Near the conclusion of the Modernist-Fundamentalist Controversy in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), a number of Bible-believing pastors and churches left — or were put out of — that denomination. Many of these men joined together and formed the Presbyterian Church of America. 1 Sadly, differences quickly appeared which led in less than a year to the founding of yet another denomination — the Bible Presbyterian Church.
It has been our concern for some time that many of the prevailing historical accounts concerning this division — often quoted, and thus perpetuated in even more books, dissertations and articles — do not present a balanced or fair view of these events and are inaccurate in some very important respects.
The study of history is a worthwhile and crucial pursuit. In it we see a repeated succession of the victories and defeats, the strengths and foibles, endemic to human existence. From this there are many things we can learn concerning how we should live our own lives. Scripture itself is history (although much more than that!), given to us by God that we may learn “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 4).
Apart from Scripture — which is perfect — even the best historical accounts are mere snapshots into the past, with certain facts included, and others absent. American historian and biographer Allan Nevins states well that: “History is never above the melee. It is not allowed to be neutral, but forced to enlist in every army.” 2 The history of the subject at hand is no exception!
Often, perhaps unintentionally, the facts selected paint a skewed representation of what took place. In other cases, faulty conclusions pass for fact. This is usually caused by the paucity of complete documentation, a misunderstanding of the evidence, and/or the latent bias of the writer. Sometimes, for various reasons, extant documents (or those most easily obtained) are from only one point of view.
At any rate, the omission of crucial facts, the less than careful and often inaccurate use of labels to describe certain individuals and beliefs, and a perhaps unwitting conflation with later events and actions have unfortunately been far too prevalent.
The present writer knew well several early leaders of the Bible Presbyterian Church who were present when these events took place. My own first-hand experience with these men has not always matched what is reported as fact in some of these various accounts. Therefore, we will seek to present a wide array of primary documentation — some of it publicly available, some in my personal files for decades, and others provided to me by the descendants of some of the key figures in these events.
The stand taken by Bible Presbyterian leader Carl McIntire in the Christian Beacon, on the 20th Century Reformation Hour, and through other avenues, gained him many friends — but also a host of enemies. His unrelenting exposure of unscriptural compromise throughout the evangelical movement, while numerous Christian leaders prevaricated and shrank from the battle, caused some to have an aversion to him and what he had to say. 3 Further, even many of his friends felt that he sometimes placed trust in people who were not truly with him, and distrusted some who believed thoroughly in his stand, yet were not afraid to offer constructive criticism along the way.
This writer grew to have an abiding love for the ministry of the Bible Presbyterian Church and the Reformed Faith largely through the ministry of Carl McIntire. This was developed and expanded as I studied at Shelton College and Faith Theological Seminary. However, I did not always agree with Dr. McIntire, and indeed was not closely associated with him after a division in the Bible Presbyterian Church in the 1980s. I felt he had misjudged the situation greatly.
Therefore, the purpose of this essay is not to present McIntire and other Bible Presbyterians as if they had no faults and their detractors as totally in error. Few circumstances are ever so clearcut.
Some have said that McIntire’s experiences in the 1930s, first with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and shortly thereafter with the Presbyterian Church of America, left an indelible mark which greatly influenced decisions throughout the rest of his long and productive ministry. This seems to be borne out in a letter he sent to the Bible Presbyterian Synod, via one of its leaders, a couple of years before his death in 2002. I was serving as Stated Clerk of the Synod at that time, and have always been most grateful for that letter.
McIntire stated: “I now believe that because of past experiences, I misjudged the motives of [your Synod] and so refused to accept any evidence you attempted to present. I am sorry, and apologize, and would hope to heal the breach before the end of my life. Will you with Christian charity present this letter to the upcoming Synod for me? Gratefully in the name of the Lord, Carl McIntire.” 4
In his later years, Dr. McIntire visited my wife and me at our home in Charlotte — a time we fondly remember. We also enjoyed stopping to see him and Mrs. McIntire in their home in Collingswood, NJ, a few months before his death at nearly 96 years of age.
Despite any disagreements some may have had with Carl McIntire or other Bible Presbyterians, whether justified or not, a fair presentation of the facts is no less required. I do not consider that I am somehow blessed over others to be “above the melee,” but believe the facts here presented are crucial to any fair study of these events.
