Lest We Forget: An Account of the Events Leading to the Formation of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church – part 2
By the REV. EDWARD L. KELLOGG
Pastor of Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Middletown, Pa.
WITH the whitewashing of the Board of Foreign Missions, the conservative members of the church now faced a serious problem. Here was a board which accepted .and sent out missionaries who proclaimed another gospel. Here was a board which urged prospective missionaries to read books the content of which was clearly opposed to the doctrines set forth in the subordinate standards and in the supreme standard, the Word of God. Could one be a faithful steward and still support such an agency, knowing that, although there were still some faithful missionaries, one’s gifts would nevertheless be supporting missionaries who denied the Christ they trusted? Could young men and women go out under such a board and work hand-in-hand with missionaries who denied the gospel they endeavored to preach?
Some members of the church were convinced that they could not follow such a course and thus, both for a protest against the actions of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and in order that there might be an organization which would carry on truly Presbyterian missionary work in accordance with the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was organized. The first missionary to serve under that board was the Rev. Henry W. Coray, who in time was stricken from the roll of ministers in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. for serving under such an agency. Others followed Mr. Coray to the field and the work prospered. Then came the memorable 1934 assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. At this assembly an official mandate was issued, stating that “A church member or an individual church that will not give to promote the officially authorized missionary program of the Presbyterian Church is in exactly the same position with reference to the Constitution of the Church as a church member or an individual church that would refuse to take part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper …” According to the constitution, one who refuses to take part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is guilty of disregarding the command of Christ and therefore is subject to discipline. According to the mandate of the assembly, one who refuses to support the officially authorized missionary program of the church, regardless of whether that program spreads the gospel of Christ or not, is just as truly a violator of the command of Christ and therefore just as subject to discipline.
Furthermore, the 1934 assembly gave the following instructions with reference to the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions: “That all ministers and laymen affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., who are officers, trustees, or members of the ‘Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions,’ be officially notified by this General Assembly through its stated clerk, that they must immediately upon the receipt of such notification sever their connection with this Board and that refusal to do so … will be considered a disorderly and disloyal act on their part and subject them to the discipline of the church.” The presbyteries were also directed to take action against any members who failed to obey this ruling within ninety days.
These unconstitutional actions of the assembly aroused the indignation of many people. Rallies were held and protests were issued, but the ruling stood and disciplinary action was initiated. Dr. Machen was the first to be called and he appeared before a trial judicatory of the Presbytery of New Brunswick. Dr. Machen, acknowledged by many friends and foes to be the greatest scholarly contender for orthodox Christianity in recent years, was being tried by a court of the church – tried by a court whose constitution declared that the Bible was the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and yet tried by a court whose moderator had signed the Auburn Affirmation, a statement denying the very infallibility of that rule.
The trial proceeded. Dr. Machen sought to give his defense, but one illegal ruling after another was made until no defense could be given. Questions of doctrine were ruled out. Questions relative to the rightness or wrongness of the action of the assembly were ruled out. Dr. Machen was being condemned on the ground that he had disobeyed a lawful order, but was not allowed to be heard when he offered to prove that the order was not lawful, but unlawful. He was being condemned for making false assertions against the Board of Foreign Missions of the denomination, but was not allowed to be heard when he offered to prove that the assertions were not false but true. The trial drew tragically to a conclusion. The verdict was rendered. Dr. Machen was found guilty-guilty of disturbing the peace when the very constitution of the church declared it was a sin to keep “undue silence in a just cause.” Sentence was pronounced, and Dr. Machen was ordered suspended from the office of the ministry.
Other presbyteries then followed in the steps of that which tried Dr. Machen. One minister after another, and even laymen of the church, received similar treatment and punishment. Immediately, most of those who had been tried appealed to higher courts and finally to the assembly itself. It was in the spring of 1936 that the appeals came before the assembly, which was meeting in Syracuse. The Permanent Judicial Commission, to which appeals were referred for consideration and recommendation to the assembly, was composed of seven ministers, in addition to certain laymen. Of these seven, four were signers of the Auburn Affirmation. Here was an occasion of tremendous importance. The highest court of the church was ready to act. There was no higher court to which those who had been sentenced could appeal. The final, official action of the church was about to be made. The court recommended that the assembly uphold the actions of the lower judicatories, the assembly adopted the recommendations, and the case was closed. But what did it mean? It meant, first of all, that Dr. Machen and others were suspended from the gospel ministry and denied the privileges of performing the work of a minister, until such time as they might repent of an action which they were convinced was right -until they might repent of an action which to repent of, in their judgment, would be sin. But, more than that, it meant that the church had officially exalted its own commands above the commands of the only King of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ!
