Why Do We Worship in a Tent?
Preached on Sunday Evening, April 17, 1938
The last three weeks the question which the members of this congregation have been answering almost incessantly is, What has happened? Why are you in the tent?" The man on the street thinks it is an outrage that a congregation should be driven out of the property that they themselves built and paid for. And true it is. I believe it is nothing short of highway robbery for the Presbyterian Church in the USA to take away from this congregation their property. One hundred years ago when the Presbyterian Church in the USA split over a very minor issue of doctrine the denomination never even so much as laid claim to the local churches. Each group kept its church property.
The contrast in the public's mind between the beautiful, stone edifice and the thin, brown tent has raised the question, "Why? Why? Why?" Many have seen articles in the public press concerning the controversy but have passed them by without much thought, but now they want to know. Surely there must be some good reason for so many people walking out in a body and being willing to go on a vacant lot and erect a tent. There is a reason!
In a very few words, we are here because of our lore for the Lord Jesus Christ. He declared: "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14: 15). "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me" (John 14: 21). "If a man love file, he will keep my words" (John 14: 23). "He that loveth me not keepeth not my saying" (John 14: 24). We are here because we take our orders directly from the Word of God. We do not take our commands from ecclesiastical councils or church courts. We bow down before the commands of the living God. When a people take the Bible as their only infallible rule of faith and practice, there is no telling where they will land. The Bible has taken many to the stake. We may not know in this life where the Bible will take us, but we do know where it leads in the life to come.
I confess that I never dreamed seven years ago when I entered the ministry that the hour would come when I would be compelled to go out on a vacant lot on some street corner and erect a tent in order to be free to preach the full Gospel of Jesus Christ without compromise. Yet, here we are. Praise God! Let me also say that this congregation has truly taken joyfully the spoiling of their goods. I have never seen such joy and rejoicing and such enthusiasm on the part of God's people in all my life. We are a happy, free people. We could not remain connected with the Presbyterian Church in the USA because to do so would be contrary to the Word of God. To do so would mean that we have fellowship with sin and hold up the hands of those who deny the truth of God's holy Word.
I know there are many sincere Christians-perhaps many of you are listening to me tonight by radio-who are members of the Presbyterian Church. You are asking the question, "Why the tent?" You do not know what has taken place or what is the state of affairs in the Presbyterian Church. No one can expect you to do anything about it until you are informed. You are not going to call the fire department to put out the fire on your roof unless you know that the fire is up there. You are not going to be at all disturbed about the burglar who comes into your house while you are sleeping upstairs unless you are aware of the burglar's presence. I am simply saying that people have to know before they act. This is the reason freedom of speech and freedom of the press are invaluable heritages. We can go out and inform people by word and by pen. The reason the Collingswood people have stood so unitedly is that they are an informed people.
A real revolution is under way in the Protestant church. There is going to be a complete realignment of Protestant relations in this country. What has happened in the Presbyterian Church is going on in all the larger denominations-the Baptist, the Methodist. Last year in the state of New York alone more than two hundred individual churches renounced the Northern Baptist Convention. Several months ago in the state of Michigan ninety-one Baptist churches withdrew their support from the Northern Baptist missionary program. Modernism in the Methodist Episcopal Church, North, and in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, is far worse than that which Prevails in the Presbyterian Church. People who love and believe the Bible are being compelled to come out and be separate from such iniquity. "They which lead thee cause thee to err." In this day of declension and of compromise, where do we find the ringing witnesses to the Word of God? As goes the church, so goes the nation. Where is a Samuel speaking to Saul? A Nathan declaring unto David. "Thou art the man"? An Elijah denouncing Jezebel and Ahab? Where is there a Jeremiah? An Ezekiel? A Daniel? An Isaiah? Where are those prophets who are servants of the Most High God who have come to declare unto us the Word of the Most High God? Why is the church so impotent, so confused? Where are the prophets of God? Did not God instruct his prophets: "Lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression and the house of Jacob their sins."
I have taken a text tonight which I am sure every Christian must accept as truth, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." Here is a common starting point, and surely every man who has been redeemed knows that he must love righteousness and bate iniquity, that he must have no fellowship with sin. Therefore, with this truth of the Scripture I want to turn with you and consider certain of the great sins of the Presbyterian Church in the USA and give you the reasons why we were compelled to obey the command of Christ and come out and be separate.
I. It is Sin to Deny the Inerrancy of the Scriptures
The Protestant church depends upon the Bible. The Bible is its authority and light. Question the Bible's inerrancy and infallibility and you destroy Protestantism immediately. You drive at the very heart of the Christian faith. You may extol the Bible all you please, but deny its inerrancy and it becomes a human volume, and not God's Word.
In 1923 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the USA declared: "It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our standards that the Holy Spirit did so inspire, guide, and move the writers of Holy Scripture as to keep them from error." Immediately, more than twelve hundred ministers of the denomination drew up an affirmation in which they declared that the inerrancy of the Scriptures impaired the supreme authority of the Scriptures for faith and life, and weakened the testimony of the church. This affirmation, known as the Auburn Affirmation, denied outright the inerrancy of the Scriptures, and every man who signed the document denied outright the Bible's inerrancy. What kind of church do these men want? They think one with an errant Bible is better than one with the inerrant Bible! My Christian friends, this is an attack upon God's integrity, the veracity of the Almighty. It is an assault upon the Word of God. It is sin, SIN.
What happened to these men who rebelled against the truth of the Word of God, its inerrancy? Were they disciplined and thrown out of the church? No! In 1893, Dr. Charles A. Briggs, of Union Theological Seminary, New York, was convicted and suspended from the ministry because he questioned the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Dr. Henry Preserved Smith, of Lane Theological Seminary, was suspended in 1894 for a similar offence. Professor A. C. McGiffert, of Union Theological Seminary, New York City, held similar views, and when attention was brought to his sin in 1899, before trial was instituted Dr. McGiffert withdrew from the church. How were these men of 1923 treated? Well, the story is different. The church was changing, departing from Zion. Nothing whatsoever was done about it, and in the course of time every single board in the denomination now has these men on its councils. The supreme court of the church has one-half of its ministerial members men who declared that they did not believe the inerrancy of the Scriptures. This is sin. Yea, this is sin exalted and glorified.
The Department of Evangelism of the Presbyterian Church issued a series of evangelistic pamphlets for ministers. One of these pamphlets came to me through the mail and is entitled, "Is There Room for the Preacher Today?" by Dr. Charles A. Buttrick, a Presbyterian minister of New York. This pamphlet was approved by the General Assembly. Dr. Buttrick denies the inerrancy of the Bible: "Nor did Jesus build on the literal infallibility of a Book. The Sermon on the Mount goes beyond the ethic of the Mosaic Law. Jesus loved the Book. Only a mind saturated in it and reverencing it could have quoted it as He quoted it. But He did not deal in proof texts, He did not use the Old Testament as a thesis in anthropology, or even as an excursion into theology.... He found, not an impossible certainty of literal fact, but the vital certitude of regnant and compassionate Spirit. He made no false appeal to the Bible." Think of the Department of Evangelism circularizing the church with such poison, such sin! Jesus did use the Old Testament as a proof text in theology. He did accept its anthropology. He claimed to be the Second Adam. He did believe it was literal fact. "As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man ... .. As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
Princeton Theological Seminary, "the seminary of the Presbyterian Church," and the largest of the denomination, has recently called Dr. E. S. Homringhausen to be Professor of Christian Education. Dr. Homringhausen has expressed his views in a recent book which he wrote, "Christianity in America: A Crisis." He writes: "The old idea of an infallible Bible, inspired in every jot and tittle, which is often associated with reaching, has run its course" (p. 105). "While in many respects that scholarship (critical) has been destructive, in a much larger sense it has liberated us from all these notions of an infallible book" (p. 118). "Few intelligent Protestants can still hold to the idea that the Bible is an infallible book; that it contains no linguistic errors, no historical discrepancies, no antiquated scientific assumptions, not even bad ethical standards" (p. 121). "The Bible is not the actual Word of God, but merely a human witness to what the Word of God did in and with men and history. . . . The words of the Bible are not to be believed because they are in the Bible.... There is much in the Bible that is like chaff, or, rather like the seemingly insignificant parts of a watch. . . . There is a residue in the Bible that remains intact in spite of all its inaccuracies, its antedated cosmology and science" (p. 136).
