New School Presbyterians

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The Brief Life of a Denomination You Probably Never Heard Of.

It was on this day, April 1, in 1858, that the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America was formally organized. (The United Synod is not to be confused with the United Presbyterian Church of North America, which was also organized in 1858, but that was on May 26th. We’ll come back to them in 56 days from now.) Right now we’re concerned with the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church.

“Who?,” you say.

Well, they were more commonly known as the United Synod of the South.

Still nothing, huh?

To get to the United Synod, and for a bit of background, yet without bogging down in detail, let’s quickly rehearse some of the significant Presbyterian schisms.

First, there was the Old Side-New Side split in what later became the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (1789). That split ran from 1741 to 1758, at which point the split was mended.

Next, there was the schism in 1810 that created the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Centered primarily in
Tennessee and Kentucky, they left because they came to reject certain key doctrines of Calvinism.

As an aside, we’ll also mention the 1833 split of the Reformed Presbyterian Church into Old Light (RPCNA) and New Light (RPCGS) factions.

Coming back to the PCUSA, there was the big split in 1837 which created the Old School and New School divisions. This split had been over serious matters. The Old School side wanted an end to the Plan of Union (a church-planting arrangement with Congregationalists). But the Old School men particularly wanted to rid the Church of doctrinal errors known as Hopkinsianism or New Haven Theology. Not all New School men held to those views, but many did.

After that split, Old School and New School went their separate ways. [This division was mended in 1869, but that’s another story.]

The Old School wing of the PCUSA split in 1861, a month after the Civil War began. It split north and south, and that’s what created the Southern Presbyterian Church. But to be accurate, this split was not over the issue of slavery, but over something called the Gardiner Spring resolution. The 1861 Old School General Assembly adopted this resolution, which in part required pastors to swear an oath of allegiance to the federal government. Many thought that was an inappropriate thing for a church to do, and obviously the Southern pastors, with the war already underway, decided not to go along with that idea, so they split.

But back to the United Synod, this is where it gets interesting. Particularly because most historians don’t give it much, if any, attention. The United Synod was a split from the New School wing of the PCUSA.

One noted historian, Kenneth J. Foreman, Jr., has argued convincingly that “although slavery was a pervasive issue touching everything in America in the 1830’s, it was not one of the issues on which the 1837-38 Old School Presbyterians divided from the New.” Basically, there were strong proslavery elements and strong abolition elements in both Old School and New School wings of the division.

But as the New School Presbyterians began their separate existence, the issue of slavery became more and more central, just as it did throughout the nation at large. Finally, things came to a head for the New School when its General Assembly met in Cleveland in 1857.

Historian Harold M. Parker, Jr. says “There can be no doubt that the momentous Dred Scott decision of 6 March 1857 played an influential role in the New School Assembly’s action of that year. Clifton E. Olmstead has commented that with the decision ‘moderate evangelists were convinced that the time for charity and patience was over.’ Even the opponents of radicalism found themselves in the camp of the advocates of immediate abolitionism. Such ‘came not to bring peace but a sword with which to amputate the gangrenous member of American Society and purify the nation for its divine mission to the world.’ “

The New School Assembly began on May 21st, but it wasn’t until Friday, May 29th that they began to consider an overture regarding slavery. For four days they wrestled with the matter. Finally, the Assembly managed to adopt a paper which began:

“The General Assembly, in view of the memorials before them and of the present relations of the Church to the subject of Slavery, feel called upon to make the following exposition of principle and duty. The Presbyterian Church in these United States has, from the beginning, maintained an attitude of decided opposition to the institution of Slavery.”

[the paper then began to detail the various examples of that opposition. on pages 401-404. Contact me at archivist {AT} pcahistory [dot] org, if you would like to have the full text of that amended overture].

Having marshalled its evidence, the adopted paper concluded:

“We do not indeed, pronounce a sentence of indiscriminate condemnation upon all our brethren who are unfortunately connected with the system of Slavery. We tenderly sympathize with all those who deplore the evil, and are honestly doing all in their power for the present well-being of their slaves, and for their complete emancipation. We would aid and not embarrass such brethren. And yet, in the language of the General Assembly of 1818, we would “earnestly warn them against unduly extending the plea of necessity; against making it a cover for the love and practice of Slavery, or a pretence for not using efforts that are lawful and practicable to extinguish this evil.”

Clearly the New School Assembly was trying to take a firm stand, yet still they were treating the Southern New Schoolers with “kid gloves.”  How much different was the action of the Reformed Presbyterian Church when it sat down to discuss slavery in 1802 and decided unanimously that slaveholders could not be members in good standing–that unrepentant slaveholders would be excommunicated!

Nonetheless, the Southern New School men saw the writing on the wall and decided to separate. And thus the division in 1857 of the New School Presbyterian Church over the issue of slavery, several years before the start of the Civil War.

atkinsonCMOn April 1, 1858, the United Synod of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. met in Knoxville, Tennessee to formally organize the new denomination. The Rev. C. M. Atkinson, pictured at right, served as moderator for their first meeting.  Still, it was a short-lived denomination, for in 1863 these Southern New Schoolers agreed to merge with the Old School Southerners who had by then established their own separate existence as the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka Southern Presbyterian Church). In fact, Harold Parker has noted that “between 1863 and 1874, the Southern Presbyterian Church participated in six successful organic unions with other Presbyterian bodies in the South and border-states.”

That’s quite enough history for now, don’t you think?

Words to Live By:
The nagging question remains: How could Christians in that era, Old School or New School, have supported an evil like slavery? The only thing I’ve really come up with thus far is that we are, all of us–Christians and non-Christians–far more blinded by our culture than we realize. Christians should find a way out of that cultural blindness, in that the Bible gives us a vantage point that rises above all cultures, all philosophies, all times and man-made religions. If we are truly and fully Biblical in our world-view, we should rise above, and stand against, the sins of our times. The nagging question remains, what sins are we blind to today? Or do we think we’re better than our forefathers in the faith?

For Further Study:
Harold M. Parker, Jr. wrote the book on this subject, titled The United Synod of the South: The Southern New School Presbyterian Church. The PCA Historical Center has preserved among its collections an original copy of the Minutes of the first meeting of the United Synod (1858), but I cannot locate a digitized version of these Minutes. There is a digital copy of their 1861 Minutes available, here.

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Today we digress a bit. The following is offered without any comment on whether the practice is right or wrong. It is simply an exploration of how the practice came to be, and an observation that it apparently dates to a particular period in Presbyterian church history. 

On the Celebration of the Supper by the Courts

Some time back, on the Puritan Board discussion group, ARP pastor Ben Glaser (Ellisville, MS) put forward a great question:—

“When did Presbyteries, Synods, and General Assemblies begin regularly having the Lord’s Supper at their meetings?”

The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) ended with the commissioners and attendees observing the Lord’s Supper. Each subsequent PCA General Assembly has opened with a worship service which includes the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. And as per Rev. Glaser, such is the practice in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. So too with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod [1965-1982]. In short, the practice is widespread. Rev. Glaser’s own research indicated that the Associate Reformed Presbyterians began the practice of observing the Lord’s Supper at their Synod meetings in the 1930’s. He also had found that the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA) has never adopted that practice.

So where did this practice come from, and when did it begin?

With a bit of digging, I began to look into the origins of the practice, and found that in the Southern Presbyterian Church, it wasn’t until 1912, at the 52d General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., that we find this:

The Standing Committee on Devotional Exercises presented the following resolution, which was adopted:

We recommend that it be a standing rule in our Assembly that immediately following the Moderator’s opening sermon, the sacrament of the Lord’s supper shall be celebrated, the retiring Moderator presiding.
— W.O. Cochrane, Chairman.

