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Union of  Presbyterians

Ordinarily when you read of an event which brought together two separate bodies of Presbyterians, you would rejoice over the union.  But when you read of a conservative body of Presbyterians uniting with a liberal body of Presbyterians, one tends to be sad.  And yet the latter is what happened on this day, May 28, 1958 when the United Presbyterians Church of North America united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

We have in these historical devotionals spent enough time on the decline of testimony of the historic Christian faith which the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. has had since the early part of the last century.  What you may not know is the history and  testimony of the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

It was almost to the day of this union in 1958 that two Scotch-Irish Presbyterians joined together in 1858 to make up the United Presbyterian Church of North America.  Those two bodies which made up that union were the Seceders or Associate Presbyterians and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  They had in the old country of Scotland left the Church of Scotland, and then immigrated over to what later became America.  The latter Associate Reformed Presbyterians had come from a union of the Associate Presbytery and Reformed Presbytery in Pequea, Pennsylvania, on June 13, 1782 (see historical devotional for that date). The primary strength of membership lay in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

What is even more important than these facts is to sum up their faith and life.  With their Scotch-Irish roots, they held to the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms as their subordinate standards, exclusive psalmody, Sabbatarianism, being a part of the abolitionist movement, and strong Protestantism.  While the psalmody was abandoned in 1925, this church still held to a conservative Calvinism.

All this is then perplexing as to why they voted to merge into the liberal Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. almost one hundred years later in 1958.  In less than ten years, the wider body would replace the historic Westminster Standards with the Confession of 1967, relegating the former to a book of confessions.

Words to Live By: All of us need to carefully examine what we will gain and what will be lost in uniting together with others. Our associations matter. Not just who our friends are, but what we read, watch, and listen to, not to mention all the many social, religious and political groupings that we may be involved with, all these things bring influences that affect us far more than we may realize. Which is why prayerful, consistent time in the Word of God is so important, as a anchor against anything that might seek to sway and divert us away from honoring our Lord and Creator in all that we say and do.

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First General Assembly Writes George Washington

witherspoonJ_03Back on May 21, we wrote about the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which met in Philadelphia in 1789.  It is interesting that part of their corporate decisions as a church was to send a letter on May 26, 1789 to President George Washington.  Its author of Dr. John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

After referring to President’s Washington military career and his unselfish surrender to the popular will of the people, it reads, “But we desire a presage even more flattering from the piety of your character.  Public virtue is the most certain means of public felicity, and religion is the surest basis of virtue.  We therefore esteem it a peculiar happiness to behold in our chief magistrate a steady, uniform, avowed friend of the Christian religion; who has commenced his administration in rational and exalted sentiments of piety, and who in his private conduct adorns the doctrines of the gospel of Christ, and, on the most public and solemn occasions, devoutly acknowledges the government of Divine providence.

WashingtonGeorgeIt goes on to say “the example of distinguished characters will ever possess a powerful and extensive influence on the public mind; and when we see in such a conspicuous station the amiable example of piety to God, of benevolence to men, and of a pure and virtuous patriotism, we naturally hope that it will diffuse its influence, and that, eventually, the most happy consequences will result from it.  To the force of imitation we will  endeavor to add the wholesome instructions of religion.  We shall consider ourselves as doing an acceptable service to God, in our profession, when we contribute to render men sober, honest, and industrious citizens and the obedient subjects of a lawful government.  In these pious labors we hope to imitate the most worthy of our brethren from other Christian denominations, and to be imitated by them; assured that if we can, by mutual and generous emulation, promote truth and virtue, we shall render a great and important service to the republic, shall receive encouragement from every wise and good citizen, and above all, meet the approbation of our Divine Master.

In conclusion, the Assembly said, “we pray Almighty God to have you always in His holy keeping.  May He prolong your valuable life, an ornament and a blessing to your country, and at last bestow on you the glorious reward of a faithful servant.”

The teaching and ruling elders of this first general assembly saw in the first president of this country a Christian president.  And so they wrote him on this day at the same time the first Federal Congress was meeting.

Also on this date:
26 May 1858 — The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) was formed by union of the northern aspect of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church with the Associate Presbyterian Church. Their union was formalized in an assembly held in the Old City Hall in Pittsburgh, 26 May 1858. A century later, the denomination concluded its existence in 1958 when it merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to form the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., on 28 May 1958.

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This Day in Presbyterian History: 

A Christian Philosopher

Google the name of Gordon Haddon Clark on the web, and reference after reference comes up for you to read.  One of them is from the PCA Historical Center, where his manuscript collection is peserved; a biographical sketch is posted there as well.

