God and Presbyterians, post-WWII

Slide01Having moved past our Good Shepherd Sunday experience, we find ourselves late in the season of Lent, and the end is now in sight.


Briefly and in limited ways, we have remembered the story that God has been telling through Presbyterian Christians, from the Colonial period, through the nineteenth century, to the early 1920s.

The time between the laying of the 1923 cornerstone and laying of the 1960 dedication stone was a tumultuous one in Presbyterian history.


A few weeks ago, I described for you the split that occurred during the 1920s between the Fundamentalists and the Modernists. During the next few decades, a new theological movement emerged, one that expressed well concerns about the weaknesses of both Modernism and Fundamentalism. This movement was in some sense a reaction against the horrors of the First World War, then the Second World War. In a time of competing philosophies and ideologies, it was in some sense a restatement of Reformation theological themes about God’s sovereignty and human sinfulness.

This theological movement often goes by the name of “Neo-orthodoxy,” but there are other labels for it, too.



Major theologians associated with neo-orthodoxy include these figures, two Swiss, two German, two Americans of German ancestry.

Slide6Part of the appeal of neo-orthodoxy was its well-reasoned and courageous criticism of other theological movements. On the one side, Neo-orthodox analysis of Fundamentalism revealed how such theology remained neutral toward, or even conveniently supported, racist and sexist attitudes and policies by more powerful groups against less powerful groups. On the other side, Neo-orthodox analysis of Modernism showed how ineffective this sort of theology was in prophetically challenging Fascism and Communism. In effect, Neo-orthodoxy affirmed the Modernist value of higher education and literary and source criticism to guide biblical interpretation, while also affirming the Fundamentalist value of a proper Reformed understanding of human sinfulness.

Today, Presbyterians notice the heroes of this movement were all male, and of European heritage. Despite those limitations, they were brilliant theologians, courageous in their Christian witness, and highly influential public figures from the World War II period through the 1960s. They formed a foundation upon which others were inspired and encouraged to open themselves to other chapters that God wanted to write in the Church’s story about proper relations among the nations, proper relationships with people of other religions, proper stewardship of the earth and its resources, the full inclusion in membership and leadership roles of women, racial-ethnic minorities, and sexual-orientation-based minorities.

As the Brief Statement of Faith, approved in 1990, puts it:

Slide7World War II, and America’s experience of the forces of Fascism and Communism seemed to vindicate the theological perspective of the Neo-orthodox Christian theologians. As attention turned from defeating enemy nations back to the homeland, American Christians turned their energy to organizing the Church’s ministries with similar discipline and energy. Post-WWII was a period of renewed cooperation between Church and state, and church attendance for many was not only a Christian duty, but also a patriotic duty.

During this period, First Presbyterian’s Christian education wing was conceived, the fourth major building project of this congregation.

Slide8The stone was laid on February 14, 1960, during the final year of the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the building dedicated on December 4, shortly after the election of John F. Kennedy.

Slide9The time capsule behind the 1960 stone was shaped like a rectangular safe deposit box, made of copper, and sealed on all sides. Among the items discovered inside was this worship bulletin from the occasion. Interestingly, the choreography of the ceremony was similar to our service a few weeks ago, gathering outside after worship, a service presided over by another pastor named “John,” who also used the text from Ephesians 2.

Slide10Our March 19 gathering around the 1960 stone was particularly meaningful, as members who were here then and now gathered for photos. We’re so glad they were here to be part of the celebration.

More than once I have said to you that there a certain continuity in our history as Edwardsville Presbyterians. If we look closely, then we will see the repetition of themes and patterns.  I’ve called our journey “The Story That God Is Telling Through Us,” but of course I’m not the only one to think of our journey as a “story.”

Slide11Just a few years after the completion of the Christian education wing, when you would think the saints of this church might have been resting content with their accomplishments, they were still discerning together the path forward “This is the Story of Our Church on the Move,” as shown in this special pictorial booklet.


Slide16Slide17Slide18Slide19Slide20The final page appears to have a holder for a pledge card or donation envelope, perhaps for the annual pledge campaign, expressing a hope, an appeal, a prayer: “We Would Be Building … O’ Keep Us Building!!” Whether that prayer was meant literally or figuratively, the Lord  has kept Edwardsville Presbyterians always building its programs, its services, its staff, and its facilities through additional renovations and expansions, all the way to the edge of breaking ground for a new building in this year of 2017.

Slide01As we approach this milestone, may we always remember that the Church is not just a building, but a body, built upon the foundations of prophets and apostles, reformers and our spiritual fathers and mothers, with Christ Jesus himself the chief cornerstone. At 2nd, at Kansas St., at Ridgeview Rd.,  may God’s children hear the Word proclaimed,  be washed in the cleansing waters, and fed at the table of grace. Living Christ, be the chief cornerstone of our body, today and always, Amen.








~ by JohnH1962 on April 2, 2017.