Machen on Orthodoxy

In an article in The Presbyterian Guardian, J. Gresham Machen wrote on the problems of terms commonly used to describe the historic Christian faith. Here are a few excerpts:

Many years ago, …some brilliant person said: “Orthodoxy means ‘my doxy’ and heterodoxy means ‘the other man’s doxy’.”

The unknown author of that famous definition–unknown to me at least–may have thought that he was being very learned. Knowing that the Greek word “heteros,” which forms a part of the English word “heterodoxy,” means “other,” he built his famous definition around that one word, and “heterodoxy” became to him “the other man’s doxy.”

Continue reading “Machen on Orthodoxy”

Machen and Van Til as Segregationists?

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.”

I did a little looking at Slade’s book, after seeing this at the Hierodule blog from the commenter on Bradley’s post. Here is what Slade actually says about Machen: Continue reading “Machen and Van Til as Segregationists?”

The Machen-Van Til Connection

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.”

The PCUSA’s Vote: Is Anyone Surprised?

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.

with this:

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.

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent

Welsh pastor Martin Downes compares the Presbyterian controversy of the ’20s and ’30s to an old Western: theological liberals and orthodox churchmen like Machen were headed for a showdown–the denomination wasn’t big enough for both of them. Hindering Machen’s cause were the indifferent moderates, who might not have believed the liberal doctrines, but were willing to accommodate them. Preserving unity and good doctrine at the same time became impossible, but those like Machen who recognized this and fought for doctrine were excoriated in the church. But the liberals, too, were no more committed to peace and unity–they were willing to suffer division in the church if they could thereby accomplish their goal of destroying orthodoxy.

Downes comments, “Men will always applaud an irenic spirit over against a polemical approach. But the sound of such approval can quite easily mask the noise of the destruction of confessional orthodoxy. Choices must be made and it will do no good to cry ‘peace! peace!’ when there is no peace.”

More here: “The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent”

Secessionism and Presbyterianism

Here’s a paper from the Water Is Thicker than Blood blog, which I’ve discovered to have some high-quality Machen entries. An excerpt from this paper:

Machen’s seemingly peculiar viewpoint can be seen in the cultural controversy of the day, as well as in the ecclesiastical confessionalism he was singularly dedicated to throughout his life at Princeton and in the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary.  As a southerner, Machen “shared his family’s aristocratic sympathies throughout his life.”[1] His loyalties lay with Southern culture in a distinct fashion, putting him on the side of constitutional states’ rights and belief in the legitimacy of secession. This view point led him to a libertarianism where he “opposed almost any extension of state powers and took stands on a variety of issues.” George Marsden further comments on his views stating that as a libertarian he did not easily fall into the categories of ‘liberal and conservative.’[2] Machen’s outlook concerning liberty in society was built upon philosophical and theological convictions. “Only be preserving free speech, he said, was there hope for the one instrument that could stop radicalism. ‘That instrument is reasonable persuasion.’”[3] These convictions were in stark contrast to the Northern sentimentalities of the church he was to become associated with through teaching at Princeton.[4]

Read more: Secessionism and Presbyterianism.

Impoverishment of Individual Liberty

A short essay over at Water Is Thicker than Blood.

“When Machen was writing in the 1920s about the lack of understanding in the churches, he did not merely point fingers at the Fundamentalists and pietists who refused to take the Liberals on in the academy. No, he blamed Liberalism as well for being anti-intellectual and unscientific. Apart of what the Modern world has done with its advancing collectivism, utilitarianism, and universal education is to demean the Human Spirit.”

Read the rest of the post: Impoverishment of Individual Liberty.

Machen on What the Church Should Do during Economic Depression

Shawn Ritenour’s blog “Foundations of Economics” had a post several weeks ago on Machen’s view of what the Church should do during economic hard times. Machen had contributed to a 1932 American Academy of Political and Social Sciences symposium on the Great Depression, and in that paper he rejected the “materialistic paternalism” of an expansive State. As Prof. Ritenour put it, “Machen’s address to social scientists was also remarkable for its call for the Church to be the Church, meaning the Church was not to be a political lobby or primarily a society for social work. The mission of the Church is what it has been since it was ordained: to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The March 2011 issue of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church journal New Horizons has an article by William Hobbs on Machen’s address: “The Church and Economic Recovery.”