Switching over to the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (aka, Northern Presbyterian Church), we have to go all the way back to 1871 to find this report spread on their Minutes, at pp. 577-578:

6. The Lord’s Supper.—In regard to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in connection with the stated meetings of the judicatories of the Church, your Committee feel hardly prepared to recommend any absolute and universal change. And yet it cannot be denied, that grave objections exist as to the manner in which this sacred service is often observed. Too much, as a matter of form, crowded in between hours of pressing business, if not of exciting discussion, with little or no preparatory exercises, it is not strange that this, which should be the richest feast of blessing, the very climax of privilege, has so often proved dull and formal, and of little spiritual advantage. As originally instituted by our Lord, this sacrament was a “supper,” observed at an appointed “hour,” “when the even was come” of “the same night in which he was betrayed.” Might not many impressive associations be secured if, in the imitation of his example, it were, whenever possible, appointed for [I]an evening service[/I], exclusively distinct from all the business of the day?

“With desire,” he said, “have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.” Ought not his ministering servants, in their stated assemblies, to guard against any influences which may tend to cool the ardor of their “desire” for the recurrence of the Sacred Feast?

“Let a man examine himself,” said the apostle, “and so let him eat that bread and drink that cup.” Ought not careful arrangements to be made for “attending thereto with diligence, preparation, and prayer”? And, unless due opportunity be given for such preparation, would it not be better, at our ecclesiastical meetings, not to appoint the formal service at all?
Your Committee recommend, that the attention of Judicatories be called to this important subject, and that, independent of past customs, they be enjoined to take such action with reference to it, as may seem most in harmony with the Divine arrangement, and best calculated to promote the spiritual welfare of themselves and the congregations with which from time to time they may meet.

Resolved, That the Committee of Arrangements for the next General Assembly be instructed, to provide for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, on the evening of the first day of its sessions.

Looking back in the older Minutes of General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (Old School), those prior to 1869, we find that meetings are opened and closed with prayer, as we would expect. And there is mention of devotional exercises, but there is no mention of any observance of the Lord’s Supper, so far as I could find.

Two possibilities occur then:
1. Either the observance of the Lord’s Supper at General Assembly (and presumably at Presbytery and/or Synod as well) was a practice that has its beginning among the New School Presbyterians.
or,
2. When Assemblies met for eight days or more, as they used to, the included Lord’s Day was an obvious time of worship and likely also for celebration of the Supper. So perhaps as Assemblies began to meet for six or fewer days, the need began to be felt for more structured times of worship, with inclusion of the Supper.

Testing the first thesis, I found in the Minutes of the 1868 New School Assembly, on page 42, this note:

The Assembly met, and united with a large congregation of Christian believers in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

That Assembly had convened on Friday, May 22d, 1868, and met Saturday in continuation. Then there is no reference whatsoever in the Minutes as to what that Assembly did on Sunday. Business continued again on Monday through the week, and on Friday, celebration of the Supper at 3 PM. Business continued on Saturday, adjourned, no mention of Sunday, and business concluded on Monday, June 1st. There was only the one observance of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday, May 28th.

In the 1839 New School GA Minutes, on page 13:

On Saturday evening, a quarter before 8 o’clock, a Lecture preparatory to the sacrament was preached by the Rev. Dr. Williston; and on Sabbath, P.M., at 5 o’clock, the Lord’s supper was administered, in the First Presbyterian Church [Philadelphia], to the members of the Assembly, and to a large congregation of Christian Brethren, according to the previous arrangement.

Admittedly there, in 1839, celebration of the Supper took place on the Lord’s Day, but it was nonetheless administered to the Assembly. Also noted is the fact that the Supper was not observed at the opening of that Assembly, but rather was observed later while the Assembly was in session. Checking other New School Minutes, there does not appear to have been any celebration of the Supper in 1840, 1843, or 1855. But in 1849 and 1850, at each of those Assemblies, there was the observance of the Supper on Thursday, at 4 PM and 7:45 PM respectively.

So while they might have been spotty in their observance, there does seem to be a case for the idea that the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by the higher courts of the Church is a practice that comes out of New School Presbyterianism. It is only after the reunion of 1869-70 that the practice becomes regularized in the PCUSA.

