reunion

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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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The Root of the Presbyterian Apostasy?

Or simply one of the earliest public manifestations of long-standing sins? Such things do not just suddenly appear out of nowhere. The errors espoused in the Auburn Affirmation had been brewing for decades. Some point back to the influence of Charles A. Briggs and how he continued to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York, even after being found guilty of heresy. Others point to the reunion of the New School Presbyterians with the Old School in 1869, a reunion which failed to address the shortcomings of the New School faction. And there are other problems and issues that might be discussed. But the Auburn Affirmation came at a strategic time, early in the 20th-century. Thus its importance as an historical document. 

aubaff_1924When church historians evaluate the history of American Presbyterianism, the publication of the “Auburn Affirmation” will stand out in importance like the nailing of Luther’s ninety-five theses on the Wittenberg Germany church door in 1517.  Except this Affirmation, unlike that of the German reformer, constituted a major offensive against biblical Christianity.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1923 had repeated the earlier high court’s affirmations of five essential truths which made up the fundamentals of Christianity.  They were the inerrant Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, His literal bodily resurrection from the dead on the third day, and supernatural miracles.  However the very next year,on January 9, 1924, one hundred and fifty Presbyterian elders issued an affirmation in Auburn, New York which stated that these five fundamentals were not necessary and essential doctrines for the church.  Eventually the number of ministers to sign it would increase to 1,294 ordained ministers, about ten per cent of the clergy on the rolls of the Presbyterian church.

[Above right, The Auburn Affirmation as it appeared in its first edition, including a list of 150 signers.]

The Auburn Affirmation used many familiar terms on which unsuspecting Christians might be deceived.  Thus, it affirmed inspiration, but denied Scripture to be without error.  It affirmed the incarnation, but denied the Virgin Birth.  It affirmed the atonement, but denied that Christ satisfied divine justice and reconciled us to God.  It affirmed the resurrection of Christ, but denied Jesus rose from the dead with the same body in which He was crucified.  It affirmed Jesus did many mighty works, but denied that He was a miracle worker.

The tragedy of this Affirmation was that not one of its signers were ever brought up for church discipline by their respective presbyteries.  This sin of omission hastened the apostasy of the church, as many of the signers would later find placement in every agency of the church.

Words to Live By:  “Beloved, my whole concern was to write to you in regard to our common salvation.  [But] I found it necessary and was impelled to write you and urgently appeal to and exhort [you] to contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints [the faith which is that sum of Christian belief which was delivered verbally to the holy people of God”] Jude v. 3 (Amplified)

For Further Study:
The Auburn Affirmation and the Response of Confessional Presbyterians, 1924-1946.

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A Heart for Missions

gilchristRWIt was a proud day in Las Vegas, New Mexico, on March 14, 1892, when Elizabeth Rowland Gilchrist and her husband Joseph James Gilchrist welcomed their new child into the world. George Riggle Monfort Gilchrist was, in part, named after a favorite uncle, the Rev. George Washington Riggle, who was a pastor in Socorro, New Mexico. The name Monfort was in honor of the Huguenot side of the family, in particular, Joseph Glass Monfort, who was George’s great uncle. He was quite involved with Old School Presbyterian Church, working primarily in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

George Gilchrist attended Occidental College, graduating with the Bachelor of Science degree in 1915, and from there proceeded to Chicago, where he attended the Moody Bible Institute for two years, graduating in 1918. Seminary added a few more years as he prepared for the ministry, and graduated in 1923. Even while in school, he had his eye on mission work, and in particular the field of Chile, annually serving there as a short term missionary during his Seminary years, primarily teaching in the Instituto Ingles, located in Santiago.

Rev. Gilchrist was ordained by the Presbytery of San Francisco (PCUSA) on April 27, 1924 and he was installed as the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Richmond, California. He served this congregation less than two years before he departed as a foreign missionary, serving in Chile under the auspices of the PCUSA’s World Missions Board. He would remain on the field in that capacity for twenty years.

gilchristRW&RuthThen in 1945, Rev. Gilchrist transferred his credentials to the Bible Presbyterian Church, and continued to labor another fourteen years in Chile, now under the auspices of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. When the Bible Presbyterian Church split in 1956, Rev. Gilchrist aligned himself with the Columbus Synod BP’s and concluded his missionary work in 1959 with World Presbyterian Missions. In retirement, Rev. Gilchrist eventually came to live in Mount Hermon, California (circa 1968).