The decision of the 148th General Assembly concerning the members of the Independent Board was rendered on June 1, 1936. An important meeting had already been scheduled for June 11th. It was the meeting of the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union. As the name might indicate, this organization was composed of certain conservative members of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. who had covenanted together to defend and maintain the constitution of the church in all of its purity. Chapters of this Covenant Union had been organized in many parts of the country. These met frequently to study ways and means of purifying the church; rallies were sponsored at which leaders of the movement informed the people of the condition of the church and urged them to take a firm stand for the gospel. Ever since the investigation of the Board of Foreign Missions made by Dr. Machen, more and more facts indicating the spread of the poison of unbelief throughout the church were constantly coming to light. Investigations of the Board of National Missions and the Board of Christian Education indicated that their condition was actually far worse than that of the Board of Foreign Missions. Bible teachers in denominational schools were found to be teaching that miracles recorded in the Bible were myths and that evolution was a fact. Literature on an sides was denying the deity of Christ with such statements as this: “… unless Jesus’ method of making himself divine can be imitated, his achievement is a mockery rather than a challenge.”
The trend in the church was so evident that conservatives in other communions were aware of it and exhorted the leaders in their denominations to mend their ways. Even avowed unbelievers were not deceived; an annual report of the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism declared, “The forces of Modernism have won a sweeping victory in the last few years. Modernists now control the entire machinery and corporate life of the Presbyterian church …. Much as we dislike Modernism because of its illogical compromising, we must recognize that for many it is but a stopover on the road to Atheism.”
Similar facts and statements were well known to the majority of Covenant Union members who attended the important meeting of June 11, 1936. The covenant which they had signed consisted of two parts. First, they had covenanted to make every effort to bring about a reform in the existing organization and to restore the church’s clear and glorious Christian testimony. In the second place, if such efforts should fail, they covenanted to hold themselves ready to perpetuate the true spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., regardless of the cost.
The meeting was called to order and, following a devotional service, the executive committee made its report. Following a review of the year’s work, the report recommended that “… in view of the fact that the efforts to reform the existing organization of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. have failed, and in view of the fact that the tyrannical policy of the present majority of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. has triumphed, as evidenced by the action of the General Assembly … , it is now declared that the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union shall upon the adjournment of this meeting cease to exist and that the members of the Covenant Union are now free to carry on the true spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In accordance with Section Two of the Covenant.”
What was now to be done? Should the Covenant Union members return to their homes and, despairing of any hope of purifying the church, simply continue in,its fellowship and do nothing more. God forbid! Such an attitude was impossible for anyone who was truly a soldier of the cross, truly worthy of the name of Christian. The church to which they belonged had denied their Saviour. The church to which they belonged had ejected Christ from His rightful place as only Head and King of the church, by putting in the place of His commands the commandments of sinful men. To those who cherished the favor of God more than the plaudits of men, to those who truly cared for the doctrinal heritage which had been passed down from the Reformers and which they in turn had received from the Word of God, there was only one possible answer and one course of action. That was to form a church which would stand squarely upon the Word of God.
The morning session came to a close and the Covenant Union was disbanded, but the members did not leave; they had made a covenant and they would see it through. Thus, on the memorable afternoon of June 11, 1936, some two hundred persons rose to be constituted as The Presbyterian Church of America and, under the able moderatorship of the faithful and courageous Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the First General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church of America, now The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, convened. There was a reason for the organization of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church and there is a reason for its existence today. May God grant that, through the faithful adherence of its members to His Word, the true end of its existence may be achieved! And may God grant also that many more Christians still” within the unfaithful walls of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. may recognize their sin and may honor their Lord and Saviour by withdrawing from a church that has denied His Name and by uniting with those whose chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever!