Reformed Faith

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New Church Sends Communication to All Christian Churches

It was at the close of the First General Assembly of what was originally named the National Presbyterian Church (a year later, renamed the Presbyterian Church in America) that a message was sent to all churches of Jesus Christ throughout the world from this new denomination.  Adopted and then sent on December 7, 1973, the elders of this new Presbyterian Church wished everyone to know of their principles and convictions which occasioned this new Church.

Chief among them was the sole basis of the Bible being the Word of God written by inspired authors and carrying the authority of the divine Author.  They desired that all branches of the visible church would recognize their conviction that “the Bible is the very Word of God, so inspired in the whole and in all its parts, as in the original autographs, the inerrant Word of God.”  Further, it is the only infallible and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice.”  (Message to all Churches, p. 1)

They also declared that they believed the system of doctrine found in God’s Word to be the system known as the Reformed Faith, as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. They wanted everyone to know that this Reformed Faith is an authentic and valid expression of Biblical Christianity.

A third conviction was expressed to renew and reaffirm their understanding of the nature and mission of the Church. To them, Christ is King and the only Law-giver, having established the Church as a spiritual reality.  It is composed of all the elect from all ages, manifested visibly upon the earth.

The chief end of man’s existence—our very reason for living—is to glorify God. That truth, reflected in the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism aim, also implies that we give top priority to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ which speaks to going into all the world, preaching the gospel, and disciplining all nations, bringing them into the church.

Last, they sought a return to the historic Presbyterian view of Church government from the Session of the local church to the Assembly of all the local church representatives.

With a closing invitation to ecclesiastical fellowship with all who maintain their principles of faith and order, the address came to a close.

Words to live by:  Even though the name was changed from National Presbyterian Church to Presbyterian Church in America in the next year after the publication of this Address, the principles and convictions have remained the same in this now forty year old church.  If you are not in a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching Presbyterian and Reformed church, prayerfully consider the testimony and witness of the Presbyterian Church in America.

To read the entire “Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the World,” click here.

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WTJ1938v1The PCA Historical Center was recently blessed with accession of the first four issues of THE WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL (1938-1940). As you might imagine, these issues are rather scarce, and we’re pleased to be able to add them to our research library. Still missing from our collection are Volumes 3 through 17 (1940-1954), but Lord willing, in time we hope to find these as well. 

That accession prompts our post today, and lacking a specific date in this instance, let’s just say that it was probably in that first week of the month, maybe around November 6, in 1938, when pastors, elders and interested laymen would have gone to their mailboxes and found waiting for them the first issue of THE WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL. That first issue—Volume 1, number 1—bears the date of November 1938. Seventy-seven years later, the JOURNAL continues in its mission. That mission was clearly stated on the opening pages of that first issue, and as both the Seminary and its JOURNAL have played an important part in the conservative Presbyterian movement of the 20th and 21st centuries, it seems relevant to present our readers with the commitments, hopes and intentions laid out by the editors at that time :

TO OUR READERS

If we are not mistaken (and editors, like others, sometimes make mistakes), more periodicals are dying than are being born at the present time. The Westminster Theological Journal in sending out its first issue is, therefore, going against the current of the times. It is doing that in a more important sense, however, than merely by the fact of publication. The Journal is founded upon the conviction that the Holy Scriptures are the word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and of practice, and that the system of belief commonly designated the Reformed Faith is the purest and most consistent formulation and expression of the system of truth set forth in the Holy Scriptures.

This position is the position of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Journal is edited by two members of that Faculty on behalf of the entire body.

We stand today in the Christian Church as debtors to nineteen centuries of Christian history, thought, and experience. It would not only be futile but wrong to try to dissociate ourselves from the great stream of Christian tradition. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours. It is only by thorough acquaintance with and appreciation of the labours of God’s servants in the centuries that have passed that we can intelligently and adequately present the Christian Faith in the present.

But while we cling tenaciously to the heritage that comes to us from the past we must ever remember that it is our responsibility to present the Christian Faith in the context of the present. The position we maintain, therefore, necessarily involves the bringing of every form of thought that may reasonably come within the purview of a theological acuity to the touchstone of Holy Scripture and the defining of its relations to our Christian Faith.

