First General Assembly

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They Had No Manual, but a New Presbyterian Church was Born.

Gathering in Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, were teaching and ruling elders ready to begin a new Presbyterian denomination.  Their date of gathering, or organization, was December 4, 1973, as date consciously chosen with an eye to the past. They began this new Reformed church on the same day and month as the organization date for the mother church that they were leaving, the Presbyterian Church, U.S., commonly known in those years as the Southern Presbyterian Church. That denomination had begun on December 4, 1861 as the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America. Later, that name was changed to the Presbyterian Church in the United States, after the War between the States.

In choosing to organize the new denomination on that anniversary date, the new denomination was making a statement, laying claim as the faithful continuing church, the remnant leaving behind the unfaithful or disobedient. In fact, the Continuing Presbyterian Church was the name that they first gathered under in the years and months leading up to their official organization. That they did not desire to continue as yet another regional church was evidenced by the name they chose for the new denomination, the National Presbyterian Church (though a year later, that name was changed to the Presbyterian Church in America).

Reformed men were obviously interested in reforming the church. And so ever since it was clearly discovered that the Presbyterian Church in the United States had apostatized with no hope to bring it back to its historic roots, men and women had been praying and working, and working and praying, for this historic occasion. Ruling Elder W. Jack Williamson was chosen as the first moderator, with Dr. Morton Smith elected as Stated Clerk.  Ministries then in planning and those already exercised in action, came together in rapid fashion: Mission to the World, Mission to the United States, Christian Education and Publications were organized by the delegates.  With godly and wise coordinators to lead them, the work began to raise up a church faithful to the Scriptures, true to the Reformed Faith, and obedient to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.

 Photo from the First General Assembly in 1973, with W. Jack Williamson at the podium, and Rev. Frank Barker seated, at the right.

Words to live by:  There is usually great excitement over a new birth in a family.  And so there was great excitement over the birth of a new denomination. Southern conservative Presbyterians had gone through many of the same struggles that Northern conservative Presbyterians endured just a few decades earlier. In both cases, the Church had been hijacked by the liberals. But godly men and women stood for the faith once delivered  unto the saints, and wouldn’t let historical attachments hold them captive to a decaying visible church. They voted with their feet and came out and were now separate. Praise God for their obedience to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.

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On this day, Neovember 20: 

janeway_sm021774 — Birth of Jacob Jones Janeway, in the city of New York, the eldest child of George and Effie (Ten Eyck) Janeway. The year 1797 found the young man diligent in the use of the means of grace, and seeking growth in the divine life. “In reviewing my conduct, I felt that my sins were pardoned. In the morning exercise, on Monday, I was somewhat earnest in pleading with God. Towards the end of the week too much absorbed in study.” “This week my soul has been somewhat refreshed. I see that my heart is deceitful and easily ensnared by the world. Though we depart from God in our affections, yet if we strive to return he will accept and help us. Remember, O my soul, the exhortation, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure. To this end I must be circumspect in my conduct, diligent and active.”

alexander_jw_sm1849 — Inauguration of the Rev. James W. Alexander, D.D., as professor of ecclesiastical history and church government in the theological seminary at Princeton. Born near Gordonsville, Virginia, in 1804, the eldest son of Archibald Alexander, James was raised in a household filled with theological giants of the faith. His father was the president of Hampden-Sydney College at that time. But by the time that schooling had begun for James, his father had taken the pulpit of the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1807. Then in 1812, as the new seminary called Princeton began in New Jersey, the Alexander family moved there and Archibald Alexander became the first professor of that new divinity school. Young James graduated from the College of New Jersey in 1820. And while he studied theology at Princeton Seminary from 1822–1824, he would not be ordained by the historic Hanover Presbytery until 1827, having first served about three years as a tutor. He died on July 31, 1859.

league1925 — The First Annual Conference of the League of Evangelical Students was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, November 20-24, 1925. At this conference nineteen schools were represented, eleven theological seminaries and eight Bible schools, and these represented student bodies from Texas to Canada and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Conference, with its keynote on unswerving loyalty to the Bible as the only authoritative rule of faith and practice, was held on the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary and Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke on the theme, “The Church’s Historic Fight against Modernism from Within.” An early 20th-century campus ministry, the League ran its course in a brief fifteen years, overtaken by the wider appeal of InterVarsity.

