Vanguard is a denomination that holds to what is called Old School Presbyterianism, and as such believes the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms provide the theological foundation for the Church’s ministry. Vanguard welcomes ministers and churches who desire to be a part of a denomination which holds to these confessional principles and values.
In The PCA Worth Having, James Kessler, the self-professed founder of the National Partnership, a group working behind the scenes in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), introduces himself and addresses issues within the PCA. Most members of the PCA are unaware of the National Partnership, whose purpose is to develop the denomination into a big tent church.
In his article, Kessler refers to Vanguard Presbytery as a “conservative agitator” and says that such agitators “have produced incredible damage” within the PCA. To the contrary, Vanguard Presbytery is not a troubler in or of the PCA, or any other denomination. If there are troublers within the PCA Kessler, the National Partnership and other progressives need look no further than themselves as the troublers in the Church.
Vanguard Presbytery is not in the PCA and does not interfere in PCA issues. There are PCA ministers, churches and members that contact us and request information and ask to be placed on our mailing list. Moreover, Vanguard’s agenda is not to recruit churches from the PCA. Vanguard is a denomination that holds to what is called Old School Presbyterianism, and as such believes the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms provide the theological foundation for the Church’s ministry.
Vanguard welcomes ministers and churches who desire to be a part of a denomination which holds to these confessional principles and values. As a result, Vanguard receives many inquiries from churches desiring to affiliate with this new and growing denomination. Vanguard has also placed a high priority on church planting and have several mission congregations throughout the country.
It was interesting to note in TE Kessler’s article that he felt triumphant and comfortable in announcing that “the battle, for the soul of the denomination, is over.” He stated unequivocally, “Not only is the judgment that the PCA is ‘going liberal’ without evidence, even the concern is without basis in fact.” Kessler makes other such statements in his article which cause prudent people to question whether he is intentionally misleading or unwittingly duped himself. It is probably a combination of both.
The danger with what Kessler wrote, as the founder and representative of the National Partnership, is that he is attempting to redefine what an evangelical is. That is not new. The liberals against whom J. Gresham Machen contended claimed that they were true evangelicals. Karl Barth always contended that his theological system was the true evangelical faith. The difference with these modern liberals/progressives is that they do not start by denying orthodoxy as the old liberals did. They start at the other end of the spectrum. They first deny orthopraxy. In other words, they contend that the Church has been practicing the wrong things. That approach leads them just as surely to a denial of orthodoxy, but it is a more subtle route to the denial of the faith. So, here are some things we can glean from TE Kessler’s article about his own views:
First, Kessler holds up “good faith subscription” as the great keeper of orthodoxy in the PCA. “Good faith subscription” was adopted by the PCA General Assembly in 2002. Since then, there has been a proliferation of exceptions to the Westminster Standards taken by ministers and elders on a wide range of subjects. A minister in a presbytery where I was once served took an exception to the answer to the 1st Shorter Catechism question. His exception was that he disagreed that man’s chief end is to “enjoy God.” Another minister in the PCA took 53 exceptions to the Confession. It is hard to understand how allowing ministers to deny orthodoxy is protecting orthodoxy. Not surprisingly, Kessler does not give any evidence that theological orthodoxy has been protected by “good faith subscription.” When the PCA cut the gordian knot to its confession in 2002, it left the denomination with no means of preserving orthodoxy or disciplining heterodoxy and heresy. The Confession cannot produce orthodoxy or true salvation, but it is a foundational standard for testing orthodoxy.
Second, Kessler describes these new evangelicals as those who support social justice. He obviously does not realize that the PCA was founded, in part, as a repudiation of the social justice theories in the 1960s and 1970s that are now being promoted at the highest levels in that denomination. The liberation theology of yesteryear has simply been repackaged into the Critical Race Theory, social justice, and BLM of today. The liberation theologians of yesteryear were neither conservatives nor evangelicals any more than the CRT proponents are true evangelicals today.
Third, Kessler says that these evangelical ministers are “culturally progressive.” He says that they sometimes “have the difficult conversations with visitors looking for a community that will obey their tribal commitments instead of the Scriptures.” In other words, Kessler is saying that those church members who disagree with the culturally progressive messages of social justice and CRT are disobedient to the Scripture. Such members are simply looking for a tribe where they feel comfortable and really do not care about the Scripture.
Fourth, Kessler holds up the Missouri Presbytery reports (all 2,000 pages of them) concerning the matters involving Greg Johnson and Revoice as models of biblical exposition with which no true evangelical can disagree. Here is my question: Why does it take 2,000 pages to determine if same-sex attraction is right or wrong? Here is my answer: Because obfuscation must be finely nuanced in order to deceive the greatest number of people possible. Most people could easily see through a 10-page report, but 2,000 pages appears overwhelming. So, Kessler is holding up the response to Missouri Presbytery’s support of Greg Johnson’s views on same-sex attraction (SSA) as a litmus test of “orthodoxy.” This is an example of people calling evil good and good evil.
More troubling than what Kessler says is what he does not say. He never defines the gospel. He never defines the standard for testing orthodoxy. Like every progressive I have ever read, Kessler says nothing about regeneration or sanctification or the Holy Spirit. There are reasons these views are infrequently mentioned by progressives. Progressives are silent on these issues because they have adopted a sociological framework as a replacement of the gospel of Christ. For instance, regeneration is irrelevant to neo-liberals because they hold that “white privilege” has made racist out of all white people. Whites can never cease to be racist according to progressives because they will always be white. What is missing in this message? Well, regeneration is missing. The new birth makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17). The new birth changes a person’s nature from dead to alive, and sanctification enables him more and more to conform to the likeness of Christ.
Another thing that is missing is that judging people on the basis of their skin color is not confined to whites only as if only whites alone have been slave owners. Slavery is a human problem, it is of sin; just as racism is a human problem, and of sin. Sociological and political theories, such as Marxism, prey upon these sin problems and promote class warfare. Class warfare is what is dividing members and denominations today. It is unfortunate that what is heard from our pulpits today are sermons based more on these sociological and political philosophies than on clear and convincing expositions of Scripture.
The failure to emphasize regeneration is a significant problem with how the church addresses same-sex attraction. The idea is promoted that some people have these attractions that are unremitting and can never be overcome, but as long as they resist those attractions they have not sinned—despite the fact that Jesus and James call such attractions lusts which are sinful (Matthew 5:27-30; James 1:14, 15). Yet, the recommended remedy is that the individual wrestling with such same-sex attractions must fight manfully to resist them throughout his life. That recommendation places one’s own obedience on a higher scale than the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, according to these progressives, is powerless to take those attractions away, but the individuals can resist them through their own faithful obedience. That is works salvation—not salvation by grace.
Neo-liberals restrict the gospel to simply announcing that Jesus died for sinners. For them, there is no regeneration or definitive sanctification or progressive sanctification. The work of the Holy Spirit is left out of their theological system.
Kessler has laid down the gauntlet to the Confessionalists in the PCA. He has declared what he believes the denomination is and will be from this point forward. The picture he has painted is not a pretty one. This is why I concluded that I did not leave the PCA; the PCA left me. I simply decided that continuing the same ministry elsewhere was a better choice for me and my congregation.
Here is what I say to TE Kessler and the National Partnership: I have seen this situation before. Progressivism never leads a denomination forward. Progressive denominations always lose members. If the PCA remains under the control of progressive ministers, like Kessler, they may retain the church buildings, but the people will continue to leave them as some have already done. The sheep will listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd; progressive ministers find it hard to even mimic His voice.
Dr. Dewey Roberts is Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL, and is the present Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery.