Presbyterian Church in the United States of America

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This article is about the historical denomination. For the modern denomination, see Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America no background.png
Seal of the General Assembly of PCUSA
Classification Protestant
Orientation Calvinist
Polity Presbyterian polity
Associations Plan of Union with the Congregational churches of New England (1801-1837);
United Foreign Missionary Society (with the Reformed Church in America and the Associate Reformed Church, 1817–1826);
Federal Council of Churches (1908);
United Andean Indian Mission (1946)
Origin 1789
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Branched from Church of Scotland and Irish Synod of Ulster
Separations Springfield Presbytery (1803);
Cumberland Presbyterian Church (separated 1810, reunited in part 1906);
New School Presbyterians (separated 1838; reunited 1869);
Presbyterian Church in the United States ("Southern Presbyterians" - separated 1861);
Orthodox Presbyterian Church (separated 1936)
Merged into United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (1958)
Congregations 8,351 in 1957
Members 2,775,464 in 1957
Ministers 10,261 in 1957[1]

The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) was the first national Presbyterian denomination in the United States, existing from 1789 to 1958. It was a predecessor to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The denomination had its origins in colonial times when members of the Church of Scotland and Presbyterians from Ireland first immigrated to America. After the American Revolution, the PCUSA was organized in Philadelphia under the leadership of John Witherspoon to provide national leadership for Presbyterians in the new nation.

In 1861, Presbyterians in the Southern United States split from the denomination because of disputes over slavery, politics, and theology precipitated by the American Civil War. The Southern churches established the Presbyterian Church in the United States, often simply referred to as the "Southern Presbyterians". Due to its regional identification, the PCUSA was commonly described as the Northern Presbyterian Church.

Despite the PCUSA's designation as a "Northern church", it was once again a national denomination in its later years. It was also more ecumenical and less committed to traditional Calvinism, having been influenced by Arminian beliefs in the 19th century and liberal theology by the early 20th century. The theological tensions within the denomination were played out in the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy of the 1920s and 1930s, a conflict that led to the development of Christian Fundamentalism and has historical importance to modern American Evangelicalism. Conservatives dissatisfied with liberal trends within the denomination left to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.

In 1958, the PCUSA merged with the United Presbyterian Church of North America, a denomination with roots in the Seceder and Covenanter traditions of Presbyterianism. The merger formed the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

Colonial era[edit]

Early organization efforts (1650–1729)[edit]

Illustration of the original First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia located on High Street (now Market Street). First Presbyterian was the meeting place for both the first presbytery and first synod.

By the second half of the 17th century, Presbyterians were immigrating to British North America. Scottish and Scotch-Irish immigrants contributed to a strong Presbyterian presence in the Middle Colonies, particularly Philadelphia.[2] Before 1706, however, Presbyterian congregations were disorganized and autonomous.[3]

In 1706, seven ministers led by Francis Makemie established the first presbytery in North America, the Presbytery of Philadelphia. The presbytery was primarily created to promote fellowship and discipline among its members and only gradually developed into a governing body.[4] Initially, member congregations were located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland.[5]

These early years were marked by growth as Scotch-Irish immigration increased and Puritan congregations in New England joined the presbytery. As a result, two other presbyteries were organized (Long Island and New Castle) resulting in the formation of the Synod of Philadelphia (known as the "General Synod") in 1717.[6] The Synod's membership consisted of all ministers and one lay elder from every congregation. The Presbytery of Londonderry in New Hampshire, called "the Irish Presbytery" because it was populated by Ulster immigrants, was organized in 1729.[7]

At the time, the Synod still had no official confessional statement. In the 1720s, disputes between ministers and their congregations in New York as well as the prosecution of disciplinary cases against clergy for fornication and sexual harassment convinced some clergy of the need for an official statement of the Presbyterian Church's theology and polity. The Church of Scotland and the Irish Synod of Ulster already required clergy to subscribe to the Westminster Confession, and New England Puritans had endorsed the Confession's theology (but not its presbyterian polity) in the Cambridge Platform.[8]

Nevertheless, many New Englanders were concerned that requiring subscription to any confession could force ministers into violating their consciences. Ethnic and cultural tensions fed the controversy because New Englanders also felt that the Scottish and Scotch-Irish clergy were attempting a takeover of the Synod. The New England faction was led by Jonathan Dickinson.[9]

