On consecutive days last week, two people mentioned to me that events in their church reminded them of the Apostolic church. Both people are in Vanguard Presbytery congregations. One person is a lady in a Vanguard mission church that was started in 2020. They began with 2-3 families and have recently had as many as 47 people in their services. There were some difficult days early on and this lady wrote me that they were planting their flag in the ground and would do everything in their power to have a successful mission church. When I called her last week, she said, “I have been reading through Acts again and this mission church reminds me of the Apostolic church.”
The next evening, I was sharing with the members of my church who meet on Wednesday evenings about the personal tragedy that has affected our family. One of the members commented: “This is the way the early church dealt with things.” That is, they had all things in common and shared one another’s burdens. Certainly, Vanguard Presbytery churches are not alone in experiencing such fellowship and prayer and devotion to the Apostle’s teaching and taking their meals together, but there is something wonderful happening among our congregations. My conversations with a number of pastors and elders and church members indicates to me that there is a return to the spirit of true Christianity that is happening among us.
Those of you who have received these emails for any length of time have read that our emphasis in Vanguard Presbytery is on being New Side-Old School Presbyterians. The New Side Presbyterians experienced a revival of the spirit of true Christianity in the mid-18th century. They witnessed amazing conversions in great numbers and they saw many who became sincere followers of Christ. The great Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones often described the Great Awakening period as the closest approximation to true Christianity since the days of the Apostles. I certainly agree with that assessment and am always leery of people (even theology professors) who are dismissive of or opposed to the Great Awakening. For myself, I have read more about that particular period of church history than any other. I encourage every minister to do the same.
Then, Vanguard Presbytery attempts to continue in the doctrinal integrity of the Old School Presbyterians during the 19th century. Progressivism in theology did not start in America over the past decade. It has been ongoing for at least 300 years. Both the New Side Presbyterians and the Old School Presbyterians revolted against that progressivism. Samuel Davies once commented about such latitudinarianism that he had observed that wherever it prevailed there was a declension of serious Christianity and the pursuit after holiness. I certainly agree. The same words could be stated concerning progressive Christianity in modern America. Such progressivism gives lip service to many evangelical doctrines, but look closer at it. You will observe that there is great looseness concerning morals and spirituality.
Of course, the Scripture gives us the keys to the spirit of true Christianity in Acts 2:42, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We often talk about the marks of the church which are generally summarized as faithful adherence to Scriptural doctrine, to discipline, and to the right administration of the Lord’s Supper. Acts 2 refers to two of those marks—doctrine and the sacraments—but it also gives two other marks. In other places, particularly Acts 5, the book of Acts refers to the necessity of discipline. But Acts 2:42 gives us two other marks of the church which are often neglected—fellowship and prayer. Those last two are marks of the spirit of true Christianity. It also strikes me as very strange that there are many pastors and churches who lift up the three marks of the church as the gold standard, but then they themselves are sadly deficient concerning the matter of discipline. When their denominations fail to remove those who cause dissensions or practice immorality, they respond as though discipline is not a mark of the church. Paul wrote to the Romans concerning trouble makers, “turn away from them” (Romans 16:17). True discipline works like this. Either the church exercises discipline or God’s people have to remove themselves from the church when the courts cease to work for righteousness. There simply is nothing in Scripture that says God’s people are to stay and fight within a denomination or congregation that has turned away from the spirit and doctrinal integrity of the gospel.
All of this is relevant because the spiritual blessings that are happening in Vanguard congregations, I wholly believe, are the result of us removing ourselves from the misguided fellowship between light and darkness. There is no such true fellowship between such different parties. If fellowship is a mark of the church—and it is—then that is an argument for pastors, congregations, and members to leave denominations or congregations where such fellowship is not possible. The thing I have noticed the most with my congregation since we voted to join Vanguard Presbytery is the level of fellowship among us. Our people stand around after the worship service and talk with one another for 40, 50, 60 minutes or more. They do this because of the genuine love that exists among us. It is a return to the spirit of true Christianity. The elect lady in the Vanguard mission church with whom I talked last week mentioned the same thing. They had a fellowship dinner after a recent service and the last person left the building at 2 PM. It was said of the early church, “Behold, how they love one another.” How can such love be evident in a denomination where people are more interested in fighting the other side to wrest back control of the denomination than in spreading the gospel? It cannot. The lesson is clear. It is impossible to fight a battle on two fronts. Hitler learned that lesson when he attacked countries both to the east and the west of Germany. His forces were spread too thin and he lost both fronts of the war. Likewise, the church cannot take the gospel to the world if she is always fighting within her own ranks. There are times that the true church must simply leave so that the gospel can be carried forth to the world.
NOTE: There are some of you who are wanting me to contact you about various matters. I will do so, but I am consumed at present by another very important issue that is very pressing and I must be pursue it. Thanks for your understanding.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery (term expiring at the end of 2021).
Please send contributions to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540. www.vanguardpresbytery.com