Orthodox Presbyterian Church

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AllenSamuelJSamuel James Allen was a big strapping kid, and a natural at sports.  Born on March 23 in 1899 to parents George and Margaret Allen, Sam grew to excel at football, as well as baseball and basketball. Sam’s parents were immigrants from Ireland, and getting started in America wasn’t easy. Life was tough and it got even harder when his mother died, when he was not yet five years old. World War I and service in the Marines delayed his education, but he managed to complete high school after the war, and by God’s grace was able to enter Princeton Seminary in 1927. Those were troubling years at Princeton, and Sam was one of a small group of Princeton students who followed Dr. J. Gresham Machen over to the newly formed Westminster Theological Seminary in the fall of 1929.

Sam graduated from Westminster in 1930 and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. In his years at Princeton and Westminster, Sam had developed a good friendship with Dr. Machen, and so it was only natural that he would ask him to preach at his ordination service. The service took place at Sam’s home church, Hope Presbyterian, in South Philadelphia, on May 18th. Dr. Machen took 1 Peter 5:2-4 as his text, and began by reading the Scripture:

2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.
4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. (KJV)

In a biography that Sam’s daughter has written [see details below], she relates that when Machen had read those verses, he looked at Sam and said, “Today, Samuel Allen is called to the holy office of the Ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let us receive him in love as we present him before God in prayer.” After praying for how the Lord would use Sam in coming years, Dr. Machen preached on why every Christian must strive to live every day to the glory of God, and how God makes that goal possible, by His grace and through prayer.

Less than a month later, Sam was married to his sweetheart Mildred at Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, and the young couple prepared to move to Sam’s first pastoral calling, in Jordan, Montana. Rev. Allen served there until late in 1931, when he answered another call to serve a yoked pastorate at the PCUSA churches in Carson, Leith, and Lark, North Dakota. Greater challenges lay ahead.

In the summer of 1936, Rev. Allen became one of the founding members of the Presbyterian Church of America. Taking a stand for the truths of Scripture meant sacrificing the earthly trappings of property in order to hold on to the spiritual legacy of orthodoxy. Rev. Allen led the majority of his congregations in forming new PCofA congregations.

And aiding the effort, his friend Dr. J. Gresham Machen was glad to accept Sam’s invitation to come to the Dakotas to speak. Dr. Machen already was not well as he departed on the train for North Dakota late that December. He already evidenced a bad cough earlier in the month, something which Allan MacRae had noticed as Dr. Machen spoke on his radio program.

And so it wasn’t surprising then that Machen developed further problems with the stress of travel and the many speaking engagements. Machen’s illness progressed into lobar pneumonia and he died on January 1, 1937. His friend Sam Allen was there with him throughout the ordeal.

Rev. Allen left the Dakotas in 1940 to pastor the Gethsemane Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Then in 1948, he moved south and took a church in Port St. Joe, Florida, transferring his credentials to the Presbyterian Church, U.S. (aka, Southern Presbyterian). His last several churches were in Selma, Alabama, where he was pastor of Vine Hill, Memorial, and finally Woodland Heights, in 1954. The Rev. Samuel James Allen entered his eternal rest on November 30, 1954, at the age of 55, having suffered a heart attack the previous day.

Words to Live By:
One of the mottos that Sam Allen lived by was “One thing at a time.” In these days of multi-tasking, Sam’s rule is still a good one to practice, for I think it implies a trust in God’s sovereign control of all things. If we were to try to put that roughly in terms of Scripture, consider these several verses:

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15, 16, NASB).

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, NASB).

Trust in the LORD, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” (Ps. 37:3, KJV)

For Further Study:
One of the delights of preparing today’s post was the discovery of Becky Allen Martin’s biography of her father, titled A Promise Kept: The Life and Ministry of Rev. Sam Allen. You can find out more about the book and how to order it, here.

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From the Presbyterian Church of America to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

welbonThe Rev. Henry G. Welbon was a founding member in 1936 of the denomination that later became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His own convictions led him to next affiliate with the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1938. Eventually he became a member of the PCA in 1982, when the PCA received the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.

Rev. Welbon [pictured at right] had a keen appreciation for history and gathered seven notebooks of news clippings and articles covering the modernist controversy in the 1930’s. These are preserved at the PCA Historical Center as an important part of his papers.

From among those clippings, there is the following, on how the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was forced in court to change the name that they had originally chosen, the Presbyterian Church of America.

Presbyterians of America Enjoined from Using Title
[a news clipping from a Philadelphia newspaper, dated January 18, 1937]

The fundamentalist group which split from the Presbyterian Church will have to find some other name than “Presbyterian Church of America,” President Judge Frank Smith ruled in Common Pleas Court No. 5 today.

The name, the Judge decided, resembles too closely the name of the main Presbyterian body, the “Presbyterian Church of the United States of America.”

The fundamentalist organization was formed in Philadelphia on June 10, 1936, by the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen and a group of other clergymen and laymen. The group declared itself a “General Assembly,” with Dr. Machen as moderator and Dr. Paul Woolley as clerk. The name Presbyterian Church of America was adopted.

The parent church countered with the court action, filed by the Rev. Henry B. Master, moderator, demanding that the “rebel” group be forbidden use of the name it selected.

A special meeting of the General Assembly probably will be necessary to select a new name for the church, Dr. Woolley said when he learned of the decision. He added that an appeal “is likely.”

The injunction handed down today forbids the Presbyterian Church of America and the individual defendants and all persons associated with them from using the name “or any other name similar to or imitative of or contraceptive of the name Presbyterian Church of the United States of America or the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A., or ever doing any act calculated to mislead the public or members of the plaintiff church.”

