The Steering Committee, comprised of both teaching and ruling elders (from within and outside of the PCA), is guiding the development of the new denomination. These elders are developing what they believe is a true grassroots Book of Church Order. At some time in 2020 there will be a convocation of sessions that will be open to all who desire to be a part of this denomination.
For almost a year, some elders have been working on starting a new denomination. This effort is a result of the opinion that the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has left her spiritual, theological and structural moorings and is drifting aimlessly. Recently, documents were filed in Tennessee forming a legal entity called Vanguard Presbytery. Those forming Vanguard Presbytery intend to formally organize the denomination sometime during 2020. The Steering Committee, comprised of both teaching and ruling elders (from within and outside of the PCA), is guiding the development of the new denomination. These elders are developing what they believe is a true grassroots Book of Church Order. At some time in 2020 there will be a convocation of sessions that will be open to all who desire to be a part of this denomination. Those forming Vanguard Presbytery would prefer that the PCA would return to its founding principles, but without a mighty revival of God’s Spirit, they are not confident that this will happen at this point.
The PCA that began with high ideals in 1973 has changed and no longer exists as it was formed. Having begun as a grassroots denomination, forty-six years later it has morphed into a quasi-hierarchical denomination. While the PCA continues to claim to be grassroots, many of us do not agree.
It is not enough to be against something, but to make affirmative statements of what we believe and how this affects the practice of ministry. Below is the substance of a brochure which identifies what Vanguard believes and how it plans to govern itself. It is the desire of the Steering Committee to establish Vanguard Presbytery as a denomination that is committed to being Reformed in doctrine and Presbyterian in its internal governance and ministry structure. Here are some highlights:
What Is Vanguard Presbytery?
By the grace of God, Vanguard Presbytery will be a continuing Reformed and Presbyterian denomination. Whatever the final name of the denomination, it will be a grassroots, Presbyterian denomination committed to discipling the nations by the power of the Holy Spirit.
First and foremost, we undertake this labor for the glory of the Triune God (Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31), fully aware that only His undeserved favor (Ephesians 2:8,9) will bring this vision of ministry to reality. We live in a world of great darkness. We understand that Christ’s call to disciple the nations is an utter impossibility without the presence and pervasive power of the Holy Spirit coming upon our preaching, evangelizing, teaching, exhorting, discipling, leading, giving, counseling, church planting, mercy ministry, and world missions. Why? Because people are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). None understand, none seek for God. There is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10ff).
Our world is no different than the world of the Lord Jesus and His apostles when they walked upon the earth. We know that the darkness of our world takes many forms, including the dissolution of the nuclear family, drug and alcohol addiction, pornography, homosexuality, transgenderism, idolatry, racism and bigotry all over the world, corruption in the public and private sectors. Without the power of the Holy Spirit we will simply continue our slide into Sodom. The awareness of this darkness moves us to a sense of desperation, an intolerable burden, an intense agony, grief, and alarm at the status quo in our personal lives, in our families, in the church, and in the world. Therefore, we are cognizant of our need daily to surrender totally to the only One who can save and sanctify us, our Lord Jesus Christ.
So while we are very aware of the darkness of our day, while we know that unless Jesus “shows up” by the Spirit we are doomed, we nonetheless, in our surrender to God have an unwavering faith and confidence that He can do far above what we could ever ask or think according to the power that works within us (Eph. 3:20).
What Are Vanguard Presbytery’s Commitments?
The new denomination birthed out of Vanguard Presbytery will ground the work of discipling the nations in the local church and in the Presbyteries. We believe in Presbyterian polity to the core (Acts 15:6ff, Titus 1:5). General Assembly will hold the Presbyteries accountable to the work of the Great Commission rather than usurping that authority with a hierarchical, quasi Episcopal form of polity where the General Assembly permanent committees dictate a sociologically or culturally driven philosophy of ministry which can be out of touch with the local church or Presbyteries. Practically speaking, this means:
Church planting efforts, including training, funding, deploying, and shepherding church planters and their church plants, will be conducted at the Presbytery level where greater input and direction is available to the men planting these churches.
The local Presbytery will be “hands on” in helping the church planter evangelize in his community, seeking to encourage him and his family in what can often be a lonely and daunting task.
