Skip to comments.The Liberal Takeover of American Protestanism
Posted on 08/11/2003 10:17:50 AM PDT by Zack Nguyen
In the wake of the apostasy of a majority of the Episcopalian leadership I have been posting small portions of this book here and there. I thought a longer excerpt might be in order.
What follows is an excerpt from Gary North's "Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Took Over the Northern Presbyterian Church."
This book draws a critical conclusion - that a similar strategy was used in the left's hostile takeover of every major Protestant denomination, and every major American cultural institution. America's worldview made a catastrophic shift from Judeo-Christian to evolutionary by the mid-20th century.
He also argues (and I agree) that liberals never take over a denomination and raise it to new heights of evangelism, discipleship, and acts of service. They take over a denomination and run it into the ground. The membership rolls tell the story. God sends the people where the truth is proclaimed with great faith and fervor.
I cannot endorse all of Gary North's theology, but the research is good and the analysis is excellent.
*****EXCERPT BEGINS HERE*****
NOTE TO THE READER
The history of the rise, progress, and peculiar character of American Presbyterianism, has for some time been considered a great desideratum by many of the members of our denomination. There is certainly no other religious community, embracing such numbers and being so long in existence, who are exposed to the imputation of having practised such gross negligence in failing to preserve authentic documents of their proceedings, and who still remain in such entire ignorance respecting their own history, and the founders and fathers of their church. - William Hill (1839)
Rev. Hill's lament is more valid today than it was then, since an additional century and a half have passed by. We still need a comprehensive multi-volume history of mainline American Presbyterianism and its numerous spin-off denominations. I use the word "we" advisedly. The market does not want it, no matter how much "we" need it. So, "we" are unlikely to get it. Yet we are fast approaching the fourth century of American Presbyterianism. Something is wrong.
The last major scholarly history of American Presbyterianism was written by Charles Hodge. His two-volume Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church (1839) remains the most detailed history of eighteenth-century American Presbyterianism. It was as a challenge to that book that Rev. Hill wrote his 224-page response. Hodge correctly insisted that the Constitutional History was not a comprehensive history of the Church; it was a history of the national Synod. Church historian George Hutchinson relates that Hodge told his son A. A. Hodge that writing that book was the most difficult project of his career. No other scholar has attempted to write an equally comprehensive, heavily footnoted follow-up volume that picks up the story where Hodge left off: 1788, the revision of the Westminster Confession. There were several popular Presbyterian histories written in the late nineteenth century, but no scholarly history.(2) The closest thing to a critical history is Robert Ellis Thompson's history, published in 1895: exactly one century ago.
Pamphlets for Pastors
Rev. Hutchinson is the author of a detailed history of a denomination that no longer exists, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES). That small denomination merged in 1982 with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Hutchinson wants to write a scholarly history of the PCA. In his unsuccessful attempt to raise funds for this project, one pastor told him: "If you can boil the story down into a pamphlet, I'll read it." Such is the present intellectual condition of American Presbyterianism, which a century ago was known as the most intellectually militant Protestant denomination. Presbyterianism has fallen on soft times.
I did not write this book for that anonymous pastor or his sleepwalking peers. Any pastor who cares so little about the history of the Church to which he is covenanted by ministerial oath must believe that, to the extent that he is representative of other men of his caliber and commitment, he will not be remembered. His work on earth will leave no earthly trace, and even if it does, no one like him will ever read about it. He who ignores the past expects to be ignored in the future. He is therefore unlikely to commit the personal resources necessary to have a significant effect on the future.
Crossed Fingers is a monograph, fat though it is. It is not a history of Presbyterianism; it is a study of how the liberals captured one Presbyterian denomination: the main one. The story I have written here has not previously been told. There are books on the Presbyterian conflict. There are doctoral dissertations on it. But chronicles are not enough: to know that the liberals captured the Northern Presbyterian Church. Something was missing: a detailed study of how the liberals did it.
