Posts Tagged With: presbyterianism

Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly speaks out against the secularization of public schools–affirms Christian America

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Faced with the growing secularization of public schools in America, the PC(USA) defined the position of American Presbyterianism in the following pronouncement by her General Assembly in the year 1870:

“We should regard the successful attempt to expel all religious instruction and influence from our public schools as an evil of the first magnitude. Nor do we see how this can be done without inflicting a deadly wound upon the intellectual and moral life of the nation…We look upon the state as an ordinance of God, and not a mere creature of the popular will; and, under its high responsibility to the Supreme Ruler of the world, we hold it to be both its right and bound duty to educate its children in those elementary principles of knowledge and virtue which are essential to its own security and well-being. The union of church and state is indeed against our American theory and constitutions of government; but the most intimate union of the state with the saving and conservative forces of Christianity is one of the oldest customs of the country, and has always ranked a vital article of our political faith.”

General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) 1870, quoted in A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States by Robert E. Thompson, 1895, p. 199.

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Presbyterians Pressured by President Lincoln

Illustration of the Bombardment of Fort SumterWhen the Confederate Army cannonaded Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, opening the Civil War, it turned out to be a moment that crystallized the patriotic feelings of many Americans in defense of the Union. Sumter awoke a sleeping giant. It was on of those “rally around the flag” moments that the South had probably not expected it to be, when people across the Union who were previously apathetic or ambivalent about the political disputes between North and South felt a rush of anger over what the South had done, and a desire to preserve the Union. Reading about this turn of events reminds me of the patriotic response many Americans exhibited during the First Gulf War, when Lee Greenwood soared to the top of the charts with his perennial favorite, “God Bless the USA”, and later, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 when Union flags seemed to fly on every car antenna in a surge of patriotic feeling.

Just one month after Sumter, in May 1861, Rev. Gardiner Spring introduced a resolution at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U. S. A. calling for a day of prayer and fasting, in light of the national trouble and warfare that had already broken out with the siege of Ft. Sumter and the secession of 8 states. He was an influential and respected conservative in the denomination, hand-picked to present the resolution by the pro-Union side. It made one small mention of prayer for the preservation of the Union, without including any denunciations of the Southern States that some had wanted to see in it. What many may not know, is that the Lincoln administration was pressuring the Presbyterian Church to pass a resolution supporting the Union. The Presbyterian Church was at that time one of the three largest church bodies in the Union, and the Lincoln administration, perhaps rightly, thought that the declared support of the Presbyterian Church toward the Union would help secure the loyalty of the Border States: New Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri toward the federal cause. The vote went 156-66 in favor of the resolution*. A contingent protested the resolution led by Charles Hodge, but to no avail. Moderate-mindedness could not quell the spirit of patriotism or the desire to help preserve the Union.220px-abraham_lincoln_o-77_matte_collodion_print

In response, the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States was promptly formed of the forty-seven presbyteries in the South. A schism of the Northern and Southern Presbyterian Churches took place, which did not reunite for over one hundred twenty years. While it was sad that political concerns split the church, it was also a continuation of the Presbyterian tradition of a mutually helpful relationship between the church and the civil government.

*See: A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States by Robert Thompson, New York: 1895.

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Presbyterianism in America

The group of ecclesiastical bodies which co(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundationnstitute the Presbyterian family in America hold a place of great importance in the religious life of the nation.  American Presbyterianism has been of weight beyond its numerical strength through the services it has rendered to theological science, the interest it has maintained in Christian doctrine, the high standard of intelligence it has set up for both its ministry and its people, its capacity to develop strength of character, its superior family discipline, and its conservative influence upon the national life.

Robert Ellis Thompson, A History of the Presbyterian Churches in the United States, 1.

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How the West Was Lost, by the Presbyterians

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The smallness of the Reformed/Presbyterian community of churches in comparison to the larger evangelical American context is largely a consequence of a failure to plant and maintain churches among those Scot-Irish Presbyterians who settled in the Appalachian mountain chain and kept heading west from there.  It’s no secret that the Presbyterians lagged far behind the Baptists and Methodists, not to mention new groups like the Cambellites, in planting churches where people had settled in the west. They saw the problem, and tried to remedy it by forming a Plan of Union with their Congregationalist cousins to the north for planting churches in the West.  It didn’t work.  Perhaps nothing more could be done.

It’s just that the Presbyterian/Congregationalist emphasis on an educated ministry slowed the rate of growth on the frontier based on the number of licentiates that were available.  Meanwhile the Baptists and Methodists would find a young man with gifts, give him a Bible, two or three more books, and send him on a horse off to preach wherever he found people who would listen.  Who could compete with that speed and agility and maintain doctrinal integrity?

If you trace the areas where the Scot-Irish and their descendants (who were almost all Presbyterian in the beginning) settled first in America, and shaped the culture that newcomers would find and assimilate into, it extends from western Pennsylvania down to the western Carolinas, and west from there through southern Ohio, south Indiana, sKentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, South Kansas, and the North Texas Hill Country. Not to mention that these people were dominant in the initial settlements all over the far west extending to eastern Oregon. Now imagine if the dominant Christian churches over this vast region were Presbyterian.

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Review of “John McMillan” by Dwight Raymond Guthrie

Guthrie, Dwight Raymond, John McMillan: Apostle of Presbyterianism to the West 1752-1833, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1952.

I have to admit that I love to read about the history of Christianity on the American frontier.  This book has added interest for me because it is all about the events that established and founded the region where I grew up.  The names of persons, places, towns, hills, rivers, creeks, schools, and churches described in this book bring back childhood memories for me.  It is written from a Christian perspective of admiration for the life and ministry of John McMillan.

McMillan was a man for his time.  He was an able preacher and theologian, yet Guthrie chiefly notes him for his indomitable strength of character.  McMillan was plainspoken, and could be bluntly direct in the way that he interacted with people.  It took a hardy soul to live, minister, and plant churches on what was then the western frontier.  Having studied at the legendary “Log College”, McMillan was pious, a preacher of the gospel, a maintainer of theological orthodoxy, a revivalist, and a concerned pastor.  Through McMillan’s ministry, several churches, two colleges and a seminary were founded.

This book contains fascinating descriptions of the lives, character, and culture of the people who first settled this part of the country, as well as colorful anecdotes.  The people of western Pennsylvania were under threat of Indian attack at any time, and they went to the meetinghouse to worship armed with their longrifles.  Guthrie notes that one particular minister was known for always checking his rifle prior to reading out his sermon text.  Often the ministers were not paid their promised salaries.  While there were some churches where the trustees willfully reneged on their obligation, at other times the people were under extreme financial hardship themselves and barely able to survive.  Guthrie relates a tale about one church unable to pay its minister’s salary.  It commissioned a couple of its members to take a barge full of newly-ground flour on a dangerous and risky voyage down the Ohio river to the Mississippi to the favorable market in New Orleans in order to procure the cash to pay their minister what they owed him.  Now that’s being resourceful!  Guthrie relates McMillan’s response to political situations, like that of the Whiskey Rebellion.  He was adamantly against the rebellion and refused to administer the Lord’s Supper until they submitted to the civil government.

All in all this book is an enjoyable read.  It will be of interest to those who would like to know more about the history of western Pennsylvania.

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I Kill Myself (…on Twitter)

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