The position of the Confession of 1967 concerning the Bible is exactly that of Dr. Charles A. Briggs of the Presbytery of New York who, in 1893, was suspended from the ministry. Dr. Briggs held views which the Confession of 1967 now establishes as the confession of the church. Briggs rejected the infallibility and the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures. A faithful church removed Dr. Briggs; an unfaithful church now vindicates him. It took only seventy-three years. The record in these matters is so clear that none can deny that a complete reversal has taken place. The charges on which he was convicted tell the story. They are as follows:
The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America charges the Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., being a minister of the said Church, and a member of the Presbytery of New York, with teaching that the reason is a fountain of Divine authority which may and does savingly enlighten men, even such men as reject the Scriptures as the authoritative proclamation of the will of God, and reject also the way of salvation through the mediation and sacrifice of the Son of God as revealed therein; which is contrary to the essential doctrine of the Holy Scripture and of the Standards of the said Church, that the Holy Scripture is most necessary, and the rule of faith and practice.
Specification I—In an inaugural address, which the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., delivered at the Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York, January 20, 1891, on the occasion of his induction into the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology, which address has been published and extensively circulated with the knowledge and approval of the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., and has been republished by him in a second edition with a preface and an appendix, there occur the following sentences:
Page 24, lines 7-10 and 31-33: “Divine authority is the only authority to which man can yield implicit obedience, on which he can rest in loving certainty and build with joyous confidence…There are historically three great fountains of Divine authority—the Bible, the Church and the Reason.”
Page 27, lines 9-21: “Martineau could not find divine authority in the Church or the Bible, but he did find God enthroned in his own soul. There are those who would refuse these rationalists a place in the company of the faithful. But they forget that the essential thing is to find God and Divine certainty, and if these men have found God without the mediation of Church and Bible, Church and Bible are means and not ends; they are avenues to God, but are not God. We regret that these rationalists depreciate the means of grace so essential to most of us, but we are warned lest we commit a similar error, and depreciate the Reason and the Christian consciousness.”
Inaugural Address, Appendix, Second Edition, pages 88, 89:
“(c) Unless God’s authority is discerned in the forms of the Reason, there is no ground upon which any of the heathen could ever have been saved, for they know nothing of Bible or Church. If they are not savingly enlightened by the Light of the World in the forms of the Reason the whole heathen world is lost forever.”
Specification II—In an inaugural address, which the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., delivered at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, January 20, 1891, on the occasion of his induction into the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology, which address has been published and extensively circulated with the knowledge and approval of the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., and has been republished by him in a second edition with a preface and an appendix, there occur the following sentences:
Page 28, lines 1-22: “(3) The Authority of Holy Scripture.-We have examined the Church and the Reason as seats of divine authority in an introduction to our theme, The Authority of the Scriptures,because they open our eyes to see mistakes that are common to the three departments. Protestant Christianity builds its faith and life on the Divine authority contained in the Scriptures, and too often depreciates the Church and the Reason. Spurgeon is an example of the average modern Evangelical, who holds the Protestant position, and assails the Church and Reason in the interest of the authority of Scripture. But the average opinion of the Christian world would not assign him a higher place in the Kingdom of God than Martineau or Newman. May we not conclude, on the whole, that these three representative Christians of our time, living in or near the world’s metropolis, have, each in his way, found God and rested on Divine authority? May we not learn from them not to depreciate any of the means whereby God makes himself known to men? Men are influenced by their temperaments and environments which of the three ways of access to God they may pursue.”
These declarations are contrary to Scripture: Isa. 8:20; Matt. 10:32, 33; Luke 16:29-31; John 5:39; John 14:6; I John 5:10; Gal. 1:9; II Tim. 3:15-17; II Peter 1:19-21.
These declarations are contrary to the Standards: Confession of Faith, Chap. i, Sees. i, v, vi, x; Larger Catechism, Questions 2, 3; Shorter Catechism, Question 2.
The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America charges the Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., being a minister of the said Church and a member of the Presbytery of New York, with teaching that the Church is a fountain of Divine authority, which, apart from the Holy Scripture, may and does savingly enlighten men; which is contrary to the essential doctrine of the Holy Scripture and of the Standards of the said Church, that the Holy Scripture is most necessary and the rule of faith and practice.
Specification I—In an inaugural address, which the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., delivered at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, January 20, 1891, on the occasion of his induction into the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology, which address has been published and extensively circulated with the knowledge and approval of the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., and has been republished by him in a second edition with a preface and an appendix, there occur the following sentences:
Page 24, lines 7-10 and 31-33: “Divine authority is the only authority to which man can yield implicit obedience, on which he can rest in loving certainty and build with joyous confidence . . . . There are historically three great fountains of divine authority-the Bible, the Church and the Reason.”
