However, the GPF also raises a disquieting parallel. In the 1930s disgruntled conservatives, led by J. Gresham Machen, created an Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions. In its brief life, the Independent Board was aggressively critical of the existing church leadership. They asked congregations to give their mission money to the Independent Board instead of to the official mission agency of the church. The denomination ruled that the Independent Board was schismatic, and ordered all officers of the church to quit it. Machen and the other board members had, in my judgment, created the Independent Board in order to create a schism. Naturally, none of them quit the Independent Board when ordered to. They were tried, convicted, and, in 1936, removed from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. By prior arrangement, they immediately created a new denomination, now known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
When the call for the Global Presbyterian Fellowship was issued, it raised a red flag for me and others who know this history. We were relieved, therefore, to see that the first point of the initial invitation proclaims:
We choose to remain within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and we encourage congregations to continue to relate to their own presbyteries in the manner that they deem best. This is not an effort to start a new denomination or to write a new constitution.
At the Atlanta meeting, the GPF adopted a covenant. The language of the covenant is a little less reassuring than was the initial invitation. Gone is any explicit assurance that they choose to remain within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Instead, we find this more ambiguous proposal:
To invest our financial resources only in those local and global mission efforts that we believe are biblically faithful and accountable, within the Presbyterian family and through other partnerships into which the Lord calls us.
That is not a call to schism, but it is not a proclamation of loyalty, either.
On the whole, I do not think the Global Presbyterian Fellowship is, or will be, schismatic. I say this partly out of trust for the initial impulse that created the GPF. I also believe, as I have written earlier, that the New Wineskins initiative has been the magnet for the schismatic forces in the church.
There is plenty of discontent in the Global Presbyterian Fellowship. So far, though, it is trying to build up the church from within.