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.
On 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:
PASTOR SCORES MODERNISM AS CAUSE OF TRIAL.
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”]
Attempts to reform the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church, USA were led in part by some of the faculty and board members at Westminster Theological Seminary. When those efforts failed, it was on June 27th in 1933 that the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (IBPFM) was organized and on October 17, 1933, its constitution was adopted and officers were elected: Rev. J. Gresham Machen serving as president, Rev. Merrill T. MacPherson as vice president, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths as secretary, and Murray Forrest Thompson, Esq. as treasurer. The General Assembly of 1934 had put the issue rather bluntly, declaring that members of the IBPFM either were to resign or else face church discipline for violation of their ordination vows.
As new evidence kept coming forward, concerning continued modernism in the Board of Foreign Mission, more and more people made the decision to begin supporting the IBPFM. This support of the new board so worried the denomination that it became a major issue at the next general assembly held in Cleveland, Ohio, in May 1934. For one, remember that this was taking place during the depression, and charitable funds were especially tight. That reason is not offered to excuse what happened next, but it does help to explain it. Perhaps it was not surprising then that the 1934 General Assembly adopted a deliverance that stated that every member of the church was required by the constitution to support the missionary program of the church, comparable to the way that each member must take part in the Lord’s Supper.
The Assembly then mandated that each Presbytery was to take action against any of its members who were also members of the IBPFM. Thus the deliverance became known as “The Mandate” and in typical Presbyterian fashion, the consequences of that action unfolded slowly. Over the course of the following two years, about a dozen men and one woman were charged, tried and cast out of the Church. On March 29, 1935, Dr. J. Gresham was declared guilty and suspended from the ministry of the PCUSA, on March 29, 1935. His trial was a travesty, with all doctrinal evidence prohibited by the court. Dr. Roy T. Brumbaugh was tried in absentia. It was a sad conclusion to this chapter in the history of the Church, but one which led to new beginnings. As some of the old Puritans used to say, “God never removes one blessing, but what He gives a greater.”
Pictured below is a letter from the Rev. Walter Vail Watson, in which he mentions his discussions with Dr. Machen and sketches out what must have been some of the first outlines of the later formation of the IBPFM:—
Next, (and I realize this may be more difficult to read), is the text of the press release issued by Dr. Machen upon the official formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, on October 17, 1933:—
A Prayer for Our Times:
Lord, give us honest, godly leaders who will do what is right, regardless of the cost to themselves. Give us leaders who, in all humility, fear You and who thus fear no man. And may we be a humble, repentant people capable of following such leaders, seeking Your glory in all that we say and do.
A Christian of Exceptional Personality and Evangelistic Appeal
Charles Woodbridge, born January 24, 1902, was described by his fellow Reformed Christians as being no ordinary General Secretary. From his heritage as the fifteenth generation minister of his family line, dating back to 1493, from his own father who had been a missionary in China, from the fact that he married the daughter of a missionary, Charles Woodbridge would be known as “a man of exceptional personality and evangelistic appeal.” His spiritual gifts made him the perfect architect of a new mission strategy in reaching the world for Christ.
Yet the main line denomination of which he was a part, did not take kindly to this new mission upstart. Within a year, steps were taken to force him to abandon this new missions work, and when he chose not to follow their directives, Charles Woodbridge was censured by the church. He left in 1937 to become a pastor of the Presbyterian Church in North Carolina for several years.
Eventually, he served as a theological seminary professor and author, always seeking to warn Christians of the danger of compromising the Word of God. He died not all that many years ago, on 16 July 1995, at the age of 93.
As the General Secretary of the Independent Board, Rev. Woodbridge composed, on behalf of the Independent Board, a “Statement as to Its Organization and Program.” The text that follows is a portion of that Statement:—
The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions
The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions is an agency established for the quickening of missionary zeal and the promotion of truly Biblical and truly Presbyterian foreign missions throughout the world.
It is independent in that it is not responsible, as an organization, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., or to any other ecclesiastical body.
* * * *
Why Was the Independent Board Established?
Because a great many loyal Presbyterians have lost faith in the official Board of the largest of the Presbyterian churches, which is the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. They cannot in good conscience support an organization which they regard as disloyal to the Word of God; but they are more eager than ever, in view of the growing apostasy throughout the world, to further the cause of Biblical foreign missions to the uttermost ends of the earth.
Why have so many persons lost confidence in the official Board? Because in the last few years the Board, in its official actions, has been compromising with error in a most distressing way.
When the Laymen’s Appraisal Commission’s Report was issued last year, an attack against the very heart of the Christian message, the Board, instead of swiftly, directly, and uncompromisingly repudiating the Report, answered it in terms which were most vague and unsatisfactory.
When Pearl Buck offered her resignation to the PCUSA Board of Missions, it was accepted by the Board “with regret,” commending her work in China.
[At right, if you can’t make out the dust-jacket blurb by Pearl Buck, it says, in part, “… I think this is the only book I have ever read that seems literally true in its every observation and right in its every conclusion…” — The effrontery of Mrs. Buck’s statement is impossible to miss. By itself it is proof that the concerns of orthodox Christians were not misplaced.]
Some of the Modernist institutions in China which the Board helps to support are: the “Church of Christ in China”, controlled by Modernists, in opposition to which a large group of conservative Christians organized the Bible Union of China; the National Christian Council of China, in whose Bulletin one may read extracts which make the true Christian shudder — for example, in one of its articles, Sun Yat Sen, Lenin and Jesus Christ are treated as figures of comparable grandeur; the Christian Literature Society of China, where Modernist books are often printed; Yencheng University, a hotbed of “liberal” thought; these institutions, all destructive of Biblical Christianity, the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. helps to maintain.
At the meeting of the General Assembly in May, 1933, an attempt was made to remedy the situation through ecclesiastical action.
An Overture was presented to the Assembly which, if passed, would have been a real step toward the purification of the Board of Foreign Missions. A document of 110 pages was written in support of the Overture. This document is entitled “Modernism and the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.” by Dr. J. Gresham Machen, and may be had upon request to the office of the General Secretary. In a clear, logical way the author of this pamphlet marshalled his facts. He proved that the Board of Foreign Missions had been temporising in its attitude toward Modernism.
Instead of attempting to answer this document—and there was no satisfactory answer other than the entire reformation of the Board—the Board evaded the issue.
Instead of replying to the specific accusations which were levelled in black and white against its policies—accusations which to this day have never been disproved—The Board took refuge behind the career, character and personality of one of its leading secretaries, rallied the Assembly to the defense of a man, and, in the popular enthusiasm which was evoked, the Overture was lost.
Thus some of the events which led up to the formation of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Dr. Woodbridge served as General Secretary of the IBPFM and also as the editor of the Independent Board Bulletin, from March 1935-June 1937. Some of his more important publications through the remainder of his life included the following: 1935 – “The Social Gospel: A Review of the Current Mission Study Text Books Recommended for Adults by the Board of Foreign Missions, Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.,” Christianity Today 5.9 (February 1935): 209-211. 1937 – “Why I Have Resigned as General Secretary of the Independent Board,” The Presbyterian Guardian 4.5 (12 June 1937): 69-71. Available here.
1945 – The Chronicle of Salimbene of Parma: A Thirteenth Century Christian Synthesis. Durham, NC: Duke University, Ph.D. dissertation, 305 p. 1947 – Standing on the Promises: Rich Truths from the Book of Acts. 1953 – A Handbook of Christian Truth, co-authored with Harold Lindsell. 1953 – Romans: The Epistle of Grace. 1962 – Bible Prophecy. 1969 – The New Evangelicalism.
• News clipping [publisher not known] from the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook no. 1, page 34. • Cover of The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions: A Statement As to its Organization and Program, by Charles J. Woodbridge. (1934) • Dust-jacket of Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1932.
In the falling of the Reverend Arthur Johnston Dieffenbacher on the battlefields of Normandy, July 5, 1944, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions has lost its first and one of its best missionaries by death. Few details are known even at this writing but in Arthur Dieffenbacher’s passing his family, the Board, China and a host of friends have sustained a very great loss; yet we know that God’s people should view all things from the standpoint of eternity and therefore we can rest assured that God Who knows all things “doeth all things well.”
Arthur Dieffenbacher was born in Titusville, Pa., April 29, 1909; and thus was but a little over thirty-five years of age when the Lord called him home. His early years were spent at Erie, Pa. where he was graduated from high school at the early age of fifteen. Two years of college work at Erie followed, and two years later in 1927 he was graduated from Grove City College. In 1931 he finished his theological education at Dallas Theological Seminary, with a Master’s degree in his possession and also credit toward a post-graduate Doctor’s degree. He had proved himself precocious during his school days, but he was also in advance of his years in the things of the Lord, his deep interest in these things showing itself, for instance, in his spending the first night of his college life away from home in a prayer meeting with a group which was destined to aid him greatly to the clear insight into God’s word which his later years so fully exhibited.
In September, 1932, Mr. Dieffenbacher was appointed a missionary of the China Inland Mission and in company with his intimate friend John Stam, who himself was destined to become a martyr, soon left for China. There, after language study and a brief period of work in Changteh, Hunan Province, he met in 1934 Miss Junia White, daughter of Dr. Hugh W. White, editor of The China Fundamentalist. Miss White and he were soon engaged, but because of illness and other causes they were not married until June 1938, joining at about the same time also and with the good wishes of the China Inland Mission, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions with the principles and purposes of which both were in full sympathy.
All the years spent in China were filled with adventure which included a flight from Chinese communists in 1935; and the summer of 1938 saw battles raging all around Kuling where Miss White and Mr. Dieffenbacher had been married. Indeed China had been engaged for a whole year then in the war which was to engulf eventually so many lands and was, for Arthur Dieffenbacher, to end so tragically upon the battlefields of Normandy. On their way from Kuling this young bride and groom had to pass through the battle zone, just behind the fighting lines, but God gave them protection and enabled Arthur even then to point a sore-wounded and dying Chinese lad, a soldier, to Christ as the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins.
This trip led to Harbin, Manchuria, the “Manchukuo” of the Japanese, where two years of happy, fruitful work ensued, years which saw the beginning of what despite the hardness of the soil of that great cosmopolitan city might have developed into a much greater work had it not been for the tyranny of Japan and the war which was so soon to bring to an end so much Christian work both in the Japanese empire and in China. In the testings of those years in regard to Shinto and the Japanese demands upon Christians Arthur and his wife remained faithful.
In the summer of 1940, after eight years in China, Mr. Dieffenbacher returned to America with his wife on furlough. There on June 19, 1941, a little daughter, Sara Junia, was born. As war conditions were gradually spreading it was thought that Mr. Dieffenbacher ought to return alone to Manchuria and so passport and passage were obtained but ere he could sail the events of December 7, 1941, compelled all such plans to be abandoned for the time being, and as it proved in Arthur’s case, forever.
In America Mr. Dieffenbacher proved to be a good and effective missionary speaker. He also rendered efficient aid at his Board’s headquarters in Philadelphia. Later he held a brief pastorate in the Bible Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. But when the American Council of Christian Churches obtained for its member Churches a quota of Army chaplaincies, Mr. Dieffenbacher applied for a chaplaincy and was appointed and joined the Army on July 18, 1943.
In the Army Arthur Dieffenbacher won recognition for two things. For one, he took with his men, for example, the whole system of training including the dangerous and difficult “infiltration” course and other things which were not required of chaplains, but which he did that by all means he might win some. This ambition to win men to Christ was the second notable trait of which we speak. Indeed it showed itself not alone while he was in the Army but also throughout all his life. He always preached to convince, convert and win. On his way to England with his unit he with two other God-fearing chaplains, won eighty-four men to Christ. A brief letter home, mentioning this asked, “Isn’t that great?” Truly it was great and not merely in the opinion of his friends, we believe, but also in the sight of the Lord. Some of his friends are praying that from among those eighty-four after the war some may volunteer to take Arthur Dieffenbacher’s place in China. God is able to bring such things to pass.
The time from April to June 24, 1944, was spent in England. There, too, Arthur Dieffenbacher was constantly on the search for souls and also for that which would bring inspiration to his men and to his family and friends at home. Some of the poems he found and sent home testify at once to his love for good poetry and for the things of the spirit, especially for the things of the Lord. He believed thoroughly that he was in God’s will. He longed to see his wife and child and mother again but assured them that “no good thing would the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly.” He rejoiced in full houses of soldiers to whom to preach the Gospel of salvation. He was often tired after a long day of duties done, but preached and lived that we are “More than Conquerors” through Christ. With it all he learned to sew on buttons and patches and to wash his own clothes and his good humor bubbled over into his letters when he said, “Oh, boy, you should see the result!” Up at the front large attendances at services were the rule, men searching for help, for strength, for God, as they faced the foe. Perhaps a premonition was felt of what was to come. He wrote, “There are so many chances of getting hurt in war or in peace that which one affects you is by God’s permission. Hence I don’t worry, but take all reasonable precautions and trust the rest to God. His will is best and His protection sufficient.” On July 3, he wondered how they would celebrate the Fourth, and knew not that on the morrow of that day he would celebrate humbly but joyfully in the Presence of God. When killed by German artillery fire his body was recovered by his senior chaplain, Chaplain Blitch, and later an impressive funeral service was held.
“Faithful unto death” are words which characterized the whole life of Arthur Dieffenbacher. The realization of that fact brings an added measure of consolation to his mother, Mrs. Mildred J. Dieffenbacher, to his wife and will, in time, to his little three-year-old daughter as she comes to understand what her father was and what he did. It brings consolation also to The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and to all his friends. But as Arthur Dieffenbacher himself would have been the first to say, all he was and did he owed to Christ in whom he was called, chosen and empowered and made faithful till that day when surely he heard the welcome “well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”