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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Pieper on Great American Heresy Trial-Briggs Trial (Presbyterians, Part 1)

[2018-07-30: appended quote from Scottish theologian at bottom]

May 30, 1893
     As introduced by the last post, this begins a short sub-series to publish Prof. Franz Pieper's review article of perhaps the most famous church trial in American history, the Briggs Heresy Trial by the Presbyterians in 1893. It seemed to me that Fuerbringer could have said at least a few words about this essay of Pieper other than just announcing the title, for this Trial made national news.  As one evidence of its notoriety, the Sacramento Record-Union newspaper headlined it in their May 30, 1893 issue: =====>>>>

Philip Schaff, a fellow liberal professor of Dr. Briggs at Union Theological Seminary and well-known “church historian” wrote an article in 1892 as a prelude to this heresy trial.  He called it the trial “which surpasses even the [Lymon] Beecher and the [Albert] Barnes trials in importance and general interest.” — There is a large amount of reading that one can find about this trial and the history of the Presbyterians in America leading up to and subsequent to it.
But as Christians, we want to understand this matter as it relates to the Christian faith.  And so one need not spend any more time reading other accounts but to first read what Dr. Pieper's assessment was.  After all, Pieper was the Lutheran teacher who was asked in 1890 by the great Presbyterian Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield to write the essay for the Presbyterian and Reformed Review on “Luther's Doctrine of Inspiration that was published in April 1893, one month before the “Trial”.  I doubt that any other account of this “Trial” speaks as directly to the heart of the matter than the following essay, and I suspect that Warfield read this judgment of Franz Pieper…  and took it to heart… in 1893.  Ah, but Warfield was not alone among the “Old School Presbyterians”, for there was a certain Dr. Lampe who also defended orthodoxy.  But I get ahead of myself... we will hear more about him later.  Now the greatest spokesman for Christianity in the 20th Century on... the great American Presbyterian “Briggs Heresy Trial” of May, 1893:

Translation by BackToLuther. Original publication in Lehre und Wehre, vol. 39 (June 1893), p. 161-166; underlining follows original emphasis, comments in [ ] brackets, and all hyperlinks and highlighting are mine.
page 161
The Presbyterians and the Doctrine of the Inspiration
of the Holy Scriptures.
[by Dr. Franz Pieper, Part 1]

The Presbyterian General Assembly, which was assembled in Washington in the second half of May, dealt with the well-known “Briggs Case” and brought it to a certain conclusion. The proceedings have caused a sensation in many circles. All the political daily papers produced more or less detailed reports on them, and there would be few newspaper readers in the United States who did not at least temporarily take notice of the Briggs Case. We also consider the events in Washington important enough to discuss them in more detail here.
Professor [Charles Augustus] Briggs was known to have been accused of heresy before the presbytery of New York, especially on the basis of an inaugural address he held when taking a professorship at Union Theological Seminary and in which he frankly and freely had introduced Inspiration as a “higher critic” and denier. The “trial” in front of the presbytery of New York ended, however, with a release of Briggs, when the acquittal was made only with a small majority, and adding the express declaration that they themselves did not thereby confess the position of Dr. Briggs. But the Prosecuting Committee was not satisfied with the judgment and actions of the New York Presbytery.

It submitted an appeal to the General Assembly, which reversed the verdict of the New York Presbytery, finding Prof. Briggs guilty (receiving 383 votes against 116) who in violation of his oath of ordination argued and disseminated his doctrines “which contradict the essential doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and the Confessions of the Church.” The assembly therefore has suspended Prof. Briggs from the preaching office [page 162] “until he has given sufficient proof of his repentance”.1) In a more detailed explanation three points are made in which the General Assembly found Briggs guilty of heresy.
Dr. Briggs claimed that the source of the Christian realization of truth was threefold: the Bible, the Church, and reason. This the assembly rejected and declared that the Church and reason do not have divine authority in matters of faith. Furthermore, Dr. Briggs taught that mistakes are found in Scripture. On this doctrine the Assembly judged that it contradicts the doctrine of Scripture and the Confessions of the Church. Then Briggs had presented a “progressive sanctification”, that is, the doctrine that there is a “middle state” between death and resurrection, in which for some unbelievers there is still an opportunity for conversion and for believers a time to perfect their sanctification.
This doctrine the assembly explained as a dangerous hypothesis. Finally, at the request of Pastor Dr. Young, the assembly yet adopted the statement: “That the Bible as we now have it, in its various translations and versions, when freed from all errors and mistakes of translators, copyists and printers, is the very Word of God, and, consequently, without error.” 2)
Dr. Briggs, of course, remains a professor at Union Seminary, as the assembly has no control over this institution. The contract concluded in 1870, which brought the institution into some connection with the Assembly, was overturned by the directors of the seminary last year. Prof. Francis Brown, a member of the Faculty of Union, said publicly in the Assembly that Union Seminary did not seek recognition from the General Assembly. So then the Assembly stated [page 163]
for its part, that it rejects all responsibility for the teaching of the New York institution and will not receive any reports from it until further notice. Also, students who study at institutions that lack the recognition of the Assembly will no longer be supported by church funds.
1) The official decision reads: “This judiciary said that final judgment of the Presbytery of New York is erroneous and should be and is hereby reversed by the General Assembly sitting as a judicatory in said cause, coming now to enter judgment on said amended charges, finds the appellee, Charles A. Briggs, 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 views and doctrines strike at the vitals of religion and have been industriously spread; wherefore this General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, sitting as a judicatory in this cause on appeal do and hereby suspend Charles A. Briggs, the said appellee, from the office of a minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America until such time as he shall give satisfactory evidence of repentance to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America of the violation by him of the said ordination vow, as herein and heretofore found.”
2) Resolved, That the Bible as we now have it, in its various translations and versions, when freed from all errors and mistakes of translators, copyists and printers, is the very Word of God, and, consequently, without error.
= = = = = = = =  Continued in Part 2  = = = = = = = = = 

      In other reports of the “Trial”, Dr. Briggs denied at least some of the charges on “progressive sanctification”, yet I believe Pieper represents his position fairly.  And oh! Briggs does not escape without a condemnation that is clearer than even the Presbyterian General Assembly handed down against him... in the next Part 2.

= = = = = = =   Table of Contents: Pieper on the Briggs Heresy Trial   = = = = = = = = = 
Part 1: this Intro; Trial particulars
Part 2: pathetic; 8th Wonder; a 'crank'; Pieper's sarcasm
Part 3: contradictory thoughts; cry of 'Science!'; not majority, but God's Word; ...then the Lutherans.
Part 4: 80 years after: 1973-4 Concordia Seminary "Walkout": Concordia's Heresy Trial

[2018-07-30: appended a report from Union Theological Seminary's history below:]

In Robert T. Handy's 2012 A History of Union Theological Seminary in New York, he quotes from a Scottish theologian concerning the Briggs Trial (p. 91): 
“From abroad S. D. F. Salmond of Aberdeen ... said in a letter to the deposed minister [Briggs], ‘It has been scarcely possible for us on this side of the Atlantic to imagine that a great Church like yours could ... commit itself to a definition of the inerrancy of Scripture which must make it a gazing stock and object of wonder to intelligent Christians everywhere.’”
So in believing God's Book, you will be an object of scorn and ridicule by most of modern theology. – Matt. 10:22

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