October 2017

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Remembering the Five Solas of the Reformation
by Rev. Caleb Cangelosi
[used by permission]

It’s easy to be what C. S. Lewis called a “chronological snob,” only caring about our own time period and ignoring the wisdom of those who lived before us. This particular illness probably afflicts us more than it did Lewis’ contemporaries in the middle of the twentieth century, because we live in the digital age, in which new versions of software and hardware come out nearly every year and render the older versions obsolete. Would anyone want to buy an Apple 2E from the eighties? Of course not. But is it the case that God’s truth needs to be updated as frequently as we update our technologies? On the contrary. The truth of God’s word remains the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet it can be lost or forgotten.

Such was the case in the centuries leading up to what became known as the Protestant Reformation. During the Middle Ages, the freeness of God’s grace and salvation through faith in Christ alone increasingly became shrouded by an emphasis upon human merit and penitential works; the Scriptures were lost to the people of God and trumped by the authority of the bureaucratic church hierarchy; worship lost its biblical simplicity and became filled with idolatry and superstition; and the truth of the priesthood of all believers and divine blessing upon every lawful calling was swallowed up by a secular-sacred distinction of unbiblical proportions.

Into such a world the Lord sent godly shepherds to set things right; a few here and there in the 1300s and 1400s (John Wycliffe, John Hus, Savanorola), and a whole slew of them in the 1500s. Martin Luther was the primary catalyst, and it is his actions that “Reformation Day” recalls – nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, was not an act of vandalism, but a call for an academic debate over the matter of indulgences (Luther’s theses were written in Latin, the language of scholars, and church doors served as bulletin boards in his day). Luther’s carpentry work turned out to be an act of revolution as well, because it was a catalyst for a great movement of God’s Spirit among the church. His labors, along with those of men like John Calvin, Martin Bucer, Ulrich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, and John Knox (plus many more lesser known figures all over Europe), set the church on an entirely new course, recovering to the people of God both the word of God and the gospel of God.

On this 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we celebrate the fact that the Reformers restored the word of God to the people of God. The Scriptures had been lost under heaps of unbiblical traditions, and only the priests had access to them. It wouldn’t have mattered if the common man had gotten his hands on a Bible anyway, as it was written in Latin, which only a few could read. So the Reformers set about to translate the Bible into the language of the people, and (thanks to Mr. Johann Gutenberg’s invention of the movable-type printing press in 1450) to get the Bibles into the homes of the people. Now Christians were free to be Bereans, comparing what they heard preached and taught to what was actually written (see Acts 17:11). The rallying cry of “Scripture alone!” (sola Scriptura) declared that the Bible was the only inherently authoritative norm for doctrine and practice. The Reformers discarded the accretions of manmade religion, and brought the church back to its Scriptural roots.

Second, the Reformers restored the gospel of God to the people of God. Obviously, as the church had lost the Bible, she had lost the message of salvation that the Bible taught. Grace had been replaced by merit, faith had been replaced by works, the finished work of Christ on the cross had been replaced by the continuing sacrifice of the Mass, dying and being with Jesus had been replaced by dying and going to purgatory for continued punishment from sin.

These matters came to a head when Johann Tetzel came to Luther’s town selling “indulgences.” An indulgence was essentially salvation for sale – by buying an indulgence, you could lessen the time you spent in purgatory suffering for your sins, or even help get your deceased relatives out of purgatory. As Tetzel cried out, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs!” Luther’s 95 Theses denounced the evil of these indulgences, which were being sold to raise money for St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. The Roman Catholic Church’s false gospel was explained fully in its Council of Trent (1545-1563): God declared men righteous (He justified them) only if they wereactually righteous in and of themselves; salvation was on the basis of works such as confession, penance, rote prayers, and the sacraments. Throughout Europe the Reformers began to write against these errors. They exclaimed, “No! Salvation is sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (through faith alone), and solus Christus (in Christ alone)! God declares sinners righteous through faith alone, on the basis of what Jesus has done in His sinless life and death as a substitute for His people. Do not steal glory from the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Priest men need to make them acceptable before God!”

As the Reformers restored to the people of God both the Word of God and the gospel of God, they were bringing back the glorious truth of the priesthood of all believers. All believers can read and interpret the Word of God, for the Holy Spirit dwells within them and enlightens their minds to understand the Word. All believers in Jesus Christ have direct access to the Father through the Son, without need of a human intermediary. And all believers serve the Lord God in whatever lawful calling God has given them; it’s not just the priests and monks and nuns who are doing “spiritual” work.

These truths are worth remembering and worth preserving, because they are at the heart of the gospel of our God and Savior. Christians of all people must never succumb to the worldview of Henry Ford, who declared, “History is bunk.” Rather, we know that there are a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we run the race of faith, men and women who have gone before us, who have much to teach us, and who suffered so that we might be free. I pray it will never be said of the saints at Pear Orchard Presbyterian Church that we neglected or forgot history, for it is His story; indeed, He is still writing it through us. May He continue to reform His church, and keep us firm in His truth.

Rights of Particular Churches in Relation to the Denomination and its Courts.

This day, October 30, marks the anniversary of the organizational meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Presbytery (PCA). As you will remember, the denomination itself did not meet in General Assembly until December 4-7 of 1973. However, several Presbyteries were formed in advance of the official founding of the denomination. The first of these, as evidenced by its name, was the Vanguard Presbytery, organized on September 7, 1972. The churches comprising Vanguard Presbytery eventually merged into other Presbyteries and Vanguard was dissolved in March of 1977. In addition to Vanguard, there were another thirteen Presbyteries organized in advance of the official founding of the PCA. Mid-Atlantic Presbytery was the last to organize prior to the First General Assembly

1.    Warrior – 13 February 1973
2.    Gulf Coast – 10 April 1973
3.    Westminster – 10 April 1973
4.    Central Georgia – 30 May 1973
5.    North Georgia – 2 June 1973 [dissolved by division and continued by Metro Atlanta Presbytery]
6.    Southern Florida – 4 Jun3 1973
7.    Covenant – 18 June 1973
8.    Calvary – 1 July 1973
9.    Grace – 17 July 1973
10.  Mississippi Valley – 19 July 1973
11.  Texas – 31 July 1973 – [dissolved by division and continued by North Texas Presbytery]
12.  Evangel – 5 August 1973
13.  Mid-Atlantic – 30 October 1973 – [dissolved by division and continued by James River Presbytery]

As these Presbyteries and their churches organized, they met as Presbyteries of “The Continuing Presbyterian Church,” that being the working name of the new denomination prior to its official organization. What follows are a few highlights from the Minutes of the organizational meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Presbytery:—

WHEREAS, we, the undersigned, are agreed that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice; and,

WHEREAS, we are agreed that the Westminster Confession of Faith (in the edition published in 1973 by the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church) and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms set forth the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and

WHEREAS, we are agreed that the mission of the Church has been given her by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and is to make disciples of all nations and to teach them all things whatsoever He has commanded; and,

WHEREAS, The Book of Church Order (in the revised 1933 edition published in 1973 by the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church) sets forth a reasonable and practical formulary for church organization (although we do not regard the quota of three ministers necessary for a quorum of presbytery to be in effect until there are at least four minister members of our presbytery); and,

WHEREAS, the appended statement “Rights of Particular Churches in Relation to the Denomination and Its Courts” is adopted by us as setting forth priniciples of Presbyterian government essential to our agreement, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED,

1.    That we, the undersigned, to covenant together to form an association to be known as Mid-Atlantic Presbytery; and,
2.    That this association shall have as its purpose to perpetuate the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as it is proclaimed in the Scriptures and declared in the Westminster standards; and,
3.    That we, the undersigned, met in Hopewell, Virginia at 11:00 A.M. on October 30, 1973.

mid-atlantic_1973

Rights of Particular Churches in Relation to the Denomination and its Courts.
a. The corporation of a particular church, through its duly elected trustees or corporation officers, (or, if unincorporated, through those who are entitled to represent the particular church in matters related to real property) shall have sold title to its real property, and shall be sole owner of any equity it may have in any real estate. No superior court, as such, shall have any claim whatsoever upon any real property or any equity in any real estate, or any fund or property of any kind by or belonging to any particular church, or any board, society, committee, Sunday School, class or branch thereof. The superior courts of the church may receive monies or properties from a local church only by free and voluntary action of the latter.

b. All particular churches shall be entitled to hold, own, and enjoy their own local properties, without any right of revision whatsoever to any presbytery, synod, or any other courts hereafter created, its trustees or other— officers.

c. The provisions of this chapter are to be construed as a solemn covenant whereby the Church as a whole promises never to attempt to secure possession of the property of any congregation against its will, whether or not such congregation remains within or chooses to withdraw from its body. All officers and courts of the Church are hereby prohibited from making any such attempt. The intent of the provisions of this section are unamendable and irrevocable.

