A Brief History Of Secret Organizations In And Around The PCA

Every Christian ought to heed Paul’s warnings to “have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths” (1 Timothy 4:7) and not to be found in “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” (2 Corinthians 12:20). Thus, we must be especially cautious when approaching a subject such as “Secret political caucuses” in the history of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

My aim in this post is to present a brief history of secret political caucuses in the PCA with only what can be sourced and deduced from information that is openly accessible. Because secret organizations are secret, this topic is difficult to study, and subject to vain speculation.

In the history of the PCA, we can be certain of the existence of three major organizations that have influenced the creation and the history of the PCA up to the present day. Here are the relevant criteria for evaluating whether or not an organization is a secret political caucus:

  1. confidentiality in communication between participants,
  2. confidentiality either over the group’s existence, its nature, its membership, and/or over the matters and strategy discussed to achieve its polity-related goals,
  3. an ideological ethos or goal,
  4. an agenda to accomplish its goals by staffing denominational agencies and committees, and
  5. a strategy to accomplish those goals by coordination of votes in the courts and committees of the Church.

We begin our study with an organization that has influenced how people in the PCA have viewed such groups Though antedating the PCA itself, this organization was undeniably a catalyst for the creation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

The Fellowship of St. James

The Fellowship of St. James was a secret organization that functioned in the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS – the old Southern Presbyterian church that was the origin of the PCA) during the middle of the 20th Century. Most secondary sources relay the following basic details: The Fellowship was the brainchild of Ernest Trice Thompson, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. This organization was committed to broadening the theological tent of the PCUS, to working more ecumenically in the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, and to eventually merge with the more liberal Northern Presbyterian Church.

In 1963, the Fellowship was revealed and a group named the “Concerned Presbyterians” organized against it, publishing their first “Bulletin,” raising the alarm:

    Very few laymen are aware of the fact that over the last 15 years there has been a secret organization in our Church working quietly behind the scenes to gain control of the political machinery of our denomination. This group, composed mostly of ministers, called themselves the Fellowship of St. James. This relatively small but determined group influences and seeks to control the various agencies of the courts of our Church. In recent years they have succeeded in electing enough men of their choosing to enable them to control many of the important committees of the various Church courts and to have effective majorities on the governing bodies of many of the boards, agencies, and other institutions of the church. Read more»

Jared Nelson | “Secret Caucuses And The PCA” | January 28, 2022

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One comment

  1. While this is surely not exclusively a PCA problem (ala the SBC), it certainly is nonetheless a very serious ongoing recurrence. Men of deleterious like-mindedness, seeking to accomplish in secret what should be, if they had the notion, defensible in the open. But that seems to be the crux, isn’t it? JGM had to defend against this 100 years ago and here, strictly speaking, the PCA goes again.
    This was, by far, the best written consensus of what has happened and is happening in the PCA. I do pray we learn.

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