Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. For we all stumble in many ways. (James 3:1, 2)

(Two in a series.)

My father had grown up a Presbyterian. He’d been at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia under Donald Gray Barnhouse before his family moved to Flushing in New York City where they attended the Presbyterian church there, also. After he and my mother graduated from Wheaton College, Dad studied under J. Oliver Buswell at Faith Theological Seminary, a conservative answer to the liberal Princeton Seminary.

Dad and Mud had been classmates with my father and mother-in-law, Ken and Margaret (West) Taylor out at Wheaton when Ruth Bell and Billy Graham had been dating. If you go through the list of graduates during those years at Wheaton, you’ll find a host of evangelical luminaries who founded many of the parachurch organizations of the second half of the twentieth century.

What’s interesting, though, is that Dad went to Faith Seminary to study under Buswell because Buswell had been the president of Wheaton College when my parents were students there. But here’s the thing: Buswell had been fired. Now be patient with this backstory.

Under J. Oliver Buswell, Wheaton had grown. He was a popular president and the school grew numerically and deepened spiritually and doctrinally. Buswell himself was a Presbyterian and the battles against liberalism within the large national Presbyterian church had only intensified since a few years earlier (back in 1936) the church had defrocked that great warrior for the church’s reform, J. Gresham Machen.

The Fundamentalist Controversy was still raging, not least among Presbyterians, and Buswell was faithful in striving to remove the godless from his Presbyterian church. It proved to be his end at Wheaton.

The trustees of Wheaton were not tolerant of conflict in the church, particularly their president’s involvement in that conflict. So they sacked Buswell. The entire student body was shocked. Buswell was loved and respected by almost everyone. The sacking was such a shock that, over half a century later talking about Buswell’s firing with my father-in-law one day, he exclaimed, “I still feel guilty about it.” Ken Taylor was not an exclaiming kind of guy, so this turmoil lasting fifty years in his heart shows how deeply the trustees’ action against Buswell affected the student body.

Since this was my heritage and I was giving myself to church reform, I did what I could to learn more about Wheaton trustees’ action against President Buswell. Contacting the archivist of the Presbyterian Church in America at the time, I requested any documents he could give me on Buswell’s departure from Wheaton. Kindly, he passed on a bunch of the private correspondence not under lock and key (for the next thousand years or so). I also contacted the Buswell family and asked if they would allow me to read the correspondence the family had not yet made available. I knew a key family member personally, but the family declined my request.

After reading the history and asking questions of several who were at Wheaton at the time, it’s my own judgment that, although there were the usual excuses given by rich and powerful trustees, the bedrock issue in President Buswell’s departure was his commitment to the Church of Jesus Christ and her reform. This is important for us to understand the world we live in and the condition of the Church today.

What all those men and women studying at Wheaton learned when President Buswell was fired was that church discipline and reform is scandalous and will get you fired. They learned that higher education should not get tangled up in church affairs. They learned that denominational battles are, at best, secondary and saving souls is primary. They learned that saving souls is non-controversial and this is good. They learned that the Church leads only to grief, whereas missionary work and evangelism crusades and Christian literature and campus parachurch ministries are nobody’s enemies.

So the many gifted leaders and their wives of President Buswell’s tenure left Wheaton and gave themselves to founding and building and running parachurch organizations. Their organizations took over the country. Evangelicalism had its heyday while the church foundered.

Look around you. This present darkness is their bequest to you.

Men scandalized by the Fundamentalist Controversy and its aftermath during which the battles that mattered were, just like the time of the New Testament, inside the Church, decided to leave the Church behind. Instead, they focussed on founding and building independent non-profit religious organizations and magazines and missions and publishing companies and campus organizations where they didn’t have to refuse to baptise anyone or bar anyone from the Lord’s table or ever admonish or rebuke anyone in the Name of Jesus Christ. Where they didn’t have to get involved in anything as messy as church discipline and reform.

It wasn’t that they stopped worshipping with other Christians in a church building each Lord’s Day. No one was as faithful to their churches as Mud1 and Dad Bayly and Mom and Dad Taylor. No one.

