Our Friends the Presbyterians

Our Friends the Presbyterians *

The third of a series designed to acquaint our workers with ways that will bring better understanding between Seventh-day Adventists and their fellow Christians.

* The third of a series designed to acquaint our workers with ways that will bring better understanding between Seventh-day Adventists and their fellow Christians.

STRICTLY speaking, John Calvin was not the founder of Presbyterianism; he did, how­ever, lay the foundations upon which it was constructed in Swit­zerland, Holland, France, Eng­land, Scotland, and Ireland. He influenced the establishment of the Dutch Reformed Church in Holland, and this reformed teaching was taken to other parts of the world, including America. He also in­spired his fellow Frenchmen out of whose ranks came the Huguenots, many of whom later found refuge in Georgia on the American con­tinent. The Scots, who afterward became Cov­enanters, received of Calvin's theological ten­ets. He gave courage to John Knox when he was forced to flee to Geneva, but who returned later to his native soil entreating God, "Give me Scotland, or I die." These were the days when British Presbyterians struggled against Catholicism's Bloody Mary. Calvin was trained for the law but later turned to theology. He broke away from Catholicism and soon took the reins of leadership in the reformed sector of the Reformation in Geneva.

It took Martin Luther to produce the theo­logical stand for the Reformation, but it was Calvin's legalistic mind that organized its the­ology. Calvin's theology stressed the concept of the sovereignty of God in the universe, of Christ in salvation, of the Scriptures in faith and con­duct, of the individual conscience in the will and word of God. The five points of Calvinism are total depravity, unconditional predestina­tion, limited atonement, irresistible grace, per­severance of the saints. Calvinism produced some much-needed reforms in education for the building of an intelligent ministry, liberation for the persecuted, the establishment of a dem­ocratic form of government in church and state.

British Puritans and Presbyterians alike fled to America when religious inequalities brought economic difficulties. Presbyterians, however, could not grow strong roots in New England, where Congregationalism had gained ground. The oldest continuing Presbyterian church was founded by Francis Makemie at Rehoboth, Maryland, in 1683. Scotch-Irish Presbyterian congregations could be found from Boston to the Carolinas. By 1706 the first Presbytery united these groups in Philadelphia, and in an­other decade it had become a synod. The Scotch-Irish migrations of 1710-1750 brought to America from 3,000 to 6,000 people yearly. From the middle colonies they soon spread out into pioneering territory. By the time of the American Revolution the Irish political tem­perament was ready to make its distinctive con­tribution, and the Scotch Covenanter back­ground also helped to secure American free­dom. These hardy colonists were too experi­enced with persecutions to be inactive in such a crisis. The Declaration of Independence was signed by only one clergyman, John Wither-spoon, a Presbyterian, and at least thirteen other Presbyterians were signers of this historic document.

Christian Schools and Institutions

Another worthy contribution made by the Presbyterians on American soil was the found­ing of schools and colleges. From the earliest days William Tennent, Sr., organized a "log col­lege" in a cabin near Philadelphia. Out of it grew Princeton College, then the training cen­ter for a stream of revivalistic Presbyterian preachers who had important roles in the reli­gious awakening of the early eighteenth century. It was the British revivalist, George Whitefield, who broke through creedal Presbyterianism, preaching an emotional "new birth." Also, the camp meeting revival grewr out of this awaken­ing, and while it was initiated bv the Pres­byterians, it was continued by the Methodists.

From 1790 to 1837 Presbyterianism in the United States grew rapidly from 18,000 to 220;-000, owing to the revival that swept the land and the Plan of Union with the Congregation-alists. United, these two groups met-the needs of the newly populated western areas. This plan absorbed the fruits of the "national" revivals and gave true impetus to home missionary work. But the "old school" Presbyterians were suspicious of the "new school" in their ranks, and feared the "novelties" of New England Congregational theology.

This was also an era of modern missions, when missionaries like Marcus Whitman and his bride pressed into the Northwest. Missionary and educational organizations flourished, and their first great theological seminaries produced many young Presbyterian workers. Antislavery issues had separated the North and South, how­ever, and soon new synods and geographical bodies developed. Most of them are still preva­lent, but some today are clamoring for union.