Further research might be done on where the New School practice came from. Did it arise out of one of the New School Synods (Utica, Geneva, Genesee, or the Western Reserve)? Or perhaps one of the Presbyteries within one of those Synods? Or springing from the larger theology of the New School side, the practice might have even begun amongst the Congregationalists and so might show yet another influence of the Plan of Union. But that research will have to wait for now.

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An Old School Presbyterian Ministers in both North and South

William Swan Plumer was not a name which I had recognized until someone gave me a commentary written by him.  It was filled with the rich meat of the Word of God, and I wanted to know more of his spiritual gifts.

Born in July 26,  1802 in Darlington, Pennsylvania, William Plumer was of the Scottish heritage.  When he turned nineteen years of age, he walked to Lewisburg, Virginia to begin spiritual training at the Academy of the Rev. John McElhenney, known as the Apostle of Western Virginia, where he learned the first fruits of Christian education.  Moving on to Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, he continued his studies under Dr. Baxter.  Finally, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary in 1825.  Two years later, he was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Orange and began two congregations  in Virginia and North Carolina.  Ordained in 1827, he began a long series of pastorates in Petersburg, Virginia and Richmond, Virginia from 1830 – 1846.  It is interesting to me that he left the south to be at Franklyn Street Presbyterian in Baltimore, Maryland for twelve years.  Then for another eight years, he was at Central Presbyterian in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, while teaching at Western Theological Seminary as well.  He finished up his teaching call while a professor of theology at Columbia Theological Seminary.  He went to his heavenly home on October 22, 1880.

He was the preeminent pastor and teacher of the church.  He evidently had a voice which stopped people in their tracks to pause and listen. He was a soul-winner par excellence as soul after soul met the Redeemer and were converted. He was a pastor’s pastor as well, and met the needs of his congregations with pathos and sympathy, when that was needed.

As a church pastor, William S. Plumer also watched the movements away from the faith once delivered unto the saints. At the 1837 General Assembly, he powerfully made the distinction between the Old School Presbyterians and the New School Presbyterians clear and plain.  There was a call to come out and be separate from the entangling alliances which the New School Presbyterians had with the Congregationalists.  Thus when the Assembly voted to stop their compromising union, Rev. Plumer had a large part in preserving the Calvinistic convictions of the General Assembly, to say nothing of the biblical basis of Presbyterianism.

Words to live by:  It is often a case where the people in the pew only recognize the emoluments of a person if he has a string of degrees behind his name and is recognized in the leading organizations of the church.  Then a man by the name of William Plumer comes along and we hear and see the Spirit of God residing in a  pastor and teacher, and our minds are overcome with what God can do through a mere man. The only qualification which God recognizes in His servants, for loving and obedient service to Him, is faithfulness.  Let us be faithful to the Word of God in the places where He has put us.

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The Mother of All Schisms in Presbyterianism

Old School Presbyterians . . . New School Presbyterians. You were either one or the other in the early to mid-nineteenth century in the Presbyterian Church in the United States. And the issue was not at all a light one. The fundamentals of the faith were at stake.

First, the Old School Presbyterians held to strict subscription to the church standards, such as the Westminster Standards, with church discipline for any dissenters. The New School Presbyterians were willing to tolerate lack of subscription if evangelism was being accomplished.

Second, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregational church, while New School Presbyterians were committed to it.

Next, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the false gospel methodology of a Charles Finney, for example, while the New School Presbyterians did not wish to hinder revival, regardless of a less than theological basis for revivals.

Last, there was the matter of theology. Influencing some among the New School Presbyterians, certainly not the lot of them, were the two “isms” of Hopkinism and Taylorism from New England, which denied original sin and gospel redemption. Old School Presbyterianism more uniformly held to the Westminster Standards on both doctrines of original sin and gospel redemption as essentials of the faith.

