The Assumption if Mary and the Protestant Reformed Churches.

It is expected that on the first of November of this year the Pope will announce that the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is now a dogma in the Roman Catholic Church. This theory held as a pious belief for some time by many in the Roman Catholic Church will now become an ‘infallible dogma’ of the Roman Catholic Church which no Roman Catholic may dare to doubt or, reject. In order to understand this it is necessary to remember that in 1870 the Vatican Council declared that the Roman Pope was infallible, incapable of error when speaking officially “ex-cathedra”. Now the pope will use this supposed power to make this dogma binding on the churches.

This new dogma will insist that the body of the mother of Jesus was, after her death, preserved from corruption and decay and in a short time “assumed” or raised up into heaven, and there reunited with her soul. This is but one other step in the glorification of the Virgin Mary. Already in 1854 it was maintained as an official doctrine that Mary, though not virgin-born was kept from all stain of original sin. Now her body is believed kept from corruption.

Now certainly with this doctrine as such or with the supposed ‘truth’ which is expressed therein we as Protestant Reformed have little contact and there is little danger that we will believe or adopt such a “doctrine”. Nor is this what we had in mind when we wrote the above heading.

But what is behind such a theory of infallibility, and what is behind the slavish adherence to such papal pronouncements? It is the comfortable (?) and easy (?) assurance of the correctness of everything that the church does. With this attitude we and especially our missionaries of the past have become familiar when we hear or have heard that oft repeated, “Well if our Synod said that Common Grace was Scriptural and if our College and Seminary professors say so too, and if my minister and my consistory also agree, well than it must be so and I will believe it too.”

From this we, as Protestant Reformed, are free and insist that every individual member not only has the right but the calling, by virtue of the office of all believers, to search the Scripture and to try the spirits and to agree or disagree with such pronouncements, but then always on the basis of the Word of God. I say from this we are free, at least in theory, but I sometimes wonder about the practice.

Of this I was reminded when” I read the contribution by A. H. Haan in the October I issue of the Standard Bearer. This in answer to Rev. Blankespoor who asks several questions about the “Statement of Principles”. Now it may be that Rev. Blankespoor was objecting to them in the guise of questions. This I do not know neither am I able to assume this from his questions as such. But the point that I wish to make is this—that Rev. Blankespoor is taken to task for asking questions. “He speaks about origin, intentions, etc., but not one word about contents. I assume that he surely subscribes to the contents of this ‘declaration’ and I cannot understand why he should be so concerned about who formulated it, or who it is pointed at. He surely knows that it was adopted by our Synod, and that it was formulated by the Committee of Pre-advice with the advice of the two seminary professors. Also, that it was requested by our Mission Committee, which also represents our denomination in the Mission Field.” So there you have it. It came from the Mission Committee representing all our churches, it was drawn up by Synod, with the advice of its Committee of Preadvice and the two Professors and now while you may still question (?) the contents you may not even ask questions about the way it came to Synod.

Now perhaps we are reading more into the words of Mr. Haan than he means to have there but if not we have an example of that same mental and spiritual attitude which carried to the extreme gives the Roman Catholic Church her “Assumption of Mary”.

The Southern Presbyterian Church.

Some time ago we pointed out the controversies that were then current in the Southern Presbyterian Church. At that time we pointed out that agitation was especially centered about two points, the membership of this church in the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and most important of all, the attempt to reunite the Southern Presbyterian with the Presbyterian Church of the USA (The Northern Presbyterian Church).

Still these issues are burning in the Southern Presbyterian Church and although there is supposedly a five year moratorium on all reunion efforts it becomes increasingly evident that eventually these two churches will reunite but that there will be a large segment of the Southern Church which will refuse the merger and will form a continuing Southern Presbyterian Church.

That this is indeed the trent is evident from several articles recently appearing in the “Southern Presbyterian Journal” organ of the continuing church movement. They deal with that difficult matter of church property in the event of merger.

The stand has been taken semi-officially in the church publications of the Southern Presbyterian Church that a local congregation holds its property only as long as it stays in the denomination, but that if it withdraws it loses its property.

The background of this question is to be found in the fact that when in 1936 the Orthodox Presbyterian Church withdrew from the Presbyterian Church in the USA the Presbyterian church claimed and was able through court action to keep possession of church property, even when the entire congregation had withdrawn and it had not a single member in the local congregation. Evidently this would be a strong factor in keeping the Southern church intact in case of a merger. Some of the Southern Presbyterian congregations have been taking the matter into their own hands, by reincorporating the local congregation, under a charter which did not mention the denominational name, but asserted that all rights to the local property were vested in the local congregation.

