Orthodox Presbyterian Church

You are currently browsing articles tagged Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

What’s in a Name?

Solomon wrote once that “a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.”  (Proverbs 22:1a ESV)  And while this text speaks of one’s personal name, it could also have an application to the name of a denomination.  What’s in a name, after all?  That question was the issue in February, 1939 when the Presbyterian Church of America had to be renamed, just two and one half years after taking it up in 1936.

The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. had taken the young denomination to court over the issue of its chosen name.  That whole scene will be dealt with in a future historical devotional on April 28.  When the PCUSA won the court case, the General Assembly of the PCofA decided not to contest the lower court decision.   Calling a special meeting in the month of February, the question was simple.  What do we call ourselves now?

Many names were suggested by the teaching and ruling elders.  Some of them were: Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian and Reformed Church  of America, North America Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church of Christ, Protestant Presbyterian Church of America, Seceding Presbyterian Church  of America, and this contributor’s favorite, Free Presbyterian Church of the World!  Oh yes, one other name was also suggested.  It was the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In the end, on this day, February 9, 1939, the name of Orthodox Presbyterian Church won over “Evangelical Presbyterian Church” by a close margin, but a winning margin. Certainly, each of the above suggested names meant something to the proponents of them, or they wouldn’t have been suggested in the first place.  The choosing of the winning name spoke volumes about the orthodox or straight, right, and true convictions which led the men and women out of the apostate Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in the first place.  Biblical orthodoxy would be the hallmark of the continuing church, as it had been back in 1936.

The managing editor of the Presbyterian Guardian, Thomas R. Birch, said that year of 1939 in his editorial,

“You whose privilege it is to bear that name (e.g. Orthodox Presbyterian Church), bear it proudly, gladly, holding its banner high.  It is a true and a great name, a name to exult in and a name to make you humble.  It tells the world exactly what you are and where you stand in the present death-struggle between the forces of faith and the battalions of unbelief.  It proclaims to the world that here is a Presbyterian church that takes its confession of faith seriously.  At the very outset it is a name with a meaning.”

The OPC is not alone in having to find a new name. The name originally chosen in 1973 for what was to become the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was the “National Presbyterian Church,” but seeking to avoid a conflict with the Washington, D.C. congregation of the same name, we wisely chose another name in 1974 and so came to be the PCA.

Words to Live By: Biblical orthodoxy is, sadly, in ruins in some Presbyterian denominations and churches.  Let it not be in the specific church with which you are associated as a member or a minister.  Stand for the truth of the gospel, believing Martin Luther’s words to be true, “Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”

Tags: , , ,

The Man Who Looked Back

RianEH

Our post today is a repeat from 2012. Since that time, a very interesting article by James W. Scott has appeared in the Westminster Theological Journal. In this article, “Machen’s Lost Work on the Presbyterian Conflict,” Mr. Scott explores the possibility that J. Gresham Machen had been at work over the summer of 1936 writing a book on the Presbyterian conflict. Among Machen’s papers, the working notes and manuscript for that book were never found, and Mr. Scott builds his case for the theory that the work was removed from Machen’s estate after his decease by Edwin H. Rian and later used as the core of the book later published by Rian, titled The Presbyterian Conflict. Westminster Theological Seminary has graciously posted the first part of this article to the Seminary web site, here. I think you will enjoy reading the article.

I was frozen in place that day behind the front desk of the Christian conference center in New Jersey.  The distinguished man had walked up to me to ask whether the Director of the Conference was on site.  I replied that he was away at the time. Whereupon the man gave me his business card, and walked out of the hotel that summer afternoon in 1965.  Looking  down, I read the name of “Edwin Rian, Assistant to the President, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.” I wish that I could say to our readers that this young seminarian had then rushed out of the hotel to ask the writer of the historic book The Presbyterian Conflict to stop and talk.  I wish that I could say to our readers that I stopped him and discussed with him as to why he left the infant Orthodox Presbyterian Church after such a valiant stand against the apostasy of the Presbyterian Church, USA. I could have asked him whether he remembered my father, who stood with him in the nineteen thirties for the faith, by faith. But I did none of these things. I was frozen in time.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Edwin  Rian came to Princeton Theological Seminary to study Semitics at the prestigious school., as part of the Seminary’s class of 1927.  Ordained in 1930 in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, he advanced his scholarship by studying as a Princeton Fellow at the Universities of Berlin and Marburg in Germany.  Returning to the States, he saw clearly the issues which led his mentor J. Gresham Machen to organize Westminster Theological Seminary.  He took his stand on those same issues, and like Machen and a number of other ministers, was censured by the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  As a founding member of the Presbyterian Church of America (1936), he stayed with that church when the Bible Presbyterians left it in 1938.  The former was later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (1938).  It was in 1940 that Rian crystallized the issues by writing the important book, “The Presbyterian Conflict.”  It still can be found in print or online, and is quoted often by those who seek to understand this period in American Presbyterian history.

Something happened to Edwin Rian himself, though, in the latter part of the 1940′s.  The fact that he left in 1946 to join the Christian University Association as its General Secretary was not unusual.  What was unusual was that on April 25, 1947, he left the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to reenter the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., from which he had been suspended over ten years before.

