United Presbyterian Church

You are currently browsing articles tagged United Presbyterian Church.

The Strange Testimony of an Irish Presbyterian
by Rev. David T Myers

When my fellow editor, Wayne Sparkman, asked me to present this biographical post of a character from the eighteenth century, and sent me some material from which to write it, one sentence jumped out of the sentences about this Presbyterian minister.  That sentence was that “he was suspended for contumacy.”

Now, lets face it, the word “contumacy” is not a word which we use every day, or even every month.  According to Webster, it comes from the Latin which means “rebellious.”  Thus, it is “stubborn resistance to authority, specifically  willful contempt of court.”  And the “court” here means the church court, like the Presbytery.  In that sense, it is found in the PCA Book of Church Order, in the  Rules of Discipline, chapter 32:6 and 33:2, 3 to speak of those who refuse to either appear or answer the charges of a church court.  And that is what  happened to our character today, the Rev. James Martin.

The facts are that James Martin was born in Ireland in 1725, educated in Scotland, studied theology in the Antiburger Divinity Hall, class of 1749, and ordained in Bangor,  Ireland, in 1753, and received by the Presbytery of Pennsylvania, at Pequea, Pennsylvania, on August 1, 1775.

Certainly  he was not known then as a contumacious minister.  The certificate which accompanied his transfer to America stated that “he was for many years a member of the Associate Presbytery of Moira and Lisburn, in Ireland, and behaved soberly and inoffensively, suitable to his character as a minister and Christian.”  The written draft went on to state that “he departs with an unblemished reputation” with nothing to hinder his admission as a member of the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania..

And so he ministered the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ in the counties of Franklin, Adams, Cumberland, and Northumberland in Pennsylvania.  He also ranged far south in the “states” of Virginia and North Carolina.

From what little we can ascertain, he declined the spiritual authority of the Presbytery in 1777.   They disciplined him with suspension of his ministry credentials.   Yet it is odd that  we read of his continuing ministry with spiritual profit to  members in Presbyterian churches until his death on this day, June 20, 1795.  What gives?

Words to Live By:
We can only surmise that his continuing ministry after his suspension by the Presbytery meant that there was a spiritual repentance and restoration as a Presbyterian undershepherd.   That is possibly, given biblical repentance, but as our Book of Church Order states, “he (must)  exhibit for a considerable time such an eminently exemplary, humble and edifying life and testimony as shall heal the wound made by his scandal.” (Rules of Discipline, 34:8.)  While the court which brought about the censure has the ultimate responsibility to do that,  all of us Christians need to be ready as Paul puts it in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness: considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (KJV)  The case of “overtaken” speaks of being overtaken suddenly by a sin.  In addition, the word “restore” is a medical one.  It spoke of a bone out of joint, which was to put back tenderly and resolutely by those  who are spiritual.   Are you available and able to become that kind of spiritual helper to restore a sinner who is repentant to the visible church of Jesus Christ?

Tags: , , ,

Union of  Presbyterians

Ordinarily when you read of an event which brought together two separate bodies of Presbyterians, you would rejoice over the union.  But when you read of a conservative body of Presbyterians uniting with a liberal body of Presbyterians, one tends to be sad.  And yet the latter is what happened on this day, May 28, 1958 when the United Presbyterians Church of North America united with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The new denomination arising from this union was named the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA).

We have in these historical devotionals spent enough time on the decline of testimony of the historic Christian faith which the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. has had since the early part of the last century. What you may not know is the history and  testimony of the United Presbyterian Church of North America.

It was almost to the day of this union in 1958 that two Scotch-Irish Presbyterians joined together in 1858 to make up the United Presbyterian Church of North America. Those two bodies which made up that union were the Seceders or Associate Presbyterians and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. They had in the old country of Scotland left the Church of Scotland, and then immigrated over to what later became America. The latter Associate Reformed Presbyterians had come from a union of the Associate Presbytery and Reformed Presbytery in Pequea, Pennsylvania, on June 13, 1782 (see historical devotional for that date). The primary strength of membership lay in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

What is even more important than these facts is to sum up their faith and life.  With their Scotch-Irish roots, they held to the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms as their subordinate standards, exclusive psalmody, Sabbatarianism, being a part of the abolitionist movement, and strong Protestantism. While the psalmody was abandoned in 1925, this church still held to a conservative Calvinism.

