"Paving the Way for the Exodus"
Merril T. MacPherson | Church of the Open Door, Philadelphia, PA | from Voice, April and May 1945
On Easter Day, 1930, I began my pastorate of the Central North Broad Street Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, PA. Located on Broad Street, just a few blocks north of City Hall, this downtown church had a substantial brown stone building, with Sunday school rooms, offices, etc., on the ground floor, and a large auditorium upstairs. It was not only debt-free, but had an endowment fund of a quarter of a million dollars. Here we proclaimed the Gospel, both in the pulpit and over the radio, and soon had the joy of seeing great crowds, and best of all, souls saved at practically every Sunday evening service. Great monthly meetings of the Philadelphia Fundamentalists were held here, and annual conferences were conducted by the Moody Bible Institute. Before long, the newspapers referred to the Church as the "Citadel of Fundamentalism."
The financial crash of 1929 began to paralyze our Nation, and Philadelphia really felt the "Depression." Bank after bank crashed, many never to open again. Some of you "old-timers" will also remember the beginning of what happened "again and again and again." Booze then began to flow once more in America, but even a deadlier poison had devitalized the visible Church. For years godly men had warned against the encroachment of Modernism. We of the Presbyterian Church knew that it was becoming more powerful and brazen year by year. Through the General Council and the Boards of the Church, Modernism was beginning to dominate the Denomination.
The political power of the Auburn Affirmationists and other Modernists had become evident, and increasingly so since 1925. The Boards of the Church were going modernistic. While the modernism of the Foreign Board was specifically attacked, for reasons which we shall explain, yet all were guilty. Space will not permit me to give the evidence, but a few examples will suffice to show how the octopus of Modernism had gotten its tentacles around every Board and Agency of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.
The Board of Christian Education was surely a transgressor. Many had pointed out the growing apostasy evidenced in the Sunday school helps, which stressed the "Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man." In the Twelfth Annual Report of this Board, we read: "The occasional and fleeting moments of insight and power that all of us have known may be transformed into more frequent and enduring periods of illumination and victory. The high achievements of persons like Gandhi and Kagawa in our own age bear eloquent testimony to the ability of modern man to recover the spirit and technique of Jesus of Nazareth and Francis of Assisi." As one said: "This scarcely requires comment. The paralleling of Gandhi, Kagawa and Francis of Assisi with Christ is blatant blasphemy."
A pamphlet published in 1935 revealed that there were twenty-two Auburn Affirmationists connected with the National Board, either as Secretaries, Board Members, or Synodical Executives, among whom were Henry Sloan Coffin and George A. Buttrick, the Modernistic writing and teachings of whom are well known. It was revealed that even the Board of Pensions had a President, Andrew Mutch, and a Board Member, Jesse Halsey, who were Auburn Affirmationists.
But the Board of Foreign Missions became the "storm center" in 1933. Both Pearl Buck and "Re-Thinking Missions" were in the limelight. Because of public sentiment concerning the rank modernism of both, the book was furiously attacked all over our nation, and Mrs. Buck resigned as a Presbyterian Missionary. In the Minutes of the Board of Foreign Missions, we read: "A letter was presented from Mrs. J. Lossing Buck, of the Kiangan Mission, requesting to be released from responsible relationship to the Board. The Board had hoped that this step might be avoided, but in view of all the considerations involved and with deep regret it voted to acquiesce in her request. The Board expressed to Mrs. Buck its sincere appreciation of the service which she has rendered during the past sixteen years and its earnest prayer that her unusual abilities may continue to be richly used in behalf of the people of China."
Independent Board Formed
Dr. J. Gresham Machen then printed a booklet giving documented evidence of the Modernism of the Board of Foreign Missions, in which he dealt with such chapters as "Re-Thinking Missions"; Mrs. J. Lossing Buck; the Auburn Affirmation; Modernistic Propaganda by the Candidate Department, the Secretary of which was an Auburn Affirmationist; Cooperating Agencies; Modernism in China, etc. Great protest rallies were held, in Philadelphia and other places, against the Modernism of the Foreign Board, requesting that the modernists be recalled and the Board purged. The General Assembly of 1933 was overtured in this respect. When the overture was disregarded and the Board "white-washed," announcement was made that an Independent Board would be formed for the purpose of propagating truly Biblical Foreign Missionary work. Shortly thereafter, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was incorporated, with Dr. J. Gresham Machen, Pres., Merril T. MacPherson, Vice Pres., H. McAllister Griffiths, Secy., Murray Forst Thompson, Esq., Treas., and a long list of Board Directors. Charles Woodbridge, because of the modernism on the foreign field resigned as a Missionary under the Foreign Board in Africa, and returned to America to become the General Secretary of the Independent Board. We were off to a good start. Fundamentalists were rejoicing in the new Board, both as a testimony for Christ, against the current modernism, and as a channel through which they could give to help support sound missionaries.
Machine "Cracks Down"
We were sure of our Constitutional rights to form such a Board, and little dreamed of the strategy which the "machine crowd" of the Church would use in an attempt to destroy the New Board. But when they saw that money was rolling in for its support, they felt it was time to "crack down." Just before the General Assembly of 1934, Dr. Machen and three other members of the Independent Board were asked to meet with the Administrative Committee of the General Assembly. They were handed a document which contained the following words: "We wish to make known to you that after a most careful study the General Council is of the unanimous opinion that the following inferences may be drawn from this study: 1) That the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in its organization and operation is contrary to fundamental principles of the Constitution of the Church. 2) That you and your associates in this organization are violating your ordination or membership vows or both." They were informed that a 43-page pamphlet entitled "Studies in the Constitution," was already on the press, and would be placed in the hands of all the Commissioners to the General Assembly. Dr. Machen asked for an advance copy of this document, in order that a reply might be made to it, and also placed in the hands of the Commissioners, but he was informed that this could not be had. It was a stab in the back, for at the strategic moment the pamphlet was mailed so as to reach the Commissioners just before they left their homes for the General Assembly, and before a reply could be sent to them by Dr. Machen and his associates.
Only a person who has made some study of Presbyterian law and polity can fully understand the significance of this circularization, for its purpose was to prejudice minds and incite action, yes, illegal, unconstitutional action, against the members of the Independent Board. How well this was accomplished is now a matter of history--history which makes unscrupulous modernists to gloat and bloat, but still causes fundamentalists who once stood with us in the fight for Christ to blush and hang their heads in shame.