We shall begin with a brief historical overview. Following this, a number of assertions made in historical accounts of these events will be examined in the light of the available evidence. Of particular help should be the actual words of various individuals expressing their own beliefs, rather than the secondary sources usually presented which often misrepresent these beliefs.
Tumult and Transition
As Modernism grew to prominence in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Bible believers of diverse backgrounds all held the greatest love and respect for Dr. J. Gresham Machen. He had served with distinction as Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary (having taught there from 1906 to 1929). Machen stood without wavering in the face of soul-destroying Modernism, and sacrificed his reputation, his livelihood, his very life in continuing the work of God in the face of massive opposition.
Machen was the principle mover in the founding of, among other organizations: Westminster Theological Seminary ([WTS] 1929), Christianity Today (1930; not to be confused with the present publication of that name), The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions ([IBPFM] 1933), The Presbyterian Consitutional Covenant Union ([PCCU] 1935); and The Presbyterian Guardian (1935).
In 1929, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. had “reorganized” Princeton Seminary. Although they claimed it was just an administrative change, it put Modernists in firm control of this school which had been known for well over 100 years as a bastion of Biblical orthodoxy. That same year, Machen and several professors left Princeton and Westminster Theological Seminary was founded in Philadelphia.
Evidence was also appearing during this time showing that missionaries under the Board of Foreign Missions of the PCUSA were teaching unbiblical views on the mission field. When these things were pointed out and nothing was done, a number of men gathered to form The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. This was considered a threat by the Church. The very next year, the General Assembly passed the infamous Mandate of 1934, which demanded that men resign from The Independent Board or face disciplinary action.
The Presbyterian Church of America 5
These events gave rise to the formation in 1935 of the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union — as a final witness against the apostasy in the PCUSA. Throughout the next two years, faithful men of God endured grueling ecclesiastical trials. In just a few years, many went from pastoring large, prestigious churches, to being put on trial and removed from the ministry (and even the “communion of the church”) for their loyalty to the Word of God. Some lost their manses, means of support and pensions in a very short period of time. Church members found themselves locked out of the very church facilities they had sacrificed to build. Others were forced to leave all behind when the PCUSA took aggressive legal action.
In the midst of the fires of these mighty trials, the character of many well-known Christian leaders was forged. Their strong influence was felt throughout the Christian church for the remainder of the 20th century.
On June 11, 1936, seeing that there was no further hope of reforming the PCUSA, the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union was dissolved and the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America (later renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church [OPC]) 6 , was constituted. Machen was the natural choice of the assembled delegates for the position of Moderator. Men had joy in their hearts. They finally found themselves in a true Presbyterian church where all would believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures, with a firm commitment to the Reformed Faith, as so finely expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. 7
But tensions soon surfaced in the new church, largely centered around statements and actions of certain professors at Westminster Seminary, and the resultant responses by others in the Church. Professor John Murray had roots in Scottish Presbyterianism and Professors Ned B. Stonehouse, R.B. Kuiper and Cornelius Van Til were of the Christian Reformed tradition of the Netherlands. These men were all strong advocates of Amillennialism and did not have the same appreciation for some of the emphases which had developed since the early 1700s in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. — even in Old School Presbyterianism, the mantle of which they claimed to be theirs.
Ministers such as Carl McIntire, J. Oliver Buswell, Allan A. MacRae and H. McAllister Griffiths were solidly Reformed, but took the position of the importance of Christians leading a “separated life,” the Biblical view which had been promoted by many American Presbyterians (both Old School and New School) throughout history. They often warned young people against the use of intoxicating beverages, immoral Hollywood entertainment and other “worldly” practices. They also held strongly to a belief in the Premillennial Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Virtually all of the men in the new church were men of firm conviction, believing that the care and preservation of correct doctrine was essential to the furtherance of a faithful Church. Despite any failure of judgment or understanding by those on either side, these men are to be greatly admired for attempting at all cost to be faithful to God’s Word, and for separating from the apostasy found in the PCUSA.