George R. M. Gilchrist died August 13 at Bethany Manor in Ripon, CA, just a few weeks after a family reunion for his sixty-fifth wedding anniversary. His mortal remains were laid to rest in the cemetery in Felton, California. Gilchrist was a teacher and an evangelistic missionary in Chile for more than three decades. He was survived by his widow Ruth and four children. Of these children, the Rev. Paul R. Gilchrist is noted as having served as the second Stated Clerk of the PCA, from 1988 to 1998.

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He Was A Double Agent.

Rev. Gilbert Tennent [5 February 1703 – 23 July 1764]Born on this day, February 5, in 1703, Gilbert Tennent prepared for the ministry in the famous Log College established by his father William. Closely allied with the revival work of George Whitefield, the Tennent family were intimately involved in the first Great Awakening, which began in the 1730’s and continued up until about 1743. This revival and its religious fervor in turn played a key role in a division of the Presbyterian Church that ran from 1741 to 1758. One faction in the split, termed the New Side, favored the revival, while the opposing Old Side was generally against it. Other issues were also party to the split, but most historians point to Gilbert Tennent’s controversial sermon, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry” as the breaking point that brought about the split.

Seventeen years later, by the grace of God, the split was mended and the Presbyterian Church restored to unity. Thomas Murphy, in his work, The Presbytery of the Log College, discusses how Gilbert Tennnent, the man who almost single-handedly precipitated the split, was equally credited with mending the tear:

“The schism between the Synods of Philadelphia and New York was healed in the year 1758. How was the event brought about? In the minds of reflecting and godly men there was from the beginning a conviction that the separation should never have occurred. That conviction manifested itself at first in unofficial propositions for reunion, afterward in formal overtures for reunion. The Presbytery of New York, which was not present in the Synod at the time of the disruption, was particularly active in these negotiations for reconciliation. But Gilbert Tennent, the leading spirit of the disruption and the strongest man in the Church, became the chief agent in healing the breach. In fact, he had never intended that there should be a separation, but only that what he considered a wrong should be rectified. At length he became the champion for bringing the body together again. ‘He was among the first to seek a reconciliation and reunion of the parties. To promote this object he wrote and published a pamphlet entitled The Pacificator, in which he reasons strongly in favor of peace and union.’ These various efforts were successful, and the happy goal was accomplished.

“The terms on which the two parties were reunited were simply on the basis of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The words of the agreement between them were: ‘Both Synods having always approved and received the Westminster Confession of Faith, and Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as an orthodox and excellent system of Christian doctrine, founded on the Word of God, we do still receive the same as the confession of our faith, and also adhere to the plan of worship, government, and discipline, contained in the Westminster Directory, strictly enjoining it on all our members and probationers for the ministry that they preach and teach according to the form of sound words in said Confession and Catechisms, and avoid and oppose all errors contrary thereto.’—Records, p. 286.

“The spirit in which they came together is worthy of lasting remembrance. It is seen in this agreement: ‘All complaints and differences shall be mutually forgiven and buried in perpetual oblivion; the Synods shall unite as two contiguous bodies of Christians agreed in principle as though they had never been concerned with one another before, nor had any differences; and now join the Synods and Presbyteries upon such scriptural and rational terms as may secure peace and good order, tend to heal our broken churches and advance religion hereafter.’

Words to Live By : The Right Way to Mend Fences
Thomas Murphy concluded his comments with these words:

“Equally memorable were the piety and brotherly love by which they were actuated, as seen in the formal agreements into which they entered with each other: ‘We judge that this is a proper occasion to manifest our sincere intention, unitedly to exert ourselves to fulfill the ministry we have received of the Lord Jesus. Accordingly, we unanimously declare our serious and fixed resolution, by divine aid, to take heed to ourselves that our hearts be upright, our discourse edifying, and our lives exemplary for purity and godliness; to take heed to our doctrine, that it be not only orthodox but evangelical and spiritual, tending to awaken the secure to a suitable concern for their salvation, and to instruct and encourage sincere Christians; thus commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God; to cultivate peace and harmony among ourselves, and strengthen each other’s hands in promoting the knowledge of divine truth and diffusing the savor of piety among our people.’—Records, p. 288. Such men must have been very deeply imbued with the Spirit of Christ.”

[excerpted from Presbytery of the Log College, by Thomas Murphy, p. 174-176.

Image source: Engraved portrait by David Edwin [1776-1841], as published in The Assembly’s Missionary Magazine, or Evangelical Intelligencer, vol. 1, no. 5 (May 1805), facing page [209]. Image scanned by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

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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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