(The founding of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was the work of many men, but in any list of those most essential to its founding, along with names like Kenneth Keyes, Paul Settle, Morton Smith, and Jack Williamson, the name of Dr. John Edwards Richards would most certainly be found in a prominent position. Richards helped organize and lead Presbyterian Churchmen United, one of the four bodies that brought the PCA into being. In 1969, Richards and an associate led this group in publishing a Declaration of Commitment to the Word of God in 30 major newspapers, which was signed by over 500 ministers. In 1972, he retired from the pastorate to serve as the administrator for the Steering Committee for a Continuing Presbyterian Church, and spent much of his time traveling to churches to present the issues and debate liberal opponents. He was elected to prepare the docket for the first ever General Assembly, and literally wrote the book on the founding of the PCA, The Historical Birth of the Presbyterian Church in America, from which the following is extracted. At the main campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, the professorial chair for systematic and historical theology is named in his honor (ironically, a position held today by social justice warrior Ligon Duncan). It is difficult to overstate Richards’ contribution to the founding of the PCA.
I am in debt to Nathanael Strickland of Faith & Heritage for making me aware of The Historical Birth of the Presbyterian Church in America, as well as for giving me permission to reprint his find here. Oddly enough, I am apparently also in debt to Ligon Duncan, because Richards expressly thanked him in the book’s acknowledgments for his assistance with printing and promoting the book, which was sold by the PCA denominational bookstore for years (not entirely without controversy). Finally, this post would not have been possible without the diligent transcription efforts of a friend, to whom I am very grateful.
The Historical Birth of the Presbyterian Church in America is a collection of historical documents that led to the founding of the PCA, with introductions and commentary by Richards. The extract reprinted below contains both his introduction, and the sermon on Christian unity that he delivered in 1965 and distributed to all ministers in the PCUS. ~ Mickey Henry)
Causes of Separation in 1973
With the background of history already given here, the reader will wish to know exactly the causes of the separation in 1973. It must be noted that the liberal majority departed from the “Old School” Theology and polity, while the conservative minority remained true to the “Old School” Theology and polity. So in reality, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is a continuation of the “Old School” Presbyterianism in the United States. As in any other history there were certain attendant conditions that affected the time and nature of the division.
First. The Liberal Majority rejected the theology of the Westminster Standards, the verbal inspiration of the “Old School” and joined with a larger Presbyterian body which permitted many creed as its standards.
Second. The long standing effect of “Higher Criticism” and the more recent Existentialism of Neo-orthodoxy, left open the door for ordaining men of almost any belief.
Third. The liberal departure extended to the polity of the church, where almost all control was in the hands of the clergy. The Old School Polity had guaranteed certain rights to the laity and to its congregations.
For instance, the constitution guaranteed every congregation the right to select its own pastor and officers. It also gave them the privilege of owning its own church property. Some congregations lost their property to the liberal majority, which others had to fight the legal battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where they usually won on “Neutral Principles.”
Fourth. The liberal majority frequently misused church organizations for the purpose of defeating their opponents. One of these was the “Commission on the Minister and His Work.” This writer, along with many others, were visited by the Presbytery Commissions who sought to supersede the authority of Church sessions. Another instrument used against the conservatives was the organization of Presbytery Executive Secretaries, Synod Executive Secretaries, and General Assembly Executive Secretaries. The Presbytery Executives, (usually clergymen) would take their orders from the Executive head in the General Assembly Executive Boards. Thus the laymen in the church found themselves the victims of a hierarchy of clergymen.
Fifth. Another historical movement which had its effect upon this church process was the feminist movement. The PCA evolved during this period in which the authority of women was increasing in all walks of life. Women came to the forefront in every phase of the world’s activities. Therefore the election of women to church eldership was a big part of the liberal movement. Those who base their ethics on the particular existing situation rather than on moral creed readily made women to be ruling and teaching elders. This, of course, is in direct opposition to the teachings of scripture. According to Paul’s letters to Titus, Timothy, and Romans, women were not to assume these offices. The conservative view that officers should be elected who conform to the Biblical requirements naturally did not hold to the view of women ruling and teaching elders. Since the early days of the PCUS women had separate organizations which rendered service to the Lord. One of the finest organizations existing in the old PCUS was the Women’s Auxiliary. Many of its workers had become world-renowned in the Lord’s service. When the PCA was born, the “Women –in-the-Church” became the Lord’s Instrument (WIC) of the PCA.
Sixth. The elevation of the social gospel above the gospel of redemption became evident. In the 1960’s, the social aggressiveness of minorities, including marches on Washington D.C. and civil disobedience, foreshadowed the effect upon the work of the church. It became the popular thing for ministers to demand of their congregations immediate change in social mores and civil law. In this atmosphere a sermon was preached in First Presbyterian Church, Macon, GA., on July 25, 1965 titled, “As God is One,” concerning spiritual oneness. This sermon emphasized the spirituality of the church and the gospel of redemption. The Session of that church distributed the sermon to every minister in the PCUS. Many replies were received, about 60% were favorable, about 40% opposed. A copy of the sermon is recorded herewith.
As God is One
A Sermon on Christian Unity
Dr. John E. Richards, Pastor
Text: “…That they may be one as we are one.”
Jesus Prays for Us
It is good to know that Jesus prays for His people and from His recorded prayers we can learn His earnest desires for us. The Apostle John records in the seventeenth chapter of his Gospel Our Lord’s prayer to the Father on behalf of His followers. He prayed for the disciples with Him at the time and then for us, saying “neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” The twentieth century Christian has come to his faith through the word of these apostles of old who walked and talked with the Christ, and have left us in writing and inspired record of Him. John said, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” He said of his gospel, “These ae written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” So we believe and become recipients of His gracious prayer.
Christ Desires Unity Between Believers
The pleading desire for the disciples expressed by Christ in His intercessory prayer is for their unity. He prayed for the Apostles with Him, “That they may be one, as we are.” So also, He prayed for each one of us who believe through their word. The yearning intercession that Jesus addresses to the Father for every believer is, “that they may be one, even as we are one.”
For all believers, those of John’s day, those of our day, those of all ages, the petition of the Great High Priest is that they be one. Let us observe that our Lord’s petition is for Christians. No man has the right to twist his prayer by giving it a meaning for atheists and unbelievers. He clearly said “I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me…” Jesus was not praying for the unity of humanity; indeed he made it clear that there is a great cleavage in the human race because some do not believe. He said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Only Son of God.” Isaiah before the incarnation and Paul after the incarnation called for God’s people to separate themselves from idolatrous unbelievers, “Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, …” Recognizing a vast separateness between human beings, He asked the Father for a oneness among his own particular people.
Other Voices Crying for Oneness
The message of our Lord’s prayer for Christian oneness comes to us in this contemporary time, but there are other voices too, each calling man to its own particular kind of oneness. Indeed there is a “Babel” of voices each exhorting for some type of oneness among the human race. Here are some of them:
The Universalist, who proclaims that all men are saved. Therefore, there is a great oneness of all men because redemption is Universal.
The Socialist, who declares all men are equal. Therefore, there must be a great leveling of humanity and a oneness of privilege and possession.
The Racial Amalgamationist, who preaches that the various races should be merged into one race and differences erased into oneness.
The Communist, who would have one one mass of humanity coerced into oneness by a totalitarian state and guided exclusively by Marxist philosophy.
The Internationalist, who insists on co-existence of all peoples and nations that they be as one regardless of ideology or history.
The Romanist, who declares there is one true church under on Pope and all men should become one in it.
The Christian Organizationalist, who believes all branches of the Christian Church should be united under one ecumenical organization.
The Humanist, who believes that man is basically good and that he can work out his own salvation, and that he will achieve this in part through unity and oneness.
The Sentimentalist, who would incubate a warm feeling of brotherhood toward everyone without depth of perception or concern for man’s chief end.
The propaganda and personal philosophies of these various groups permeate modern society and modern thought. They are often strangely mixed. Insidiously, some of them infiltrate our thought life until the Christian is in danger of being lost in the dim shadows of uncertainty or of having his thinking become very “fuzzy” on the question of human oneness and unity. Jesus prayed for unity also, but others have misused his prayer as a verbal vehicle by which they have ridden pagan concepts of unity into the Christian ranks. It must also be confessed that many Christians have lacked the capacity, or the courage, to make the distinction between our Lord ’s Prayer and the secular voices that multiply throughout the world.
