Concluding our coverage of the second General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which was in the first several years of its existence known as the Presbyterian Church of America. That Assembly was in session from November 14-16, 1936. The news clipping transcribed below is from the Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, preserved at the PCA Historical Center. At the end of this post, we have provided image scans of the program bulletin from that Assembly. The text of Dr. Machen’s sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 can be found here. For an interesting exercise, compare Dr. Machen’s sermon with that of Robert Murray McCheyne, on the same text. Click here for the McCheyne sermon.
Philadelphia Inquirer, November 16, 1936, page 2:
FAREWELL GIVEN BY DR. BUSWELL.
Places New Presbyterian Group in Van of Fight for Old Faith.
In a farewell message to members of the second General Assembly, Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., moderator for the duration of the sessions, last night placed the new Presbyterian Church of America in the forefront of the battle to preserve the ancient evangelical standards of the reformed faith.
Taking as his text a portion of an epistle to St. Paul to the Corinthians, Dr. Buswell declared “salvation of souls” to be the main business of the denomination and, among others, quoted a passage from the Apostle that “we are ambassadors for Christ.”
The sermon, delivered in the auditorium of the Manufacturers’ and Bankers’ Club, was the final event on a four-day program during which the assembly adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith as its doctrinal standard, elected committees and took steps toward acquiring a form of government.
It followed a series of devotional services at individual churches during the morning, when various visiting ministers addressed the congregations. The new Church was formed after a split from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. last June over the question of modernism.
Declaring that the Bible alone was recognized as ultimate authority in the present denomination, Dr. Buswell scored efforts to substitute for that authority the official interpretation of Church councils and of men.
Words to Live By: Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
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.
Today’s post is something of a modest exercise in exploring the archives, with two documents—both having the same date—drawn from two separate manuscript collections preserved at the PCA Historical Center. Nothing earth-shattering here, though there is some discovery along the way. In this case, the documents connect only in a minor way, though sometimes such connections can shed valuable light.
Pictured below is the service bulletin from the Eighth Annual Opening Exercises of the Westminster Theological Seminary, held on Wednesday, September 30, 1936 in Witherspoon Auditorium. This auditorium was capable of seating one thousand people, and was part of the Witherspoon Building, home of the PCUSA’s Presbyterian Board of Publications.
To digress a bit, the Witherspoon Building was named for the Rev. John Witherspoon [1723-1794], and is located at 1319-1323 Walnut Street in Philadelphia’s Market East neighborhood. It was designed by architect Joseph M. Huston [1866-1940] and the work was commissioned by the Presbyterian Board of Publications and Sabbath School Work. An eleven-story, steel frame “E”-shaped building, faced with brick and granite, the structure was built between 1895 and 1897. Exterior features include Corinthian and Ionic columns, and terra cotta decorations of statues, medallions, and seals of various boards and agencies of the Presbyterian Church as well as those of related Reformed churches. The famous sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder [1870-1945] designed six of the statues and some of the medallions that graced the building. An additional ten statues of various Biblical figures, were later cast by Samuel Murray and Thomas Eakins and installed in the exterior arches on the eighth floor. All of the statues were removed in the early 1960’s for fear of deterioration and were relocated to the courtyard of the Presbyterian Historical Society. The Witherspoon Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
For the commencement exercises that year, the Seminary had invited Professor H. Henry Meeter of Calvin College, His message, “Thank God and Take Courage,” was subsequently published on the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian, and can be read here (part 1), pp. 6-8 and here (part 2), pp. 27-29. [It should also be noted that The Meeter Center for Calvin Studies is named in honor of Dr. Meeter.]
A Second Document: Machen’s Advice on Deciding Moral and Ethical Conflicts
At some point on that same day, Dr. Machen set to answering some of his mail. How it was that Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. came to have a copy of this letter, is something that will have to remain a mystery. In the letter, Dr. Machen replies to an inquiry from a young woman, giving his advice on how to decide moral and ethical conflicts:
[From the J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. Papers, Box 286, File 16, file copy on green paper, 8.5” x 11”]
J. Gresham Machen Westminster Theological Seminary 206 S. 13th St., Philadelphia, Pa
September 30, 1936
TO: Miss Mary J. Gushard
1220 Lincoln Ave.
Prospect Park, Pa
Dear Miss Gushard:
Your letter of Sept. 24th, addressed to me at the Seminary, which I do not visit very often in vacation time, did not come into my hands until yesterday evening. In reply to your inquiry, please let me say that I do not think it to be wrong to attend the theatre. My position regarding these matters is rather c1ear, and. I have held. it for a great many years. It may be set forth in part briefly as follows:
1. It is wrong to do things that are expressly forbidden in the Bible. 2. Where things are not expressly forbidden in the Bible, the individual Christian must determine, in the light of the Bible, whether they are wrong or not, and must act accordingly. 3. It is wrong for one Christian to tyrannize over the conscience of another in these matters.
That being so, I respect very greatly the conscience of a fellow-Christian who cannot conscientiously go to the theatre. I should hate to see him do what he thinks is wrong. I certainly cannot ask him to submit his conscience to mine. On the other hand, he ought not to ask me to submit my conscience to his. With re: to the “separated” life, I should just like to say two things. In the first place, worldliness is a great danger to the Church and consecration is the thing for which we ought to strive with all our might. No mere man, since the Fall, has ever in this life been perfectly consecrated to God; but we ought to strive always to be more and. more consecrated to Him. In the second place, however, there is also an opposite danger. It is the danger of a false asceticism. It is the danger into which those persons in Colosse fell, when thoy said in a way which the Apostle rebukes: “Touch not, taste not, handle not.” We ought to strive against that danger also. Particularly ought we to avoid subjecting our fellow-Christians to rules of our own choosing that go beyond what the Word of God contains.
Such are my principles. I do not claim to have followed them perfectly. Far from it. There have been times beyond number when I have fallen short of them. certainly need to ask God daily to forgive me for my sins. But the principles that I have set forth do seem to me to be in accordance with God’s holy Word, and they are principles which I think we ought to keep before our eyes.
Very sincerely yours, (Signed) J. Gresham Machen
Image source: Henry G. Welbon Manuscript Collection, Scrapbook number 4, p. 412.
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