Vanguard Presbytery: Where Then Shall We Go?
The great question facing many congregations is this: If we leave our present denomination, where do we go? Vanguard Presbytery is a great option as the chart below illustrates:
|Question or Issue||Vanguard Presbytery||Orthodox Pres Church (OPC)||Associate ReformedPresbyterian (ARP)|
|Allows various views of creation||Holds to six 24-hour days of creation||Allows various viewsof creation||Allows exceptions to WCF on creation|
|Requires full subscription to WCF||YES||NO, permits exceptions||NO, permits exceptions|
|New Side Presbyterian (Great Awakening)||YES||The OPC heritage is through the Old Side Presbyterians who opposed Great Awakening||New Side Presbyterianism is not the heritage of the ARP|
|Old School Presbyterian||YES||YES in general, though many OPC pastors are not||The ARP was not a part of this 1838 split|
|Office of Evangelist||YES||YES||NO|
|Federal Vision/New Perspectives on Paul||NO, considers both to be heresies||Some OPC pastors hold to one or both||Some ARP pastors hold to one or both|
|Hierarchical?||NO||YES, allows hierarchy at GA||YES, allows hierarchy at GA|
|Social Justice/ BLM/ Critical Race Theory||NO, considers both to be Marxist||I do not know where they stand as a denomination||I do not know where they stand as a denomination|
|Permits homosexual or same-sex attracted ministers or officers||NO||I do not know where they stand as a denomination||I do not know where they stand as a denomination|
|Allows churches to leave with property at any time||YES||NO, churches must request permission from presbytery to have a meeting to vote on this issue. They must have 2 separate Congregational Meetings with members of Presbytery present to dissuade them from leaving||NO, churches must have two meetings one year apart. Must have ¾ members voting to leave. Presbytery divides property if there is a minority voting to stay. There are no guidelines for how presbytery will divide the property.|
|Allows women officers—elders or deacons||NO||NO||YES, permits deaconesses|
First, let us consider the advantages of Vanguard Presbytery as an option for such pastors and churches. Vanguard holds to the Scriptural account of creation and the full historicity of Genesis 1-11; requires full subscription to the Westminster Standards; is both New Side (Great Awakening) and Old School (historic reformed theology); holds to the office of evangelist (as does the OPC and as did most Presbyterian denominations in the US until the 1930’s); is against the Federal Vision, the New Perspectives on Paul, and Shepherdism (the views of former Westminster Theological Seminary professor, Norman Shepherd, which are identical on soteriology as the FV and the NPP); is a non-hierarchical denomination with the Great Commission being fulfilled by presbyteries and sessions/congregations; is against the Marxist theories of social justice, Black Lives Matter, and Critical Race Theory; does not permit homosexual or same-sex attracted officers or church members; allows churches to leave with their property whenever they decide to do so; and does not permit women officers. What is there not to like about Vanguard for conservative Reformed officers or church members? Of course, some people might take objection to the fact that Vanguard has a virtual nobody as Moderator, but I will let those people wrestle with James 2:1-4 in the presence of the Lord.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Second, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church is often offered as the most viable option for true conservatives leaving a denomination that is going progressive. There certainly are many good pastors, elders, and church members in the OPC, but that is not true of the OPC as a whole. The primary connections between Vanguard Presbytery and the OPC are the agreement of many in the OPC with Old School theology—the theological views of Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, Robert Lewis Dabney, James Henley Thornwell, and others from the nineteenth century; the agreement with the office of evangelist; and the opposition of the OPC to women officers. There are various differences between Vanguard Presbytery and the OPC as follows: the OPC allows multiple views on the days of creation and Genesis 1-11; the OPC does not require full subscription to the Westminster Standards; the OPC derives its heritage from the opponents to the Great Awakening; the OPC has ministers and elders who hold to the Federal Vision, the New Perspectives on Paul and Shepherdism (in fact, Shepherdism began in the OPC); the OPC is somewhat hierarchical and has delegated General Assemblies with many of the delegates being almost permanent delegates; and, the OPC position on more recent issues such as homosexual officers and social justice is not known. A concern for many pastors and churches is that the OPC does not allow churches to leave very easily. Before a session can call for a congregational meeting to withdraw from the OPC, they must ask the permission of their presbytery. The presbytery then appoints representatives to attend the two congregational meetings required for leaving the OPC and their purpose is to try to dissuade the congregation from doing so. The differences between Vanguard Presbytery and the OPC are more than the similarities, though that fact is often ignored or overlooked.
The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP)
Third, I must again point out that there are many fine pastors, elders, and church members in the ARP. I have many friends in that denomination for whom I have great respect, but individuals do not make a denomination. We are looking at the official positions of the denomination as a whole. Most of the things that trouble people in Vanguard Presbytery with the OPC are also prevalent in the ARP. Unlike the OPC, though, the ARP does not hold to the office of evangelist. The ARP’s heritage is outside the divisions of the Presbyterian Church into Old Side-New Side and Old School-New School, but the ARP to the best of my knowledge was closer to the Old Side (opposition to the Great Awakening) and New School (lax on reformed theology) positions—which is just the opposite of Vanguard Presbytery—but that is probably not true of the ARP today. In fact, the ARP is probably more reformed today than it has ever been and much more reformed than it was 40 years ago. One reason why this is so is because there has been a large influx of ministers whose heritage is from other Presbyterian denominations. In my opinion, the ARP would be a much better choice than the OPC if not for one fact. The ARP has an even more difficult standard for churches attempting to withdraw from the denomination than does the OPC. The ARP BCO requires that a congregation hold two congregational votes to leave the denomination which have to be one year apart. At both meetings, there must be ¾ of the members who vote to leave the ARP. It would be a difficult standard for most churches if their BCO simply required that the quorum for such a meeting had to be ¾ of the members present, but the ARP requires that there have to be ¾ of the members who are present and voting to leave. If there is a minority vote to stay in the ARP, the presbytery then gets to divide the property according to their best judgment. For those who believe that congregational ownership of their property is sacrosanct, that is a difficult pill to swallow. For myself, it is a bridge too far. I know that some people have been told that the ARP is willing to ignore that part of their BCO for churches that would vote to leave, but that raises other problems. What is the purpose of a BCO if it can be ignored so easily?
North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC)
One other problem with both the OPC and the ARP is that they are both in NAPARC of which the PCA is the largest denomination. The question for me is this: why would a pastor or church leave the PCA for conscience sake and then maintain fraternal relations with the PCA through being in a denomination that is also in NAPARC? That is what would happen if a pastor or church joins with the OPC or ARP. In that case, the PCA would be the leaven of the Sadducees and the Pharisees that leavens the whole lump. It is inevitable. It is unavoidable. That leaven of unbelief will eventually affect all the other denominations in NAPARC, including the OPC and the ARP. First, it takes the form of accommodation. Then, it takes the form of acceptance. Finally, it takes the form of agreement. The fraternal relationships between the member denominations in NAPARC is not as close as the relationship which exists among member churches in a denomination, but it is a formal relationship, nonetheless. It is not meaningless. It does produce peer pressure. If one denomination has become heterodox or heretical, it does compromise all the other denominations within that fraternal body. I fear that too many people downplay the significance of this fraternal relationship with NAPARC. I have been asked by several people if Vanguard Presbytery will ever seek acceptance in NAPARC. My answer is that I would certainly hope not. I feel that would undermine everything we are trying to do in Vanguard.
The Problem of Presbytery
I wrote an article several months ago on “The Problem with Presbyterianism is Presbytery.” That is a subject which is given too little attention. Another unique point about Vanguard Presbytery is our protection of the rights of ministers and churches against the abuses of power by presbyteries. Presbyteries often act without regard to the very books of polity which they say they uphold. The main reason why is because it takes so long for the General Assembly to correct the errors of the lower court that the actions of presbytery have already accomplished their intended purposes before they can even be reviewed by the GA. The nexus of many of the problems is found in the differences in the way appeals and complaints are handled by Presbyterian polity. Now, there is nothing in the Scripture which distinguishes between a complaint and an appeal in a judicial matter, but Presbyterian polity certainly does. And I think that those distinctions have the effect of causing problems which protect presbyteries in their unconstitutional actions. In Presbyterian polity, an appeal where a person has submitted to a trial suspends the actions of the lower court until the higher court adjudicates the matter. It is different with a complaint. Complaints do not suspend the action of the lower court unless 1/3 of the members of the court present when the action is taken vote to suspend it until the higher court acts on it. Yet, that distinction has the effect of taking away the rights of someone who has been abused by a lower court even though there has not been a trial. In Vanguard Presbytery, we are going to give a complaint the same due consideration as an appeal. Here is what our BCO says:
45-4 Notice of complaint shall not have the effect of suspending the action against which the complaint is made except in the following instances:
a. If one-third (1/3) of the members present when the action was taken shall vote for its suspension until the final decision in the higher court;
b. If a complainant/complainants personally affected by the decision is/are present at the meeting of the court when the action was taken shall request its suspension until the final decision in the higher court.
All Presbyterian books of polity with which I am familiar deny individuals in a complaint the same rights that are given to individuals in an appeal. That is wrong. There is no Scriptural distinction between a complaint and an appeal. It should not have to depend on the good will of 1/3 of the presbyters present at the time of the action at the lower court. The person or persons most affected by those actions should have the right of appeal even in a complaint to have their issues redressed by the higher court. This is not an insignificant matter. I have observed for 46 years that presbyteries have taken advantage of that distinction between an appeal and a complaint to take certain actions short of a trial which have caused great harm to ministers, church members, and congregations. Once those actions have been taken, there has been no recourse for those who were hurt by unconstitutional and unscriptural actions. To my knowledge, Vanguard Presbytery will be the first Presbyterian denomination to give the same rights to complainants as appellants. This is a necessary tweak to Presbyterian polity whose time has come. It is one more reason why Vanguard Presbytery is the right choice for churches leaving their old denominations.
Dewey Roberts, Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery and Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL. (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
All donations to Vanguard Presbytery should be sent to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540