This book partially fills the gap. It was a large gap; that is why this is a very large book. Yet this book only touches the highlights. Furthermore, there is no comparable book for any of the other mainline Protestant denominations, most of which have succumbed to the liberals' strategy of subversion. This void points to the present intellectual condition of American Protestantism. One thing is sure: conservative American Protestantism is not future-oriented. In this sense, it is lower class.(3) Lower-class people and movements do not shape history; they are carried along in the back of the bus in order to be milked by those future-oriented people and movements that do shape history.
I wrote this book for Christians who are tired of being milked, bilked, and forced to ride silently in the back of humanism's bus. If this is you, keep reading. Understand, however, that you are part of a small remnant: a person who is willing to pick up a book about one aspect of Presbyterian Church history. The final remnant will be even smaller: those who finish reading this book. Few are called; even fewer are chosen. But cheer up; there are words of comfort available: "Woe is me, my mother, that thou hast borne me a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! . . . . The LORD said, Verily it shall be well with thy remnant; verily I will cause the enemy to entreat thee well in the time of evil and in the time of affliction" (Jer. 15:10a-11).
Almost every contemporary proposal to bring freedom into the church is simply a proposal to bring tyranny into the world. For freeing the church now does not mean freeing it in all directions. It means freeing that peculiar set of dogmas called scientific, dogmas of monism, of pantheism, or of Arianism, or of necessity. And every one of these . . . can be shown to be the natural ally of oppression. - G. K. Chesterton (1924)
In 1924, Chesterton converted to Roman Catholicism and wrote Orthodoxy, which was his testimony against modernism. He understood that the most dangerous of modernism's heresies are to a great extent merely extensions of heretical theologies that were rejected long ago by the early Church. Chesterton's insight here was that theology has implications for society. Heretical theology leads to political tyranny. Bad theology produces political oppression. The twentieth century stands as evidence of his contention.
Modernism is another gospel. This was Chesterton's contention; it was also the contention of his Protestant contemporary, John Gresham(2) Machen.(3) Both of them did their best to challenge modernism. Both of them wrote popular books for Christians in the pews. They died within a few months of each other. Chesterton did not live long enough to see the Roman Church engulfed by modernism; Vatican II began a quarter century after his death. Machen, however, did see modernism triumphant in his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. Seven months before he died, modernists persuaded the broad evangelical majority of that denomination that Machen had become disobedient to Church authority, and that for the sake of the peace, he should be removed from office.
'Twas a Famous Victory
Modernism has achieved a comprehensive cultural victory in our day. This has been a barren victory. Modernism has pushed the West to its moral and epistemological limits, especially the former. The crucial divisive issues in a civilization are ethical: right vs. wrong. Man's primary problems are moral, not intellectual. While it is no doubt true that the modern world is in a flight from truth,(4) this is because it is in a flight from God, His permanent law, and, above all, His permanent negative sanctions: hell and the lake of fire.
Modernism seeks solutions to man's ethical problems apart from an appeal to an authoritative God who has revealed Himself in the Bible in such a way that this revelation can be authoritatively assembled by men in terms of propositional truths. Without a permanent God to provide permanent standards, whirl becomes king. Modernism faithfully serves this king, though usually in the name of evolving linear progress. But in seeking historical progress autonomously, modern man has achieved its inversion, alienation.(5)
Because modernism has invaded every area of life, including the churches, whirl's dry rot of relativism has undermined those institutions that might otherwise act to prevent the looming crisis. This book is the story of how modernism invaded and then captured one denomination: the Northern Presbyterian Church.
An Old Problem\
What Christians should recognize is that this has happened before, though in slow motion: the breakdown of classical civilization. The heresies that plagued the early Church were extensions of ancient Greek philosophy.(6) As faith in Greek moral philosophy steadily broke down, so did the civilization that had been constructed in terms of its categories.(7) The Roman world was viewed by its intellectuals as the product of either godless impersonal fate or godless impersonal chance, i.e., fatalism or anarchy.(8) The only way out of this philosophical dilemma seemed to be the assertion of an eternal tension between them: part fate, part chance, no final resolution. This tension we call dualism or dialecticism. It undermined Greek philosophy as thoroughly as it has now undermined modernism. The pantheistic monism of Greek continuity--the great chain of being(9)--was offset philosophically by the futile Greek dialecticism of form (idea) vs. matter. Similarly, modernism's materialistic monism--the world as mere matter in motion--is offset philosophically by the equally futile dialecticism of Kant's phenomenal/noumenal (science/freedom) dialecticism.(10) Matter vs. mind, fate vs. chance, law vs. change, necessity vs. freedom, science vs. personality, determinism vs. responsibility: modern man's updated versions of ancient Greek antinomies plague him every bit as much as they plagued the ancients. The relativist historian Carl Becker raised the issue in a rhetorical statement that was really not all that rhetorical: "What is man that the electron should be mindful of him!"(11) When men seek freedom and meaning in anything but the self-revelation of God in the Bible, they hit philosophical brick walls. And every once in a while, the crash takes down a whole civilization. Ours may be one of them. We are now facing a potential breakdown of monumental proportions.(12)
The answer to Greek rationalism is also the answer to modern rationalism: the biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the Creator/creature distinction, the bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ in history, and God's declaration of "Not guilty!" to His people on the judicial basis of this death and resurrection. This is the Bible's theme of creation-fall-redemption. Here is the answer presented in the creeds and councils of the early Church. God is in control, not man. God has sent a redeemer in history. This redeemer is not the State.
What Happened to Presbyterianism?
In 1924, the year Orthodoxy appeared, the conservatives' candidate won the Moderatorship of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church for the first and last time during what has come to be called the Presbyterian conflict. That conflict ended in June of 1936 with the defeat of the conservatives. On June 15, for the last time, an article on the Presbyterian conflict appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The headline announced: "Barring of 3 Philadelphia Pastors Brings Walkout by Presbyterians." The same page announced: "G. K. Chesterton, Noted Author, Dies." Somehow, these parallels seem fitting.
Move ahead two decades. In 1955, a book was published with the title, What Presbyterians Believe. I can think of no book with a more misleading title, given its date of its publication. It was a study of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). It was written by a Calvinist minister, theologian, and philosopher, Gordon H. Clark. Clark was a member of the United Presbyterian Church of North America, which three years later would merge with the far larger mainline denomination, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA), at which time Clark left the denomination. The United Presbyterian Church in 1955 was drifting into liberalism. It had been dabbling with liberalism for a quarter of a century. It had initiated discussions on a possible merger with the larger denomination in 1930, but then had voted not to follow through after the PCUSA voted for the plan in 1934. It was obvious in 1930 that the PCUSA's liberals had brought the conservatives under control. Nevertheless, from 1948 to 1958, Clark subordinated himself to the jurisdiction of men who did not believe in Calvinism, and who proved it in 1958 when they voted to join the PCUSA. Had Clark been more honest in selecting a title for his book, he would have called it What a Handful of Presbyterians Believe, or What Presbyterian Officers Swear They Believe, But Rarely Do, or even What Presbyterians Believe in the Small Denomination I Abandoned as Hopeless in 1948 When I Joined This One.(13) But he didn't. Instead, he pretended in public that he was not a minority voice, that he was not under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Presbyterians who did not believe. In this, he was not alone.
Today, there are millions of confessionally faithful but ecclesiastically compromised Church members and thousands of compromised pastors who are in a condition similar to Clark's in 1955. If anything, they are in a much worse condition: the mainline Protestant churches have become much more liberal since 1955. So has the Roman Catholic Church. Only the Southern Baptist Convention has reversed course: the most remarkable ecclesiastical reversal of the past three centuries.(14)
Church Government and Theology
America in the twentieth century has offered a three-fold ecclesiastical development.
1. Theologically conservative, creedal, hierarchical denominations grow more liberal as they grow larger and wealthier, thereby attracting the services of pastors who have been educated in state-funded and state-accredited colleges and universities.
2. Theologically liberal hierarchical denominations grow smaller as their members discover what their well-educated pastors actually believe.
3. Theologically conservative, non-creedal, non-hierarchical churches enjoy most of the growth. Their lack of formal academic requirements for the ministry inoculates them against the worst features of liberalism. Their freedom from hierarchical control allows the members to fund the theology they prefer, which is rarely liberal.
