One of the criticisms of Vanguard Presbytery that I have heard in certain circles is that we did not start in the Presbyterian way. What does that even mean? There is nothing in the Scripture that gives us the “Presbyterian way” that new denominations are supposed to start. There is nothing in any Presbyterian denomination’s book of polity that gives a guideline on how pastors and churches should leave one denomination in order to start another one.
Does starting a new denomination in a Presbyterian way mean that there should be a group of both teaching and ruling elders who work together to formulate a plan on when to leave one denomination and start another one? If so, Vanguard Presbytery was started in a Presbyterian way. There was a coalition of the willing who started Vanguard and that coalition became the Steering Committee. This new denomination has been a collaborative effort from the beginning. Many people have offered their ideas and suggestions and the Steering Committee listened to each of them. When the decision was made to start Vanguard Presbytery on January 26, 2020 it was the decision of the whole Steering Committee gathered for a meeting in Birmingham, AL. This new presbytery is still a collaborative effort and we continue to receive helpful feedback from many people.
Does starting a new denomination in a Presbyterian way mean that it should be based on Scriptural church government? Well, Vanguard Presbytery checks that box also. We have worked hard to develop a truly Scriptural church government and are still working on certain aspects of the proposed BCO. The big issues have been resolved and the members of the Steering Committee and the members of the presbytery have agreed in principle to them. We do not want a quasi-Presbyterian form of government or a hybrid form of Episcopal church government. We want true Scriptural government with the basic principle being that all church power is ministerial and declarative only. Christ is the King and Head of the Church and that is why hierarchy and bureaucracy are wrong.
Does starting a new denomination in a Presbyterian way mean that it should be true to the reformed faith? Once again, that is true of Vanguard Presbytery. Our views are out there for anyone and everyone to read. None can impugn our theology as being contrary to the Scripture. We are a full subscription denomination in a day of latitudinarianism. We hold to the full historicity of the Scripture in a time when well-known pastors want to explain away Adam and Eve, the Genesis flood, the parting of the Red Sea, and numerous other things. So Vanguard is evangelical and reformed in the best sense of those words.
Does starting a new denomination in a Presbyterian way mean that it should preach the gospel above all else. How can anyone doubt that about Vanguard Presbytery? We are not social justice warriors or cultural Marxists. We believe that only the gospel can meet man’s deepest needs and minister to his heart.
Or, perhaps, are people really saying that Vanguard Presbytery did not start in a Presbyterian way because it did not wait to get approval from all those who identify as conservatives in the PCA? By that standard, there is neither any Presbyterian church in the world today nor is there even a true Christian church. That standard for starting a new denomination sets the bar so high that no denomination has ever reached it.
Even after Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and poured out His Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the believers in Jerusalem remained in the Jewish religion and continued to offer sacrifices. A great persecution came on the Church and they were scattered everywhere in Acts 8. But many of them stayed in Jerusalem and continued their Jewish practices alongside their new faith in Christ. That caused a lot of problems for the true Church. There was the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 which discussed the important matter of the Gentile converts. There was the dissension in the church at Antioch when Paul had to rebuke Peter to his face for withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentile believers. There was the bad advice that James gave Paul in Acts 21 which led to the latter being arrested and eventually being sent to Rome. What all this proves is that the New Testament Church was not started because all the leaders came together and reached a consensus decision. God led people in different ways and at different times. It is important, therefore, to realize that when an individual becomes convinced by the Spirit of God that he needs to leave a denomination because it has trampled on an essential doctrine of Scripture, then we must wish him well. We should not yell after him, “You were wrong to leave until we all came to the same conviction.” And those who leave must allow their brothers who have remained behind that same liberty of conscience because Christ alone is Lord of the conscience.
The same thing is true about the Protestant Reformation. There were for over a century numerous reformers of the Catholic Church who had worked diligently to revive the Church from within. They all met the same fate—death. Then, God raised up a new, young reformer—Martin Luther. Luther was called before the Diet of Worms in 1521 to answer charges against him. It was there that he made his famous statement—“Here I stand. I can do no other.” Luther was allowed to leave, but there were those who were lying in wait to kill him even as other reformers had been killed. Luther was hidden at the Wartburg Church for a year before beginning his astounding ministry. Luther was one man—not a coalition. There were some who thought the right thing was to stay in the Church and reform from within. If it takes a consensus of all the known leaders before anyone can leave the Church, then Luther was in error and the whole Protestant movement was wrong. The Catholics would agree. But I will not agree. Neither did Luther agree with that view. He was willing to stand alone if necessary and it was.
Then, the Puritan era proves that a consensus of all the conservative leaders is simply not possible. There were Puritans who remained in the Church of England to reform it from within. They were not very successful. Many of them lost their churches on Black Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1762. Many of them lost their lives. Many of them were thrown into prison. Others of them were exiled to Holland or the American colonies. There were Puritans who were also Separatists. That is my conviction. There was no consensus among the Puritans on this issue. Yet, no Puritan had the right to say that the Separatists were wrong for leaving the Church of England or for refusing to use the liturgy of that communion. “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Each person—not each group or each denomination. Each person.
We could multiply examples to the same end. There is no Scriptural support for saying that a person should not leave a denomination until there is a consensus of others who agree with him. That would be to make the conscience of each person subject to the group. Individual liberty is destroyed by that approach. There would be no such thing as liberty of conscience.
When the PCA was formed, there were those who left before others. They started the original Vanguard Presbytery in southeast Georgia. Then, there were a few other presbyteries formed afterwards for the same purpose. Meanwhile, there was a Steering Committee that was working to form a new denomination. I remember those days. None of this happened because everyone waited until the right moment to walk out of a designated General Assembly in masse. There were plans that were made and details that were worked out ahead of time. Our new Vanguard Presbytery has been following that blueprint. Yet, there were also many conservatives withing the PCUS who said, “This is not the right time to leave.” Sadly, there will always be people who say such things.
If you wish to contribute to Vanguard Presbytery, you can send a check to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO BOX 1862, Destin, FL 32540.
TE Michael Frazier, whose carport and car were damaged by Hurricane Laura and who suffered heart problems after working hard to clean everything up, asks for prayer for the beginning of Vanguard Chapel in Alexandria, LA where he will serve as the pastor. They will hold their Grand Opening service this Sunday, September 13, 2020.
In His service,
Dewey Roberts, Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL