“A great system of National Parks has been built up. It might have been a beneficent thing if it meant that the natural beauty of the regions now embraced in the National Parks were to be preserved. But as a matter of fact it means nothing of the kind. During a period of over 30 years I used to go in the summers, with some interruptions, to Mt. Desert Island, Maine. When I first went there it was about the sweetest and most beautiful lake and mountain region that could possibly be imagined. It really seemed as though no human being would have the heart to destroy the delicate charm of those woods. But then came Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the Lafayette (later Acadia), National Park, and all was changed. Huge roads now scar practically every mountainside and skirt the shores of practically every lake. The woods near the roads have been ruthlessly ‘cleaned up.’ The natural beauty of the region has been systematically destroyed. When I go into that National Park, with its dreary regularity and its officialdom, I almost feel as though I were in some kind of penal institution. I feel somewhat as I do when I am in Los Angeles or any of the other over-regulated cities of the West, where pedestrians meekly wait around on the street corners for non-existent traffic and cross the streets only at the sound of the prison gong. Certain it is at any rate that the best way to destroy true recreation is for government to go into the business of promoting it.”
When I saw Anthony Bradley’s July 2010 review of Peter Slade’s book Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and a Theology of Friendship, I was disturbed by the mention of J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til as possibly culpable in promoting segregationist churches in the South. Dr. Bradley mentioned “[t]he role of Westminster Seminary’s J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til in the segregationist churches.” In a comment following another post, Bradley noted, “…as far as I know Machen was a segregationist. He’s not blameworthy on those issues because there have been racist whites in Christians [sic] churches since the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”
Machen hired the Dutch Reformed scholar Cornelius Van Til to teach at Westminster Seminary, and defended him against the complaints of the more fundamentalist American Presbyterians. Van Til contributed significantly to the improvement of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and American Calvinism in general. Among other things, Van Til helped move at least some American Protestants away from their functional deism in civic matters. The Christian faith has implications for the world in which the Church works, and Van Til would not sacrifice a Reformed Christian apologetic to gain mainstream acceptability. For those in the fledgling OPC who wanted to maintain ties with traditional American fundamentalism–characterized by a comfortable public deism, Arminian revisions to the WCF, total abstinence on alcohol–this was a difficult position to accept.
Read more: “Cornelius Van Til and the Identity of the OPC” by Charles Dennison in the OPC’s New Horizons, June 1996.
Also, D.G. Hart and John R. Muether’s “Why Machen Hired Van Til.”
A majority of presbyteries in the PCUSA have voted to allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals, replacing the 1996 language:
….Those who are called to ordained office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
The pastoral letter from the General Assembly stated, “persons in a same-gender relationship may be considered for ordination and/or installation as deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament within the PC(USA).”
Read Wes White’s comments on his blog.
I hope no one is shocked. The PCUSA hasn’t been holding to confessional standards for a very long time. This simply adds a degree of consistency to the PCUSA’s other practices.
Apart from denominational rulings, though, one would hope for integrity among the individual elders, deacons, and members within the church. Agree with the historic standards, or don’t, but don’t try to justify theological liberalism from a conservative confession, or try to cram your conservative self into a theologically liberal congregation. Be honest and admit the inconsistency. As I’ve posted earlier, Machen’s own doubts about his ability to hold to theological standards of Presbyterianism with integrity led him to delay his own ordination into the Presbyterian church. Even the atheistic H.L. Mencken appreciated Machen’s willingness to hold to theological standards (beliefs which Mencken found abhorrent) instead of caving in to the demands of the surrounding culture.
Zac Wyse at the After Darkness, Light blog mentions this little anti-fundamentalist gem from Machen: “The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what an aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience, I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.” Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, 1987, p. 506.
And then there is this wonderful little commentary on the propensity of conservative Protestants (and others) to light up, from Rodney Clapp: “The Nicotine Journal.” Among the names: Bonhoeffer, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Tolkein….
Many Christians have struggled with their faith when it is confronted with apparently contradictory “reasonable” arguments. For years, J. Gresham Machen faced doubt and wrenching inner conflict, which caused him to delay his own ordination. He emerged from this period with not only greater intellectual strength but also an understanding of the difficulties others faced in such times. In his 1940 memoir of Machen, Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths writes,
Nor was he hard and full of censure against the young men who had to fight agonizing battles in their own souls before full certainty could be found. No,–to them he was patience and help and tenderness. He knew the long dark hours of inner conflict, when faith seems at its nadir and doubt a mocking jailer. He knew these things because he had experienced them, and because he too had walked that road he could help others over its stony places. Many a man today can thank God for the human instrument who helped him to face every problem squarely and fairly, not turning away from any difficulty, but finding the answer in the reasonableness and truth of the Word of God.
There were many who, while they lightly took ordination vows without really meaning them, scoffed at Dr. Machen’s insistence that such vows should be taken sincerely or not at all and, once taken, kept with fidelity. Perhaps they did not know that he had every moral right so to hold. He was graduated from Princeton Seminary in 1905. But he was not ordained–mark the year well until–1914. During a portion of that period he did not know whether he ever could conscientiously apply for ordination. In later years he wrote, “It was not Germany, however, that first brought doubts into my soul; for I had been facing them for years before my German student days. Obviously it is impossible to hold on with the heart to something that one has rejected with the head, and all the usefulness of Christianity can never lead us to be Christians unless the Christian religion is true. But is it true or is it not? That is a serious question indeed.”
Then he mentioned some of the things that helped “as I passed through the long and bitter experience that the raising of this question brought into my life.” It was out of those “dark hours when the lamp burned dim” (as he himself described them) that the insight and strength came with which he helped others in the years that followed.
Thus was fused in him a deep humanity with a passionate insistence upon intellectual integrity. He never shrugged-off problems that were real, as though they did not exist. He never advocated “short cuts” either in preparation for the service of Christ or in the testing of the claims which the Bible makes for itself. He realized that there is no conflict at all between reason and faith, that when rightly understood they coincide. So he did not ask men to “have faith” in something that their minds could not believe. He took them, instead, to the Bible and helped them to see that it is credible, that its truth is demonstrable, that faith is neither a gamble nor a leap in the dark, but a resting upon the character of the self-revealing God.
The rest of the memoir is here at the PCA Historical Center: “Dr. J. Gresham Machen – Unreconstructed Christian: A Memoir.”
At the end of J. Gresham Machen’s testimony before Congress in February 1926, Senator Ferris asked Dr. Machen about the connections between religion and morality. This was in a discussion about the advisability of the creation of a federal department of education. Machen was objecting to the intrusion of the federal government into education, and was deeply concerned that teaching morality in government schools would, in practice, be moral teaching that was opposed to the orthodox understanding of the Bible. Earlier on this blog is a post about Machen’s opposition to the teaching of the Bible in public schools. Machen’s careful response to the senator emphasized the inseparability of religion and morality. (In Education, Christianity, and the State, Machen makes this far clearer.) Note too, at the end, a hint of eschatological optimism–in free conflict with other views, Machen had confidence that the Christian view would win out.
SENATOR FERRIS: I am just wondering whether there is any such thing as moral conduct in the United States Congress or among the citizens of the United States apart from a distinctively religious basis. I am just wondering whether the public schools have any function in the way of teaching morality which is not distinctively religious in its basic idea.
DR. MACHEN: I think that the solution lies not in a theoretic teaching in the public schools as to the basis of morality, because I do not think you can keep that free from religious questions; but I do hold that a teacher who himself or herself is imbued with the absolute distinction between right and wrong can maintain the moral standing, the moral temper of a public school.
SENATOR FERRIS: Is the ethical culturist ruled out from the consideration of morality in his views and conduct?
DR. MACHEN: I am not ruling out anybody at all, sir — the ethical culturist or anyone else.
SENATOR FERRIS: No; but if religion is the basic element in all morality, then can we have a morality that is not founded on a religious idea?
DR. MACHEN: I myself do not believe that you can have such a morality permanently, and that is exactly what I am interested in trying to get other people to believe; but I am not at all interested in trying to proclaim that view of mine by any measures that involve compulsion, and I am not interested in making the public school an agency for the proclamation of such a view; but I am interested in diminishing rather than increasing the function of the public school, in order to leave room for the opportunity of a propagation of the view that I hold in free conflict with all other views which may be held, in order that in that way the truth finally may prevail.
SENATOR PHIPPS: Thank you, Doctor. [Applause.]
Thanks to Shane Rosenthal at ReformationINK for the valuable archive of Machen’s writings.