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The Old School-New School Controversy was a schism of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America which began in 1837. Later, both the Old School and New School branches further split over the issue of slavery, into southern and northern churches. After three decades of separate operation, the two sides of the controversy merged, in 1865 in the south and in 1870 in the north, to form united Presbyterian churches, although these were still separated into two (as opposed to four) branches based upon the civil war divisions.

As a result of the Plan of Union of 1801 with the General Association of Connecticut, Presbyterian missionaries began to work with Congregationalist missionaries in western New York and the Northwest Territory to advance Christian evangelism. This resulted in new churches being formed with either Congregational or Presbyterian forms of government, or a mixture of the two, supported by older established churches with a different form of government, and often clergy in controversy with their own congregations that disagreed with their ecclesiology. It also resulted in a difference in doctrinal commitment and views among churches in close fellowship, leading to suspicion and controversy.

The controversy reached a climax at a meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1837 in which representatives of several church synods (those of the Western Reserve, Utica, Geneva, and Genessee) were refused recognition as lawfully part of the meeting. These and others who sympathized with them departed and formed their own General Assembly meeting in another church building nearby, setting the stage for a court dispute about which of the two General Assemblies constituted the true continuing Presbyterian church. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided that the Old School Assembly was the true representative of the Presbyterian church and their decisions would govern.[1]

While the debate raged for decades, the national crisis of civil war overshadowed the controversy and both sides moderated their position to some degree. By the time of reunion, most Presbyterians agreed that union was more important than the issues which caused division, and the minority was mostly silent. Some historians believe, however, that the reunion left seeds of the controversy which later erupted over Charles Augustus Briggs and, ultimately, the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy of the twentieth century.

Prominent members of the Old School were Ashbel Green, William Latta, Charles Hodge, William Buell Sprague, and Samuel Stanhope Smith.

Prominent members of the New School were Albert Barnes, Henry Boynton Smith, Erskine Mason, George Duffield, Nathan Beman, Charles Finney, George Cheever, Samuel Fisher,[2] and Thomas McAuley.

Bibliography

  • Marsden, George M., The Evangelical Mind and the New School Presbyterian Experience: A Case Study of Thought and Theology in Nineteenth Century America, Yale University Press, 1970.
  • Presbyterian Reunion: A Memorial Volume (1837-1871), DeWitt C. Lent & Company, 1870.

References

  1. ^ Commonwealth v. Green, 4 Wharton 531, 1839 Pa. LEXIS 238 (1839).
  2. ^ Kimball, Alfred R. (1908?). Samuel Fisher, D.D. : an account of his life and services. n.p..   Available via Internet Archive.
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