But from the time of Buswell’s excision from Wheaton by the trustees, the lion’s share of Wheaton students’ gifting and creativity and prayer and intelligence and leadership and giving—that of all four of my wife’s parents and mine, for sure—was not for the church, but for Christian businesses and parachurch organizations such as Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

Mud and Dad were IVCF’s first staff workers for New England living on Mass. Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The two of them were responsible for all of New England. Both Dad Taylor and Dad Bayly served stints editing IVCF’s His magazine. Following IVCF, Dad Taylor moved to Moody where he became director of Moody Press before he and Mom Taylor founded Tyndale House Publishers. Dad Bayly went on to become Eastern Regional Director of IVCF and publisher of Inter-Varsity Press. Dad Taylor gave Jim Dobson the chance to get his book Dare To Discipline into print and went on to help him start his radio ministry. Dad Bayly went on to become the Executive Director of Christian Medical Society while concurrently serving as CEO of David C. Cook—a Christian publisher that got its start publishing Sunday school materials.

If we consider matters Biblically, the real scandal of the Fundamentalist Controversy was the refusal of rich and influential Christians to put up with the work of church reform. They would not have it. It pitted brother against brother, sister against sister, son against father, and wife against husband. SomeOne had once warned about that, but they didn’t believe Him.

So they fired J. Oliver Buswell and all the young men and women learned that church reform was too bloody and they’d best stay away. So they did.

Sadly, down to this very day, there are many men and women who have been taught and believe that the real lesson to be learned from the church in North America during the twentieth century is that Machen’s warrior children must be stopped. They think the future of the church depends upon peace in our time. But they’re entirely wrongheaded about God’s method of bringing peace to His Bride.

Those working for the reform of the church are not the bad guys. They’re the good guys. They’re the true and faithful men and women. They’re the real lovers of Christ’s Bride.

Since President Buswell was fired, what has happened to Wheaton?

Well, the front campus has been taken over by that huge monstrosity titled the Billy Graham Center. That has happened. Across the tracks and down a couple blocks, Crossway Publishers got themselves a Bible and they have a good bunch of books on their backlist. That has happened. A mile or so north in Carol Stream, Christianity Today is full steam ahead with all their publications and online presences. That has happened. A couple blocks from Christianity Today, The Evangelical Alliance Mission has happened. A stone’s throw away, the largest privately held religious publishing company in the world, Tyndale House Publishers, has happened. And those are just a few of the things that have happened in Wheaton, Evangelicalism’s hometown.

Outside Wheaton, the Gospel Coalition has happened. Operation Mobilization has happened. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has happened. Salem Communications has happened. Together for the Gospel has happened. P&R and Desiring God and Banner of Truth and Women Alive and Nine Marks and Keswick and Samaritan’s Purse have all happened.

But where is the preaching of reform? Where is the preaching that set the world on fire in the days of the Acts of the Holy Spirit through the Apostles? Where is the scorched-earth battle against heresy that the Apostle Paul carried out in the New Testament church? Where is the condemnation of the naked greed of the Pharisees that Jesus thought worthy of His attention and rebuke? Where is His whip taken to the religious hucksters presiding over His Father’s Temple? Where is the love of our children and grandchildren visible in us and our elders suspending them from the Lord’s Table? Where is our excommunication of Covenant children in faith that through this terrible pain their souls may be saved?

We all continue to learn from the Fundamentalism Controversy; I’ll grant you that. But we’ve got things upside down. What we should have learned from it was that Jesus loves His Bride and those who give themselves to Her sanctification and protection.

Instead what we learned is that Her sanctification and protection is bloody work that gets men and women bloody for nothing.

Where do we find this conclusion in Scripture or church history? Did not Christ our Lord give Himself up for His Bride?

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34, 35)

[This is two in a series on the difficulties church officers, particularly pastors, face today in our work guarding the flock our Lord purchased with His Own precious blood. Our Lord said He was the “Good Shepherd” Who gave up His life for the sheep. We want to be good shepherds like our Chief Shepherd, but it is hard. It may help us toward faithfulness to discuss some of the challenges we face. That is my hope in this series—that as I tell of some challenges I’ve faced in my work, I may be an encouragement to others facing similar challenges. It’s a small goal.Please pray for us. And if you’d like to help us in this work, please consider supporting us financially through Patreon. We work hard in our teaching.]

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1Our family’s pet name for our mother.