Let Us Hear Christ
Once a voice spoke from heaven saying of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son: Hear him.” Let us seek to hear Him above the din and confusion of human voices. Jesus pleads with the Father that we be one, “even as we are one.” This oneness is to be as the oneness between God the Father and God the Son. This oneness involves and is involved in, the Godhead. Consider this petition of Our Lord: “That they may be one; as thou Father art in me, and I in Thee, tat they also may be one in us.” In this same prayer He refers to the glory He had with the Father before the creation; He states He has given this glory to believers that they may be one; He asks that they may behold his future heavenly glory. The oneness for which Our Lord prayed was no shallow earthly thing, but a oneness that can be only in God. The unity for which Jesus rays is not based upon the thoughts and sentiments of man, nor is it bound by time or space. It cannot be encompassed by physical dimensions, nor can it be comprehended apart from God the Father and God the Redeemer.
Since this true Christian union is bound up in God, to understand anything of its true significance one must consider the attributes of God. According to the creed of our church, “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable …” Christians should be one as God is; God is a Spirit, therefore this is a spiritual oneness for which our Savior prayed. God is a spirit, not a body of different parts, and our unity in Him is a spiritual relationship. It has not to do with physical proximity, nor matter, nor color, nor earthly properties. It has to do with the soul of man which God breathed into him, not the body which was made from the dust of the ground.
God is infinite, which means He is without any limit of space. As man lives upon the earth in his physical body he is always subject to space, and he is subject to rules of space according to natural law and revelation. Our Lord made it clear by praying that Christians be one as God is one that He was asking the Father to make us one in that infinite spiritual relationship that we have with the Father who gave us our souls in the regeneration of spiritually reborn men. This has not to do with man’s space on the earth or his proximities to other physical bodies in this space. It is a prayer for unity of souls in the Infinite Spirit of God.
God is “eternal, without beginning or ending or limit of time.” The Christians spiritual oneness is bound up with the eternity of God. The natural physical body of man is limited to the years that he lives upon the earth. If Our Lord had been praying about this time-bound material body He would not have requested that we be one as God is one, for the unity of God is not subject to time tables, schedules, or calendars.
God is unchangeable. Man is ever changeable, inconsistent, uncertain, and fluctuating. While man so lives on the earth, there is no basis for perfect union in him, so our Lord prayed that His disciples might become spiritually one apart from all these earthly limitations. He desired that they become one; not as man may show unity, but as unity is in the constant and unchangeable God. All the categories of earth may change, but the Christian’s oneness in God is forever.
Approach Unity Through Diversity
The fulfillment of our Lord ’s Prayer for His disciples shall be spiritually accomplished in heavenly places. In the meantime His children most move as pilgrims through the universe subject to natural law and guided by the revelation which God has given for this earthly journey. I must make His word “a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” From His revelations in nature and the Bible I learn that in this world the only true unity is through diversity. God has filled the earth with diversity, and when man seeks to pervert His diversity into man’s uniformity he reaps the “whirlwind” of his mistake.
Variety is at the very foundation of creation. The Bible says “And God made the beast of the earth after their kind, and everything that creepeth upon the earth after his kind and God saw that it was good.” This diversity of species was sustained by God through Noah in the days of the flood, for God commanded him, “And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive.” Under God, laws are operative in nature to protect the species. The generations of the hybrid are strictly limited and life continues according to particular kinds. The mockingbird may mimic the nightingale, but the young that are hatched from her nest are only mockingbirds. There is a great beauty and unity in God’s nature—it is a beauty and unity of diversity. God made it so, God would keep it so.
At the very foundation of human life and society is a great difference that God made in people. It is the difference of sex. As the Bible says, …”Male and female created He them.” On the basis of this division the most important human unity is founded—the holy institution of marriage. This distinctiveness between sexes is the source of romance, beauty, mutual attraction, inspiration, love, fulfillment and continuation of life. It is a God-given wonder that ought to be held in the highest respect and appreciation. To prevent base intrusions upon the modesties and delicacies of this difference, our dress, houses, facilities, and public buildings are planned on the basis that men and women are different. There are individuals and groups that seek sexual oneness without respect to natural difference. The homosexual seeks oneness with his (or her) own sex and rejects the difference in sex which God has ordained. This perversion is a curse upon society and most degrading to human personality. It is a sad commentary upon human society when such despicable immorality is looked upon lightly. A reliable periodical recently reported “In harmony with this philosophy of vagueness seven ministers recently were reported by the San Francisco press as having accused police of ‘deliberate harassment’ for daring to break up a homosexual ball… enforcing laws against such immoral oneness, we need to hear again the Word of God. “In consequence, I say, God has given them up to shameful passions. Their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and their men in turn, giving up natural relations with women, burn with lust for one another; males behave indecently with males, and are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion. Thus because they have not seen fit to acknowledge God, he has given them up to their own depraved reason—They know well enough the just decree of God, that those who behave like this deserve to die–.”
