David C. Lachman (1939-2023): A Tribute

David C. Lachman (1939-2023): A Tribute

Written by Frank J. Smith |
Monday, September 4, 2023

Dr. David C. Lachman (27 October, 1939 – 27 August, 2023) went to be with the Lord at the age of 83, after a period of slow decline beginning in 2018. He died peacefully in his own bed at his home of 41 years in Wyncote, PA, surrounded by his wife and three children. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, three children, and 12 grandchildren, his sister and brother, and relatives.

David was a gentleman in so many ways—polite, respectful, calm, quiet, peaceful, unflappable, and indeed gentle.  At an early age—when he was six years old—he had been conquered by God’s grace, and the resulting Christian character shone through for more than seven decades.  His care for those in need was demonstrated when he was a caseworker, walking without fear on streets in dangerous neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

David was also an eminent scholar.  He earned five academic degrees from four institutions: B.A. (Houghton College), M.A. (University of Pennsylvania), B.D. and Th.M. (Westminster Theological Seminary), and Ph.D. (University of St. Andrews in Scotland).  His dissertation on the Marrow Controversy was published by the Rutherford House.  He was one of the general editors of the Dictionary of Scottish Church History & Theology.  And he co-edited Worship in the Presence of God: A Collection of Essays on the Nature, Elements, and Historic Views and Practice of Worship, published in 1992.

Producing that 400-page book took a decade, taken up with recruiting authors, cajoling them into turning in their chapters, and a painstaking, word-by-word and comma-by-comma reviewing of their submissions.  I was the other co-editor of that volume.  It was my brainchild, but without David’s careful editing work and patient dealing with other authors, coupled with the intellectual respect he commanded, it would never have come to fruition.  This book was the first one in the twentieth century that promoted not just certain elements of worship (such as Psalmody) but the whole doctrine of worship from the perspective of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Perhaps the best way to illustrate the work’s significance is the fact that a noted writer who has vehemently rejected the regulative principle of worship felt compelled to write a whole book attacking Worship in the Presence of God.

In addition to this collection of essays, David’s other major contribution to the literature of the doctrine of worship was a 2005 article he co-authored for The Confessional Presbyterian, “Reframing Presbyterian Worship: A Critical Survey of the Worship Views of John M. Frame and R. J. Gore.

David’s academic prowess was put to good use in the classroom, as he taught courses at Westminster Theological Seminary and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.  But his church history expertise also came in handily in his chosen profession, which was that of antiquarian bookdealer.  For almost half a century, he transported treasures of the British Isles to America, importing tons of tomes—duty free, he would gleefully note, as antiquarian collectibles are not subject to tariffs.  What made him particularly successful was his virtually encyclopedic knowledge of books and Bibles.

Another aspect of his scholarship was his writing introductions to various reprint editions of old books.  Examples include two works by James Durham, The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal; and A Commentary upon Revelation; a book by Thomas Murphy, Pastoral Theology: The Pastor in the Various Duties of His Office; and a magisterial volume by George Gillespie, Aaron’s Rod Blossoming; or, the Divine Ordinance of Church Government Vindicated.  He wrote three entries for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and contributed a chapter to The Doctrine of the Church, an audiobook featuring Westminster Seminary faculty members.

David became one of the key suppliers of rare Bibles to multiple prominent displays, private and public.  Again, another example of his scholarship being put to practical use.

And there was another dimension where his scholarly ways served a public good, which was his life as a churchman.  Ordained as a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), he took his churchly duties seriously.  He often attended presbytery and General Assembly meetings.  He served as a parliamentarian of Philadelphia Presbytery, and also on the Assembly’s Committee on Constitutional Business.

And he was not afraid to engage in ecclesiastical battle, when such became necessary.  Like the founder of Westminster Seminary, J. Gresham Machen, a minister who was known as “Mr. Valiant-for-Truth,” and an academic who was no ivory-tower theologian, David was willing to fight for what he believed.  As acknowledged by everyone, he was principled, and not hesitant to do what he thought was right, no matter the cost.

David employed his intellectual and writing talents in ecclesiastical journalism.  For several years, as part of a reform movement within the PCA, he edited a magazine called The Presbyterian Advocate.  In a way reminiscent of the efforts of the Presbyterian Journal, which had exposed doctrinal decline in the Southern Presbyterian Church, The Presbyterian Advocate tirelessly targeted bureaucratic gibberish.  Consideration of his journalistic efforts leads me to note that though he was respected, he was not always loved—in point of fact, many times, he was feared by churchmen, not because he was mean-spirited, but because they instinctively understood that he had a better grasp of the principles at stake.

His going on the offensive theologically speaking should not be viewed as being contradictory to his general genteel nature.  David was like a Medieval noble knight who respects women, is kind to children, and can even be compassionate toward his opponents.  At the same time, with lance-like accuracy, David punctured pomposity and skewered inconsistency.  One memorable editorial, which pointed out the nonsense in a particular denominational publication, ended with words from Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”: “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.”

That last anecdote illustrates another side to David, which was his sense of humor.  He enjoyed a good joke—and he could laugh at himself, too.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that in addition to everything else, David was a friend.  I knew him for four decades.  He often lent a sympathetic ear to me as I wrestled with various struggles, whether personal or in the ministry.  Many a time during the period when we were putting together that book on worship, and even after we had completed it, I would call him at, oh, around midnight, and talk into the wee hours of the morning.  I thereupon was anointed by the Lachman children of having attained, along with others, the honorable status of being one of the “lunatic fringe.”

David C. Lachman was a good man and a great man.  He may not be known as widely as some of today’s PCA superstars, but his contributions to church history will be celebrated in generations to come.  At times, it takes the fog of war to dissipate before we can see clearly who the true heroes and the truly significant figures are.  I can think of at least three ways that his work will be seen by historians as impactful.

One, he set a pattern of faithfulness—of commitment to principle—which can encourage others to follow.

Two, he was fundamentally correct on the principles for which he contended.

Three, his actions demonstrate both tactical and strategic positioning.  For example, David’s journalistic endeavor was a harbinger of today’s bloggers—largely laymen—who are active in the current reform efforts in the PCA.  Also, his writings on worship helped lay the foundation for a rediscovery of historic Presbyterian worship.

A gentleman and a scholar.  A churchman and a friend.  Dr. David C. Lachman lived a full life.  I will miss him.  I already miss not being able to pick up the phone and give him a call (even if, in recent years, doing so was at more reasonable hours!).  But I look forward to seeing him again, robed with the Redeemer’s righteousness, and engaging with him in perfect worship that will be pure and entire, throughout all eternity.

Sometimes, in reflecting on heaven, David would say that he didn’t know exactly what it would be like, except that it would be far more wonderful than we could imagine.  Indeed.  May God give all of us that childlike, wonder-filled faith and hope on our pilgrimage toward the Celestial City.

Frank J. Smith is Pastor of Atlanta Reformed Presbyterian Church.

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