In the Southern Presbyterian Journal of Sept. 20 is a nine page article on the legal question of property rights in the Southern Presbyterian Churches written by Henry E. David an attorney and member of the group that is opposed to a merger. We will not quote all the legal arguments which do not apply to us or have a primary interest but would quote his conclusion as indicative of the trend which is present and the split which is evidently widening in these churches.

“I say to the individual congregations of the Southern Presbyterian Church, incorporate your churches and have all monuments of title, such as deeds, specifically state that the property is held for your individual congregation and not in trust for the denomination; and I challenge any merged Church to take it away from you. This is not Congregationalism. This is the Presbyterianism that has been understood and practiced in the South since the first Presbyterian Church was established therein.

“The contention that the property of an individual Presbyterian Church belongs to the denomination reduces in the last analysis to prelacy and not Presbyterianism. It was denounced years ago by Dr. Benjamin M. Palmer, who has no peer in any American pulpit today, and every strict Presbyterian should continue to denounce it and refuse to be driven into a Church dominated by rules utterly foreign to the Church of our fathers.”

This question was also raised at the last General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church (comparable to our Synod). The Westminster Church of Atlanta of which the Rev. John R. Richardson, one of the contributing editors to the Southern Presbyterian Journal, is pastor had taken this step of re-incorporation. The Presbytery of Atlanta asked the General Assembly to rule on the legality of this procedure. The Assembly replied that this was wrong but did not give reasons for its being wrong but instead appointed a committee to study the question of church property.

In this whole matter of church property and church merger it becomes evident that the Southern Presbyterian denomination if it unites with the Northern church will try to retain all the property now connected with the Southern Church. Even though local congregations in part or in whole refuse to participate in the merger, and instead claim to be the continuation of the Southern Presbyterian denomination, they will have to fight for their property, and the chances appear good that they may lose it anyway.

We can well echo the sentiments of the editor of “The Presbyterian Guardian” from whom part of this information is received: “We hope this prospect does not dampen their opposition to the proposed merger. There are matters more important even than church buildings. . . . Ours is a time that calls for courage, courage to stand for the truth of God at whatever cost.”

Doctrinal Preaching.

An interesting and striking sidelight to the above struggle was presented in the Southern Presbyterian Journal under the title “Theology to be Preached”.

“In some churches there is an aversion to theological preaching. This is not difficult to understand. To appreciate theological preaching one must develop a taste for it.

“The average congregation has not been exposed to enough of it to have such a taste. They have been given sermons on how to win friends, how to be a magnetic personality, how to forget our worries, how to feel good, and how to succeed in business. Though these topics have some value, they do not belong to the essence of the saving message of the gospel.

“Another reason is that theological preaching makes one think and most people prefer not to think—it is too laborious. Many modern congregations, therefore, desire sermons that are entertaining and oratorical rather than doctrinal.

“As Christian preachers we must be reminded that Christ was a theological preacher. The apostles were theological preachers. They exhorted us to preach doctrines. Oratorical and topical preachers may have a larger audience; but it is a well-known fact that when such preachers leave the people leave. . . .

“Theological preaching is broadening. It stretches the minds of people. Its range is wider than ‘ethics’ or ‘religion’. Theology is broad since it embraces the Christian doctrines which deal with all of man’s relations to God and the universe. Theology gives man a comprehensive world and life view. This is especially true of reformed theology….

“Theological preaching is satisfying. . . .

“Christian theology does not deal with speculations but with finalities. …

“Theological preaching is strengthening. . . .

“More thought should be given to the eternal things and less time to the ephemerals. Let us pray that our Church will be revitalized by a new appreciation and a fresh presentation of the theological convictions set forth so marvelously in our Westminster Standards. These Standards have served as museum pieces too long. Let us take them off the shelf and permit them to give their timeless message to our age which is becoming conscious of its theological and moral bankruptcy, and its need of tested certainties and saving affirmations.”

This article by the Rev. John R. Richardson mentioned above certainly indicates to us, that in the present struggle, the party represented by the “Southern Presbyterian Journal” must have our sympathy and we hope that the sentiments expressed may take root in this group.