Independent Board

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John Ulverstone Selwyn Toms
[26 October 1878 – 14 November 1973]
Excerpted from the Minutes of the Bible Presbyterian Synod, 1974, pp. 38-39.
A Memorial Resolution, #7. on the death of the Rev. U. Selwyn Toms was presented by the Rev. Morris McDonald. It was on motion adopted and reads:

The Rev. Mr. Toms went into the Lord’s presence on November 14, 1973, in his sleep, at the age of 95. Mr. Toms was born in 1878 in South Australia. He was graduated in the class of 1908 from Princeton Seminary, a classmate and friend of the late Dr. J. Gordon Holdcroft. Upon graduation he was licensed by the West Jersey Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. On October 27, 1908 he and his wife, Ella Sparks Burt, sailed for Korea to serve at Taegu and Seoul stations. They had three children, Robert, Burton and Elaine. Rev. Burton Toms was born in Seoul, Korea, and is at present serving the Lord under the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

Having returned from the mission field in 1923, due to the ill health of his wife, Mr. Toms served as pastor of the Thompson Memorial Church in Pennsylvania and after four years, as pastor at the Presbyterian Church of Woodstown, N.J., on July 31, 1936, Mr. Toms felt it was necessary to withdraw from the Presbytery due to un-Presbyterian actions.

Mr. Toms was elected to the Board of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions on May 31, 1937 and actively served until health prevented his attendance in 1966.

Mr. Toms was very strong in his stand against ecclesiastical apostasy and was active in the continuing succession to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. He became a member of the Presbyter¬ian Church of America and was elected stated clerk for the New Jersey Presbytery. When it was no longer possible to continue in fellowship with that body, he formed part of the commission for a Bible Presbyterian Synod. The first Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church was held in Collingswood, N.J. September 6-8, 1930, and Mr. Toms was elected its FIRST moderator, because of the all-important missionary issues included in the conflict with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

For many years he served as the faithful statistician of the Bible Presbyterian Church. Mr. and Mrs. Toms made their residence In Chattanooga, Tennessee, with their son Robert. Mrs. Toms had gone to be with the Lord in November, 1971. “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth; Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.” – Revelation 14:13.
Mr. Toms served as a faithful member of the Kentucky-Tennessee Presbytery for many years prior to going to his higher reward.

As per the OPC Ministerial Register (2011):
John Ulverstone Selwyn Toms was born in Waller, New South Wales, Australia, on 26 October 1878.
He married Ella Burt on 10 October 1905.
Children born to their marriage included Robert, Frederick, and Marian.
He was educated at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, graduating there in 1905 with the A.B. degree.
He prepared for ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, graduating in 1908 with the Th.B. degree and later returned to Princeton for the Th.M. degree, in 1924.
Rev. Toms was ordained by the Presbytery of West Jersey (PCUSA), on 2 July 1908.
From 1909-1923, he served as a evangelist in Korea under the auspices of the Board of Foreign Missions (PCUSA).
He was pastor of the Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Brownsburg, Pennsylvania, 1924-1928.
From 1928-1936, he was pastor of the PCUSA church in Woodtown, New Jersey.
Rev. Toms was received by the Presbytery of New Jersey (Presbyterian Church of America/Orthodox Presbyterian Church, on 8 September 1936, but later withdrew to become a founding member of the Bible Presbyterian Church, on 6 September 1938.
His date of death was 14 November 1973.

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The following account comes from the pages of Christianity Today [original series, published by Samuel Craig, 1930-49], recounting something of the opposition encountered by missionaries trying to be obedient to the Scriptures and faithful to God’s call. The case had been convincingly made that their denominational board was sending modernists and even unbelievers out onto the mission field. Rather than work in that context, an Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was begun, though almost immediately the denomination declared that involvement with this Independent Board was illegal and “unPresbyterian.” (this, despite the fact that the denomination itself had utilized independent agencies in the 19th-century.