The vital work of discipling the nations will emanate from the Presbytery and the emphasis will be on evangelism, church planting, and mercy ministry.
Evangelism, as we see it practiced by our Lord Jesus and His apostles in the gospels and Acts, will be the driving force of mission activity wherever our missionaries are deployed. There will be an intentional and direct preaching of Christ crucified, calling men everywhere to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Presbyteries will recruit, train, fund, and deploy missionaries to plant churches and work with like-minded Presbyterian and Reformed indigenous leadership wherever the Lord directs us.
This continuing Reformed and Presbyterian denomination will follow in the train of Eighteenth-century New Side Presbyterians like William and Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, and Samuel Davies. These men, while holding firmly to the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, wholeheartedly embraced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the Great Awakening of 1735. The Old Side Presbyterians were skeptical of the work of the revival and were concerned about open air preaching and itinerant preachers who called people everywhere, even those in Presbyterian churches who were baptized as infants, to be born again, repent, and believe on Christ. The New Side preachers’ clarion call was, “You must be born again.” We seek to do the same. The gospel must be preached anywhere, and everywhere, one-on-one, from the pulpit, and on the streets of our cities, stressing the necessity of the new birth through regeneration, which yields justification, and which proves its reality through sanctification, a growing ability to put off indwelling sin and to walk in a greater measure of gospel holiness.
A controversy arose in the 1820’s and 30’s between Old School Presbyterians such as Charles Hodge, Daniel Baker, and James Henley Thornwell, and New School Presbyterians such as Charles Finney. Old School men believed in the utter corruption of every man, that man must first be changed on the inside by the new birth and that without true conversion of men no lasting change can happen in any group of people. The New School Presbyterians, who were semi-Pelagian, believed to a large degree in the basic goodness of man, that man was free to choose or reject God, and that by bringing good and moral changes to the world, culture could reach some level of utopia;
The New School Presbyterians compromised on Reformed doctrine as it is expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, allowing many exceptions to the Confession, while the Old School Presbyterians maintained continual fidelity and loyalty to the Confession and all it teaches. While we cannot stress too much the necessity of Confessional fidelity, we also know the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. Therefore we seek to preach to the hearts, not merely the minds of people, asking and expecting the Holy Spirit to regenerate, justify, and sanctify the elect.
We believe the Scriptures teach three offices for the church—the office of Elder (we see the wisdom of Teaching and Ruling Elders, 1 Timothy 5:17), the office of Deacon (Acts 6:1-7), and the office of Evangelist (Ephesians 4:11,12). Only qualified men are ever to serve in these three offices (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9). While other Presbyterian denominations have historically had evangelists, we believe the absence of the actual office of Evangelist has had devastating consequences for Presbyterians for well over one hundred years. We have generally failed to evangelize the lost. We tend to emphasize theology and sound exposition of Biblical texts, which are vital, but we have not always emphasized the task of raising up men to take the gospel intentionally and directly to our communities. We believe God has gifted some men for this very task and seek to elevate the work of evangelism by giving the office of Evangelist its due. We also believe Elders are to shepherd and rule in the local church, Presbytery, and General Assembly. We eschew the “corporate model” which is so common today in which churches are staff led or led by “executive sessions” which put the direction and decision making in the hands of a select few elders or staff. We wish to practice a Biblical Presbyterian polity.
What Is Vanguard Presbytery’s Mission?
By the grace of God, we seek to be all these things in order to fulfill our one true task as a church—to disciple the nations in the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 24:47-49, John 10:16-18, Acts 1:8). The Lord Jesus does not call the church to make political pronouncements, to labor for social justice, to reweave the culture, or to work for some kind of quasi utopia. The world is utterly corrupt because people are corrupt. Our task is to disciple and the Lord Jesus tells us exactly how to do His bidding. We are to:
Go, meaning intentionally, locally, regionally, and globally.
Baptize, which assumes bringing in a harvest of souls through evangelistic work;
Teach our people to observe all He has commanded us, bringing them to spiritual maturity.
None of this is possible without the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in every aspect of our ministries, supported through fervent, earnest, heartfelt prayer. If you wish to join us in this exciting though daunting task, we welcome your inquiries.
Dr. Dewey Roberts is Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL; he author of Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision, and Samuel Davies: Apostle to Virginia.