All this is then perplexing as to why they voted to merge into the liberal Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. almost one hundred years later in 1958.  In less than ten years, the wider body would replace the historic Westminster Standards with the Confession of 1967, relegating the former to a book of confessions.

Words to Live By: All of us need to carefully examine what we will gain and what will be lost in uniting together with others. Our associations matter. Not just who our friends are, but what we read, watch, and listen to, not to mention all the many social, religious and political groupings that we may be involved with, all these things bring influences that affect us far more than we may realize. Which is why prayerful, consistent time in the Word of God is so important, as a anchor against anything that might seek to sway and divert us away from honoring our Lord and Creator in all that we say and do.

Tags: , , ,

You Can’t Say That!

Talk about Goliath against David.  This was the case on this day April 28, 1937 when the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America went to court against the Presbyterian Church of America.  They had been successful in winning the church properties of those ministers who had been suspended from their ranks.  They had been successful in evicting them from the manse or parsonage.  They had been successful in removing their life insurance policies.  Now they wanted their name.

Their argument was simple.  Plans had been under way for some time for a proposed union of the United Presbyterian Church of North America with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.  And one of the names floated for that proposed union was the Presbyterian Church of America.

MudgeLSThe principal witness for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., was the denomination’s Stated Clerk, Lewis Seymour Mudge. Key to the whole case was the question of similarity of names as the sole basis for the suit against the Presbyterian Church of America.  Attempts by the latter group to show the doctrinal reasons for the new church were then met with objection after objection by the attorney for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

Witnesses for the P.C. of A. were a “who’s who” of its early leaders. Ministers Paul Woolley, Edwin Rian, and Charles Woodbridge all testified on April 28 and April 29. Professor John Murray tried to bear witness about the doctrinal differences between the two denominations, but was hindered by objections to his presence on the stand. He left, without testifying.

It took several months before the decision was handed down. But as the historical devotional for February 9, 1939 showed, the decision was made against the Presbyterian Church of America. Moderator R.B. Kuiper called for an earlier than usual General Assembly in that month of February, 1939, and the new name of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was chosen by the  church.

When the union between the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America and the United Presbyterian Church of North America took place in 1958, their new name was the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA). In God’s providence, this gave the opportunity for the southern Presbyterians who left the Presbyterian Church in the United States in 1973 to choose the name, The Presbyterian Church in America, as their new name during their second General Assembly.

PCofA_4thGA_1938OPC_5th_1939Presbyterian Guardian managing editor Thomas R. Birch remarked at the close of his report in the May 29th, 1937 issue, “And once more . . . Gideon’s band of true Christians, the Presbyterian Church of America, has publicly taken its unflinching stand on the side of historic Presbyterianism and the principles of religious liberty for which the fathers fought and died.” His entire article concerning the injunction can be read online in the May 29, 1937 issue of the Presbyterian Guardian. Yet through further legal appeal, it was not until March 15, 1939 that the denomination officially changed its name to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Mr. Birch wrote again at that time regarding the name change, “What’s In A Name?”, on page 47 of the March 1939 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian.

Words to Live By:  Jesus promised His followers that they would be brought up before the courts for the sake of their profession as Christianity.  This was one such example, and it will not be the last time in the history of the Christian church.  Yet God’s Word is sure.  Remain steadfast to the faith, and God’s reward will be ultimately yours in Christ.

Tags: , , ,

One of our more popular posts, presented here again with a sample of Dr. Gerstner’s writing appended:—

Pastor, Professor, and Theologian Cum Laude   

Gerstner01It was a great honor.  Your author was asked to preach the Presbytery sermon at the installation of the Rev. Dr. John Gerstner as an Associate Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The veteran pastor and theologian had just that year of 1990 joined the Presbyterian Church in America as well as the particular presbytery of which I was a member minister. I can remember entering with the other Presbytery ministers into the sanctuary, and there sitting in the front row, in the center seat, was Dr. Gerstner.  A quick thought went through my mind as to what could I say which would edify the people of God, and Dr. Gerstner that evening? But just as quickly came the answer of which Dr. Gerstner in all his ministerial life had exhibited, namely, to preach the Word of God in all of its fullness.

Born in Tampa, Florida in 1914, John Gerstner’s life and ministry would be spent in the northern states.  Graduating from Westminster College, he followed that up with his Master of Divinity degree at Westminster Theological Seminary in 1940. Five years later, he would earn from Harvard University his Ph.D. degree.  Overseas studies in England, Spain, and Switzerland would round out his education for the ministry.

