Reformed Churchmen

We are Confessional Calvinists and a Prayer Book Church-people. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; also, we remembered the 450th anniversary of John Jewel's sober, scholarly, and Reformed "An Apology of the Church of England." In 2013, we remembered the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. For 2014: Tyndale's NT translation. For 2015, John Roger, Rowland Taylor and Bishop John Hooper's martyrdom, burned at the stakes. Books of the month. December 2014: Alan Jacob's "Book of Common Prayer" at: January 2015: A.F. Pollard's "Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation: 1489-1556" at: February 2015: Jaspar Ridley's "Thomas Cranmer" at:

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

4 November 1891 A.D. Charles A. Briggs Called on Heresy Charges—Presbyterian Church

4 November 1891 A.D.  Charles A. Briggs Called on Heresy Charges—Presbyterian Church

Graves, Dan. “Charles A. Briggs Called on Heresy.”  Apr 2007.  Accessed 6 Jun 2014.

Is the Bible the inspired word of God? Throughout history the church has answered yes. But in the nineteenth century, Julius Wellhausen, a German history professor, claimed that virtually the entire Old Testament was a forgery. There never had been a tabernacle. Moses, if he existed at all, was the spokesman for a local mountain god and probably worshipped a piece of rock. Israelite religion had evolved from such simple beginnings. The Bible was a fusion of several earlier documents heavily edited by priests to establish their own power and influence.

Charles Augustus Briggs studied theology in Germany when Wellhausen's ideas were at their height. Briggs returned to the United States confirmed in a belief that the Bible was full of errors. While it contained the germ of inspiration, it was not verbally inspired he thought.

Briggs was appointed head of a newly endowed Department of Biblical Theology at Union Seminary in New York. In his inauguration speech on January 20, 1891, he openly attacked the Bible. "There is nothing divine in the text--in its letters, words, or clauses," he said. Higher Criticism had found errors, he said, and we must meet them.

Union Seminary was friendly to Briggs's ideas. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church was not. In a hearing they refused his appointment. Consequently, Union Seminary broke from the Assembly. The New York Presbytery appointed a committee to consider Briggs's inaugural address. He refused to appear before them but made comments to the press saying the liberals would fight with all their might. The committee decided Briggs must be tried. He was called to present himself on this day, November 4, 1891.

At his trial, Briggs changed tactics. Instead of defending Wellhausen's theories, he apologized if he had caused any pain to his denomination. He defended himself less on his ideas than by claiming the charges against him were improperly filed under church rules. Although even one of his own allies declared that his final statements "could no more be squared with the Westminister Confession than you could square a circle" the New York Presbytery exonerated him.

Two years later, the General Assembly excommunicated Briggs, declaring his views heretical.. Looking back we can see that Briggs abandoned the bedrock of faith for a theory that turned out to be false. Within sixty years of the publication of Wellhausen's Higher Criticism, archaeology had debunked most of its key ideas. Few read the entire work today. Meanwhile, he did much damage to men of weak faith such as Briggs. Repair of the damage has not been obtained to this day.


1.      "Briggs, Charles Augustus." Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Scribner, 1958 - 1964.

2.      Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1976.

3.      Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated April, 2007.

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