This is my reflections from the book “A Continuing Church” by Dr. Sean Lucas, my History Professor in Reformed Theological Seminary, NYC). PCA, a conservative Bible believing section of the original PCUS, was split from PCUS in 1973 after a turbulent sad and mastering display of the progressive minds and theologians over 50 years. In that 50 years plus, it is heartbreaking, as an orthodox conservative believer evangelical myself, to read the evolution and the progress of the liberal progressive movement in PCUS. It is hard to read and the indecision of certain leaders like Nelson Bell who strongly led in advocating and fighting for conservative teaching in PCUS, suddenly pulled out of conservative movement, clearly displays a hypocrisy and coward-ness unheard of for decades. It is due to leaders like these, who turned from hero to traitor, church must stand ready to disavow any supposedly godly conservative church leader who may flip on God in the last minute, and our constant source and only source of strength and hope must be in God and God alone as Calvin has taught in his Institutes.
The story of Presbyterian Church breakup from 1920-1973 is an eye opener and warning and lesson to modern day evangelical Christians today. The first thing that drives the whole narrative and really stands up is the power of progressive thinkers, scholars, in the church. The whole liberal teachings in PCUS started from a professor in the seminary and a few pastors that also echoed the same liking for such teaching, which I would call apostasy. The troubling thing is that it’s always a mixed bag, and it’s not an outright bad apple so to speak, but it’s all mixed with some supposedly good but some eternally bad and stinking doctrines. The whole debate goes to bring the doctrine of “social gospel” to the forefront, overshadowing the gospel of salvation in Christ atoning act on the cross. You see, to a lot of people, inside and outside the church, this may sound rather appealing, because it is about helping the poor, and bringing about the social justice that’s part of the very heart of God. But what they got wrong is the order. Augustine calls it a disordered love, for example. I call this doctrine of the progressive as the “disordered doctrine”. Nothing wrong for social gospel indeed we need that. But what’s wrong with that is it is elevated above the gospel of redemption, which is the most important, and core message of the incarnation of the Son of God into the world. It must be the redemption first, and the outworking of that redemption off shooting into social justice, visit the prisons, helping the widows, and orphans as Christ himself has taught too.
This progressive teaching of PCUS in 1920 has eerie resemblance of what the liberal progressive churches in America are teaching today. They affirm and emphasize more on social gospel over and above the redemption story of Christ. Now what’s more apostasy is the PCUS progressive professors, pastors, synods, presbytery also went to deny the virgin birth of Christ! That on its own should be dispelled and excommunicated from church as instructed by our dear beloved apostle Paul in Gal 1: “6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel……9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” PCUS professors and pastors were clearly teaching and writing deviant teaching from the original gospel in the Bible, and strictly, they should have been brought under discipline and if continuing despite rebuke, should be ex-communicated. Although the PCUS conservative leadership did not expel the liberals, they in actual fact did not have the power to do so; in fact they were simply overwhelmed. It should be noted at the speed of the spreading of the liberal theology within PCUS within a few years from 1920, and that’s frightening how fast false teaching can spread. And it’s no different from today’s. If our churches are not soaked in orthodox teaching rooted in the orthodoxy inerrant word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we will face being wiped out in the future. Inerrancy of Scripture holds the key to everything in the story of PCUS. It is indeed the story for all of us evangelicals who love our Lord Jesus Christ. The troubling source of these entire progressive started with the seminary in PCUS, and the key to saturate the minds of the presbytery is through teaching, preaching and writing. In the case of PCUS, it was through the journals publication, and the seminaries, the liberal prof began to fill the minds of the presbyteries with the social gospel message that he was driving in seminaries too.
The heroic part of the story is the brave emergence of conservative leaders who had the conviction of the inerrancy of Scripture well grounded into them, rose up in unity to begin to fight the liberal progressives. They were the hero’s of the story. They went through many trials, disappointments year after year, being simply overwhelmed by the power and voice of the liberals. But they didn’t give up, even some of their own leaders called it quit when they were about to enter the Promised Land. It was through a lot of heart sharing and prayer; they formed their new church in 1973 in their First General Assembly.
Conclusion: What’s not really mentioned in the book, and I will add is the factor of spiritual warfare. I can attest to the most potent weapons of the devil against the church of Jesus Christ, is the wave of progressive liberal theology in denying the deity of Christ, and disputing the inerrancy of Scripture. These two alone can destroy any church in the future. I believe that’s the most powerful weapon of the forces of darkness today, and evangelicals today, must take note of that, and begin to rise as one man in Christ, and be like the what Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is advancing, and strong men shall take it by force. Not taking it by weeping, but rising with courage and conviction and the unction and anointing of the Holy Spirit to take this land.