February 16 – 17, 1973 — A momentous date in the history of what was to become the Presbyterian Church in America.
Quoting from Paul Settle’s book, To God All Praise and Glory:
“Perhaps the most significant meeting of the entire movement convened on February 16 at the Airport Hilton in Atlanta. All the executive committees of the four conservative organizations were present with the Steering Committee. Jack Williamson brought the news from Dallas, where the Plan of Union Committee had met, that the liberals had lied: there was no plan of union! The committee scrapped teh work that had been done and asked the PCUS and UPUSA General Assemblies to allow the committee to continue its work and bring a report in 1975. Williamson said that “it was extremely unlikely that any future plan would include a belateral escape clause.” As before, in August, the men sank to their knees to pray with many tears. They now knew that there was no turning back: they must leave the PCUS, in order to exercise, as Francis Schaeffer has said, “discipline in reverse.” The season of prayer strengthened them immeasureably. John Richards told Georgia Settle: “We had…men of great power in prayer…we prayed around the table…and the prayer formed in us a kind of exhilaration;”
[To God All Praise and Glory, page 43. This book is available from the Christian Education and Publications bookstore]
News of this event was reported to the people of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod through the Bulletin News Supplement, printed by Joel Belz [back before he became editor of World Magazine]. The February 20, 1973 edition of the News Supplement stated:
“Conservatives in the Presbyterian Church U.S. (popularly known as the Southern Presbyterian Church) have responded officially to the power plays and liberalism of the hierarchy of their denomination, and laid plans for the forming of a new denomination.
A steering committee for a continuing church met in mid-February in Atlanta to lay specific plans for the new church, and did not immediately release those details. But the scope of the new move was apparent because of the broad base of participation at the Atlanta meeting. Included were leaders of Concerned Presbyterians and of Presbyterian Churchmen United, two protest groups within the Southern denomination, as well as the leaders of the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship and the Presbyterian Journal.
Many of those represented had looked forward to the possible union of their denomination with the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), because that union–even though it was with a liberal denomination–included an escape clause through which local churches could leave and keep their properties. But in early February, that union plan was scrapped by the liberal leaders of the Southern church. Conservatives believe the plan was abandoned because of a fear that too many congregations would exercise their rights through the escape clause.
With no prospects left of being able to leave the denomination with their properties, conservatives gathered and voted unanimously to leave the church and begin anew. They will do so with no guarantees at all with respect to the numerous church properties involved.
Several Reformed Presbyterians participated in the Atlanta meetings, and indicated a genuine desire on the part of the churchmen involved to extend fellowship between themselves and the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod.”
[excerpted from the Bulletin News Supplement, vol. 17, no. 8, February 20, 1973]