At the May 2022 meeting of the Gospel Reformation Network in Birmingham, AL, Jon Payne was one of the speakers and he mentioned Vanguard Presbytery in a few of his remarks. After stating that he was in agreement with our principles, he said that we left too soon. That was not a criticism on his part—just the expression of an opinion. So, I ask the question: Did we leave the PCA too soon? No, we did not. In fact, not all of us were even in the PCA. But here are further reasons why those of us who did leave the PCA did not do so too soon.
First, several of us who left were essentially forced out of our previous denominational connections—including myself. Some of our critics assume that we had complete control of when we left the PCA. We did not. I did not. My former presbytery wanted to talk with me to find out “my heart” after it became evident that I was involved in preparations for a new denomination. I will always believe the impetus for that desired investigation of my heart came directly from the PCA’s Stated Clerk’s offices. Well, only the Lord can examine a person’s heart. Men have to deal with the actions of another person because we cannot look into the heart. Perhaps, some of my critics in the PCA or the critics of Vanguard Presbytery feel that we should have waited until we were actually charged with something before we left. Sure! There are a few instances where ministers have been disciplined in absentia after they have left the PCA and Vanguard Presbytery has been criticized for receiving them—even by so-called conservatives in the PCA. There has been an attempt to scandalize Vanguard Presbytery because we received some ministers before they were disciplined and when there were no charges pending against them. Of course, those little details are never mentioned when the so-called conservatives slander us. In fact, nothing seems to have united the progressives and conservatives in the PCA more than the contempt that most of them have for Vanguard Presbytery. So, what do you think would have happened if ministers in Vanguard Presbytery had been disciplined out of the PCA? Do you think those critics would have been silent? Or, do you think they would have howled even louder?
Second, every PCA minister and church that has left their former denomination to come into Vanguard has asked me to make sure not to mention anything until after their congregation voted. I have also urged them not to tell anyone in their presbytery what they were contemplating. Even at that, some of those ministers have been given grief by their former presbyteries. One minister has had his former presbytery refuse to acknowledge his leaving because they question whether Vanguard Presbytery is a legitimate denomination. Under the PCA’s BCO, it is not their prerogative to make that determination, but they are continuing to do it anyway. The PCA cannot control their ministers and churches through the property issue, so they attack the ministers if they try to leave. I have seen that several times already. The old PCUS did not attack the ministers and allowed them to do whatever they wanted because they had control of the church property. That is why there was the Committee of 40 who worked for a few years on the new denominational plans. The PCA will not let that happen, if they know about it. Ministers can stay if they are working for reform in the PCA—for now. No one knows what the future holds on that count. What will not be allowed is for ministers or churches to be vocally and publicly involved in making plans to leave the PCA—especially if they are trying to get other ministers and churches to leave with them.
Third, there have always been multitudes of conservatives in every denomination that has ever existed that have stated this same mantra: “It is not time yet to leave. Let’s fight to reform this denomination from within.” There is nothing original about that mantra. The first time that mantra works is what will be original. When the PCA was started, there were many ministers and elders in the PCUS who criticized the new denomination for being premature. Some of them were my professors at RTS. Some of them were ministers I knew. I heard all the same things fifty years ago that I am hearing once again. Nothing is new and nothing has changed. Was the PCUS/PCUSA turned around? No.
Fourth, there were many efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within for at least 200 years before the reformation. Most of those reformers ended up being killed by their Church. The history of that period is heart wrenching. Martin Luther thought that he would be killed after his meeting with Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire at the Diet of Worms—called for the purpose of coercing Luther to renounce his views in response to the Papal Bull of Pope Leo X. Luther did not recant and was allowed to leave without being imprisoned, but there were threats that he would soon be arrested and punished. As a result, he was hidden by Prince Frederick, Elector of Saxony from 1486 to 1525, at the Wartburg Castle in Germany. Did all those efforts to reform the Roman Catholic Church from within work? No, they did not. The real change in Christianity took place when the Reformers left the Church and started Protestant denominations—Reformed, Presbyterian, Lutheran, etc.
One of the denominations that pulled away from Catholicism was the Church of England in 1534, sadly for the wrong reasons. The Church of England has always been a mixed bag of a denomination. Some of the greatest ministers in the history of the church have graced that denomination, but Anglicanism as a whole has too often been rightly referred to as “British Catholicism.” It reformed in doctrine, but not in sacraments and rites. Over time, the doctrinal reformation has waned, while the sacramental errors have gained power. Many of the Puritans tried to purify Anglicanism from within. None of them ever saw the reformation that they desired. August 24, 1662, Black Bartholomew’s Day, resulted in 2,000 of them being kicked out of their pulpits. Large numbers of them were arrested, shackled, and paraded through the streets as criminals. Others of them fled to Holland and America. Yet, the reformation did not come to the Church of England. In fact, John Charles Ryle, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, was the last evangelical bishop in that denomination.
When I left the United Methodist Church fifty-one years ago, there were people who told me that I was making a mistake. They told me I should stay and work for reform from within. The same issues that are being dealt with in the so-called evangelical denominations in America today were the issues that led me to leave the Methodist denomination in 1971. Did the Methodist Church experience a revival or reformation? Certainly not. There is a seminary professor at the Iliff School of Theology in Boulder, Colorado, Miguel De La Torre, who said that “the Evangelicals’ Jesus is satanic.” Another professor at that school said that Atheism is not contradictory with Christianity. So, has the Methodist Church reformed? I say not.
Let me make this very clear. I personally do not concern myself with the political battles that are being fought in the PCA. They are of no concern to me. One person on this email list recently wrote me and asked us in Vanguard to “please pray for the Lord’s sheep in the PCA who earnestly desire to be led biblically.” We pray for all the sheep in our country who are without good shepherds. The problem is always the shepherds. The common people heard Jesus gladly. It was the Pharisees and Sadducees who rejected him. Now, the only things I know about this past GA of the PCA are that RE John Bise was elected Moderator and Overture 16 passed by about 200 votes whereas Overture 23 in 2021 passed by over 1,000 votes. Overture 23, as you know, failed to be approved by the necessary 2/3 of the presbyteries—so it ultimately failed. That would seem to indicate to me that the conservatives are losing ground. But that is not my concern about the PCA. I am concerned that the conservatives in the PCA somehow think that a denomination can be taken back through political machinations such as overtures. There is not one instance of that ever happening in the history of the Church. Overtures can destroy a denomination, but are powerless to restore one. Why? Because overtures are laws. Bad laws can destroy, but good laws cannot revive. What Paul said about his own conversion is also true about overtures: “and this commandment which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me” (Romans 7:10). Even if Overtures 23 and 34 in 2021 had passed the requisite presbyteries and passed the GA again in 2022, that would have made absolutely no difference for the situation in the PCA. Overture 16 has absolutely no chance of doing any good for the PCA. It is law. Only the gospel can save. Only the Spirit of God can revive. Only revival can turn a denomination around—not laws!. Yet, revival usually results in those who are revived leaving denominations where the leadership is not affected by the moving of the Spirit. You can look it up in church history and you will see that I am right. I have given you a thumbnail view of those facts in this article. What we need is reformation and revival—even if we have to go outside the camp to meet with Christ.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL (A member congregation of Vanguard Presbytery)
For more information: www.vanguardpresbytery.com If you would like to contribute, mail your donations to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540