The Birth Of The Evangelical Presbyterian Church
[The following is the first installment of the transcript of a recorded address on the above subject by the Rev. Charles Rodman, who will identify himself in the first part of this transcript. Rather than try to describe the story of these churches from memory, I thought it appropriate that we allow Rev. Rodman to tell the story himself. Responsibility for the transcript—paragraphing, punctuation, etc.—is mine. In one or two instances it was a bit difficult to understand the tape, but for the most part I believe the following transcript is accurate. HCH.]
Well, tonight, as promised, we are making this recording concerning the Birth of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, formerly known as the Reformed Evangelical Church. The speaker, for those who are listening, is the Reverend C. Rodman, minister of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Launceston, Tasmania. Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia; it is an island state: It is not Tanzania, in case you should confuse it, but Tasmania. Well, I suppose we ought to start somewhere; and perhaps we ought to start with events before what led up to -the formation of this church. It is wonderful tonight to have you young people in this congregation, as it is your meeting; and you will perhaps learn something tonight because of what we have gone through. It will save you learning in the same manner in which we had to learn, and that was the hard way.
Nearly all the foundation members of the church belonged to an undenominational meeting known as the Ambassadors for Christ. This body conducted Saturday night meetings in the various centers in Tasmania. They called it “the brightest spot in town.” They also conducted youth camps, evangelistic campaigns. Sometimes they conducted three or four of these large campaigns every year, when they invited a speaker either from the mainland or from overseas. The meeting consisted of bright and breezy singing, with whipped up testimonies, whipped up hymns and choruses; and there were stirring testimonies, and then a stirring message; and after that there was a long appeal for people to make their decisions for Christ. And for those who had made their decisions, then there was an appeal for those who had back-slidden to be restored; and for those who had been restored, there was another appeal for the second blessing, or the overcoming life, of the crucified life, or something like that—one or the other. It merely meant, of course, that everybody ended up, if they were at the back, they ended up at the front. Now this movement commenced in approximately 1939. As I have said, it is consisted of people from all the various denominations, and it went on for approximately twenty years.
It was during the last years of this movement that the majority of the leaders were concerned about the dreadful fallout of these meetings and these campaigns. Although God in His great mercy brought many souls to a saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet the leaders who were in responsible positions were concerned about people who had made these so-called decisions for Christ, that their last state was worse than the first. Under the pressure of strong appeals, the people made responses. That is, they would come out to the front. They would put up their hands first, then they would stand up, then they would come out to the front. And they would be taken away in some room; they were asked whether they would receive the Lord Jesus into their heart, and if they said yes, they would utter a prayer and they would sign a card; and they took their card home, and a copy was kept. But what happened, that many of those who made these decisions, their last state, as I said, was worse than the first?
Under the pressure of these strong appeals many of the folks were emotionally disturbed. And under the pressure of the preacher and the long drawn out appeals they went out to the front. But the next day, when their emotions had subsided, they believed that they had made fools out of themselves. And we found that if ten people went on in the faith, ninety of these people who made such professions—they went back. And the reason for all this was laid at the door of the churches. They, of course, were not geared to cope with people looking for somewhat of a theatrical, evangelical kind of meeting. But after ten years of the most enthusiastic activism, we found there were some unhealthy signs that appeared. And it was a strong indication that something was wrong. People were having nervous breakdowns. Many of the people who made these so-called decisions, as we said before, were untouchable. People had gone out to the front, and therefore they were claiming that there was nothing in it. They said that they did all we had said to do, and it didn’t work. And the fallout was so bad that in the end we found it very difficult even to get people to go to these campaigns—never mind whatever stunt that you might put on to attract them. Those who often made their decisions or professed to be converted, they often brought reproach upon the gospel, because the way they lived was not a Christian life. Their work mates just laughed at them; and then, of course, when they returned to their own ways, even their work mates thought there was nothing in Christianity. Hence, not only was it a hindrance to the persons themselves, but also what they did was a hindrance to others.
And then there were the workers, who prayed for the extension of the kingdom of Christ: they were becoming very disappointed and discouraged. When, I suppose, they were at their lowest ebb, an American evangelist came to the state, who was a follower of Charles G. Finney. He brought with him, he thought, the recipe for revival; and, of course, we all thought, “Well, something new; it might revive us again.” But whilst this did stir up the energies of those fatigued and bewildered workers, finally they found that after about twelve months they were left in a sort of hopeless state of legalism and despair. Having supposedly experienced every religious blessing that was hawked around by all manner of evangelists, we now found ourselves in a wilderness of confusion. And I can say from bitter experience that Arminianism leads to atheism.
It was the mercy of God that brought us to the end of the road and gave us the grace to be honest, to face up to ourselves and to ask God to deliver us from this state, whatever the cost may be. And about that time there was an old lady who used to attend these meetings. She said she had a book, and the author was a great preacher. And she thought that book would be a help to us. The book was entitled “Religious Affections,” and it was Jonathan Edwards’ treatise on that subject. Now all of the group had undergone remarkable conversions. However, when we heard about this man Jonathan Edwards, and how that God had blessed him, and how that there had been a gracious revival of the Spirit of God under his ministry, we thought perhaps that in that book was the key to our problem, or perhaps to a revival. But on reading the introduction of this old copy, we found that what had happened in New England was exactly what had happened in our own island state, that whilst we were so busy under the notion of serving God (we thought we were serving God), we were in fact doing the work of Satan. We were in fact taken by the snare of the devil, who inspired us to use certain means to advance the work of God; but in the end it brought the work of God into disgrace, because what we were doing was not in the Word of God to be done. And it was just the same as the devil did to Adam and Eve. He said to Adam and Eve, “If you will embark on this course, and do this, you’ll become as God.” And afterwards when they embarked upon it, of course, He showed them their nakedness. And after we embarked upon what we did, then we could see our nakedness—of all of what we had done. And it pleased God to use the expounding of the Scriptures in that book to reveal the true motives of our heart that lay beyond all our activism, all our getting to get people to make decisions, and conversions. We found that we were doing it because, when you had a certain number of people converted under your ministry, then, of course, you were looked upon as a great evangelist. And we, as we used to call it, liked to string as many fish as we could, to say that they were converted under our ministry. Well, I might say that many never doubted their conversion; but when Jonathan Edwards in that book explained the hopes of a Pharisee (and their hopes could never be shaken), while the hopes of a child of God could be so easily shaken because they wanted never to be deluded, wanted to enter into the kingdom of heaven—then this brought a tremendous reaction to the hearts of those who read it. In fact, one man who read that book tells us that he rolled on the study floor, crying to God that if he was deluded, it might please God to deliver him from that delusion.
