These are crucial times for everyone who loves the Reformed Faith. The Kingdom of God is being devaluated to little more than a socialized welfare state; Freudian ethics are replacing the positive demands of God; the promise of the Gospel is but a womb fantasy. With these and the many other aggressions by liberalism it is much to the point for us to reread the history of the past in order to preserve our beloved faith in the present.
SEEDS OF DECAY
The eleventh day of June 1936 will a1ways be remembered as the date of the organization of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Why was such a drastic step necessary?
The decay and fall of a church does not take place in a moment. It is a long process of subversion and apostasy. The seeds of decay were sown many years before the actual formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. 1801 saw the General Association of Connecticut and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopt a plan of union which led to the infiltration of liberalism into the Church.
By the winter of 1922 Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, well-known liberal, was preaching in the First Presbyterian Church of New York such sermons as the infamous “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”
One might have expected this to arouse a slumbering church, but the people slept on. 1923 was the birthdate of the Auburn Affirmation. This incredible document was drawn up and signed by 1,293 Presbyterian ministers. The Affirmation protested the doctrinal position of the church as set forth in the Constitution which had been reaffirmed by the church in 1910 and 1916. This sacrilegious document opposed the church’s requirement that ministers in the Presbyterian Church must believe in the full inspiration of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, his death as our substitute, and his bodily resurrection.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Thus the battle lines were drawn between liberals and conservatives. This was a life and death struggle for the church. Those ministers who signed the Auburn Affirmation, thus attacking the very heart of the Christian faith, were never brought to trial. The General Assembly was overtured in 1924 to take action against the “Affirmationists” but responded with, “No Action.” Rapidly now, the “Affirmationists” gained power through important offices in the church. By 1929 they had gained control of Princeton Theological Seminary. Hitherto Princeton had been the pillar of conservative Christian scholarship. Under its new leadership Princeton succumbed. Conservative scholars and board members were forced to leave. The condition of the church in 1934 was deplorable. The Presbyterian Church was in the hands of a subversive bureaucracy and its missionary enterprise was perverted.
Then a man stood up to voice a protest against this subversion, the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen.
With a zeal for freedom he cried,
“In all controversies…the great principle of liberty should be preserved. I am old-fashioned in my belief that the Bible is true. But I am equally old-fashioned in my love for freedom. I am opposed to the attack upon freedom in whatever form it may come. I am opposed to the Soviets, I am opposed to Mussolini, (for the same reason also) I am opposed to the rapidly growing bureaucracy in this country. I am opposed to a Federal department of education; I am opposed to monopolistic public schools; I am opposed to a standardization that treats human beings as though they were Ford cars.
“For the same reason, to say nothing of the deeper reasons, I am opposed to a church union which is the deadliest enemy of Christian unity. I am opposed with all my heart and mind to the depressing dreams of a monopolistic Protestant Church organization placing the whole protestant world under one set of tyrannical committees and boards. I am opposed to the growing discouragement of free discussion in my own church and other churches. I am opposed to secret church courts or judicial commissions. In all ecclesiastical affairs I believe in open covenants openly arrived at.
“Just because I believe in liberty, I believe in the right of purely voluntary association. I believe in the right of a voluntary association like the Presbyterian Church. If a man does not believe that the Bible is true, and his interpretation of the Bible is not an adherent of the Reformed Faith, I am opposed to exerting any compulsion on him to become a Presbyterian minister. I hold that he should be able honestly, and without mental reservation to subscribe to the ordination pledge setting forth that for which the Presbyterian Church exists.”
Dr. Machen clearly saw that the only effect that could follow the pollution of the church by liberalism would be its complete ruin.
He turned his discerning eye toward the missions of the Presbyterian Church. After an intensive investigation he found that the board, now thoroughly infiltrated by liberals, was sending out unbelieving missionaries who preached a Jesus who was not the Son of God. Dr. Machen protested this subversion of the mission board but was ignored. Dr. Machen was not alone. Ministers, faithful to Christ and their ordination vows, were moving to his side. In a last desperate attempt to stem the tide of liberalism, an Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions was established to promote truly Christian missions.
For this, the church began its inquisition-like purge in which ministers were unfrocked and candidates for the ministry were refused ordination. The General Assembly issued a mandate ordering all members of the Presbyterian Church to resign from the Independent Board upon pain of ecclesiastical discipline and that thereafter “A church member or individual church that will not give to promote the officially organized missionary program of the Presbyterian Church is in exactly the same position with reference to the Constitution of that Church as a church member that would refuse to take part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.” This was the most outrageous tyranny. Man’s word was placed on a level with God’s command.
THE ORTHODOX PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
Now there was only one road left to take. When a church requires its members to sin in order to be in good standing in that church, those members must leave the church. Thus, on June 11, 1936, the Presbyterian Church in America was founded, declaring its loyalty to Jesus Christ and his Word.
This did not end the controversy. The road of separation is a much harder way. Congregations lost their buildings and ministers lost their congregations. The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America went to civil court to disallow the Presbyterian Church in America from using even the name.
The Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths summed up this important event,
“For the first time since the founding of the American Republic a supposedly Protestant Church has appealed to the Law courts of the civil power asking in effect to be protected from the criticism and competition of another church by the granting of a restraining order or injunction.
“That such a request should be made of the civil power in the day and age in which we live…in supposedly free America, is something to think about. This bill is the image of a totalitarian church. The idea of a totalitarian church is closely akin to that of the totalitarian state. The boards and agencies, the job.employing, fund-dispensing anus are really the Church. Everything else exists for them.” The Moderator of the 148th General Assembly expressed this point of view with unconscious crassness when he said in Syracuse, “The main purpose of each Assembly is the furtherance of the work of the Church through the boards which it creates and controls.” It is the complete antithesis of historic, democratic, Presbyterianism.
“That, in brief, is the mind obviously underlying the present litigation. Intoxicated with success of ridding the old body of dissentients, the bureaucratic powers thereof even want to choke off outside criticism and competition, wish to have the Presbyterian Church of America enjoined from using its name ‘or any other name of like import:
“Now we have the never-before-witnessed spectacle of one religious body, in defiance of all…protestant principles, pursuing into civil courts those who no longer retain any connection with them, attempting to hamper, more, halt, the free exercise of their religious activity. There is a tremendously important principle at stake in all this: Is religious freedom really ours in America, or can one denomination use the civil courts to strike at another?”
Since that court ruling the Presbyterian Church in America became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Today the Orthodox Presbyterian Church continues as a reminder to the world of the subversion of liberalism within the church. It stands as a warning against a once great monopolistic church organization with one great set of monopolistic committees and boards which tyrannize the individual. It serves as a witness to the fact that the remedy for the evils of the world is not found in man. It cannot be found in man. It is not even to be found in any pooling of man’s ecclesiastical resources. It is not to be found in teamwork among the world’s most eminent statesmen. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church proclaims that the remedy is to be found only in the Word of the Living God through Jesus Christ.
May God grant that this lesson of history will not go unheeded, and that all who love the Reformed Faith will stand together as one man to meet the challenge of our times.
No denomination is eternal. The price of the endurance of our churches is a vigilant commitment to Christ Jesus and to the faith once delivered to the saints.