Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Young Turk Calls for Separation from PCUS

My Decision
The Presbyterian Journal

G. Aiken Taylor
Introductory Comments: What follows is material from The Presbyterian Journal, whose editor at the time this was published was Dr. G. Aiken Taylor. I have continued to wonder through the years, if those of us who left the PCUS in 1973 did right leaving when we did for the reasons we did. On the one hand, I wonder if we should have been more patient and left at a time when there were clear cut issues of rejection of the historic Christian faith. On the other, it seems to me that those who have left PCUSA more recently have waited too long. I say that for two reasons: (1) It seems that the issues that have precipitated more recent withdrawals have been moral rather than doctrinal. Issues such as homosexual ordination, not issues such as the truth of the Bible or the divinity of Christ, seem to be the proverbial straws that broke the camel’s back. It appears to me that, if anything, issues of orthodoxy should be more important to churchmen than issues of orthopraxis when it comes to the purity and unity of the church. (2) The “frog in the kettle” dynamic has done its work among those who have left more recently. This is seen most clearly in matters of doctrine, such as affirmation of and subscription to the historic Reformed standards. and in matters of polity such as women’s ordination. The lines may yet be drawn over homosexual ordination, but it is too late to insist on hearty confession of Reformed theology or on acceptance of Biblical standards regarding gender and ordination. Two further comments: (1) It hardly needs saying that Dr. Taylor’s comments about the author were much too generous. (2) More important Dr. Taylor’s comments about the emerging PCA in comparison with other separatist movements seem inaccurate and unfair, particularly in relation to Dr. J. Gresham Machen, his colleagues, Westminster Theological Seminary, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The Presbyterian Journal
       Vol. xxxii, No. 22
    September 26, 1973

Across the Editor’s Desk

No matter what your point of view, the statement reproduced on p. 9 of this issue will claim your admiration. In a day of political, spiritual and moral flabbiness, uncommon courage is still a real commodity. While preparing that piece for the press, and going over the material upon which the editorials for this issue were based, it occurred to us that the separation now taking place in the Presbyterian Church US is quite unlike any other recorded in recent history. Not only is the spirit of the movement different, the evidence of God’s blessing upon those who have managed to swallow bitterness, turn the other cheek and make sacrifices is very real.

My Decision
William H. Smith

Until recently, the author was pastor of the Gretna and Woodland Presbyterian Churches, Pensacola (sic), Fla. Even thought the two congregations were not prepared to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church US, Mr. Smith felt that in good conscience he could no longer remain in the denomination, and true to his ordination vows, he renounced the communion and authority of the PCUS for the reasons he gave in this statement to the two churches.
(Note: the two churches were located not in Pensacola, FL, but in Gretna and Sawdust, FL, respectively.)

Today I am making public a decision which I announced to the sessions on the last Lord’s Day after the morning worship service. After study, thought and prayer, I have reached the decision that I can no longer in good conscience remain with the Presbyterian Church US. I have come to realize that I must renounce the communion and authority of this denomination.

It has been my hope that you, my churches, and I would be able to move together toward withdrawal from PCUS. It now appears that apart from God’s intervention to change prevailing opinion, there is no such possibility within the foreseeable future.

In light of your opinion that you must stay and my conviction that I must leave, I have concluded that I must not continue indefinitely as your pastor. Therefore, I am announcing today my intention to resign effective August 31.

There is nothing particularly compelling about the date August 31. If we all seemed to be moving in the same direction and it seemed likely that we would withdraw and become a part of the Continuing Church by the end of this year, I believe I could have stayed the rest of the year in good conscience.

The fact that you do not intend to leave in the foreseeable future, coupled with my conviction that the time has come for me to leave and the realization that I must follow through with this conviction, leads me to believe it best to leave at an early date. The date of August 31 should offer the possibility of a smooth transition for you and for me.

Since I have never set forth at one time the reasons which have led me to this decision and since you are aware there are some conservatives who are not in favor of withdrawal, I believe I should briefly outline my reasons.

The position which some prominent conservatives are taking is that an official constitutional change must take place to justify withdrawal. For them, a constitutional change means the official adoption of a new confession of faith or union with the United Presbyterian Church USA.

Why do I find myself in a position different from that of these distinguished men? And why do I feel compelled to leave our denomination? Here are the reasons: I do not believe our official constitution, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, expresses the actual position of the majority in our denomination.

Let me give you an illustration. Many Communist countries have official constitutions which guarantee democratic freedom to the people. However, in reality the people do not have these freedoms. Their constitutions are only paper constitutions which do not affect the actual life of the nation.

That is something of the situation within our denomination. We have a constitution which clearly sets forth the full authority of God’s Word and which clearly and accurately presents the teaching of the Word. However, in reality the constitution is not followed and has very little significant effect upon the life of the PCUS.

Dr. T. E. Peck, a Southern Presbyterian theologian and professor at Union Theological Seminary, wrote the following words in a book published by the Presbyterian Committee of Publications in 1892: “Any Church whose constitution is such, or whose administration is such, that the tendency on the whole is not to save men, but to destroy them is not a Church of Christ.”

I have reluctantly concluded that the weight of the evidence indicates that the tendency, on the whole, is not to gather in and build up the elect of God.

Another consideration leading me to see the necessity of leaving the PCUS is the doctrine of Church discipline. Though the doctrine is much neglected in our day, it is clearly taught in the Bible in such passages as Matthew 18:15-18; I Corinthians 5; II Corinthians 2:5-11; and II Thessalonians 3:6, 14.

One whole chapter of the Confession of Faith and one whole section of the Book of Church Order deal with Church discipline. Discipline is exercised toward professing believers. It is not exercised in self-righteousness or hate, but for the glory of God, and the good of the Church and the professing believer.

Discipline is to be exercised only after adequate warning and pleading. The PCUS has been warned and pled with for many years, but the Church has not listened. In view of these facts, I believe that those who are faithful to God and His Word must withdraw from fellowship with those who refuse to submit to the authority of the Scripture.

What are some specific offenses which have led me to believe that our denomination has so departed from the faith as to require me to separate myself from it? In my opinion, the greatest offense is the refusal of the 1972 General Assembly to affirm the doctrine of the plenary verbal inspiration of the Scripture and the inerrancy of the Scripture; and the very weak interpretation given to the vows of ordination.

Other specific offenses include de facto union with the UPUSA through union presbyteries; ordination of women; approval of abortion for socio-economic reasons; heretical literature; and the apparent lack of ability and will to exercise discipline.

I shall pray that our sovereign God will soon lead you out of the Presbyterian Church US. I urge you to consider and reconsider what I believe to be compelling reasons for leaving the PCUS.

I tremble when I contemplate your future in a denomination which has cut itself loose from God’s Word and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.

I beg you, out of love for your own souls and out of love for your children and your grandchildren, consider the reasons for leaving and the consequences of staying.

It is with a deep sense of sadness that my wife and I must leave you. We have grown to love you. I do not believe in short pastorates and had hoped to labor long among you, ministering the Word of God in your midst.

Please accept my assurance of the love which I have for you – and I speak also for my wife in expressing that love. We shall continue to pray for you. Please pray for us.

Soli Deo gloria. To God alone the glory!

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