Presbyterian Church History

Lesson 12



The conservatives in the PCUSA had stayed in until they were forced out of the church. This strategy had proven to be a disaster. They had dwindled to an insignificant minority and even that minority was divided. The longer the Lord’s people stay in an apostate denomination the more baggage they take with them. The longer they stay in the more they are influenced by their ecclesiastical connections and compromise their original convictions. The more apostate a denomination becomes the more likely the residual Christians will ally themselves with other believers and compromise their historic beliefs. This is what happened in the PCUSA. The Presbyterian Church of America soon split again between those who held more to Old School Presbyterianism and those who had allied themselves with fundamentalism in the battle against the liberals. The lesson was clear. The longer you stay in the more manifold the problems.

Separation from Apostasy

As a result of these historic occurrences a separatist position was developed. This was based on a number of scriptures that taught that there was a duty of the Lord’s people to separate from apostasy and not remain in fellowship with unbelievers and deniers of the faith. Some of the scriptures used to justify this position were as follows…

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. Romans 16:17

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8-9

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Ephesians 5:11

This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. 2 Timothy 3:1-5

A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject. Titus 3:10

It was felt that this was the path of obedience and the only one that the Lord would bless. The sacrifices to obey these commands were enormous. People left their former congregations and lost friends, neighbors, and relatives, and were scorned and ridiculed. Congregations left their denomination and generally lost their property, church buildings, endowments etc. They left it all behind and started from scratch to build new churches and denominations. And the Lord in his faithfulness blessed. In Scotland (The Free Church of Scotland and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland), in the Netherlands (The Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk and the Gereformeerde Kerk), and in the United States (The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Bible Presbyterian Church and many others from non-Presbyterian denominations such as the Free Methodists etc.), new denominations, faithful to the word of God and to the historic Christian faith, were being formed at great effort and expense. The battle lines for the faith had been drawn, the issues were clear, and the Lord was prospering his faithful remnant. Satan, that master of confusion and deception, could not allow this to go on for long.

The New Evangelicalism

The attempts to deal with heresy in the church by judicial action through the courts of the church had been a failure. The reason was the moderates. These were the ministers and ruling elders in the church who, although they personally remained reasonably sound in the faith, refused to support church discipline. The moderates believed in tolerating a wide diversity of theological opinion and they ran interference for the liberals and the heretics. As they came to dominate the PCUSA they frustrated the attempts to purge the church and allowed liberalism the time to gradually corrupt the entire church.

A similar strategy was employed to frustrate the separatist movement. A new class of moderates emerged called the “New Evangelicals”. The Old Evangelicals had stood for the defense of the faith. They had contended for the truth and separated from error and rebuked it. The New Evangelicals had another and less scriptural strategy. They believed not in separation but in infiltration. Their strategy was you remain in fellowship with liberals and try to influence them in the right direction. Their shibboleth was, you can’t change them if you break off fellowship with them. They had a conscious policy of only “proclaiming the truth” but not saying anything in condemnation of error or of those who were promoting error and heresy. In other words error and apostasy went unchallenged and false prophets had a free pass. They justified their disobedience to the scriptural commands to separate from unbelief by saying that they were staying here so they could preach the gospel to them. However in practice, when you stay in fellowship with unbelievers and accept them as Christians, you have no basis from which to call them to repentance and you have no influence over them at all.

The father of the New Evangelicalism is Harold Ockenga, the first President of Fuller theological Seminary, Pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, and the founder of the NAE (National Association of Evangelicals). Its chief spokesman is Rev. Billy Graham, and its main organ is Christianity Today. Their influence has been to stem the tide of separation and to redirect professing Christians troubled by the apostasy and unbelief in their churches to continue to fellowship with and support their liberal churches. All these unscriptural practices, and this embracing of unbelief and this accepting of those who deny the deity of Christ and deny the authority of the scriptures, is justified by a program of evangelism. It is as if preaching the gospel (if they actually did it) justifies disobedience in all other areas of the Christian’s walk. The results of this movement is that there has never been an effective large-scale separation of Christians from unbelief. Those Christians who remain in such churches grow weaker and lose their convictions as they are fed by false pastors and gradually corrupted away from their original beliefs. The next generation has no conception of what true Christianity is. And liberalism marches on unimpeded. Such is the bitter fruit of this movement.

The Billy Graham Crusades are a good case in point. The bait is evangelism and the program is ecumenism. It is a “sine quo non” for the Billy Graham Crusade organization that every crusade must include liberal and even Roman Catholic sponsors. A weak Arminian “gospel” is preached without any clear convictions with respect to sin and repentance. The offense of the gospel is avoided. The “converts” are counseled by representatives of evangelical, liberal, and Roman Catholic churches. The “convert” is allowed to choose whether he will join a evangelical church, a liberal Christ denying church, or even a Roman Catholic Church. No warnings about error and soul destroying heresies are given or allowed. All is peace and union as the lambs are led to the slaughter. Christ denying liberal clergymen are on the podium and in places of honor and respect. The only ones excluded are those who refuse to countenance such compromise. It is as if Elijah and the prophets of Baal had joined together to bring revival to Israel!!!

Church History

The separatist movement that was so strong and principled in the first half of this century has been severely crippled by the tactics of the New Evangelicals. It is rare to hear of further separations from unbelief and when it does occur it is generally on a small scale. It is more common for those who once separated from unbelief under Biblical conviction to be seduced by the New Evangelicals to return to their vomit and sell out their principles. Billy Graham’s ministry has been the great catalyst for promoting church fellowship with unbelief. Like the conservatives in the old PCUSA, the separatist movement has continued to dwindle until it has become an insignificant minority among professed Christendom. Under the New Evangelicalism, Christianity has lost its salt and its ability to influence the nation. Christianity seems impotent to stem the tide of corruption in our nation. The neutralizing tendencies of these compromises have assured that.

Secondary Separation

The disastrous results in American Christianity resulting from the New Evangelicalism has led to a further development and refinement of the doctrine of separation. This has been to note that separation from unbelief is not enough. It is also necessary to separate from those who profess orthodoxy but remain in fellowship with unbelief. In no other way could there be a clear and consistent stand for the truth and an effective demarcation between truth and error. The following, as well as many of the above noted scriptures, were used to justify this position…

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. 2 Thessalonians 3:6

And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

Church Councils

As a result of these three positions there have sprung up three different national and international church councils. For openly liberal denominations there is the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. These contain most of the mainline denominations, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the official state churches of most nations including the communist bloc. Then there is the National Association of Evangelicals and the World Evangelical Fellowship representing the New Evangelicals. Finally there is (or was) the American Council of Christian Churches and the International Council of Christian churches representing the separatist, fundamentalist movements. These represented respectively the liberal, moderate, and conservative expressions of “Christianity”. They represented the cold, the lukewarm, and the hot church.

Carl McIntire

One of the defining figures in the history of the separatist movement in the twentieth century has been Carl McIntire. He has the distinction of being both its greatest champion as well as its nemesis. As a young pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Collingswood, NJ, he led his congregation out of the PCUSA and was one of the founding pastors of the Presbyterian Church of America. He became the foremost spokesman for and champion of the separatist movement. He founded both the American Council of Christian Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches. He went everywhere, world wide, to confront liberals with their unbelief and apostasy, and to call the Lord’s people to come out of association and fellowship with them. No one in this century has worked as hard as he has to expose the unfruitful works of darkness especially in the ecclesiastical world. Without McIntire there probably never have been much of an organized separatist movement.

McIntire’s ministry unfortunately has also had a down side. This can be summed up as his “rule or ruin” philosophy. Having spent much of his career battling liberals and contending for the faith he has come to judge all opposition to himself as being incipient liberalism and to identify his own person with the movement he represents. He tended to rule the entire separatist movement, including the ACC, the ICCC, International Christian Relief, The Bible Presbyterian Church and its independent agencies, such as Faith Theological Seminary, Shelton College, the Independent Board for Presbyterian Missions (both Home and Foreign Boards), etc., as a personal fiefdom.

