With Christianity falling apart in America, one of the most important questions to answer is this one: How do I decide what denomination to join? Of course, the answer to that question depends on where you want to go. If you are like the person who stops at a gas station to ask directions without knowing your destination, the attendant will tell you, “Well, any of these roads will lead you there.” I trust that if you are on this email list, you are not like that. I trust that you want a Scriptural denomination which preaches the gospel—not the social justice mantra of the modern church. If so, here are some things you should consider about a new denomination.
First, is the denomination true to its stated theological views? If it claims to hold to a particular confessional statement, such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Heidelberg Catechism, does it require its officers to subscribe to such without taking exceptions? I recently heard of a minister in another denomination describing Vanguard Presbytery as “dangerous” because we require officers to fully subscribe to the WCF. If that is dangerous, then we are guilty! What one man thinks is dangerous another man considers to be a safeguard. The results are in from church history. Denominations that allow exceptions always go liberal. Confessions are safeguards. Once those safeguards are breached the walls of the denomination fall down very quickly. If you are searching for a new denomination, look first to see if that denomination is serious about its doctrinal statements.
Second, does that denomination focus on preaching the gospel. Sadly, the gospel has become an afterthought with too many churches and denominations. I talked with some ministers today who told me that when they were being examined by a presbytery in another denomination, the questions were about social justice, racism, and homosexuality—but not theology and the gospel. The good news about redemption in Christ is the only reason for the existence of the church. Otherwise, any so-called church is just another club or organization. It has long been the conviction of evangelical Christians in this country to flee any church or denomination that did not preach the gospel. I know of a church where a long-time pastor used to tell the members if anyone ever preached any other message than the gospel in that pulpit then they should put their fingers in their ears and flee. Now, social justice is preached regularly from that pulpit—and the members are staying. That is sad! Paul said, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:8).
Third, is the church hierarchical or does it allow hierarchy? Presbyterianism in the Scripture is non-hierarchical. Yet, Presbyterianism as practiced by many denominations is very hierarchical. Here are some of the ways that hierarchy enters denominations.
(1). The local church is ruled by a super session according to the business model and the majority of the elders do not even learn of the decisions that have been made until after the fact. They are then asked to rubber stamp what has already been done. Ruling elders in that scenario become the leading members of that congregation’s Department of Irrelevancy. Only the pastor and a few sycophants have any say in the decisions that effect the congregation.
(2). Presbytery is allowed to rule without any checks on their decisions by the General Assembly. That makes the presbytery essentially autonomous—and autocratic—and tyrannical. A lot of people have had that experience with their presbytery. In true Presbyterianism, presbytery can be overruled, corrected, amended, and disciplined by the General Assembly. When presbytery is allowed to rule in whatever way they desire as long as they have used the right procedure, that denomination is permitting hierarchy.
(3). When the committees, boards, and agencies of the General Assembly are allowed to operate without the prior approval of the General Assembly for their decisions, the bureaucrats become the hierarchy. They rule administratively for the highest court of the Church. They rule without prior approval of the court which erected them. It is impossible for any denomination to have General Assembly permanent committees that are truly subject to the court. In every case, such committees, boards or agencies, become the tail wagging the dog. Hierarchy always leads to progressivism and liberalism. Hierarchy concentrates power in the hands of a few and that has always resulted in the liberalism of that denomination. That is why Vanguard Presbytery does not allow hierarchy at any church court level.
Fourth, do the ministers and churches get along with one another? You should choose a denomination the way you would choose a local congregation. If you visit a church and the members are fighting and bickering with one another, you will probably be reluctant to join it. At least, you should be. True Christian fellowship is one of the hallmarks of the early church and should have a higher priority as a mark of the church than it does. We often say that the marks of the church are the true preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of discipline. Yet, Calvin said that there are other marks of a true church in addition to those three and I agree with him. Fellowship without partiality is another mark. Prayerfulness is another mark. Evangelism is another mark. The early church went everywhere “bringing the good news” (Acts 8:4). At our most recent presbytery meeting, one pastor told me, “It used to take me an hour to get to presbytery and I hated it. Now it takes me several hours, but once I arrive I love it!” For years, I dreaded going to presbytery. Now I love going to a meeting of Vanguard Presbytery. Why? Because we are brothers walking together in truth, unity, and love.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery (www.vanguardpresbytery.com)
P. S. Please send any contributions to Vanguard Presbytery to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540