d. Particular churches need remain in association with Presbytery, synod, or any other courts hereafter created, only so long as they themselves so desire. The relationship is voluntary, based only upon mutual love and confidence, and is in no sense to be maintained by the exercise of any kind of force or coercion whatsoever. A particular church may withdraw from its presbytery, synod, or any other court hereafter created, at any time for reasons which seem to it sufficient, by orderly ballot at a legal meeting of its congregation or corporation. A simple majority of those present and voting shall decide the issue.
———

With some further changes, the principles of the above text was subsequently incorporated into the Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, as part of BCO Chapter 25.

A Question to Ponder:
While the above provision is a wise one, can you offer a Scriptural defense for this provision? (I’m seeking wiser minds here)

STUDIES IN THE WESTMINSTER SHORTER CATECHISM
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

Q. 33. — What is justification?

A. — Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ. imputed to us, and received by faith alone.

Scripture References: Eph. 1:7; II Cor. 5:19, 21; Rom. 4:5; Rom. 3:22, 24, 25; Rom. 5:17-19; Rom. 5:1; Act. 10:43; Gal. 2:16.

Questions:

1. What does the word “justify” mean in the New Testament?

The word means “to deem to be right” in the New Testament. It signifies two things: (1) to show to be right or righteous; (2) to declare to be righteous.

2.
Who is the author of our justification?

God is the author of our justification. In this Question we have the first of a series in which the words “an act of God’s free grace” is used. We are justified freely through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The grace of God is the deepest ground and final cause of our justification.

3.
What are the two parts to justification?

The two parts are: (1) the pardoning of our sins; (2) the accepting us as righteous in his sight.

4.
What two great truths are present in these two parts?

The first truth is that the pardoning of our sins is a continued act. (See Calvin on John 1:29). All our sins are forgiven. The second truth is that we are not only pardoned but our Lord does not abhor us but accepts us as righteous.

5.
How is it possible that he accepts us as righteous?

It is possible for him to accept us as righteous because his righteousness is made ours by imputation. (Rom. 4:6).

6. What is imputation and how does it apply to us?

Imputation is God’s act of reckoning righteousness or guilt to a person’s credit or debit. It is as if we had obeyed the law and had satisfied justice.

7. How are we justified?

We are justified purely by faith without any kind of work beings involved.

JUSTIFICATION – FAITH AND WORKS

In the Epistles of Paul, the Apostle tells us time and time again that we are justified freely by the grace of God. A. A. Hodge tells us, “It (Justification) is ‘in the name of Christ,’ I Cor. 6:11; ‘by his blood,’ Rom. 5:9; ‘freely,’: ‘by his grace,’ ‘by faith.’ Rom. 3:24, 28.” And yet so many times the argument is presented, “James stated: ‘Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.’ (James 2:24) How can both Paul and James be right?”

It is true that both Paul and James are right. The apostle Paul affirms and proves by many arguments that justification is by faith, faith in the object of Christ and his righteousness. Paul affirms and proves that it is by faith and without works. Paul goes on to prove that instead of our being justified by good works, the works are only possible to us in that new relationship to God into which we are introduced by justification.

James does not treat the matter of justification by faith in the chapter cited above. He is treating the very important matter of what relationship the good works of the believer have to be a genuine faith. James is simply saying that a genuine faith, which A. A. Hodge calls “the instrumental cause of justification”, will produce a living faith, a faith with works. An old divine used to say, “Faith justifies our persons, but works justify our faith, and declares us to be justified before men, who cannot see nor know our faith but by our works.”

Combining Paul and James the believer has two important truths:
(1) Justification by faith includes two wonderful elements, both freely bestowed upon the believer by God. The first is remission of sIns and the second, restoration to divine favor.
(2) Because we are justified by faith the justification will always be accompanied with sanctification, without which our justification cannot be true.

Two verses that combine the above two truths, and two verses that would help the believer greatly, are Philippians 3:8,9. Commit them to memory and pray that they will be living and vital in the life, all to His glory!

Published By: THE SHIELD and SWORD, INC.
Vol 3 No. 33 (September 1963)
Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn, Editor

Daylight Provisions for the Court

I found this interesting: Three denominations—the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES)—each looking back in common heritage to the modernist controversy of the 1930s—retain virtually identical wording in their respective Books of Discipline:

“The judicatories of the church shall ordinarily sit with open doors. In every case involving a charge of heresy the judicatory shall be without power to sit with closed doors. In other cases, where the ends of the discipline seem to require it, the trial judicatory at any stage of the trial may determine by a vote of three-fourths of the members present to sit with closed doors.”

[The BPC was a split from the OPC, and RPCES descended in part from the BPC, so those connections explain their retention of this provision. The BPC & RPCES editions have simpler language, with “court(s)” instead of “judicatory(ies)”.  And the RPCES of course is now dissolved, having merged in with the PCA in 1982.]

How did these denominations come to have such a provision, when none of the other Presbyterian denominations in the United States have anything similar?

Well, to review American Presbyterian history, the PCUSA Rules of Process simply did not speak to this issue, at least until 1880. It was at that time that the Presbytery of Northumberland brought Overture 2 before the General Assembly, speaking “in regard to the disorder often occasioned at ecclesiastical trials by the presence of large numbers of spectators.” The Assembly’s Committee on Bills and Overtures then brought the following recommendation in its report:

Resolved, That the General Assembly recommend to its subordinate judicatories, that, before entering upon judicial process, they carefully determine what degree of privacy or publicity in the proceedings would be most conducive to the ends of justice, the peace of the church, and the spiritual benefit of the person tried.

Eventually this resolution was finalized in the PCUSA Book of Discipline under Chapter V, §18 thus:

In all cases of judicial process, the judicatory or judicial commission may at any stage of the trial, determine, by a vote of two thirds of the members present, to sit with closed doors.

This was the text that was in force in the 1930s when the PCUSA declared unconstitutional any involvement with parachurch missions agencies. The enforcement of that declaration led to the ecclesiastical trials of Drs. J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Harold S. Laird, and several others.

By contrast, the Presbyterian Church in America to this day has no provision similar to that of the OPC and the BPC. The PCA initially based its Book of Church Order (BCO) on the 1933 edition of the Presbyterian Church, U.S (aka, Southern Presbyterian) BCO, and in this particular matter the PCUS BCO still reflected the pre-1880 PCUSA Rules of Process. In other words, the matter simply did not come up.

So much for background. But when we seek to explain how this provision comes into the OPC Book of Church Order [and subsequently into the BPC’s Book], two theories come to mind. Access to the OPC Archives would be helpful here, but perhaps another day for that search.

The first theory will take some further research and will only be briefly mentioned. Namely, that the provision enacted in 1880 in the PCUSA set the stage for some of the problems that ensued in the heresy trials of Briggs, Smith and McGiffert in the 1880’s and 1890’s. To explore that theory would require an examination of the trial record and news coverage for each of these trials.

The other theory has more appeal, at least for its sense of immediacy. When the OPC was formed, recent events were still fresh in the everyone’s memory. Machen had been defrocked for his involvement with the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions [IBPFM]. So also were J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Carl McIntire, Harold S. Laird, and several lay members of the Church.

When Dr. Machen was cited to appear for the trial in February of 1935, it became clear that the Special Judicial Commission intended to bar the public from observing the trial. Machen strongly protested against a secret trial and the Commission then relented and allowed the public to attend. That was one memory.

But later that same year, a more egregious action occurred during the trial of two IBPFM lay members, Mary W. Steward and Murray F. Thompson. A news account published in the Philadelphia Bulletin tells the story:

TWO FIGHT SECRET TRIALS BY CHURCH

Oppose Presbyterian Hearing Behind Locked Doors On Fundamentalist Charge.

FACE CONTEMPT THREAT.

Efforts to keep the proceedings secret have added new complications to the disobedience trial of two lay members of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. The new development arose last night at a session in Hollond Memorial Presbyterian Church, Broad and Federal sts., after the defendants and their counsel rebelled against the secrecy ruling, made by the trial board.

As a result the accused face threats of being adjudged “in contempt of this court of Jesus Christ,” and possible “suspension from the Communion of the Presbyterian Church,” in addition to the original charges. Their defenders are facing disqualification.

The defendants are Miss Mary W. Stewart, 1216 S. Broad St., a teacher in the William Penn High School and Murray F. Thompson, an attorney, of 6810 McCallum st. They are on trial for “contempt and rebellion” and “breach of the law of the church,” because they refused to comply with an order of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the U. S. A. to resign from the Independent Mission Board, which is supported by the fundamentalist element.

The trial board is composed of eight elders of the church, with the Rev. George A. Avery, of the Hope Presbyterian Church, presiding as moderator.

