/ Nathan Eshelman

Church Court Bedfellows

Church court discipline cases can have strange bedfellows:

In the Clark-Van Til controversy (1944-1946) in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Rev. Robert Strong of Willow Grove, PA, OPC was "among Clark's most vocal supporters." He wanted Clark's ordination to be sustained by the General Assembly because "it recognized that there could be some differences at minor points without without a man's loyalty to the system of doctrine [the Westminster Standards] being impeached." Interestingly, Clark never claimed "his views required an exception from the church's standard," although some (many?) of his supporters thought he needed to take an exception.

Strong's support of Clark was to help "draw a broad circle of charity" to include a wider variety of evangelicals in the ministry of the OPC. His purpose in supporting Clark later came out as the first step in what he called the "Program of Action" which included getting Clark's ordination upheld so that Strong and others like him could go on to complete their other objectives in the young OPC:

  • Affiliation with the American Council of Christian Churches.
  • An official "deliverance" against the use of alcoholic beverages in the OPC.
  • Denominational control of Westminster Seminary and the Presbyterian Guardian magazine.

Strong and company gathered around a controversial figure (Clark) so that they could turn the OPC in a totally different direction--towards a broader evangelicalism and away from confessional fidelity.

There's a lesson in there for us somewhere.

See John Muether's biography, "Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman" pp. 100-112 for the quotations.