Page 25, lines 1-14 inclusive: “(1) The Authority of the Church.-The majority of Christians from the apostolic age have found God through the Church. Martyrs and Saints, Fathers and Schoolmen, the profoundest intellects, the saintliest lives, have had this experience. Institutional Christianity has been to them the presence chamber of God. They have therein and thereby entered into communion with all saints. It is difficult for many Protestants to regard this experience as any other than pious illusion and delusion. But what shall we say of a modern like Newman, who could not reach certainty, striving never so hard, through the Bible or the Reason, but who did find Divine authority in the institutions of the Church?”
Specification II—[The same as Specification II under Charge I, just repeated here.]
The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America charges the Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., being a minister of the said Church and a member of the Presbytery of New York, with teaching that errors may have existed in the original text of the Holy Scripture, as it came from its authors, which is contrary to the essential doctrine taught in the Holy Scripture and in the Standards of the said Church, that the Holy Scripture is the Word of God written, immediately inspired, and the rule of faith and practice.
Specification.—In an inaugural address, which the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., delivered at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, January 20, 1891, on the occasion of his induction into the Edward Robinson Chair of Biblical Theology, which address has been published and extensively circulated with the knowledge and approval of the said Rev. Charles A. Briggs, D.D., and has been republished by him in a second edition with a preface and an appendix, there occur the following sentences, beginning with line 4 of p. 35:
“I shall venture to affirm that, so far as I can see, there are errors in the Scriptures, that no one has been able to explain away; and the theory that they were not in the original text is sheer assumption, upon which no mind can rest with certainty. If such errors destroy the authority of the Bible, it is already destroyed for historians. Men cannot shut their eyes to truth and fact. But on which authority do these theologians drive men from the Bible by this theory of inerrancy? The Bible itself nowhere makes this claim. The creeds of the Church nowhere sanction it. It is a ghost of modern evangelicalism to frighten children. The Bible has maintained its authority with the best scholars of our time, who with open minds have been willing to recognize any error that might be pointed out by Historical Criticism; for these errors are all in the circumstantials and not in the essentials; they are in the human setting, not in the previous jewel itself; they are found in that section of the Bible that theologians commonly account for from the providential superintendence of the mind of the author, as distinguished from divine revelation itself. It may be that this providential superintendence gives infallible guidance in every particular; and it may be that it differs but little, if at all, from the providential superintendence of the fathers and schoolmen and theologians of the Christian Church. It is not important for our purpose that we should decide this question. If we should abandon the whole field of providential superintendence so far as inspiration and divine authority are concerned and limit divine inspiration and authority to the essential contents of the Bible, to its religion, faith and morals, we would still have ample room to seek divine authority where alone it is essential, or even important, in the teaching that guides our devotions, our thinking, and our conduct.”
These declarations are contrary to the statements of Scripture: Zech. 7:12; Mark 7:13; Romans 3:1, 2; I Cor. 2:13; Gal. 3:8; 11 Peter 1:20, 21; 11 Tim. 3:16.
These statements are contrary to the Standards: Confession of Faith, Chap. i, Secs. i, ii, iv, viii.
(The above quoted from The Presbyterian Digest, 1930, Vol. 11, pp. 306, 307, 308, 309) .
Additional charges, IV, V, VI and VII, were not pursued against him and Charge VIII, dealing with sanctification after death, was sustained.
The General Assembly’s formal judgment declares that “. . . the said Charles A. Briggs, has uttered, taught and propagated views, doctrines and teachings, as set forth in said charges contrary to the essential doctrine of Holy Scripture and the Standards of said Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and in violation of the ordination vow of said appellee, which said erroneous teachings, views, and doctrines strike at the vitals of religion, and have been industriously spread . . .” (p. 314).
An “Explanatory Minute” was also adopted by the Assembly of 1893. It is excellent. It declared:
“1. We find that the doctrine of the errancy of the Scripture as it came from them to whom, and through whom, God originally communicated His revelation, is in conflict with the statements of the Holy Scripture itself, which assert that `all Scripture’ or `every Scripture’ is given by `inspiration of God’ (11 Tim. 3:16); `that the prophecy came not of old by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (11 Peter 1:12) ; and also with the statements of the Standards of the Church which assert that `the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God’ (Larger Catechism, Question 3), `of . . . infallible truth’ and `divine authority’ (Confession of Faith, Chap. i, Sec. v).