The need for a scholarly theological journal in this country to uphold historic Christianity is very great. Certain periodicals that at one time supplied this need have ceased to exist. Into the breach The Westminster Theological Journal aims to enter.

The policy of the Journal will be:
1. To maintain the highest standard of scholarship;
2. To publish contributions which will promote the study of theology and the interests of the Reformed Faith;
3. To publish reviews of current literature of importance to the Christian Church and to theological study.

The Faculty is undertaking this task with humility and confidence. They do so with humility because they are aware of the responsibility and of their own insufficiency. Yet they do it with confidence because they believe they are on the side of the truth, and in reliance upon divine grace and power. The battle is the Lord’s, and as His is the wisdom and strength so to Him shall be all the glory.

THE EDITORS

[Note: Professors Paul Woolley and John Murray served as editors of the JOURNAL from 1938 until May 1953, at which time Murray resigned. Woolley continued, first as editor and later as managing editor, until May 1967.]

Pictured below: The inside of the front cover, showing the contents of Volume 1, number 1 (November 1938). The Stonehouse article was a print version of his inaugural lecture, upon installation as Professor of New Testament. —

WTJ1938_inside

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The Reformed faith and Modern Substitutes

It is one thing to take a strong stand for the fundamentals of the faith and come out from that denomination which denies them.  It is quite another thing to stand for the essentials of the Reformed faith in the new denomination which you have started with others of similar convictions. This latter matter was the issue facing the early years of the Presbyterian Church of America.

For that reason, Professor John Murray wrote a whole series for the Presbyterian Guardian in 1935 – 1936 (its archival material is on-line now) on The Reformed Faith and Modern Substitutes. The latter part of the title dealt with two: Arminianism and Modern Dispensationalism.  Readers desiring to get a biblical view of the first substitute are urged to read the Feb 17 and March 16, 1936 issues (Vol 1, numbers 10, 12). The second Modern Substitute was dispensationalism, as it was then being taught and practiced by the Scofield Reference Bible and all kinds of Bible institutes and churches. Professor Murray would deal with this substitute in the  May 18, 1936 (Vol. 2 No. 4) issue of the Presbyterian Guardian.

[click here to read the 18 May 1936 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian.]

Murray’s point could hardly be missed in the article.  He wrote, “What we are intent upon showing is that the system of (i.e. dispensationalism) interpretation widely prevalent in this country . . . is inconsistent with the system of truth embodied in our Presbyterian standards.”

Why was this emphasis needed to these Presbyterian pastors and people in the mid-thirties in our Presbyterian church scene?  Arminianism may not have been a problem in the infant Presbyterian church, though this false belief can weave its way into many a congregation. Of far greater issue was modern dispensationalism. The fact that there was a concern with  their reader’s misunderstanding about the series of articles  led one reporter of the Presbyterian Guardian to seek to clarify what was and what was not being said by Professor Murray.

What was not being said was that all pre-mils in the church were contrary to the Reformed Faith.  It was pointed out that pre-mils could be found on the board and faculty of Westminster Seminary, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union. There was no inconsistency between the Reformed Faith and a belief in the premillennial return of Christ.  There was to be a wide area of liberty in the doctrine of last things as it dealt with millennial issues.

However, what was being said was that the dispensational viewpoint regarding the unity of the Scriptures, the unity of salvation, and the unity of the church was contrary to the Reformed faith.  The new church wanted to be in reality as well as in name a Reformed church. And this would come into the forefront of the Presbyterian Church of America with the tragic division of the young church  in less than two years in 1938.

