Divine Pruning

            On Saturday morning, I was picking peaches off my peach tree with the help of my wife while receiving a free class on pruning from my resident horticulturist. I had just returned from a Vanguard Presbytery meeting in Bristol, TN on Friday in which we had to remove four churches and a few pastors at their request (but it eventually would have been at our request if they had not voted to leave before Presbytery met). Pruning is sometimes necessary. Jesus spoke about such in John 15:2—“every branch in Me that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

            While flying to Bristol, TN on Thursday morning, I received a text from a TE in Vanguard asking which staff person at The Aquila Report had written the “hit piece” on Vanguard. I was unable to open the article until I reached Atlanta and then was surprised that TAR would have published such a blatant and obvious slanderous article as they did. At first, I was told that Vanguard would not be given an opportunity for rebuttal. I insisted that we most certainly would get such an opportunity and we did—with obvious restrictions. Many of you have probably read that article already and have questions about it. I am going to attempt to clear up those slanders in this article. But, here is the slander against us:

“As to the crisis in which we now find ourselves, we are conscience bound to separate from those constitutional abuses and alarming theological errors, which have been perpetrated by many and now have been approved  and sustained by a majority in the highest court of Vanguard Presbytery.”

That statement is pure fake news. There have been no constitutional abuses by those of us who remain in Vanguard Presbytery and there are no alarming theological errors. Their statement is just pure slander. Another friend saw that article and my reply to it, He texted me the following:

“Great response today to the meandering, malicious, baseless, intentionally vague, and spurious allegations intended to ‘raise false rumors’ in violation of WLC 145. It was an empty suit. It was clear from their nebulous and slanderous (and unidentified claims) that they wanted to communicate “nothing to see here except that we are victims.”

You can read my response to the slanders here: https://theaquilareport.com/a-defense-of-the-good-name-of-vanguard-presbytery/ I was restricted from writing some of the things I am going to write in this article. If you click on that link above, please, please do not search for the other article slandering us. Here is why. The Aquila Report ranks articles by the number of clicks on them and then publishes weekly and annually the articles that receive the most clicks. If you click on that slanderous article against Vanguard Presbytery you will just be making it more well-known to those people who are trying to harm us. I have quoted above their slander of us. But, please, click on the link above and ask your family members and Christian friends to do the same. We lost four churches. Yawn! We still have 21 particular and mission churches combined and wonderful fellowship. We had two great sermons at Presbytery, one of which was by a young man coming for licensure who preached the very best sermon by someone coming for licensure or ordination that I have ever heard. We have other young men who will be coming for licensure. We have other places where mission churches will be starting and other churches that are looking to come into Vanguard. The disciples moved on without Judas and we will move on without those churches and pastors. Now, here are some other things that you need to know about the churches and pastors who left.

First, some of them conspired together to steal money from a Vanguard mission church in Clarksville, TN. They took between $15,000 and $17,000 without the authorization of the Vanguard appointed session and without even the knowledge of the two remaining members of that session—TE Al Baker and RE Mark Grasso. The only reason the mission church had any funds in the bank at all is because Vanguard Presbytery has paid the travel expenses of the pastors who have supplied that mission work. The excuse of those people who left the Vanguard mission work is that they were returning the contributions of those who had given to the work in 2021 and no longer wanted to be a part of it. That is not how things work. Here are the IRS rules concerning contributions to a non-profit organization (which every church automatically is according to IRS rules). (1). If a contribution is designated to a specific purpose such as a building program, it must be used solely for that purpose or redirected to another 501-c(3) organization of the donor’s choice. (2). If a contribution is undesignated, it cannot be returned to the donor under any circumstances or even redirected to another 501-c(3) organization of the donor’s choice. Moreover, funds that are given to a mission church cannot be used for any purpose without the approval of the governing body. Vanguard Presbytery voted on Friday to send that mission church $7,500 to help them after this theft. We also voted, after a good deal of discussion, not to pursue the matter further. It is on the consciences of those men. They stole the money and they will have to live with that fact. They have already caused five months of trouble through their maliciousness. We believe that we need to do the Lord’s work and leave them in the hands of God.

Second, three of the four churches that left have been in at least two other denominations together prior to Vanguard Presbytery and have been unable to get along with those other denominations. The other church that left has a leading elder who is related by marriage to the leading voice of this slanderous group. It is very obvious to me now that they joined Vanguard Presbytery with an agenda that was not in line with our very clear distinctives. For one thing, the leader of the group told me that he was going to propose that our Presbytery meetings move the preaching and worship to Thursday evenings so that Fridays could be all business. I told him that I would oppose that because the preaching and worship and prayer times on Friday mornings set the tone for good meetings. For another thing, they were in opposition in various ways to Vanguard’s position of the office of evangelist. I realize that there are many people who do not understand our position on the office of evangelist, but it is the historic position of American Presbyterianism and is included in most Presbyterian Books of Church Order, including the PCA, the OPC, the old PCUS, etc. James Henley Thornwell agreed with Vanguard’s position. So did Samuel Davies and Gilbert Tennent and Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge and the Presbyterians of the 18th century and the Presbyterians of the 19th century, etc., etc. Some people say that the reformed position since the Protestant Reformation has been contrary to our position. That is not true at all. Even John Calvin acknowledged that God can and still does raise up evangelists. John Bunyan wrote that it was “Evangelist” who pointed Christian towards the Celestial City. I have written a lot about these things in previous articles.

Third, these people who have slandered us by saying that we are guilty of constitutional errors are the same ones who argued repeatedly against the need to have any rules except the Scripture. That is tantamount to the same argument as “No creed but Christ.” That position seems to be a good position until someone asks, “Is baptism by sprinkling or by immersion?” Or, “Is Christ the eternal Son of God or not?” Then, you have to formulate a reply that becomes your personal creed, whether you want to admit it or not. The Scripture gives us the truths that have to be formulated into statements of our faith. The Scripture also gives us the principles of church government that have to be formulated into a polity that allows us to do things decently and in good order. The churches and pastors that left wanted to bring charges against another TE and not allow him to have due process or a fair trial. They were in a rush to judgment and actually requested a called meeting of Presbytery for the purpose of dealing with his “status” before they had even met with him to discuss anything. Vanguard Presbytery prevented them from inflicting constitutional abuses on our body, but we were not guilty of any abuses. Likewise, Vanguard Presbytery is not guilty of any theological errors. Those who left tried to run this minister out of Vanguard for a mistake he made in a single podcast. Even when that TE apologized to the court, affirmed his agreement with the truth, and retracted his statement, they did not want to accept his apology. Even when the court established a committee to investigate and to report back to presbytery, they were not satisfied. There was no other theological “error” of any kind that has even been mentioned and it has not been proved that there was error in this one instance either. For them to write otherwise is just a lie—plain and simple.

Fourth, I guess I can understand why people in other denominations have piled it on Vanguard Presbytery in this matter without any substantive evidence. After all, there are no problems in the PCA, the OPC, the ARP, the URCNA, the RPCNA, and many other denominations. There never have been—except there are and have been many problems in all of those denominations. And true ministers never have problems in the ministry—not at all. Jonathan Edwards didn’t get voted out of his congregation by a vote of 220 to 20—except that he did. And none of the pastors who have joined in the piling on over the past few days have ever had people join there congregations, then cause trouble over stupid things and leave—except that all of them have had that experience. And John didn’t write in his first epistle, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us”—except that he did write that. And Paul never warned the Ephesians that ‘savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29)—except that he did. And Jesus never had any departures from among His followers—except that He did—“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore” (John 6:66). But, at least Jesus never had any problems with the Twelve—except that he did—Peter denied Him, Judas betrayed Him, etc. Shame on those who have piled it on Vanguard Presbytery as a result of this malicious slander!

Someone might reply, “if what you are saying is true, then how can those people be so bold as to call out Vanguard Presbytery? Would they do that if they were guilty?” Here is where it helps to be 71 and to have experienced many things. Twenty-one years ago, my congregation had a ruling elder who stole $6,450 from the church. When I and the treasurer confronted him to his face, he tried to turn it around on us and wanted to talk about all the “problems” at Cornerstone that we needed to address. People are like that if they do not repent. Proverbs 21:29 says, “A wicked man displays a bold face, but as for the upright, he makes his way sure.” That former elder continued to slander us for years and probably still does.    

When I looked at The Aquila Report this morning there was an article titled, “The Power of Slander: How We Are to Deal With Slander Part 3.” One quote from it is as follows: “Slander is a powerful evil. We should avoid slander, either speaking it or hearing it.” Here is how Webster defines slander: “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations, which defame and damage another’s reputation.” Was that not what the quote at the beginning of this article attempted to do against Vanguard Presbytery? No facts were given—just slander. That article should never have seen the light of day on The Aquila Report. I am dumbfounded that it was printed. Over the previous three years (2019, 2020, 2021), there were 8,768 articles carried on The Aquila Report. Out of the top thirty most read articles for the three years combined, I wrote 7 of them—that is ¼ of the most read articles. One-fourth were written by me! Why would The Aquila Report publish such a slanderous article against Vanguard Presbytery and against me (numerous pastors have taken the opportunity to pile it on me personally as a result of that article)?  Inquiring minds want to know. The excuse that they were just publishing a news release is no better of an excuse than what CBS has said in trying to justify why they ran with the Fusion GPS lies. I can say this. It is unworthy of an online news source that claims to be Christian. But I am not going to hold my breath waiting on an apology from anyone. The Lord will deal with these matters in His time and that is enough for me. Meanwhile, I will stick to telling the truth.    

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL.

www.vanguardpresbytery.com Please send any contributions to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540. Te Jeremy Swygard in Kansas City has been elected our new treasurer but I will still make deposits of checks sent to us. Blessings to you all! 

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