This has created an institutional dilemma for the leaders of theologically conservative, creedal, hierarchical churches. To grow, they apparently have only three choices: to go soft creedally, to go independent, or both. They must position themselves creedally somewhere in between Cotton Mather and The Christian Century. In no denomination has this dilemma been revealed more clearly than in American Presbyterianism, but it has happened in all of the large Protestant denominations.
Are you a well-catechized Presbyterian? If so, you are the member of a tiny minority group. People such as you have been in one of the following situations since 1960: (1) members of a large, wealthy, but shrinking denomination that has been taken over by liberals; (2) members of a medium-sized, officially Calvinistic, and growing denomination that has been taken over at the top by people who are more concerned with Church growth than theology, and who do not make it sufficiently difficult to penetrate by Arminians, neo-evangelicals, Scofieldians, and Baptists who happen to sprinkle babies and who want in on the deal;(15) (3) members of a tiny, hard-pressed Calvinist denomination that Arminians and liberals do not regard as worth the effort to take over. Putting it graphically, you're governed by ministers who believe the editorials in (1) The Christian Century, (2) Christianity Today, or (3) a denominational magazine printed on non-slick paper with no color pictures inside. It boils down to this: you've been sold out to liberals; you're being sold out to neo-evangelicals who will later sell you out to liberals; or you're not yet worth buying.
What you need is membership in a large and rapidly growing Presbyterian Church that is so costly to penetrate by neo-evangelicals that the liberals might as well concentrate on taking over the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.(16) Sorry; this ecclesiastical product is not only not available at the present time, it is not even in the early prototype stage.
What should a Presbyterian prototype look like? You cannot begin to answer this until you know what it had better not look like: the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., in 1920.(17)
This book is about a conflict between two mighty religions, Christianity and humanism. It is also about a third religious tradition that was caught in the middle, whose adherents were forced by circumstances to decide which side to support: experientialism-pietism. Some of them were Christians; others were humanists. This book is about a number of confusions, both theological and institutional, and their subsequent clarification. It discusses heroes and villains, and it acknowledges that the vast majority of the participants were somewhere in between. This is true of every turning point in history except the rebellion of Adam and Eve, in which there were no innocent bystanders. It is the story of a turning point in the history of the United States.
This is a history of the liberals' strategy of infiltration and conquest of the Northern Presbyterian Church. A similar strategy was carried out in the public schools, the judiciary, the colleges, and the media, but this ecclesiastical battle was the most important battle of the war. It had to be won. Why? Because the fundamental covenantal issues of life are always at bottom theological, not political, educational, or economic. The public testimony of the Presbyterian Church was by far the most theologically rigorous testimony in the country--indeed, in the world. Humanists had to silence this denomination, for it was too influential. The capture of the most theologically articulate large conservative Protestant denomination in the United States was modernism's best-publicized success story of the era. The strategy the modernists used to take over the Presbyterians was used, with modifications, to capture the other large denominations.
This book is more than a history; it is a study in sociological patterns: how institutions and groups adjust in order to survive through history. This is why I focus on a few representative figures. I agree with C. Wright Mills: "No social study that does not come back to the problems of biography, of history and their intersections within a society has completed its intellectual journey."(18)
This book is also a study in what could be called ecclesiastical entomology: bugs. Specifically, it is a study of ecclesiastical termites: liberals. By 1921, these voracious termites had eaten away so much of the Presbyterian Church that Princeton Seminary's greatest living theologian, Warfield, on his deathbed called the entire denomination rotten wood.(19)
I wrote this book to be more than a monograph on one denomination's history. It is a representative case study of a much wider phenomenon. It provides an introduction to the whole question of theological liberalism in the churches, and how this came about. Church historian William Hutchison has described well the subject matter of this book: the presence and then the triumph of theological liberals in a denomination in which a large majority of the members did not regard themselves as liberals. Hutchison writes:
The Protestant establishment can in fact be understood as a "broad church" that held together, and exercised whatever cultural authority it did enjoy, precisely because it retained the adherence, at all levels, of many besides liberals. While it is probably true that few who called themselves fundamentalists were able to remain comfortably in these churches after about 1930, all the evidence indicates that "liberal" was rarely a preferred term outside the theological seminaries and the more sophisticated periodicals. (During the time of neo-orthodox reaction against conventional liberalism--that is, between 1930 and 1960--such terminology was a bit suspect in those precincts as well.) Most establishment leaders and people, if forced to use limiting terms, were likely to designate their own positions as evangelical, confessional, progressive, or--calling on that all-time favorite among weasel words--moderate.(20)
I write for those Christians who fully recognize that in this, the final decade of the second millennium after the birth of Jesus Christ, His Church is in a full-scale war against an implacable enemy: humanism. There can be no permanent cease-fire. This book is written for those Christians who understand this and who are ready to act accordingly. Any other reader is entitled to come along for the ride, but he is not my target. Ethically self-conscious Christians are my targeted audience. Their needs and, more to the point, their vulnerability are my concern. There are still conservative Protestant denominations, and similar liberal strategies are still in effect. The problem is, the conservatives, then as now, have had no strategy.