In 1729, the Synod reached a compromise with passage of the Adopting Act. Originally proposed by John Thomson, the Act required clergy to assent to the Westminster Confession and Larger and Shorter Catechisms; however, subscription was only required for those parts of the Confession deemed an "essential and necessary article of faith". Ministers could declare any scruples to their presbytery or the Synod, which would then decide if the minister's views were acceptable. The Synod also recommended that churches use the Westminster Directory for worship. While crafted as a compromise, the Adopting Act failed to end debate over the meaning of subscription.[10]

Old Side–New Side Controversy (1730–1758)[edit]

John Calvin by Holbein.png
Calvinism portal

During the 1730s and 1740s, the Presbyterian Church was divided over the impact of the First Great Awakening. Drawing from a Scotch-Irish revivalist tradition, ministers such as William and Gilbert Tennent emphasized the necessity of a conscious conversion experience and the need for higher moral standards among the clergy.[11] Gilbert Tennent was personally influenced by the ministry of Jacob Frelinghuysen, a Dutch Reformed pastor in Raritan, New Jersey. Frelinghuysen himself had been influenced by contact with Pietism.[12]

Other Presbyterians were concerned that revivalism presented a threat to church order. In particular, the practice of itinerant preaching across presbytery boundaries and the tendency of revivalists to doubt the conversion experiences of other ministers caused controversy between supporters of revivalism, known as the "New Side", and their conservative opponents, known as the "Old Side".[13] While the Old Side and New Side disagreed over the possibility of immediate assurance of salvation, the controversy was not primarily theological. Both sides believed in justification by faith, predestination, and that regeneration occurred in stages.[14]

In 1738, the Synod took two actions that infuriated the revivalists. The first required candidates for ordination who did not have college degrees to be examined by a committee of the Synod before being allowed to join a presbytery. At the time, there were no Presbyterian colleges in America, and candidates for the clergy were forced to attend either Harvard and Yale (both Congregational institutions) or schools in Britain. Candidates unable to do so received training from pastors or at informal academies. One such academy was founded by William Tennent and became known as the Log College. This new requirement, however, was seen as an insult to these informally trained ministers, many of whom were revivalists. The second action restricted the right of clergymen to preach outside of their presbytery. Revivalists objected to this restriction noting that itinerant preaching helped to spread the gospel and alleviate clergy shortages.[15]

Tensions between the two sides continued to escalate. By the time the Synod met in May 1741, relations between the two factions were at the breaking point. By the time the meeting had concluded, a definite split had occurred. The Old Side retained control of the Synod of Philadelphia, and it immediately required unconditional subscription to the Westminster Confession with no option to state scruples.[16]

The New Side was initially organized as the Conjunct Presbyteries of New Brunswick and Londonderry. In 1745, the Presbytery of New York, led by moderate revivalist Jonathan Dickinson, left the Philadelphia Synod and joined the Conjunct Presbyteries to form the New Side Synod of New York. The new Synod required subscription to the Westminster Confession in accordance with the Adopting Act, but no college degrees were required for ordination.[17]

David Brainerd, missionary to the Native Americans

While the controversy raged, American Presbyterians were also concerned with expanding their influence. In 1740, a New York Board of the Society in Scotland for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge was established. Four years later, David Brainerd was assigned as a missionary to the Native Americans. New Side Presbyterians were responsible for founding Princeton University (originally the College of New Jersey) primarily to train ministers in 1746.[18] In 1755, the New Side Synod created the Presbytery of Hanover (named for Hanover County, Virginia), which encompassed Virginia and the Carolinas. The Old Side Synod had one minister located in the South.[19]

By 1758, both sides were ready for reconciliation. Over the years, New Side revivalism had become less radical. At the same time, Old Side Presbyterians were experiencing numerical decline and were eager to share in the New Side's vitality and growth. The two synods merged to become the Synod of New York and Philadelphia.[20] The united Synod required unqualified subscription to the Westminster Confession, but clergy candidates would also be examined for their "experimental acquaintance with religion" (i.e. their personal conversion experiences).[21]

