Last Thursday, December 8, 2022, the US made one of the worst prisoner exchanges with Russia in the history of our two nations. The US received back into this country Brittney Griner, a WNBA basketball player who was serving a sentence for a minor drug offense. In exchange, Russia received Viktor Bout, a dangerous arms dealer who was nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” and who was serving a 25-year sentence. The US obviously got snookered on this swap. It reminded me of a similar attempt in 1962 in the exchange of Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 pilot who was shot down over Soviet airspace on May 1, 1960, and Rudolph Abel, one of the most capable Soviet spies in the US ever. That was a good swap, but the Soviets tried to snooker the US—and almost did. The Soviets wanted the exchange of prisoners to take place in Berlin at the Glienecker Bridge and all arrangements were made by both sides to do so. Then, the East Germans got involved and wanted to exchange, Frederick Pryor for Abel straight up. Pryor was an American student who had crossed over into East Germany in August of 1961 to visit a young lady. He was captured by the East Germans and imprisoned. The East Germans, no doubt with Soviet support, insisted on a trade of Pryor for Abel which would have left Powers in prison. The American negotiator insisted that Abel would only be released if both American prisoners—Powers and Pryor—were released. The Soviets and East Germans blinked and the US got both prisoners back. 60 years later, it was the US that blinked and Mother Russia got a dangerous criminal back in exchange for a basketball player. It shows what compromises people are willing to make when they are weak. Now, I am certainly glad Griner is back in the US, but not at the cost of giving up such a terrible man in exchange.
Since his return to Russia, Bout has told the Kremlin that the US is weak, having rejected Christianity and suffering the breakdown of the family. He is right. I have been saying that from the pulpit. Almost the only people who do not seem to know that Bout is right are those evangelical Christians—ministers, church members, and congregations—who think that they can turn around their apostate denominations. Of course, that begs the question of how we determine if a denomination is apostate or not. When faced with that question, many Christians become as blinded as the US obviously was in last week’s prisoner exchange. They will say things like this: “My church still faithfully preaches the Scripture, so I don’t worry about what happens in other congregations or at the General Assembly. Those things do not affect me.” Isn’t that about the same thing as saying, “Well, the US received back a woman who was wrongly imprisoned in Russia. I am not personally affected by this Viktor Bout fellow. Just let him go back to Russia.” Simple minds are always easily deceived.
Here are some signs of an apostate denomination, in my opinion. A denomination is apostate when heinous sin or heresy by ministers and elders is not disciplined by the church courts. A denomination is apostate when the hierarchical leadership of a denomination either promotes error/heresy or permits it to be spread. When a minister can be applauded by General Assembly for being a homosexual, the denomination is apostate. When a minister can affirm LGBTQ from the pulpit with impunity, the denomination is apostate. When past and present Moderators of a denomination can openly promote critical theory/Marxism with impunity, the denomination is apostate. When the coordinators or committee chairmen of a denomination can promote social justice with impunity, a denomination is apostate. Former evangelical denominations become apostate long before every minister and congregation falls away from Christ. Apostate denominations can still have many evangelicals. A recent program on James Dobson’s Family Talk with Charlie Kirk makes these points very well. The audio of those programs can be found in the archives of Family Talk under the title of “Calling out the Church” in a two-part series. Kirk gave three issues facing the modern church and urged Christians to leave congregations that are on the wrong side of those issues. Those issues are: Roe v. Wade overthrow; the gender issue, LGBTQ; and, critical theory, social justice. I agree with Kirk that if your pastor did not celebrate the overthrow of Roe v. Wade, then you should just leave. I was a senior in college at the time that Roe v. Wade became “law”—even though courts cannot make law, only Congress can do so. I once served as Executive Director of Mississippi Right-to-Life. This issue has always been huge for me. Abortion is the modern-day equivalent of worshiping Molech by offering our sons and daughters as human sacrifices. Kirk encouraged people to just get up and walk away from congregations that are on the wrong side of this issue. I totally agree. The same goes for the other two issues. Should an evangelical Christian, minister, elder, or congregation ever remain in an apostate denomination? That is the question of the hour.
