Thursday, November 4, 2010

Modernists in the Presbytery

from Two Assembly Previews by Thomas R. Birch
The Presbyterian Guardian
June 10, 1941

FOR those Bible-believers who have elected to remain in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., the 153rd General Assembly, meeting in St. Louis from May 22nd to 29th, presents no bright ray of hope. These lines are being written as the assembly opens, and a bureaucratic big-wig has just nosed out an Auburn Affirmationist in the moderatorial race, no foe of Modernism has lifted his voice against the corporate unbelief of the denomination's boards and agencies, and the air is filled only with a frenzied enthusiasm for church union and for the mass-production of resolutions on the subject of war.
We confess that we are appalled when we consider that, for the first time in the history of the church, the general assembly received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper from the hands of an Auburn Affirmationist, retiring Moderator William Lindsay Young. The ugly and unadorned fact is more powerful than any editorial comment we could make about it.

Dr. Herbert Booth Smith of Los Angeles, California, and Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin of New York City were the only two moderatorial candidates mentioned prior to the opening of the assembly. There was little to choose between them. Dr. Smith might, it seemed, lose out to Dr. Coffin, for the latter possessed one qualification for election which each year becomes more important. Dr. Coffin is, in short, a signer of the Auburn Affirmation, which denies the doctrine of plenary inspiration and holds as mere theories, which mayor may not be believed, the doctrines of the virgin birth, the substitutionary death of Christ, His bodily resurrection and His miracles. For other facts about Dr. Coffin, see the article, "Modernism's Coffin," by the Rev. Robert B. Brown, in THE PRESBYTERIAN GUARDIAN for April 25th.

Dr. Smith, pastor of the second largest church in the denomination, is a member of the Permanent Judicial Commission-the body that brought in the Christ-dishonoring decisions of the Syracuse Assembly in 1936, which ordered the ecclesiastical executions of those who could not bow before
the iniquitous 1934 mandate. This seemed likely to give him a slight advantage over his rival. On the other hand, Dr. Coffin, as president of modernist Union Seminary, New York, for the past fifteen years, was sure to give him a stiff battle. It was impossible to forecast the outcome.

But Dr. Smith, nominated by Princeton's Charles R. Erdman who stressed his candidate's "orthodoxy"
and the "genuineness" of his Presbyterianism, won the gavel on the third ballot by a comparatively microscopic margin. There were 404 commissioners who wanted the Auburn Affirmationist candidate, and 461 who preferred Dr. Smith.

It is worth noting, also, that Affirmationist Coffin was nominated by Affirmationist Jesse Halsey, and that a dark horse who was scratched after the second ballot was Affirmationist William R. Farmer of Pittsburgh, Visiting Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Seminary in 1937-38.

Church union, that hardy perennial of previous assemblies, will again come under the spotlight. Serious wooing of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (the Southern Church) and of the Protestant Episcopal Church has been going on for some time, along with a mild flirtation with the United Presbyterians and the Methodists. The Southern Church is the only one that offers much hope of early nuptials, and it is likely that serious troth-plighting will occupy the current assembly. The Southern
Church, quite plausibly, has entertained some doubt as to the doctrinal soundness of its neighbor, and last year those doubts were strengthened by the refusal of the Northern assembly to adopt an overture reaffirming, in substance, the five points of the 1923 assembly which the Auburn Affirmation so effectively denies. This year conservatives and Modernists have lovingly linked arms and declared
their united hope that the assembly will adopt an overture from the Presbytery of Cedar Rapids, designed to assure the Southern Church that the Northern denomination is oh so
sound and that together they could be just one big happy family. Because of its tremendous significance, no matter which way the vote goes, we reprint the entire overture:
  • Whereas, The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U. S., has deemed it wise to declare itself in a "didactic, advisory and monitory" manner concerning the essential truths involved in the ordination vows to which ministers and elders subscribe; and
  • Whereas, The doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. are substantially identical with our standards, and

  • Whereas, It is the hope and prayer of cur denomination that these two great branches of the Presbyterian Church might once again be organically united in the service of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and
  • Whereas, We believe that this will be a denominations together,
  • Therefore, The Presbytery of Cedar Rapids, meeting in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, on April 28 and 29, 1941, respectfully overtures the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., meeting in St. Louis, Mo., in May, 1941, to declare that it regards the acceptance of the infallible truth and divine authority of the Scriptures, and of Christ as very and eternal God, who became man by being born of a virgin, who offered Himself a Sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice and reconcile us to God, who rose from the dead with the same body with which He suffered, and who will return again to judge the world, as being involved in the ordination vows to which we subscribe.
. . . The Presbyterian Church in the U.S. is proceeding with great caution on the matter of union, and has exhibited none of the frantic eagerness shown by its Northern neighbor. We hope that a continued thorough investigation of the doctrinal condition of the latter denomination will eventually lead the Southern Church to abandon the entire project.

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