Harold Samuel Laird1936 — The Rev. Harold S. Laird, pastor of the First Independent Church, Wilmington, was elected president of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions [IBPFM], succeeding the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dr. Machen had also retired that same year as Moderator of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The IBPFM had been organized in 1933 in response to the failure of the PCUSA to remove modernists from the foreign mission field. In reaction, the PCUSA’s General Assembly had, in 1934, issued a “Mandate” forbidding PCUSA ministers and laity from involvement with the IPBFM. Their refusal to step down from their participation with the IBPFM led to Machen and about a dozen others being defrocked or otherwise kicked out of the denomination.

soltau_addison_sm021952 — Addison Soltau was ordained on this day in 1952 and installed as pastor of the First Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Memphia, Tennessee. Born in Seoul, Korea, the son of missionary parents T. Stanley and Mary Cross (Campbell) Soltau, Addison came from a long and illustrious line of noteworthy Christians. He graduated from Wheaton College in 1949 and prepared for the ministry at Faith Theological Seminary, later earning a Th.M. degree from Calvin Seminary in 1966 and the Th.D. from Concordia Seminary in 1982. Leaving his pulpit in Tennessee, he labored as a missionary in Japan from 1953-1970, served as a professor at Reformed Bible College and at Covenant Theological Seminary, and has, since 1989, served on the pastoral staff of several churches in Florida. He is currently an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Coral Springs, in Margate, Florida.

Words to Live By:
I suppose we could simply have stretched out the events of this twentieth day of November into the next six years with the six posts listed above, but it seemed good to explore some of the notable events and people for this date all at once. In that way, we behold the Lord’s providence of sovereignly governing both good and bad events on this day in Presbyterian history. James reminds us of the significance of one day when he asks and answers, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 1:14, ESVOpen in Logos Bible Software (if available)) To be sure, who among the people and events mentioned above ever wondered what else occurred on their day of November 20? That is why all of us need to take the words of James to heart when he wrote in verse 15, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15, ESV). Use this last biblical thought as a prayer today as you read this post, and venture out into your world.

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kerr_robertPAnd so our Saturday tours through
PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE ended last week. Apparently that book proved popular enough that its author, the Rev. Robert P. Kerr, was encouraged to expand the work and just five years later he published THE PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF PRESBYTERIANISM THROUGH ALL THE AGES (1888). For its summary nature, and for the benefit of the time line presented here at the end, we present today the final chapter of the latter book.
Rev. Kerr was born in 1850, began his ministerial career in 1873 as pastor of a church in Lexington, Missouri, and served churches in both the old Southern Presbyterian denomination [1873-1903] and in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. [1903-23]. Honorably retired and in ill health in 1915, he died on March 25, 1923.

CHAPTER XXVIII.

The Spirit of Presbyterianism.

We have followed the history of Presbyterianism through a course of many centuries; have looked upon its origin, development, sufferings, defeats and victories; and have taken a survey of its present condition and prospects. The attentive reader cannot fail to have seen that the spirit of Presbyterianism, as exemplified in its fruits, is that of the broadest catholicity as well as love of the truth.

Truth, and man, for God, is its motto. The tendency of its operations has been to liberate men from superstition, to give them a thirst for knowledge and for liberty. It is the mother of republicanism in church and state. America, and Great Britain with its world- encircling colonial system, would not have been what they are to-day but for Presbyterianism, in Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland and Scotland. Knowledge and liberty dwell together, and they have come largely from the influence in past ages, of that heaven- born principle of which this book is a history.

The world owes to Presbyterianism a debt it does not feel, and one it can never repay. Comparatively few of the millions of men who enjoy the inestimable blessings of civil and religious liberty care to inquire whence they came, or stop to think how different might have been their lot but for the sacrifices of those who lived long ago, and whose names are oft forgotten. But those who do study causes and effects in the affairs of men, and who follow trains of events back to their origin, will come to render honor where it is due. The philosophy of truth is written in the annals of mankind ; its principles are outlined forever in the profile of history; and there always will be seers who will interpret to men the lessons of the past. Therefore there is no danger that the great doctrines and polity that cluster around the Presbyterian name will ever be forgotten. We behold in the Presbyterian Church a glorious benefactor of mankind in all ages; but it is not enfeebled. It is stronger than ever. We believe that the future has for it as great a work as the past has had, and we sons of a noble church are proud of our mother.

