The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Brief History of American Presbyterianism



Reformation Bible College









The Formation and History of the PCA








Doctrine of the Church









By

Thomas Booher



Sanford, Florida



October 2012



           
          
            As Don Clements argues in his book Historical Roots of the PCA, it is important that those who are members of a PCA church become familiar with the roots of their denomination.[1] One can better grasp why a PCA church operates the way it operates when the theological underpinnings along with the detailed and unique church government of the PCA is understood. This understanding will shed light on the intent, structure, and function of the church and worship service itself, yielding a greater worship experience, understanding of God, and love for God during worship for the learned congregant. It will also warn the congregation when a pastor or ruling elder is beginning to act outside of the Westminster standards, thus safeguarding from theological error and liberalism. There are doctrines that our forefathers have died for, and without knowing our denomination and church history, we will lapse into heresy and apostasy, ignorantly giving up the very purity and clarity of the doctrines that so many godly men labored to preserve without any protest.[2]
            The roots of the PCA are old and run deep, well before the Protestant Reformation. A brief overview of the foundation laid by those prior to and during the Protestant Reformation will be given to show the firm foundation and heritage of the PCA. A more detailed analysis and retracing of church history once the first Presbyterians come to America will follow, particularly around the Southern Presbyterians from which the PCA emerged. The bulk of the history of the PCA will focus on its earlier, formative years, when its doctrines and distinguishing characteristics were instituted, concluding with a brief assessment of the PCA today. Finally, a brief history of Countryside Presbyterian Church in Johnsonville, NC will be given.
            There are at least six roots that helped formulate the PCA prior to the Protestant Reformation. The first of these is piety, most notably seen in the life of Bernard of Clairvaux and revived again by the Puritans.[3] Prayer, humility, and taking action are marks that the PCA encourages. The second is strong biblical leadership.[4] The PCA requires master’s level educated clergymen and firm adherence to the Westminster Standards so as to avoid doctrinal diversity and drifting. The importance of this can be traced back to the corruption of the leaders in the Roman Catholic Church prior to and during the Protestant Reformation. Third, the PCA sees the gospel as the heart of religion, traced back to the life of Peter Waldo prior to the reformation. Next is translating the Bible into all languages. John Wycliffe insisted on this, and the PCA created an organization called Mission to the World (MTW) and the Christian Education and Publication committee, as well as a joint publication with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) to produce, among other things, translations of the Bible into different languages.[5] Fifth, Jan Hus and many others following him emphasized the authority of Scripture over everything else, including individual people and church councils. Firm commitment to this vital truth wound up in Hus being burnt at the stake (even though the PCA stresses adherence to the Westminster Standards, it maintains like Martin Luther that Scripture alone is the inerrant, infallible, divine source of truth, and as such is the only thing that can absolutely bind the conscience of man). Finally, shades of a representative government can be seen prior to the Protestant Reformation from the Conciliar Movement. Hierarchical government allows for checks and balances helping to ensure doctrinal unity and avoids the pitfalls of other denominations without such governance.[6] These are six vital roots found even prior to the Protestant Reformation that the first Presbyterians and the PCA draws from.
            From Luther and the Protestant Reformation we find several more emphases that distinguish the PCA. Justification by faith alone through grace alone is the first that comes to mind, and is the heart of reformed theology and any true, Bible believing church.[7] In correlation to this truth is the need for a proper understanding of works, that they contribute nothing to one’s salvation but are necessary fruit and evidence of one’s conversion. Along with these ideas is the concept of the priesthood of all believers, that individual Christians and members of a church may seek truth from the Bible and are not reliant solely upon the pastor of their church. Lastly, the Protestant Reformation emphasized the importance and implications of the sovereign providence of God over all things, including evil and individual salvation. This is the very fabric of reformed theology and the PCA denomination.[8]
            The PCA also draws from the insights of Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin. Zwingli, partly reacting to Roman Catholic abuse, believed that religious practice could only contain what was explicitly stated and authorized in the Bible. Anything not found in Scripture was forbidden from worship. This is known as the Regulative Principle of Worship and is a distinctive of the PCA, though interpretations of just how strict this regulation should be is debated and varies from church to church. Zwingli also saw, in addition to the preaching of the Word and the proper administration of the sacraments, biblical discipline as a proper mark of a true church, with which the PCA agrees.[9] Zwingli stressed the baptism of infants, and the PCA does as well, believing God places children of believers within the covenant.
Calvin had two crucial contributions to Presbyterian and PCA roots. It is John Knox who learned from Calvin that the oversight of a church congregation should be done not by one elder, but a plurality of elders. This prevents one man from gaining all the power and requires greater agreement for changes to occur. Calvin’s second unique contribution was the nature and importance of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. While Zwingli took a memorial understanding only, Calvin taught that when believers come to the Lord’s Table the presence of Christ is mysteriously near, and we are spiritually taken to the heavenlies, actually eating at table in fellowship with the resurrected Christ.[10]   
            From John Knox the PCA has stressed the importance of expository preaching over topical preaching. Going through Scripture text by text is the preferred method of the PCA, though many pastors within the PCA undoubtedly do not do this, or at least do not do this well. The doctrines of grace defined and defended at the Synod of Dort are inseparable from the theology and teaching of the PCA, and the use of confessions of faith and catechisms for training both children and adults in the admonition of the Lord (a practice that trace their roots back to the Reformation in England) are key components of the PCA church.[11]
With the Presbyterians coming to America, we begin to see a healthy separation of church and state develop. Rather than adopting a model similar to the Puritans, the PCA accepts the concept known as sphere sovereignty, where the Church is not seen as being corporately called to address or become an activist within government and political matters (though individual Christians are allowed and should affect change), even less to try and take control of civil government and implement a Christian government that imposes upon the nation to adhere to Christian morals and regulations. The government is sovereign over civil matters, the church over spiritual matters.
Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield of the Great Awakening left an indelible mark on the PCA, cultivating an emphasis on biblical revival stemming from Calvinistic preaching and a clear proclamation of the gospel to the settlers across the United States. MTW and Mission to the United States continue to evangelize those in this country and abroad.[12] From Edwards arose the Princeton theology of Hodge and Warfield from the 19th and early 20th century is a trademark of the PCA, wedding evangelistic zeal with scholarly fervor.




Presbyterians in America and the Formation of the PCA
Also during the 19th century, a great battle over the authority and inerrancy of the Bible erupted, a battle which is vital to understanding the formation of the PCA today.[13] The emerging theological liberalism of Friedrich Schliermacher and others who would become modernists took an optimistic view of man, placing humans at the center of the universe rather than God, and subjugating the Bible and faith to mere emotions and feelings which weren’t grounded in objective reality. Schliermacher even said that Charles Hodge (a great theologian and the principal of Princeton in the late 19th century) was saved simply because he felt saved, being nothing but the climactic experience of religious ecstasy.[14] Then came World War I which showed the true nature of man and his depravity. Many of the fantasies of theological liberalism evaporated, but only for a time. Some, like Karl Barth, wanted to create a new orthodoxy, which went against liberalism yet maintained that Scripture contained error, making it impossible for the Bible to be an infallible, supreme authority ruling over man. Hodge and subsequent Princeton theologians re-affirmed and defended sola scriptura and the inerrancy of Scripture, but by the early 20th century Princeton had succumbed to liberalism itself; J. Gresham Machen along with Cornelius Van Til and several others left the faculty of Princeton to form Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia to continue Princeton theology. What is important to understand from this for the PCA is that eventually the Southern Presbyterians (their origin will be discussed momentarily) were infected with Neo-orthodoxy and then the disease of liberalism in part because the elders did not ensure that their members gave a credible profession of faith in God and His Word (meaning that the elders themselves had likely drifted toward liberalism). The PCA would emerge from the Southern Presbyterians and require that their members affirm the authority of Scripture and their need for a Savior from sin and God’s wrath and would practice church discipline if a member lived in unrepentant sin.[15]
            Also during the 19th century, Presbyterians began forming churches with Congregationalists. While Congregationalists were generally Calvinistic, they did not have a Presbyterian form of church government and thus church discipline was impossible to conduct. Those who merged with the Congregationalists became known as New School Presbyterians, while those who wanted to maintain the purity of Presbyterianism and strict adherence to the Westminster Confessions were known as Old School Presbyterians. The Old School in the south banded together with likeminded churches and formed the Southern Presbyterian Church from which the PCA would eventually come.[16] Then in 1869 the Old School Presbyterians in the North reunited with the New School based on a looser adherence to the Westminster Standards.[17] But within a few decades liberalism crept into the Northern Presbyterians. A professor from Union Seminary named Charles Briggs, who had an Old School background, studied abroad in Germany, where he was influenced by the liberal professors and their higher criticism of the Bible. In his speech at his inauguration in 1891, he denied the verbal inspiration of Scripture, its inerrancy, and the existence of miracles, instantly creating a firestorm.[18] Though Briggs was charged with heresy two years later and had his ministerial credentials removed, Union Seminary left the Presbyterian denomination, a clear indication that theological liberalism was entrenching itself in the United States. By 1929, the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterians essentially affirmed liberalism.
            It would not be long for the Southern Presbyterians to slide into liberalism. This took place in the 1950’s and 60’s. Recall that the southern Presbyterians remained loyal to the Old School, which was strict adherence to the Westminster Standards, the confession of faith and catechisms.[19] Southern Presbyterianism, like Princeton, united evangelism with doctrinal orthodoxy. Machen himself came from a Southern Presbyterian church, and their zeal to spread the gospel and plant churches that adhered to sound doctrine positively influenced their congregations to do the same, so much so that when the denomination turned liberal, many separated and eventually formed the PCA.[20]   
            A list was made at the beginning of the 20th century that gave an idea of what the Southern Presbyterians (which became known as the Presbyterian Church in the United States) stood for. These ideals have been listed previously, and include the plenary verbal inspiration of the Bible, unwavering loyalty to the Westminster Standards and its Calvinism, the role of the church to corporately address the needs of obeying the Great Commission along with growing the members of its church into knowledge and holiness, and a constitutional ecclesiastical polity, where the ruling elders carried as much authority as the teaching elder, attempting to avoid a centralization of power.
            The conservatives within the Southern Presbyterian Church held to these teachings until the 1930’s, when neo-orthodoxy and liberals gained control of the educational institutions and the Christian Education and Publications Committee. The conservative leaders were negligent and did not attempt to excommunicate the heretics until it was too late, and thus it was within a few decades that the Southern Presbyterian Church was contradicting everything it believed in.[21] For example, regarding inerrancy and a high view of Scripture, Professor Ernest Trice Thompson taught the liberal view of Scripture at Union Seminary beginning in 1923. Though he was moved to the Biblical Department of Church History and Polity, he was able to teach and influence over half of all the Southern Presbyterian ministers for over forty years until his retirement in 1964![22]
By 1972, the General Assembly drafted a paper on doctrinal loyalty which read in part, “In the present situation it is more ambiguous, and whether it can still be useful will depend in part on the degree of theological unanimity now desired by the church.” This referred to the Westminster Standards and Calvinistic doctrine, of which they were abandoning. With WWI and WWII devastating the nation, the Southern Presbyterians also began to establish committees for the social welfare of people, becoming more concerned with the physical well-being of people than proclaiming the gospel. Church polity began to dissolve in the 40’s as well. The teaching had been that each congregation had the right to elect their elders and pastor, but now committees were being formed that could approve or disapprove the lists of potential pastors and elders that the congregation came up with, giving the power to a small committee to determine the teaching and preaching authority in the entire church.[23]
            As can be seen, a liberal hijacking of the Southern Presbyterians occurred. The liberals took hold of the educational agencies, the seminaries and colleges, and controlled the publication of literature. The good news is that out of this apostasy nearly 250 churches and over 40,000 members created the PCA in order to continue what the Southern Presbyterian Church had now forsaken.
In the nearly forty years of its existence, the PCA has grown rapidly. For three years in the 80’s it was the fastest growing denomination, and at present boasts nearly 1800 churches in all 50 states and 5 provinces of Canada, with over 350,000 members. It has grown by over 40% in the last fifteen years.[24] The first idea for the PCA can be traced back as early as the 1940’s, when several men came together to publish the Southern Presbyterian Journal. Its purpose was to teach solid, reformed truth and alert others of the theological changes that were taking place in the higher ups. Within another fifteen years or so, a few men started the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, which is still in operation today, to bring revival to the church and rally them around the true gospel and solid teaching through Bible studies. A third group formed in 1964, the Concerned Presbyterians, led by ruling elder Kenneth Keyes from Miami, FL. Their goal was to inform and encourage the ruling elders of all the Southern Presbyterian churches to call the church back to its theological and confessional foundations. They also organized prayer meetings for the purity of the church.[25] The fourth and final group that led to the formation of the PCA was the Presbyterian Churchmen United, where 500 ministers banded together and produced a declaration that they signed, calling for the church to return to its roots.
            The Southern Presbyterian Church, however, was too far gone, so those who wished to see change would have toproduce it by starting a new denomination. Plans for this originated in May of1973 at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, GA. Committees wereorganized there to start a new denomination, and would reconvene in Asheville,NC in August. At that gathering, plans were made for the first General Assemblyof the new denomination to take place on December 4-7th at BriarwoodPresbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL, at which the MTW, Mission to the UnitedStates, and Christian Education and Publications committees were established,along with the institution of the Book ofChurch Order for procedural matters.[26]
            After a few years passed, talks ofthe PCA, OPC, and RPCES merging heated up. A vote was taken, and on June 14,1982, the RPCES was declared members of the PCA. However, by the vote of one elderin one Presbytery, the motion to invite the OPC to join the PCA failed. In1986, with the inclusion of the Presbyteries from the RPCES, the invitation tothe OPC was approved, but this time, the OPC General Assembly voted againstjoining. Thus, the OPC and PCA have remained separate denominations to thisday.[27]
            In its brief history, the PCA hasremained loyal to the Westminster Standards, by and large. However, I amconvinced that many members in the church are not familiar with theirdenomination’s history, as I myself was not until writing this paper. Thiscould result in a doctrinal drift away from orthodoxy yet again. The sinfulnessof even regenerate men tends to cause us to lean toward theological liberalism.Constant safeguarding must be applied to prevent this from happening, withchurch discipline being practiced as well as ministers and professors beingscrutinized before they are ordained and allowed to teach in seminaries andchurches.
Brief History of Countryside PCA
            Countryside Presbyterian Church wasorganized in 1987 as part of the PCA. On December 29th, 1985,approximately fifty people met at the Johnsonville Community House to discussbuilding a new church in the PCA. On January 12th, 1986 a vote wastaken and passed for the congregation to join the PCA. On January 25tha group of men from the church attended Presbytery in Denver, NC, and thechurch was accepted into the PCA. On January 29th a meeting was heldat the home of Tommy Combs to discuss a building project which includedestablishing a building fund, a name for the church, and property to build thechurch on. On February 12th land was chosen for the church on theproperty of Mr. and Mrs. David Ferrell, and several days later the name of thechurch was chosen. Rev. Harry Barnett, a retired minister within the PCA, begantraining sessions for the potential elders and deacons. Meanwhile, the women inthe church organized fundraisers for the new building. On April 20than advisory, building, and finance committee were established. On December 14ththe first service in the new building was held, with about 85 people attending.
By May of 1987 Countryside wasorganized as a church rather than a mission. 53 members were received and acongregational meeting was held to select a pulpit committee. On February 20thof 1988 Rev. Bill Bivans was examined and accepted into the presbytery,becoming the first pastor of Countryside. The following day Rev. Harry Reederalong with Rev. Bob Wilcox visited Countryside and $5000 dollars was pledged tohelp support the new pastor. Since then, the church survived several membersand Reverend Bivans leaving to start another PCA church, an absence of a pastorfor nearly two years, and is now on its fourth pastor, Reverend Dave Kinney.
Since I can remember, my parentsand I have attended Countryside. I can say that, as a child, the Sunday Schoolteachers did a pretty good job training me. Yet as I grew older, I never heardthe doctrines of grace, Calvinism, or even the Westminster Confession of Faith.I suppose we read through it or recited it on occasion, but what thesedoctrines meant were never really brought to my attention. It became traditionto recite a question from the catechism. My only recollection of hearing aboutCalvinism came when I was a senior in high school and the pastor, Rev. DaveKinney, was talking about it in a Sunday school class, presenting it in such away that it was expected that the people would be familiar with it, which Iknow apart from my Dad almost all were not. I did not understand what was beingtaught or the importance of the doctrines. In that regard, my church failed meseverely, but when I look at other churches around my hometown, I know I couldhave been in churches that were far worse. I served for about eight months as adeacon at Countryside before coming to Reformation Bible College, and my Dadbecame an elder a few years ago. He strives daily to encourage the pastor andthe congregants to preach and embrace the doctrines of grace, fills in for thepastor when he is on vacation or sick, is currently writing a weekly piece inthe bulletins on the Protestant Reformation, and teaches a Sunday School classas well.[28]
           




[1] DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), IX-X
[2]Ibid. X-XI
[3]Ibid. 242
[4] DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), 215
[5]Ibid. 216
[6]Ibid.
[7]Ibid. 243
[8] DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), 243
[9]Ibid. 38-9
[10]Ibid. 244
[11] DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), 245
[12]Ibid. 246
[13] DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), 142
[14]Ibid. 148
[15]Ibid. 151
[16] MortonSmith, “Introduction to Old School Theology” (lecture, Greenville PresbyterianTheological Seminary, Greenville, SC, 1998), http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=122101113181 (accessedOctober 15, 2012).
[17]Ibid.
[18] DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), 156-7
[19] MortonSmith, “Introduction to Old School Theology” (lecture, Greenville PresbyterianTheological Seminary, Greenville, SC, 1998), http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=122101113181 (accessedOctober 15, 2012).
[20] DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), 193
[21] Ibid.,198-9
[22]Ibid., 199
[23]DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006), 203
[24]Ibid. 205
[25]Ibid. 208
[26]DonK. Clements, The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America (MetokosPress, 2006),  216
[27]Ibid. 236
[28]Information on Countryside PCA gathered from papers provided by churchhistorian Barbara Mayer

No comments:

Post a Comment

Loading...