As churches consider their options concerning a denomination where they can land, I thought it would be helpful to give some answers to various questions that have been addressed to me.
1. Q. Will every church in Vanguard be required to hire a staff member as an evangelist?
A. No, there is no requirement in Vanguard’s BCO for any congregation to have a hired staff member to do the work of an evangelist. Our emphasis is on the practical necessity of the office of evangelist in building up the church. If a church has a ruling elder who has the gifts of an evangelist, they should use him in that capacity as much as possible. When I was a member of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS during the early 1970’s, there were ruling elders who were gifted in presenting the gospel and took the led in their Evangelism Explosion ministry. Another ruling elder from that church, Bo Bowen, spends nearly half a year every year training people in Ukraine in personal evangelism. The ministry of the church encompasses two primary areas—evangelism and discipleship. In Vanguard, we are going to emphasize both aspects of the ministry, even as the Scripture does.
2. Q. Where in the Scripture do you find the spiritual requirements for an evangelist?
A. The New Testament gives the spiritual requirements for office in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. They are listed as elders and deacons. Every officer ordained in the New Testament church must meet either the requirements of elder or deacon. Ephesians 4:11 says Christ gave the church the gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors-teachers. Every apostle was also an elder. Every prophet was also an elder. Every evangelist was also an elder (unless one holds that Philip was a deacon-evangelist). Every pastor-teacher was an elder. Apostles and evangelists relate to one another with their difference being that the former had revelatory gifts, but the latter do not. Prophets and pastors-teachers also relate. Prophets had revelatory gifts. Pastors and teachers do not have those gifts. The extraordinary gifts are those attended with revelation. The ordinary gifts are those not attended with revelatory gifts. As we said above, the ministry of the church is basically comprehended under evangelism and discipleship. Evangelists primarily (but not exclusively) do the former and pastors-teachers disciple those gathered into the church. We need both evangelists and pastors-teachers even as the church needs to evangelize and disciple. I have to say that I fail to see why our view would be a stumbling block for anyone. It is a view which has been encoded in almost every BCO of every Presbyterian denomination in the US since the Great Awakening. Most denominations have practically repudiated the office of evangelist by their actions, but that is not our concern in Vanguard Presbytery. The history of American Presbyterianism since the Great Awakening is on the side of Vanguard Presbytery.
3. Q. If Vanguard Presbytery is a grassroots denomination without permanent committees and agencies at the General Assembly level, then how will it be possible to enforce discipline on the lower courts?
A. We have to carefully distinguish between things that differ. A hierarchy does not mean that discipline and good order is maintained. Look around at all the denominations that are hierarchical and find a single one that is well-ordered. You will not be able to find one. Hierarchy primarily means that the agenda of a small number of people at the top of a denomination is imposed on the rest of the body. The rule comes from the top. And that means that the only things dealt with are the agenda items that are important to that small group of leaders. Too often a hierarchy decides how they want to handle cases before they even consider the facts. I saw that happen in the PCA when I served on the SJC. A grassroots denomination means that the power flows from the bottom up to the top. So, if an issue needs to be addressed by the courts of the church, it comes from session to presbytery and presbytery to General Assembly. When those matters reach the higher court, the governing principles of the BCO can and should be used to decide those issues. I really believe that a grassroots denomination will do a better job of maintaining good order than a hierarchy. And it is not a violation of the principle of a non-hierarchical denomination for the higher court to instruct the lower court in what they should have done and to make sure they follow the rules—or, even to annul or reverse the decision of the lower court. Why? Because the issue at hand did not start at the higher court level, but was only appealed to the higher court for help.
4. Q. There is another existing denomination that is very close to the distinctives of Vanguard Presbytery in many ways. Why did you not just join with them?
A. That is a great question. Here is why. First, Vanguard many similarities with one or another existing Presbyterian denominations (after all, we are Presbyterians), but there also some important differences. No other Presbyterian denomination emphasizes the need of corporate prayer as the first order of business at all church court meetings. That is a Scriptural example and emphasis that reminds us that our business is before the King of Kings—not before men. Second, we in Vanguard Presbytery are interested in reaching the major population cities with the gospel which is a very Scriptural approach to spreading the gospel. While joining an existing denomination would be an answer for individual congregations, we believe it would not be the best approach for reaching those cities. There are groups of people in a number of cities right now that are wanting to start Vanguard Presbytery congregations. Why Vanguard? Why not some other Presbyterian denomination? I believe it is because they see authentic Christianity on display in Vanguard Presbytery, from top to bottom. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. There are many wonderful Christians in the various Presbyterian denominations that existed before Vanguard was formed. There are also problems in several of those denominations which we believe is like the leaven that leavens the whole lump. The bottom line is that we believe we can do more for the kingdom of God and more to reach the lost by starting Vanguard than we could if we joined another denomination. That is why we exist.
CORRECTION: Last week, I gave you a chart to compare the primary options for a new affiliation that I hear from many pastors and churches. If they are interested in Vanguard Presbytery (which I assume that everyone on this email list is), they are usually also considering either the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and/or the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). I did make one mistake on that chart with reference to the ARP. I stated that I did not know their position on homosexual or same-sex attracted officers. A friend quickly reached out to me to remind me that the ARP decided at their 2019 GA to publicly state their objections to Side-B Christianity. Good for them. So, I am agnostic about their position no longer. Of course, the positions of both the OPC and the ARP concerning church property is a major concern of mine. My congregation erected both its buildings without a single penny of help from presbytery, the denomination, or even another church. I could never counsel our elders to go into a denomination where the property could potentially be taken from them. Property ownership is a fundamental right of congregations. As I have written before, even the Roman Catholic Church did not seize the property of churches that left to become Protestants. Any effort by any denomination or presbytery to have control in any way over the property of congregations is a violation of the corporate rights of congregations, in my opinion.
Dewey Roberts, Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery and Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL
Contributions to Vanguard Presbytery may be mailed to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.