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Switch to Forum Live View What Should Be Done by Christian People Who Are in a Modernist Church?
6 years ago  ::  Mar 13, 2009 - 12:19PM #1
CalKnox
Posts: 330

What Should Be Done by Christian People Who Are in a Modernist Church?


[This article by J. Gresham Machen was originally published in "The Presbyterian Guardian," in 1935.]



What is the duty of Christian congregations or Christian individuals who find themselves in a church that is dominated by unbelief? Shall they remain in such a church, or shall they withdraw from it and become members of a consistently Christian church?


That is certainly the question of the hour for the orthodox part of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Various attempts are being made to answer the question. Various considerations are being urged on one side or the other.


If we separate from the existing church organization, it is being said, shall we be able to retain any of our congregational property, or will that all have to be abandoned to the uses of the existing organization?


On the other hand, if we remain in a church that is dominated by unbelief, does that not mean that we are simply heaping up greater resources for the Modernists in future years to use? Will not every gift that we make, every church building that we put up, be turned over ultimately to the uses of unbelief?


No doubt such considerations on one side or the other of this question are very interesting. I am bound to say in passing that the considerations in favor of separation seem to me to be much stronger than the considerations on the other side.


But I propose to the readers of this page that we should now approach the question in an entirely different way. I propose that we should see what the Bible has to say about the matter.


Does the Bible permit Christian people to live year after year, decade after decade, in a church that is so largely dominated by unbelief as is the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.?


The answer to that question is surely not difficult. I am not thinking just now so much of individual texts directly bearing on the question, though those texts are not difficult to find and though they are not really balanced by any texts on the other side; but I am thinking of the Bible's whole teaching about the Church and what the Church ought to mean in the individual's Christian life. If we read what the Bible says about the Church and then examine the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., can we really put our hands upon our hearts and say in the presence of God that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. even approximates being what the Bible says a church of Jesus Christ must be or provides that nurture which the Bible says every Christian ought to have?


Now I know very well that we ought to be careful when interrogating the Bible on this point. Sometimes, when the Bible speaks about the Church, it is speaking about the Church as it will finally be when it appears without blemish before Christ. We have no right to demand of the Church militant a perfection that will belong only to the Church triumphant - to the Church in its final, glorious state. When the Bible speaks of the Church militant, the Church as it actually appears upon this earth, it detects always a presence of error and sin in that Church, and it does not permit a Christian to withdraw from that Church or any branch of that Church just becasue that Church or that branch of it is not perfect.


All this is true. But it really does not apply to the situation in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The point is that that Church is very largely dominated by unbelief. It does not merely harbor unbelief here and there. No, it has made unbelief, in the form of a deadly Modernist vagueness, the determinative force in its central official life.


Such a body is hardly what the Bible means by a church at all. The Bible commands Christian people to be members of a true church, even though it be an imperfect one. It represents the nurture provided by such a true church as a necessity, not luxury, in the Christian life.


There must therefore be a separation between the Christian and the Modernist elements in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. That is perfectly clear. The only question is how the separation shall be effected.


Unquestionably the best way would be the way of reform. If Modernism should be removed from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and that church should be brought back to conformity with its constitution and with the Word of God, all would be well.


The other way is the way of separation from the existing organization on the part of the loyal part of the church. Only, if the separation comes it ought to come in such fashion as to make perfectly clear the fact that those who are separating from the present Modernist organization are not founding a "new church," but are carrying on the true, spiritual succession of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.


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6 years ago  ::  Mar 13, 2009 - 10:17PM #2
Merrill48
Posts: 108

A couple of questions:


1) Although Machen mentions "modernism" in his article, he doesn't define it. What was HIS definition of "modernism" - preferably free from your editorializing about the heretical status of the PC(USA) in the Year of Our Lord 2009?


2) What's your point?


Shalom,


Merrill

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 14, 2009 - 7:21PM #3
CalKnox
Posts: 330

The terms change, the doctrinal deviation remains much the same. Machen defined further in his 1923 Christianity and Liberalism.

http://www.biblebelievers.com/machen/index.html


This is offered for historical perspective.