This book is a strategy manual. It is a manual tracing how an earlier institutional battle was lost. It is not written in the spirit of detached academic inquiry. It is written in the spirit of institutional conquest: to recapture lost ground from the spiritual heirs of the invaders. When the invaders surrender cultural territory, we will regain it--not inside the four walls of liberal churches but in the culture at large. As for liberal churches today, let the dead bury the dead. Large brick churches in declining sections of town are not worth re-capturing. The heating and cooling bills alone would strap us.
Had it not been for the defection of earlier generations of Christians, we would not be in the place we are today: looking in from the outside on institutions that once belonged to God and His people rather than to the covenant-breakers who now occupy positions of institutional authority. But their authority is now fading. The flow of funds--a primary mark of authority--has begun to flow elsewhere.
So has political power. From the foundation of the Federal (later National) Council of Churches in 1908, theological liberals exhorted theological conservatives to get involved in social action and politics. Now that conservatives have begun to do this, great is the anguish inside the hallowed halls of liberalism. God has granted the liberals their request, and like the Israelites after the quail feast in the wilderness (Num. 11), the liberals are now paying dearly for it. They do not have the votes. The Christian Right has the votes. The action today is in places like Colorado Springs and Orlando, not 475 Riverside Drive, New York City.
Liberals committed their strategic resources to capturing mainline Protestant churches at the peak of these churches' influence, 1920 to 1940. They have seen this influence wither away since 1960. They bought close to the top of the market and are now hanging on for eternal life to their portfolio, hoping against hope for a recovery. It has been a primary bear market for a generation, and today looks weaker than ever. The Protestant Establishment peaked with Dwight Eisenhower and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles (d. 1959). It has been all downhill since then.
Liberals still seek to recoup their losses however they can. If your church has assets, it is a potential target. If it also has the same judicial and educational structure that the Presbyterian Church had in 1869, it is surely a target. Your denomination has a large neon sign flashing brightly: "Come and get us!" Somebody will. In all likelihood, the subversion is already in progress.
I know, I know: "It can't happen to us." That's what they all say.
What Reading This Book Can Do for You
Do you want to recognize well in advance the tell-tale signs that your Church is moving away from orthodoxy toward theological liberalism? This book provides you with guide markers.
Do you want to find out what the most vulnerable and undefended parts of your Church are? This book identifies them.
Do you want to know how to patch up these undefended parts? This book shows you both how and how not to do this.
Do you want to spot the catch phrases of those who are actively infiltrating your Church or selling it out? This book provides them.
Do you want to understand the strategy of subversion that proved successful in the most spectacular Protestant takeover in modern American history? This book explains it in detail.
Do you want to know how those accomplices outside the Presbyterian Church cooperated with infiltrators inside to undermine and then capture the Church? This book reveals this mystery.
Do you want to identify the bait which the subversives used to hook the Presbyterian Church? This book shows you what to look for in your own denomination.
Do you want to know which deeply rooted Presbyterian ideals led to the institutional defeat of those who held them? This book identifies them.
