June 17 : First Presbyterian, Leith, ND

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Their Plans Were Spoiled

As biblical separation took place in the mid thirties over the apostasy in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., more and more pastors and church members were struggling to hold on to their properties which they had built and paid for out of their own pockets.  This battle was expected.  They all knew that the Special Committee on Legal Procedure of the PCUSA had specifically stated that “the members of the individual Presbyterian Churches cannot by solemn resolution repudiate the authority of the PCUSA, then by subsequent resolution attempt to take their church property out of the denomination, even if their effort in so doing is unanimous.”

One church would be an exception to that rule.  The First Presbyterian Church in Leith, North Dakota, had voted unanimously on August 2, 1936 to renounce the oversight of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.  Their pastor, the Rev. Samuel Allen [1899-1954], had already done so, and was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America, which later on became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Despite this oneness of heart, the Presbytery of Bismarck brought suit in civil court against the leaders and people of the Leith congregation.  Their purpose was simple.  It was to gain possession of all properties of the church.  It took three years for the decision to come down from this court.  But it did come down.

On June 17, 1939, the civil court awarded the property to . . . the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church!  What made the difference between this case and all the other cases across the country?  In one word, unanimity of the congregation was the difference.   On that basis, the state court recognized that there was no schism on the vote.  And so they awarded the property to the congregation.

While there is no Orthodox Presbyterian Church today in Leith, North Dakota, there is still one in  Carson, the other preaching field of the Rev. Samuel Allen.  God has been faithful to the Presbyterian people of  faith in North Dakota.

Words to Live By: In most cases in those years, the faithful people of God, along with their pastors, had to “let goods and kindred go” as they lost their church properties.  While there were memories associated with those buildings, there were far greater memories associated with their allegiance to the Word of God.  Let us follow their example always.

Through the Scriptures: 1 Kings 8 – 10

Through the Standards:  Uses of the moral law since the fall into sin

WLC 94 “Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?
A.  Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law: yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.”

WLC 95 “Of what use is the moral law to all men”
A.  The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and the will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.”

Image source : Marsden, Robert S., The First Ten Years, page 75.

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  1. Vaughn Edward Hathaway Jr’s avatar

    Wayne: I had the privilege years in the early 1990s of interceding in behalf of the widow, son and daughter of Mr. Allen when they and others in Selma, Alabama, were excommunicated without due process when they opposed the dissolution of their church, Woodland PCA, and its merger into a larger PCA church in the same town. The judicial commission appointed by Warrior Presbytery reversed the decision of the session without have to hear the appeal argued on the ground of the written appeal alone. I had learned of Mr. Allen’s ministry in ND some 15 or so years before from Pastor Lionel Brown(?). I was intrigued then later to be counsel for the appellants. A further note: wasn’t J. Gresham Machen stricken with the pneumonia that caused his death while ministering to Mr. Allen’s congregation and staying at his home?

  2. Web Developer’s avatar

    The town of Leith has not given up on life yet. Check out the situation there now at: kttp://www.leithnd.com.


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