Covenanters and Seceders[edit]

Divisions originating in Scotland and Ireland were also duplicated in America, giving rise to Presbyterian denominations not affiliated with either Old Side or New Side synods. Within the Synod of Philadelphia, three ministers had Covenanter sympathies, believing that submission to the National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) were perpetual obligations. After the Old Side–New Side split, one of these men, Alexander Craighead of Middle Octorara, Pennsylvania, asked Scotland's Reformed Presbytery to send ministers to America (Craighead had already joined the Synod of New York by the time his request was answered). In 1751, the Reformed Presbytery sent John Cuthbertson to serve the Covenanters of Pennsylvania and lay the foundation of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America.[19]

Meanwhile, a group of Presbyterians in Pennsylvania were dissatisfied with the Adopting Act, which allowed qualified subscription to the Westminster Confession. They requested ministers from the Anti-Burgher Associate Presbytery in Scotland, who were called "Seceders" because they had broken away from the Church of Scotland during the First Secession of 1733. In 1753, the Associate Presbytery sent Alexander Gellatley and Andrew Arnot to establish congregations and organize a presbytery.[22] The New Side Presbytery of Newcastle denounced the newcomers as schismatics and declared the Associate Presbytery's Marrow doctrine to be unorthodox. A dispute over exclusive psalmody and whether to use Isaac Watts' or Francis Rous' psalter led one congregation to leave the Synod of New York and join the Associate Presbytery.[23]

In 1782, the majority of Associate Presbyterians joined the majority of Reformed Presbyterians to form the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, thus uniting most Covenanters and Seceders in America. In 1858, the remaining Associate Presbyterians would merge with part of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church to form the United Presbyterian Church of North America.[24]

American Independence (1770–1789)[edit]

Year Membership
1789 18,000 (estimation)
1800 20,000 (estimation)
1810 28,901
1820 72,096
1830 173,327
1837 220,557
1839 126,583 Old School;
106,000 New School
1849 200,830 OS;
139,047 NS
1859 279,630 OS;
137,990 NS
1869 258,963 OS;
172,560 NS
1870 446,560
1880 578,671
1887 697,835
1925 1,828,916
1929 1,959,006
1931 1,859,495
1933 1,914,886
1935 1,909,487
1937 1,906,100
1940 1,971,364
1942 1,986,257
1944 2,040,399
1946 2,174,530
1947 2,234,798
1950 2,364,112
1952 2,441,933
1953 2,492,504
1954 2,526,129
1955 2,645,745
1956 2,717,320
1957 2,775,464

In the early 1770s, American Presbyterians were initially reluctant to support American Independence, but in time many Presbyterians came to support the Revolutionary War.[26] After the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Synod of New York and Philadelphia published a letter in May 1775 urging Presbyterians to support the Second Continental Congress while remaining loyal to George III. In one sermon, John Witherspoon, president of Princeton, preached "that the cause in which America is now in arms, is the cause of justice, of liberty, and of human nature". Witherspoon and 11 other Presbyterians were signatories to the Declaration of Independence.[27]

After the war, many Presbyterian leaders felt the need to adopt a new organizational structure. The Synod of New York and Philadelphia was intended to be an annual gathering of the members of all presbyteries and one elder from every congregation. Over half the members, however, were frequently absent due to long travel distances, and this prevented the Synod from functioning effectively.[28]

In 1785, a proposal for the creation of a General Assembly went before the Synod, yet the convening of one was delayed due to the necessity of having to write a constitution, a constitution which officers could not initially agree upon.[29] In 1788, the Synod adopted a constitution modeled on the Church of Scotland in which power was centralized in the General Assembly.[30] The constitution also included provisions of the Church of Scotland's Barrier Act of 1697, which required the General Assembly to receive the approval of a majority of presbyteries before making major changes to the church's constitution and doctrine.[31]

The constitution included the Westminster Confession of Faith, together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, as the church's subordinate standard (i.e. subordinate to the Bible) in addition to the (substantially altered) Westminster Directory. The Westminster Confession was modified to bring its teaching on civil government in line with American practices[30] and by removing references to the pope as an anti-christ.[citation needed]

The first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America met in Philadelphia in 1789.[32] The new church was organized into four synods: New York and New Jersey, Philadelphia, Virginia, and the Carolinas. These synods included 16 presbyteries[33] and 419 congregations.[citation needed] Witherspoon was the first moderator.

