The Presbyterian Journal was founded in 1942 by Dr. L. Nelson Bell, the father of Ruth Bell Graham, who had been a medical missionary in China for many years before returning to the US. He was distressed with the encroaching liberalism in the PCUS so he and Dr. Henry Dendy started the above-named magazine to inform people of the sad state of affairs within the old Southern Presbyterian Church. In 1959, Dr. G. Aiken Taylor became the editor of The Presbyterian Journal and moved the offices from Weaverville, NC to nearby Asheville. No one had a greater influence on the formation of the PCA, in my opinion, than Dr. Taylor. The Journal came out weekly for years and had a large circulation. I believe it was something like 50,000 subscribers in the late 1960’s, early 1970’s before declining rapidly after the formation of the PCA. It was eventually replaced by World Magazine under the editorship of Joel Belz, who also worked at the Journal from the latter part of the 70’s until its end in 1987. That was an advantage which Vanguard Presbytery does not have. We have to think of other ways to get our message out than print media. And we have some ideas on that subject.
In the summer of 1974, it was my privilege to work with Dr. Taylor in starting a new church in Asheville, Trinity Presbyterian Church. I also had the opportunity to proofread the sheets of the Journal before they went to press. Those were interesting days and I have always been thankful for them. During that summer of ’74, I would sometimes drive out to Weaverville where Dr. Dendy ran a good bookstore. On one of my visits there I purchased a little booklet by Henry Scougal, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, which George Whitefield says was so instrumental in his own conversion. A couple of times I was able to talk with Dr. Dendy himself. The PCA had started the previous December and various presbyteries had begun even earlier. Dendy was a staunch conservative, but he was very much opposed to the formation of the PCA. I still remember what he told me: “It is not time to leave. We are going to take back the Southern Church.” Yet, James 4:13-16 says that such boasting is evil. James warns not to boast about what we think we can do because, as he says, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will also live and do this or that’” (James 4:14, 15).
In all the times I have heard people discuss reclaiming a particular denomination, I have scarcely ever heard anyone of them say, “If the Lord wills…” As a matter of fact, I cannot distinctly remember any time people have ever said such, but I am leaving it open in case my memory has failed me. I make this point because the only real objection that anyone has ever brought against Vanguard Presbytery is that, in their opinion, “it is not time to leave denomination XYZ.” Well, how do they know it is not time? Could it be that they are as mistaken on this point as were Drs. Dendy and Bell and numerous others in 1974? Those gentlemen did not think it was time to leave the PCUS, but the facts since that rupture in 1973 have proved them wrong on that point. They thought they could win back the denomination, but they did not. They had plans and schemes and strategies for doing so, but their efforts came to nothing in the end.
I thought about those words a few weeks ago when I was in the Boston area. One day I took a few hours to drive to where George Whitefield is buried at the Old South Presbyterian Church in Newburyport, MA. The church was locked and I was unable to find the grave, but I did notice the sign on the church doors. It said this: “George Whitefield and the Great Awakening meet the Just Awokening.” That is what happens to churches that do not know when it is time to leave heterodox and/or heretical denominations. Pulpits that once rang with the voices of Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Gilbert Tennent, George Whitefield, and other evangelical ministers have long since been given over to liberalism and a complete denial of the gospel message. Why is that? What happened to those places? Jesus’ tears over Jerusalem give us the answer. He wept over that great city with pathetic words: “If you had known in this day, even you, the things that make for peace!… Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!” (Luke 19:42; Matthew 23:38). Here is what I say to those who say, “It is not time to leave.” I say, “Yes, it is too time. It is long past time.”
Many ministers today are making the same mistake that was made by Henry Dendy and Nelson Bell and many great leaders before them. They are failing to recognize the signs of the times. They are letting tradition bind them to a denomination instead of truth bind them to the living Christ. Here is why I know that we in Vanguard Presbytery are doing the right thing. Those conservatives who oppose us are reduced to that trite and worn-out slogan (“It is not time to leave”) or to making ad-hominem attacks on me personally. Those are the only arrows they have in their quiver. When they consider what Vanguard Presbytery stands for, they reluctantly have to admit that it is impressive. No true conservative can find an objection with our views or our goals. How could they? We hold to the full historicity of Genesis 1-11; to the necessary combination of sound theology and revival, evangelistic fervor; to full subscription to our subordinate standards; to the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scripture; to true Scriptural Presbyterianism as opposed to hierarchical church government; to the primacy of preaching the message of the gospel as opposed to unscriptural social justice or critical race theory messages; to the new birth as opposed to same-sex attraction or homosexuality; and, to the Lordship of Christ in all things.
Still, there are evangelical leaders who say, “It is not time to leave.” Well, here are my questions to them? Are you willing to take the chance that your pulpits will someday be filled by liberals who will ridicule the gospel? That is what has happened to thousands of other churches where pastors and people said what you are now espousing. Are you willing to stand before the Lord and give an account of why you were willing to remain in a denomination where cultural Marxism was promoted from the highest echelons? Does it not make your heart tremble to think that your church, your congregation, your pulpit, could someday be filled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing who will not spare the flock? It certainly makes my heart tremble. That is why I and my congregation are in Vanguard Presbytery. So, if someone tells you it is not time to leave, answer them this way: “It is too time!”
There are a number of opportunities for new works with respect to Vanguard. There are large cities where we still hope that conservative churches will join with Vanguard, but, if not, we hope to start Vanguard mission churches in those places sooner than later. The people in the pews will be voting with their feet on this issue. I know of ruling elders who have resigned and left their churches because they were told, “It is not time to leave yet.” I know of places where there are a large number of families who are ready to leave their present congregations. Let me make it perfectly clear that our loyalty in Vanguard Presbytery is to the gospel—not to a former denomination or conservative ministers. God willing, we will start Vanguard mission churches wherever we can.
Last week, Al Baker was in St. Louis visiting with several families there who want to start a new church. Previously he was in Houston. If anyone knows of interested people in St. Louis; Houston; Clarksville, TN; Oklahoma City, OK; Boston, MA (Norwood to be more precise); Alexandria, LA; Memphis, TN; Knoxville, TN, Columbia, SC; Roswell or Marietta, GA; or any of the other places where there are Vanguard churches, please email the names and contact information to either me or Al Baker. My email address is email@example.com, Al’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, there are going to be a number of places where there will be the need for organizing pastors. If you would like to help start a church, please email us to let us know of your interest. If you are on this email list and you would like to see a church started where you live, please email us. Most of all, pray that the Lord of the harvest will supply us everything we need to build up our congregations and start new congregations across the US.
Dewey Roberts, Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery and Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL.
P. S. Please send contributions for Vanguard Presbytery to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540