Women in Presbyterianism

In the history of Calvinism in America we see an early trend for recognizing the services of women and laymen within the church. Presby­terians are proud of their democratic ways for the church as well as the state. Women are more than silent worshipers. This group points to the experiences of the early Christian church as a current example. Today we see much womanly leadership in the group. Large and well-estab­lished organizations are headed by women who in committees help administratively, directing the church's education and welfare. Such women directors are providing detailed atten­tions that ministers and theologians, they claim, should not be cumbered with.

Perhaps we should consider another point among Presbyterians that has prepared the way for ideal, educated womanhood; it is their con­sciousness that the church should have its own colleges and seminaries, which each local unit should uphold. Of course, our Presbyterian friends are not alone in this discovery. Since women have had to enter the field of livelihood, they claim, the church cannot afford to leave them behind when plans are laid and executed.

The Temperance Challenge

Although Presbyterians, like other groups, are not proud of their share of present-day juvenile delinquency, it should be recognized that this church has stressed respect and obedi­ence at its grassroots—in the home. Because their doctrine emphasizes the sovereignty of the individual, the youth of the home are granted privileges that the Christian must never abuse.

In its earlier days on American soil this group helped to develop thriving farms where families were raised in a church environment. There was a keen sense of the need for equipping youth with trades and skills, to make life in­dependent of trusts and unions, which have followed in later times. Here again it may be said to this church's credit that a recognition of Christian stewardship has demonstrated its strong leadership in missions at home and abroad. Its reformation spirit in bringing the gospel to the benighted heathen has given our friends a global vision.

Adventists conscientiously believe that they have a health message for the world that must become a part of the "everlasting gospel" before Christ returns. Where our Presbyterian friends stress moderation, Adventists stress abstemious­ness when it touches tobacco, narcotics, and liquor, which we consider to be vices the entire Christian church should seek to conquer. Our Missionary Volunteers will do wisely to be­friend the Presbyterian youth of their com­munities, inviting them on special occasions to catch the spirit of our temperance crusades. This plan should not be confined to our Cal-vinist friends, for Christians, generally, are fighting this common foe. We should be de­veloping youthful temperance orators, not just to win honors but to save the youth.

Modernism and the Christian Home

Modernism has affected Presbyterianism, as it has other Christian groups. It is evident that the Christian church has had to exercise pe­riodic vigilance to combat it. We have found in Presbyterian circles many friends who are equally interested with us in maintaining or­thodoxy. Presbyterian history points out many consecrated missionaries who have made their contributions to Bible translating. It lends it­self to good will and practical public relations when we acknowledge the contribution made by such noble Christians of the past. When an anniversary, such as a commemoration of an event in the life of John Calvin or John Knox, is celebrated in the community, it might lend new vision to our Missionary Volunteers to prepare a program featuring the Reformation. This would give opportunity to invite other Christian groups to attend.

While our Presbyterian friends are, like the Adventists, "church anchored," they too are cul­tivating the spirit of Christian fellowship. For a practical example we quote personal experi­ences that have been frequently repeated in various communities. We have shared our gospel hymns in occasional home song fests, usually on Sunday or Saturday evenings. There is noth­ing like music to break down reserve and even prejudice. At times the mood was set to have a prayerful parting benediction. With such Chris­tian liberty between neighbors, it soon becomes natural to share one another's joys and sorrows. We have also found it helpful to share with our neighbors devotional books, mission stories, and our missionary journals. These gestures of to­getherness have frequently invited a request for one of our books on the doctrinal practices of Seventh-day Adventists. For this purpose our missionary book of the year is always suitable. Such friendliness is well received in middle class communities. In these areas a new type of community spirit is on the horizon. We have had some profitable discussions with Presbyte­rians on Christian stewardship. Both Presbyte­rians and Adventists hold a high appreciation of its principles in church finance. Adventists still have a few secrets to reveal to non-Advent-ists, however, and what an opportunity these chats provide!

Could we believe that the whole concept of living among other people is changing rapidly in these times, it would build for us a new philosophy of personal evangelism, and as was true of the church in the apostles' day, house-to-house religion would again be popular.

 

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