Does the Presbyterian Church despise its sisters, or claim to be the only Church of Christ? No; if it did it would be a contradiction of its very genius and spirit. It acknowledges all God’s people as brothers, and all evangelical churches as equals, inviting their ministers into its pulpits, receiving them into our ministry without re-ordination, and welcoming their members to a communion table which it claims not as its own, but the sacred meeting place of all Christians for fellowship with one another, and with their common Lord. This book will have been written in vain if its perusal should foster a spirit of narrow sectarianism. But if it serve the purpose for which it is designed, it will tend to make Presbyterians who read it love their own church more, and at the same time look upon the world and all the church of God with a broader Christian sympathy.

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three—but the greatest of these is Charity.”

PRESBYTERIAN CHRONOLOGY.

A.D. 387. Augustine, pastor of Hippo, baptized.
1415.— John Huss burnt at Constance.
1536. — Calvin published his Institutes.
1560. — First General Assembly met at Edinburgh.
1564. — Death of John Calvin.
1572. — John Knox died.
1628. — First Reformed Church established in New Amsterdam (New York).
1638. — National Covenant signed in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh.
1643. — Westminster Assembly convened at the Abbey.
1648. — Confession of Faith and Catechisms sanctioned by Parliament.
1679. — Battle of Bothwell Bridge. Covenanters defeated.
1682. — Francis Makemie came to America, and settled in Maryland.
1685. — Revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
1688. — Restoration of Episcopal Church of England and Ireland.
1705. — First Presbytery organized at Philadelphia.
1706. — First recorded ordination to the ministry in United States, at Freehold, New Jersey; John Boyd the candidate.
1717. — The Synod of Philadelphia organized.
1727. — Log College, the mother of Princeton, founded.
1734. — Great awakening under Jonathan Edwards.
1739. — Movement headed by Whitefield.
1745. — Synod divided.
1758. — Synods of New York and Philadelphia reunited. End of Old Side/New Side schism.
1775. — Mechlenberg resolutions adopted.
1776. — John Witherspoon in Congress.
1788. — General Assembly organized.
1837. — The Church divided into two parts, called Old School and New School.
1861. — Separation of the Old School Church into Northern and Southern Divisions.
1869. — Reunion of New School and (Northern) Old School, at Pittsburgh, November 10th.
1875. — Organization of the Alliance of Reformed Churches throughout the world holding the Presbyterian System.

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Beginnings can be Interesting

Beginnings of anything can be interesting. This author once planted a mission church in a sizeable Midwest city. He had done all the preliminary preparation for the mission. Several families committed themselves to the endeavor. The first worship service was planned in a spacious worship center of an evangelical church, rented for the occasion. We all went with expectations of a good beginning, but only one family showed up for the beginning worship time.  It is true that God did some extraordinary things in the first six years of our ministry there. I rejoice that this established church is progressing ahead by means of being a mother church to several congregations.

In 1560, a Scottish Reformation Parliament abrogated and annulled the papal jurisdiction for Scottish churches, ending all the authority flowing from Rome.

This set the grounds for the establishment of the Church of Scotland that same year. Let W. M. Hetherington in his book “History of the Church of Scotland” pick up the account. He writes on page 53,

“They (the Reformation Parliament) enacted no ecclesiastical jurisdiction whatever in its stead. This it left the reformed Church to determine upon and effect by its own intrinsic powers. And this is a fact of the utmost it cannot be too well known and kept in remembrance. It is, indeed, one of the distinctive characteristics of the Church of Scotland, that it owes its origin, its form, its jurisdiction, and its discipline, to no earthly power. And when the ministers and elders of the church of Scotland resolved to meet in a General Assembly, to deliberate on matters, which might tend to the promotion of God’s glory and the welfare of the Church, they did so in virtue of the authority which they believed the Lord Jesus Christ had given to the Church. The parliament which abolished the papal jurisdiction made not the slightest mention of General Assembly. In that time of comparatively simple and honest faith, even statesmen seem instinctively to have perceived, that to interfere in matters of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, so as to appoint ecclesiastical tribunals, specify their nature, and assign their limits, was not within their province. It had been well for the kingdom if statesmen of succeeding times, certainly not their superiors in talent and in judgment, had been wise enough to follow their example.”