19th century[edit]


Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1800s

The late 18th and early 19th centuries saw Americans leaving the Eastern Seaboard to settle further inland. One of the results was that the PCUSA signed a Plan of Union with the Congregationalists in 1801, which formalized cooperation between the two bodies and attempted to provide adequate visitation and preaching for frontier congregations, along with eliminating rivalry between the two denominations.[34] The large growth rate of the Presbyterian Church in the Northeast was in part due to the adoption of Congregationalist settlers along the western frontier.[35]

Not unlike the circuit riders in the Episcopal and Methodist traditions, the presbyteries often sent out licentiates to minister in multiple congregations that were spread out over a wide area.[36] To meet the need for educated clergy, Princeton Theological Seminary and Union Presbyterian Seminary were founded in 1812, followed by Auburn Theological Seminary in 1821.[37]

Growth in the Northeast was accompanied by the creation of moral reform organizations, such as Sunday schools, temperance associations, tract and Bible societies, and orphanages.[38] The proliferation of voluntary organizations was encouraged by postmillenialism, the belief that the Second Coming of Christ would occur at the end of a thousand year Golden Age.[39] The 1815 General Assembly recommended the creation of societies to promote morality. Organizations such as the American Bible Society, the American Sunday School Union, and the American Colonization Society, while theoretically interdenominational, were dominated by Presbyterians and considered unofficial agencies of the Presbyterian Church.[40]

The support of missionary work was also a priority in the 19th century. The first General Assembly requested that each of the four synods appoint and support two missionaries. Presbyterians took leading roles in creating early local and independent mission societies, including the New York Missionary Society (1796), the Northern Berkshire and Columbia Missionary Societies (1797), the Missionary Society of Connecticut (1798), the Massachusetts Missionary Society (1799), and the Boston Female Society for Missionary Purposes (1800). The first denominational missions agency was the Standing Committee on Mission, which was created in 1802 to coordinate efforts with individual presbyteries and the European missionary societies. The work of the committee was expanded in 1816, becoming the Board of Missions.[41]

In 1817, the General Assembly joined with two other Reformed denominations, the American Dutch Reformed Church (now the Reformed Church in America) and the Associate Reformed Church, to form the United Foreign Missionary Society. The United Society was particularly focused on work among Native Americans and inhabitants of Central and South America. In 1826, the Congregational American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) became the recognized missions agency of the General Assembly, and the United Society's operations were merged with the American Board.[41] By 1831, the majority of board members and missionaries of the ABCFM were Presbyterians. As a result, most of the local churches established by the organization were Presbyterian.[42]

Second Great Awakening[edit]

Lyman Beecher was a prominent Presbyterian revivalist and co-founder of the American Temperance Society.

Another major stimulus for growth was the Second Great Awakening (c. 1790–1840), which initially grew out of a 1787 student revival at Hampden-Sidney College, a Presbyterian institution in Virginia. From there, revivals spread to Presbyterian churches in Virginia and then to North Carolina and Kentucky. The Revival of 1800 was one such revival that first grew out of meetings led by Presbyterian minister James McGready. The most famous camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening, the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky, occurred during a traditional Scottish communion season under the leadership of local Presbyterian minister Barton W. Stone. Over 10 thousand people came to Cane Ridge to hear sermons from Presbyterian as well as Methodist and Baptist preachers.[43]

Like the First Great Awakening, Presbyterian ministers were divided over their assessment of the fruits of the new wave of revivals. Many pointed to "excesses" displayed by some participants as signs that the revivals were theologically compromised, such as groans, laughter, convulsions and "jerks" (see Holy laughter and Slain in the Spirit). There was also concern over the tendency of revivalist ministers to advocate the free will teaching of Arminianism, thereby rejecting the Calvinist doctrines of predestination.[44]

Facing charges of heresy for their Arminian beliefs, Presbyterian ministers Richard McNemar and John Thompson, along with Barton W. Stone and two other ministers, chose to withdraw from the Kentucky Synod and form the independent Springfield Presbytery in 1803. These ministers would later dissolve the Springfield Presbytery and become the founders of the American Restoration Movement, from which the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Churches of Christ denominations originate.[45]

Meanwhile, the Cumberland Presbytery, also within the Kentucky Synod, faced a shortage of ministers and decided to license clergy candidates who were less educated than was typical and who could not subscribe completely to the Westminster Confession. In 1805, the synod suspended many of these ministers, even bringing heresy charges against a number of them, and in 1806 the presbytery was dissolved. In 1810, ministers dissatisfied with the actions of the synod formed the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC). The CPC subscribed to a modified form of the Westminster Confession that rejected the Calvinist doctrines of predestination and limited atonement.[46]

Church growth in the Northeast was also accompanied by revivalism. While calmer and more reserved than those in the South, the revivals of the Second Great Awakening transformed religion in the Northeast, and they were often led by Presbyterians and Congregationalists.[38] The Plan of Union led to the spread of New England theology (also known as the New Divinity and New Haven theology), originally conceived by Congregationalists. The New England theology modified and softened traditional Calvinism, rejecting the doctrine of imputation of Adam's sin, adopting the governmental theory of atonement, and embracing a greater emphasis on free will. It was essentially an attempt to construct a Calvinism conducive to revivalism. While the Synod of Philadelphia condemned the New Divinity as heretical in 1816, the General Assembly disagreed, concluding that New England theology did not conflict with the Westminster Confession.[47]

Old School–New School Controversy[edit]

Charles Grandison Finney
Portrait of Charles Hodge by Rembrandt Peale

Notwithstanding the General Assembly's attempt to promote peace and unity, two distinct factions, the Old School and the New School, developed through the 1820s over the issues of confessional subscription, revivalism, and the spread of New England theology. The New School faction advocated revivalism and New England theology, while the Old School was opposed to the extremes of revivalism and desired strict conformity to the Westminster Confession. The ideological center of Old School Presbyterianism was Princeton Theological Seminary, which under the leadership of Archibald Alexander and Charles Hodge became associated with a brand of Reformed scholasticism known as Princeton Theology.[48]

Heresy trials of prominent New School leaders further deepened the division within the denomination. Both the Presbytery and Synod of Philadelphia found Albert Barnes, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, guilty of heresy. Old School Presbyterians, however, were outraged when the New School dominated General Assembly of 1831 dismissed the charges. Lyman Beecher, famous revivalist, moral reformer and president of the newly established Lane Theological Seminary, was charged with heresy in 1835 but was also acquitted.[49]

The most radical figure in the New School faction was prominent evangelist Charles Grandison Finney. Finney's revivals were characterized by his "New Measures", which included protracted meetings, extemporaneous preaching, the anxious bench, and prayer groups. Albert Baldwin Dod accused Finney of preaching Pelagianism and urged him to leave the Presbyterian Church. Finney did just that in 1836 when he joined the Congregational church as pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City.[50]

The Old School faction was convinced that the Plan of Union with the Congregational churches had undermined Presbyterian doctrine and order. At the 1837 General Assembly, the Old School majority successfully passed resolutions removing all judicatories found under the Plan from the Presbyterian Church. In total, three synods in New York and one synod in Ohio along with 28 presbyteries, 509 ministers, and 60 thousand church members (one-fifth of the PCUSA's membership) were excluded from the church.[51] New School leaders reacted by meeting in Auburn, New York, and issuing the Auburn Declaration, a 16–point defense of their Calvinist orthodoxy.[52]

When the General Assembly met in May 1838 at Philadelphia, the New School commissioners attempted to be seated but were forced to leave and convene their own General Assembly elsewhere in the city. The Old School and New School factions had finally split into two separate churches that were about equal in size. Both churches, however, claimed to be the Presbyterian Church in the USA.[53] The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided that the Old School body was the true representative of the PCUSA and their decisions would govern.[54]

Slavery dispute and Civil War division[edit]

Portrait of Gardiner Spring, pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church and 55th Moderator of the General Assembly (Old School)