McIntire was basically New School, suspicious of denominational control, and an ardent believer in independent church agencies. He set these up and controlled them through interlocking boards composed of his closest and most trusted associates, with himself as President of all these organizations. Opposition to this type of control was ruthlessly suppressed by all means, fair or sometimes even foul. Not just those who wanted to slightly liberalize the position, but also true Presbyterians, chafed under this type of rule and periodically this would lead to dissentions and splits within the movement. If McIntire was in the majority the dissenters would be excluded from the movement. If he was in the minority he would lead his followers out and maintain an organization where he remained in total control. This periodic fragmenting of the movement was very destructive and eventually it was the demise of the movement. Today McIntire is a lonely old man whose latest splits have reduced him to being a pastor of a small rump group of his congregation meeting in his own home.


The Presbyterian Church in America is probably the largest exception to the fact that there has been no significant separations from apostate denominations in the latter half of this century. They split off from the PCUS (Southern Presbyterians) in 1973 as the National Presbyterian Church. One issue was the talks of an incipient merger between the PCUS and the PCUSA. However, although they were more numerous then in other denominations, being in a church that was considerably more conservative than the Northern church, they also stayed in too long. The people that came out were a mixed multitude. They ranged from Old School conservative Presbyterians in the tradition of Thornwell and Dabney, on the right, to charismatics on the left. The issue had long superceded issues of maintaining Presbyterian distinctives. The major issues were the inerrancy of the scriptures, funding (especially equalization) of radical causes promoting revolution, the Black Manifesto, immorality, drugs etc., radical ecumenism and union presbyteries and synods (organized similar to the 1801 Plan of Union with the Congregationalists), unconstitutional actions by the General Assembly, a total contempt for the tradional polity and theology of the church, and a rejection of its tradition of “the spirituality of the church” in favor of all manner of political and economic causes, usallly advocating a Marxist position. (When the PCUS finally did join with the PCUSA in 1983 the issues were that the PCUSA was demanding that the PCUS accept feminism and gay rights as a condition of the merger and involve these groups, particularly the former, in the eldership of the church on a quota basis.) The church has a distinct fundamentalist flavor and strict Presbyterians are a minority in the church.


The only other significant separation from apostasy in the latter half of this century has been the ongoing hemorrhaging of conservative congregations from the Christian Reformed Church. The CRC had long ago already departed from its founding distinctives such as exclusive psalmody and no unscriptural holydays. It had already liberalized significantly on social issues and revised its historic position on the inerrancy and inspiration of the scriptures in 1969. However its ongoing battle to implement feminism in the church led to the practical conflicts that compelled many congregations to leave. It was the issue of “women in office” that disturbed the church for decades and provided most of the impetus for separation. However there was no organized mass movement out of the CRC. Rather it was individual congregations sporadically making the painful decision to leave and making the sacrifices necessary to rebuild on a better foundation.

Many of these congregations chafed for many tears under the misrule of liberals who had seized the denominational machinery of control. This had made them leery of all denominational control. Many of these separated churches therefore remained independent. They threw out the baby with the bath water and rejected Presbyterian church government and control. Many of them set up loose federations (such as the OCRC and the URC) based more on congregational polity then on the Presbyterian order of the old CRC.


The twentieth century has been the century of the separatist movement. However the end of the century finds that movement fragmented, discouraged, and in decline. The sacrifices, courage, and convictions of the leaders of this movement have been largely forgotten by the present generation. Church history is an important subject. Those who will not learn its lessons will likely be condemned to repeat them at more cost and sacrifice. It is to correct these deficiencies that this series of lessons on church history has been offered. May the Lord bless that the sacrifices of those who have gone before may not have been in vain for this generation.

The Old Testament prophets battled false prophets and apostate kings. Christ battled the Saducees and the Pharisees. He warned that he came not to bring peace but a sword, to divide men on the basis of his person and his word. The Apostles battled the Judaizers. The early church battled Gnostics and Arians. It remains to be seen if this generation will battle for the truth and contend for the faith or if they will succumb to the siren song of peace and unity and brotherhood at the expense of fidelity to Christ.