Many today seek to pervert another great difference that the creator established. God made man of diverse races, but some would fly in the face of God’s creating genius and merge the races into oneness. The vast majority of good thinking people prefer to associate with and intermarry with, people of their respective race; this is a part of their God-given inclination to honor and uphold the distinctiveness of separate races. But there are many false prophets of oneness, and many shallow stooges, who seek to force the amalgamation of the races. They even dress themselves in holy self-righteousness and claim to be seeking the unifying purpose of God. The present chaos in modern society will bear witness that they are doing the exact opposite. Crying for oneness they create division; denying diversity they destroy unity. True unity between the races on this earth can only be through the recognition and promotion of the God-given diversity of the races. Natural revelation shows us quite clearly that races are different’ no one who has eyes should deny this. So, also, the Bible makes it clear. The inspired Apostle Paul addressing the Athenian philosophers pointed out that all men were spiritual offspring of God, but that God made them distinctly different in race. “He created every race of men of one stock, to inhabit the whole earth’s surface. He fixed the epochs of their history, and the limits of their territory.” Some men seek to make different races into one, which is opposite to the purpose of God who from one (Adam) made the various races of men. When mankind seeks to violate God’s principle of racial diversity they soon begin to reap the evil consequences. Contemporary incidents are abundant illustration of this truth. The press of Macon, Georgia, reporting on the capture of a man of another race who entered the dormitories of female students at night in two of our education institutions, quote him as saying he did so to discuss interracial marriage with the young ladies. Surely no one would be so naive as to disassociate such lust, perversion, and violation of rights from the preachments of oneness abroad in the land. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation the rate of increase in major crimes in the U.S. from 1962 to 1964 is a terrible 15%; among these the highest rate (21%) was for rape. Surely we cannot be so stupid as to deny that there is a direct connection between this increase in crime rate and this year’s pressure to merge the different races. This is part of what happens to men when they try to reject a God-given diversity for a man-made uniformity. According to reliable report one of the prostitutes apprehended in Selma, Alabama, just before the so-called Civil Rights March explained her extensive interracial immorality as her efforts to show oneness between the races. This is what accompanies man’s push for oneness between the races. This is what accompanies man’s push for oneness against God’s plan of diversity. No human can measure the anguish of personality that goes on within the children of miscegenation. One who reads the statements of that strange, frustrated, hating, distorted Black Muslim, Malcolm X, who was recently murdered by others of his kind, will be convinced that a major part of his trouble was that he was a child of miscegenation—he continually cursed his grandfather, who was a white man. Let those who would erase the racial diversity of God’s creation beware lest the consequence of their evil be visited upon their children. Man’s perverted teaching of an unnatural oneness, however sentimental, will not stand against the laws of the Almighty God. Let us not forget His message to the disobedient: “And if you say in your heart, ‘why have these things come upon me?’ it is for the greatness of your iniquity that your skirts are lifted up, and you suffer violence. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. I will scatter you like chaff driven by the wind from the desert. This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, says the Lord, because you have forgotten me and trusted in lies.”
There is another great diversity in language, man’s chief means of communication. The Bible shows that this was ordered by God when men in arrogance presumed to organize themselves into a oneness for the purpose of outdoing God. There is a striking similarity in this biblical record of the Tower of Babel to what some people seek to do today. There are those who assume great piety as they propound the doctrines of the oneness of man, frequently saying that the merging of all men is “the Christian way” and falsely implying that those who believe in diversities among men are “Unchristian.” I would rather read The Christians Book and see the way that God has set. Sometimes after the flood men said, “Come let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” The revelation is clear: the arrogance of men proposing oneness and superiority over God; the sovereignty of God enforcing the diversity of man in communication and location. The question for us is also clear: Shall we believe the arrogance of men who declare the natural oneness of man; or shall we believe the sovereignty of God and the natural diversity of men? In this day men must choose whom they shall serve.
God has made it clear that there is a great diversity in the native endowment of men. People speak today of the “equality of men.” The main thing wrong with this is that it is not true. Truth must proceed [sic] unity, and no true unity can be attained on the false basis of the oneness of equality. People are different in talent, energy, heritage, capacity, wisdom, strength, attainment, stature, and in other ways. This is a part of the wonder and beauty of God’s universe, and of His highest creature. Yet in the face of these obvious facts of life, men send frenzied cries from the darkness saying “men are equal, men are equal!” These are not the voices of wisdom; but the voices of those who would wash truth from the brain. Jesus made the diversity of inequality quite clear in His winsome Parable of the Talents: “And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability;” Jesus knew life, and the characters that crossed His path, and those that filled His parables, were understood as varied and unequal beings. Men may declare the oneness of their equality but the Lord of Life declares the diversity of their inequality.
The most effective work of the Kingdom of God has been done through a diversity of denominations and a variety of church organizations. It would seem to me that the God of Providence left some minor things of revelation vague or subject to different interpretations in order that there might be different groups of Christians following their respective temperaments and convictions as they come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. The salvation of men is by the power of the Spirit, who like the wind, “—blows where it wills.” As true believers, who constitute the invisible church, express their faith within the physical world, and through physical bodies, it is natural that they form different groups according to such natural diversities as heritage, temperament, language, race, location, and interpretation. Thus God provides for the unity of Christian faith to be expressed through the diverse branches of the Christian church. There are those who labor for a kind of artificial uniformity in which they seek to unite all branches of the visible church in one ecumenical organization. They even speak of the “scandal of denominations” as though denominations were an evil. But the spiritual unity of believers, for which Jesus prayed, can no more be captured in a world organization than the ocean can be captured in a fish net, or earth’s vapors enclosed in a box. If we truly believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour, we are spiritually one in Him for thus He prayed. To be Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Oriental, Caucasian, Latin, French-speaking, American, European, or what is a provision of diversity which God provided for physical men taking their earthly journey. “There is more real unity where both go to heaven under different names, than where with the same name one goes to heaven and the other to hell.” History seems to indicate the failure of man-made ecumenical organizations in their brash efforts to uniform the Christian faith. Louis Berkhof says, “The only attempt that was made so far to unite the church in one external organization did not prove productive of good results, but led to externalism, ritualism, and legalism.” Church history shows that believers in Jesus Christ organize themselves and express themselves through great diversity. A church union usually results in at least one church division. “No artificial aggregation that seeks to unify natural disparities can afford a guarantee against the strife of parities within the aggregation.” To form oneness through uniformity brings disunity, but spiritual unity may be achieved through diversity. “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
Fulfilling His Prayer and Purpose
As disciples of Jesus we should ever seek the unity for which He prayed. Our aim should be for unity in the spiritual through diversity of the physical. Towards all peoples let us grow the fruit of the Spirit—“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” In the exercise of these unifying spiritual practices let us respect the diversity which God has ordered in nature and humanity, along with the physical separateness which this requires. For only in physical apartness can spiritual togetherness be best realized on this earth. An automobile functions in unity because its separate parts work together; if they are welded together into a single piece of steel, its unity as well as usefulness is lost. The wise and good Negro leader, Booker T. Washington, with reference to race relations, put it thus: “In all things that are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
In the congregation of this First Presbyterian Church of Macon we have a beautiful example of Christian unity. When we sing “Bless Be the Tie that Binds” it is full of sincere meaning. It is significant to us all when each new member vows “to further the peace and purity of the church.” We are knit together in spiritual worship and mutual concern. For decades no shadow of division has darkened our fellowship. May it ever be so. This is so because God has made us what we are and placed us where we are. In the pleasure of our Christian unity we would not forget other Christians of other denominations, other languages, other cultures, and other times. On earth God has ordered our physical pathways separate, but all true believers are spiritually one in Christ. On the battlefields and training areas of World War II, I was often associated with British soldiers. I recall some lines from one of their songs that well illustrates our attitude toward other Christian groups who serve separately in this world until we all are promoted to heaven and know the oneness that is God.
“Bless them all,
The long, and the short, and the tall,
We will get no promotion
This side of the ocean;
So cheer up now, lads, Bless them all!”