To the Ministers, Officers and Unofficial
Members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Your General Assembly now in session at Decatur, Illinois, deems it proper to address to you this Pastoral Letter:
When this Assembly shall have adjourned, the union between the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America will be practically complete. Three years have been taken for the consummation of this union. During this time, every feature of this union has been most critically and exhaustively considered and discussed.
Our committee, which, in connection with the Presbyterian committee, prepared and recommended the union agreement, was composed of men from every section of the Church, chosen by the commissioners in the General Assembly of 1903, representing those sections severally. For intellectual ability, knowledge of religious doctrines and devotion to the interests of our church no more competent committee could have been chosen. This committee unanimously decided that since the revision of the Presbyterian Confession there is no substantial difference between the creeds of the two Churches and that the proposed terms of union were alike honorable to both. The Presbyterian committee concurred in this decision. The two committees joined in a report submitting the agreement to their respective General Assemblies.
Our General Assembly, after most deliberate consideration and argument, adopted this report by a vote of one hundred and sixty-two to seventy-four, more than the constitutional majority. It was then submitted to our presbyteries for their consideration and action. For one entire year every provision of this important agreement was discussed by those in favor of it and those opposed to it through "The Cumberland Presbyterian," through a periodical originated and conducted by the opponents of union themselves, through circular literature, and in our presbyteries and synods. A freer and fuller discussion of any question is impossible. A majority of our presbyteries voted in favor of the union agreement. Their action was reported to our General Assembly in 1905 and that Assembly decided that the union had been constitutionally agreed to. Your General Assembly, now sitting, has, with the Presbyterian General Assembly, now in session, arranged the details of the union so that it will be put into practical operation as soon as this General Assembly shall have adjourned.
This union and reunion of the two Churches
has not only been vigorously opposed by a considerable number
of our ministers and laymen in the various Church courts, but
has also been contested in the court of the state of Illinois
at Decatur, through a bill filed in that court for an injunction
to restrain the Assembly from proceeding to complete the union
in accordance with the provisions of the agreement adopted in
1905. After a most exhaustive argument by counsel on both sides
of the question, Judge W. C. Johns refused the injunction asked
for and dismissed the bill on demurrer and thereby, in specific
terms, affirmed the constitutionality and regularity of the action
of the Assembly and the presbyteries in reference to the proposed
union and reunion.
In spite of the fact that our highest Church court and the civil court have affirmed the regularity and legality of the procedure for the consummation of this union, some of our brethren declare their unwillingness to acquiesce in the consummation of the union and are striving to induce other brethren to join with them in repudiating the action of our General Assembly and the presbyteries.
It therefore seems proper for us to address you this pastoral letter, setting forth briefly the facts in the case and explaining certain matters in controversy that might be helpful to any of you who may be in doubt as to the proper course to pursue, and to assist you to see your way more clearly to abide by the decision of your Church and join in an effort to promote unity of action in this vital matter.
You may have been conscientiously opposed to union up to the present time, but you have now reached the point where you must decide whether you will be loyal to the Church and its policy or go with those who would divide and disrupt it.
We beg leave to caution you against accepting the statements
so frequently made that the whole movement has been unconstitutional
and irregular or that it was conceived by designing men for ulterior
purposes and rushed to completion with unseemly haste and without
a perfect understanding of the questions involved. The facts cited
in the preceding paragraphs disprove this completely. The character
and standing of the men who now favor the union ought also to
be sufficient to convince you of the falsity of these statements.
We further caution you against being influenced by the statement that in forming this union we are abandoning our Confession of Faith and adopting one radically different. Our General Assembly has decided that this is not true, for in accepting the Presbyterian Confession of Faith as revised in 1903, it has specifically decided that it is not radically different, but on the contrary that it is in substance the same as our own. The constitution authorizes the General Assembly to decide all questions of doctrine. Surely the opinion of the General Assembly representing the Church as a whole is more reliable than that of any individual.
