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Bible Presbyterian Church of Collingswood, Inc. v. Harvey Cedars Bible Conference Inc.

Decided: July 6, 1964.


Goldmann, Kilkenny and Collester. The opinion of the court was delivered by Goldmann, S.j.a.d.


[84 NJSuper Page 442] Plaintiffs brought an action in the Chancery Division seeking the following relief: (1) setting aside and cancelling a certificate of change of defendant's certificate of incorporation, as an act in fraud of plaintiffs and those who worship according to the doctrines and tenets of the Bible Presbyterian Church; (2) restoring defendant's corporate name to Harvey Cedars Bible Presbyterian Conference, Inc.; (3) enjoining the diversion and alienation of defendant's assets; and (4) removing from office all trustee-members of defendant on the ground that they had breached their trust with Harvey Cedars Bible Presbyterian Conference, Inc., by joining in such diversion. The basic argument

advanced for such relief was that defendant, by changing its certificate of incorporation, had diverted its property away from the Bible Presbyterian denomination to non-denominational purposes, thereby violating R.S. 16:1-25. After taking extensive proofs the trial court dismissed the complaint, stating,

"I cannot find from the testimony presented that there has been a change of purpose, a change of activities, a change of dedication of the functions of the defendant which in my opinion are sufficient to say that there has been a diversion of this property."


Defendant Harvey Cedars Bible Conference, Inc. was incorporated in 1941 under the name of Harvey Cedars Bible Presbyterian Conference, Inc., as a non-profit corporation under R.S. 15:1-1 et seq. Plaintiffs McIntire, Burkett and Murray were among the individuals responsible for the creation of that corporation. The certification of incorporation stated that one of the purposes for which defendant was formed was the furtherance of the work of the Bible Presbyterian Church. A word about that church is in order.

In the years 1934-36 a schism developed in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America ("Presbyterian Church USA"), now know as United Presbyterian Church. Plaintiff McIntire was directly involved in the controversy. At that time he was pastor of the Collingswood Presbyterian Church, incorporated under the General Religious Societies Act of 1875 (R.S. 16:1-1 et seq.). By 1936 the Collingswood Presbyterian Church had acquired real and personal property.

The conflict which brought about the split within Presbyterian Church USA was over a mandate which had issued forbidding a particular missionary expression. McIntire disobeyed this mandate, was charged with insubordination, tried by the judicial machinery of the Church, found guilty and suspended. The suspension was affirmed on appeal, and on

June 30, 1936 he was deposed from the ministry. McIntire renounced the authority of Presbyterian Church USA and continued to preach. His segment of the Collingswood congregation adopted resolutions repudiating the authority of Presbyterian Church USA over the Collingswood church. This group retained possession of the church property and resisted the efforts of loyal elements to use that property. This resulted in a Chancery action to get the property back from McIntire and to prevent its use for any purpose not consonant with the constitution, usages and customs of Presbyterian Church USA. In Kelly v. McIntire , 123 N.J. Eq. 351 (1938), Chancery granted the relief sought, directed that the property be held for those members loyal to Presbyterian Church USA, and enjoined McIntire from carrying on as minister in the Collingswood Presbyterian Church until his censures were removed and his right to be minister restored.

Out of this schism came the Bible Presbyterian Church. Synods of the denomination were held in successive years, beginning with the first in Collingswood on September 6-7, 1938.

McIntire and his adherents joined in the formation of the Bible Presbyterian Church and its organization into presbyteries and synod, along the general ecclesiastical lines of Presbyterian Church USA. With respect to property, however, a significantly different method and control were adopted. In light of what had happened in Kelly v. McIntire , the McIntire faction made certain that each individual congregation would own its own property, which would not be owned or controlled by any other ecclesiastical unit or organization. Chapter 20 of the Bible Presbyterian Church constitution provided:

"1. The General Synod, the several presbyteries and the several churches may maintain corporations to handle affairs pertaining to property and other temporal matters, which do not come properly under the jurisdiction of the courts themselves.

4. All particular churches shall be entitled to hold, own, and enjoy their own local properties, without any right of reversion

whatsoever to the Bible Presbyterian Church, its presbyteries, synods, or any other courts hereafter created, its trustees or other officers.

5. The provisions of this chapter are to be construed as a solemn covenant whereby the Church as a whole undertakes never to attempt to secure possession of the property of any congregation against its will, whether or not such congregation remains within or chooses to withdraw from this body. All officers and courts of the Church are hereby prohibited from making any such attempt. The provisions of sections 4 and 5 of this chapter are unamendable and irrevocable."

Subsequent incorporations were therefore effected under the General Religious Societies Act, R.S. 16:1-1 et seq. , rather than under the Presbyterian Act, R.S. 16:11-1 et seq. Further, agencies of the Bible Presbyterian Church were deliberately established as completely independent entities.

The Bible Presbyterian Church flourished and expanded from 1938 until about 1955, consisting of a loose grouping of individual autonomous congregations, each capable of withdrawing from the larger group and of taking its property with it, as provided by those sections of the constitution just quoted. As the denomination expanded, there were established various ecclesiastical functions, such as colleges, seminaries, foreign missions and homes for the aged, all on an independent basis and operating independently. From the time of its establishment in 1941 defendant was in this category of independent agencies, not subject to outside control.

It would appear that at the time of the St. Louis, Mo., and Columbus, Ohio, Synods of the Bible Presbyterian Church, held in 1955 and 1956, respectively, the delegates showed strong dissatisfaction with the methods used by McIntire and his attempt to dominate the independent agencies of the denomination. As a result, the Synod voted to pull out of the councils dominated by McIntire, among them the American Council of Christian Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches. When the Synod took this action, McIntire decided to form a denomination of his own. Instead of processing his complaints ...

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