J. Gresham Machen*

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J. Gresham Machen was born in Baltimore on July 28, 1881 and was raised in a devout Christian home, "of a high level of culture and social standing and of a considerable degree of prosperity." Machen pursued his undergraduate studies in Letters at Johns Hopkins University. In 1902 he chose to enroll in Princeton Seminary where he was privileged to study under Benjamin B. Warfield, Geerhardus Vos, and Francis Patton. Machen received a second undergraduate degree in theology with honors. Machen spent the next several years traveling and studying in Europe. He studied at Marburg under Johannes Weiss and Adolf Julicher.

Machen accepted a teaching position of New Testament Literature and Exegesis at Princeton Seminary in 1906, and he taught there until 1929. Machen was taken under care in November, 1913, and he accepted the position of Assistant Professor of New Testament in May, 1914. In June he was ordained by the New Brunswick Presbytery, and May 3, 1915 Machen gave his inaugural address "History and Faith." "A gospel independent of history is simply a contradiction of terms."

Machen took a strong stance against the encroaching liberalism in the Presbyterian Church and its seminary (Princeton). With the tide of fundamentalism and neo-orthodoxy pulling the mainstream away from Biblical orthodoxy, Machen was a steadfast and vocal opponent. With the signing of the Auburn Affirmation, January 9, 1924, the final blow had been leveled for the P.C.U.S.A. Machen sent a communication to the New York Times which appeared in its columns the following day blasting the distinctively liberal, heretical, and sacrilegious turn the denomination had taken.

Machen was elected to the position of Professor of Apologetics at Princeton in 1926. He strove to keep the seminary from going the way of the mainstream, and fought within the denomination to bring about a conservative resurgence and return to the reformed faith. His prominent position as the foremost conservative voice made him a favorite target for the slanderous ad hominem attacks by the liberals he so opposed. In 1926 Machen was taken under investigation and acquitted, but the defamation by his accusers swayed many against him. Machen continued to fight valiantly to save the seminary, but less than three years later Princeton would undergo its infamous reconstruction.

July 18, 1929, Machen, along with other disgruntled Princeton professors, including Cornelius Van Til and Oswald T. Allis, met and laid the groundwork for a new seminary which would uphold the reformed standards which Princeton had abandoned. Among the other faculty were Paul Wooley, John Murray, and Rienki Kuiper. Westminster Theological Seminary adopted its charter and constitution in the Spring of 1930. On September 25th of that year, Westminster opened its doors with an inaugural address by Dr. Wilson.

In 1934 the General Assembly of the P.C.U.S.A. ordered Machen to sever his relations with the Independent Board of Foreign Missions which had earlier that year been organized and Machen elected president, citing the Board's unconstitutionality. (<difficult to understand)The Board responded with a 43-page document, Studies of the Constitution of the PCUSA. Machen as president was mandated to dissolve the Board and charged with breaking his ordination vows. Machen appealed.

On December 20th at Trenton, the presbytery convened. The charges brought against Machen were as follows:

1) Violation of ordination vows; 2) Disapproval of the government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church; 3) Renouncing and disobeying the rules and lawful authority of the Church; 4) Advocating rebellious defiance against the lawful authority of the Church; 5) with refusal to sever his connection with "the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions" as directed by the General Assembly; 6) Not being zealous and faithful in maintaining the peace of the church; 7) Contempt of and rebellion against his superiors in the Church in their lawful counsels, commands and corrections; 8) Breach of his lawful promises; and 9) Refusing subjection to his brethren in the Lord.

The New York Times headline read, "Presbytery to try Machen as Rebel." The trial took place in February and March, 1935. Machen pled "not guilty" to all the charges. Machen was denied an opportunity for defense, and was thus declared "guilty" on March 29.

Machen's defrockment split the PCUSA. For about a third of their delegates, this was the last straw. On June 27th, 1935, those members met and drew up the Constitutional Covenant Union in a last gasp effort to reform the Presbyterian Church. The decisive step towards a new denomination was taken on June 11, 1936. Machen was elected as the moderator of the convention. His sermon "The Church of God" on Acts 20:28 served to set the tone of the new church. The name the Presbyterian Church of America was adopted. The hostility of the PCUSA came to expression against the fledgling church not many months later in the form of a lawsuit over the selected name. The name PCA was abandoned and the church became known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, a name more consistent with its resolve to maintain the historic reformed standards.

Machen died untimely, January 1, 1937 of pneumonia in Bismarck, North Dakota. His last words were "So thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it."

Most of the information in this sketch was taken from J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir by Ned B. Stonehouse.

*Machen was quite influential in his founding of the OPC and Westminster Seminary, and for that we owe him great respect and honor. For all of his extraordinary contributions, he was slow in realizing the uniqueness of Vos's perspective and it was only late in his life that he began to be brought around by many of the younger, thoroughly Vosian men with whom he associated (Van Til, Murray, Stonehouse, etc.). A case can be made that Machen himself, like the OPC, is moving beyond the American Presybyterianism of the PCUSA to a more heavenly-minded communion.

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