While there had been a thirty year controversy between Fundamentalist and Modernist viewpoints, the leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) had stood by its orthodox roots in many key doctrinal positions.
In 1910, 1916, and again in 1923, the General Assembly declared that every candidate seeking ordination ought to be able to affirm these "Five Fundamentals":
- Inerrancy of the Scriptures
- The virgin birth (and the deity of Jesus)
- The doctrine of substitutionary atonement
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus
- The authenticity of Christ's miracles
The Affirmation's more controversial portions can be summarized as:
- The Bible is not inerrant. The supreme guide of scripture interpretation is the Spirit of God to the individual believer and not ecclesiastical authority. Thus, “liberty of conscience” is elevated.
- None of the five essential doctrines should be used as a test of ordination. Alternated “theories” of these doctrines are permissible.
- Liberty of thought and teaching, within the bounds of evangelical Christianity is necessary.
- Division is deplored, unity and freedom are commended.
Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship.Between 1924 and 1925, relations among the Princeton faculty, divided along Fundamentalist and Liberalist lines, further deteriorated when their newspaper, The Presbyterian, questioned if there were two different parties on the faculty. In the 1926 General Assembly, moderates succeeded in securing a committee to study how to reconcile the two parties at Princeton.
The committee reported back at the General Assembly of 1927, where the Robert E. Speer was elected as moderator. Their report concluded that the source of the difficulties at Princeton was that some of the Princeton faculty (i.e. Machen) were trying to keep Princeton in the service of a certain party in the church rather than doing what was in the best interest of the denomination as a whole. They recommended re-organization of the seminary. General Assembly renewed the committee's mandate and ordered them to study how to re-organize the seminary.
The 1929 liberal General Assembly voted to reorganize Princeton Seminary and appointed two of the Auburn Affirmation signatories as trustees.
NEXT: What Machen and his orthodox friends did about it!
(This blog's text has been freely adopted from Wikipedia articles on Machen, Auburn Affirmation, fundamentalist-modernist controversy, as well as the DG biography of Machen.)