The first session of the trial was held two weeks ago in the Hollond Church. Spectators heard the proceedings from the choir loft. Last night the proceedings were removed to the Sunday school room on the advice of the prosecutor, W. E. Burtes, who is also the sexton. There’s no choir loft there. In addition, to insure secrecy, Robert Crowe was stationed at the door to see that nobody got in.

Even Thompson’s wife was kept out. “This is an outrage,” she said. “If he were on trial in a criminal court I’d be allowed to take my place with him.”

The Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, chief counsel for the defendants and editor of the new fundamentalist publication, “The Presbyterian Guardian,” was even stronger in his protest. “This is like the days of the Spanish inquisition,” he said.

The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, professor in the Westminster Theological Seminary, and assistant counsel, declared: “There is no justification in the church constitution for this action. This injunction is extraordinary. Court proceedings ought to be open and above board. That right is accorded the most degraded criminals under our civil laws. “If men are deprived of it in church courts, that means that the church is standing on a lower moral plane than the world at large. Religion will seem to many people to be little more than a delusion and a sham when it is made the cloak for tyranny such as this.”

Dr. Machen himself has been found guilty of violating the assembly’s order.

The trial was adjourned until October 28 after it was discovered there were technical errors in the citation of witnesses.

So our second theory rests on the sense of outrage that must have persisted in many minds. The problem with this theory is that the OPC provision specifically speaks to trials for heresy and I don’t think the IBPFM trials fell into that category.

All very curious when examined.


[News clipping taken from one of the scrapbooks of the Rev. Henry G. Welbon]

Feeling and willing, which are not determined and guided by knowledge are dangerous, and may become insanity. The knowledge of God and His Holy Will is revealed to us in the Scriptures, and we are commanded to search them diligently. Failure here means ignorance and great evil.


Again we cut loose from the moorings of the calendar, but again, only because this seems too important. The depth of our ignorance in the present day is appalling, and the evidence of that lack is everywhere around us. Widespread corruption in government and business are but two examples.

Serious Doctrinal Decline

The following timely and impressive statement is quoted from the volume, entitled What Is Faith? By Dr. J. Gresham Machen. We quote it because it states concisely a threatening danger to intelligence and faith, and in order that people generally may take notice of it:

“Theological students come for the most part from Christian homes; indeed, in very considerable proportion they are the children of the manse. Yet when they have finished college and enter the theological seminary, many of them are quite ignorant of the simple contents of the English Bible.

“The sad thing is that it is not chiefly the student’s fault. These students, many of them, are sons of ministers, and by their deficiencies they reveal the fact that the ministers of the present day are not only substituting exhortation for instruction, ethics for theology, in their preaching; but are even neglecting the education of their own children. The lamentable fact is that the Christian home, as an educational institution, has largely ceased to function.

“Certainly that fact serves to explain to a considerable extent the growth of ignorance in the Church. But the explanation itself requires an explanation; so far we have only succeeded in pushing the problem farther back. The ignorance of the Church is explained by the failure of the family as an educational institution; but what in turn explains that failure? Why is it that Christian parents have neglected the instruction of their children; why is it that preaching has ceased to be educational and doctrinal; why is it that even Sabbath-school and Bible classes have come to consider solely applications of Christianity without studying the Christianity which is to be applied? These questions take us into the very heart of the situation; the growth of ignorance in the Church, the growth of indifference with regard to the simple facts recorded in the Bible, all goes back to a great spiritual movement, really skeptical in its tendency, which has been going forward during the last hundred years—a movement which appears not only in philosophers and theologians such as Kant and Schleiermacher and Ritschl, but also in a widespread attitude of plain men and women throughout the world. The depreciation of the intellect with the exaltation in the place of it of the feelings or of the will, is, we think, a basic fact in modern life, which is rapidly leading to a condition in modern life, in which men neither know anything nor care anything about the doctrinal content of the Christian religion, and in which there is a general lamentable decline.”

Feeling and willing, which are not determined and guided by knowledge are dangerous, and may become insanity. The knowledge of God and His Holy Will is revealed to us in the Scriptures, and we are commanded to search them diligently. Failure here means ignorance and great evil.

[excerpted from The Presbyterian and Herald and Presbyter, 18 March 1926, page 7. The author of this brief editorial would have been either David S. Kennedy or Samuel G. Craig, both men serving as editors at that time. Rev. Craig later went on to found the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company in 1930.]

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