Judge Smith remarked that he was not concerned with the “merits of the two respective doctrines,” but added:

“It would be a serious hurt to the reputation of the plaintiff church and a detriment to its work if the defendant church, bearing a name identical or similar, should enter areas occupied by the plaintiff church in real competition with it, thereby destroying the faith of those individuals in foreign countries insufficiently versed in English to comprehend the controversy.

“The acts done and threatened to be done by the defendant church are unfair and contrary to the principles of equity and good conscience, and violate the rights of the plaintiff church to use of its name and terminology.”

The decision concluded with the remark that the defendants are no longer members of the parent church, having severed their membership “in the ancient church when they were unable to impress their will on the General Assembly of the plaintiff church. Had they been successful in their determination, there would have been no defendant church.”


The thoughtful reader may ask, Why then wasn’t a similar lawsuit brought against the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), when it chose that name in 1974? It could only have been because the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. had merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958. A true merger legally creates a new entity, and they had chosen the name United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). That UPCUSA name was so different from Presbyterian Church in America that no similar lawsuit could be brought in the 1970’s.

Words to Live By:
Denominations exist because Truth matters. We seek to know God’s will and to live accordingly. To that end, careful study brings us to certain convictions about what the Bible teaches. But we are sinful and know the Scriptures imperfectly, so our convictions may differ from those of other Christians. On the level of honest, studied differences, division among Christians is regrettable, but necessary, if our allegiance to Truth is to be upheld. Here we can amicably continue to work toward a better understanding of God’s Word and His will for our lives.

But when is it right to divide or leave a denomination? The work of Scottish theologian James Durham is helpful at this point. In sum, he concluded that only when staying would mean having to participate in sin, only then is division appropriate and necessary. Another work on this subject, by the scholar John Macpherson, is available here and makes for fascinating reading.

Note: Our Through the Scriptures and Through the Standards sections have now been replaced by RSS feeds which appear at the top of right-hand column, and also at the bottom of each blog page.

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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.

The 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 to censure  by the Presbyterian Church  USA upon teaching and ruling elders than currently in the Presbyterian Church of America were “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.

Through the Scriptures: Ecclesiastes 4 – 6

Through the Standards:  Moral law prior to the fall according to the catechisms

WLC 92 “What did God at first reveal unto man as the rule of his obedience?
A.  The rule of obedience revealed to Adam in the estate of innocence, and to all mankind in  him, besides a special command not to eat of the fruit of the tree knowledge of good and evil, was the moral law.”

WSC 40 “What did God at first reveal to man for the rule of his obedience?
A. The rule which God at first revealed to man for his obedience, was the moral law.”

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American on the Outside, but Japanese on the Inside

Born Reginald Heber McIlwaine on July 7, 1906 of Southern Presbyterian missionary parents in Kobe, Japan. Heber, as he was known to family and friends, was a natural for missionary service.  Coming to a knowledge of Christ as Lord and Savior in his younger years, he learned about Japan and the language of Japan early.  In fact, so accustomed was he to this foreign land that one said of him that he may have been an American on the outside, but he was a Japanese on the inside.  Graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary in the early years of that historic theological school, he first became an assistant to the Rev. Clarence Macartney at  First Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh.  But the missionary call was too strong in his  nature to remain there more than two years.

He was appointed by the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions to serve in Japan, and did so from 1934 – 1936.  Joining the new Presbyterian Church of America in 1936, and was sent next to Harbin, Manchoukuo.  Choosing to remain with the PCofA in 1937, he became one of the first foreign missionaries appointed by their Committee on Foreign Missions.  In 1938, he was sent to Japan, but the rising war clouds forced him to return back to the States, where he served as a pastor and Army chaplain.  From 1947 to 1950, he ministered to Japanese aborigines in a mountainous area of Taiwan.  Finally, in 1951, he returned “home” to serve full-time as a missionary in Japan, and did so until his retirement in 1976.

After friends had thought he would remain a bachelor the rest of his life, R. Heber McIlwaine surprised everyone and married Eugenia Cochran on March 4, 1947.  It was said of her that she was almost as “Japanese” as he was.  At any rate, they would serve together for twenty-five years in Japan.

Most of their service was at their home in Fukushima, north of Tokyo, Japan.  For those who judge success by numbers, their ministry was not successful.  The average number of worshipers was under twenty.  But many of those converts from paganism to Christianity moved elsewhere for employment or service, taking their Christian commitment with them.  The Reformed Church of Japan was, in the words of John Galbraith, “greatly enriched by” their ministry.

Both were to be translated to heaven in the latter years of the twentieth century.  Certainly it can be said that their works continue to follow them in the faith and life of Japanese Christianity.

The R. Heber McIlwaine Manuscript Collection is preserved at the PCA Historical Center.
See also these related collections at the Historical Center:
James A. & Pauline S. McAlpine Manuscript Collection
William A. McIlwaine Manuscript Collection
John M.L. Young Manuscript Collection
Japan Missions Library

Words to Live By:  Faithfulness to the gospel is the only rule of success in the kingdom of God.  It is the world which measures success by numbers, by growth, and by economics.  When that formula is brought into the church, not only does God withhold His blessings, but many faithful men and women are marginalized from the service of the Lord Jesus.  Let kingdom work be measured by kingdom standards, that is, those of the Bible.

Through the Scriptures: Deuteronomy 13 – 16

Through the Standards: The covenant of grace: Its administration in both testaments in the Confession

WCF 7:4-6
“This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.  This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation, and is called the old Testament.  Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the  Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new Testament.  There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”

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