Orthodox Presbyterian Church

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What’s in a Name?

Solomon wrote once that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.”  (Proverbs 22:1a ESV)  And while this text speaks of one’s personal name, it could also have an application to the name of a denomination.  What’s in a name, after all?  That question was the issue in February, 1939 when the Presbyterian Church of America had to be renamed, just two and one half years after taking it up in 1936.

The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. had taken the young denomination to court over the issue of its chosen name.  That whole scene will be dealt with in a future historical devotional on April 28.  When the PCUSA won the court case, the General Assembly of the PCofA decided not to contest the lower court decision.   Calling a special meeting in the month of February, the question was simple.  What do we call ourselves now?

Many names were suggested by the teaching and ruling elders.  Some of them were: Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian and Reformed Church  of America, North America Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church of Christ, Protestant Presbyterian Church of America, Seceding Presbyterian Church  of America, and this contributor’s favorite, Free Presbyterian Church of the World!  Oh yes, one other name was also suggested.  It was the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In the end, on this day, February 9, 1939, the name of Orthodox Presbyterian Church won over “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” by a close margin, but a winning margin. Certainly, each of the above suggested names meant something to the proponents of them, or they wouldn’t have been suggested in the first place.  The choosing of the winning name spoke volumes about the orthodox or straight, right, and true convictions which led the men and women out of the apostate Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in the first place.  Biblical orthodoxy would be the hallmark of the continuing church, as it had been back in 1936.

The managing editor of the Presbyterian Guardian, Thomas R. Birch, said that year of 1939 in his editorial,

“You whose privilege it is to bear that name (e.g. Orthodox Presbyterian Church), bear it proudly, gladly, holding its banner high.  It is a true and a great name, a name to exult in and a name to make you humble.  It tells the world exactly what you are and where you stand in the present death-struggle between the forces of faith and the battalions of unbelief.  It proclaims to the world that here is a Presbyterian church that takes its confession of faith seriously.  At the very outset it is a name with a meaning.”

The OPC is not alone in having to find a new name. The name originally chosen in 1973 for what was to become the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was the “National Presbyterian Church,” but seeking to avoid a conflict with the Washington, D.C. congregation of the same name, we wisely chose another name in 1974 and so came to be the PCA.

Words to Live By: Biblical orthodoxy is, sadly, in ruins in some Presbyterian denominations and churches.  Let it not be in the specific church with which you are associated as a member or a minister.  Stand for the truth of the gospel, believing Martin Luther’s words to be true, “Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”

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The Man Who Looked Back

RianEH

Our post today is a repeat from 2012. Since that time, a very interesting article by James W. Scott has appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal. In this article, “Machen’s Lost Work on the Presbyterian Conflict,” Mr. Scott explores the possibility that J. Gresham Machen had been at work over the summer of 1936 writing a book on the Presbyterian conflict. Among Machen’s papers, the working notes and manuscript for that book were never found, and Mr. Scott builds his case for the theory that the work was removed from Machen’s estate after his decease by Edwin H. Rian and later used as the core of the book later published by Rian, titled The Presbyterian Conflict. Westminster Theological Seminary has graciously posted the first part of this article to the Seminary web site, here. I think you will enjoy reading the article.

I was frozen in place that day behind the front desk of the Christian conference center in New Jersey.  The distinguished man had walked up to me to ask whether the Director of the Conference was on site.  I replied that he was away at the time. Whereupon the man gave me his business card, and walked out of the hotel that summer afternoon in 1965.  Looking  down, I read the name of “Edwin Rian, Assistant to the President, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.” I wish that I could say to our readers that this young seminarian had then rushed out of the hotel to ask the writer of the historic book The Presbyterian Conflict to stop and talk.  I wish that I could say to our readers that I stopped him and discussed with him as to why he left the infant Orthodox Presbyterian Church after such a valiant stand against the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church, USA. I could have asked him whether he remembered my father, who stood with him in the nineteen thirties for the faith, by faith. But I did none of these things. I was frozen in time.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Edwin  Rian came to Princeton Theological Seminary to study Semitics at the prestigious school., as part of the Seminary’s class of 1927.  Ordained in 1930 in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, he advanced his scholarship by studying as a Princeton Fellow at the Universities of Berlin and Marburg in Germany.  Returning to the States, he saw clearly the issues which led his mentor J. Gresham Machen to organize Westminster Theological Seminary.  He took his stand on those same issues, and like Machen and a number of other ministers, was censured by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  As a founding member of the Presbyterian Church of America (1936), he stayed with that church when the Bible Presbyterians left it in 1938.  The former was later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (1938).  It was in 1940 that Rian crystallized the issues by writing the important book, “The Presbyterian Conflict.”  It still can be found in print or online, and is quoted often by those who seek to understand this period in American Presbyterian history.

Something happened to Edwin Rian himself, though, in the latter part of the 1940′s.  The fact that he left in 1946 to join the Christian University Association as its General Secretary was not unusual.  What was unusual was that on April 25, 1947, he left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to reenter the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., from which he had been suspended over ten years before.

Various reasons had been suggested for this, sea change. One theory was that Rian was disappointed that a Christian University had not been started in Reformed circles.  And certainly, the rest of his life and ministry was taken up in educational circles.  But that reason doesn’t ring true to this contributor.  The reasons, however,  were never revealed.

He went on to serve in a variety of administrative posts in colleges and universities like Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, Beaver College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota, Biblical Seminary in New York City, New York, and the American Bible Society in New York City. His last ministry and one in which he  came full circle, was  the position of Assistant to the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. James I. McCord, where he served for 15 years until his retirement.  He departed this life in 1995 at age 95 in San Diego, California.

Words to Live By: Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6:62, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  The commentator writes that there are some whose hearts are in the past. They walk forever looking backwards and thinking wistfully of the good old days.  The watchword of the Kingdom servants  is always “forward,” never “backward.”  Let us be not be content with lukewarm service.

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Day Two of their Second General Assembly The following materials are drawn from the scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Initially organized as the Presbyterian Church of America, the denomination we now know as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met in its second General Assembly, beginning on Thursday, November 12 and adjourned on Saturday, November 14, 1936. As the retiring moderator of the first Assembly, the Rev. J. Gresham Machen had opened the proceedings with a sermon on 2 Cor. 5:14-15, and the assembled delegates then celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. and the Rev. J. Burton Thwing were nominated for Moderator of the Second General Assembly, and Rev. Buswell was elected to serve, the Rev. Cornelius Van Til and the Rev. Carl McIntire escorting Rev. Buswell to the platform. The election of Rev. Buswell as Moderator was, for one, seen as a way to minimize the possibility of friction over the issue of pre-millennialism, Buswell himself being a pre-millennialist. Ultimately that gambit did not succeed, and the young denomination suffered a split in 1938, with the formation of the overtly pre-millennial Bible Presbyterian Synod.

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell Caption for the news clipping photo at right: At the left is Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., president of Wheaton College, who was elected at the opening business session of the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America here yesterday. he succeeds Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Philadelphia, show at the right, who was one of the leaders in the revolt of Fundamentalists from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The revolt let to the formation of the new church at the first General Assembly, June 11.

PCofA_2dGA_05NEW CHURCH ACTS FOR POPULAR RULE

Presbyterian of America Goes on Record Against Interlocking Committees.

OPPOSE OFFICIAL CLIQUE

Resolutions placing the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on record as against “interlocking committees and putting power into the hands of a few men” were adopted today. [i.e., Friday, Nov. 13th]

This action was taken at sessions in the Manufacturers and Bankers’ Club, Broad and Walnut Streets. The Rev. Martin Luther Thomas, of California, in proposing the resolution said such precautions would prevent the church being controlled by a few men at headquarters and guard against “maladministration.”

Members of the new denomination before its formation constantly asserted that the parent Church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was controlled by an official clique.

Several commissioners opposed the resolution on the ground that it would create suspicion, but Mr. Thomas said: “It is better to avoid the abuse of power int he beginning than have trouble stemming it later.”

The resolutions were carried by a large majority.

Another resolution calling for a staggering of appointments to committees so as to prevent self-perpetuation of the governing heads, was defeated, when it was pointed out that the organizers of the new church should be given a free hand to carry out their work without interruption.

Wording of the actual resolution:  “In order to avoid interlocking committees, it is the desire of this General Assembly that no man be allowed to serve at the same time on more than one standing committee, board, or agency, except where an emergency exists.” [Minutes, pp. 12]

Words to Live By:
I recall that at a certain meeting of my presbytery, a candidate for the ministry was asked what he liked about the Presbyterian Church in America. With this candidate having grown up in an independent church fellowship, his reply shocked all of us elders at its first sound when he replied, “our Book of Church Order!” What we groaned at, with its very specific ways of doing things, was the very thing he rejoiced in, finding a supply of godly guidelines with which to “do church.” Elder representatives at the above described General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America wanted to profit from the past, especially even from the negative examples of those liberal churchmen and apostate churches where biblical input had been strangled in past PCUSA church assemblies. So important rules were added to the constitution of their newly formed church. Once adopted into practice, the more important outreach of the church could be accomplished with God’s blessing.

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WelbonHG_lockedout On August 3, 1936, newspapers in and around Wilmington, Delaware ran the following article covering the closure of the Head-of-Christiana Presbyterian Church, where the Rev. Henry G. Welbon was pastor at the time.

Pastor Ignores Church Locking

Defies Presbytery In Church ‘Lockout’

Unfrocked Pastor Holds Former Pulpit

Rev. H.G. Welbon Uses Own Key at Head-of-Christiana.
Has Services in Spite of Ban.

The Rev. Henry G. Welbon, fundamentalist pastor recently unfrocked by the Presbytery of New Castle for his refusal to bow to that body in the fundamentalist-modernist conflict, found himself locked out of Head-of-Christiana church when he went there yesterday to conduct Sunday services.

After consulting an attorney, he opened his church with his own key and conducted services as usual, ignoring a notice that had been tacked on the door by four trustees forbidding the use of the building except with their permission.

The notice was also signed by a committee of four established by the Presbytery to act as the church Session. The four trustees are a majority of the board who side with the Presbytery.

The trustees acted to exercise their authority over the church property, now in dispute between Presbytery and the seceding group led at Head-of-Christiana by Mr. Welbon.

“It is now up to this (seceding) group to prove their right of possession of the church and their right to enter it,” one of the four trustees said today.

The notice text was: “To whom it may concern: We the undersigned members of the Board of Trustees of Head-of-Christiana Church and the committee appointed by the Presbytery of New Castle to exercise the function of the session do hereby declare this church building to be closed and to be opened and used only by special permission until such time as this notice is withdrawn.”

Mr. Welbon said he acted upon advice of his attorney in opening the church. His attorney, Mr. Welbon said, stated that so long as Mr. Welbon had the key he could not be locked out. The four trustees obtained a key which they believed to be the only one to the church, from the sexton’s home.

*    *    *    *

Dating back to legal cases set down in the 19th-century, local church property in the PCUSA legally belonged to the PCUSA Presbyteryies Thus, when conservative Presbyterians left the PCUSA in the 1930’s, in almost every case they lost their church buildings.
The loss of those buildings was a substantial setback, particularly in the midst of an economic depression. So this was one major reason for the slow initial growth of both the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church, as leaving congregations had to start over and finance new buildings. That in turn may have been one very pragmatic reason why more conservatives did not leave the denomination.
By contrast, when the Presbyterian Church in America was formed in 1973, certain legal precedents had been established in the 1960s  which allowed most of the leaving congregations to retain their property. So these PCA congregations were on a better  footing to begin with, plus it can be argued that the economic times were better. There were substantial costs of leaving in both the ’30’s and the ’70’s, though the costs were somewhat different in each instance.

Words to Live By:
The church is not a building. Not a physical building, anyway. The  visible church consists of all those people and their children that have entered into a covenant with the one true God by way of His Son and the sacrifice that He paid on behalf of a chosen people.

“So then you are no longer dstrangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV)

The Notice pinned to the church’s front door:

welbon_notice

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As the OPC is meeting this week in their General Assembly, it seems appropriate to revisit this post from last year:

Beginnings are Exciting

The meeting was called to order in the auditorium of the New Century Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 11, 1936 at 2:35 p.m.  With those facts before you, this could be any gathering of any group of people for any purpose. But this meeting was unique in that it was the start of a new Presbyterian denomination.

GriffithsHM1938The opening address by the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths stated that the teaching and ruling elders gathered,  were there to “associate ourselves together with all Christian people who do and will adhere to us, in a body to be known and styled as the Presbyterian Church of America.” (Minutes of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, pg. 3)  He then went on to state that “by the warrant and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ we constitute ourselves a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Minutes, pg 3).  Forty-four teaching elders and 17 ruling elders with another seventy-nine lay people were present. Eleven associate teaching and ruling elders wanted their names to be listed as present.

The next section of the opening address was highly important as it laid down the doctrinal, confessional, and ecclesiastical basis of the new church.  It stated, “We do solemnly declare (1) that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, (2) that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, and (3) that we subscribe to and maintain the principles of Presbyterian church government as being founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God.” (Minutes, p. 4)  The minutes states that all teaching and ruling elders, and deacons, shall subscribe to the statement.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen was elected  the first moderator.  The Rev. Paul Woolley was elected clerk of the assembly. A committee was organized to  prepare a second General Assembly to be held on November 12 – 15 in Philadelphia. This committee would recommend which version of the subordinate standards the new church would receive and adopt, the  Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for the Worship of God.  Another committee was set up on Church Organization and Roll. The last committee established by this general assembly was that of Home Mission and Church Extension.


Pictured above, the meeting of the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The photograph is part of the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection at the PCA Historical Center. To my knowledge, no known photograph of their First General Assembly survives.
[With regrets, our scanner is not large enough to include several faces on the right side of the photo, including that of Dr. Cornelius Van Til, seated in the first row).]

There was also a declaration that those attempts at censure by the Presbyterian Church USA, aimed at teaching and ruling elders who were now part of the Presbyterian Church of America, were henceforth “terminated, lifted, and declared at an end.” (Minutes. p. 13) Two presbyteries were erected by the General Assembly, that of Philadelphia, and New York and New England.  With that, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America was closed with prayer.

Words to Live By: It was a good start.  Many challenges were ahead.  Faithful ministers who stood boldly for the faith would lose church buildings, manses, and pensions in the years ahead.  We, like them,  are always to look away from things that perish, and keep our hearts and minds set on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

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AllenSamuelJSamuel James Allen was a big strapping kid, and a natural at sports.  Born on March 23 in 1899 to parents George and Margaret Allen, Sam grew to excel at football, as well as baseball and basketball. Sam’s parents were immigrants from Ireland, and getting started in America wasn’t easy. Life was tough and it got even harder when his mother died, when he was not yet five years old. World War I and service in the Marines delayed his education, but he managed to complete high school after the war, and by God’s grace was able to enter Princeton Seminary in 1927. Those were troubling years at Princeton, and Sam was one of a small group of Princeton students who followed Dr. J. Gresham Machen over to the newly formed Westminster Theological Seminary in the fall of 1929.

Sam graduated from Westminster in 1930 and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. In his years at Princeton and Westminster, Sam had developed a good friendship with Dr. Machen, and so it was only natural that he would ask him to preach at his ordination service. The service took place at Sam’s home church, Hope Presbyterian, in South Philadelphia, on May 18th. Dr. Machen took 1 Peter 5:2-4 as his text, and began by reading the Scripture:

2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.
4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (KJV)

In a biography that Sam’s daughter has written [see details below], she relates that when Machen had read those verses, he looked at Sam and said, “Today, Samuel Allen is called to the holy office of the Ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us receive him in love as we present him before God in prayer.” After praying for how the Lord would use Sam in coming years, Dr. Machen preached on why every Christian must strive to live every day to the glory of God, and how God makes that goal possible, by His grace and through prayer.

