January 25, 1942
By Ruling Elder Murray Forst Thompson
We have seen the origin of the Auburn Affirmation. We have sought to expose its heretical teaching. We have described the efforts of the conservatives to do something about it. What is the standing of the Affirmationists in the church today?
It is hardly necessary to say that they have not withdrawn from the church. Did they not affirm that they “sincerely hold and earnestly preach the doctrines of evangelical Christianity, in agreement with the historic testimony of the Presbyterian Church in the United State of America?” They have not left the church; they have “taken over” the church.
The best method of determining the power and influence of the Affirmationists is to note some of the more important official positions which they hold. A study of their official status in the numerous presbyteries and synods throughout the country would be a herculean task. It is sufficient to see how many signers of the Affirmation are on the various boards and agencies of the church, and on the Permanent Judicial Commission and standing committee of the General Assembly. The results of our investigation have been tabulated, and will be presented in a separate article in an early issue of The Presbyterian Guardian. These statistics will show the extent to which the church has honored the Affirmationistis. They also will indicate that the signers of the Affirmation have not lost influence in the last seven years.
Prior to 1940, Affirmationists had been placed on the most influential standing committees of the General Assembly; they were elected to the mission boards and the Boards of Christian Education and Pensions; they were on the General Council, the central administrative body of the church; they were members of the Department of Church Cooperation and Union, which is becoming increasingly important in the view of the efforts to unite with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (the Southern Presbyterian Church) and the Episcopal Church; they were on the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly, the highest judicial body in the church, next to the assembly itself. But it remained for the General Assembly of 1940 to honor an Affirmationist with the highest office in the church. That assembly elected as its moderator, Dr. William L. Young, President of Park College, Parkeville, Missouri. Dr. Young’s nearest opponent was a fellow-signer of the Affirmation, Dr. J.B.C. Mackie of Philadelphia, and, on Dr. Mackie’s motion, Dr. Young was elected by acclamation. Times had certainly changed. In 1924, the conservatives elected their candidate by a scant majority of 18 out of 910 votes. (It is also worth recording that Dr. Young appointed fellow Affirmationists as chairmen of half of the important standing committees of the assembly. (Bills and Overtures, National Missions, Polity, Nomination of Members of General Council, and Social Education and Action.)
Unquestionably, the Modernists had a “field day” at the General Assembly of 1940. And they made the most of their opportunity. The Presbytery of Arkansas overtured the assembly to reaffirm once more the “Five Points” of the General Assembly of 1923. Dr. Mackie, as the chairman of the standing Committee on Bills and Overtures, had the satisfaction of recommending that the assembly take no action on the overture. The recommendation was adopted by unanimous vote. The signers of the Affirmation had come a long way. In 1924, they were able only to protest against the assembly’s reaffirmation of the “Five Point”: in 1940 they were in a position to insure that the assembly should not make the same mistake again.
Nor did the Affirmations fare so badly in the General Assembly of 1941. The leading candidates for moderator were Dr. Herbert Booth Smith of Los Angeles, and Affirmationist Henry Sloane Coffin of New York City. Although Dr. Smith was elected, Dr. Coffin received 46 percent of the votes cast. Furthermore, Dr. Coffin was nominated by Dr. Jesse Halsey, a fellow-signer of the Affirmation. And a “dark horse” who was “scratched” after the second ballot was another Affirmationist, Dr. William R. Farmer, of Pittsburgh, who had been Visiting Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Seminary in 1937-38.
Dr. Smith showed his colors immediately by appointing as vice-moderator Affirmationist Norman E. Nygaard of Los Angeles, and by appointing Dr. Coffin chairman of the standing Committee on Bills and Overtures, and another signer of the Affirmation, Dr. Asa J. Ferry of Wichita, Kansas, chairman of the standing Committee on Nomination.
For the second time in consecutive assemblies an Affirmationist was chairman of the Committee on Bills and Overtures and again that committee had an opportunity to prevent the reaffirmation of any of the Christian doctrines contained in the “Five Points.” The Presbytery of Cedar Rapids sent up to the assembly an overture intended to assure the Southern Presbyterian Church of the doctrinal soundness of the Northern Church. The overture asked the assembly to declare that it regarded certain doctrines “as being involved in the ordination vows to which we subscribe.” The doctrines were the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection, and the second coming of our Lord. The text of the overture was rewritten by Dr. Coffin’s committee, and as adopted by the assembly did not affirm a single Christian doctrine. The assembly piously reaffirmed “the fidelity of the church to its doctrinal standards” and declared itself convinced that “its ministers and elders are loyal to their ordination vows.”
The evidence, we believe, shows that the Affirmationists—or the heretical views they represent—control the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. WE do not say that the signers of the Affirmation are the only heretics in the church. We do say, however, that no more significant or influential anti-Christian declaration has appeared in the history of that denomination. It was indeed a dark hour for the church when that infamous document was published. Many even darker hours were to come later, as the protests of the conservatives became more and more feeble and the leaven of unbelief did its work. One of the darkest arrived on May 22, 1941, when the General Assembly, meeting in St. Louis, having been constituted with prayer, received the sacrament from the hands of the Affirmationist moderator of the General Assembly of 1940.
The events since 1936 show that the Presbyterians who then left the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. were right. But many Christians remained. To them we address a final word. Are you going to continue in a church which honors men who reject the Bible as the infallible Word of God and who do despite to the most precious truths of the Christian religion?