Arthur F. Perkins – The Day of Small Things

The following is an address given by the Rev. Brian De Jong at a dinner for Pastors and Wives, held at Grace OPC in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on Friday, December 1, 2017

Zechariah 4:10  “For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth.”

Matthew 13:31-32 He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”

The Beginnings of our Presbytery

On July 30, 1936 a small group of men met in a living room in Merrill, Wisconsin with a piece of paper.  Two of the men were ministers and one was a ruling elder.  The Rev. Arthur F. Perkins had received a letter from the Home Missions and Church Extension Committee of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America dated July 2, 1936.  The letter named Rev. Perkins as the convener for the Presbytery of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, and instructed them how to organize the new Presbytery.  Ruling Elder H.W. Hillegas took the chair and opened nominations for the office of Moderator.  Rev. Perkins was nominated, as was Rev. William Kielhorn – the other minister present.  The vote was taken, and it was tied.  From the chair Mr. Hillegas broken the tie and the Rev. Perkins was elected.  A similar situation unfolded as nominations were received for the office of Stated Clerk, with Moderator Perkins casting the deciding vote for Mr. Hillegas.

At this first meeting of our Presbytery, several actions were taken.  The Rev. John Davies was received into the Presbytery and his name was enrolled on the roll of ministers.  Having renounced his connection to the PCUSA, he was eager to join this new Presbyterian church.  The Rev. John J. DeWaard from Cedar Grove was also received into the Presbytery and enrolled.  The Rev. Elmer Seger of the Berean Fundamental Church of Denver, Colorado was invited to sit as a corresponding member.  It was at this time that the first church was received into membership – the Merrill Community Presbyterian Church, where Rev. Perkins served.  Their ruling elder, a Mr. Evers, was enrolled as a commissioner from the Merrill church.  The new Presbytery also approved the call to Rev. Perkins.  The terms included an annual salary of $1200 paid in monthly installments.  That’s a salary of $100 per month.  He was also given free use of a manse, or $20 per month in lieu of a manse, and four weeks of vacation each year.  An installation service was arranged, and permission was granted for buying the necessary supplies.  A 10 minute recess was taken to allow the press to take a picture of the group.  Those are days of small things – very modest beginnings 81 years ago.  Four ministers, two elders, and one congregation.

A year later, the fledgling Presbytery was slowly growing.  Yet the situation was by no means robust.  At the September 1937 meeting of Presbytery it was reported that “The treasury was found to be empty, with a bill of $2.28 against presbytery before it.”  When the Presbytery met in February of the next year, things were no better.  “The treasurer reported that the exchequer was empty, and that a bill of $1.48 was outstanding.  The debt was immediately cleared by gifts from the Presbytery.”  By September of 1938, this situation had improved as a balance of two cents was reported in the treasury.

Yet despite the financial straits, the Presbytery was growing.  By March of 1943 there were four congregations, eleven ministers and a total membership of 695.  The progress continued so that by 1955 there were six congregations, 8 ministers and 1284 members.  Giving had increased to $69,252 – an average of $88 per communicant member.  Another 15 years down the road that number had increased to $217 per communicant.  God was granting growth to this tiny Presbytery.  From small beginnings the Lord gradually grew us into a mature Presbytery that now has 29 churches, 8 church plants, 64 ministers and around 3800 total members in 5 states.  We have several missionaries, three seminary professors, two military chaplains, two chaplains in prisons, in addition to church planters, evangelists and pastors of our local congregations.

The Ministry of Arthur F. Perkins

Of special interest is the ministry of the Rev. Arthur F. Perkins.  Perkins was born in Appleton, Wisconsin on October 23, 1887.  At age 23 he married Miss Marie Heroux.  They had four children – Dale, Ramona, Joy and Doris. Arthur studied at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.  He was ordained by the Presbytery of Winnebago of the PCUSA on September 12, 1922. He served first as Stated Supply at PCUSA churches in Kelly and Rothschild, Wisconsin before taking a call to North Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee.  In 1931 he accepted a call to the PCUSA congregation in Merrill, Wisconsin, just north of Wausau, where he would serve until his death in 1936.

By all reports, Arthur Perkins was a tireless servant of Christ.  He was especially interested in spreading the good news of Christ to young people.  His desire was not to please men, but to please His Lord and Savior.  He was remembered as “a burning brand of the evangel who travelled the length and breadth of the state of Wisconsin to make known the riches of grace and to plead with men to rid themselves of the shackles of a soul-destroying ecclesiastical organization,” meaning of course, the PCUSA.

He had an evangelistic heart, but he also was attentive to the flock over which God had made him an overseer.  His people characterized him as a loving pastor and faithful minister of the Lord.  He was  a leader in his own community, in his Presbytery and on a national level in the fight against modernism.  He properly belongs in the same conversation as J. Gresham Machen and John J. DeWaard.

Like other faithful ministers of his time, he began seeing Modernism creeping into the life of his church.  In his case, it became apparent at a Summer Bible Camp run by his Presbytery.  Along with other like-minded brethren, in 1934 Perkins organized the Crescent Lake Bible Camp in Crescent, Wisconsin.  This was intended to be an independent ministry where the pure Word of God would be faithfully taught to young people.  During the early years it was a highly successful undertaking, according to reports from that time.  One story from this period is especially heart-warming.  Let me read from an article in the Presbyterian Guardian dated August 1937…

“IN Gresham, Wisconsin, the home of the Stockbridge Indian, there is a building in which regular worship is held by a congregation of The Presbyterian Church of America. The pews consist only of crude boxes across which planks have been placed. There is little to suggest to the casual observer that here is a building in which the Lord Jesus Christ is worshipped and exalted. Yet the blessing of God rests upon its portals. If the walls of that church building could speak they would tell a moving story of the irresistible grace of our sovereign God. Less than five years ago that church building was a saloon. It was conducted by Mr. and Mrs. McMullin Tousey, who energetically poured beer and whiskey for the degradation and debauchery of all the sodden souls who staggered in. Yet, throughout those days of bondage to sin, God had a purpose for the lives of Mr. and Mrs. McMullin Tousey. The late Rev. Arthur F. Perkins was mightily used of God to call them out of their life of sin into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. The Crescent Lake Bible Camp, for whose promotion Mr. Perkins was forced from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and persecuted almost beyond belief, was the eventual turning point in the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Tousey. There they found the new joy of the life that is hid with Christ in God. The saloon building belonged to them, but its bottles and its glasses, its kegs and its bars, were promptly discarded.  The place stood idle while other saloons absorbed, like some greedy monster, the sin-soaked souls who formerly had  patronized it. Mr. and Mrs. Tousey were through with all that. They looked about for a church in which to worship their new-found Saviour. The Sergeant Memorial Church of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. was all they discovered. Though young in the Christian life they recognized the corruption of that denomination and preferred to wait for a true Presbyterian church. Early this year the Rev. John Davies, valiant missionary-member of The Presbyterian Church of America, founded the first Indian chapel of the denomination in the former saloon of Mr. and Mrs. Tousey. On Sunday, June 6th, Mr. and Mrs. Tousey, praising God for His mercy, partook of the Lord’s Supper in the very building they had used so long for the downfall of their fellowmen.”

Meanwhile, the sponsors of the official PCUSA sanctioned camp grew envious and used their power in the Winnebago Presbytery to try to coerce Perkins and his friends to discontinue the Crescent Lake ministry.  The supporters of the Crescent Lake Camp stood their ground with great determination, and would not yield to the pressure tactics.  When the Presbytery commanded Perkins to resign, he refused.

Not surprisingly, the situation took a judicial turn in 1935.  According to a witness for the prosecution, the whole purpose of the judicial case was “to crush Rev. Perkins.”  When charges were presented, the Presbytery voted to put Perkins on trial.  The vote was 29 for, 27 against.  Curiously, the charges against Perkins were “practically identical to the charges filed against members of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.   One of the specifications will give you a flavor of the case.  He was charged with “conduct unbecoming of a minister” for conducting a prayer-meeting in an independent church.   The Judicial Commission hearing the case was largely composed of those who opposed Perkins and the Crescent Lake Camp.  The charges that the defendant was tried on were not even the charges that had been voted on at the Presbytery meeting.  Predictably, Perkins was convicted by the Presbytery and suspended from the ministry for two years.  When he appealed to the Synod of Wisconsin, his appeal was denied, though his sentence was reduced to one year of suspension.  The 1936 PCUSA General Assembly held in Syracuse upheld his suspension.

When the new denomination was formed on June 11, 1936, it was Arthur Perkins who offered the opening prayer.  He was one of the 34 ministers listed on the roll of the first General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

The gravity of the ecclesiastical evil was not lost on the members of his church in Merrill.  According to a report from Rev. Perkins, on the Lord ’s Day, June 21st, 1936 a great gathering for worship was held in the American Legion hall at Merrill, Wisconsin.  Four out of five of his elders, all of the trustees and practically all of the officers of the various church organizations walked out of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., along with Mr. Perkins.  This congregation would unite with the Presbyterian Church of America at the first meeting of the new Presbytery of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, held just about a month later.

As I’ve already indicated, Arthur Perkins was the convener and first moderator of our Presbytery.  He also served as the first chairman of the Home Missions and Church Extension Committee.  They were given authority by the Presbytery to proceed with church extension work in the Presbytery, beginning on August 15 of that year.  All seemed to be going along well, yet not all was well for Arthur.

Apparently, the stress of that spiritual battle took its toll on Perkins.  In the report of the second General Assembly, held in November 1936 prayer was requested for the Rev. Arthur F. Perkins, who was reported seriously ill.  Likewise, at a Presbytery meeting held on December 10, 1936 prayer was offered for “the former Moderator, Rev. A.F. Perkins, who was ill in the sanitarium.”  It seems that he had a mental breakdown from which he never recovered.

On December 29, 1936 he passed from this life to the next.  Let me read again from the obituary from the Presbyterian Guardian.

“THE Rev. Arthur F. Perkins, pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of Merrill, Wisconsin, died on December 29th, 1936, in a hospital in Madison. His death is a blow, not only to the Presbytery of Wisconsin, but also to the entire Presbyterian Church of America. His fearless loyalty to the gospel, his readiness to suffer hardship for the glory of God, and his tireless efforts on behalf of the church will not soon be forgotten by those who knew him. After having held several pastorates in Wisconsin, Mr. Perkins came to the Merrill Presbyterian Church in 1931. The members had been discouraged, and Modernism had very nearly destroyed this once splendid church. But with the coming of Mr. Perkins, the church soon became stronger than it had been for many years. When the Syracuse Assembly suspended this servant of Christ because he, with others, started a Bible camp where young people could receive instruction according to the truth as it is in God’s Word, the Merrill congregation severed its relationship with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and organized the Community Presbyterian Church. To them belongs the honor of being the first church to join the Presbytery of Wisconsin of The Presbyterian Church of America. Mr. R. B. Page, a trustee of the Community Church, in  commenting on the death of his pastor, said, ” He always worked with great devotion and energy in behalf of his congregation- and at top speed. The result was that, when he had a chance to relax, his health was at a low point and he was just unable to overcome the nervous strain he had passed through.” The funeral services were held in the Community Presbyterian Church of Merrill on Friday, January 1st. The Rev. Ernest Tremblay, a friend of long standing and associated with Mr. Perkins in the Crescent Lake Bible School, paid a beautiful tribute to his life and work. He spoke of Mr. Perkins as a lover of young people, always eager to teach them the unsearchable riches of Christ. He said that Mr. Perkins was ever a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ who, without fear or favor of men, ever sought to please his Lord. “Mr. Perkins did not preach a social gospel,” Mr. Tremblay said, “he was a winner of souls, preaching the cross of Christ to those lost in sin.” The Rev. John J. De Waard, of Cedar Grove, preached the sermon on the text, “He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.” The Moderator of the Presbytery of Wisconsin, the Rev. W. H. Kielhorn, presided and led the people in prayer. The most beautiful tribute to this martyr of the faith was given by the people of the Community Church. After the service many said, “We have lost a loving pastor and a faithful minister of the Lord, but we will carry on the work in our community as we know he would like to have us do.”

On the same day as Perkin’s funeral, the infant church would lose yet another stalwart, as Dr. Machen would succumb to pneumonia in Bismarck, North Dakota,   At the 3rd General Assembly, held in June 1937, there is an interesting report from the Necrological Committee, where they commemorated three faithful ministers who had died – Machen, Perkins and the Rev. W.K. Fleck, of Delta, Pennsylvania.

Four Lessons from Our History

  1. We ought not to despise the day of small things. God delights to make something out of nothing – to take something small and insignificant and do great things with it.  If God is at work, size doesn’t matter at all
  2. We need to pour out our lives for the sake of the gospel. That is what Arthur Perkins did.  Going the length and breadth of Wisconsin to call men to Christ.
  3. We should not shy away from suffering for the sake of the gospel. The fight against modernism was so difficult that Arthur Perkins broke down.  He wasn’t burned at the stake, but he did die because of the gospel.
  4. We should not be surprised when God uses frail children of dust like us to bring great glory to His name, and advances for His glorious kingdom