The first meeting of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland was held on this day, December 20, 1560. Forty delegates were in attendance. For that number, only six were ministers. They were John Knox (Edinburgh), Christophere Gudman (St. Andrews), John Row (Perth), David Lindesay (Leith), William Harlaw (St. Cuthberts), and William Christesone (Dundee). While their names, with the exception of Knox and possibly Row, are unknown to many of our readers, Hetherington remarks that “they were men of great abilities, of deep piety, fitted and qualified by their Creator for the work which He had given them to do.” (p. 53)

Words to Live By:
Not only had the Creator fitted and qualified them, but so had their Great Redeemer fitted and acquired them to raise up a Church faithful and true to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. It may have been small in man’s estimation at the beginning, but the Spirit of God judged it otherwise. He would bring the increase in His time. So be faithful, dear reader, in the place where God has planted you. Keep looking to Him, for He will accomplish His will through you, in the work and place where you have been planted to serve our Lord and Savior.

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As we are now upon the annual season when the various Presbyterian denominations typically meet in General Assembly, the following short post seems appropriate to repeat here. It is taken from an 1836 issue of THE CHARLESTON OBSERVER.

pcaga_1973Attendance and participation in the courts of the Church—those meetings of the Session, the Presbytery and the General Assembly—always involve some level of personal cost and expense for each attendee. For some the cost is greater than for others. This is one reason why the meetings of Presbytery and General Assembly move regularly from one location to another, so that inconveniences are averaged out over time for all the officers of the Court.

All of this is nothing new. There have always been those who questioned the expense, and perhaps not without good reason, each in his own situation. But as you will read, there are also good and compelling answers urging upon Commissioners their full participation at the Courts of the Church.

For The Charleston Observer.

Mr. Editor.—Is it my duty to travel between four and five hundred miles, at an expense of at least fifty dollars [at least a month’s wages in 1836], for the sole purpose of attending Synod, when in all probability its business would be as well conducted without as with my presence? And in so doing I should be necessarily absent from the people of my charge two, if not three Sabbaths?
—A Member of Synod.

REPLY.—We answer,
1. Should every member of Synod conclude from similar premises that it was not his duty to attend, there would be no meeting at the time and place appointed, and of course no business done.

2. One member frequently changes the entire complexion of a meeting; and no one has a right to suppose that his presence is a matter of indifference.

3. If the member can afford the expense it will be money well laid out, and if not, his people should aid him. The time occupied in going and returning, may often be profitably employed. The journey may be of advantage to his health. In conference with his brethren he may receive a new impulse in his Christian course, and be better prepared to  labor  with effect among his people on his return; so that neither he nor they will be losers by his absence.

4. When he was set apart to the work of the Ministry, he was expected to make many sacrifices for the good of the cause. And if his brethren to whom he has solemnly promised subjection in the Lord, did not regard attendance upon the Judicatories of the Church as important, they would not have exacted an apology or excuse for non-attendance.

5. Instances are exceedingly rare that a Minister has ever cause to regret the sacrifices which he has made in attending the Judicatories of the Church. On the contrary he most usually feels himself amply repaid for all the sacrifices which it has cost him.

6. The present crisis of the Church seems to demand more than ever a full attendance both of Ministers and Elders, cost what it may.

[With that last point, keep in mind that in 1836, the Old School/New School debate was raging in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and the momentous split of those two factions came a year later]

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, vol. 10, no. 39 (24 September 1836); 154, column 4.]

Image source: Photograph of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America [originally named the National Presbyterian Church, and renamed a year later.], meeting at the Briarwood Presbyterian Church, Birmingham, Alabama, December 4-7, 1973. The photograph is found as part of the Records of the Presbyterian Journal, Box 243, file 11, at the PCA Historical Center.

Tis The Season:
RCUS Synod met May 19-22 in Sutton, NE

URCNA Synod meets June 3-6 in Visalia, CA

OPC General Assembly meets June 4-10 in Grand Rapids, MI

ARP meets June 10-13 at the Bonclarken Camp and Conference Center, Flat Rock, NC

PCA General Assembly meets June 17-21 in Houston, TX

RPCNA Synod meets June 23-27 in Marion, IN at Indiana wesleyan University

 

 

 

 

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