Gerstner02Ordained in the largest Scot-Irish denomination in America, the United Presbyterian Church, he served several churches in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. But he would make his mark upon the Christian world and especially through those students who were privileged to sit under him at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary for more than 30 years. As an evangelical and Reformed professor in that UPCUSA graduate school, he provided a solid course of instruction for those evangelical and Reformed students who sat under him. One such student was R.C. Sproul.

A careful look into the published works of the Ligionier Study Center will reward you with books and videos all written and spoken by John Gerstner. His primary work would be his three volume book on “The Rational Biblical Theology of Jonathan Edwards.” He became the authority on the life and ministry of this greatest of all American theologians.

This author in two of his five pastorates had Dr. Gerstner as a special weekend speaker. On both occasions, he along with the people of God enjoyed a guest pastor who had an incredible intellect, a great wit, and always a pastoral heart. He entered heaven’s glory on this day, March 24, 1996.

Words to Live By: The apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2 states, “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (ESV)  There are four generations mentioned in this verse: Paul, those who heard him, faithful men, and others also.  It presents the goal of transmitting God’s Word to succeeding generations. John Gerstner accomplished this, as all those given the spiritual gift of teaching, are to aim for it.  Pray for them to faithfully accomplish it.

A Sample from among Dr. Gerstner’s writings:

“The trouble with secularism is the world itself. It always proves to be a mere shadow. Those who are most successful in acquiring it suffer the greatest disillusionment. It is a notorious fact that the wealthiest persons, unless they be truly religious persons, are the most bored, the least happy. They are always piling up but never possessing anything. Their experiences, like the Preacher’s, lead to the dirge: “All is vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun.” Secularists are bent on pleasure, but ‘she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.’ Animals can eat, drink, and be contented, but man cannot. He cannot be contented without these physical gratifications because he has his animal appetites, but being more than an animal he cannot be content with only them. He cannot live without bread, but neither can he live by bread alone.

“The second cardinal defect in secularism is the loss of the other world which it spurns. Man cannot be happy with this world, nor can he be happy without the other. Even if he disbelieves the other world he cannot escape it. He cannot escape it even now. He cannot be sure that there is not an eternal world. He may disbelieve it, but he cannot, try as he will, disprove it. As Shakespeare has said, he is afraid to ‘shuffle off this mortal coil’ with all its griefs because he does not know what lies ahead. He may have doubts about God, but who has ever demonstrated His nonexistence? How can man satisfy himself that there is no heaven which he may miss nor any hell which he may enter? The slightest possibility of these things—and who can deny their possibility?—utterly unnerves the secularist.

“If there were any satisfaction in the possession of the whole world for a lifetime, how would that compensate for one moment out of heaven or one moment in hell? The merest possibility of the eternal world completely outweighs the utmost certainty of this one. What answer, therefore, can a worldling give to Jesus’ question, ‘What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ It will not comfort him to reply, ‘But I do not believe you. I do not believe that I, in gaining the whole world, will forfeit my own soul.’ It will not comfort him because he is not sure that he is right, nor certain that Christ is wrong. The mere possibility that Christ’s question about the future is valid ruins his present. ‘To him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath’—from him that has not the world to come shall be taken away even this one which he has.”

[excerpted from Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960), pp. 13-14.]

Tags: , , ,

I’ve heard of Warrior Children, . . . but Kidnappers?

The Presbyterian was a long-standing periodical issued out of Philadelphia. The last solidly conservative editor of that journal was the Rev. Samuel G. Craig. When Craig was eased out of his post, he went on to establish the Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Company.

Some six years later, a new denomination was formed by theological conservatives who were leaving the mainline denomination known as the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA).  This new group chose to organize under the title “The Presbyterian Church of America. But the mother Church deemed that name too similar to its own. Or perhaps more accurately, the name “Presbyterian Church of America” had been one of the names under consideration in the early 1930’s, when the PCUSA and the United Presbyterian Church of North America were briefly engaged in merger talks.