But what is of still more importance to us
is, that the Presbyterial General Assembly has declared that its
amended creed is substantially the same as our own. The Confession
of Faith of a Church is not what some people think the Church
believes but what the Church, in an official manner, says that
it believes. A Church has the right to choose its own words in
declaring its belief. Moreover, it has the right to declare the
sense in which it uses the words. No one has the right to put
into its mouth words which it does not use or to ascribe to its
words a meaning different from the sense in which the Church uses
them. This position is well sustained by Judge Johns in his decision
herein referred to.
The Presbyterian General Assembly has adopted what it calls a "Brief Statement" of its doctrine, in which it sets forth in plain, unmistakable language the meaning of its Confession of Faith with the various changes which have been made in it. This interpretation of its creed is authoritative, and the whole world is bound to accept it as the true expression of the belief of the Church. It is of more practical value to Cumberland Presbyterians than the Confession of Faith itself, because it tells us what the Confession of Faith means, and that is what most concerns us. Few Cumberland Presbyterians, if any, find fault with any doctrine contained in this Brief Statement. In addition to the adoption of this Brief Statement, the Presbyterian General Assembly, by adopting the joint report, has also, in substance, declared that its revised creed agrees with our own. In other words, it has declared that our Confession of Faith correctly expresses the meaning of its own Confession of Faith which we have adopted.
We desire also to caution you against the suggestions that there will be any discrimination in the reunited Church against the country churches or the ministers lacking the advantages of a college education; that there is any danger of the formation of churches and presbyteries composed of both the races in the South, or of the assumption of property rights against the wishes of the churches and of the different courts owning the same. All of these suggestions are utterly out of harmony with the spirit and present policy of both Churches and have been specifically met in the articles of agreement upon which the union is based. You should not forget that the government of the reunited Church is practically the same as that of our own, and that all the churches retain, under the new arrangement, the same rights and privileges which they have always enjoyed. These are the common heritage of all Presbyterians and the changes under the new order of things will be so slight in most cases that they will not be observable by most of you. The fear that the present order of things will be broken up in our congregations is the result of a lack of knowledge of the facts and we appeal to you to dismiss it at once. These matters remain entirely in your own hands as heretofore. You will still own your own churches, elect your own officers and your own pastor, and manage your own local affairs as in the past. You will remain independent congregations or unite with others as you please.
We also desire to caution you against too great haste in ignoring the solemn vows you took in uniting with the Church or accepting sacred trusts in it as officers or ministers. You are reminded that the obligations then assumed are not to be lightly cast aside. The ruling elders in their ordination vows, solemnly promised to submit themselves to the courts of the Church and to study the peace of the Church. See the Constitution, Section 46, sub-sections V and VI. All of our ministers made substantially the same solemn promise. See Constitution, Section 57, sub-sections IV and VI. All church members, in joining the Church, impliedly agreed to submit to the decisions, and be bound by the action, of the Church courts. The constitutionality and regularity of the union having been so fully established, surely you will now desire to take much time for prayer and thought before deciding to repudiate the obligations thus assumed by you.
From the first, the fathers of the Church have been hoping and praying that the way might open for reunion with the mother Church, as evidenced by their repeated expressions and by the appointment from time to time of committees to confer with similar committees from the Presbyterian Church with reference to the matter. The present Committee on Fraternity and Union has striven earnestly and faithfully to formulate a plan for the consummation of the union which would be acceptable and honorable alike to all concerned, in both Churches, and we have ever indulged the hope that its wisdom would at last be so evident to all our people that almost without exception they would count it a high privilege to lead the way to closer and more effective organization of the Presbyterian Churches for the extension of the Master's Kingdom. It has therefore been a matter of much grief to us that this has not been so fully accomplished as we have desired. We believe, however, that after calm and dispassionate consideration and the full understanding of the plan, comparatively few of you will fail to see its wisdom.
As you will see by reference to the published
details of the agreement, no immediate changes are contemplated
and that almost a year will elapse before the presbyteries are
called upon to recognize the new relation to the reunited Church.
