November 1: “Re-Thinking Missions” (1932)

(“Exploring Avenues Of Acquaintance And Co-operation”)
By Chalmers W. Alexander

Jackson, Mississippi
[The Southern Presbyterian Journal 8.11 (1 October 1949): 13-18.]

We are presenting today a portion of a longer work by Chalmers W. Alexander, a very capable ruling elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi. In this portion presented today, he writes of the effort by modernists to drastically reconfigure the mission work of the Church.


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.

Re-Thinking Missions”

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.

Words to Live By:
The Church has one commission from her Lord and Savior, to faithfully declare the Gospel of salvation by Christ alone, through faith alone. When we fall away from that sacred obligation and duty, we suffer and the Church suffers.

“The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24-25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23-25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law, or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us…Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).”
—Martin Luther



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