No need to editorialize. Those with ears to hear will understand.


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6 years ago  ::  Mar 15, 2009 - 1:58PM #4
masterfedora
Posts: 24

That was an interesting if not slightly uncomfortable reading. I was completely baffled til I went back up and saw it was from 1935...LOL! It's an interesting look back on what was apparetently a problem back then. It's nice to see how far we've come.

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6 years ago  ::  Mar 15, 2009 - 6:10PM #5
Merrill48
Posts: 108

Based on my admittedly rather quick reading of the Machen's Introduction and part of Chapter 1, I have to say that his commnets about science, while perhaps somewhat relevant for 70-80 years ago, are less relevant today.


As an example  of what I'm talking about - In the 1920's and 30's, early behavioral psychologists such as Watson and Skinner were denying the relevance of anything but observable behavior - no thoughts, no consciousness, etc. After seven or eight decades of advances, most clinical and experemental psychologists acknowledge the critical nature of what goes on inside our heads. Our thoughts and feeling do matter after all. Contemproray clinical psychology generally "works on" the client's thoughts and attitudes as much as, or more than, observable behavior. Note here that I am NOT talking about Freudian psychiatrists, but about the mainstream of psychotherapeutic practice.


In the first three decades of the last century, science, or at least some overly-enthusiastic scientists, made some pretty radical and extravagant claims about what science would be able to do. These claims were generally made, I believe, out ouf a sincere desire to improve the human condition. And they were proved wrong. Science has limits.


Science and religious belief are not necessarily incompatible. Science can only deal with what can be observed and measured. Science shows us how the world works at a "mechanical" level, and in the case of disciplines such as geology and astrophysics, the mechanics of how material things came to be. Religious belief, OTOH, seems to me to be concerned with questions such as "Why are we here?", "Is there some sort of being greater than ourselves?", and "What is our duty towards our fellow human beings". The two can reinforce each other - for example, the inter-related complexity and variety of life can deepen one's faith in a Creator as one's amazement at the subtlety of interactions among living things grows.


In the early 20th century, some scientists forgot that distinction. And that, as I read Machen's Introduction and Cahpter 1, is some of what he is protesting (poor word choice, but I can't think of another one!!) against. More scientist are more humble than they were 80 years ago, so that part of Machen's argument, IMHO, doesn't hold water now, and I'm not real sure it did back then.


I have not delved into subsequent chapters, so I will not comment on his other arguments, even if I felt qualified to do so.


My $0.02, please adjust for your local currency....


Shalom,


Merrill

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6 years ago  ::  May 25, 2009 - 9:21PM #6
Roodog
Posts: 10,168

If believers cannot put out the corrupt and heretical elements from the Church,


If the corrupt and heretical elements dominate the political apparatus of the Church,


If indeed the corruption and heresy is insufferably egregious and threatening to the soul's health, or you are compelled by concience to seperate yourselves from the corrupt and heretical elements:


Find another church that is more compatable with your convictions and migrate there. Abandon the foundering institution like a burning house or a sinking ship. If you are questioned by former churchmates, bear witness to them and then invite them to church.

For those who have faith, no explanation is neccessary.
For those who have no faith, no explanation is possible.

St. Thomas Aquinas

If one turns his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer is an abomination. Proverbs 28:9
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6 years ago  ::  May 28, 2009 - 8:57PM #7
sterrettc
Posts: 89

A big part of the problem was that Machen was confusing modernism with unbelief.  Sure there are modernists who are unbelievers, but very few of them were in the church.  Machen wanted people to believe that Fosdick was an unbeliever, but that is far from the truth.  From what I have gotten from reading some of Machen's book, I can much more fully recommend Fosdick's book Christianity and Progress (1922).


I answer the question by saying that if one finds oneself in a church with modernists one should praise the Lord.

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6 years ago  ::  May 30, 2009 - 12:29AM #8
Hedrick
Posts: 2

If you believe that most of the PCUSA is unbelieving, you should leave immediately. It's not true. But if you have misunderstood the church you're in so badly, you need to find a denomination you can understand.


 

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