This Day in Presbyterian History:
A false start?
The beginnings of the Presbyterian Church of America in 1936 were small but richly blessed with men who had taken their stand for the faith of historic Christianity. Yet, but a year later, in the midst of the Third General Assembly of that church, a group of ministers were meeting to set up a new Presbyterian church, made up of elders out of that original group of stalwarts of the faith. What had happened?
They had all agreed on the reasons for the separation from the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. That church had allowed departures from the faith at home and on the mission field without doing anything about it. Failure to discipline those who had broken their ordination vows was rampart. Indeed, not one minister who had signed the Auburn Affirmation was ever charged by any Presbytery. J. Gresham Machen himself had acknowledged this failure when he was alive. But he had been taken from the small body of Presbyterians separatists by death on January 1, 1937.
Now in the new church, various secondary issues had sprung up to threaten the peace and unity of the church. One was the eschatological issue. Pre-millennialism had always been allowed in the church, but dispensational pre-millennialism had not been accepted. This was proving to be a divisive issue. Second, prohibition was raging in the nation at that time. Many churches, especially in the midwest, were taking a position against the saloon trade. In that light, an overture was made at the PCA general assembly to bring the church to a position of total abstinence from intoxicating drink. That was voted down by the Assembly.
Believing that these two issues were fundamental, fourteen teaching elders and three ruling elders met on June 4, 1937 at St. James Hotel in Philadelphia to discuss their concerns. Believing that a “false start” has been made by the delegates of the Presbyterian Church of America, the articles of association were drafted for what later on became the Bible Presbyterian Church. Their call for a new church which was Calvinistic, fundamental, premillennial, and evangelistic was made at that time. The first General Synod did not take place until September in 1938. At that meeting, there was a statement which stated that the church and its members pursue the course of total abstinence from alcoholic beverages, condemning the liquor traffic and the modern saloon. Interestingly though, while they spoke of pre-millennialism as being a hallmark of the new church, they acknowledged liberty in the things of the last day.
In more recent days, the Bible Presbyterian church have recognized the schismatic nature of that separation from what is now the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. After many examples of extreme separation down through its history, the current Bible Presbyterian Church has twenty-one churches nationwide, as found in four presbyteries.
Words to Live By: We can be thankful for churches which are true to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, Reformed in doctrine, looking forward to the Lord’s return in power and great glory, and evangelistic. Let us seek to be part and parcel of such congregations.
Through the Scriptures: Proverbs 12 – 14
Through the Standards: The privilege of true assurance
“Although hypocrites and other unregenerate men may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God, and estate of salvation (which hope of theirs shall perish); yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus and love Him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.”
WLC 80 — “Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?
A. Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavour to talk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God’s promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.”