Editorial Keynotes

Presbyterian crisis over the Machen case—No. 2

L.E.F. is editor of the Ministry.


It is not our purpose, nor is it within our province, to discuss the merits or demerits of judicial procedure in the ecclesiastical trial of the noted Presbyterian Fundamentalist, Dr. J. Gresham Machen, Rather, our objective is to acquaint our ministry with the signifi­cance of this new chapter in the conflict of Modernism with Fundamentalism which is rocking every great Protestant communion. This widely publicized "trial" brings to light a further development in Protestantism's drift from God, and reveals the specific departure in Presbyterianism in unconcealable outline.

The religious world has been deeply stirred by the issue, and the religious press has been exceptionally outspoken in discussing the new crisis. The consensus of opinion is that it is fundamentally a doctrinal issue. Thus the Sunday School Times (May 18), in an editorial note introducing a remarkably candid article by Ernest Gordon,—"The Amazing 'Trial' of Dr. J. Gresham Machen," from which we shall later quote,—lays bare its fundamental sig­nificance:

"This 'trial,' a travesty of justice and righteousness, is an amazing phenomenon in present-day church life. While it happens to occur in one denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., the Times be­lieves its outstanding facts and significance ought to be familiar to Christian people of all denominations, because Modernism has entered into most evangelical Protestant communions today."

The Moody Bible Institute Monthly (May 25) likewise envisions it editorially as part of a "life-and-death struggle" in Protestantism;

"The establishment of the Independent Board raises an issue much broader than itself, and is a phase of the life-and-death struggle between Modernism and Christianity now taking place not only in Presby­terianism, but in other denominations as well."

And, remarkably enough, the "Ruling Elders of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A." placed a statement on the front page of the Presbyterian (May 23),—leading journal of the denomination,—deliberately stating:

"We believe that doctrinal differences lie at the heart of, and furnish the motivating cause for, the present discord in our church, and that issues having the aspect of administrative and governmental mat­ters are only collateral manifestations and outgrowths of fundamental and irreconcilable differences in belief. We believe that the real disturbers of the peace of our church are those who question or deny and not those who conscientiously defend the doctrinal Standards as expressed in our Confession of Faith and Catechisms as historically understood."

Doctor Machen's own analysis of the issue appears in the same journal, the Presbyterian (April 4):

"At bottom the issue in this case is the issue be­tween two irreconcilable adversaries—Modernism and the Christian religion. The constitution of the church is Christian, but the machinery of the church is domi­nated by Modernism and its allies. It is typical of the condition of the church that the moderator of this Commission is a signer of the Modernist docu­ment, commonly called the 'Auburn Affirmation,' which casts despite upon the holiest verities of the Christian religion, and that the whole Commission, led by Prof. John E. Kuizenga, of the new Princeton Seminary, debarred all reference to that Modernist document. The gist of the case is that I am ordered by the General Assembly to support the Modernist propaganda which is being furthered by the official Board of Foreign Missions, and that, being a Chris­tian man, I cannot do so. The customary attempt is being made to obscure the issue, by representing it as merely administrative, and not doctrinal, but I think real Christian people and even the general public, are being less and less deceived by such evasions."

Under the title, "The Presbyterian Inquisi­tion," an amazing two-page article appears from Dr. D. D. Burrell (Presbyterian, May 9). He traces trenchantly the steps in the trial. Space forbids reproduction. But after allusion to "the blind and dogged persistence with which the champions of the Foreign Board have pur­sued Doctor Machen and the supporters of the Independent Board," and asserting that there is "only one way to end distrust of the Board and restore a lost loyalty," he comes to this climax:

"But the most dangerous phase of this whole cam­paign is the attempt to suppress the doctrinal issue. It cannot be suppressed. If the present policy of the `leaders' of the church continues, the final split will come on this issue. This is the plain lesson of his­tory. The criticism of the Foreign Board is based entirely on suspicion of doctrinal laxity."

Perhaps most remarkable of all is the bold declaration of Dr. Burleigh Cruikshank, pastor of the St. Paul Presbyterian Church, Philadel­phia. Appearing as the leading article in the Presbyterian for April 18, it occupies two and a half pages. This amazing analysis and criti­cism of affairs in the Presbyterian Church,—and in a larger sense of the entire Christian world,—merits closest scrutiny. We only wish that space permitted a full reprint:

"The immediate causes which have precipitated the present crisis are only incidental to a far broader struggle within the church. The real issue is between two theological points of view which have become. during the last few years, mutually exclusive.

"The divergence of doctrine which is the root of the problem in the Presbyterian Church is also shak­ing every evangelical Christian body. Up to the pres­ent, some of these denominations have managed to keep the fire banked. But it is there just the same. All that is required to cause it to break out into flame, is a good stiff breeze. We can feel that breeze coming with rapidly increasing strength in our church. While we are not a prophet or the son of a prophet, the cleavage between these two schools of thought has become so wide that we do not see how they can continue to live together much longer.

"Even those who are most ardent in their Christian faith and belief detest controversy. It is much easier to dwell in indifferent peace, and certainly it is more pleasant. However, there is something which is even worse than a good fight. It is to hold essential prin­ciples and especially God-given truth so lightly that they lose their strength and power.

"Christian truths have lost their original vitality in many places. Words that once stood for certain Christian principles have deteriorated until they may carry various interpretations. There was a time when if a man said that be believed that Jesus Christ was divine, one knew what he meant. Today, he would have to be questioned with a microscopical carefulness if he is to be correctly understood. His statement may mean several things. The same may be said of every article of the Christian creed.

"In the prosperous years, when most of us were having an easy time in the world, there were few who were interested in the distances we had drifted from our original moorings in politics or religion. But the times have changed. Men are fully awake and thoughtful. Our present plight has revealed the dangers that were being ignored, and might lead to destruction. When people are informed about issues involved, they will have more patience with contro­versy and more sympathy with contending forces.

"In a day when convictions seem to be obsolete ideals of a bygone day, we must confess that it is refreshing to see some of them sparkle with an ancient glory."

Ernest Gordon, in the Sunday School Times, article of May 18, to which allusion has been made, discussing the "irrepressible conflict which neo-Unitarianism is bringing into the church," tells of the larger issues involved and the background:

"This infection came originally from the New Eng­land Unitarianism of the last century which harks back to eighteenth century deism. For years its rep­resentatives have been consciously at work to leaven the Christian churches. It has largely wrecked Con­gregationalism, making its seminaries useless for evan­gelical Christianity and its pulpits spiritually impo­tent. It has permeated the machinery and dominating personnel of most of the major churches. The [Pres­byterian] Auburn Affirmation, which was really nega­tion in substance, is but one manifestation of its sub­tle working