Various reasons had been suggested for this, sea change. One theory was that Rian was disappointed that a Christian University had not been started in Reformed circles.  And certainly, the rest of his life and ministry was taken up in educational circles.  But that reason doesn’t ring true to this contributor.  The reasons, however,  were never revealed.

He went on to serve in a variety of administrative posts in colleges and universities like Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, Beaver College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, Jamestown College in Jamestown, North Dakota, Biblical Seminary in New York City, New York, and the American Bible Society in New York City. His last ministry and one in which he  came full circle, was  the position of Assistant to the President of Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. James I. McCord, where he served for 15 years until his retirement.  He departed this life in 1995 at age 95 in San Diego, California.

Words to Live By: Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 6:62, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  The commentator writes that there are some whose hearts are in the past. They walk forever looking backwards and thinking wistfully of the good old days.  The watchword of the Kingdom servants  is always “forward,” never “backward.”  Let us be not be content with lukewarm service.

Tags: , , ,

Day Two of their Second General Assembly The following materials are drawn from the scrapbooks gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. Initially organized as the Presbyterian Church of America, the denomination we now know as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church met in its second General Assembly, beginning on Thursday, November 12 and adjourned on Saturday, November 14, 1936. As the retiring moderator of the first Assembly, the Rev. J. Gresham Machen had opened the proceedings with a sermon on 2 Cor. 5:14-15, and the assembled delegates then celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The Rev. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. and the Rev. J. Burton Thwing were nominated for Moderator of the Second General Assembly, and Rev. Buswell was elected to serve, the Rev. Cornelius Van Til and the Rev. Carl McIntire escorting Rev. Buswell to the platform. The election of Rev. Buswell as Moderator was, for one, seen as a way to minimize the possibility of friction over the issue of pre-millennialism, Buswell himself being a pre-millennialist. Ultimately that gambit did not succeed, and the young denomination suffered a split in 1938, with the formation of the overtly pre-millennial Bible Presbyterian Synod.

PCofA_2dGA_Buswell Caption for the news clipping photo at right: At the left is Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., president of Wheaton College, who was elected at the opening business session of the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America here yesterday. he succeeds Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Philadelphia, show at the right, who was one of the leaders in the revolt of Fundamentalists from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The revolt let to the formation of the new church at the first General Assembly, June 11.

PCofA_2dGA_05NEW CHURCH ACTS FOR POPULAR RULE

Presbyterian of America Goes on Record Against Interlocking Committees.

OPPOSE OFFICIAL CLIQUE

Resolutions placing the second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America on record as against “interlocking committees and putting power into the hands of a few men” were adopted today. [i.e., Friday, Nov. 13th]

This action was taken at sessions in the Manufacturers and Bankers’ Club, Broad and Walnut Streets. The Rev. Martin Luther Thomas, of California, in proposing the resolution said such precautions would prevent the church being controlled by a few men at headquarters and guard against “maladministration.”

Members of the new denomination before its formation constantly asserted that the parent Church, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., was controlled by an official clique.

Several commissioners opposed the resolution on the ground that it would create suspicion, but Mr. Thomas said: “It is better to avoid the abuse of power int he beginning than have trouble stemming it later.”

The resolutions were carried by a large majority.

Another resolution calling for a staggering of appointments to committees so as to prevent self-perpetuation of the governing heads, was defeated, when it was pointed out that the organizers of the new church should be given a free hand to carry out their work without interruption.

Wording of the actual resolution:  “In order to avoid interlocking committees, it is the desire of this General Assembly that no man be allowed to serve at the same time on more than one standing committee, board, or agency, except where an emergency exists.” [Minutes, pp. 12]

Words to Live By:
I recall that at a certain meeting of my presbytery, a candidate for the ministry was asked what he liked about the Presbyterian Church in America. With this candidate having grown up in an independent church fellowship, his reply shocked all of us elders at its first sound when he replied, “our Book of Church Order!” What we groaned at, with its very specific ways of doing things, was the very thing he rejoiced in, finding a supply of godly guidelines with which to “do church.” Elder representatives at the above described General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America wanted to profit from the past, especially even from the negative examples of those liberal churchmen and apostate churches where biblical input had been strangled in past PCUSA church assemblies. So important rules were added to the constitution of their newly formed church. Once adopted into practice, the more important outreach of the church could be accomplished with God’s blessing.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

WelbonHG_lockedout On August 3, 1936, newspapers in and around Wilmington, Delaware ran the following article covering the closure of the Head-of-Christiana Presbyterian Church, where the Rev. Henry G. Welbon was pastor at the time.

Pastor Ignores Church Locking

Defies Presbytery In Church ‘Lockout’

Unfrocked Pastor Holds Former Pulpit

Rev. H.G. Welbon Uses Own Key at Head-of-Christiana.
Has Services in Spite of Ban.

The Rev. Henry G. Welbon, fundamentalist pastor recently unfrocked by the Presbytery of New Castle for his refusal to bow to that body in the fundamentalist-modernist conflict, found himself locked out of Head-of-Christiana church when he went there yesterday to conduct Sunday services.

