As I begin writing today’s article (June 24, 2021), there is news of a devastating collapse of part of a condo building at Surfside, Florida near Miami. It is not yet known what caused it, but some locals have opined that it was probably a sinkhole that caused the collapse. It brings to mind what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount about the necessity of building on rock instead of sand. A good foundation is absolutely essential to the erection of a large building.
One of the questions I am asked wherever I meet with groups of people who are distressed with the present circumstances of the modern church is this: What will Vanguard Presbytery do to prevent it from going the way of other denominations? That is a great question. It is also a question that has occupied much of our attention in seeking to establish this new denomination. Here are some of the answers we have to that question.
First, every part of a denomination must be founded on the Scripture with Christ being the chief cornerstone. We believe in the regulative principle in every area of the life of the Church—doctrine, worship, and polity. Polity is the area which is greatly neglected. The Book of Church Order of most denominations is changed more frequently than fashion changes the way people dress. Yet, true Scriptural polity is unchanged and unchanging because Scripture does not change, truth does not change, and God does not change. All governments tend to grow bigger, not smaller. That should not be the case with Scriptural polity. The purposes of church government are to uphold Scriptural doctrine and discipline while protecting church members from the tyranny of man-made rules. Sadly, most amendments to a denomination’s polity are in the direction of a more hierarchical, more controlling denomination. Vanguard Presbytery believes it is necessary to get the polity right from the beginning and make it difficult to change or else the destruction of the denomination is inevitable. Thus, here are some of the unique things about Vanguard’s BCO (unique, but not unscriptural).
1. Vanguard’s BCO will be difficult (though not impossible) to amend. Any proposed amendment must show why the change is necessary and give Scriptural examples of that necessity; it must show how it intends to correct any vagaries, errors, or omissions; and, it must show how such an amendment will impact the church and her courts. Additionally, an amendment must be passed by ¾ majority at the first General Assembly, ¾ of the presbyteries, and ¾ vote at the second General Assembly. Changes to the BCO are primary ways in which denominations fall.
2. Matthew 18:15-18 is the basic principle of all church discipline. Christ’s solution is this: “tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17b). Most modern books of polity get into a lot of legal distinctions between complaints and appeals. You cannot find such distinctions between complaints and appeals in the words ‘tell it to the church.’ An appeal stops the action of the lower court, but a complaint does not. Why is this important? I have personally witnessed too many times when courts have refused to have a trial of a matter, but would take the judicial actions allowable only if a trial had been conducted. Only a person who has sat through a trial can appeal a matter. So, that meant that the person wrongly disciplined without a trial was shut up to making a complaint to the higher court. Yet, even if a complaint is upheld it does not change the decision of the lower court and the evil effects that have ensued. In Vanguard Presbytery, we believe it is best to interpret Jesus’ words as applying to both an appeal and a complaint. Both are telling it to the church. The final action cannot be taken until the church has been told and has made her decision.
3. The Scripture is the foundation of Vanguard Presbytery’s Constitution. Unlike circumstances I often witnessed in another denomination, Scripture can be used to determine the right decision. It is not right for people to argue: “You cannot quote the Scripture because it is not part of our Constitution.” Presbyterianism is supposed to be based on the principles of Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council. Peter and Paul quoted Scripture and so should we!
4. Hierarchy is not permitted in Vanguard Presbytery. Our BCO does not allow permanent committees, boards, and agencies at the General Assembly level. Such boards only lead to controlling the denomination administratively from the top down. The Great Commission will be fulfilled by churches, sessions, and presbyteries where such efforts can be given appropriate oversight.
Second, a church that is built on the right foundation must guard the front door. Vanguard Presbytery has adopted some very important positions while not attempting to decide all questions. There are things that are essential and which we have seen lead to the destruction of a denomination when permitted. There very well might be pastors and churches that slip in through deception. After all, there was a ‘demon’ among the disciples of Jesus (though Jesus was not deceived by Judas). Yet, denominations which are very loose with respect to those they allow to become a part of them always fail. Always. Vanguard will be necessarily strict in guarding the front door. We will not be overly strict, but we will not allow exceptions to the Westminster Standards. Also, we will require officers to subscribe to our various Affirmations.
Third, a denomination must be willing to use the back door to remove those who are unrepentant in their sins. That is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 18:17—“let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Paul taught the same thing in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. The unwillingness to exercise discipline is a great reason why denominations fall. There was an anonymously penned “Open Letter” recently written to the PCA (and published on The Aquila Report) which pretended to be irenic, but actually made numerous unproven, unsubstantiated accusations against unnamed persons and groups. To date, it has been signed by 707 ministers and elders in the PCA. Most people read that letter with a shrug of their shoulders. That is a mistake. The anonymous authors of that Open Letter have engaged in slander. The signers have agreed with it. They cannot prove their accusations. And that is one reason that the authors have not identified themselves. Yet, the signers are not off the hook for that reason. If people in the PCA really wanted to deal with the problems in the denomination, they would deal with the situation according to BCO 31-9—“Every voluntary prosecutor shall be previously warned, that if he fail to show probable cause of the charges, he may himself be censured as a slanderer of the brethren.” Every person who signed that Open Letter is a voluntary prosecutor of the unnamed persons against whom they are bringing charges. They are agreeing to the slanderous statements which are neither documented nor substantiated. A denomination that is so divided against itself as that cannot stand. Every presbytery where those ministers and elders reside should address that matter and make those signers either prove the accusations or retract their signature under censure. That is why I have always been careful to quote people and actions. To do otherwise is slander and slander is censurable. And it does not make any difference whether or not the slanderer is a former Moderator of the General Assembly or not. The ninth commandment is clear. We must not bear false witness. If false witness, same-sex attraction (which is lust), or any other breach of the Ten Commandments is allowed, there is not way for a denomination to last. If a departure from any of the fundamentals of the faith is allowed, a denomination cannot stand. The back door must be used when necessary.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery
For more information about Vanguard Presbytery go to: www.vanguardpresbytery.com
To donate to Vanguard Presbytery, send it to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540