Adjustments of the various general institutions of the Churches
will be made slowly and with a view to the protection of all the
interests involved and this fact will preclude the necessity of
hasty action and will give you ample time to determine the course
you will finally pursue.
In view of the great interests at stake and of the danger of pursuing a course that will greatly hinder the work of the Church, we confidently appeal to you to be frequent and loving in counsel one with another, to the end that the prayer of the Master may be answered, that all his followers may be on in faith and spirit. Let us be patient and forbearing, ever ready to sink self and self-interest in the desire to follow the leadings of God's spirit.
Whether or not we are last able to see eye
to eye and to go into the union without division, let us ever
continue to be brothers in Christ, vying with one another in devotion
to the cause for which our Master so freely gave His life. Let
all dissension cease, each conceding to the other the fullest
liberty in this as in all other matters of faith and practice.
The sessions of the Church are urged to discountenance any premature action of their congregations where there is danger of producing discord and division, and to labor with the brethren for the preservation of that peace and unity which will be pleasing alike to God and men. Whatever adjustments are made, all should be in strict accord with the Constitution of our Church and with due regard to the rights of all the brethren. Enlighten one another on all doubtful points of doctrine and practice, always having due respect for the opinions and prejudices of those who are unable to see as we see. The deacons and trustees and other officers of each church should co-operate in brotherly love to the attainment of these ends. Let all consult the minutes of the last two General Assemblies, as well as our Constitution, for guidance in all matters of polity and discipline.
This union gives the distinctive doctrinal
position of our Church complete justification, by the mother Church,
and we confidently believe that all our higher interests will
be promoted and enlarged thereby. We believe that it will result
in the strengthening of multitudes of congregations in both communions
and in forwarding the work of world evangelization, entrusted
to us in the great commission of the Master in his last words
to his disciples. Re-enforced by the well-organized and aggressive
forces of the great Presbyterian Church, into whose fellowship
we now enter, the glorious gospel so freely attested on Calvary
will be carried to many people who would otherwise never hear
its message of hope and peace.
As further expressive of the views of this body, we hereunto append certain resolutions adopted at this meeting of your Assembly, and which are as follows:
Resolved, 1. That in the reunion and union
of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church
in the United States of America on the doctrinal basis of the
Presbyterian Confession of Faith as revised in 1903, the Cumberland
Presbyterian Church does not surrender anything integral in its
own system of doctrine as set out in its own Confession of Faith,
nor modify in any particular its adherence to the word of God
as the only infallible rule of faith and practice; nor has the
Presbyterian Church asked or expected us to do so.
Resolved, 2. That, in uniting with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church does not alienate the property now held for particular congregations of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church; but, that, in the reunited Church, such property will continue to be held for the use and benefit of particular congregations in like manner as heretofore.
Resolved, 3. That in the adjournment of its General Assembly as a separate Assembly, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church does not destroy or interrupt its historical continuity, but will continue its life, its history, and its work in the reunited Church under the name of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
On this same subject, after the Cumberland
Presbyterian Assembly had adjourned, the Presbyterian Assembly
in session in Des Moines, Iowa, adopted, by a unanimous vote,
the following resolutions, which are herewith appended by the
committee charged with the duty of editing and circulating this
"The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, having added to its Rolls the Synods and Presbyteries and churches and ministers lately subject to the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and constituting said Church; and earnestly desiring to retain in the membership of each particular church every one in connection therewith prior to the consummation of the reunion; and being apprehensive that some of them may be reluctant to acquiesce in what has now been effected, because of certain misapprehensions which should be removed if possible, now solemnly declares:
"First, That in the Presbyterian church no acceptance of the doctrines of the Church is required of any communicant, beyond a personal faith in Jesus Christ as Son of God, and Savior of the world, and a sincere acceptance of him as Lord an Master.
"Second, That ministers, ruling elders and deacons, in expressing approval of the Westminster Confession of Faith as revised in 1903, are required to assent only to the system of doctrine contained therein; and not to every particular statement in it; and inasmuch as the two Assemblies meeting in 1904 did declare that there was then a sufficient agreement between the systems of doctrine contained in the Confessions of the two Churches to warrant the union of the Churches, therefore the change of doctrinal standards resulting from the union involves no change of belief on the part of any who were ministers, ruling elders or deacons in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Further, this Assembly specifically declares that since the revision of 1903, by which the Confession of Faith was amended, by change of its text, by a declaratory statement, and by additions, it is no longer allowable to interpret our system of doctrine in any fatalistic sense; nor are we willing to admit that such fatalistic interpretation was ever warranted, whatever misapprehension may have existed in the mind of any person.
"Third, In view of the fact that reunion involves no change whatever in the relations of communicants, ruling elders and deacons to their own particular churches; and, except in a few instances, none in their relations to their Presbyteries and Synods; and brings all into a General Assembly differing from their former Assembly only in size and its representation of a larger Church; this Assembly expresses the hope that all who have thus far opposed reunion may soon realize that they can engage as heartily in the chief work that our Lord requires of us--the evangelization of the world--as ever before, and with a prospect of a greater efficiency because they lay aside personal preferences in the interest of the union of Presbyterians in a great forward movement."
The bill of complaint in this cause, by stipulation between the solicitors for the complainant and those of so many of the named defendants as have entered their appearance, being filed in term time, is heard of demurrer to the fill, and its accompanying exhibits, with the same effect as if filed at least ten days before the first day of the May term of this court, and service of process had within the time, and in the manner prescribed by law. All technicalities have been waived. The parties who are in court have submitted themselves to the jurisdiction, and ask a decision upon the merits as presented by the record. The bill was filed on the 16th of May. The General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church met in the city of Decatur, in Macon County, Illinois, on the 17th day of May. Every commissioner, or delegate, to that Assembly is named as a defendant. The purpose and prayer of the bill is to enjoin them individually and collectively from taking the final steps to merge, or unite, or consolidate the Cumberland Presbyterian Church with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. The act of demurring admits to be true every fact in the very voluminous bill of complaint, with its exhibits, which is well pleaded, but does not admit any conclusions stated in the bill which are claimed to arise logically from the facts.
The interests involved are tremendous. The
Cumberland Presbyterian Church owns more than seven million dollars
in property. A hundred thousand members and communicants, it is
claimed, adhere to the contentions of the complainants. Probably
a greater number sympathize with those of the defendants, who
are advocates of the union of the two mighty ecclesiastical associations.
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United
States of America is in session in ad adjoining state. The principal
motive of a majority of the delegates, or commissioners, of each
of these grand ecclesiastical bodies is, to declare the union
of the two associations. The principal object of the minority
in each is, to prevent such union. The preparations for this momentous
event have been making for three years. They have been conducted
with a deliberation, caution, and dignity worthy of, and commensurate
with, their vast importance. The magnificent spectacle of these
mighty associations awaiting the permission or prohibition of
the law teachers a lesson of loyalty to, and profound respect
for, our government, which must be beneficial for all the time
In its scope, aims, and contentions the case presented to the court has no parallel in the jurisprudence of the United States. It is quite apparent the present decision will not affect the final result. If the prayer of the bill be granted, the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church will transact its routine business, and adjourn to meet again in a year with the same contentions in its proceedings. If the prayer is refused, the majority of the Assembly will adopt the report of its committee--declare itself united with the Presbyterian Church, that the two associations have become one under the name of The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and adjourn without day. The minority will form a General Assembly, denounce the former proceedings, and, claiming to be the true Church, pursue the uneven tenor of its way through a multitude of lawsuits in a dozen or more states of the Union.
There is no time for the deliberation which
the magnitude and novelty of the case requires. It would be better
to make a formal order in harmony with the opinion entertained,
and omit all statements of reasons. But a decent respect for the
feelings and opinions of the very great number of Christian people
who are awaiting the processes of the law, requires the announcement
of an explanation of the reasons prompting the decision, and of
the orders of the court to be entered. It must be remembered that
the tribunal to which the questions are primarily submitted, has,
like the two religious associations, its supreme judicatory, by
the decisions and interpretations of which the inferior tribunal
is bound, and to which it must yield unquestioning obedience.
Resort must be had to these decisions to determine the issues,
and if the decisions of the Supreme Court of Illinois do not cover
all the law involved in the case, resort must be had to the general
body of uncodified law for a complete solution. Neither time nor
space allow more than a reference to, and no discussion of, the
great mass of adjudications to which reference has been made.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church is an unincorporated voluntary religious society. It has created for its government a Constitution, and various ordinances,--General Regulations, Directory for Worship, and Rules of Order and Discipline. The guiding stars of its religious beliefs and tenets are the Confession of Faith and Catechism. Section 110 of the Confession is as follows: "Church-government implies the existence of Church-courts, invested with legislative, judicial, and executive authority; and the Scriptures recognize such institutions, some of subordinate and some of superior authority, each having its own particular sphere of duties and privileges in reference to matters ministerial and ecclesiastical, yet all subordinate to the same general design." When it is brought into a secular court, its officers and members and the society itself must be treated as any other voluntary association, except so far as the jurisprudence of the state in which the controversy arises distinguishes it from other societies not ecclesiastical in character.
A voluntary association is an unincorporated
society, or body of individuals, formed for a purpose which is
not illegal. The members are bound by its Constitution and rules,
whether they be deemed reasonable or unreasonable, provided they
are in harmony with the law of the land and public policy. They
are bound by amendments and changes subsequently and constitutionally
adopted, which do not violate vested rights.
The decisions of a voluntary association, fairly and honestly made by its highest tribunal, lodge, or judicatory, in accordance with the rules or usages of the society, not contrary to law or public policy, are binding upon the members and will not be interfered with by the courts.
The persons or corporations designated by the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church--or any of its separate and subordinate judicatories--to hold the legal title to property dedicated for its general use, are trustees of such property, and cannot divert it to any other use, or carry it into other associations or denominations whose purposes or tenets are palpably and substantially different.
Where property is held for denominational use, and there is no corporate organization, all members become beneficiaries of such property in equal degree. The civil rights to the property are subjects of examination to be determined in conformity to the law and principles of equity. Where a majority, however large, abandon the tenets and doctrines of the association, they cannot hold the property against the minority who adhere, however numerically small the minority may be.
Where each of two rival bodies claims to be the rightful one, the decision depends upon the construction of the constitution and laws of the association. The decisions of the supreme judicatory, unless they are clearly and manifestly repugnant to the established laws of the denomination, are binding upon the civil courts.
Courts of equity will not interfere to determine doctrinal differences, infractions of discipline, modes of procedure, or regularity of decisions of ecclesiastical judicatories. The decisions of the Supreme Judicatory as to matters of faith, procedure, and practices, are final, and binding on the secular courts.
Courts of equity will interfere only when property or civil rights are involved; and as to property, only upon the ground of an actual or intended perversion of the trust by the trustees, or of a majority of the society having possession of the trust property. There must be a real and substantial departure from the purposes of the trust, such as amounts to a perversion of it. The secular court must be able to say there has been an essential, palpable, and unequivocal change in the fundamental doctrine.
Where the perversion of a trust is alleged, the equitable intendment is, that everything has been lawful and consistent with the trust which is not expressly shown to be otherwise.
A change in a Confession of Faith in a religious association does not amount to a misuse or perversion of the trust upon which property is held, if the substantial theological doctrine and general polity are retained, although there are changes in the church policy or an alteration in the expressed form of faith.
A schism is a diversity of opinion on religious subjects, causing a division, or separation, of the members of a religious association.
There is abundant authority to sustain all of these propositions, and reference is made to a few:
Ferraria vs. Vasconcelles, 23 Ill., 403.
S. C., 31 Ill., 25.
Happy vs. Morton, 33 Ill., 398.
Chase vs. Cheney, 58 Ill., 509.
