What The Northern Presbyterian Church Did To Dr. J. Gresham Machen
(“Exploring Avenues Of Acquaintance And Co-operation”)
By Chalmers W. Alexander
[The Southern Presbyterian Journal 8.11 (1 October 1949): 13-18.]
This is the sixth in the series of articles by Chalmers W. Alexander under the1 heading, “Exploring Avenues of Acquaintance And Co-operation.” This is an informative new series of articles written by one of the most able laymen in the Southern Presbyterian Church.
II: MODERNISM IN THE FOREIGN MISSIONS WORK
In order to understand why Dr. Machen was booted out of the ministry of the Northern Presbyterian Church in 1936, it is necessary to turn our attention to some events which took place only a few years before that.
In November of 1932, a book entitled Re-Thinking Missions was issued as the report of the “Commission of Appraisal” of the “Laymen’s Inquiry after One Hundred Years.” This report, which was about foreign missions work, was the product of an inter-denominational committee. The Northern Presbyterian Church’s one representative on the Commission of Appraisal was Dr. William P. Merrill, of New York City, a signer of the heretical Auburn Affirmation.
As Dr. Machen pointed out in a 110-page book which will be mentioned presently: “The work of the Commission was financed, to the extent of some half-million dollars, largely by a Modernist layman, Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who in 1918 wrote for the Saturday Evening Post an article which was afterwards circulated in pamphlet form advocating admission to the Church without any profession of belief whatever.”
The Theme Of “Re-Thinking Missions”
Dr. Machen gave this clear analysis of Re-Thinking Missions’ theme and teachings: “The resulting book constitutes from beginning to end an attack upon the historic Christian Faith. It presents as the aim of missions that of seeking truth together with adherents of other religions rather than that of presenting the truth which God has supernaturally recorded in the Bible. ‘The relation between religions,’ it says, ‘must take increasingly hereafter the form of a common search for truth.’ It deprecates the distinction between Christians and non-Christians; it belittles the Bible and inveighs against Christian doctrine; it dismisses the doctrine of eternal punishment as a doctrine antiquated even in Christendom; it presents Jesus as a great Teacher and Example, as Christianity’s ‘highest expression of the religious life,’ but certainly not as very God of very God; it belittles evangelism, definite conversions, open profession of faith in Christ, membership in the Christian Church, and substitutes ‘the dissemination of spiritual influences’ and ‘the permeation of the community with Christian ideals and principles’ for the new birth.”
Re-Thinking Missions revealed clearly that its authors had no conception at all of the finality and the exclusiveness of the Christian Faith as it was revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ when He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but to me.”
Now two members of the official Board of Foreign Missions of the Northern Presbyterian Church were members of the original Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry, which appointed the Commission of Appraisal which, in turn, produced Re-Thinking Missions. When this book, which was the official report of the Commission, was issued by the Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry, and when it presented a clear-cut view of what missions are and what the Christian religion is, the members of the Northern Presbyterian Church had a right to know whether its Board of Foreign Missions rejected or accepted that view. The Board issued a statement, which was vague in nature, about “the evangelical basis of missions,” on November 21, 1932, after Re-Thinking Missionsappeared. The Board, however, did not let the people know that it considered the book as being hostile to the very roots of the Christian religion, and nothing was done to remove from the Board the two members of it who were members of the original Laymen’s Foreign Missions Inquiry.
Our own Southern Presbyterian denomination, on the other hand, expressed itself in no uncertain terms regarding Re-Thinking Missions. Our General Assembly of 1935 declared it to be “a monumental folly” miscalled Rethinking Missions and stated that “its true title should rather be rejecting missions and crucifying our Lord afresh.”
Re-Thinking Missions did serve one good purpose. It immediately aroused countless thousands of Bible-believing Christians who felt that something should be done at once to stem the fast-rising tide of unbelief in the Christian Church. And the leader among those who shared this feeling was Dr. Machen.
Dr. Machen Proposes An Overture
Accordingly, in 1933, the year following the publication of Re-Thinking Missions, Dr. Machen proposed to the presibytery of which he was a member, the Presbytery of New Brunswick, an Overture which was to be presented to the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian Church at its next meeting.
This Overture asked the General Assembly to see to it that members of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Northern Presbyterian Church be believers, in the absolute exclusiveness of Christianity and, that they be persons “who are determined to insist upon such verities as the full truthfulness of Scripture, the virgin birth of our Lord, His substitutionary death as a sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice, His bodily resurrection and His miracles, as being essential to the Word of God and our Standards and as being necessary to the message which every missionary under our Church shall proclaim.”
The points of doctrine set forth in this Overture were the well-known “Five Points” of doctrine which had been declared as essential by the General Assembly of 1923, and which had been declared not to be essential at all by the heretical Auburn Affirmation in 1924.
Dr. Machen’s 110-Page Book
In connection with this proposed Overture, Dr. Machen very carefully prepared an Argument to accompany it; and this Argument named names and cited specific instances of Modernism in the foreign missions work. Both the Overture and this Argument were published in the form of a book 110 pages in length entitled Modernism and the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. This book, which was issued in the early part of 1933, was widely distributed, free of charge, throughout the Northern Presbyterian Church.
In its opening pages, Dr. Machen began his Argument by discussing Re-Thinking Missions. And then he called attention to Mrs. Pearl S. Buck.
The Famous Case Of Mrs. Pearl S. Buck
Dr. Machen showed that in the official list of foreign missionaries of the Northern Presbyterian Church there appeared the name of Mrs. J. Lossing Buck. This Mrs. J. Lossing Buck is Mrs. Pearl Sydenstricker Buck, who is the author of The Good Earth and other novels which have made her one of the best known novelists of the present day. She has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in literature.
Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia (and not, as is often reported, in the Orient), Mrs. Buck is the daughter of the late Dr. and Mrs. Sydenstricker, who were for many years two of the outstanding foreign missionaries of the Southern Presbyterian Church. A graduate of Randolph-Macon College, she had spent her childhood in China, and in 1917 she had married a missionary, Dr. J. Lossing Buck. Later, in 1935, she was to marry Richard J. Walsh, after she and Dr. Buck were divorced.
Now in 1932 Mrs. Pearl S. Buck was one of the foreign missionaries of the Northern Presbyterian Church, and she had been one of its missionaries for years. Mrs. Buck very clearly stated her views regarding missions in an article entitled “The Laymen’s Mission Report” in The Christian Century for November 23, 1932, and in an article entitled “Is There a Case for Foreign Missions?” in Harper’s Magazine for January, 1933.
In his Argument, Dr. Machen gave an analysis of Mrs. Buck’s views. Regarding the contents of the two articles mentioned, he wrote:
“In the former article, Mrs. Buck expresses the most enthusiastic agreement with the book Re-Thinking Missions, and singles out for special commendation those features of that book which are most obviously and diametrically opposed to the Bible. She says, for example:
‘I have not read merely a report. I have read a unique book, a great book. The book presents a masterly statement of religion in its place in life, and of Christianity in its place in religion. The first three chapters are the finest exposition of religion I have ever read . . .
‘I think this is the only book I have ever read which seems to me to be literally true in its every conclusion … I want every American Christian to read this book. I hope it will be translated into every language.’
Mrs. Buck’s Views On Christianity
“In the article in Harper’s Magazine,” Dr. Machen continued, “Mrs. Buck deals more generally with missions and with the nature of the Christian religion, and what she says in both articles on this subject is in thoroughgoing conflict with the historic Christian Faith. She represents the deity of Christ as a thing accepted by some and rejected by others, but certainly not essential:
‘Some of us (Christians) believe in Christ as our fathers did. To some of us he is still the divine son of God, born of the virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. But to many of us He has ceased to be that . . . Let us face the fact that the old reasons for foreign missions are gone from the minds and hearts of many of us, certainly from those of us who are young.’
She rejoices in the stripping of ‘the magic of superstition’ from Christ, and it seems clear that in the ‘magic of superstition’ she includes the miracles of Christ and the Biblical notion of the salvation which He wrought. . . She rejects directly the Bible doctrine of sin:
‘I am not inclined to blame human beings very much. I do not believe in original sin. I believe that most of us start out wanting to do right and to do good. I believe that most of us keep that desire as long as we live and whatever we do.’
She rejects the old gospel of salvation from sin and even seems to advocate the denial of religious liberty to those who preach that gospel:
‘In the old days it was plain enough. Our forefathers ‘believed sincerely in a magic religion. They believed simply and plainly that all who did not hear the gospel, as they called it, were damned, and every soul to whom they preached received in that moment the chance for salvation from that hell. Though heard but for a single moment, the preacher gave that soul the opportunity of a choice for eternity. If the soul paid no heed or did not believe, the preacher could not take the responsibility. He was absolved. There are those who still believe this, and if they sincerely believe, I honor that sincerity, though I cannot share the belief. I agree with the Chinese who feel their people should be protected from such superstition.’
Needless to say, Mrs. Buck agrees fully with Re-Thinking Missions in belittling preaching over against what she regards—quite falsely—as living the Christian life:
‘Above all, then, let the spirit of Christ be manifested by mode of life rather than by preaching. I am wearied unto death with this preaching. It deadens all thought, confuses all issues, it is producing in China at least, a horde of hypocrites, and in the theological seminaries a body of Chinese ministers which makes one despair for the future, because they are learning to preach about Christianity rather than how to live the Christian life.’
It is needless to say, further, that this estimate of preaching is entirely contrary to that which is taught in the Word of God.
“One thing is certainly to be said for Mrs. Buck. She is admirably clear. Her utterances are as plain as the utterances of our Board of Foreign Missions are muddled. There is nothing vague or undecided about them. She has let it be known exactly where she stands. She is opposed to the old gospel and is not afraid to say so in the presence of all the world . . .
Mrs. Buck And The Foreign Missions Board
“Mrs. Buck’s views about missions have obviously not been formed overnight. She herself intimates very plainly that the book Re-Thinking Missions only expresses views which she has already held. Yet she has been allowed to continue in the foreign field by a Board which is charged with the sacred duty of seeing that its mission work is in accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church and with the Word of God. Could she have done so if the Board had not been grossly neglectful of its duty?
“Moreover, there is not the slightest likelihood that Mrs. Buck stands alone in her destructive views. Her distinguished talents have merely allowed those views to become widely audible in her case. It is altogether probably that there are many like her among the missionaries under our Board. Rev. John Clover Monsma (in his booklet, The Foreign Missionary Situation in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., February, 1933 . . . ) is quite justified in saying:
Today the Board is not in a position to guarantee our church members that there are not scores upon scores of other ‘Mrs. Bucks’ in the field, at different stages of apostacy and doctrinal revolution’.”
As a result of the pressure which Dr. Machen and other Bible-believing Christians had built up, Mrs. Buck handed in her resignation as a missionary to the Board of Foreign Missions. And she insisted that the Board accept it when the Board seemed reluctant to do so. It is highly provable that, except for the great publicity given to her unsound views by Dr. Machen, Mrs. Buck could have continued to serve indefinitely as a foreign missionary of the Northern Presbyterian Church had she so desired.
When the Board of Foreign Missions finally accepted her resignation, it announced that it did so “with regrets!”
The Candidate Secretary Of The Foreign Missions Board
Dr. Machen, in his Argument, then called attention to the fact that the Candidate Secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Northern Presbyterian Church was a signer of the heretical Auburn Affirmation. To this Candidate Secretary is entrusted the delicate task of interviewing candidates for the foreign missions field and of encouraging or discouraging them in their high ambition. There is no agent of the Church who ought to be more completely clear as to what the Church’s message is than the occupant of that position. And yet the minister who was occupying that position had signed a formal document erasing the virgin birth and four other great verities of the Faith from the essential message which the Church is proclaiming in the world!
In commenting on this, Dr. Machen wrote: “Serious, however, though the presence of a signer of the Auburn Affirmation in the position of Candidate Secretary is in itself, it is far more serious in what it indicates as to the principles of the Board as a whole. A Board (of Foreign Missions) which in the face of criticism, after the issue has been plainly pointed out to it, can retain a signer of the Auburn Affirmation in such a position is an agency which has made its attitude known only too well regarding the great issue between Modernism and indifferentism, on the one hand, and Biblical Christianity on the other. Certainly it is not an agency which deserves the confidence of those members of the Church which adopt the view of Christian missions which is taught in the Word of God.”
Modernism In The Missions Work In China
Now, very briefly, let us consider some of the many evidences of Modernism in the China mission field which Dr. Machen pointed out in the Argument contained in his 110-page book entitled Modernism and The Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. From page 65 to page 110 inclusive in his book, Dr. Machen showed in detail the evidence with regard to Modernism in China, in enterprises supported in part or in whole by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Northern Presbyterian Church, or with which that Board was connected.
In explanation of this evidence, it should be noted, the Yenching University at Peiping, the National Christian Council and the Church of Christ in China, and the Christian Literature Society all got support from the Board of Foreign Missions of the Northern Presbyterian Church. In answer to an inquiry from Dr. Machen, Chancellor Arie Kok of the Netherlands Legation in Peiping and Dr. Albert B. Dodd, Professor in the North China Theological Seminary, who was himself a missionary of the Northern Presbyterian Church, gave data fresh from the China mission field.
Testimony Of Dr. Albert B. Dodd
Dr. Dodd stated: “The North China American School is a union school for missionary children in which our Board (of Foreign Missions) is financially interested. Quite a number of us have to send our children to Korea because of the ‘modernism’ in all the schools provided by our Board in China.”
Then Dr. Dodd presented reviews of certain books published by the Christian Literature Society (which got financial support from the Foreign Missions Board of the Northern Presbyterian Church), showing their unsound teachings. A glance at one of the many books he mentioned will give an indication of the type of unbelief to which he objected. A volume entitled Fundamentals of the Christian Religion was an outline for Group Study, arranged by T. R. Glover, and prepared in Chinese; it was issued in 1932 by the Christian Literature Society. This book said, among other things:
“To say that Christ’s blood means His death and that on account of that death God draws near to men does violence to human reason . . . Hence when we think of the death of Jesus, a thousand times ten thousand times (I exhort you) do not think that Jesus was an offering of sacrifice.”
Dr. Dodd also remarked, in a list of books on which he offered brief comments: “A book of Sherwood Eddy’s on ‘Sex and Youth’ has been translated into Chinese by some other society but I notice its sale is promoted, in connection with a household library, both by the C.L.S. (Christian Literature Society) and the Church of Christ in China” (both of which were supported partly by Northern Presbyterian missions funds through the Board).
“Other noted ‘Modernists’ whose works are published by the C.L.S. are Fosdick and Kagawa,” Dr. Dodd continued. “A recent book of the latter so published is on the religious education of children. As usual in his books he therein freely expresses his convictions that the Old Testament has a large legendary element which is therefore historically untrustworthy.”
Testimony Of Chancellor Arie Kok
Chancellor Kok, of the Netherlands Legation in Peiping, in writing of Modernism in the Northern Presbyterian missions work in China, stated: “More than twenty years of close observation in different parts of China have established the fact beyond any shadow of a doubt that all types of Presbyterian missionaries ranging from strong conservatives to rank modernists have arrived on the field, being accepted and sent out by the Board (of Foreign Missions)”.
In the January-March 1932 issue of “The China Fundamentalist,” published in Shanghai, Chancellor Kok wrote an article about the latest campaign in China of Dr. Sherwood Eddy, “a well known modernist, socialist, advocate of birth control and Soviet sympathizer,” and he sent Dr. Machen a copy of that article.
In this article Chancellor Kok had remarked: “The Y.M.C.A. platforms everywhere were, of course, open to him (Dr. Eddy) . . . Representatives of other national organizations, in particular the National Christian Council of China, have been co-operating whole-heartedly … It goes without saying that liberal missionary institutions of the Yenching University type were most eager to have him address their student body” (the National Christian Council of China and Yenching University received financial support from the Northern Presbyterian Church Board of Foreign Missions).
“Who,’ continued Chancellor Kok, “is Dr. Eddy? He is best known as a Y.M.C.A. man . . . From the great mass of material which throws light on Dr. Eddy’s religious and other views, it is only possible to select a few of the most striking passages:
‘Too long has the Bible been set up as a text book of law, science and everything else, and Christians have paid a bitter price for trying to keep it as such,’ declared Sherwood Eddy … to three thousand students and others meeting at … church. ‘There has been a conspiracy of silence,’ he declared. ‘If you try to make that book infallible in all matters the world is doomed. I won’t have thousands of young people lose their faith because it is demanded that they accept some antiquated dogma derived from it … Such controversial matters as the virgin birth, blood atonement, bodily resurrection can well be dispensed with. They may be believed in or discredited individually, and no difference made.’
“The modernists’ strongholds are the schools,” Chancellor Kok narrated, “Here they are entrenched and it is here that children of the Chinese Christians and outsiders are initiated into the first principles of Modernism. The results are often most disastrous . . . The plain undeniable fact is that the Yengching University has been steadily drifting away towards the extreme left of theological thought, a point where it stands today … In the years 1926 and 1927 it was known in Peiping that the Yenching University harboured teachers, who were in full sympathy with the Soviet Revolution, and who advocated Soviet ideas among the students. Propaganda was carried on in an underhand way
until, in December, 1927, they came out in the open by publishing a monthly paper . . . The Editors were actually living on the grounds of the Yenching University, where the paper was both edited and issued. Only the printing was done on the outside.”
Dr. Machen’s Overture And The General Assembly
By means of his Overture and the Argument supporting it, extracts from which we have examined, it is clear that Modernism was flourishing in the Foreign Mission Board’s activities, and Dr. Machen made this fact widely known before he presented his Overture to the Presbytery of New Brunswick in the early part of 1933.
Then Dr. Machen introduced into that Presbytery his Overture supported by his carefully documented Argument. What did the Presbytery do with his Overture? After listening to Dr. Machen speak at great length in support of his Overture, that Presbytery by a large majority refused to send it to the General Assembly!
But from other Presbyteries his Overture reached the General Assembly of 1933, where it was referred to the General Assembly’s Standing Committee on Foreign Missions. What did the Standing Committee on Foreign Missions do, after permitting Dr. Machen to present his evidence before it at great length? By a vote of 43 to 2, that Committee reported unfavorably on the Overture, and expressed its confidence in the Board of Foreign Missions! By an almost unanimous vote the General Assembly approved that Committee’s report!
Thus it was clearly called to the attention of the General Assembly that Modernism was being supported in the mission work of the Board of Foreign Missions, and the General Assembly refused to do anything at all about the matter!
The Independent Board For Presbyterian Foreign Missions Is Organized
After it had become clear that the General Assembly did not intend to correct the deplorable situation in the foreign missions work, Dr. Machen and others of like mind set about at the close of 1933 to organize an Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. They declared that it would support only missionaries who were fully orthodox in their beliefs and that it would lend support to no missionary enterprise which tolerated Modernism.
Here, at last, was an agency through which Bible-believing Christians in the Northern Presbyterian Church could give their funds with an untroubled mind. They knew that none of the money given through this new Independent Board would ever be used to help Modernism flourish in the foreign missions field.
Now what was the reaction of the Northern Presbyterian Church to the establishing of this new Independent Board?
The answer to that question is a very simple one: because of that new Mission Board the Northern Presbyterian Church kicked Dr. Machen out of its ministry!
(Concluded in the Next Issue)