The Dishonoring of an Honorable Man

Dr. Morton H. Smith Sleeps

1. Since I published this, my long-time friend and sort of relative (his sister, Sara, is married to my wife's brother, Jim Drexler), Joel Belz, called me to thank me for this post. Joel, a former Moderator of the PCA General Assembly, and founder of World Magazine, also attended the funeral. I thanked him for the effort he made to attend the funeral, despite his own health struggles. Joel is a man I love and respect highly. He is a blessing to me.

2. I have also heard from my friend John Muether informed me that there were extenuating circumstances that mitigate Reformed Theological Seminary's not having a representative at Dr. Morton Smith's funeral. The Chancellor and Board of Trustees President were out of the country. Many of the faculty had gone to the meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. The Seminary community, unlike I and others, did not hear of Dr. Smith's stroke and brain tumor, and did not learn of his death till the day he died, leaving only two days between the the day of his death and the funeral. I agree that there were mitigating circumstances. It still seems to me that RTS could have had at least one representative at the funeral. I also add that I think that RTS was not alone in the oversight/failure to honor Dr. Smith at his funeral. I have been told that the funeral was sparsely attended. This might be expected, as Dr. Smith, having reached the age of 94, had outlived his contemporaries. However, given his role as a father of the PCA, as well as RTS, I think there should have been a large number of people, including his fellow founders of the PCA and Committee Coordinators in attendance. Further, with regard to dishonor, I am grieved that Dr. Smith, despite his gracious treatment of others, was attacked by not a few young, and some older men, because of what they regarded as his sinful views regarding race. I cannot more strongly express my disagreement with them and my belief that that they dishonored one of the most godly and humble servants of the Lord who served the church.

3. Dr. Smith and I disagreed, even clashed, a number of times about important things. I know we disagreed about race. Perhaps the greatest tension between was in connection with our service on the PCA's Creation Study Committee. He was disappointed that I had adopted the view of "the days" that he had taught when I was a seminary student. If he knew it, I am sure that he was disappointed with my move to Anglicanism and change in my views of the "regulative principle." However, it would be difficult to overstate the affection and respect I have for the man. He gave me the theological foundation and superstructure of my ministry, not only as a Presbyterian minister, but also as a presbyter of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Rest in peace, Dr. Smith; rise to glory.  

4. I extend condolences to his wife, Lois, and his children, Sam and Susan. 

Dr. Morton Howison Smith is with God. He died at the age of 94 and entered the nearer presence of his Savior on the Lord's Day, November 12. His funeral was held on Tuesday, the 14th. And now he rests.

Dr. Smith was a remarkable man - a, husband, a father, a lover of nature, a pilot, a theologian, an author, a preacher, a pastor, an advisor, a denominational executive, a professor. During World War II he trained Army Air Force pilots. He took his Ph.D. under G.C. Berkouwer at the Free University of Amsterdam. He then entered a life of service to Christ.

Dr. Smith's service to the cause of Christ was extraordinary. His was varied, long, and manifestly useful labor in the Lord's vineyard. He was a professor of Bible and the head of the department at Belhaven College (9 years), the founding professor and teacher of Systematic Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (12 years), a founder of the Presbyterian Church in America, the  first Stated Clerk of the General Assembly (15 years), and a founder of and Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (15 years). 

What gets the attention, however, is the profound godliness of the man. He loved the Lord, the Bible, Presbyterianism, and the Reformed faith. He walked consistently according to his profession of faith. I have heard people criticize him, as I have on occasion, but, until recent years and the era of political correctness invading the church, I have never heard anyone criticize his Christian life. 

What stands out most to me is his humility. Not his learning, nor his service, nor the praise given him by colleagues and students engendered in him pride. Of course, I do not know his heart, but it appeared that pride was not a temptation for him. He lacked hubris. He did not promote himself, or stand on his rights, or become angry at slights. He bowed himself before the providence of God even when it meant bearing false representations and mistreatment by those who chose to be his enemies, failure to come to his defence by those who knew the man better than did his critics, and ingratitude by those who owed him much. 

After the funeral I heard from a mature and temperate brother who attended. Dr. Paul Gilchrist, who succeed Dr. Smith as Stated Clerk, and Dr. Roy Taylor, the present Stated Clerk, attended the service. Whether any others who have  served or serve in the administration of the PCA attended, I do not know. 

However, my informant told me that not a single representative of Reformed Theological Seminary was present. Not the Chancellor, nor any of the Presidents of the regional campuses, nor any members of the Board of Trustees attended. While the Lord can raise up from nothing what he wills to bring into existence, it is difficult to see how Reformed Theological Seminary could have come into existence or attracted the students it did in the early years apart from the role of Morton Smith. 

How could it be that no one from RTS attended the funeral? I can only guess.

First, Dr. Smith was not the RTS kind of professor. Dr. Smith was an Old School Presbyterian (this is not to say there have not been and are not other Old School men at RTS), who wanted to see the PCA be an Old School Church and RTS be an Old School institution. I believe he thought it was possible for both, but it became evident that neither would be Old School. 

There was a time early in the days of the seminary when the seminary concluded that it was not satisfied with the "product" - that is with some of its graduates who now were ordained, serving churches, and active in presbyteries. I can recall a meeting at which the President and a leading member of the Board of Trustees called several of us to a meeting at the seminary and told us to "cool it." 

Now, who was responsible for these graduates who turned out to believe and practice Reformed theology? Dr. Morton Smith. Once, I had Dr. Luder Whitlock, the second President of RTS, speak in my church for a weekend and preach for a Reformation Day Service. During the weekend I told Luder that what Dr. Smith had given us boys was a system of theology we could learn, understand, and teach. It provided the foundation and structure of our ministries. Dr. Smith believed what he taught, but he was guilty of none of the sin, stupidity, and foolishness of us young fellows who studied under him. Nevertheless, he was blamed for our being Reformed and for our assuming we could reform our churches. 

Dr. Smith was not the sort of professor that RTS wanted shaping future ministers.

Second, Morton Smith was instrumental in the beginning of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I think it is fair to say that GPTS was founded to be what RTS did not become. The powers at RTS did not appreciate that, and, though Greenville was no threat to RTS, there was no love lost between the two institutions. It is disappointing, but not surprising, that RTS would not have wanted any of its leadership to pay last respects to a man who, though he was a key to RTS' existence, was also a key to GPTS' existence. 

Third, Dr. Smith was known to be a principled segregationist who believed his views were consistent with the Christian faith. He was not a racist. He harbored no animosity toward African-Americans. He was toward everyone a Christian gentleman. But he believed that the races should live separately, and he believed that was by God's design. (I am not aware of a single student of his who shared his views.) For all this he has been condemned, especially by young men, who, no less than those of us who were early graduates of RTS were, are certain they are right. (It is interesting that the separation of the races is now promoted by African Americans who believe there needs to be a distinctively African American theology, worship, and church.) 

Dr. Smith has been the target of a great deal of attention, condemnation, and denunciation by some older men but mostly young men, both black and white. In a display of nothing, if not hubris, these men called him to repentance for his views. So strong was their conviction that Dr. Smith was wrong and needed to repent that they hounded him as an old man in his 90s.

Now RTS has been in the forefront of "racial reconciliation" though this seems to have fallen on hard times because of the increasing desire for separation on the part of African Americans. RTS has sought to attract and equip African American students (a laudable goal), and its Chancellor has taken a lead in the cause of "racial reconciliation" (itself laudable, but as it is promoted now much influenced by liberation theology and critical race theory.)

So, if he attends Dr. Smith's funeral, how does the Chancellor of RTS go to Mississippi and face Jemar Tisby and explain why he honored Morton Smith by attending his funeral? How does RTS have credibility among those who men, white and black, who are convinced that Dr. Smith was associated with the great sin of the 20th century, if some administrator(s), or professor(s), or member(s) of the Board of Trustees attended his funeral? How do you recruit students (and every educational institution is seeking numbers) who share the views of Dr. Smith's critics? 

It's a very practical decision. Honoring Dr. Smith, though he deserves it, is not worth the heat you will take by honoring him. 

So the decision is to dishonor him. 

Does Dr. Smith care? Surely not now. Nor, I believe, would he if he could have lived and known the dishonor that would be shown him at his funeral. He did not court and was not affected by honor or dishonor shown him during his life, so why would he at his death? He was "another man's servant." That other Man is Jesus Christ. 



  1. Well said Bill. Poor form by RTS leadership, past and present! Is 'cowardly' too strong a word?

  2. This saddens me deeply. I went to school with Dr. Smith's children and remember him as a very gentle, kind man. How genuinely sad that RTS had no representatives there, if not for Dr. Smiith's sake, then, at least, for their own. After all, any honor they could have given would have been "as dung" compared to the "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" Dr. Smith surely heard.

  3. Bill - Would you be willing to share with me (privately, if you prefer) some indication of the grounds for your statement that "It is interesting that the separation of the races is now promoted by African Americans who believe there needs to be a distinctly African American theology,worship, and church"? I am just not aware of such African Americans and would love to follow up on this. My name is Sam Logan and I can be contacted at Thanks so much, Bill.

  4. Bill - Would you be willing (privately, if you prefer) to provide some documentation for your statement that "It is interesting that the separation of the races is now promoted by African Americans who believe there needs to be a distinctively African American theology, worship, and church"? I grew up in Mississippi and I worked with African Americans at both Westminster and Biblical Seminaries and at The Association of Theological Schools. I am not aware of ever having met or read an African American who has expressed this sentiment and I really would like to explore this matter further. My email address is Thanks so much, Bill.

  5. Very well said, Bill. The grandstanding and hubris, as you put it, of the millennial pastors in the PCA is nearly insufferable, and fails actually to meet the best interests of those whose advocates they claim to be. That accords with the lack of actual reflection necessary to recognize the real definition of racism and nuances of positions fuzzily lumped together with it. Although I disagree with him on this point as well, the violations of the ninth commandment with respect to Dr. Smith by those who presumptuously don the mantle of "social justice warrior" far outweigh any wrongdoing he is alleged by them to have committed.


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