For several General Assemblies, there were more New School Presbyterian delegates than Old School Presbyterian delegates. But on June 5, 1837, that majority was reversed, with the Old School Presbyterians in strength. In the assembly that week, the Assembly was able to abrogate the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregationalists. They then proceeded to expel four largely New School synods from the church, composed of 28 Presbyteries, 509 ministers, and 60,000 members! In one swift vote, they were no longer members of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

But Presbyterian polity demanded that two General meetings approve of an action like this. And here the operation took on more of a shady spirit to it than would otherwise be proper for any Christian group. At the 1838 Assembly in Philadelphia, Old School Presbyterian delegates arrived early and took every seat in the convention hall of Seventh Presbyterian Church. When the New School Presbyterian elders arrived, the Moderator, who was an Old School elder, simply wouldn’t recognize them as legitimate delegates. The “we don’t know you” phrase was used a lot. When attempts were made to appeal his ruling, the appeal was put out-of-order by the moderator.

Soon the New School Presbyterians were meeting at the back of the church, setting up their own assembly.  Eventually they went down to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for a separate Assembly. An appeal by the New School Presbyterian Church was eventually made to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which declared the abrogation by the Old School Presbyterians as “certainly constitutional and strictly just.”

Presbyterian churches all over the land were convulsed in schisms. One Presbyterian church in Carlisle Pennsylvania epitomized the false principle of “the ends justifies the means.” The session of First Presbyterian Church (Old School) voted out of love to give $10,000 to the departing New School Presbyterians of the new Second Presbyterian Church in the same town. When the check had cleared the bank, the Session of Elders of First Presbyterian who had voted to give the money, promptly went over to the New School Presbyterian session!  Another church literally cut in two the building between the Old and New School sides. All over the land, churches were being divided or left over these important issues.

Words to Live By: Scripture commands us to use biblical means to accomplish His will. The Lord’s work must be done in the Lord’s way. Certainly, in hindsight, there was a real apostasy in some sectors of the Presbyterian church in the early nineteenth century. But Bible believers should have dealt with it according to Scriptural principles, not man’s principles.

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Does Doctrine Divide While Mission Unites?

This was the sentiment when the schism of 1837 between the Old School and New School Presbyterians was healed in the days following May 20, 1869.  Doctrine had divided the Presbyterian church but it was not insignificant doctrines. It is what made the Presbyterian Church what it was, namely, a biblical, Reformed church according to its subordinate standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. The Old School, led by Princeton Theological Seminary men, held to it, while the New School Presbyterians, led by men like Albert Barnes and Charles Finney, wanted to weaken it. (We will see all of the issues in an upcoming devotional on the schism on June 5)  But for this day, we look at the first day of the General Assembly in 1869 when there was talk of and actions of reunion. Why did this change take place?

The pivotal reason was that a terrible Civil War had taken place in the land which consumed their attention and placed concerns for doctrine to shift to secondary place. Ministers and churches of both Old School and New School Presbyterians were now united in political issues as it had to do with the support of the Federal government. Slavery concerns were now a dead issue in that the war was supposed to bring freedom for blacks. Reconstruction was now the matter on the front burner, and both Old School and New School pretty much agreed on that.

It can also be said that the New School had become more conservative in their theology. They had departed from the Plan of Union with the Congregationalist churches. The New England theology which denied of certain fundamental doctrines was, for the most part, no longer an issue in their ranks. In other words, if there was any problem with the Confessional Standards, it wasn’t an open one.  Many of the men and churches who had fought the earlier issues had passed to their heavenly reward, so they were not in the church any longer. Other men were filling their pulpits and positions.

With the opening of this Assembly, the presbyters voted to send the reunion plans down to the Presbyteries. In the intervening months, 113 Old School presbyteries approved it, with 126 out of 129 Old School presbyteries approving the reunion plans as well.  Only fifty–two ministers of the Old School Presbyterians protested, led again by Princeton Seminary men, like Charles Hodge.

At the next General Assembly in Pittsburgh in 1870, after the required number of presbyteries had passed it, there was a symbolic march of delegates from each assembly to a certain street in that city, where joining forces, arm in arm, they marched in tandem to Third Presbyterian Church for a mass meeting. A broadening church had begun in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Mission and how to serve the masses via ecumenical means, became the watchword for the church. It would be only a question of time when Reformed conservatives would begin to not recognize the church of their spiritual fathers.

Words to Live By: Many of us are in everyday life led into dozens of compromise situations which are necessary to simply get along with others. But when that compromise involves fundamental doctrines which weaken our Christian faith, then there is a call to stand up and be counted and hold firm to the faith once delivered unto the saints. Are you boldly standing for the historic Christian faith?

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Despite Your Weaknesses—Often Because of Your Weaknesses—God Can Use You.  

It has always been an issue with some of the covenant people of God that they often cannot relate a particular time when they came to a saving relationship with Christ.  Such was the case with a young man by the name of Eleazer Whittlesey, who moved from Bethlem, Connecticut, to Pennsylvania in the mid 1700’s.

We don’t know much about his background, either his parents or what spiritual influences he had from any church.  He showed up to meet Aaron Burr in Newark, New Jersey by a recommendation from a man named Ballamy.  The infant and later Princeton Seminary was located there, with Pastor Burr as its second president.  The latter clergyman noted that he was “not converted in the way” that many of the Presbyterian clergy of his day thought was necessary.  In fact, President Burr spoke of  having “some doubt” of  his spiritual experience.  He went on to state that “he has met with others of God’s dear people, who cannot tell of such a particular submission as we have insisted on, though the substance of the thing may be found in all.”  However, Rev. Burr placed Eleazar under his pastoral care and believed that he was making good progress in learning.  He ended his thoughts by stating that “I trust the Lord has work for him to do.”

Seven years later, Eleazer would graduate from Nassau Hall in Princeton, New Jersey, to which the new college has moved.  He was licensed by the New Castle Presbytery soon afterwards.  We could find no record of his ordination however.  In 1750, he began to supply vacancies, of which there were many at this time in American Presbytery history.  Yet while  doing that “with zeal and integrity,” Eleazer complained of “melancholy”  which kept  him from being able to study or make preparation for sermons in the pulpit.  His days, he acknowledged, were often spent in “painful idleness.”

In 1751, Whittlesey settled in what is now York County, Pennsylvania, where  he began to preach in a log church in Muddy Run.  Faithful in labor in all the neighboring settlements, it was said that he formed the Slate Ridge and Chanceford Presbyterian churches, composed of Scots-Irish  people.

In 1752, he left a pastor’s house one cold day to travel to the Muddy Run church.  On the way, he became ill with pleurisy, and died about a week later on December 21, 1752.  His last words were “O  Lord, leave me not.”

Words to Live By: We remember the apostle Paul who had “a thorn in the flesh,” and prayed earnestly that it might depart from him. ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 8)  God answered his request with the word “My grace is sufficient for you, for power in perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor 12;9) God can use us for His kingdom despite our bodily and mental weaknesses.   Remember that, Christian.

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A Parting of the Ways

The Mother of All Schisms in Presbyterianism

Old School Presbyterians . . . New School Presbyterians.  You were either one or the other in the early to mid-nineteenth century in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  And the issue was not at all a light one.  The fundamentals of the faith were at stake.

First, the Old School Presbyterians held to strict subscription to the church standards, such as the Westminster Standards, with church discipline for any dissenters.  The New School Presbyterians were willing to tolerate lack of subscription if evangelism was being accomplished.

Second, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregational church, while New School Presbyterians were committed to it.

Next, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the false gospel methodology of a Charles Finney, for example, while the New School Presbyterians did not wish to hinder revival, regardless of a less than theological basis for revivals.

Last, there was the matter of theology.  Influencing the New School Presbyterians were two “isms” like Hopkinism and Taylorism from New England, which denied original sin and gospel redemption.  Old School Presbyterianism held to the Westminster Standards on both of these essentials of the faith.

For several General Assemblies, there were more New School Presbyterian delegates than Old School Presbyterian delegates.  But on June 5, 1837, that majority was reversed, with the Old School Presbyterians in strength.   In the assembly that week, the Assembly was able to abrogate the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregationalists.  They then proceeded to expel four largely New School synods from the church, composed of 28 Presbyteries, 509 ministers, and 60,000 members!  In one swift vote, they were no longer members of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

But Presbyterian polity demanded that two General meetings approve of an action like this.  And here the operation took on more of a shady spirit to it than would otherwise be proper for any Christian group.  At the 1838 assembly in Philadelphia, Old School Presbyterian delegates arrived early and took every seat in the convention hall of Seventh Presbyterian Church.  When the New School Presbyterian elders arrived, the Moderator, who was an Old School elder, simply wouldn’t recognize them as legitimate delegates.  The “we don’t know you” phrase was used a lot.  When attempts were made to appeal his ruling, the appeal was put out-of-order by the moderator.

Soon the New School Assembly of Presbyterians were meeting at the back of the church, setting up their own assembly.  Eventually they went down to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for a separate assembly. An appeal by the New School Presbyterian Church was eventually made to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which declared the abrogation by the Old School Presbyterians as “certainly constitutional and strictly just.”

Presbyterian churches all over the land were in schisms.  One Presbyterian church in Carlisle Pennsylvania  epitomized the false principle of “the ends justifies the means.”  The session of First Presbyterian Church (Old School)  voted out of love to give $10,000 to the departing New School Presbyterians of the new Second Presbyterian Church in the same town.  When the check had cleared the bank, the Session of Elders of First Presbyterian who had voted to give the money, promptly went over to the New School Presbyterian session!  Another church literally cut in two the building between the Old and New School sides.  All over the land, churches were being divided or left over these important issues.

Words to Live By: Scripture commands us to use biblical means to accomplish His will.  Certainly, in hindsight, there was a real apostasy in the Presbyterian church in the early nineteenth century.  But Bible believers should have dealt with it according to Scriptural principles, not man’s principles.

 

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

The Mother of All Schisms in Presbyterianism

Old School Presbyterians . . . New School Presbyterians.  You were either one or the other in the early to mid-nineteenth century in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.  And the issue was not at all a light one.  The fundamentals of the faith were at stake.

First, the Old School Presbyterians held to strict subscription to the church standards, such as the Westminster Standards, with church discipline for any dissenters.  The New School Presbyterians were willing to tolerate lack of subscription if evangelism was being accomplished.

Second, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregational church, while New School Presbyterians were committed to it.

Next, the Old School Presbyterians were opposed to the false gospel methodology of a Charles Finney, for example, while the New School Presbyterians did not wish to hinder revival, regardless of a less than theological basis for revivals.

Last, there was the matter of theology.  Influencing the New School Presbyterians were two “isms” like Hopkinism and Taylorism from New England, which denied original sin and gospel redemption.  Old School Presbyterianism held to the Westminster Standards on both of these essentials of the faith.

For several General Assemblies, there were more New School Presbyterian delegates than Old School Presbyterian delegates.  But on June 5, 1837, that majority was reversed, with the Old School Presbyterians in strength.   In the assembly that week, the Assembly was able to abrogate the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregationalists.  They then proceeded to expel four largely New School synods from the church, composed of 28 Presbyteries, 509 ministers, and 60,000 members!  In one swift vote, they were no longer members of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

But Presbyterian polity demanded that two General meetings approve of an action like this.  And here the operation took on more of a shady spirit to it than would otherwise be proper for any Christian group.  At the 1838 assembly in Philadelphia, Old School Presbyterian delegates arrived early and took every seat in the convention hall of Seventh Presbyterian Church.  When the New School Presbyterian elders arrived, the Moderator, who was an Old School elder, simply wouldn’t recognize them as legitimate delegates.  The “we don’t know you” phrase was used a lot.  When attempts were made to appeal his ruling, the appeal was put out-of-order by the moderator.

Soon the New School Assembly of Presbyterians were meeting at the back of the church, setting up their own assembly.  Eventually they went down to the First Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia for a separate assembly. An appeal by the New School Presbyterian Church was eventually made to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which declared the abrogation by the Old School Presbyterians as “certainly constitutional and strictly just.”

Presbyterian churches all over the land were in schisms.  One Presbyterian church in Carlisle Pennsylvania  epitomized the false principle of “the ends justifies the means.”  The session of First Presbyterian Church (Old School)  voted out of love to give $10,000 to the departing New School Presbyterians of the new Second Presbyterian Church in the same town.  When the check had cleared the bank, the Session of Elders of First Presbyterian who had voted to give the money, promptly went over to the New School Presbyterian session!  Another church literally cut in two the building between the Old and New School sides.  All over the land, churches were being divided or left over these important issues.

Words to Live By: Scripture commands us to use biblical means to accomplish His will.  Certainly, in hindsight, there was a real apostasy in the Presbyterian church in the early nineteenth century.  But Bible believers should have dealt with it according to Scriptural principles, not man’s principles.

Through the Scriptures: Proverbs 15 – 18

Through the Standards:The nature and grounds of true assurance

WCF 18:2
“This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded on a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God, which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:   Does Doctrine Divide While Mission Unites?

This was the sentiment when the schism of 1837 between the Old School and New School Presbyterians was  healed in the days following May 20, 1869.  Doctrine had divided the Presbyterian church but it was not insignificant doctrines.  It is what made the Presbyterian Church what it was, namely, a biblical, Reformed church according to its subordinate standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.  The Old School, led by Princeton Theological Seminary men, held to it, while the New School Presbyterians, led by men like Albert Barnes and Charles Finney, wanted to weaken it.  (We will see all of the issues in an upcoming devotional on the schism on June 5)  But for this day, we look at the first day of the General Assembly in 1869 when there was talk of and actions of reunion.  Why did this change take place?

The pivotal reason was that a terrible Civil War had taken place in the land which consumed their attention and placed concerns for doctrine to shift to secondary place.  Ministers and churches of both Old School and New School Presbyterians were now united in political issues as it had to do with the support of the Federal government.  Slavery concerns were now a dead issue in that the war had brought  freedom for blacks.  Reconstruction was now the matter on the front burner, and both Old School and New School pretty much agreed on that.

It can also be said that the New School had become more conservative in their theology.  They had departed from the Plan of Union with the Congregationalist churches.  The New England theology which denied of certain fundamental doctrines was, for the most part, no longer an issue in their ranks.  In other words, if there was any problem with the Confessional Standards, it wasn’t an open one.  Many of the men and churches who had fought the earlier issues had passed to their heavenly reward, so they were not in the church any longer. Other men were filling their pulpits and positions.

With the opening of this Assembly, the presbyters voted to send the reunion plans down to the Presbyteries.  In the intervening months, 113 Old School presbyteries approved it, with 126 out of 129 Old School presbyteries approving the reunion plans as well.  Only fifty – two ministers of the Old School Presbyterians protested, led again by Princeton Seminary men, like Charles Hodge.

At the next General Assembly in Pittsburgh in 1870, after the required number of presbyteries had passed it,  there was a symbolic march of delegates from each assembly to a certain street in that city, where joining forces, arm in arm, they marched in tandem to Third Presbyterian Church for a mass meeting.  A broadening church had begun in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  Mission and how to serve the masses via ecumenical means, became the watchword for the church.  It would be only a question of time when Reformed conservatives would begin to not recognize the church of their spiritual fathers.

Words to Live By: Many of us are in everyday life led into dozens of compromise situations which are necessary to simply get along with others.  But when that compromise involves fundamental doctrines which weaken our Christian faith, then there is a call to stand up and be counted and hold firm to the faith once delivered unto the saints.  Are you boldly standing for the historic Christian faith?

Through the Scriptures: Psalm 119

Through the Standards:  Particular repentance more important than general repentance

WCF 15:5
“Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly.”

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