Thank God, we are among those few Protestants who still hold to the literal infallibility of the Bible. We may be few, but we hold the historic Protestant position, and when the Protestant church tears itself away from an inerrant Bible, it drifts from its moorings, loses its authority. It sins. God have mercy on us! Dr. Homringhausen's position as a professor in Princeton will be confirmed by the coming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. Because of such iniquity, we had to obey the Word of God--"Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
II. It is Sin to Deny the Virgin Birth of Christ
The Bible teaches that Jesus of Nazareth was born of the Virgin Mary. This is taught as a simple fact. To declare that such is a theory or that there may be other theories concerning the entrance of Jesus into the world is to deny the Scripture's integrity. It is actually to deny the Virgin Birth. In 1923 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church said: "It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our standards that our Lord Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary." More than twelve hundred ministers in the church immediately drew up the Auburn Affirmation in which they declared that such a statement was simply a theory. Not only did they call it a theory, but they asserted that it was not the only theory allowed by the Scriptures, and that whatever theory men may have had on this particular point they were worthy of all confidence and fellowship. This, my Christian friends, is sin, SIN, terrible sin! What happened to these sinners? Were they disciplined as the constitution of the church demands? No. They have been honored and exalted to positions of leadership and power in the councils of the church. This has been the church's official answer to such sin.
What is the state of a church when it honors and exalts such sinners? Consider that question. One trouble with the Fundamentalist cause is that the separation did not come sooner!
III. It is Sin to Deny the Blood Atonement
In 1923 the General Assembly said: "It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and our standards that Christ offered up Himself a sacrifice to satisfy Divine justice and to reconcile us to God." This is the plain teaching of the Bible. Yet, immediately, more than twelve hundred ministers declared that this was merely a theory and that other theories were allowed by the Scriptures. This is a denial of the plain teaching of the Bible. It is an attack upon the very heart of the Gospel. "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." What greater denial of the Lord Jesus Christ could you ask than the repudiation of His virgin birth and the questioning of His death? "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
IV. It is Sin to Deny the Bodily Resurrection of Christ
Without the historic fact of Christ's resurrection we have no Christian faith, we have no Gospel at all. Our preaching is vain, our faith is vain, and we are yet in our sins. They who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most pitiable. The General Assembly in 1923 declared: "It is an essential doctrine of the Word of God and of our standards concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, that on the third day He rose again from the dead with the same body with which He suffered, with which also fie ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of His Father, making intercession." This more than twelve hundred ministers called a theory, and said it was not the only theory. To declare these facts of the Christian faith to be theories is an attack upon them and is sin.
We are not dealing here with minor matters in the Christian faith. We are dealing with the very heart and core of the Christian religion itself. Because of such sin and unbelief, as true Christians, we have been compelled to leave behind our property and our old associations and to come out and worship in a tent where we can bear testimony to these great truths as we are bearing testimony right now.
God spare America! As goes the church, so goes the nation. Indifference has settled down upon hundreds and thousands of Christians on these great essentials of the faith. The only thing that can our land is a return to the Bible.