Less than a month later, Sam was married to his sweetheart Mildred at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, and the young couple prepared to move to Sam’s first pastoral calling, in Jordan, Montana. Rev. Allen served there until late in 1931, when he answered another call to serve a yoked pastorate at the PCUSA churches in Carson, Leith, and Lark, North Dakota. Greater challenges lay ahead.

In the summer of 1936, Rev. Allen became one of the founding members of the Presbyterian Church of America. Taking a stand for the truths of Scripture meant sacrificing the earthly trappings of property in order to hold on to the spiritual legacy of orthodoxy. Rev. Allen led the majority of his congregations in forming new PCofA congregations.

And aiding the effort, his friend Dr. J. Gresham Machen was glad to accept Sam’s invitation to come to the Dakotas to speak. Dr. Machen already was not well as he departed on the train for North Dakota late that December. He already evidenced a bad cough earlier in the month, something which Allan MacRae had noticed as Dr. Machen spoke on his radio program.

And so it wasn’t surprising then that Machen developed further problems with the stress of travel and the many speaking engagements. Machen’s illness progressed into lobar pneumonia and he died on January 1, 1937. His friend Sam Allen was there with him throughout the ordeal.

Rev. Allen left the Dakotas in 1940 to pastor the Gethsemane Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Then in 1948, he moved south and took a church in Port St. Joe, Florida, transferring his credentials to the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian). His last several churches were in Selma, Alabama, where he was pastor of Vine Hill, Memorial, and finally Woodland Heights, in 1954. The Rev. Samuel James Allen entered his eternal rest on November 30, 1954, at the age of 55, having suffered a heart attack the previous day.

Words to Live By:
One of the mottos that Sam Allen lived by was “One thing at a time.” In these days of multi-tasking, Sam’s rule is still a good one to practice, for I think it implies a trust in God’s sovereign control of all things. If we were to try to put that roughly in terms of Scripture, consider these several verses:

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15, 16, NASB).

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NASB).

Trust in the LORD, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” (Ps. 37:3, KJV)

For Further Study:
One of the delights of preparing today’s post was the discovery of Becky Allen Martin’s biography of her father, titled A Promise Kept: The Life and Ministry of Rev. Sam Allen. You can find out more about the book and how to order it, here.

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From the Presbyterian Church of America to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

welbonThe Rev. Henry G. Welbon was a founding member in 1936 of the denomination that later became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His own convictions led him to next affiliate with the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1938. Eventually he became a member of the PCA in 1982, when the PCA received the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.

Rev. Welbon [pictured at right] had a keen appreciation for history and gathered seven notebooks of news clippings and articles covering the modernist controversy in the 1930’s. These are preserved at the PCA Historical Center as an important part of his papers.

From among those clippings, there is the following, on how the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was forced in court to change the name that they had originally chosen, the Presbyterian Church of America.

Presbyterians of America Enjoined from Using Title
[a news clipping from a Philadelphia newspaper, dated January 18, 1937]

The fundamentalist group which split from the Presbyterian Church will have to find some other name than “Presbyterian Church of America,” President Judge Frank Smith ruled in Common Pleas Court No. 5 today.

The name, the Judge decided, resembles too closely the name of the main Presbyterian body, the “Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.”

The fundamentalist organization was formed in Philadelphia on June 10, 1936, by the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen and a group of other clergymen and laymen. The group declared itself a “General Assembly,” with Dr. Machen as moderator and Dr. Paul Woolley as clerk. The name Presbyterian Church of America was adopted.

The parent church countered with the court action, filed by the Rev. Henry B. Master, moderator, demanding that the “rebel” group be forbidden use of the name it selected.

A special meeting of the General Assembly probably will be necessary to select a new name for the church, Dr. Woolley said when he learned of the decision. He added that an appeal “is likely.”

The injunction handed down today forbids the Presbyterian Church of America and the individual defendants and all persons associated with them from using the name “or any other name similar to or imitative of or contraceptive of the name Presbyterian Church of the United States of America or the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A., or ever doing any act calculated to mislead the public or members of the plaintiff church.”

Judge Smith remarked that he was not concerned with the “merits of the two respective doctrines,” but added:

“It would be a serious hurt to the reputation of the plaintiff church and a detriment to its work if the defendant church, bearing a name identical or similar, should enter areas occupied by the plaintiff church in real competition with it, thereby destroying the faith of those individuals in foreign countries insufficiently versed in English to comprehend the controversy.

“The acts done and threatened to be done by the defendant church are unfair and contrary to the principles of equity and good conscience, and violate the rights of the plaintiff church to use of its name and terminology.”

The decision concluded with the remark that the defendants are no longer members of the parent church, having severed their membership “in the ancient church when they were unable to impress their will on the General Assembly of the plaintiff church. Had they been successful in their determination, there would have been no defendant church.”


The thoughtful reader may ask, Why then wasn’t a similar lawsuit brought against the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), when it chose that name in 1974? It could only have been because the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. had merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958. A true merger legally creates a new entity, and they had chosen the name United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). That UPCUSA name was so different from Presbyterian Church in America that no similar lawsuit could be brought in the 1970’s.

Words to Live By:
Denominations exist because Truth matters. We seek to know God’s will and to live accordingly. To that end, careful study brings us to certain convictions about what the Bible teaches. But we are sinful and know the Scriptures imperfectly, so our convictions may differ from those of other Christians. On the level of honest, studied differences, division among Christians is regrettable, but necessary, if our allegiance to Truth is to be upheld. Here we can amicably continue to work toward a better understanding of God’s Word and His will for our lives.

But when is it right to divide or leave a denomination? The work of Scottish theologian James Durham is helpful at this point. In sum, he concluded that only when staying would mean having to participate in sin, only then is division appropriate and necessary. Another work on this subject, by the scholar John Macpherson, is available here and makes for fascinating reading.

Note: Our Through the Scriptures and Through the Standards sections have now been replaced by RSS feeds which appear at the top of right-hand column, and also at the bottom of each blog page.

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Beginnings are Exciting

The meeting was called to order in the auditorium of the New Century Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 11, 1936 at 2:35 p.m.  With those facts before you, this could be any gathering of any group of people for any purpose. But this meeting was unique in that it was the start of a new Presbyterian denomination.

The opening address by the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths stated that the teaching and ruling elders gathered,  were there to “associate ourselves together with all Christian people who do and will adhere to us, in a body to be known and styled as the Presbyterian Church of America.” (Minutes of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, pg. 3)  He then went on to state that “by the warrant and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ we constitute ourselves a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Minutes, pg 3).  Forty-four teaching elders and 17 ruling elders with another seventy-nine lay people were present. Eleven associate teaching and ruling elders wanted their names to be listed as present.

The next section of the opening address was highly important as it laid down the doctrinal, confessional, and ecclesiastical basis of the new church.  It stated, “We do solemnly declare (1) that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, (2) that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, and (3) that we subscribe to and maintain the principles of Presbyterian church government as being founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God.” (Minutes, p. 4)  The minutes states that all teaching and ruling elders, and deacons, shall subscribe to the statement.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen was elected  the first moderator.  The Rev. Paul Woolley was elected clerk of the assembly. A committee was organized to  prepare a second General Assembly to be held on November 12 – 15 in Philadelphia. This committee would recommend which version of the subordinate standards the new church would receive and adopt, the  Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for the Worship of God.  Another committee was set up on Church Organization and Roll. The last committee established by this general assembly was that of Home Mission and Church Extension.

Pictured above, the meeting of the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The photograph is part of the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection at the PCA Historical Center. To my knowledge, no known photograph of their First General Assembly survives.
[With regrets, our scanner is not large enough to include several faces on the right side of the photo, including that of Dr. Cornelius Van Til, seated in the first row).]

There was also a declaration that those attempts to censure  by the Presbyterian Church  USA upon teaching and ruling elders than currently in the Presbyterian Church of America were “terminated, lifted, and declared at an end.” (Minutes. p. 13) Two presbyteries were erected by the General Assembly, that of Philadelphia, and New York and New England.  With that, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America was closed with prayer.

Words to Live By: It was a good start.  Many challenges were ahead.  Faithful ministers who stood boldly for the faith would lose church buildings, manses, and pensions in the years ahead.  We, like them,  are always to look away from things that perish, and keep our hearts and minds set on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Through the Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 4 – 6

Through the Standards:  Moral law prior to the fall according to the catechisms

WLC 92 “What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?
A.  The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in  him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law.”

WSC 40 “What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.”

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American on the Outside, but Japanese on the Inside

Born Reginald Heber McIlwaine on July 7, 1906 of Southern Presbyterian missionary parents in Kobe, Japan. Heber, as he was known to family and friends, was a natural for missionary service.  Coming to a knowledge of Christ as Lord and Savior in his younger years, he learned about Japan and the language of Japan early.  In fact, so accustomed was he to this foreign land that one said of him that he may have been an American on the outside, but he was a Japanese on the inside.  Graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary in the early years of that historic theological school, he first became an assistant to the Rev. Clarence Macartney at  First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.  But the missionary call was too strong in his  nature to remain there more than two years.

He was appointed by the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions to serve in Japan, and did so from 1934 – 1936.  Joining the new Presbyterian Church of America in 1936, and was sent next to Harbin, Manchoukuo.  Choosing to remain with the PCofA in 1937, he became one of the first foreign missionaries appointed by their Committee on Foreign Missions.  In 1938, he was sent to Japan, but the rising war clouds forced him to return back to the States, where he served as a pastor and Army chaplain.  From 1947 to 1950, he ministered to Japanese aborigines in a mountainous area of Taiwan.  Finally, in 1951, he returned “home” to serve full-time as a missionary in Japan, and did so until his retirement in 1976.

After friends had thought he would remain a bachelor the rest of his life, R. Heber McIlwaine surprised everyone and married Eugenia Cochran on March 4, 1947.  It was said of her that she was almost as “Japanese” as he was.  At any rate, they would serve together for twenty-five years in Japan.

Most of their service was at their home in Fukushima, north of Tokyo, Japan.  For those who judge success by numbers, their ministry was not successful.  The average number of worshipers was under twenty.  But many of those converts from paganism to Christianity moved elsewhere for employment or service, taking their Christian commitment with them.  The Reformed Church of Japan was, in the words of John Galbraith, “greatly enriched by” their ministry.

Both were to be translated to heaven in the latter years of the twentieth century.  Certainly it can be said that their works continue to follow them in the faith and life of Japanese Christianity.

The R. Heber McIlwaine Manuscript Collection is preserved at the PCA Historical Center.
See also these related collections at the Historical Center:
James A. & Pauline S. McAlpine Manuscript Collection
William A. McIlwaine Manuscript Collection
John M.L. Young Manuscript Collection
Japan Missions Library

Words to Live By:  Faithfulness to the gospel is the only rule of success in the kingdom of God.  It is the world which measures success by numbers, by growth, and by economics.  When that formula is brought into the church, not only does God withhold His blessings, but many faithful men and women are marginalized from the service of the Lord Jesus.  Let kingdom work be measured by kingdom standards, that is, those of the Bible.

Through the Scriptures: Deuteronomy 13 – 16

Through the Standards: The covenant of grace: Its administration in both testaments in the Confession

WCF 7:4-6
“This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.  This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the old Testament.  Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the  Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new Testament.  There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”

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