Prayer

As I write this week’s article for the people on this email list, the PCA’s Study Committee Report has not yet surfaced. It was anticipated to be submitted to the denomination on May 17, 2020. A friend called a secretary at the PCA headquarters in Lawrenceville, GA on Monday and was told that the report is still being edited. Perhaps the committee is just correcting typographical errors. Perhaps they are engaging in wordsmithing the document. I suspect that it is more of the latter than the former.

            Second, I remind you that Vanguard Presbytery’s Convocation of Sessions is still scheduled for July 30, 2020 at Stephen’s Valley Church in Nashville, TN. It will be a one-day event. Unless or until we are informed that such a meeting will not be allowed by the governing officials of Tennessee, we will go forward with our plans for this meeting on that date.

            Third, I realize that some people are still hoping (naively, I think) to turn around the PCA. Their mantra is: “We are still in the fight.” It is a little late for that. The war is almost over. All the prime territory has already been seized by the other side. Still, some people want to soldier on. There were Germans who mustered enough troops to make one last-ditch effort against the Allied forces in World War II, but they still lost in the Battle of the Bulge. After being unsuccessful on their previous efforts at Gettysburg, the Confederacy made one last-ditch effort to gain victory in that campaign—Pickett’s Charge. A brutal and costly defeat followed as Confederate soldiers were slaughtered in the open field under the withering assault of cannon fire. As a former soldier, as a war veteran, as one who taught “Army Principles of War” to chaplains, I know that it takes at least twice as many troops as the enemy has to defeat an entrenched enemy. Even then, such a battle becomes a bloody mess. There are not twice as many conservatives in the PCA as there are progressives. Maybe the numbers of the progressives and conservatives are about equal (maybe), but. . .  the progressives have all the engines of power and they are entrenched. The progressives are not going to give all that up and just walk away. It will not happen. The battle is over, even if many people have not yet realized that fact. Sober reality will dawn on them soon enough. Then, the conservatives will have to decide if they are just going to hunker down and accommodate the heterodoxy and heresy or if they are finally going to leave. Why would anyone want to put himself through such torture of the soul? Good commanders know when it is time to charge and when it is time to retreat. The time has come to retreat from the PCA now because it will only become increasingly progressive with every successive year.

Vanguard Presbytery: Prayer

            In his incomparable work, The Christian Ministry, Charles Bridges made the following statement about prayer:

Prayer, therefore, is one half our Ministry; and gives to the other half all its power and success. It is the appointed medium of receiving spiritual communications for the instruction of our people.

            The most effectual hindrances, therefore, to our work are those which impede our personal communion with the Lord.[1]

            Of course, Bridges was addressing his remarks to the need of ministers of the gospel to be great men of prayer and to often retire to their closets where they can engage in secret prayer before the living God. In the life of Jesus, we see a man who was given to prayer—One who devoted Himself to that secret source. Before calling His disciples, the Twelve, Jesus spent a whole night in prayer on the nearby mountain. He prayed first and then acted. Someone has noted that Jesus seemed to spot out a secret place to pray wherever he traveled. And He calls us to do the same.

            In the gospels, we see Jesus engaging mostly in private prayer with a few public prayers sprinkled into various situations. In the book of Acts, corporate prayer predominates. We see the church gathered together in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, when Peter was arrested and thrown in prison. When Paul and Silas were thrown into jail at Philippi, they spent the night in prayer and singing hymns. Paul wrote to the Colossians that Epaphras was “always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers” (Colossians 4:12). Having recently been preaching through Acts on Sunday mornings, there are two things that stand out to me. First, the early church was much more dependent on the Holy Spirit than we modern evangelicals—especially Presbyterians—seem to be. I fear that we often feel that we are up to any challenge and do not need the Spirit’s help. Second, the early church was a praying church. As reformed ministers and congregants, we say we believe in the primacy of preaching. Yet, preaching to dry bones without beseeching the Spirit will only result in the bones coming together to produce a rattling (Cf. Ezekiel 37:7) without the breath of life. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). When the Lord pours out “the Spirit of grace and supplication” (Zechariah 12:10), His church will have fresh insight into the sufferings of Christ and will fervently pray for the lost. We need more of such praying in our day.

            Both private and corporate prayers are necessary to kindle the flames of revival and the conversion of sinners. A friend told me last week the following:

The presence of prayer is not always visible in its benefits, but the absence of prayer is always visibly detrimental in its neglect.

            We do not pray to be seen of men. Jesus told us to avoid such hypocrisy. Sam Patterson, former President of Reformed Theological Seminary during my time there, used to say that “no one can be a person of prayer while trying to cultivate the reputation as a person of prayer.” I agree with Patterson, but that should not prevent us from praying with others. Such corporate praying (not merely listening to public prayers) is necessary for the well-being of the church. The strength of the early church was that they prayed together. True worship is participatory. Prayer should be participatory also. The whole church needs to pray together as the early church did.

            This is one of the ways in which Vanguard Presbytery seeks to be different than the run-of-the-mill Presbyterianism. Vanguard Presbytery seeks to place a high priority on corporate prayer, especially in the meetings of the various courts—session, presbytery, and General Assembly. Why is prayer so absent in those court meetings of most Presbyterian denominations? It is because we are trying to operate the Church like it is a business. The Great Commission is the chief purpose of the Church. How can the Church fulfill that commission without spending much time in prayer together? All elders have been to session meetings, presbytery meetings, or General Assemblies where prayer was performed perfunctorily, but not fervently. We have spent much time deliberating over business in our meetings while relegating prayer to a special order of the day with ten minutes allotted for it. Should we not first pray humbly and fervently, then deliberate on business? We are working into the BCO of Vanguard Presbytery that every court meeting must place prayer and exhortation as the first order of business for every meeting. The church is not a business. The business model does not work for the church. The church is an organism (the body of Christ) and not just an organization. Prayer, Scripture, and the proclamation of the gospel are our first responsibilities. They are the lifeblood of the Church’s well-being. Would you not much prefer to attend a meeting where prayer and proclamation are the chief duties? That is what Vanguard Presbytery will be. Our Convocation of Sessions on July 30, 2020 will model those practices for us. We will pray first. Then, we will have preaching. Only after that will we have some presentations about Vanguard Presbytery. I hope and pray that you will be able to join us at Stephens Valley Church in Nashville, TN on that day.  

Dewey Roberts, Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Destin, FL    


[1] Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 148, 150.

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