The Old-Side–New-Side Split (1741–58) and The Old-School–New-School Split (1838–69)
American Presbyterianism had gone into schism twice in the past, and these divisions were important precursors to the Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy. The first was The Old Side-New Side Controversy, which occurred during the First Great Awakening, and resulted in the Presbyterian Church in 1741 being divided into an Old Side and New Side. The two churches reunified in 1758. The second was the Old School–New School Controversy, which occurred in the wake of the Second Great Awakening and which saw the Presbyterian Church split into two denominations starting in 1836-38. Each of these denominations in turn split into northern and southern halves over the issue of slavery. It was not until 1869-70 that the New School and Old School were reunited in the north to form the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
Although those Controversies involved many issues, the overarching issue had to do with the nature of church authority and the authority of the Westminster Confession of Faith. The New Side/New School opposed a rigid interpretation of the Westminster Confession. Rather they preferred an emotional style of religion that made use of revival techniques. They were much more likely to ordain as clergy men who had not received a university education; were more lax in the degree of subscription to the Westminster Confession they required; and were generally opposed to using heresy trials as a means to ensure the orthodoxy of the clergy. They accused the Old Side/Old School of being dry formalists who fetishized the Westminster Confession and Calvinism at the expense of an emotional encounter with the Bible mediated by the Holy Spirit. The Old Side/Old School responded that the Westminster Confession was the foundational constitutional document of the Presbyterian Church and that, since the Confession was simply a summary of the Bible's teachings, the church had a responsibility to ensure that its ministers' preaching was in line with the Confession. They accused the New Side/New School of being much too lax about the purity of the church, and willing to allow Arminianism, unitarianism, and other errors to be taught in the Presbyterian Church. They criticized the New Side/School's revivals as being emotionally manipulative and shallow. Another major division had to do with their attitude towards other denominations: New Siders/Schoolers were willing to set up parachurch ministries to conduct evangelism and missions and were willing to cooperate with non-Presbyterians in doing so. The Old Siders/Schoolers felt that evangelism and missions should be conducted through agencies managed by the denomination and not involving outsiders, since this would involve a watering down of the church's theological distinctives. The two sides also had different attitudes towards their seminary professors: Princeton Theological Seminary, the leading institution of the Old School, demanded credal subscription and dedicated a large part of its academic efforts to the defense of Calvinist Orthodoxy (see Princeton theologians); while the New School's Union Theological Seminary was more willing to allow non-Presbyterians to teach at the school and was more broadminded in its academic output.
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