The Tie That Divides: Presbyterian Ecumenism, Fundamentalism, And The History Of Twentieth-Century American Protestantism -- By: Darryl G. Hart

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 60:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: The Tie That Divides: Presbyterian Ecumenism, Fundamentalism, And The History Of Twentieth-Century American Protestantism
Author: Darryl G. Hart


The Tie That Divides:
Presbyterian Ecumenism, Fundamentalism,
And The History Of Twentieth-Century
American Protestantism1

Darryl G. Hart*

*D. G. Hart is librarian and associate profesor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary.

“Nothing engenders strife so much as a forced unity, within the same organization, of those who disagree fundamentally in aim.” Thus wrote J. Gresham Machen toward the end of his book, Christianity and Liberalism. On the surface this assertion looked common sensical. The example Machen used made his point even more obvious. Suppose that a Republican joined a Democratic organization, he posed, not because she had become convinced of Democratic policies, but because she wanted to subvert the work of such an organization and use it to promote Republican causes. Would such a plan be ingenious? Maybe. But would it not also be dishonest? Of course.2 Such elementary forms of logic applied to religion (a realm known more for hollow platitudes than for concrete truths) won for Christianity and Liberalism the praise of a number of secular intellectuals. H. L. Mencken, for instance, wrote that Machen’s argument had no flaw in it, and added that “if [Machen] is wrong, then the science of logic is a hollow vanity, signifying nothing.”3

Yet this notion that two disparate parties could not coexist in the same organization received from the Northern Presbyterian Church then the same kind of reaction that an ethnic joke would meet today at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA). In other words, Presbyterians were not particularly persuaded by Machen’s line of reasoning. In fact, the report of the committee appointed in 1925 to investigate tensions in the Presbyterian Church took a decidedly different reading of Presbyterian unity. In a statement that foreshadowed the recent arguments of multi-culturalists, the committee reported that in spite of geographical differences, “varying racial roots,” differences in residence, education, social contacts, and living customs, the Presbyterian Church was a communion “with one heart beating at the center of its

corporate life, bound together by the firm ties of a shining record that embraces the sacrifices and triumphs of the past, of a faith and of a hope, yearning, but sure, and drawing into its stimulating experience the holy promise of a fairer future—bound into a unity which, we believe, our generation will not break.”4 Never mind th...

You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
Click here to subscribe
visitor : : uid: ()