This Day in Presbyterian History:
Millennial Issues Hit the Fan
The noble infant seem to be coming apart at the seams. Its “father,” Dr. J. Gresham Machen had been taken to heaven on the first day of the new year of 1937. His “warrior children,” as they were described once, were not in agreement over a number of issues. The first theological battle in the Presbyterian Church of America was over the “last things,” or eschatology (study of the last things).
Was the new denomination going to be classic or historic pre-millennialist, that is, Christ would return, then reign on earth for a literal one thousand years? Was it going to be a dispensational premillennial return, where Christ’s return is divided into a two-step process: first a secret rapture, with countless people left behind? Second, a public event, with seven years of tribulation at the hands of the anti-christ, then a one thousand year reign by King Jesus, at which time Israel will receive all the promises made down through the years? This latter view was that taught by the Schofield Reference Bible. Or was it to be a-millennialist, in which the one thousand years is a figurative number describing the whole period between the resurrection of God and His return? During this time, Christ rules from heaven, and peace comes through the proclamation of the gospel message. Which viewpoint will characterize this new Presbyterian denomination?
Professor John Murray, of Westminster Seminary, beginning in December of 1935, wrote a whole series of articles on “the Reformed faith and Modern Substitutes.” He attacked vigorously Modernism, Arminianism, and dispensational pre-millennialism. Many were offended by his articles.
In 1937, already a new seminary had been begun over the issue of the last things, when Professor Allan A MacRae left Westminster to begin Faith Theological Seminary. These same issues of the last days also came publicly to the floor of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on August 13, 1937. Eventually they, along with other issues such as Christian liberty, would lead to the beginning of the Bible Presbyterian Church.
Words to live by: In hindsight, this surely was one of the least reasons to separate from brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to believe that Christ Jesus will return in power and great glory. That is fundamental. But to quibble over the events surrounding his return, and worse yet, to separate from other Christians, is questionable, to say the least. Let us instead resolve to share the gospel with every creature, and then rejoice as Christ comes back to this earth.
Through the Scriptures: Jeremiah 27 – 29
Through the Standards: Proof texts for the tenth commandment:
“Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife, nor desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant or his maidservant, his ox or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Amplified)
“What then do we conclude? Is the Law identical with sin? Certainly not! Nevertheless, if it had not been for the Law, I should not have recognized sin or have known its meaning. [For instance] I would not have known about covetousness [would have had no consciousness of sin or sense of guilt] if the Law had not [repeatedly] said, You shall not covet and have an evil desire [for one thing and another]. (Amplified)
“Let your character or moral disposition be free from love of money [including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions] and be satisfied with your present [circumstances and with what you have]; for He [God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!]. (Amplified)