“2. That we find in this case involved the questions of the sufficiency of the human reason and of the Church, as authorized guides in the matter of salvation. Your Committee recommend that this General Assembly declare that the reason and the Church are not to be regarded as fountains of Divine authority; that they are unreliable and fallible, and whilst they may, and no doubt are, channels or media through which the Holy Spirit may reach and influence for good the human soul, they are never to be relied upon as sufficient in themselves, and aside from Holy Scripture, to lead the soul to a saving knowledge of God. To teach that they are sufficient is most dangerous, and contrary to the Word of God and our Standards, and our ministers and Church members are solemnly warned against such teachings.
“3. We find involved in this case a speculation in regard to the process of the soul’s sanctification after death, which in the judgment of this Assembly is a dangerous hypothesis, in direct conflict with the plain teaching of the Divine Word and the utterance of the Standards of our Church. `These Standards distinctly declare that “the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory, while their bodies being still united to Christ do rest in their graves till the Resurrection” ‘ (Shorter Catechism, Question 37; 11 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23; John 17:24).”
Those who supported Dr. Briggs entered a protest and the very language of this protest has been incorporated in the Auburn Affirmation of 1923. The first two points of the protest do indeed state the position of those who reject infallibility:
“1. Because it is insisting upon a certain theory of inspiration, when our Standards have hitherto only emphasized the fact of inspiration. So far as the original manuscript came from God, undoubtedly it was without error. But we have no means of determining how far God controlled the penmen in transcribing from documents in matters purely circumstantial.
“2. Because it is dogmatizing on a matter of which, necessarily, we can have no positive knowledge.”
Certainly there can be no positive knowledge when the divine revelation is rejected as revelation and as the truth from God. Other clergymen at the time were also disciplined and removed from the church for similar reasons denying the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. They included the Rev. Henry Preserved Smith, D.D., of the Presbytery of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Rev. Arthur C. McGiffert, D.D. Dr. McGiffert was called upon peaceably to withdraw from the Presbyterian ministry in 1898, and in 1899 the Assembly denounced his views as follows:
“And in regard to fundamental doctrines of our Church involved in this matter, this Assembly solemnly declares:
“1. It is a fundamental doctrine of the Word of God and the Confession of Faith, that the Holy Spirit did so control the inspired writers in their composition of the Holy Scriptures as to make their statements absolutely truthful, i.e., free from error when interpreted in their natural and intended sense. All seeming discrepancies and contradictions in the Bible are to be referred to the limitations upon human knowledge. To hold that the Holy Scriptures are in any respect historically inaccurate is to oppose the teaching of the Confession, Chap. i, Sec. iv, which declares that `the authority of the Holy Scriptures, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, depended wholly upon
God the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God.’
“2. It is a fundamental doctrine of the Word of God and the Confession of Faith that `the Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon Him man’s nature with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin. So that two whole perfect and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person without conversion, composition, or confusion.’ It is also a fundamental doctrine that `the Lord Jesus, in His human nature thus united to the divine, was sanctified and anointed with the Holy Spirit above measure; having in Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell’ (Confession, Chap. viii, Secs. ii and iii). These doctrines of the Confession forbid any teaching respecting the Lord Jesus which would attribute to Him, in any particular, liability to error.
“3. It is also a fundamental doctrine of the Word of God and the Confession of Faith that `our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper to be observed in His Church unto the end of the world,’ and further that `the Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His Word of Institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, etc.’ (Confession, Chap. xxix, Secs. i and iii). No teaching which declares that the Lord’s Supper was instituted in any other manner than by the direct personal act of the Lord Jesus, is in harmony with the truth of the Holy Scripture, or loyal to the person of Jesus Christ.”
Then a fourth point dealt with the matter of justification by faith.
Had the church continued to be zealous in preserving its purity, the forces of unbelief in the church would never have been permitted to have remained to work their mischief and eventually to take control of the entire system and machinery, and even rewrite the doctrine in keeping with their own dreams and purposes as established in the new confession. The church was very much alive in those days, but its failure to discipline, its response to the appeals for peace and unity, and the growing apostasy, produced as a result of the church’s weakness and indifference, made possible the final triumph of these forces in 1967. Now that these forces have entered the church, a report of struggle through the years to their final victory is one which will enable the faithful believer in 1967 to realize how complete has been the capture by these elements of the church itself. Dr. Briggs, were he living, is the only proper leader to be the moderator of the General Assembly of 1967.
Union Theological Seminary, of course, left the denomination and continued to honor Dr. Charles Briggs, and from Union Theological Seminary this leaven and “poison in the pot” has gone not only throughout the United Presbyterian Church but it has spread throughout various other denominations. It is this broad inclusivism that has produced the ecumenical movement.