This is to be contrasted with the “Indifferentists” — those who claimed to be be faithful to Scripture, yet retreated and surrendered in the face of apostasy in the old denomination. Machen believed these “Indifferentists” to be far worse than the Modernists, for their position of “peace at any price” allowed heretics to gain preeminence in the old church, and led many believers astray. Machen declared: “But He [God] has always saved it [the Church] not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth.” 8
Some men had taken the futile and unscriptural position of remaining in the old Church and trying to fight from within. Two weeks after the founding of the Presbyterian Church of America, one such group, the Presbyterian League of Faith, met in New York and elected the Rev. Clarence McCartney as President. McCartney had been on the Board of Westminster Theological Seminary, but refused to leave the old Church. He remained in the apostasy until his death.
McCartney’s assistant pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Harold John Ockenga 9 , would go on to become a world-renowned leader in 20th century evangelicalism. In the 1940s, he laid out an ambitious plan of “infiltration,” as opposed to “separation” from apostasy, which he termed the “New Evangelicalism.” This unscriptural position, placing far more emphasis on human strategy than Scriptural obedience, has played a major roll in the weak, powerless, compromising position of much of today’s evangelicalism.
Kuiper’s Article in The Presbyterian Guardian
The Presbyterian Guardian magazine commenced publication on October 7, 1935, as the “official voice” of the Presbyterian Constitutional Covenant Union. When that organization held its last meeting on June 11, 1936, the men present voted to turn the Guardian over to several of its members who had established the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, an autonomous organization.
The Guardian was now independent, and in no sense the official organ of the new Presbyterian Church of America [OPC], although it regularly reported its activities therein. Within a few months, Dr. H. McAllister Griffiths left as the full-time editor of the Guardian, reportedly due to financial constraints at the new company. Drs. Machen and Stonehouse became the co-editors, with their names first appearing on the masthead of the September 12, 1936, issue.
In that issue, an article by Professor Kuiper appeared entitled “Why Separation Was Necessary.” 10 It was slightly abridged from an article he had written for The Banner, the official organ of the Christian Reformed Church. It included a list of things Kuiper believed that “The Presbyterian Church of America [OPC] must stress strongly if it is to have a worthwhile future.”
He spoke even to matters which were still being debated, such as the exact formulation for the Constitution of the Church. It is easy to see how this could offend the sense of propriety of some — since the paper had no authority to speak for the Church, and Kuiper was not even a member, having his credentials in the Christian Reformed Church. This was further confirmation to some men who already sensed that The Presbyterian Guardian was unduly attempting to set policy for the new Church and associated agencies.
The Rev. Carl McIntire responded with an editorial in the October 1, 1936, Christian Beacon (p. 2) entitled “Premillennialism.” The Christian Beacon was a weekly newspaper started by McIntire earlier that same year. Although Kuiper had not mentioned Premillennialism directly, he had attacked “American Fundamentalis[m]” as being incongruous with the “Reformed Faith,” and referred to some of the “extremely prevalent” “errors” of Fundamentalism as “anti-Reformed heresies.” McIntire undoubtedly agreed with much of what Kuiper wrote, but saw Kuiper as speaking in generalities, “without any effort to distinguish the good from the bad,” and stated his belief that there were an increasing number of “veiled” and “indirect” attacks being made on the Premillennialists by Amillennialists.
McIntire was not the only one who saw Kuiper’s article in this light. The Presbytery of California of the OPC passed a resolution recommending to the editors of The Guardian that such statements hereafter be stricken from the manuscripts or that an editorial note be appended immediately following such statements which will make it clear that such a view is the private view of the author of the article and in no wise represents the official position of the Church.” 11
The Presbytery of California also overtured the Second General Assembly: “... we earnestly and prayerfully appeal to you (and to all other Presbyteries, if God wills it, to join us in our plea) that definite, emphatic, and unambiguous eschatological liberty be written into the constitution of our beloved church.” 12
The November 14, 1936, Guardian (p. 42) criticized McIntire, saying concerning his editorial that “the suspicion and injustice due to the original misrepresentation culminated in the attack which has been made by the Presbytery of California against certain persons in The Presbyterian Church of America and particularly against The Presbyterian Guardian.”
