On August 20, 1944, four American B-29’s built by Boeing were forced to make an emergency landing in far eastern Russia. One plane crash landed at Khabarovsk and the other three safely landed near Vladivostok. The crews of the three intact fighter planes thought that they would be allowed to refuel and fly out of Soviet territory, but they were wrong. Stalin had been asking Roosevelt to give the Soviets some B-29’s under the Lend-Lease program, but FDR refused ‘Uncle Joe’s’ request. The US was supplying its cunning and unreliable ally with almost everything in World War II from boots to bullets to lesser planes—but no B-29’s. The B-29 was a super fortress heavy bomber, one of the most aesthetically beautiful airplanes ever designed and built. It incorporated every state-of-the-art technology known to the aeronautical industry at the time, including cabin pressure and an analog computer-controlled fire alarm system. It could fly at high altitudes for strategic bombing and low altitudes for carpet bombing. The B-29 was the plane that dropped the atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. The design and production of the B-29 totaled $48 billion while the Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb only cost $1.8 billion. It is easy to understand why Stalin was so eager for the Soviets to take possession of these planes—and they did.
When those planes made their emergency landings, Stalin knew what he was going to do. Technically, he had grounds to seize them and not return them because the Soviet Union never declared war with Japan. Thus, it was against the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Act for them to aid America’s war against the Japanese. Stalin had likewise taken possession of a B-25 plane in 1942 and imprisoned the crew. He was simply doing what the US should have anticipated he would do. Yet, I believe, from a detailed study of Stalin, that he would have found a reason to keep those planes under any circumstance.
Once the B-29 was in the possession of the Soviet Union, Andre Tupelov was tasked by Stalin with disassembling the plane piece by piece and reverse engineering it. That was a monumental task involving numerous factories and engineers, but the Russians completed it and two years later had 20 Tupelov TU-4 airplanes. Finally, they had their heavy bomber. Yet, their reverse engineering retained all the problems of the B-29. A turret hole that was accidentally drilled into one of the wings was copied by the Soviets. The Achilles heels of the B-29 were reverse engineered into the Tupelov TU-4. One of those problems was the difficulty in getting airborne, particularly with a heavy payload. The Enola Gay barely was able to get off the ground when it set out to bomb Japan. Records show that the B-29 had twice as many planes to crash from malfunctions than the enemy shot down. Another problem was that the four engines often caused the wings to catch on fire. Both flaws were serious problems. The plane might not make it off the ground and if it did the wings might catch on fire. Nevertheless, the military departments of both the US and the USSR depended on the B-29 for many years and the design was used as a prototype for commercial airlines in both countries into the 1960’s.
Why am I writing about the B-29? Because we must be careful what prototype we use for everything we do in the church of the Lord Jesus. We get our prototype from the Scripture—not from Reformed tradition or the opinions of the greatest theologians or the popularity of any idea. As Isaiah 8:20 says: “To the law and to the testimony! If they speak not according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” Our standard is the Scripture alone—Sola Scriptura. That is why every true reformation of the church is based on a return to Scripture. The modern church is doing the exact opposite. Almost every denomination in the US (and almost every other place in the world) is trying to conform to the standards of the world. Marxism persecuted Christianity, but our modern church leaders are bringing Marxism into the church through the front door. Paul taught that homosexuality is a sin which indicates a person has turned away from the Lord (Romans 1:26-28), but the modern church teaches that a person can be both a homosexual and a Christian—contrary to Scripture. Why is this? It is because the modern church is trying to reverse engineer a very flawed model—the thoughts of men rather than the thoughts of God.
In Vanguard Presbyterian Church, we are trying to “reform according to the Word,” as Calvin said the Church must always do. Last week, I referred to the Preamble of the US Constitution. Afterwards, I thought that the main emphases of Vanguard could be written in terms of a type of Preamble. Here it is:
We the Members and Officers of Vanguard Presbyterian Church, in order to form a more perfect Denomination, govern with Scriptural justice, insure ecclesiastical Tranquility, provide for the defense of the Faith, propagate the Gospel, evangelize the Lost, pray for Revival, uphold the Scriptural view of Creation, promote Scriptural Sexuality and Purity, and secure the Blessings of Liberty in Christ to ourselves and our children, do establish this Constitution for Vanguard Presbyterian Church.
That Preamble (which has not been adopted by Vanguard or even put before the body for consideration yet) covers almost all the distinctives that we stand for. Some denominations have very simple, straight-forward mottos. O, how I wish that they would believe and practice their own mottos. But, they do not. In Vanguard, we are striving to be different. We are radical. We actually want to get “our thoughts, our words, our texts from Christ” (in the words of Robert Murray McCheyne). Someone might ask if that is not the aim of every denomination? I wish it were so, but I must say that it clearly is not. This is what most new denominations do. They reverse engineer a bad prototype and bring the same design flaws into their new denominations.
Nowhere is it more painfully evident that a denomination is operating by human wisdom than when you look at their Book of Church Order. The higher courts of the church vote to change the BCO at will without any reference to Scripture or consideration of that infallible document that alone gives us the only true principles of theology and ecclesiology. Scriptural ecclesiology does not change because the Scripture does not change. When a denomination tries to deal with a sin problem by passing overtures that change their BCO, they have a much deeper problem than what they think. The passing or failing of an overture can never destroy a denomination or reclaim it. The true standing of a denomination is beyond and deeper than any silly overture.
There are certainly many good things about almost every BCO of every denomination. There are also exceptions. I read the governing documents of the CREC once and it stipulates that every judicial case that cannot be resolved at lower levels will be finally adjudicated by a certain pastor in Moscow, Idaho and by him alone. I kid you not. I wonder where they find that principle in the Scripture? I suspect that it is found in the same “book” which teaches that sessions can dismiss any nominee for office at any point before his election if they decide there are questions about his Christian character without even letting him know why they made that decision. That is right there in the book of man—but not in the Word of God. I could give illustration after illustration of such wrong principles of church government.
Some of us in Vanguard have wondered why it is that there are so many so-called conservatives in the various Reformed denominations in the US who are so vocally against Vanguard. Is it because we believe in evangelism? Is it because we pray for revival? Is it because we are against social justice and the Marxist takeover of the Church? Is it because we do not permit officers (or even church members) to identify themselves as homosexual or express confusion about their sexual identity? Is it because we require officers to actually make full confession of the Westminster Standards? Is it because we are against hierarchy and our General Assembly will not be allowed to rule the denomination from the top down? Is it because our main is on the Gospel? Is it because we actually believe what the Scripture teaches about creation not only in Genesis but throughout the Word? No, I do not really think that any of those things are the real problem.
I believe that many conservative and reformed officers are against us because we have staked out positions (that are Scriptural) that do not allow them to move to the right of us if they start a new denomination. They will either copy us without joining us (which would make no sense) or they will copy a flawed design. And I am almost certain that it will be the latter. Thus, they will permit exceptions to the Westminster Standards for officers. They will allow various views of creation. They will allow their BCO to be changed year after year. They will allow a certain amount of hierarchy—in order to make sure they are the ones in control. Sad. Very sad.
In Vanguard, our one aim is to be as Biblical as we can be. I think we are right on every one of our distinctives. I would not want to be in any denomination that left a single one of them out because I have seen what happens to denominations that compromise. None of our disticntives are up for negotiation with any pastor or church or group of churches. We have aimed high. But, is it not time that the American Continent saw a truly Scriptural Presbyterian and reformed denomination?
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL
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