But unfortunately this awakening (it was very subjective) was followed by long periods of darkness in the minds of those workers. In fact, one member honestly believed, that he was the antichrist. And another one believed that he was Judas incarnate. One said he could not bear the awful darkness any longer. He went into the lounge where he had often wept before because of the awful dilemma which they had drifted into. And he prayed to God, Who, he believed, held his destiny in His hands. And he said to God: “I don’t know if ever You could forgive me for what I’ve done, but You have the right to damn me. But if You cast me into the lowest hell, that is where I rightly belong; and I will still love You, for Your Self’s sake.” He said that when he opened his eyes, he expected to find himself in hell; but to his great amazement, he found himself kneeling on the lounge-room floor where he had previously commenced to pray.
That state continued in the lives of many of the leaders for a period of about four or five years. And it was only a miracle of grace that was able to deliver them ‘from such a dilemma. But in the providence of God the works of John Owen were given to one of the members of this group. And then “Grace Abounding,” by John Bunyan, was another book that came into their hands. And another was the testimony of Walter Marshall. And when we read these volumes, we found that these men had passed through the same experience that we were going through. They spoke the same language. And God used that ministry of those old divines to speak to our hearts. One member read Martin Luther’s preface to the Romans. Having read it, he prayed all night; and in the dawn of the morning he said the great truth of justification broke over his soul. He could see what he was doing. He could see that he was trying to appease God with his tears, and with his sorrow, and with his heartbreak. But then he realized that God had made satisfaction in Christ. And He was the only One in Whom righteousness could be obtained. And there and then he confessed to God what he had been doing. And peace came to his heart. But he said that on his way home he was thrown off again from walking by faith, and drifted into the dreadful despondency and darkness that he had been in for years. But the next time it came, it came a little longer; he walked in the light of it a little longer. It went again. It came back again. He grasped again by faith, and then gradually he could go for a week, and eventually he walked by faith and was delivered from that awful darkness.
It was during this time that the members of this group (there was a certain number of these members) could see that God was the Author of salvation. They did not understand all that that meant. But they could see that they had converted people before. And also they observed that the devil could imitate conversion. He could come along, and he could give people a legal fear. They would be absolutely terrified. And in the moment these people made their decisions there would be joy, and afterward there would be joy; but eventually that joy would leave.
But having seen that they had pressured people into making decisions they now ceased to make any public appeals in their preaching. They believed that if it is the work of conversion, it had to be the work of the Spirit of God. The Lord Jesus is the great Counsellor; and therefore it was the work of the Spirit to convict men of their sins, to regenerate men, and to bring them to a knowledge of the Redeemer. Other people weren’t happy with that. Outside of the group there was another larger group who said, “Well, if ten people go on out of a hundred, at least we have ten.” But the smaller group whom God had been dealing with said, “No, we would prefer rather than delude ninety, when we preach these other ten percent will be converted, and; the other ninety percent won’t be deluded.” Now when they took that particular course, that is, not making any public appeals, no high pressure evangelism, then immediately they lost their faith, because they couldn’t produce a high rate of people making decisions for Christ. But it was during this particular period of time that it pleased God to bless their labors. And they saw such wonderful working of the Spirit of God and the grace of God in the lives of men through their preaching. I’m just thinking of just two occasions. One occasion was in the Taranna Church—what is now the Taranna Church, which was then, of course, not a church; it was only a group of people who had come away with their pastor. The people of that congregation said they didn’t want their pastor, and the people who loved God went with him. The Reverend Hugh McNealy was the preacher. He was conducting a mission there, and I was assisting him. But one night after he preached, or during the sermon, the power of the Spirit of God and the glory of God came to that place. I suppose I’ll never witness that again, maybe not until I reach glory. But that night the hearts of men and women were melted by the power of the Spirit of God. And after he had finished preaching, it was as though people were almost drunk. I still remember one man who was walking the aisle to go home, and I looked at him: he didn’t know where he was going. I spoke to him, and he said he wanted to get right with God. It was the Spirit of God convicting men of their sins. And people that night were converted to God, and those people went on. They are still in that congregation, which is now a congregation of our church.
On another occasion, the same minister was preaching in Winneleah. Some people there were unhappy, and they had formed a fellowship away from the church and used to go to the church on the Lord’s day. They invited him to take a mission. It was during that mission, under the preaching of His Word, that the fire of God came on that district. And under the preaching of His Word, one man who was sitting in the service said to him out loud in the midst of that hall full of people, “You are pointing at me!” This preacher pointed his finger, had the habit often of pointing his finger; and this man yelled out in the congregation: “I know you are pointing at me!” And men and women in that area—senior men and women—they were brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. There were other instances of which we haven’t time to tell you about.
(to be continued)