This statement was retracted in the very next issue of The Guardian (November 28, 1936, p. 71), with the editors stating that they “were in error.” The Presbytery of California had immediately responded: “It is only fair to Rev. Carl McIntire and the Christian Beacon to say that our misinterpretation was entirely independent of his editorial, ‘Premillennialism,’ appearing in that paper. That editorial was cited merely because its words accurately set forth our own independently-arrived-atunderstanding of Professor Kuiper’s words. It seems to us that there are a sufficient number of persons throughout the nation who arrived at an identical interpretation with Rev. McIntire’s (and that prior to the time of his editorial) that it would appear that either Professor Kuiper was certainly less explicit and clear in his phraseology than he might have been, or else, that a host of persons must be charged with mental vacuity.” 13
Machen, naturally desiring to see peace in the new denomination, thought the fears of the Premillennialists were unfounded, and thus that the resultant turmoil was unnecessary and causing damage in the new church. He wrote a strong letter to McIntire about his failure to print a reply from Kuiper in the Christian Beacon. Very shortly thereafter, Buswell wrote to Machen: “I really think you have misjudged Carl McIntire,” and stated that he also felt Dr. Kuiper had “used general words in an incorrect way.” 14
In his later years, Dr. Allan A. MacRae commented concerning this: “Kuiper wrote a long statement which he demanded be printed in the Beacon. McIntire refused to turn over half an issue of the Beacon to him. There was a long interchange of letters between them. I never saw these letters, but Laird Harris once said that he had read them and that the spirit of McIntire was so much more Christian than the spirit of Kuiper in these letters.... That had a good deal to do with swinging Harris in our direction though he continued for many years to feel a strong emotional attachment to Kuiper.” 15
The Second General Assembly of the OPCOn November 12–14, 1936, the Second General Assembly of the OPC met in Philadelphia. Machen nominated Dr. Buswell for the office of Moderator, and Buswell was elected. However, with the controversy that had ensued, the Premillennialists desired that something be passed simply to assure them that their presence in the OPC would continue to be welcomed. Although the editors of The Guardian had stated THEIR view that Premillennialists would be welcome in the Church, since they could truthfully hold to “the system of doctrine” found in the Confession, they also had printed, on the front page of the October 24, 1936, issue, that “the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms teach not the Premillennial view but a view that is opposed to the Premillennial view....”
If the Premillennialists were in any way unjustified in their fears, The Guardian certainly did not help matters. It became increasingly strident in publishing needlessly offensive remarks in its editorials. For instance, when the Second General Assembly turned down the pleas of the Premillennialists, the editors of The Guardian were not content just to report the fact. They did restate their view that the Premillennialists should be welcome, but added such statements as: “As for the refusal of the General Assembly to ‘write eschatological liberty’ into the constitution of the church, that was also a great victory for the Reformed Faith.” 16 No reasons were given for this grand claim, but the Premillennialists were left with the inference that if they had prevailed, it would have been a great defeat for the “Reformed Faith.”
Later in the same article, the editors opined: “But to put into the doctrinal standards such vague terms as ‘eschatological liberty’ or ‘the premillennial view’ or the like would be to insert something utterly incongruous with the whole underlying character of the rest of the standards and indeed would be to advertise to all the world that The Presbyterian Church of America has very little notion of what doctrinal standards are.” 17 Such insults created further alienation, and the assurances of an independent magazine certainly were NOT the same as official assurances from the General Assembly of the Church.
Some Premillennialists, such as Moderator Buswell, agreed that it would be best not to alter the Confession, but a suggestion by one member of the Assembly that a Declaratory Statement be added, and even an overture from the Presbytery of New Jersey requesting a simple non-binding resolution, were rejected. The Guardian editors wrote: “Another overture from the Presbytery of New Jersey demanded no such drastic action as that proposed by the California body, but asked merely for a resolution which of course would have no constitutional standing whatever.... Dr. Machen delivered a logical indictment of this entire proposal.” 18 These unnecessary comments left the Premillennialists with the inference that various ones of them were considered “drastic” and “[il]logical” in their requests. They were not requesting that Premillennialism be mandated, but simply for assurances that it would be allowed!
Harold S. Laird Elected President of The Independent Board
The Independent Board held its regular fall meeting on November 16, 1936, two days after the adjournment of the OPC General Assembly. The Rev. Harold S. Laird, who had until recently been pastor of the First and Central Presbyterian Church of Wilmington, Delaware, was elected President, succeeding Dr. Machen. Laird had been put out of the old Church due to his membership on The Independent Board. He had been a charter member of the Board of Trustees of Westminster Seminary and of The Independent Board. He presently was serving as the secretary of the Board of Westminster, a position he had held since the Seminary’s founding. Tensions were obviously present and a sizeable minority were disturbed that Dr. Machen was not reelected.
