The Seeds of Compromise
(Adapted from article written by Pr. Ko Lingkang)

For more than two hundred years since its establishment in 1716, the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) stood for the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. It stood strong as a denomination, being part of many great revivalist movements across the country, and established numerous churches, adding thousands to the kingdom of Heaven.

The Presbyterian heritage can be traced as far back as to the Reformation, to great men such as Zwingli, John Calvin and John Knox. Later, great theologians such as Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and others also promoted the Presbyterian faith.

Great institutions such as Princeton Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary stood for many years as a bastion for sound Christian theology, training many men for the ministry in the Presbyterian Church. In 1885, the General Assembly was still able to proclaim that “our theological seminaries stand related to the defence of the truth as our military schools to the defence of the country.” (Harden)

However, problems began to crop up in the late 1800s. Small declines and compromises that led to great apostasy, leaving ecclesiastical separation as the only viable option for any Bible-believing Christian. Evolution and Higher Criticism began to make inroads into the PCUSA. Starting from the Bible Colleges and Seminaries, these heretical teachings soon infected the churches and the synod as well.

The Auburn Affirmation

In 1910, in response to the alarming tolerance of heresy in the Church, and the refusal to affirm certain cardinal doctrines by some men in the presbytery, ‘five fundamentals’ were drawn up by the General Assembly. These are mainly 1) The Inerrancy of the Scriptures. 2) The Virgin Birth of Christ. 3) The Substitutionary Atonement. 4) The Bodily Resurrection of Christ. 5) The Reality of the Miracles of Christ’s Ministry. The Auburn Affirmation was in reality a defamation of the truth of God’s Word.

Following the Auburn Affirmation, allegiance to these five fundamentals was declared to be a requirement for ministerial duties in the PCUSA. This was first affirmed in the 1910 General Assembly. In 1916 and 1923, these five fundamentals were again confirmed to be a requirement for ordination. However, with each vote that was taken, the margin upon which it was passed was getting smaller and smaller, and the liberals were increasingly vocal in speaking up against this requirement.

In January 1924, just after the requirement of adhering to the five fundamentals were passed again in the General Assembly, a certain Professor Robert Hastings Nichols of Auburn Seminary drew up a paper that was to be known as the “Auburn Affirmation”. In this paper, he claimed that the General Assembly did not have the authority to bind its ministers to the five fundamentals. The ministers should be permitted to hold other acceptable views on the five fundamentals whilst still retaining their ministerial office in the church. By May 1924, this alarming document was already signed by 1293 ministers of the PCUSA, signalling that they too agreed with this document.

This matter was thus brought forth before the same General Assembly that year in 1924, and lo, this time it was passed! By a vote of 457 in favour, 351 against, and 147 abstaining, the liberals held the majority. From then on, ministers in the Presbyterian Church were known to be either against this document, or sympathetic to its cause. The numbers were indeed telling, for it indicated that these liberal theologies had been overtaking the church slowly over the past 3 decades. Liberalism, or an inclusivistic acceptance towards it, was now the majority in the Church!

The Fall of Princeton Theological Seminary

All this while, Satan was also active in Princeton Theological Seminary. He knew that a sure way of attacking the church and causing it to depart from the true faith was to bring down the Bible Colleges and Seminaries.

Princeton Theological Seminary, from its inception in 1812, had “stood for more than a century a bulwark in the defence of Biblical inerrancy” However, Princeton Seminary was also affected by the rising liberalism. While Satan was unable to prise the hearts of the faculty members and the board of directors at that time, he used another method in achieving his aim – the reorganization of Princeton Seminary.

Till that time, Princeton Seminary had been run by two separate boards – the board of directors who had authority over the educational program of the school, and the board of trustees who simply held the property in trust. Whilst still in the hands of the board of directors at that time, Princeton would have been safe from the rising apostasy, for they stood strong for the truth.

However, in the years following the passing of the Auburn Affirmation, the General Assembly was locked in debate over the fate of Princeton Seminary. Princeton Investigating Committee was appointed in 1926 to look into some dissension that was brewing among the student body and faculty. One of the issues that were causing unrest was Princeton’s involvement with the “Middle Atlantic Association of Seminaries”, which was an association dominated by modernism. Many of the conservatives within the college, including a great majority of the student body were urging a complete separation from the association. However, the president of the seminary preached for peace and compromise. Whilst he may not have been a modernist himself, he was tolerant of them and did not want to stir up trouble by attacking the liberals within the Church. This was an indication of how the spirit of compromise towards modernism had taken hold of the highest ranks of the school.

Finally in 1929, the committee recommended that “the Seminary be reorganized under one governing Board, to make it conform to the drift of the times.” The conservatives again lost the vote at the General Assembly, and it was decided that Princeton Seminary would be reorganized in the interest of theological liberalism. Thus, despite the protests of the Board of Directors, the General Assembly took control of Princeton and placed a new single board of control over the school which had singular authority over the direction of the school. Whilst the previous board of directors were openly opposed to the Auburn Affirmation and were mostly conservatives, this new board was sympathetic to the cause of inclusivism, consisting of two members who were signers of the Affirmation.

This event therefore marked the fall of Princeton Theological Seminary. In one master blow, Satan had managed to wrest control of this great institution from the hands of conservatives into the hands of inclusivists who were sympathetic to the cause of liberalism.