Gordon Clark had the advantage, after his birth in 1902, of being reared in a Christian home, and indeed being the son of the manse.   His father, the Rev. David Clark, was a graduate of Princeton Seminary in 1887, where he had studied under the great Reformed thinkers of that era.  Serving the Lord as a pastor back east, Gordon Clark  had  home training in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  In addition, he had the opportunity to read  Reformed masters like Calvin, Warfield, and Hodge, from his father’s library.  Such a training would likely, and it did, find fruition in both the pastoral fields and on the educational campuses of the nation.

Dr. Clark served as a Professor of Philosophy at both the University of Pennsylvania and Wheaton College from 1929 – 1944.  It was on August 9, 1944 that he was ordained as a teaching elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church by the Presbytery of Philadelphia of that denomination.  Unhappily, that ordination was opposed by some in that church until finally Dr. Clark left the OPC to join the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

It was during this time that Dr. Clark became a faculty member of Butler University, serving as a Philosophy professor from 1945 to 1973.   Many of his best known books were written during this time at Butler University.  With the start of the year of 1974, Dr. Clark taught for a decade at Covenant College, while also teaching at Sangre de Christo Seminary in Colorado, and Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia, Pa.

When the UPCNA joined the Presbyterian Church in the USA in 1958, Dr. Clark and the church he was the pastor of, in Indianapolis, Indiana, affiliated with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, General Synod.  The latter group joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, and became the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.  Then in 1982, they joined the Presbyterian Church in America, but Dr. Clark joined with the unaffiliated Covenant Presbytery.  Dr. Clark thus had a remarkable relationship with many of the Reformed Presbyterian denominations in the United States.

He passed on to glory in 1985.

Words to live by:  A strong training at home, as Dr. Clark possessed, especially a training in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in younger years, is the missing note of many a covenant family.  But it is never too late to address that omission.  The pastors and Sessions of our Presbyterian congregations need to place that emphasis in the families of the congregation, even appointing a person, such as a retired teacher, to hear recitations of catechism answers each Lord’s Day.  Or heads of families, joined by their wives, need to train up their children in the Shorter Catechism.  It will be a gift which will never lose its influence for good in their hearts and lives.

Through the Scriptures: Jeremiah 13 – 16

Through the Standards: The ninth commandment: Sins forbidden

WLC 145  — “What are the sins forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A.  The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, as well as our own, especially in public judicature; giving false evidence, suborning false witnesses, wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause, out-facing and overbearing the truth; passing unjust sentence, calling evil good, and good evil; rewarding the wicked according to the work of the righteous, and the righteous according to the work of the wicked; forgery, concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others; speaking the truth unseasonably, or maliciously to a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice,; speaking untruth, lying, slandering, backbiting, tale bearing, whispering, scoffing, reviling, rash, harsh, and partial censuring; misconstruing intentions, words, and actions; flattering, vain-glorious boasting; thinking or speaking too highly or too meanly of ourselves to others; denying the gifts and graces of God; aggravating smaller faults; hiding, excusing, or extenuating of sins, when called to a free confession; unnecessary discovering of infirmities, raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense; evil suspicious; envying or grieving at the deserved credit of any, endeavoring or desiring to impair it, rejoicing in their disgrace and infamy; scornful contempt, fond admiration, breach of lawful promises; neglecting such things as are of good report, and practicing, or not avoiding ourselves, or not hindering what we can in others, such things as procure an ill name.”

WSC 78  —  “What is forbidden in the ninth commandment?
A. The ninth commandment forbids whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.”

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The Peaceable Fruit of Biblical Ecumenism

In the Message to all Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the world, (See December 7) the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (though it was called originally National Presbyterian Church)  had specifically stated that they invited “into ecclesiastical fellowship all who maintain our principles of faith and order.”  It was at the Fifth General Assembly of PCA, meeting in Smyrna, Georgia, that the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod sent a communication requesting closer relationship and engagement of cooperative ministries.

Two assemblies later in 1979, a small committee with a long name, namely, “The Ad Interim Committee to Discuss Areas of Agreements, Differences, and Difficulties with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America” was constituted by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  They would meet many times in the two years of discussion with representatives of the various Presbyterian churches.

In June of 1980, at the Eighth General Assembly of the PCA, that body issued invitations to the aforementioned denominations to join the PCA.  The invitation was not to be a long courtship but rather a quick “tying of the knot” by simply merging into the PCA by a common commitment to the subordinate standards of the Westminster Assembly and the Book of Church Order.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, citing exclusive psalmody and other considerations, pulled out of the discussions.  The invitation to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church come up to a vote of presbyteries in both bodies.   It failed by a narrow margin to arrive at the necessary vote by both assemblies, first by the PCA and then by the OPC.  Fraternal relations continue between both bodies with each other.