The Synod of Philadelphia and New York had expressed moderate abolitionist sentiments in 1787 when it recommended that all its members "use the most prudent measures consistent with the interests and state of civil society, in the countries where they live, to procure eventually the final abolition of slavery in America". At the same time, Presbyterians in the South were content to reinforce the status quo in their religious teaching, such as in "The Negro Catechism" written by North Carolina Presbyterian minister Henry Pattillo. In Pattillo's catechism, slaves were taught that their roles in life had been ordained by God.[55]

In 1795, the General Assembly ruled that slaveholding was not grounds for excommunication but also expressed support for the eventual abolition of slavery. Later, the General Assembly called slavery "a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature; as utterly inconsistent with the law of God".[56] Nevertheless in 1818, George Bourne, an abolitionist and Presbyterian minister serving in Virginia, was defrocked by his Southern presbytery in retaliation for his strong criticisms of Christian slaveholders. The General Assembly was increasingly reluctant to address the issue, preferring to take a moderate stance in the debate, but by the 1830s, tensions over slavery were increasing at the same time the church was dividing over the Old School–New School Controversy.[57]

The conflict between Old School and New School factions merged with the slavery controversy. The New School's enthusiasm for moral reform and voluntary societies was evident in its increasing identification with the abolitionist movement. The Old School, however, was convinced that the General Assembly and the larger church should not legislate on moral issues that were not explicitly addressed in the Bible. This effectively drove the majority of Southern Presbyterians to support the Old School faction.[58]

The first definitive split over slavery occurred within the New School Presbyterian Church. In 1858, Southern synods and presbyteries belonging to the New School withdrew and established the pro-slavery United Synod of the Presbyterian Church.[59] Old School Presbyterians followed in 1861 after the start of hostilities in the American Civil War. In May, the Old School General Assembly passed the controversial Gardiner Spring Resolutions, which called for Presbyterians to support the Constitution and Federal Government of the United States.[60]

Covenant First Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, completed in 1875 as Second Presbyterian Church

In response, representatives of Old School presbyteries in the South met in December at Augusta, Georgia, to form the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America.[61] The Presbyterian Church in the CSA absorbed the smaller New School United Synod in 1864. After the Confederacy's defeat in 1865, it was renamed the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) and was commonly nicknamed the "Southern Presbyterian Church" throughout its history, while the PCUSA was known as the "Northern Presbyterian Church".[59]

Old School-New School reunion[edit]

By the 1850s, New School Presbyterians had moved to more moderate positions and reasserted a stronger Presbyterian identity. This was helped in 1952 when the Plan of Union between the New School Church and the Congregationalists was discontinued. Northern Presbyterian's of both the Old and New School participated in the Christian Commission that provided religious and social services to Union soldiers during the Civil War. Furthermore, both Presbyterian Churches boldly proclaimed the righteousness of the Union cause and engaged in speculation about the role of a newly restored America in ushering in the millennium. This was, in effect, the Old School's repudiation of its teaching against involving the church in political affairs.[62]

A majority of Old School leaders were convinced of the orthodoxy of the New School. Some within the Old School, chiefly Princeton theologian Charles Hodge, claimed that there were still ministers within the New School who adhered to New Haven theology. Nevertheless, the Old and New School General Assemblies and a majority of the presbyteries approved the reunion in 1869.[63]

20th century[edit]

The 1869 reunion contributed to a softening of Calvinistic convictions. This led to a 1903 revision of the Westminster Confession that reflected the theological shift . The softening of the Calvinistic theology of the confession eventually led to many congregations in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church merging with the PCUSA in 1906. The CPC acquisitions brought this group of Southern and border-state (e.g., Kentucky, Missouri) churches back into the historic fold, and the "Northern church" once again had member congregations in the south.

Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy[edit]

The First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, where Harry Emerson Fosdick preached the sermon "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"

Between 1922 and 1936, the PCUSA became embroiled in the so-called Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy. Tensions had been building in the years following the Old School-New School reunion of 1869. Incidences, such as the trial of Charles A. Briggs for heresy in 1893 and the attempt of the Presbytery of New York to ordain a group of men who could not affirm the virgin birth in 1909, had led the 1910 General Assembly to publish five essential tenets of the Christian faith (later expounded upon in The Fundamentals). In 1922, prominent New York minister Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of New York's First Presbyterian Church, preached a sermon entitled, "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?," challenging what he perceived to be a rising tide of fundamentalism. In response, conservative Presbyterian minister Clarence E. Macartney preached a sermon called "Shall Unbelief Win?"

Battle lines were eventually drawn with Princeton Theological Seminary New Testament professor J. Gresham Machen publishing Christianity & Liberalism in 1923, arguing that liberalism and Christianity were two different religions, and a group of liberal ministers signing the Auburn Affirmation the following year. In 1929, Princeton Seminary was reorganized to give more influence to the modernists, and Machen and several of his colleagues founded Westminster Theological Seminary.

In 1933, Machen, concerned about the PC-USA supporting modernist missionaries including celebrated author Pearl S. Buck, founded the Independent Board for Presbyterian Missions. After having his ordination suspended in 1936, Machen led an exodus of conservatives to form what would be later known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The controversy also hit the national consciousness and headlines with the famed 1923 "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Dayton, Tennessee. The trial of John Scopes, a young school teacher, for teaching evolution in his classroom contrary to a recently passed state law demonstrated the widening gap between religious modernists and fundamentalists in American life. William Jennings Bryan, arguing for the prosecution, was a Presbyterian.

In 1946, meanwhile, the PCUSA cooperated with three other denominations to form the United Andean Indian Mission, an agency that sent missionaries to Ecuador.

1958 Merger[edit]

In 1958, the PCUSA merged with the almost exactly century old United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), a denomination of Scottish Covenanter and Seceder heritage. Between 1937 and 1955, the PCUSA had been discussing merger negotiations with the UPCNA, PCUS and even the Episcopalians before settling on the UPCNA merger. Despite conservative reservations over the PCUSA's decision to ordain women to the office of minister in 1956 (the PCUSA had been ordaining women to the office of deacon since 1922 and elder since 1930) and dropping support for the merger from within the UPCNA,[64] the merger of the two denominations to form the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America was celebrated in Pittsburgh that summer. It was this body that would grow increasingly ecumenical and cultivate more progressive theological and political views, finally merging with the PCUS in 1983 to form the current Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Denominational Profile. The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA). Accessed May 26, 2014.
  2. ^ "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed May 29, 2014.
  3. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 1-2.
  4. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 2.
  5. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 19.
  6. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 3.
  7. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 23, 25.
  8. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 3-4.
  9. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 4-5.
  10. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 5-6.
  11. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 7-8.
  12. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 30-31.
  13. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 8.
  14. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 14.
  15. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 8-10.
  16. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 33.
  17. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 15, 17.
  18. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 19, 29.
  19. ^ a b Thompson 1895, pp. 39.
  20. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 27.
  21. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 44.
  22. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 41-42.
  23. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 42-43.
  24. ^ Hall 1982, pp. 106.
  25. ^ Nevin 1888, pp. vii.
  26. ^ Hart and Meuther 2007, pp. 77.
  27. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 40-41.
  28. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 48-49.
  29. ^ Hart and Meuther 2007, pp. 83-84.
  30. ^ a b Longfield 2013, pp. 49.
  31. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 66-67.
  32. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 50.
  33. ^ Thompson 1895, pp. 63.
  34. ^ Hart and Meuther 2007, pp. 103.
  35. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 58.
  36. ^ Hart and Meuther 2007, pp. 97.
  37. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 61.
  38. ^ a b Longfield 2013, pp. 58-59.
  39. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 71.
  40. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 72.
  41. ^ a b Heuser 1988, pp. 1.
  42. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 83.
  43. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 55.
  44. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 55-56.
  45. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 56.
  46. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 57.
  47. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 60-61, 68.
  48. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 65, 68.
  49. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 68-70.
  50. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 78.
  51. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 91.
  52. ^ Schaff 1877, pp. 777–780.
  53. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 92.
  54. ^ Commonwealth v. Green, 4 Wharton 531, 1839 Pa. LEXIS 238 (1839).
  55. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 87.
  56. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 88.
  57. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 89-90.
  58. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 94.
  59. ^ a b Hall 1982, pp. 111.
  60. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 107.
  61. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 108.
  62. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 112–113.
  63. ^ Longfield 2013, pp. 114–115.
  64. ^ Hart and Meuther 2007, pp. 214.


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