On March 8, 1740, Gilbert Tennent preached a very famous (or “infamous” to some) sermon titled, “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry”, to the Presbyterian congregation at Nottingham, Pennsylvania. The issue at that time that was destroying the church was the popular idea, “A converted minister is best, but an unconverted minister can still do some good.” That wrong-headed idea almost destroyed the Colonial church until the Great Awakening. Yet, even those Christians converted during the Awakening were remaining in their congregations until Tennent’s sermon. Tennent told the Christians that if their pastors were not preaching the gospel they should leave. That idea became a theme of American Christianity for nearly three centuries until the last decade or so. Now, the old idea has been nuanced in this way, “Faithful denominations are best, but an apostate denomination is still okay.” Such an idea is as wrong as thinking that Christians should remain in congregations where the pastors have departed from preaching the gospel.
I often hear people say that our country needs revival and that they are praying for revival. That is wonderful, but remember this: True revival has almost always either been as a result of separation from an apostate denomination or led to such separation. There is no apostate denomination in the history of the Church that has experienced revival in such a way that the apostasy was removed from the denomination. Consider, for instance, the Great Awakening. Whitefield and the Wesleys were Anglican ministers who were not well-received by that denomination. They had to preach in the open air to unchurched multitudes who were considered rabble by the Church of England. Yet, the end result was that the Methodist Church was started by the Wesleys and the Calvinistic Methodist Church was started by George Whitefield. The Great Awakening did not revive the Church of England. Consider the Roman Catholic Church. Many reformers before Luther tried to work within the Church to reform her. Their efforts ended in failure and, usually, their death. The Church machinery powerfully suppressed such dissent until Luther somehow by the grace of God was able to live after taking his stand. The Reformation was outside Catholicism—not within the that Church. The Puritans tried to remain within the Church of England and reform from within. They were not without various victories, but Anglicanism was not to be reformed. The Puritans either had to conform to the Anglican Church; or, flee the Church; or, face the loss of their pulpits, imprisonment, exile and death.
A couple of years ago there was a minister who was subtly trying to chastise me for leaving my former denomination. He said I was precipitous. He then made a remarkable statement. He told me that he would gladly defend to anyone his reasons for remaining in a denomination that had heresy within her bounds. In my opinion, that minister is trying to defend the indefensible. Heresy that is permitted and allowed to grow is like permitting cancer to grow in our bodies. Or, it is like a woman who is brutally beaten by her husband thinking that they can work everything out and remain together. I read reports recently of a man who beat his wife and left her for dead. I have known that man since he was 6 years old. He is in his 50’s now. The prosecutor for this case told me that women who are married to rich husbands will often allow themselves to be abused in order to hold onto the perks of the marriage. Is that not also the reason that so many ministers and Christians and congregations remain in churches or denominations that are apostate. Despite the apostasy of the church or denomination, they are getting something for themselves out of the relationship that they think benefits them. Well, here is a newsbreak: IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU! It is about Jesus. Here is what Jesus says to His people: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).
The US and the whole world are at a tipping point. Truly Christianity is dying in the West and the doors for the gospel are being closed all around the world. Nothing can save us now except a reviving of God’s grace. But history shows that revival will not come as long as Christians apathetically remain in their unfaithful churches and while congregations remain in their apostate denominations. The Great Awakening transformed American church life when Christians left their churches where the gospel was not being preached and went out into the open air—even in the dead of winter. It did not happen as a result of remaining in their spiritually dead congregations and apostate denominations. Just the opposite. If the US is to be revived, there needs to be a groundswell of Christians in 2023 and beyond who leave their apostate churches and/or denominations. Christians need to return to Jesus “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13) as a powerful testimony that they will “let goods and kindred go” in order to worship Him. If Christians try to remain in their apostate churches and/or denominations while pretending that they want revival, such revival will not come. If all true Christians stood together against the destruction of human life, the denial of God’s creation of males and females, and this cultural Marxism, that whole house of cards would fall. But will we do so?
Of course, some people might contend that I am only writing these things because I want churches to join Vanguard. Not true. For one thing, there are many Christians in the US who are not Presbyterians. For another thing, Vanguard has some very distinct positions that are non-negotiable. We believe they are Scriptural. Finally, there are many people who can testify that I have many times said that we need to build up our denomination primarily through the starting of new churches. This article is not written concerning what is best for Vanguard. It is written about what is best for Christianity in the US, the West, and the world. Marxism is about to completely destroy the visible church in this world. We can either stand up now or suffer the consequences. This article is just a clarion call for Christians, ministers, and congregations to get serious about their profession and stand up for Jesus—NOW! It will soon be too late to do so. Wake up and do not get snookered by the devil like the US got snookered by Russia last week.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL
www.vanguardpresbyterianchurch.com Please send contributions to: Vanguard Presbytery, PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540