Presbyterian Guardian

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What Constitutes Schism?

pgMay36p2smIn the May 4, 1936 edition of the Presbyterian Guardian (now on-line), Dr. J. Gresham Machen wrote an article on a proper definition of schism.  The times in which he was writing were perilous times for both Reformed ministers and the members of their churches. Already a Mandate had been passed by the 1934 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., which threatened suspension of any elder, teaching or ruling, who would support by their presence, purse, and prayers any board outside of the denominational boards. Indeed, young pastors could not be received into churches or presbyteries who refused to support the official boards of the church. In the midst of this, a Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union had been set up by the small Presbyterian conservative faction in the church.  One of the principles of that Covenant union plainly contemplated separation from the main-line church if it continued in its apostasy.

Responding to that Covenant Union were those ministers and churches who denounced the sin of schism, plainly inferring that any who contemplated separation would be guilty of the sin of schism.  It was that false charge which Machen proceeded in this article to refute, and refute very strongly.

machen03Consider his words here.  He wrote just eight months before his untimely death, “It is not schism to break away from an apostate church.  It is a schism to remain in an apostate church, since to remain in an apostate church is to separate from the true church of Jesus Christ.”  He then went on to explain that as of May 4, the Mandate of 1934 and 1935 had yet to be declared constitutional.  It was simply an administrative pronouncement up to that time.  If the General Assembly of 1936, to be held in several weeks, approved it, then it would be an action of the church.  If that happened, as we know from the position of hindsight that it did, then all true believers had it as their duty to depart from the denomination because that church had placed the word of man above the Word of God and has dethroned Jesus Christ.

Dr. Machen  was seeking to go to the last measure to keep the church from going down this path of apostasy.  Yet it would be a vain seeking as the May 1936 General Assembly did approve the Mandate of 1934, and the die was cast.  All those ministers, who had rejected the earlier Mandate, and had appealed to the next highest court their suspension from the ministry by their respective presbyteries, had their appeals denied.

To read the full article by Dr. Machen, click here.

Words to Live By:  God alone is Lord of the conscience and has left it free from any doctrines or commandments of men, (a) which are in any respect contrary to the Word of God,or (b) which, in regard to matters of faith and worship are not governed by the Word of God.

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Regrettably a day late, but as we haven’t shared any Machen news lately, we’ll squeeze this one in. The following news item appeared in THE PHILADELPHIA BULLETIN on April 22, 1936. This news clipping is from the scrapbook collection gathered by the Rev. Henry G. Welbon. When the General Assembly did meet, Machen and the others were suspended, as was expected, and so the split did occur, less than two months later, though admittedly the numbers that left the old denomination were surprisingly few by comparison. 

Machen_threatens_splitTHREATENS SPLIT

Dr. Machen Says It Will Come
If General Assembly Confirms
Suspension of Pastors.

5 Fundamentalists Out.

“If the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., at its meeting next month, confirms the suspension of five Philadelphia militant Fundamentalist clergymen from the ministry then there will be a split in the Church.

This assertion is made today by the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1528 Pine St., leader of the militant faction and one of those under suspension.

“If that action is taken by the General Assembly,” says Dr. Machen, “some earnest people, at very great sacrifice of worldly goods and with bleeding hearts, will leave church buildings, hallowed for them by many precious memories, and will sever their connections with a great church organization.

“The time for separation comes when the existing church organization ceases to heed the Word of God and follows some other authority instead. It is schism to leave a church if that church is true to the Bible, but it is not schism if that church is not true to the Bible.”

Further warning of a separation from the Presbyterian church is given in an editorial in the Presbyterian Guardian, official organ of the militant Fundamentalists, which, in the current issue, says:

“If the Church should say ‘No’ to reform, in such fashion as to demonstrate that reasonable hope of purification is impossible, true Christian men and women would, we believe, be obliged to separate themselves from an apostate organization.

“Who is there that can look forward with untroubled mind to an indefinite continuation of the unnatural union between belief and unbelief and unbelief that prevails in the church, and to all that accompanies such a union?”

The five local clergymen who have been ordered suspended from the ministry because of their refusal to obey the General Assembly Mandate and resign from the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, in addition to Dr. Machen, are: the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, editor of the Presbyterian Guardian; the Rev. Merril T. MacPherson, minister of Central North Broad Street Church; the Rev. Edwin H. Rian, of Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Rev. Paul Woolley, of the Independent Board and also of Westminster Seminary.

At Columbus, O., yesterday the Rev. Carl McIntire, youthful pastor of the Collingswood, N.J. Presbyterian Church, lodged three complaints against the Presbytery of West Jersey with the permanent judicial commission of the church.

The complaints resulted from McIntire’s conviction by the New Jersey Synod on charges similar to those against the Philadelphia minister.

The first complaint charged that the Presbytery erred in starting McIntire’s trial after a constitutional stay signed by more than one third of the members had been obtained.

The second charged that the Presbytery rescinded illegally an overture to the general assembly to “clean up” the regular board of foreign missions of the church, after it had been passed with only one dissenting vote, and the third charged the Presbytery with violation of the constitutional right of ministers to protest actions, and have their protests made a matter of record.

Words to Live By:
Some of the best treatments on the subject of schism were written by the old Scottish theologians, in particular, James Durham and James Wood. In short, they taught that it is only right to separate from a church when staying would mean having to sin. One quote from Rev. Wood will have to suffice here today:

“How often was it so with the ancient Church, that we may say, more than three parts of four were profane and naught? And yet did not the godly and the Prophets of the Lord continue in the exercise of the Ordinances and Worship of God in that Church? Was it not so in the Church of the Jews, in the time of Christ’s being amongst them upon earth? Did ever Christ for that require his disciples to depart and separate from that Church? Or did he not himself, never a whit the less, continue in the Church communion thereof? Yea when in glory writing a letter to the Church of Sardis, of whom he testifies, that they had a name that they were living, but yet were dead, and that there were but a few names there which had not defiled their garments: Yet his wise and meek zeal is not for pulling down and rooting up and separating from the Church Communion in his Ordinances and Worship. But that is his direction (vs 2, 3), Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die. — Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent.

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This Day in Presbyterian History:

Contending Earnestly 

The  number “seven” has always been associated with perfection.  But while that is the belief, there would be no one who would suggest that the seventh opening exercises of Westminster Theological Seminary on October 2, 1935,  have this word “perfection” stamped upon it.  Yet there was a sure reminder of both their existence in the church world at that moment in history as well as an old challenge to the professors and student body that they were to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.”  That very familiar text from Jude 3 was the title of the sermon and article in the Presbyterian Guardian of October 21 and November 4 in 1935.

Proclaiming the Word that evening was Rev. John Hess McComb, pastor of the Broadway Presbyterian Church in New York City.  What you will read in this devotional history today will be a portion of that address which is still as up-to-date now as it was then applicable to the people of God.  He said,

“Then too, if we would contend for the faith, we must seize every opportunity to let people know were we stand. When the Word of God is under fire, every silent Christian  is counted with the enemy.  Psalm 107:2 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”  God honors such testimony is surprising ways.  It bears more fruit than we have any idea it will.  Too often the people in the pew take the attitude that the minister is paid to do the testifying and there is no need for them to exert themselves in that direction.  It is a great privilege to speak a word for Christ, and we must avail ourselves of the privilege in the home, in the circle of friends, in the office, in the church — wherever God gives an opportunity.  If the Redeemed of the Lord would testify a little more frequently, perhaps it would be found that the true Church of Christ is far larger than it seems, and that Modernism has not gained the ground it supposes it has gained.  When a child is born into this world and utters no sounds, we fear that it is dead.  When a professing Christian never speaks a word regarding his redemption through Christ, we  have reason to suspect that he never has been born again. Of course the Christian must see to it that his personal life in no wise belies his testimony.  He that seizes every opportunity to testify for his Lord must so live that there is no question in the minds of those about him who his Lord is.”

There were some sobering statements in this quotation.  There is no doubt that the New York City pastor wanted to impress on the minds and hearts of the seminary students that their studies must produce some effects in the lives of those to whom they would be sent as servants of Christ.

Words to live by:  Standing out in the above quotation is the illustration and application of the child.  Dr. McComb said, “when a child is born into this world and  utters no sound, we fear that it is dead.  When a professing Christian never speaks a word regarding his Redemption through Christ, we have reason to suspect that he never has been born again.”  These are strong words, and may solicit objections by our readers.  Yet there are placed here to think upon them and more importantly to act upon them.  Pray for a divine opportunity this day or week.  Pray that the Spirit will remind you to recognize the divine opportunity.  Then simply relate your Christian testimony to the individual, and see what the Lord will bring forth.

Through the Scriptures:    Esther 8 – 10

Through the Standards:
The rights of Christians in relation to governments

WCF 23:2
“It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth; so, for that end, they may lawfully, now under the new testament, wage war, upon just and necessary occasion.

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