• U.S.

Religion: Fundamentalist Indicted

3 minute read

In no other big U. S. church has Fundamentalism excited so many people so frequently for so long as it has in the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. Grounded in the beliefs of the 19th Century, Presbyterian Fundamentalism continued to exist long after many a good religionist decided he could yield a little to science without harming his soul. But sometime after 1920 Presbyterian Fundamentalists suddenly awoke to what they called the Menace of Modernism in their midst. Their church, they vowed, should forth with be purged of those who did not believe as they did. In the pulpit of Manhattan’s First Presbyterian Church was preaching Baptist Harry Emerson Fosdick. In a famed sermon entitled Shall the Fundamentalists Win? Dr. Fosdick dared to point skeptically to analogs of miracles and virgin births in non-Christian religions. For that the Presbyterian Fundamentalists chased Dr. Fosdick out of their church back into his own. Later Presbyterian William Jennings Bryan became the great lay leader of Fundamentalism, carrying his crusade to the little Tennessee mountain town of Dayton. There the Lion of the Lord treated the entire world to a spectacular courtroom battle against Evolution, only to die in his sleep just after a mighty triumph over Schoolteacher John Thomas Scopes.

Bryan might win in Tennessee but Fundamentalism grew progressively weaker and weaker, after the great “Monkey Trial.” Presbyterian Fundamentalists tried in vain to halt a move to liberalize their Church’s oldest, richest and most conservative theological seminary, at Princeton. Thereupon they abandoned Princeton, founded a seminary of their own which they called Westminster, after the great Confession of their faith. When the smoke of theological battle lifted and public interest had shifted to other quarters, there emerged a new Fundamentalist leader. Plump-cheeked Dr. John Gresham Machen, born 52 years ago in Baltimore, was not another Bryan but he was a peppery, name-calling fighter. Dr. Machen caused the late Dr. Henry Van Dyke to relinquish his pew in Princeton’s First Presbyterian Church because, said he, Dr. Machen preached “a dismal, bilious travesty of the Gospel.”

From Princeton Dr. Machen and his colleagues migrated to Philadelphia, made that city, by their presence, the capital of U. S. orthodoxy. Near Philadelphia they established their seminary. In Philadelphia they set up a house organ, Christianity Today, in whose columns they proceeded to flay their opponents, often impolitely. In Philadelphia last year they formed the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, which their Church soon outlawed (TIME, April 23 et seq.). And in Philadelphia this year they brought heresy charges against eleven local ministers who had signed the liberal Presbyterian “Auburn Affirmation.” The charges were dismissed.

Once it was the Fundamentalists who were going to purge their church of Modernists. Last week it seemed almost as if the Church were being purged of Fundamentalists when Dr. Machen was as good as indicted for his recent and current activities. Nine charges were voted against him by the Presbytery of New Brunswick, N. J. to which he is still attached. Dr. Machen will be tried before a committee of seven. If found guilty he may be “rebuked, suspended or excommunicated.” Among other things he is charged:

With the violation of his ordination vows; with renouncing and disobeying the rides and lawful authority of the church; with refusal to sever his connection with “the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions” as directed by the General Assembly; with breach of his lawful promises.

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