Words to Live By: Suppose one of your friends, neighbors, work associates would ask you what do you believe about the teachings of your church?  How would you answer them?  First Peter 3:15 reminds us to “be ready to give an answer.” That word “answer” is where we get our word “apologetics.” It speaks of a defense of the hope which lies within us. But to to do this, you must first know the Scriptures. Read them faithfully and daily. Meditate upon them—dwell upon the meaning of the words and their application, to you, to those around you, to the Church, etc. And most importantly, live out what you have learned. Living according to God’s Word is essential to your deepening understanding of His Word, and thus to your ability to give a faithful defense in testimony of God’s work of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Here We Stand

declarationOfCommitmentThere were four organizations that were formative of the Presbyterian Church in America. They were:
1. The Presbyterian Journal,which began in May of 1942. Founded by a group of conservative Presbyterians, including L. Nelson Bell, the Journal was founded to work against the liberalism infecting the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian Church).
2. The Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, founded by the Rev. William Hill, Jr., conducted revivals in PCUS churches.
3. Concerned Presbyterians,a laymen’s group
4. Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), an organization of conservative pastors in the PCUS.

Originally published on October 4, 1969 by the Presbyterian Churchmen United (PCU), the Declaration of Commitment was a clarion call issued to the ministers and people of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (PCUS)—a call for recommitment to the Word of God and to the Reformed Faith, signed by over 500 ministers and published in over 30 major newspapers.

DECLARATION OF COMMITMENT

To the membership of the Presbyterian Church, US, in light of the questions and concerns being expressed in the Church as to the nature of our faith and order, we, the undersigned ministers declare our conviction:

—That the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ turns men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. By coming to faith in Him alone is there genuine reconciliation between man and God and man and man.

—That the Holy Scriptures are the infallible Word of God, and that these Scriptures commit the Church to a mission whose primary end is the salvation and nurture of souls.

—That Christian faith must bear fruit if it is to remain virile. These fruits vary from believer to believer. But common to them all are evidences of love, concern and neighborliness, toward all races of men without partiality and without prejudice, especially to the poor, the oppressed and the disadvantaged. The man of faith views all men as neighbors and himself as debtor, for Christ’s sake.

—That, for the implementation of the above principles, in obedience to our ordination vows, we must strive to preserve a confessional Church, thoroughly Reformed and Presbyterian. Thus, our support of or opposition to any proposed union will be determined by these considerations.

—That, being fully committed by our ordination vows to the system of doctrine set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, we must oppose all efforts to change in substance or otherwise debase our historic doctrinal commitment.

—That we are in the same context by vow committed to historic Presbyterian polity with its representative system and its parity among teaching and ruling elders. Thus, we are forced to oppose any efforts to take our Church into the massive organization envisioned by COCU [i.e., Consultation on Church Union.]

—That, should the basic theology or polity of the Church be altered or diluted, we shall be prepared to take such actions as may be necessary to fulfill the obligation imposed by our ordination vows, to maintain our Presbyterian faith.

Words to Live By:
In this clarion call, over 500 pastors called for the Church to remain true to the Reformed Faith, to remain a confessional and Presbyterian church, in doctrine and in polity. They staked out a position with this document, standing against a proposed ecumenical merger which would have taken their denomination into liberal and unbelieving waters. And they made it clear that they would not be party to such a merger but would honor their ordination vows.

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” – (2 Thess. 2:15)

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” – (2 Timothy 1:13)

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) – Hebrews 10:23)

Image source: News clipping from the Paul G. Settle Manuscript Collection, Box 256, file 27, at the PCA Historical Center. Date [circa 1969] and source of the clipping not known.

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New Church Sends Communication to All Christian Churches

That was so good, let’s go over it again! Yesterday we presented the text of “A Message to All Churches”. Here today, an overview or summary of that document:—

It was at the close of the First General Assembly of what was originally named the National Presbyterian Church (a year later, renamed the Presbyterian Church in America) that a message was sent to all churches of Jesus Christ throughout the world from this new denomination.  With this Message, adopted on December 6th, and then sent on December 7, 1973, the elders of this new Presbyterian Church wished everyone to know of their principles and convictions which occasioned this new Church.

Sola Scriptura
Chief among them was the sole basis of the Bible being the Word of God written by inspired authors and carrying the authority of the divine Author.  They desired that all branches of the visible church would recognize their conviction that “the Bible is the very Word of God, so inspired in the whole and in all its parts, as in the original autographs, the inerrant Word of God.”  Further, it is the only infallible and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice.”  (Message to all Churches, p. 1)

Semper Reformanda
They also declared that they believed the system of doctrine found in God’s Word to be the system known as the Reformed Faith, as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. They wanted everyone to know that this Reformed Faith is an authentic and valid expression of Biblical Christianity.

