Ramsey v. Hicks

Decision Date31 March 1910
Docket Number21,608
PartiesRamsey et al. v. Hicks et al
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Rehearing Denied June 28, 1910, Reported at: 174 Ind. 428 at 456.

From Superior Court of Vanderburgh County; Alexander Gilchrist Judge.

Action by James W. Ramsey and others against Joseph P. Hicks and others. From a judgment for defendants, plaintiffs appeal. Transferred from Appellate Court (see 44 Ind.App. 490) under § 1394 Burns 1908 subd. 2, Acts 1901 p. 565, § 10.


William Reister, George W. Shaw, W. C. Caldwell and Heffernan &amp Mattingly, for appellants.

A. P. Humphrey, John M. Gaut, Joel E. Williamson, Ogdon & Inman and Hastings, Allen & Hastings, for appellees.


Montgomery, J.

Appellants as trustees of the Washington congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in Daviess county, Indiana, brought suit in ejectment to recover possession of a certain lot, with the church building and manse situate thereon, and damages for the unlawful detention thereof. Appellees answered by general denial. The cause was sent, on application for a change of venue, to the Superior Court of Vanderburgh County, where a trial resulted in a finding and judgment in favor of appellees.

The overruling of appellant's motion for a new trial is the only alleged error. The grounds of the motion for a new trial are that the decision of the court is not sustained by sufficient evidence and is contrary to law.

The lot in question was conveyed in 1854, by general warranty deed, to certain named persons, "trustees of the Washington congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in Daviess county, Indiana," for a stated consideration of $ 85.

This controversy grew out of the union or merger, in 1906, of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church with the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; and the question for settlement is, Who is the legal successor of the original grantee named in this deed? Appellees favored union of these churches, concurred in the action of the general assemblies declaring such union accomplished, and hence represent the united church, and as such representatives claim title to the property. Appellants deny the authority of the general assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church to effect a merger or union with another church, dispute the validity of the action taken, refuse to acquiesce therein, and, retaining the original name, claim to be the true Washington congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the rightful and legal owner of the property in dispute. The civil courts have jurisdiction over the subject-matter of the title to property, and their judgment has been invoked by the parties; hence we are required, though reluctant to do so, to enter upon the consideration of a controversy which inevitably involves the domain of ecclesiastical jurisprudence. The paramount question submitted is the validity or binding force of the union of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which, for brevity, we shall style the Cumberland Church, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, which we shall designate as the Presbyterian Church, as respects both the parties to this action and the civil courts. Under our view of the law governing such cases as this, it will not be necessary to set out the declared doctrines and polity of these churches at very great length.

The distinctive name, presbyterianism, indicates primarily a system of church government embodying the belief that the management of the new testament church is in the hands of representatives of the people called presbyters. Presbyterianism, as it exists, is both a polity and a doctrine. Its doctrine is commonly known as Calvinism; and its polity consists of self-government through chosen representatives, rejecting alike the rule of one man and the rule of the extemporized and irresponsible assembly. All branches of the Presbyterian Church are founded essentially on the Westminster standards, which consist of six books: Confession of Faith, Larger Catechism, Shorter Catechism, Form of Government, Directory of Worship and Book of Discipline. The first three books are doctrinal, and the last three relate to government and worship. The Presbyterian Church, represented by appellees, adhered to the Westminster confession of faith, which, among other things, declared that

"God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass. * * * By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. * * * Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified and saved but the elect only. The rest of mankind, God was pleased * * * to pass by and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. * * * Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the spirit, who worketh when, and where and how He pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons, who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the word."

The governing body in each presbyterian congregation is the church session, consisting of the pastor, when there is one, and one or more elders. A presbytery consists of all the ministers, in number not less than five, and one ruling elder from each congregation, within a certain district. A synod embraces at least three presbyteries, and consists of ministers and ruling elders from the local churches. The general assembly is the highest authority in the church, and is a representative body composed of ministers and ruling elders selected by each of the presbyteries. A controversy arising in any of these bodies may be carried by appeal to the higher judicatories successively, until the general assembly is reached, whose decision is final. Each member joining the church agrees to abide by the church laws, rules and regulations.

The first Presbyterian Church on this continent was formed about the middle of the seventeenth century, and in 1785 the synods of New York and Philadelphia took steps for the union of all the presbyterian bodies, which culminated in the formation and meeting of the first general assembly, May 21, 1789.

The first constituent body of the Cumberland Church, as an independent organization, was a presbytery formed by three presbyterian ministers on February 4, 1810, in Dickson county, Tennessee. This action was the outgrowth of a revival and spiritual awakening which swept over the western wilderness in 1800 and succeeding years. This movement offended the Presbyterian Church, for four reasons: (1) The joyous emotions and demonstrations of converts were looked upon as fanatical and not consistent with soberness and good order; (2) the mourner's bench, campmeeting, and other measures adopted to promote the revival, were condemned as unscriptural, and the lowering of educational standards, in licensing men as exhorters and evangelists to meet the demand for ministers, was regarded as un-presbyterian; (3) the pleading of revivalists with sinners to accept salvation, freely offered to all, seemed a denial of the certainty and definiteness of the eternal decrees taught by the Westminster confession of faith, and (4) the men licensed as evangelists were ordained by the revival ministers, with permission to adopt the confession of faith, except "the idea of fatality," as it seemed to be taught in that book. This constituted the irreconcilable offense. The Cumberland Church entertained a lingering hope of reconciliation and reunion with the mother church, until the growth of the church necessitated the formation of the Cumberland synod in 1813, which was the act of final separation. In 1814 the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church recognized the division as final, and thereafter dealt with the Cumberland Church as a sister evangelical denomination.

The distinctive belief of the Cumberland Church on doctrinal points of dissent from the Westminster confession is concisely stated as follows:

"(1) That there are no eternal reprobates; (2) that Christ did not die for part only, but for all mankind; (3) that all infants dying in infancy are saved through Christ and the sanctification of the spirit; (4) that the operations of the Holy Spirit are coextensive with the atonement--that is, on the whole world in such a manner as to leave it without excuse."

The polity and governmental methods of the two churches are conceded to be substantially alike.

In 1829 a general assembly of the Cumberland Church was formed and convened, and in 1883 the general assembly adopted a constitution for that church, which was duly ratified and approved by the presbyteries. The following provisions of this constitution are deemed relevant:

"(40) The general assembly is the highest court of this church, and represents in one body all the particular churches thereof. It bears the title of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and constitutes the bond of union, peace, correspondence and mutual confidence among all its churches and the courts. * * * It shall meet as often as once every two years * * * and shall consist of commissioners from the presbyteries. * * * (43) The general assembly shall have the power to receive and decide all appeals, references and complaints regularly brought before it from the inferior courts; to bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in

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