Flashback (1935) – Milwaukee Presbytery Ousts Pastor Who Won’t Stop Publicly “Criticizing the Boards”

The actions of the liberals who took over the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. during the Presbyterian Conflict (1930s) are similar to tactics being employed in our own times in our own churches to silence dissent. 

Matter at issue: fact that the Presbytery had voted to dissolve the pastoral relation between the Cedar Grove Church and Mr. De Waard because he would not promise not to criticize either publicly or privately the Boards of the Church.

So read a summary of the case of orthodox hero Reverend De Waard in The Presbyterian Guardian announcing the dismissal of his complaint by the liberals who had gained control of the church courts and administrative boards. The liberals did not want to hear criticism, public or private, levied against them to the church rank-and-file because it threatened their control.


At stake in 1935 was control over the flow of funds now being diverted from laymen to the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions established in 1933, of which J. Gresham Machen had been elected president. The Independent Board was organized in response to the liberal infiltration of the official church missions board, which was bringing a false gospel of liberal (modernist) theology–what is known as the Social Gospel–to foreign lands. 

By 1935, the theological liberals (Modernists) had captured the PCUSA and converted it into a top-down bureaucracy, away from its original bottom-up system of appeals court. From the top, the General Assembly issued direction to prosecute anyone who did not resign from the Independent Missions Board. The liberals in control of the local judicatories at the bottom, therefore, knew they would be successful in prosecuting their cases because they were supported at the top.

Having captured the church courts, the liberals went out in pursuit of “unity.” They got it by bringing negative sanctions against any orthodox churchman who spoke out against the liberals on the basis that they were “disturbing the peace” of the church. “Divisiveness” became a greater sin than heresy.  

Orthodox churchmen began protesting this capture of the church machinery by the theological liberals. Numerous church trials erupted all over the denomination. Many indictments went after the men sitting on the Independent Board. Others went after critics of the official administrative boards for their departure from orthodoxy and the liberals who controlled them.


Such was the case of Reverend De Waard, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. In the October 7, 1935 issue of The Presbyterian Guardian, we read:

"That Brother De Waard be directed to desist from adversely criticizing the Boards and their personnel publicly in his church and privately among his people."

Brother De Waard, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, a large and prosperous church, refused to promise thus to be gagged when the above resolution was, on September 24th, passed by the Presbytery of Milwaukee.

The Presbytery then proceeded to dissolve the pastoral relation between Mr. De Waard and the CedarGrove Church.

The arbitrary and unconstitutional act of the Presbytery furnished to interested observers the "farthest North" to date in the progress of the campaign by the Bureaucratic Fascisti of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to stifle all opposition. True, "machine" advocates had bitterly assailed the use of free speech in the church by militant conservatives before, especially when they had no answer to plain facts. But never before has a Presbytery actually dissolved a pastoral, relation because a minister refused to be gagged-all without even the form of a judicial trial.

The article concluded: “Finally, on September 25th, came the decision which, if not reversed, means that the last vestige of ordinary liberty has been removed in the church–even the liberty to express an opinion as to the faithfulness of one’s own agents.”

Did the majority in control of the Midway Session, with its September resolution introduced by RE Tally, adopt liberal tactics in an attempt to remove from its officers the liberty to express opinions over the actions of the Session’s own members?