For the remaining two denominations of the Presbyterian Church in America and the Reformed Presbyterian Church Evangelical Synod, joint General Assemblies were scheduled for their next national meetings at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The pivotal vote of the RPCES on June 14, 1982  accepted the union by a majority vote of 322 – 90.  Elected as moderator was former RPCES scholar and minister, Dr. R. Laird Harris, from Covenant Theological Seminary.

By this union, the PCA received 164 churches, 416 ministers, 20,615 communicant members, 6,139 covenant children, Covenant Theological Seminary, Covenant College, a direct line to the Scottish Covenanters from the Reformed Presbyterian Church branch of the former RPCES, and the God-given experience of  recognized theologians, teaching and ruling elders in both churches.

The “marriage” has lasted now  30  years (as of 2012), with continued prayers and work to make it a lifetime of married bliss.

Words to Live By:
Here is true biblical ecumenism.  We ought to unite together on the basis of the Word of God and the Westminster Standards with all churches which have that common basis.  By it, the Church is strengthened to meet the secular challenges of the age in which we live; the divisive character of too many a religious body in the eyes of the watching world is removed, and God’s people are built up in the holy faith.  Work where God has placed you to make this a reality more and more.

Through the Scriptures: Song of Solomon 1 – 4

Through the Standards: Ceremonial law abrogated

WCF 19:3
“Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties.  All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.”

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This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Understanding the Covenanters

The young man needed a service project for his church or community to become an Eagle Scout.  What Nathaniel Pockras of Ohio eventually chose and finished will be of great service not only to the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America ministers and members, but also to historic Presbyterians in general.  He printed on-line the 788 pages of the Rev. W. Melancthon Glasgow’s History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, which was long out of print and extremely rare for any current minister or member to own one.

The original book was written with the approval of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of America and by a resolution passed in its Session at Newburg, New York on June 8, 1887.  It was copyrighted by the author in 1888.  Its subtitle was “with sketches of all her ministers, congregations, missions, institutions, publications. etc, and embellished with over fifty portraits and engravings.”  Who said long titles are not in vogue?

Reader, you don’t have to worry.  I am not going to suggest that you read this huge book as part of this day’s devotion.  But to the history buffs among you, you know that elements of the Scotch Covenanters can be found among the  Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., Presbyterian Church in America, and the Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church, to say nothing of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.  So there is profit here for your reading, particularly if you are a pastor or member in one of the above denominations.

How many of you know that Covenanter slaves were sent to these colonies, with conditions on the slave ships as bad as those which brought the Africans to our shores?  Rev. Glasglow brings you the background of that story now long forgotten by most Christians in the United States. In fact, it was that sorry history which caused the Reformed Presbyterian Church to be the first Presbyterian denomination which condemned slavery in our land. [See for instance Negro Slavery Unjustifiable, by Alexander McLeod]

The presence of banished Covenanter slaves in the colonies alongside those of the black race stolen from Africa have another possibility beyond those mentioned here.  This prompts us to ask where did the old negro spirituals arise from? They did not come from pagan Africa, that is for sure.  Did the circumstances of their plight in the American colonies as slaves come face to face sovereignly with the Light of the World, even Jesus?  Certainly, that took place.  But Jock Purves, in his book, Fair Sunshine, published by Banner of Truth Trust, writes of another possibility, when he says,  “there are seeming traces of time and melody  in these lovely spirituals which are reminiscent of the music of the old metrical Psalm-singing.” (page 49)  Did banished men and women of  Covenanter stock carry the gospel of redeeming love in both words and music to their companions in hard labor among the African slaves? (italics that of the author) It is an interesting thought. [For more on this theory, see the work of Yale professor Willie Ruff.]

And while Covenanters rose to grapple with the issues of the American Revolution and supported the fight for independence, do you realize that they did not accept the Constitution of the United States because it nowhere spoke of the kingship of Jesus Christ as Lord of this nation? For many years afterwards, Reformed Presbyterians would not vote, serve on juries, or held office. Only slowly did they moderate those convictions, at least in terms of practical outworkings.

Are you also aware of the fact that in their worship, they only sing the psalms without musical accompaniment? To their spiritual benefit, the local congregations of several other Presbyterian denominations have included RPCNA Psalters as an additional hymnbook in their pew racks. The PCA’s own Psalter is itself a cooperative work based in large part upon the RPCNA Psalter.

Words to Live By: While a small denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America continues to have a vital place in the American Presbyterian tradition. Let us pray that their “tribe may increase,” for that can only be of benefit to us all.

Through the Scriptures: Proverbs 25 – 28

Through the Standards:  Proof texts of assurance of grace and salvation

2 Timothy 1:12
” . . .for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” (NASB)

1 John 3:14
“We know that we have passed out of death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (NASB)

 Romans 8:16, 17
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ. . . .” (NASB)

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