After consulting an attorney, he opened his church with his own key and conducted services as usual, ignoring a notice that had been tacked on the door by four trustees forbidding the use of the building except with their permission.

The notice was also signed by a committee of four established by the Presbytery to act as the church Session. The four trustees are a majority of the board who side with the Presbytery.

The trustees acted to exercise their authority over the church property, now in dispute between Presbytery and the seceding group led at Head-of-Christiana by Mr. Welbon.

“It is now up to this (seceding) group to prove their right of possession of the church and their right to enter it,” one of the four trustees said today.

The notice text was: “To whom it may concern: We the undersigned members of the Board of Trustees of Head-of-Christiana Church and the committee appointed by the Presbytery of New Castle to exercise the function of the session do hereby declare this church building to be closed and to be opened and used only by special permission until such time as this notice is withdrawn.”

Mr. Welbon said he acted upon advice of his attorney in opening the church. His attorney, Mr. Welbon said, stated that so long as Mr. Welbon had the key he could not be locked out. The four trustees obtained a key which they believed to be the only one to the church, from the sexton’s home.

*    *    *    *

Dating back to legal cases set down in the 19th-century, local church property in the PCUSA legally belonged to the PCUSA Presbyteryies Thus, when conservative Presbyterians left the PCUSA in the 1930’s, in almost every case they lost their church buildings.
The loss of those buildings was a substantial setback, particularly in the midst of an economic depression. So this was one major reason for the slow initial growth of both the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Bible Presbyterian Church, as leaving congregations had to start over and finance new buildings. That in turn may have been one very pragmatic reason why more conservatives did not leave the denomination.
By contrast, when the Presbyterian Church in America was formed in 1973, certain legal precedents had been established in the 1960s  which allowed most of the leaving congregations to retain their property. So these PCA congregations were on a better  footing to begin with, plus it can be argued that the economic times were better. There were substantial costs of leaving in both the ’30’s and the ’70’s, though the costs were somewhat different in each instance.

Words to Live By:
The church is not a building. Not a physical building, anyway. The  visible church consists of all those people and their children that have entered into a covenant with the one true God by way of His Son and the sacrifice that He paid on behalf of a chosen people.

“So then you are no longer dstrangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22, ESV)

The Notice pinned to the church’s front door:

welbon_notice

Tags: , , , ,

As the OPC is meeting this week in their General Assembly, it seems appropriate to revisit this post from last year:

Beginnings are Exciting

The meeting was called to order in the auditorium of the New Century Club in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on June 11, 1936 at 2:35 p.m.  With those facts before you, this could be any gathering of any group of people for any purpose. But this meeting was unique in that it was the start of a new Presbyterian denomination.

GriffithsHM1938The opening address by the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths stated that the teaching and ruling elders gathered,  were there to “associate ourselves together with all Christian people who do and will adhere to us, in a body to be known and styled as the Presbyterian Church of America.” (Minutes of the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America, pg. 3)  He then went on to state that “by the warrant and authority of the Lord Jesus Christ we constitute ourselves a General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Minutes, pg 3).  Forty-four teaching elders and 17 ruling elders with another seventy-nine lay people were present. Eleven associate teaching and ruling elders wanted their names to be listed as present.

The next section of the opening address was highly important as it laid down the doctrinal, confessional, and ecclesiastical basis of the new church.  It stated, “We do solemnly declare (1) that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, (2) that the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms contain the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, and (3) that we subscribe to and maintain the principles of Presbyterian church government as being founded upon and agreeable to the Word of God.” (Minutes, p. 4)  The minutes states that all teaching and ruling elders, and deacons, shall subscribe to the statement.

Dr. J. Gresham Machen was elected  the first moderator.  The Rev. Paul Woolley was elected clerk of the assembly. A committee was organized to  prepare a second General Assembly to be held on November 12 – 15 in Philadelphia. This committee would recommend which version of the subordinate standards the new church would receive and adopt, the  Form of Government, Book of Discipline, and Directory for the Worship of God.  Another committee was set up on Church Organization and Roll. The last committee established by this general assembly was that of Home Mission and Church Extension.


Pictured above, the meeting of the Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America. The photograph is part of the Allan A. MacRae Manuscript Collection at the PCA Historical Center. To my knowledge, no known photograph of their First General Assembly survives.
[With regrets, our scanner is not large enough to include several faces on the right side of the photo, including that of Dr. Cornelius Van Til, seated in the first row).]

There was also a declaration that those attempts at censure by the Presbyterian Church USA, aimed at teaching and ruling elders who were now part of the Presbyterian Church of America, were henceforth “terminated, lifted, and declared at an end.” (Minutes. p. 13) Two presbyteries were erected by the General Assembly, that of Philadelphia, and New York and New England.  With that, the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America was closed with prayer.

Words to Live By: It was a good start.  Many challenges were ahead.  Faithful ministers who stood boldly for the faith would lose church buildings, manses, and pensions in the years ahead.  We, like them,  are always to look away from things that perish, and keep our hearts and minds set on Jesus Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Tags: , , , ,

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: