There is an unwritten rule that almost has the binding authority of a commandment among most Presbyterians. Every natural born Presbyterian knows this rule from birth. Every convert to Presbyterianism soon learns it. It is not directly taught in any new members class, but the culture of most Presbyterian congregations display it. I once observed this rule being flagrantly violated by a congregant at a Sunday evening worship service at the august assembly of the First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS. That happened circa 1972. It was a visible shock to the sensibilities of the other members of the church who sat there in stunned disbelief. The pastor of the church, Don Patterson, was taken aback by this ‘violation’, but regained his senses in time to turn towards the congregant and say, “Thank you, George.” What else could he have done without causing an even greater uproar? This rule has never been defined or even stated as far as I know, but it exists, nonetheless. What is this rule, you might ask? Well, here it is:
Thou shalt not get excited—especially during a worship service.
The congregant mentioned above was George Lemon. He had as exaggerated of a drawl as you can imagine. On that occasion, he blurted out, “Amen.” It seemed to take him a full five seconds to get it all out. I had never heard an “Amen” at First Presbyterian Church before, but I have to admit that I had not been a member there but for about a year since I am a convert to Presbyterianism. That was long enough for me to become indoctrinated in that unwritten rule. Now I have observed Presbyterians break this rule many times in their personal lives. Ruling elders have become very excited, even angry, in session meetings. Church members have become very excited when their sports teams won a big game. But they almost never get excited at church—unless the minister preaches against their favorite sins.
I was thinking about this unwritten rule during my trip to Boston last week. I met with TE Nathan Hays and his wife, Anna, along with some other people in the new mission work he is starting. Both Nathan and Anna, and others, kept telling me how excited they are that God has raised up Vanguard Presbytery and that they can be a part of it. I have found that that word, “excited”, keeps being used by people who are affiliating with Vanguard. Joshua Light wrote me an email a few months back that the ministers who had been examined by the Credentials Committee for transfer had all expressed how excited they were about this new denomination. I received an email from a person on my email list last week and here is what he wrote: “I am praying for Vanguard and for you, and very excited at what the Lord is doing through your efforts.” There is that word again—excited. A minister who is now in Vanguard told me last Spring, “We are as excited about Vanguard as a teenager with a new girlfriend. We are trying not to be so excited.” That minister probably is very much aware of the eleventh commandment of Presbyterianism and that is why he was trying to tamp down his excitement. It did not work for him, though. He and his congregation joined Vanguard and are still excited.
I could give many more examples, but I want to let you in on a secret. There is no eleventh commandment. There are only ten commandments and there will never be any more than that. Here is another secret. It is okay for Presbyterians to get excited. It is okay to be excited about a new denomination that is earnestly seeking to follow Scripture in all things. In fact, it is okay to be excited about the Lord and to openly express that excitement.
In studying the history of revivals, I have been impressed with the enthusiasm and excitement that is always found wherever the Holy Spirit is moving. When Andrew decided to follow Jesus, he first found his brother, Simon Peter, and told him, “We have found the Messiah.” I cannot imagine that Andrew uttered those words in a monotone voice or as an unimportant aside. His heart was thrilled. He was probably trembling with excitement. The long-awaited Messiah had been found! When the woman at the well told the men of Samaria that she had met One who had told her all the things she had done, I am positive that it was not an unemotional statement. I envision her hurriedly running into the city and excitedly telling the men about this One. The result was that many people left the city and came to Jesus. And many more believed in Him as the Savior of the world. These people were all excited.
I could give many examples, but I will restrict myself to that period which I have studied in detail—the Great Awakening. The cold and formal Old Light Presbyterians were greatly offended by the excitement of these New Light Presbyterians and all the unusual things that were happening at their churches—people were weeping, crying, and swooning under the preaching of the revival preachers. These bodily commotions caused the more formal ministers to castigate the revival as a great delusion and a work of the devil. After all, “you shall not get excited—especially during a worship service.” In answer to these condemnations of the revival, the great Samuel Davies responded, “Scripture often makes use of bodily effects, to express the strength of holy and spiritual affections.” (Samuel Davies: Apostle to Virginia, p. 124).
The truth of what Davies wrote is known by all of us intuitively. When we feel something deeply, it will cause us to overflow with joy or, perhaps, be cast down with grief. The emotions affect the body. Every young man who ever fell in love can say with Solomon as he did for his bride, “You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes” (Song of Solomon 4:9b). It is hard for me to imagine any young lover not being able to identify with that feeling. Such a fast heart beat is thrilling excitement. I can still identify with that feeling for my bride after nearly 42 years of marriage. It just takes one look from her to make by heart beat fast.
It is a great sign, it is a wonderful sign, that ministers and churches are coming into Vanguard Presbytery with excitement in their hearts. That is much better in every respect than the approach which retains a dour countenance, a stiff upper lip, and a stoic attitude about spiritual matters. I am afraid such people feel, after all, that one simply must not get excited. I was a good Presbyterian for many years in XYZ denomination. There was seldom anything that excited me about that denomination. That unwritten eleventh commandment of Presbyterianism almost strangled the life out of me and almost kept me in a denomination that has synthesized the differences between evangelicalism and liberalism in a true Hegelian manner. (Hegel taught that the reconciliation of thesis and antithesis is synthesis). We see that Hegelian dialectic taking over all of society and the church. Instead of agreeing with the Scripture that a practicing homosexual is outside the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10), the new synthesis says that a person can be both a Christian and a homosexual. It says that a minister can preach both Jesus and Marx. It says that the gospel is not inconsistent with the Marxist Black Lives Matter movement. For an evangelical there is no joy or excitement in dealing with such nonsense day by day.
So, why do some people feel that they must soldier on in such difficult circumstances? I can best answer that question by an illustration. My first church was in Bailey, MS, north of Meridian, MS. Before I moved on the field, my father told me, “Dewey, there is only one thing wrong with Meridian. Those people do not know the Great Depression is over.” That was in 1976. He was right. Well, there are a lot of Presbyterians, particularly Presbyterian ministers, who do not realize that it is okay to be excited. They must think it is more spiritual to be downcast than to have the joy of the Lord as their strength. But they are wrong. It is okay to be excited. In fact, my recommendation is that you should ask yourself this question: Does this service, this church, this denomination excite me? Yes, I realize that not every task is exciting, but choose the arduous task in an exciting cause over the mundane task in an unexciting cause.
At our zoom presbytery meeting on Monday evening of this week, Vanguard approved the transfer of TE Nathan Hays (a Navy reserve chaplain and a prison chaplain) and received the following churches/mission churches: Chalcedon Presbyterian Church in Cumming, GA; Vanguard Chapel in Alexandria, LA (Michael Frazier is working with that group); New Braunfels Mission, New Braunfels, TX (Dick Jones is the organizing pastor); and a mission church in Norwood, MA (TE Hays is starting that group). We now have 14 churches, 3 mission churches, and 21 ministers. There will be other churches and mission churches joining us. We are also already multi-cultural and multi-racial even though that has never been our main goal. Our goal is simply to preach the gospel and to practice James 2:1-4. The other things have happened organically for which we praise the Lord.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery
P. S. Contributions can be made to Vanguard Presbytery by sending checks to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.