V. It is Sin to Place Human Agencies on the Same Plane as the Word of God
The Bible and the commands of Christ occupy a sphere all their own. The General Assembly of 1934 declared: "A church member or an individual church that will not give to promote the officially authorized missionary program of the Presbyterian Church is in exactly the same position with reference to the Constitution of the Church as a church member or an individual church that would refuse to take part in the celebration of the Lord's Supper or any other of the prescribed ordinances of the denomination as set forth in Chapter VII (of tile Form of Government." Christian giving, according to the Bible, must be voluntary. It cannot be compulsory. Furthermore, Christian giving must be free. Individuals must give their money where they believe the Gospel of Christ is honored. They cannot be told, as the General Assembly endeavored to tell its members that they must support the church's agencies. The obligation to support these agencies, according to the General Assembly, is as great as the obligation to take Communion. This is putting human agencies on the same level with the commands of Christ, and it is sin. The constitution of the church does not teach such sin. The paragraph quoted above is a perversion of the constitution as well as of the Word of God. This is sin, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
VI. It is Sin to Violate Human Contracts and to Destroy the Rights of God's People
In the Collingswood Church those that have remained have turned for their leadership in the ministry to Princeton Seminary. The last two Sundays they have been listening to Dr. John Kuyzenga who was a member of the trial court which convicted and suspended the late Dr. J. Gresham Machen. The Presbyterian Church is supposed to be governed by a constitution. This constitution is supposed to protect the smallest member of the church against encroachments of the majority. Nevertheless, when Dr. Machen was called to trial for disobeying a deliverance of the General Assembly, when he sought to point out that the deliverance was contrary to the constitution, that trial commission of which Dr. Kuyzenga was a member refused even to permit Dr. Machen to defend himself by showing that the deliverance was unconstitutional. The deliverance stood--constitutional or unconstitutional. Dr. Machen could not question it in his trial. So he was convicted. Here you have a complete repudiation of constitutional government and constitutional guarantees.
A humble poultry dealer up on Long Island questioned a legislative act of Congress. The Supreme Court of the United States said he was right. He was no offender. He was a great public servant in having declared unconstitutional the NRA.
But Dr. Machen was not permitted to discuss the unconstitutionality of the deliverance of the Assembly. To deny him these rights given to him in constitutional government and under the constitution was not only a wrong, but it is sin. Constitution or no constitution, the will of the majority of the General Assembly was supreme. This is tyranny. Here you have rule by ruthless majorities and not by constitutional prerogatives and limitations. Who wants to be in a constitutional government which is only that in name and not in fact? What a farce! The General Assembly actually upheld the New Brunswick Presbytery, the commission which tried Dr. Machen, in its refusal even to permit him to discuss the unconstitutionality of the mandate! The General Assembly not only throws over doctrine, but it throws over common constitutional guarantees. Where does sin find its conclusion? -in tyranny! "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
VII. It is Sin to Take the Name of Christ in Vain
One of the Ten Commandments reads: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Surely every Christian knows that it is wrong to do such a thing, and yet, this is what the Presbyterian Church has done.
The Assembly issued a mandate telling certain members of the church what they had to do. These men believed that they had to obey the Bible and follow its commands, and they believed that the commands of the Bible were contrary to the demands of the Assembly. Therefore, they exercised their Christian and Protestant right of obeying the Bible rather than the General Assembly. They declared, "We must obey God rather than men." The Bible gives men this right and the constitution of the church gives them this right. Protestantism itself gives them this right. "God alone is Lord of the conscience and hath left it free from doctrines and commandments of men." When a church issues orders which men believe to be contrary to the Bible, men must obey the Bible and defy the church. This order was issued in 1934. The following year, 1935, the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, Dr. Merril T. MacPherson, and myself were all commissioners to the General Assembly in Cincinnati. The Assembly refused to permit us to have our seats as duly elected commissioners because we had not obeyed the Assembly's mandate of the previous year. These men stood upon the Word of God and their Presbyterian and Protestant rights. Yet, in a debate which was carried on in the Assembly we heard one man arise and declare with great passion that this "cancer" should be cut out of the church, and he spoke of these men. There was applause. How far the church has fallen! What awful sin that on the floor of a constituted church of Jesus Christ men who were standing upon their rights as Christians should be spoken of as cancers to the life of the church! This is sin.
In 1936 I sat in the balcony of the Assembly in Syracuse and I witnessed the greatest tragedy I have ever seen. The judicial cases of the Rev. Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the Rev. Merril T. Macpherson, the Rev. H. McAllister Griffiths, and others of Philadelphia, and mine, and others came before the Assembly. We saw the Judicial Commission come in all their dignity, with their long, flowing frock coats, and in reverence and deference the Assembly stood and bowed while these men were constituted a court of Jesus Christ. We heard then the decree read in the name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The decree was that these men should be suspended from the church -and from the ministry of the Gospel. What was their offence? They had refused to obey the General Assembly. They chose rather to obey the Word of God. The Assembly lifted up its word and made it supreme over their consciences and said because they would not bow down and do the Assembly's will they could not have fellowship or Communion. Here the name of Christ was used to execute not the revealed will of God as contained in the Scriptures, but the will of a transient majority of sinful men. The minutes of the General Assembly of 1934 were lifted up and the Word of God, eternal and unchangeable, was put down. Thus the name of God was taken in vain. Yea, the Assembly blasphemed. Such blasphemy is far worse than that which we hear on the street corners from the depraved and the unregenerate. Here is blasphemy in the councils of the church; yet, in the church itself sitting as a church of Jesus Christ. This is sin, terrible, terrible sin! Yea, it is the most awful tragedy that could possibly be witnessed, when a church blasphemes. Because of this sin we are meeting in a tent. We cannot have fellowship with sin. "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
VIII. It is Sin to Co-operate with Unbelief
The Word of God is very plain. Paul says if an angel from Heaven comes and preaches any other Gospel than he had preached, "let him be anathema" (Galatians 1: 8). There are those who say they are sound, and they draw up their declarations of orthodoxy. We do not question their sincerity. Nevertheless, they co-operate with unbelief and remain in fellowship with it. This is sin. One of the charges made against the Board of Foreign Missions in its program was that it co-operated with unbelief. Yet the General Assembly defended it in its co-operation. For instance, there is Yenching University in Peiping, China, to which thousands of Presbyterian dollars have gone and are still going. Presbyterian missionaries are on the staff. Dr. Robert E. Speer's own daughter teaches there. That institution is considered to be a Christian institution by the Board of the church and the denomination. Yet, the Chinese president of that institution is a blatant communist. In an article which he, Dr. L. C. Wu, wrote for the Chinese Recorder he said:
"I am of the opinion that, economically, Jesus advocated the abolition of the system of private property and the adoption of the public possession of all things."
"The parable of the loss of the sheep and of money was intended to describe how the average man treasures his private property."
"The parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, tells of the unequal distribution of wealth and that such a state of affairs should not exist in human society."
"Jesus was not in favor of the existence of the family system. He used a parable of a woman in labor, thus, 'When a woman is in labor she is sorry, for her time has come; but when the child is born she remembers her anguish no longer, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.' He did not say that a human being had been born 'into the family' but that he had been born 'into the world.' . . . Apparently Jesus used this parable off hand, which indicates that he did not favor the family system. Hence in the new society it may not be necessary to preserve this system."
This is unbelief. This is sin. To co-operate with such, to hold up the hands of such a university as the Presbyterian Church is doing is sin.
We could go on and on and on. The story is almost endless. We have a picture of apostasy, departure from the Word of God, falling away from the things of our most precious faith. We can have no part in it. We must come out and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing in order that we may not be partaker of her deeds. This is why we are out. We love the Lord Jesus and His truth. We cannot see it compromised. We are not of those who declare their orthodoxy and remain in sin. In fact, we do not have to declare our orthodoxy. All we need to do is to go out and worship in a tent. The tent shouts it louder than we could ever say it.
Beloved, these are no trifles. Involved in these issues is the destiny of human souls and the glory and the honor of our God. Present Protestantism is headed toward a great, united church. The faithful remnant of God's people is coming out and will come out to maintain true Protestant testimony. But what a tragedy! As the church goes, so goes the nation. The kingdom of God idea of the leaders of the church, such as E. Stanley Jones and the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ, is simply a modified Communism. But the new "social gospel" is presented in such a beautiful way, that folk do not realize that it involves the negation of capitalism, and the establishing of a different order!
Here is a great issue. Christian people have taken their stand, sacrificed their earthly possessions. Is the stand of the people in the tent according to the Word of God or not? By the Word of God their testimony must be judged and by the Word of God alone.
There is one word in our text that needs to be emphasized, "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." It applies not only to us in the tent, but to those who are still in their buildings. The Bible has one standard for Christians, and that is separation from sin. Regardless of what we may think from the standpoint of expediency, if we love the Lord Jesus Christ we must obey His commands. Thus the tent. We worship here in order that we might be free to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We worship in a tent with great joy and rejoicing. We invite you to come and worship in a tent with us. Perhaps your tent will be in some other city. You have the same Bible in that city that we have here, and the same Christ.
(Reprinted from Christian Beacon of April 21, 1938).