Do you want to know what never works in any program to reform a Church's hierarchy? This book shows you how to avoid volunteering for a suicide mission.
Do you want to know what terrifies the infiltrators in the early stages of their invasion? This book shows you.
Do you want to know what terrifies them after they have completed the take-over at the top? Learn the secret in this book.
Do you want to know why the liberals' strategy of subversion always backfires on them in the next generation, or even sooner? This book shows you.
Do you want to learn the details of the strategy used by the conservatives who recaptured the Southern Baptist Convention, 1977-1990? (For that, you're going to have to pay more. There are limits on my generosity.)(21)
Do you know why liberals and their queasy conservative allies will give this book bad reviews or no reviews at all? (You do unless you have an IQ lower than Forrest Gump's.)
Unread diet books on the shelf will not help a person to lose weight. Neither will a diet book that he reads while munching Fritos with bean dip. So, before you proceed any further, let me warn you:
No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:62).
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply [it happen], after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish (Luke 14:28-30).
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass [mirror]: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was (James 1:22-24).
Now, get out your yellow highlighter, your pen, and some note cards. It is time to begin stage one: reconnaissance. It will take you about 50 hours to complete this initial mission. That is a lot of time, and time is money. Not many people will make this large an investment. The problem is, whenever good people refuse to prepare themselves for the ecclesiastical battles that lie ahead, righteousness loses by default. This book offers a lot of evidence to prove this statement.
When you have finished, start thinking about what a revamped ecclesiastical prototype should look like. That will take you a lot more than 50 hours. Should some faithful Presbyterian tell you that no revamped prototype is necessary, ask him to sketch his plan for retrofitting one of the three existing Presbyterian models: liberal, neo-evangelical, or culturally invisible.
(Excerpt) Read more at freebooks.com ...
It is my hope that the above excerpt from Dr. North's excellent book will spark discussion on the current state of the American Church.
Currently, the only Protestant denomination that has successfully turned itself from the left to the right are the Southern Baptists. I think this is because of their non-heirarchical nature. Though they pool missions dollars and money for seminaries, the hiring of staff and pastors is completely controlled by the local bodies. Therefore the grassroots stayed conservative even as the leadership trended left. This made it possible for the grassroots to take back the convention.
This last Sunday my family and I attended a Bible Church. Bible Churches are a relatively new phenomenon in American Protestanism: completely unaffiliated autonomous churches who have no denominational connection whatsoever. They are essentially a response to the liberalization of the Protestant church.
It occurred to me that these churches may have the best answer to liberalism. Since they fund their own missionaries and works of good service, liberals cannot take them over from the top down. In order for liberals to take over Bible churches they would have to do so one at a time, and that is virtually impossible.
What are your thoughts about this excerpt?
For example, they are pro-environment and think that buying a small car is a moral act.
They are a reflection of their generation but I think that some of these theological seminaries are on the liberal side, also.
Left the PCUSA many years ago, despite a good local congregation. Couldn't continue to have them taking our hard-earned tithes to "re-imagine God" in their own image. We have not returned to a denominational church since. Despite the protests of RC's and others, I have no reason to believe that the first church of Christians was anything other than non-denominational.
Having said that, I wish you the best in finding your new church home.
You'd give up the Eucharist -- the true Body and Blood of Christ -- for a mere memorial?
No Eucharist, no Jesus. No Jesus, no point in going to church. Any Catholic who doesn't believe in the Real Presence might as well sleep in on Sunday.
Praying for you,
Check Genesis 2 (3?) where God declares that man is to be a steward of the earth's plenty. We are obligated to not waste the resources, as God's steward. And, our stewardship is not more important than countless other God-ordained laws.
Here's where the paradox begins:
Do I buy a small car to save fuel or a large car to protect my family? My family is more important than inert oil in the ground.
Do I purchase organically-grown food or that done by agribusiness? Well, the agribusiness food is far cheaper and less prone to spoilage (especially after irradiation). It will cure hunger in the third world far faster than liberals ever will.
Etc., etc. Being a good steward does not mean toeing the liberal line on the environment.