Untimely Death of Dr. Machen
On December 4, 1936, Dr. Buswell wrote a most gracious letter to Dr. Machen, discussing some of his concerns with Westminster Seminary, The Independent Board, and the Presbyterian Church of America. Buswell wrote with great hesitation, prefacing a number of his comments with such phrases as: “You are a far more experienced and more capable Christian leader than I”; and “let me say again by way of preface that my deep admiration for your Christian leadership has not changed in the least.”
Buswell concluded this letter by stating: “How I wish I could sit down with you and Dr. Kuiper and Dr. Van Til and the others and talk over all of 12 Redeeming the Time | Winter 2014 these problems. I have written this letter with great hesitation. I would not offend you for the world but I do hope and pray that these remarks may be helpful.” 19
In God’s providence, Machen was never able to respond. 20 On New Year’s Day 1937, Dr. Machen succumbed to pneumonia while visiting churches on the plains of North Dakota. All the men who had stood for the Truth alongside Dr. Machen were of course stunned at this sudden loss of their leader. Friends and enemies alike paid tribute. The Christian Beacon, The Presbyterian Guardian and The Independent Board Bulletin all carried glowing words of praise concerning Dr. Machen.
Modernist missionary Pearl S. Buck, whose heretical teachings played a large role in motivating godly men to form The Independent Board, wrote: “I admired Dr. Machen very much while I disagreed with him on every point. He was worth a hundred of his fellows who, as princes of the church, occupy easy places and play their church politics and trim their sails to every wind.... I wish Dr. Machen had lived to go on fighting them.” 21
Dr. Caspar Wister Hodge, Jr., who was the grandson of the great theologian Charles Hodge (and the great great great grandson of Benjamin Franklin), wrote: “I not only loved him as a personal friend, but I regarded him as the greatest theologian in the English-speaking world. The whole cause of evangelical Christianity has lost its greatest leader.” 22 This was one of Hodge’s last pronouncements, for he himself was to die the very next month.
Dr. Buswell Meets With the Faculty of Westminster Seminary
Buswell’s desire for a meeting with the Westminster Seminary faculty, expressed in his last letter to Machen, was realized on Monday evening, January 25, 1937. Sadly, the presence of Dr. Machen was now permanently precluded. Buswell left the meeting quite discouraged and revealed his heart in a personal letter to Dr. Laird.
He touched on the matters of Premillennialism, abstinence from alcohol and other worldly practices, and his concern with the view of apologetics 23 being advanced by Dr. Van Til at the Seminary. He also related his displeasure at “the intolerant and undemocratic attitude of the Westminster group toward Mr. McIntire’s independent paper [the Christian Beacon].” 24 Buswell and others felt the editors of The Guardian wanted a monopoly on being able to state what course the Church and its associated agencies should take.
He concluded his letter to Dr. Laird: “What I fear is that the Presbyterian Church of America, necessarily going the way of the separated life, the strongly evangelical and historical type of apologetics and evangelism, and quite largely colored by premillennial teaching, may have to part company with Westminster Seminary. I wish that parting of the ways might be prevented. I do not believe God will bless a drinking, worldly ministry.” 25
Were the Fears of the Premillennialists Justified?
The Premillennialists soon had additional reasons to believe their fears to be justified. With the loss of any restraining and reconciling influence Dr. Machen may have had, The Guardian became even harsher in its assaults (and insults) on those who did not see eye to eye with the Westminster Seminary professors previously mentioned. The February 27, 1937, issue of The Guardian was a double-barreled attack on Dr. Buswell and company.
An article appeared on pages 206–209 entitled “Dr. Buswell’s Premillennialism,” by Professor John Murray. No matter what one may www.rttpublications.org think as to the merits of either man’s arguments, this was no mere theological discussion. Murray savaged Buswell, accusing him of “pitiable distortion and misrepresentation,” of being “seriously incompetent,” and saying that Buswell’s book Unfulfilled Prophecies 26 was “characterized by gross unfairness and misrepresentation, and his exegetical argumentation is frequently very inconsequential. Looseness and carelessness are, we fear, the rule rather than the exception.”