So the PCUSA brought suit against the fledgling denomination that had formed in June of 1936. Before they had even met for their second General Assembly, the lawsuit was filed, and before another two years had passed, they concluded that they simply did not have the funds or the inclination to pursue the matter further through the courts. Thus the young denomination yielded and chose a new name, which they bear to this day: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

[One of several parallels, by the way, with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which initially took the name “National Presbyterian Church,” but which had to surrender that name to avoid a conflict]

So much for background (it takes patience to be a Presbyterian!). Now on to our story. As the lawsuit had been filed by the PCUSA, discussion ensued in the papers, as you would expect. One of the more interesting letters appeared in the October 29, 1936 issue of The Presbyterian. In this letter, a Mr. Robert C. McAdie told why he opposed the lawsuit brought by his own denomination. His letter is, if nothing else, entertaining, for Mr. McAdie certainly had a gift of expression. But it also provides, in the reading of it, a good, though brief, look at the issues at stake:—

RE: BILL OF COMPLAINT

Editor The Presbyterian:

In your issue of September 3, your readers are presented with the full outline of a “Text of Bill of Complaint Against the Presbyterian Church of America”! Sponsored by a committee of our leading ministers and elders, who claim to represent “all other officers and members of the said Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” it seemed to me, as one of that great family, a wise precaution to give this somewhat portentiously worded “Complaint” a sufficiently careful study to either endorse or disavow a proceeding for which “all officers and members” are made responsible.

As a sort of “multum in parvo” outline of the forces and activities of the three Churches, Presbyterian, U.S.A., the United Presbyterian, and this latest intruder, the “Presbyterian Church of America,” it supplies much useful information in compact form, and for this I am properly grateful. But as a complaint on the part of our great denomination against the comparatively tiny organization, which somewhat egotistically demands the right to march under the obviously top-heavy title, “Presbyterian Church of America,” the assertions and charges embodied in the document give me an impression of either “Much Ado About Nothing,” of elephantine jitters caused by the presence of a mouse, or, even less complimentary spiritually, of an ecclesiastical vindictiveness which, having done its own best, or worst, now seeks an ally in secular law!

Thus our complainants emphasize at one point that, like the conies, this Machen following “are but a feeble folk,” since I read: “The organization and membership of the defendant Church at the present time is largely limited to a few individuals and churches located in Philadelphia County and adjacent areas” (since that writing, Southern California has hatched a Machen presbytery!) yet, if allowed to wear the magic panoply of the new name, “Presbyterian Church of America,” what dynamically expansive or conquering qualities these same complainants attribute to the few! “The similarity of the name of the defendant Church to that of the plaintiff Church will cause, and is intended to cause, irreparable injury and loss to the plaintiff Church”! What a welcome revelation of their own powers these words ought to convey to the ousted rebels!

But, one may ask, is this similarity of names, thus denounced and evidently feared, really any more than that of our Southern and Northern Churches, the U.S. and U.S.A.? These mean practically the same thing, yet in my sojourn down South I cannot recall seeing or hearing of Presbyterians who could not distinguish which from t’ other! But apparently if these Machenites disguise themselves in the ample folds of their chosen name, the present membership of the U.S.A. branch–and why not that of the U.S. branch also?–are fated, if we accept the dolorous outlook of the complainants, to develop an immediate mental collapse, and so become easy victims of Machen’s kidnappers! Not much of a compliment to the usual discriminating ability of Presbyterians!

One also notes how the complaint asserts that “they (Machen et al.) renounced their membership in the plaintiff Church”! That they also employed every means of retaining that membership, renouncing it only expulsion therefrom, is not even mentioned! Or would not the secular court be interested in the militant preliminaries to this establishment of a new Presbyterian organization?

On these grounds I object to any partnership in the complaint, but most of all because, as pointed out by Dr. Barnhouse, such an appeal to Caesar makes light of Paul’s solemn warning against airing Christian quarrels in secular courts. And if successful would it lessen by one iota the zeal of these battling opponents? Quite the contrary. Under some other name they would but redouble their attacks on their mother Church, which not only cast them out of her fold, but also sicked on to them the legal dogs of war. Prosecuted out of their Church, persecuted through secular aid beyond its ecclesiastical bounds; what a powerful incentive to fight!

-Robert C. McAdie, S.T.M.

Words to Live By:
…and fight they did. And so must we fight today—not with carnal weapons, but with spiritual—and wherever the Gospel is at stake. As Christians, we do not live for our own sake, for our own comfort, or for our own safety. We live for the glory of God. We live to promote and proclaim the glory of God in Jesus Christ His Son and our Savior.

Our copy of the above letter, as it appeared in The Presbyterian, is found in Scrapbook no. 5, in the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection (see scanned image below). Mr. McAdie’s letter was also reproduced on the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian, in the November 14, 1936 issue.

McAdie_PCUSA_lawsuit

Tags: , , , , , ,

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: