly did meet, Machen and the others were suspended, as was expected, and so the split did occur, less than two months later, though admittedly the numbers that left the old denomination were surprisingly few by comparison. 

Machen_threatens_splitTHREATENS SPLIT

Dr. Machen Says It Will Come
If General Assembly Confirms
Suspension of Pastors.

5 Fundamentalists Out.

“If the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., at its meeting next month, confirms the suspension of five Philadelphia militant Fundamentalist clergymen from the ministry then there will be a split in the Church.

This assertion is made today by the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1528 Pine St., leader of the militant faction and one of those under suspension.

“If that action is taken by the General Assembly,” says Dr. Machen, “some earnest people, at very great sacrifice of worldly goods and with bleeding hearts, will leave church buildings, hallowed for them by many precious memories, and will sever their connections with a great church organization.

“The time for separation comes when the existing church organization ceases to heed the Word of God and follows some other authority instead. It is schism to leave a church if that church is true to the Bible, but it is not schism if that church is not true to the Bible.”

Further warning of a separation from the Presbyterian church is given in an editorial in the Presbyterian Guardian, official organ of the militant Fundamentalists, which, in the current issue, says:

“If the Church should say ‘No’ to reform, in such fashion as to demonstrate that reasonable hope of purification is impossible, true Christian men and women would, we believe, be obliged to separate themselves from an apostate organization.

“Who is there that can look forward with untroubled mind to an indefinite continuation of the unnatural union between belief and unbelief and unbelief that prevails in the church, and to all that accompanies such a union?”

The five local clergymen who have been ordered suspended from the ministry because of their refusal to obey the General Assembly Mandate and resign from the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, in addition to Dr. Machen, are: the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, editor of the Presbyterian Guardian; the Rev. Merril T. MacPherson, minister of Central North Broad Street Church; the Rev. Edwin H. Rian, of Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Paul Woolley, of the Independent Board and also of Westminster Seminary.

At Columbus, O., yesterday the Rev. Carl McIntire, youthful pastor of the Collingswood, N.J. Presbyterian Church, lodged three complaints against the Presbytery of West Jersey with the permanent judicial commission of the church.

The complaints resulted from McIntire’s conviction by the New Jersey Synod on charges similar to those against the Philadelphia minister.

The first complaint charged that the Presbytery erred in starting McIntire’s trial after a constitutional stay signed by more than one third of the members had been obtained.

The second charged that the Presbytery rescinded illegally an overture to the general assembly to “clean up” the regular board of foreign missions of the church, after it had been passed with only one dissenting vote, and the third charged the Presbytery with violation of the constitutional right of ministers to protest actions, and have their protests made a matter of record.

Words to Live By:
Some of the best treatments on the subject of schism were written by the old Scottish theologians, in particular, James Durham and James Wood. In short, they taught that it is only right to separate from a church when staying would mean having to sin. One quote from Rev. Wood will have to suffice here today:

“How often was it so with the ancient Church, that we may say, more than three parts of four were profane and naught? And yet did not the godly and the Prophets of the Lord continue in the exercise of the Ordinances and Worship of God in that Church? Was it not so in the Church of the Jews, in the time of Christ’s being amongst them upon earth? Did ever Christ for that require his disciples to depart and separate from that Church? Or did he not himself, never a whit the less, continue in the Church communion thereof? Yea when in glory writing a letter to the Church of Sardis, of whom he testifies, that they had a name that they were living, but yet were dead, and that there were but a few names there which had not defiled their garments: Yet his wise and meek zeal is not for pulling down and rooting up and separating from the Church Communion in his Ordinances and Worship. But that is his direction (vs 2, 3), Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die. — Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent.

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A good post from last year that certainly bears repeating.


The Strange Church Trial of a Spiritual Giant.

It all happened around seventy-seven years ago.  Back in March of 1935, Dr. J. Gresham Machen was before a church court of his peers seeking to defend himself against the serious charges of denying his ordination vows, disapproval of the government and discipline of the church, advocating a rebellious defiance against the lawful authority of the church, and we could go on and on in the charges leveled against this spiritual giant.  You would think that he was guilty of the most aggravated doctrinal error or moral shortcomings.  But in reality, it came down to a single issue—that of refusing to obey the 1934 mandate of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to cease and desist from supporting an independent board of missionaries, of which board he was the president.

The trial itself was a farce in every sense of the word.  Machen’s defense first tried to challenge certain members of the judicial commission itself as biased, seeking to have them recuse themselves, since at least two of these men had signed the theologically liberal Auburn affirmation.  That was denied.  Then the question of jurisdiction was argued, but that also was not sustained.

At the third session, upon hearing Dr. Machen declare himself “not guilty,” the Commission ruled that certain matters were out-of-bounds in the arguments of the defense case.  Those included questions which surrounded the existence of the Auburn Affirmation, signed in 1924.  They next ruled out any question concerning the nature and conduct of the official Board of Foreign Missions, which had prompted much of the problem when it gave its endorsement to the book entitled Rethinking Missions.  Further, arguments stemming from the reorganization of Princeton Seminary and the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary were also outlawed by the commission.  All of these were part and parcel of Dr. Machen’s defense, since they provided the background of the origin of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

All these rulings paled into insignificance, so to speak, however, when we consider the last ruling of the judicial commission.  It stated that the legality of the Thirty-Fourth General Assembly’s Mandate for the ministers, members, and churches to cease supporting the Independent Board and only support the official Board of Foreign Missions could not be questioned.

It was obvious that with all of these rulings, that there was only one verdict which could come forth from this judicial commission, and that was guilty.  And so on this date, March 29, 1935, the judgment of “Guilty” was rendered by this seven member Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.   Appeals to the higher courts were in vain, and J. Gresham Machen was suspended by the church.

Words to Live By:  In whatever issue which confronts us inside or outside the church, we must remember that God is Lord alone of our conscience, with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the  only infallible guide of faith and life.   Let us hold to those, not fearing what man can do to us.

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It apparently began with Anglican scholar, W. H. Griffith Thomas and his trip to China in the summer of 1920. Upon his return, he gave an address before the Philadelphia Presbytery, charging that the PCUSA was sending modernists onto the mission field in China, and that what was being taught on the mission field was heretical. After an initial flurry of debate, countercharges and reassurances, the matter seemed to die down somewhat. But it continued to boil under the surface.

Jumping ahead to 1933, conservatives in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. had by that time decided their only option was to establish an Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which was officially organized in October of that year. Dr. J. Gresham Machen was elected to serve as the first president of the newly formed missions board. The plan was that this Board would allow conservatives to support theologically orthodox missionaries and know that their contributions were used in a way that would honor the Lord.

But about that same time, the New Brunswick Presbytery, of which Machen was a member, moved to tighten its requirements for men coming to be ordained. Henceforth they would require candidates to affirm their sole support for the Boards and ministries of the denomination. Machen opposed this move, but in the end, the matter turned disastrously against Dr. Machen and all those involved with the Independent Board, for the denomination essentially affirmed and adopted the New Brunswick position. Subsequently an order came down from General Assembly in 1934 that members must support the programs of the Church and no others.

The result of this “Deliverance of 1934” was that, as a matter of conscience, Machen and a dozen or so others refused to step away from their involvement with the Independent Board, and as a result were tried in ecclesiastical court. In each case, they lost. Dr. Machen’s case was particularly grievous, in that he was not allowed to present evidence that would have supported his position.

lairdhsIt was on this day, March 5th, in 1936, that the Rev. Harold S. Laird pled “not guilty” to the charges against him for his involvement with the Independent Board. Rev. Laird was the pastor of the First and Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware. He had been charged with “disobedience to the government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.” Initially there had been two other charges, that (2) he had failed to subject himself to his brethren, and (3) that he had failed to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel. But Rev. Laird’s character was beyond reproach, and those charges were foolish at best, so the matter was reduced to the one charge their rules could sustain.

Pictured at right, the Rev. Harold S. Laird.

Words to Live By:
Eventually Machen, Laird, Buswell, McIntire, Bennett and about eight others all lost their trials. One result was the formation of the Presbyterian Church of America in 1936, later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions also continues to this day with its ministry. Those who were tried were men and women of good conscience, who would not step back from what they knew was right as they sought to serve the Lord. Those of us today who would stand for the truth of the Scriptures and not step away, must first prepare. Your resolve in public depends completely upon your resolve in private. If you are not living a faithful life before the Lord in private, now is the time to prepare. Go to Him daily in humble repentance and seek His face. When your life is honest and forthright in private before the Lord, then He will enable you to stand honest and forthright in your public witness.

For Further Study:
W. H. Griffith Thomas, “Modernism in China,” Princeton Theological Review 19.4 (October 1921): 630-671. Reprinted as Modernism in China. Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times, n.d. To read this article, click here.

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