On the front page of this same issue, the editor, Professor Stonehouse, attacked those who believed in “the separated life.” Again, Dr. Buswell is criticized by name, along with another of his books, The Christian Life. 27 With the ruinous use of alcohol and tobacco, and the glorification of sin in much of Hollywood’s entertainment, a large number of men in the Church had called on young people to reject these vices, deducing their evils from clear principles of the Word of God. Indeed, Dr. Buswell had pressed these matters with the large body of students under his care at Wheaton College, and many of the pastors of thriving churches had done likewise. On the other hand, most of the professors at Westminster Seminary thought such warnings went beyond the teaching of Scripture, and thus were unbiblical. Some have wondered if the admitted enjoyment of some of these vices by certain Seminary professors bore any correlation to the vociferousness of their opposition.
Dr. Buswell’s replies to these articles were published in the April 10, 1937, issue (p. 12). In response to the issue of Premillennialism, the editors stated that they were refusing to print the concluding four paragraphs of Buswell’s statement, leaving the reader to conclude that they contained something objectionable. Then, Professor Murray was given the last word in further rebutting Buswell’s beliefs. The magazine stated: “With the publication of this statement, and of Mr. Murray’s own reply, we are closing this discussion.” 28
Turmoil at Westminster Theological Seminary
Things were deteriorating rapidly. On April 26, 1937, Dr. Allan A. MacRae, one of the original professors of Westminster Seminary, chosen by Dr. Machen, sent his letter of resignation to Dr. Harold S. Laird, secretary of the Seminary’s Board of Trustees. He stated his view that: “Control of the Faculty and direction of its policies has passed into the hands of a small alien group without American Presbyterian background.... The alien group to which I have referred considers no one to be truly Presbyterian unless he agrees with them in everything which they choose to call essential to being ‘Reformed’ — much of which is derived from their own non-Presbyterian background.” He also mentions his view that the Premillennial view was increasingly being attacked at the Seminary, and that the right to the use of alcohol was being championed among most of the faculty. 29
Professor Kuiper, Chairman of the Faculty, issued a statement to the press, part of which reads: “The policy of Westminster Theological Seminary has always been to carry on the traditions of loyalty to the Bible and the Reformed Faith which characterized the old Princeton Theological Seminary prior to its reorganization in 1929. There has been no change in this policy, and I regret that Professor MacRae no longer finds himself able to continue in accord with it.... The Seminary stands in the great tradition of Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, Robert Dick Wilson and J. Gresham Machen. Nothing will be allowed to move it from its loyalty to the Word of God.” 30
If MacRae’s reasons for resigning were strongly stated, Kuiper went much further in accusing MacRae, in effect, of no longer being able to “continue in accord with” the “traditions and loyalty to the Bible and the Reformed Faith,” and by inference that should MacRae’s views have held sway, they would have “move[d] [the Seminary] from its loyalty to the Word of God.”
Shortly after MacRae’s exit, additional resignations followed from Dr. Laird; Mr. Roland K. Armes, treasurer of the Board; Rev. Roy Talmadge Brumbaugh; and Mr. Frederic M. Paist. All but Dr. Laird had been present and placed on the temporary Executive Committee at the founding of the Seminary on July 18, 1929. Paist had been one of three who met over lunch when the idea of the Seminary was first discussed. He had been made the Chairman of the founding temporary executive committee and was elected as founding vice president of the Board of Trustees, and later became president. Laird was elected as founding secretary of the Board and read the Seminary pledge to the Board members and faculty at the first commencement on May 6, 1930. 31
MacRae reflected later, “It was very hard for [Carl] McIntire to give up his loyalty to the faculty at Westminster and he hesitated. Once he asked to come and speak to them with the faculty and tried to get an agreement but they were absolutely determined in their opposition to him. About this time we decided the only thing we could do was to start a new seminary.” 32
For the tremendous influence that Kuiper and Murray were seeking to exert on the OPC, it is of note that neither was a charter member of the denomination, only joining after Machen’s death. Kuiper was received by the Presbytery of Philadelphia on February 9, 1937, and Murray was examined, licensed, and ordained on May 28, 1937, by an adjourned meeting of his Presbytery — just four days before the opening of the Third General Assembly of the OPC. 33
The Presbyterian Guardian continued its editorials, stating as matter of fact what should be the position of the OPC on various matters, even discussing overtures and resolutions before they had been formally introduced and discussed by the General Assembly.” 34 Professor Kuiper had also recently stated in The Guardian: “... it may not be denied that some office-bearers and members of a church are more talented than others. In consequence, not all can be, or for that matter should be, equally prominent in the work of the church.” 35 These words may have contained some truth, but with men already believing that a small group was controlling the church, such statements only added to their belief that true Presbyterian polity was in jeopardy, and they were not willing to see their church bend in the direction of becoming a de facto prelacy. In the months ahead, Carl McIntire was to write: “We saw the little group as they relished the exercise of power and assumed the position of an ecclesiastical machine.” 36
The Independent Board Likewise Experiences Problems
Up to this time, The Guardian had been carrying positive articles about The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and its missionaries. However, an article appeared in the May 15, 1937, issue (p. 52) criticizing a decision of the Executive Committee to postpone the Board’s spring meeting. Some had requested that it be held in close proximity to the dates of the Third General Assembly of the OPC, in order to save men from having to make two expensive trips within weeks of each other. If there were any opposition within the Board, it most certainly should have been handled internally and was hardly the business of The Guardian to publish the matter to a general readership.
The Independent Board met on May 31, 1937. Four men from Westminster Seminary mounted an attack on the President and Vice President of the Board, as well as Dr. Brumbaugh, claiming that they were “independents,” and thus unsuitable for membership on a Board committed to Presbyterian church government.
The Board reaffirmed adherence to its Charter, but refused to condemn its leaders — believing the charges were without merit. With that, the four Westminster men (Edwin H. Rian, Ned B. Stonehouse, Murray Forst Thompson and Paul Woolley), and several others, announced their resignations. These men were founding Board members and had been involved in the incorporation of the Board.
The next issue of The Presbyterian Guardian (June 12, 1937) was a full-blown attack on The Independent Board, beginning with the main front page headline. The Christian Beacon, which had increasingly been carrying news stories about these various troubles, now came to the defense of the Board and its missionaries against these attacks. With the tensions which had arisen in the five months since Machen’s death, and the contnued inflammatory pronouncements in The Guardian, prospects were dim for an enduring harmony within the OPC.
A Sad Parting of the Ways
When the Third General Assembly of the OPC met from June 1–4, 1937, the majority voted to abandon The Independent Board and to establish a General Assembly controlled mission board. Attempts by Premillennialists to have the General Assembly go on record that their view would officially be allowed in the Church were defeated, as were statements urging Christians to abstain from the use of alcohol. At the conclusion of this Assembly, 14 ministers and three elders gathered and signed the Act of Association of the “Bible Presbyterian Synod.” Shortly thereafter, Faith Theological Seminary was started.
The June 26, 1937, issue of The Guardian (p. 99) reported the fact, but, in characteristic style, used incomplete and selective facts to paint an unfair and inaccurate account of what had transpired — drawing into question the Reformed credentials of the Bible Presbyterians. The Bible Presbyterian Church held its First General Synod in Collingswood, NJ, from September 6–8, 1938, with 39 ministers and 11 elders in attendance. The two denominations traveled on separate paths after that time.
Such writers as Edwin H. Rian, Ned B. Stonehouse, Paul Woolley, Henry Coray, George Marsden, Charles Dennisen, D.G. Hart, John Muether, George Hutchinson, and a host of others 37 have done a service to us all with their widely-distributed historical accounts. I have enjoyed reading their works, and have learned much from them. However, most of these men are decidedly reporting things from a background closely aligned with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and its leaders, or at least with a level of antipathy to some of the early Bible Presbyterian leaders. Two examples are “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church” (Chapter 12) in the book The Presbyterian Conflict, by Edwin H. Rian 38 ; and “The Division of 1937” (Chapter 3) in Fighting the Good Fight, by D.G. Hart and John Muether. 39
On a positive note, Presbyterian groups of widely differing viewpoints are to be commended for their careful preservation of many historical documents. These include the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, the Princeton Theological Seminary Library, the Presbyterian Church in America Historical Center and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (particularly in making the entire 44year run of The Presbyterian Guardian available online).