A Message to Proclaim: Sola Christus, Sola Fides
A third conviction was expressed to renew and reaffirm their understanding of the nature and mission of the Church. To them, Christ is King and the only Law-giver, having established the Church as a spiritual reality.  It is composed of all the elect from all ages, manifested visibly upon the earth.

The chief end of man’s existence—our very reason for living—is to glorify God. That truth, reflected in the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism aim, also implies that we give top priority to the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ which speaks of going into all the world, preaching the gospel, and disciplining all nations, bringing them into the church.

A Church to Uphold
Last, they sought a return to the historic Presbyterian view of Church government from the Session of the local church to the Assembly of all the local church representatives.

With a closing invitation to ecclesiastical fellowship with all who maintain their principles of faith and order, the address came to a close.

Words to live by:  Even though the name was changed from National Presbyterian Church to Presbyterian Church in America in the next year after the publication of this Address, the principles and convictions have remained the same in this now forty year old church.  If you are not in a Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching Presbyterian and Reformed church, prayerfully consider the testimony and witness of the Presbyterian Church in America.

To read the entire “Message to All Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the World,” click here.

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Time to Move for a New Church

The evidence was already in, in fact, it was well in.  All of the efforts of the conservatives in the Southern Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church U.S.) had failed to stop the tide of liberalism in that once great church.  So after the last General Assembly in 1971, something had to be done.

Gathering together in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 15, 1971, a group of conservative Presbyterians met to discuss the situation.  Realizing that some key elders were not present, they met two weeks later on July 30th at the Airport Hilton in Atlanta, Georgia. This was a meeting which was filled with talk to the heavenly Father as well as to those of like precious faith. They met all together and then in small groups.

By the morning of the next day, some statements were presented to the group.  They were as follows:  “A plan for the continuation of a Presbyterian Church loyal to Scripture and the Reformed faith: 1. To create a climate of opinion favorable to the continuation of conservative presbyteries and churches loyal to Scripture and the Reformed Faith, by promoting as strong an image as possible of such loyalty through actions taken by synods, presbyteries, and congregations. 2. To identify presbyteries and congregations willing to take such a stand.  And 3. To accept the inevitability of division in the PCUS and to move now toward a continuing body of congregations and presbyteries loyal to Scripture and the Westminster Standards.

This intent was breathed in prayer in, in the discussion towards it, and breathed out in prayer at the conclusion of it.  Men who had been through the battle to return the PCUS to the faith of the fathers wept at the very prospect of the future.  And when the vote came in favor of the three points, there were no high fives, or shouts of victory, but rather silence, as one of the men there said, a heavy silence of profound sadness.  They were not merely leaving the southern church.  The southern church had left them and their ordained convictions for a mess of liberal pottage, as Cain had done much earlier in his life.

A timetable was then worked out followed by the organization of a Steering Committee.  The plans were set in motion for a Continuing Church, which in time was named the Presbyterian Church in America.

Words to Live By: 
Thank God for men and women with a firm conviction of the historic Christian faith.  Praise God for Christian leaders who refused to compromise the truth of the gospel for a mixture of theological error.  We need men and women like these in every age, for the Christian church to march on and be the appointed means to bring the gospel to every creature.  Be a part of your local church if it is holding faithfully to the faith once delivered unto the saints.

Through the Scriptures: Isaiah 25 – 27

Through the Standards: The importance of the word “remember.”

WLC 121 — “What is the Word Remember set in the beginning of the fourth commandment?
A.  The word Remember is set in the beginning of the fourth commandment, partly, because of the great benefit of remembering it, we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it, and, in keeping it, better to keep all the rest of the commandments, and to continue a thankful remembrance of the two great benefits of creation and redemption, which contain a short abridgment of religion; and partly, because we are very ready to forget it, for that there is less light of nature for it, and yet it restrains our natural liberty in things at other times lawful; that it comes but once in  seven days, and many worldly businesses come between, and too often take off our minds from thinking of it, either to prepare for it, or to sanctify it; and that Satan with his instruments labors much to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety.”

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