The Rev. Henry W. Coray entered onto the mission field of China about 1935, under the auspices of the IBPFM, and labored there until the War forced he and other missionaries to return home. Stateside, Rev. Coray soon found a new calling as the organizing pastor of the Faith Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, California, and he labored in that pulpit until 1955, when called to establish a church in San Jose. Blessed with a long life, Rev. Coray entered into his eternal reward in 2002.

The Case of Mr. Coray

On November 12, 1934, the Presbytery of Lackawanna (Synod of Pennsylvania) without process voted to erase from its roll the name of the Rev. Henry Warner Coray [23 June 1904-20 October 2002], who was at that time already serving on the field in China as a missionary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM).

That action was taken because Mr. Coray went to China to preach the gospel without the consent of the Presbytery. The permission of the Presbytery was refused, as is plain from the action taken by the Presbytery at meeting on September 26, 1934, because Mr. Coray announced his intention of going to the foreign field under the appointment of the Independent Board. On September 26th the  Presbytery had decided to notify Mr. Coray of its intention to erase his name from the roll if he left “his field to labor under this so-called Board.” It should be noted that the report of the Presbyterial Council, which was adopted by the Presbytery, was presented by the Rev. Peter K. Emmons, a member of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.!

The report recited that its recommendations were made in view of the action of the General Assembly “condemning this so-called Board as a repudiation of the jurisdiction of the General Assembly and of those terms of fellowship and communion contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church.”

No charges were ever filed against Mr. Coray. He served his church with distinction and left it with the blessing of those to whom he ministered. Nevertheless he was expelled from the Church without a trial! Without making a technical examination of the action of the Presbytery, which was professedly taken in accordance with Chapter VII, Section 2 (b) of the Book of Discipline, we want to make one observation. If the Presbytery wished to raise the question whether Mr. Coray had the right to do as he did, it could have filed charges against him. In that event Mr. Coray would have had an opportunity to defend his conduct and to raise the pertinent question whether the Presbytery’s command was a lawful one. It has been well said that “Henry Coray’s name was erased from the roll of his Presbytery simply because he refused to lay down the call of God at the command of men . . . Had he gone out under the official Board the same Presbytery would doubtless have banqueted in his honor. But he goes out under the Independent Board. ‘You must preach the gospel to the heathen under our auspices,’ says the Presbytery in effect, ‘or you must stay at home.’ Henry Coray went and thereby deserves lasting honor.”

[Source: CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 5.9 (February 1935): 214-215.]

Words to Live By:
It matters not what the world says. It matters not what friends and family may say. It matters not what governments, princes, armies and magistrates may say. If contrary to the very Word of God, then we must stand firm upon the Scriptures, unmoved, looking to our only Lord and God, knowing that all truth resides with Him.

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The Strange Church Trial of a Spiritual Giant.

It all happened around seventy-seven years ago.  Back in March of 1935, Dr. J. Gresham Machen was before a church court of his peers seeking to defend himself against the serious charges of denying his ordination vows, disapproval of the government and discipline of the church, advocating a rebellious defiance against the lawful authority of the church, and we could go on and on in the charges leveled against this spiritual giant.  You would think that he was guilty of the most aggravated doctrinal error or moral shortcomings.  But in reality, it came down to a single issue—that of refusing to obey the 1934 mandate of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to cease and desist from supporting an independent board of missionaries, of which board he was the president.

The trial itself was a farce in every sense of the word.  Machen’s defense first tried to challenge certain members of the judicial commission itself as biased, seeking to have them recuse themselves, since at least two of these men had signed the theologically liberal Auburn affirmation.  That was denied.  Then the question of jurisdiction was argued, but that also was not sustained.

At the third session, upon hearing Dr. Machen declare himself “not guilty,” the Commission ruled that certain matters were out-of-bounds in the arguments of the defense case.  Those included questions which surrounded the existence of the Auburn Affirmation, signed in 1924.  They next ruled out any question concerning the nature and conduct of the official Board of Foreign Missions, which had prompted much of the problem when it gave its endorsement to the book entitled Rethinking Missions.  Further, arguments stemming from the reorganization of Princeton Seminary and the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary were also outlawed by the commission.  All of these were part and parcel of Dr. Machen’s defense, since they provided the background of the origin of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

All these rulings paled into insignificance, so to speak, however, when we consider the last ruling of the judicial commission.  It stated that the legality of the Thirty-Fourth General Assembly’s Mandate for the ministers, members, and churches to cease supporting the Independent Board and only support the official Board of Foreign Missions could not be questioned.

It was obvious that with all of these rulings, that there was only one verdict which could come forth from this judicial commission, and that was guilty.  And so on this date, March 29, 1935, the judgment of “Guilty” was rendered by this seven member Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.   Appeals to the higher courts were in vain, and J. Gresham Machen was suspended by the church.

Words to Live By:  In whatever issue which confronts us inside or outside the church, we must remember that God is Lord alone of our conscience, with the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments the  only infallible guide of faith and life.   Let us hold to those, not fearing what man can do to us.

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A Stirring Confession of Faith

machen02On Sunday evening, March 17, 1935, Dr. J. Gresham Machen filled the pulpit of the  First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This time period was in the framework of being under indictment for refusing to cease and desist from the support of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Mission, as the Mandate from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA, had stated in 1934. His ordination was thus at stake. His standing in that denomination was at stake. Listen to his profession of faith given on that evening.

“My profession of faith is simply that I know nothing of the Christ proclaimed, through the Auburn Affirmation. I know nothing of a Christ who is presented to us in a human book containing errors, but know only a Christ presented in a divine book, the Bible which is true from beginning to end.  I know nothing of a Christ who possibly was and possibly was not born of a virgin, but know only a Christ who was truly conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not work miracles, but know only a Christ who said to the winds and the waves, with the sovereign voice of the Maker and Ruler of all nature, ‘Peace be still.’  I know nothing of a Christ who possible  did and possibly did not come out of the tomb on the first Easter morning, but know only a Christ who triumphed over sin and the grave and is living now in His glorified body until He shall come again and I shall see Him with my very eyes. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not die as my substitute on the cross, but know only a Christ who took upon Himself the just punishment of my sins and died there in my stead to make it right with the holy God.”

Despite what the ecclesiastical machinery of the Presbyterian Church would do, Dr. Machen’s conviction was settled.  He ended it all by stating that he would “rather be condemned for an honest adherence to the Bible and to my solemn ordination pledge than enjoy the highest ecclesiastical honors and emoluments as the reward of dishonesty.”

Words to Live By: Can you echo the words of J. Gresham Machen today? Today the attacks continue upon both the written and living Word. Let us affirm this confession today—for the Word of God is true, though all men stand in error—until God takes us home.

For further study:
To read the full message delivered by Dr. J. Gresham Machen that Sunday evening, March 17, 1935, click here.

News coverage of the above event:


Dr. J. Gresham Machen Defends Beliefs in Sermon At Church Here.


Philadelphia Minister Will Face Presbyterian Court AT Trention.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen of Philadelphia, president of the Independent Board of [sic] Presbyterian Foreign Missions, who goes on trial before a special court of the church tomorrow at Trenton, N.J., declared last night: “The Presbyterian Church is in the midst of a conflict between two irreconcilable adversaries–Christianity and Modernism.”

Speaking at the First Presbyterian Church here, Dr. Machen defended his fundamentalist beliefs and accused the Presbyterian Church of spreading “anti-Christian” propaganda.

“I cannot support this anti-Christian propaganda now being furthered by the official board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States,” he said. “I cannot place the shifting votes of general assemblies or any other human councils in place of an authority which rightly belongs only to the Word of God.

Refused to Quit Board

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church last year outlawed the Independent Board of Missions and ordered all ministers to resign from it within 90 days. Dr. Machen refused and was ordered to stand trial before the New Brunswick presbytery. Two hearings have been held and the third and final one is scheduled tomorrow.

Dr. Machen last night laid his troubles to “modernists” and asserted: “Christianity is taught in the Bible and the Constitution of the Church; but modernism has grown to dominate the ecclesiastical machine.”

Attacks Auburn Affirmation

Citing the Auburn Affirmation, which he said sets forth the modernist argument and is signed by 1923 ministers, Dr. Machen declared:

“The Auburn Affirmation directly attacks the doctrines of the full truthfulness of the Bible and declares that some of its basic teachings are merely theories among other possible theories and are non-essential.

“It is typical of the conditions in the church that Dr. Cordie J. Culp of New Brunswick, the presiding officer of the commission now trying me in Trenton, is a signer of the modernist document,” he said. “It is also typical that John E. Kuizenga of Princeton Seminary took the lead in the unanimous vote of the commission that all efforts of my counsel to refer to the modernist doument be barred.”

Professor at Seminary

Dr. Machen further declared he is prepared to prove that the board’s orders for him to resign are “contrary to the constitution of the church.”

“I have also offered to prove,” he said, “the Board of Foreign Missions is unfaithful to its great trust. The commission has refused to listen to my evidence or to the arguments of my counsel. Of course, I will be condemned, but I should far rather be condemned for an honest adherence to the Bible and to my solemn ordination pledge than enjoy even the highest ecclesiastical honors and emoulments [sic] as the rewards of dishonesty.”

Dr. Machen, who spoke in the absence of Dr. C. E. Macartney, is a profess of New Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia.

[excerpted from The Pittsburgh Press, 18 March 1935, page 11.]

[Note: The correction name of the organization is the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Too often in news coverage and elsewhere, the name was shown in error, substituting “of” in place of “for”]

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Remembering Our Fathers and Brothers:

macnair01The Rev. Donald J. MacNair
 died on this day, March 3rd, in 2001. Born in 1922 and educated at Rutgers University and Faith Theological Seminary, his first pastorate was with the BPC church in Coatesville, PA. Answering a call to serve The Covenant Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, he oversaw the relocation of that church and helped to design its new building. From 1964-1982, Rev. MacNair served as the head of National Presbyterian Missions (NPM), the church planting arm of the RPCES. While it was Dr. Edmund P. Clowney who came up with the idea of the Joining & Receiving method of merger, it was Don MacNair who was widely recognized as the architect of J&R and who worked tirelessly to bring about the reception of the RPCES into the PCA in 1982. In effect, he worked himself out of a job, since the PCA already had in place a director for its Mission to North America, NPM’s counterpart. Not one to sit around, Dr. MacNair then formed Churches Vitalized, a ministry to struggling churches. Both the Donald J. MacNair manuscript collectionand the records of Churches Vitalized are preserved at the PCA Historical Center. The latter collection is awaiting processing at this time.

Also on this day, the Rev. Robert James Ostenson, one of the founding fathers of the PCA, entered his eternal reward on March 3, 2008. Born in 1922, he prepared for the ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary (BD, 1953) and was later awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree by Belhaven College in 1969. He was ordained by Mississippi Presbytery in 1953 and installed as the pastor of the Woodville and Gloster, MS churches, where he served for three years. At the time of the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, he was serving as the pastor of Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables, FL., 1965-1974. In his final pastorate, he returned to serve that church again, from 1987-1989.

ArmesJGAnd on this day, March 3, 1993, the Rev. John Galbreath Armes passed away. Born in 1918, his father was Roland K. Armes, a stalwart Presbyterian and a leader in the Bible Presbyterian Synod. John received his education at Hampden-Sydney College and Faith Theological Seminary before licensure and ordination by the Philadelphia Presbytery of the BPC. Rev. Armes served as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy, 1944-46 and was Assistant General Secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions from 1946-51. Leaving that post, he served as a foreign missionary in Kenya from 1951-1982. He was honorably retired in 1984 by the Northeast Presbytery of the PCA.

Image sources:
1. Portrait photograph of the Rev. Donald J. MacNair, from the MacNair manuscript collection.
2. Portrait photograph of the Rev. John G. Armes, from The Independent Board Bulletin, 14.1 (January 1948): 8.
All digital scans by the staff of the PCA Historical Center.

Words to Live By:
Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1, ASV)

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