Nelson vs. Benson, 69 Ill., 27.
Schweiker vs. Husser, 146 Ill., 399.
Kuns vs. Robertson, 154 Ill., 394.
Dubs vs. Egli, 167 Ill., 514.
Mt. Zion Baptist Church vs. Whitmore, 13 L. C. P., 198.
Austin vs. Searing, 69 Am. Dec. 670, n.
Watson vs. Jones, 13 How (U.S.), 670.
Brundage vs. Deardort, 92 Fed. Rep., 214.
Upon the question of the jurisdiction of
the General Assembly, some of its powers have been noted in the
accompanying statement. There is no explicit authority vested
in it to carry over the entire association and its property to
another association. Before the organization of the General Assembly,
the Synod, being the highest court of the association, and some
of the presbyteries, had expressed a desire for reunion. After
the General Assembly was made the supreme authority, on several
occasions, hopes, desires, and expectations of a reunion were
expressed. Prior to the meeting in Nashville in 1903, the General
Assembly had appointed Committees on Union. This shows that the
General Assembly as such considered it had jurisdiction of such
matters, and the record is silent as to any dissent from the position.
The proceedings at Nashville, in 1903, too extensive for the limits
of an opinion, demonstrate that the General Assembly considered
itself as having jurisdiction of the question of reunion, and
from its action there was no dissent, so far as this record shows,
except a minority report as to the method of appointing a Committee
on Presbyterian Fraternity and Union. At Dallas, in 1904, the
report of the committee was adopted by slightly more than two-thirds
of the votes cast; and, so far as the record has been examined,
there was no controversy as to the power of the General Assembly
to deal with the question of reunion, nor as to its power to submit
the question to the vote of the presbyteries. But whether there
was dissent or not, it is certain the question was submitted to
a vote of the presbyteries. No one of them objected to the right,
power, or authority of the General Assembly either to submit the
question in the manner and time it was submitted, or to the constitutional
authority to effect the reunion, if the majority of the presbyteries
consented to their vote. At Fresno, in 1905, the vote was canvassed.
It was declared that the reunion and union had been constitutionally
agreed to by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and that Basis
of Union had, for the purposes of union, been constitutionally
adopted, and the General Assembly took measures to perfect the
details of the reunion, which had been determined by the presbyteries.
This record discloses no question as to, nor dissent from the
constitutional power, or right, of the General Assembly to do
any and everything that it did in the course of two years of time.
It was not until the whole matter of reunion had been declared
accomplished that a note of discord was sounded. These actions
of the General Assembly must be held to be a determination of
its right and power to act as it had done, and to proceed as it
proposed, and ought in equity to be held as such an acquiescence
by the entire denomination as to estop part of it from making
a contest now. If this position be correct, then it may be seriously
considered whether the General Assembly had not the power to submit
the question of reunion to the presbyteries. Certainly, the Constitution
does not prohibit such action. There is no limitation, express
or implied, of either its right or its duty to consult the presbyteries
as to so vital a matter. The presbyteries, by more than a constitutional
majority, endorsed the plan, and this endorsement ought to be
considered as an instruction from the body of the Church to the
General Assembly to proceed "to concert measures for promoting
the prosperity and enlargement of the Church." As a matter
of fact, the General Assembly has not, of its own initiative,
assumed authority to consolidate, merge, or induct the Cumberland
Presbyterian Church into the body of the Presbyterian Church,
and thus to destroy the first organization. The matter was proposed
by overtures, and then referred to committees, and, after the
lapse of a year, was submitted to the presbyteries for approval.
The government of this ecclesiastical association is in the highest degree representative. The ruling elders are the representatives of the people. They, with the minister, constitute the session. The ordained ministers, and a ruling elder from each church, constitute the presbytery. The synod consists of all the ministers, and one ruling elder from each church, in a district composed of at least three presbyteries. The General Assembly is composed of one or two ministers and one or two ruling elders from each presbytery. Thus the people, at all times, have equal representation in every court of the association. These ruling elders and ministers are the representatives of the "members and communicants." These last, in equal degree, have beneficial interests in the temporalities of the Church. It being physically impossible that all members should unite in recommendations to the supreme trustees--the commissioners to the General Assembly--their interests are represented in the General Assembly, and thus that body is instructed as to the uses and dispositions to which the beneficiaries desire the property applied. Being so instructed, if the disposition is not clearly and palpably in violation of the general purposes of the trust it is the duty of the trustees to proceed. If they do proceed, no secular court can stop them by injunction.
It is seriously contended that the whole proceeding is ultra vires, unconstitutional, and void, because, in the manner of inducing, or permitting, the presbyteries to vote upon the question the mandates of the Constitution were not obeyed, if this reunion is to be regarded as being in the nature of a change in the Constitution. Section 60 of the Constitution declares, "Upon the recommendation of the General Assembly, at a stated meeting, by a two-thirds vote of the members voting thereon, the . . . Constitution . . . may be amended or changed when a majority of the presbyteries, upon the same being transmitted for their action, shall approve thereof." The report of the committee as to the plan and terms of the reunion was presented to the General Assembly, with the recommendation that "this entire plan of union shall be operative when said Basis of Union, Concurrent Declarations, and Recommendation numbered 1, shall have been adopted in their entirety, and, where necessary, by presbyterial action." It is argued, that, as the General Assembly did neither recommend to the presbyteries that they should approve, nor recommend to the presbyteries that they should disapprove, of the Basis of Union, but only left it to the vote of the presbyteries as to approval or disapproval, the General Assembly either did nothing, or violated the letter and spirit of the Constitution to such an extent that its action was void. Of the manner and time of submitting such a question to the presbyteries the General Assembly is the sole and exclusive judge. No court of equity would declare its action void upon a technicality as to whether such submission of the question to a vote was or was not a "recommendation."
The remaining questions are not so serious. Whether the doctrines and tenets of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church are widely and palpably variant from those of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, is an ecclesiastical question solely, concerning which, it having been decided by an ecclesiastical judicatory, the civil court is powerless to inquire. The report of the Joint Committee on Union, adopted by the General Assembly, at Dallas, in 1904, must be considered as an adjudication by that ecclesiastical judicatory that these two Christian Churches are "of substantially similar faith and polity." Every secular court, as to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, is bound by that declaration as to its faith and polity. It is quite possible, under the decisions in Illinois, if the question were left open by the General Assembly, that the court would institute an investigation to determine, not the correctness of one or the other of two seemingly conflicting dogmas, but whether they were so antagonistic as to make the application of the property, held in trust for the promulgation of one, to the advancement of the other, as legal perversion of a trust; but the court is foreclosed by the declaration of the church judicatory.
Aside from these considerations, it is noteworthy
to remark that, inasmuch as the specific trusts by which any piece
of property is held are not set out in the record--but it is alleged
it is held in a general trust for the Cumberland Presbyterian
Church--it ma be considered whether the trustees of such property
are ousted from their positions and despoiled of either the property
or its beneficial control. The Concurrent Declarations, in the
joint report approved and adopted at Dallas, expressly reserve
to the trustees appointed heretofore by the Cumberland Presbyterian
Church, and to their successors, the control of such property,
and that there shall be no greater control, by the General Assembly,
or other ecclesiastical court or body, of the Presbyterian Church
in the United States of America, over such property, than was
exercised by the General Assembly, or other ecclesiastical court
or body, of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It is apparent
that this temporal property is not to be applied to a purpose
so clearly different from the original trust as to warrant a court
of equity in interfering.
In conclusion, it is also considered that this application for injunction is without precedent. No court, so far as the decisions at hand reveal, has ever enjoined a committee of an ecclesiastical association from reporting to the main body, nor the main body from considering as to what action it should take upon any given proposition. The demurrer to the bill is sustained, the motion for a preliminary injunction is overruled, and, if complainants conclude to abide by their bill, it will be dismissed, for want of equity, at their cost.