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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: Read more…

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 Resurrection of Christ

Here at ReformationINK is J. Gresham Machen’s 1924 sermon “The Resurrection of Christ,” in defense of the historic, miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

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 Counterfeit Faith

“Things that are false will accomplish a great many useful things in the world. If I take a counterfeit coin and buy a dinner with it, the dinner is every bit as good as if the coin were a product of the mint. And what a very useful thing a dinner is! But just as I am on my way downtown to buy a dinner for a poor man, an expert tells me that my coin is a counterfeit. The miserable, heartless theorizer! While he is going into uninteresting, learned details about the primitive history of that coin, a poor man is dying for want of bread. So it is with faith. Faith is so very useful, they tell us, that we must not scrutinize its basis in truth. But, the great trouble is, such an avoidance of scrutiny itself involves the destruction of faith. For faith is essentially dogmatic. Despite all you can do, you cannot remove the element of intellectual assent from it. Faith is the opinion that some person will do something for you. If that person really will do that thing for you, then the faith is true. If he will not do it, then the faith is false. In the latter case, not all the benefits in the world will make the faith true. Though it has transformed the world from darkness to light, though it has produced thousands of glorious healthy lives, it remains a pathological phenomenon. It is false, and sooner or later it is sure to be found out.”

Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, pp. 142-43

Categories: Liberal Theo.
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