The Redefining of Evangelicalism by James Kessler and the National Partnership

            On April 23, 2021, The Aquila Report re-published an article by James Kessler, the self-professed founder of the secretive National Partnership in the PCA. Most members of the PCA are unaware that there is such a group as the National Partnership whose purpose is to take over the denomination. My intent in this article is not to address issues within the PCA except where unavoidable. I am happily out of the PCA and rejoicing in that status.

            Kessler’s article, “The PCA Worth Having”, refers to Vanguard Presbytery as a “conservative agitator” and says that such agitators “have produced incredible damage” to the PCA. Kessler might be comforted to know that everyone on the email list for Vanguard Presbytery first contacted us and requested to be on our list. Moreover, our goal is not to recruit churches from the PCA. Rather, we are only interested in such pastors and congregations that are led to be a part of a denomination which holds to the principles and values that we do. And we are particularly interested in starting new churches. Pastors, churches, and church members from the PCA (and other denominations) continue to contact us each week to be placed on our email list. There are people in many cities across the US who want us to start Vanguard Presbytery churches in their cities. They do so not because we are recruiting them, but because they are disgusted with the progressive trend in their denomination and are excited about a truly Scriptural Presbyterian denomination. In other words, Vanguard Presbytery is not the troubler of the PCA (or any other denomination), but progressive pastors are the troublers of the Church.  

            The fact that Kessler has come forth at this time indicates that he feels comfortable in announcing that “the battle, for the soul of the denomination, is over.” In that article, he states unequivocally: “Not only is the judgment that the PCA is ‘going liberal’ without evidence, even the concern is without basis in fact.” Kessler makes other such statements in his article which cause prudent people to question whether he is intentionally misleading or unwittingly duped himself. It is probably a combination of both.

            The danger with what Kessler writes, as the founder and representative of the National Partnership, is that he is attempting to redefine what an evangelical is. That is not new. The liberals against whom J. Gresham Machen contended that they were the true evangelicals. Karl Barth always contended that his theological system was the true evangelical faith. The difference with these modern liberals/progressives is that they do not start by denying orthodoxy as the old liberals did. They start at the other end of the spectrum. They first deny orthopraxy. In other words, they contend that the Church has been practicing the wrong things. That approach leads them just as surely to a denial of orthodoxy, but it is a subtler route to the denial of the faith. So, here are some things we can glean from Kessler’s article about his own views:

            First, Kessler holds up “good faith subscription” as the great keeper of orthodoxy in the PCA. “Good faith subscription” was adopted by the PCA General Assembly in 2002. Since then, there has been a proliferation of exceptions to the Westminster Standards taken by ministers and elders on a wide range of subjects. A minister in a presbytery where I was once a minister took an exception to the answer to the 1st Shorter Catechism question. His exception was that he disagreed that man’s chief end is to “enjoy God.” One minister in the PCA took 53 exceptions to the Confession. It is hard to understand how allowing ministers to deny orthodoxy is protecting orthodoxy. Not surprisingly, Kessler does not give any evidence that theological orthodoxy has been protected by “good faith subscription,” When the PCA cut the gordian knot to its confession in 2002, it left the denomination with no means of preserving orthodoxy or disciplining heterodoxy and heresy. The Confession cannot produce orthodoxy or true salvation, but it is a great standard for testing orthodoxy.   

            Second, Kessler describes these new evangelicals as those who support social justice. He obviously does not realize that the PCA was founded, in part, as a repudiation of the social justice theories in the 1960’s and 1970’s that are now being promoted at the highest levels in that denomination. The liberation theology of yesteryear has simply been repackaged into the Critical Race Theory, social justice, and BLM of today. The liberation theologians of yesteryear were neither conservatives nor evangelicals anymore than the CRT proponents are true evangelicals today.

            Third, Kessler says that these evangelical ministers are “culturally progressive.” He says that they sometimes “have the difficult conversations with visitors looking for a community that will obey their tribal commitments instead of the Scriptures.” In other words, Kessler is saying that those church members who disagree with the culturally progressive messages of social justice and CRT are disobedient to the Scripture. Such members are simply looking for a tribe where they feel comfortable and really do not care about the Scripture.

            Fourth, Kessler holds up the Missouri Presbytery reports (all 2,000 pages of them) concerning the matters involving Greg Johnson as models of Biblical exposition with which no true evangelical can disagree. Here is my question: Why does it take 2,000 pages to determine if same-sex attraction is wrong or right? Here is my answer: Because obfuscation must be finely nuanced in order to deceive the greatest number of people possible. Most people could easily see through a 10-page report, but 2,000 pages appears overwhelming. So, Kessler is holding up the response to Greg Johnson’s SSA by Missouri Presbytery as a litmus test of “orthodoxy”. This is one more example of people calling evil good and good evil.      

            More troubling than what Kessler says is what he does not say. He never defines the gospel. He never defines the standard for testing orthodoxy. Like every progressive I have ever read, Kessler says nothing about regeneration or sanctification or the Holy Spirit. There are reasons these things are never mentioned by progressives. Progressives are silent on these issues because they have adopted the message of Marx as a replacement of the gospel of Christ. For instance, regeneration is irrelevant to these neo-liberals because they hold that “white privilege” has made racist out of all white people. Whites can never cease to be racist according to progressives because they will always be white. What is missing in this message? Well, regeneration is missing. The new birth makes all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17). The new birth can change a person in every area of his life and sanctification can further make him whole. Another thing that is missing is that judging people on the basis of their skin color is not confined to whites only any other than whites alone have been slave owners. Slavery is a human problem and racism is a human problem. Marxism preys upon these sin problems and promotes class warfare. Class warfare is exactly what is dividing denominations today. That is how Marx is replacing Christ in many pulpits today.

            The failure to emphasize regeneration is the chief problem with same-sex attraction also. The idea is promoted that some people have these attractions that are unremitting and can never be overcome, but as long as they resist those attractions they have not sinned—despite the fact that Jesus and James call such attractions lusts which are sinful (Matthew 5:27-30; James 1:14, 15). Yet, the recommended remedy is that the individual assaulted by such same-sex attractions must fight manfully to resist them throughout his life. That recommendation places one’s own obedience on a higher scale than the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, according to these progressives, is powerless to take those attractions away, but the individuals can resist them through their own faithful obedience. That is works salvation—not salvation by grace.

            These neo-liberals restrict the gospel to simply announcing that Jesus died for sinners. For them, there is no regeneration or definitive sanctification or progressive sanctification. The work of the Holy Spirit is left out of their theological system.

            Thus, Kessler has laid down the gauntlet to the Confessionals in his denomination. He has declared what he believes the denomination is and will be from this point forward. The picture he has painted is not a pretty one. I did not leave the PCA. The PCA left me. I simply decided that continuing the same ministry elsewhere was a better choice for me and my congregation. Here is what I say to Kessler and the National Partnership. I have seen this situation before. Progressivism never leads a denomination forward. Progressive denominations always lose members. If the PCA remains under the control of these progressive ministers, like Kessler, they may retain the church buildings, but the people will continue to leave them as they have already started to do. The true sheep will only listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and progressive ministers are incapable of even mimicking His voice.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery.

P.S. Please mail any contributions to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540. Such funds are necessary to promote new churches and the operation of this new denomination.     

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