Why Machen Left the OPC

He died (on this day eight decades ago).

Machen’s reasons for being a critic of the PCUSA — to the point that some thought he was impossible and failed to show Christian charity — were clear in his testimony before the Presbytery of New Brunswick (you know, the one that the Synod of Philadelphia created to make the revivalists feel welcome), the body that tried, found him guilty, and excommunicated him from the mainline church:

Suppose a minister obtains his ordination by promising to support the boards and agencies, as he is required to do by the plain intent of that addition to the manual of the Presbytery of New Brunswick and by the plain intent of the action of the 1934 General Assembly. Suppose he later becomes convinced that the boards and agencies are unfaithful to their trust. Let us even take an extreme case. Let us suppose that he has become convinced that those in charge of the boards and agencies are guilty of actual embezzlement. That case, is, of course, entirely hypothetical, but an extreme case does illustrate plainly the principle that is involved. Let us insist upon putting that extreme case. Here is a minister who has promised that he will, as long as he remains a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., support the boards and agencies as they are established by successive General Assemblies. He he has become convinced that those boards and agencies are positively dishonest, even with the kind of dishonestly that is contrary to the criminal laws of the land.

What course of action is open to such a minister? He is convinced that the boards and agencies are dishonest. The general assembly is convinced that they are honest. What shall he do in such a situation? . . . Only two courses of action are open to a minister who is in such a quandary.

In the first place, he may continue to support boards and agencies which he holds to be dishonest. That course of action would plainly involve him in dishonesty. An honest man cannot possibly recommend to people that they should give to agencies which he hold to be dishonest.

In the second place, a minister who is in such a quandary may withdraw from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. That plainly means evasion of the solemn responsibility which he has as a minister. I really wonder whether those who advocate this action of the General Assembly have ever thought this thing through. Do they really mean to tell us that just because a majority in the General Assembly has made a mistake one year and has placed in charge of the missionary funds of the church men who are dishonest, therefore a minister should withdraw from the church and allow that dishonesty to go on? I say that such conduct is an evasion of a solemn responsibility. No, it is the duty of a minister in such a situation to remain in the church and to seek by every means in his power to bring about a change in that policy of the General Assembly which he regards as involving dishonest. Meanwhile (and this should be particularly observed), he cannot for any consideration whatever give a penny to what he regards, rightly or wrongly, to be a dishonest agency; and still less can he recommend to any other persons the support of such an agency. . . .

I could never promise to support any human agency as a condition of my being ordained. I could not promise to support the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which I believe now to be sound in the faith. . . . It is at the very heart and core of my ordination pledge, in accordance with the law of the Presbyterian church, that I should repeatedly examine any agency that appeals to me for support in the light of the Word of God, and support it only if it is in accord with that blessed Word. Moreover, in determining whether it is in accord with that Word, I must be governed by my conscience, as God may give me light, and not by the pronouncements of any human councils or courts.

If that is contrary to Presbyterian law, then I should certainly be removed from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. But all the glorious history of the Reformed faith should teach a man if the Word of God does not teach him, that it is not contrary to Presbyterian law but is at the very heart of Presbyterian law. (Statement to the Presbytery of New Brunswick, 347-48, 349)

Those in fellowship with the Bishop of Rome, eat your hearts out.

Two Kingdom Tuesday: Machen Was All Wet

The resolution endorsing the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act was introduced to the Presbytery of New Brunswick at the very end of the meting on April 13, 1926. The attendance, which had been large during the early part of the session, had dwindled until only a very few persons were present – y estimate would be ten or twelve, exclusive of the officers, though I believe someone else estimates the number at about five. Under these conditions, the resolution was put to a viva voce vote. I voted “No”; but I did not speak to the motion or in any way ask that my vote should be recorded. . . .

It is a misrepresentation to say that by this vote I expressed any opinion on the merits of the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act – and still less on the general question of Prohibition. On the contrary, my vote was directed against a policy which places the church in its corporate capacity, as distinguished from the activities of its members, on record with regard to such political questions. And I also thought it improper for so small a group of men as were then in attendance to attempt to express the attitude of a court of the church with regard to such an important question. . . .

Such are the facts about my vote. I desire now to say one or two things about my attitude regarding the issues involved.

In the first place, no one has a greater horror of the evils of drunkenness than I or a greater detestation of any corrupt traffic which has sought to make profit out of this terrible sin. It is clearly the duty of the church to combat this evil

With regard to the exact form, however, in which the power of civil government is to be used in this battle, there may be different of opinion. Zeal for temperance, for example, would hardly justify an order that all drunkards should be summarily butchered. The end in that case would not justify the means. Some men hold that the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act are not a wise method of dealing with the problem of intemperance, and that indeed those measures, in the effort to accomplish moral good, are really causing moral harm. I am not expressing any opinion on this question now, and did not do so by my vote in the Presbytery of New Brunswick. But I do maintain that those who hold the view that I have just mentioned have a perfect right to their opinion, so far as the law of our church is concerned, and should not be coerced in any way by ecclesiastical authority. The church has a right to exercise discipline where authority for condemnation of an act can be found in Scripture, but it has no such right in other cases. And certainly Scripture authority cannot be found in the particular matter of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act.

Moreover, the church, I hold, ought to refrain from entering, in its corporate capacity, into the political field. Chapter XXXI, Article iv, of the Confession of Faith reads as follows:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

This section, I think, established a very great principle which was violated by the Presbyter of New Brunswick. . . .

In making of itself, moreover, in so many instances primarily an agency of law enforcement, and thus engaging in the duties of the police, the church, I am constrained to think, is in danger of losing sight of its proper function, which is that of bringing to bear upon human soul the sweet and gracious influences of the gospel. Important indeed are the function of the police, and members of the church, in their capacity as citizens, should aid by every proper means within their power in securing the discharge of those functions. But the duty of the church in its corporate capacity is of quite a different nature. (J. Gresham Machen, “Statement on the Eighteenth Amendment”)