It is an undeniable fact that almost every conservative denomination that has ever existed has eventually gone liberal. Some people have tried to use that as an argument against Vanguard. They ask, “Why start another denomination when it will just be liberal in another forty years?” Of course, I think the stronger argument works better the other way. Why stay in a denomination where Christ has already removed the candle stick? Christ threatened to remove the lampstand from the Ephesian church if they did not repent, remember from where they had fallen, and do the deeds they did at first. The Ephesian church was the most theologically precise church among the seven churches of Asia Minor. They put to the test those who claimed to be apostles and found them wanting. Other parts of the New Testament give us a lot of information about that church and what her problem was. Mainly, it consisted in this: she left her first love. Others of the churches fell for various reasons: Pergamum allowed false teaching; Thyatira tolerated immorality; Sardis simply went into a death spiral; and, Laodicea was overtaken by the spirit of pride. Smyrna suffered great persecution for the faith and Philadelphia had a little power which she used to keep the Word. Both Smyrna and Philadelphia were commended by Christ.
The question before us today, though, is why do conservative denominations continue to go liberal and why do the conservatives in those denominations always seem to lose the battle? There are a number of reasons, but they all come back to these two. Either they fail to hold onto orthodoxy or they fail to hold onto orthopraxy. As I have written before, the old liberals attacked the doctrines of Scripture. They launched a firestorm against the citadel of the faith. The new liberals (they call themselves progressives and they call us racists) have lobbed their grenades against the practice of the faith—what is called orthopraxy. If orthodoxy is destroyed, orthopraxy falls. If orthopraxy is destroyed, orthodoxy will soon follow. Truth and godliness are always combined. That is why all the churches of Asia Minor that Christ condemned were deficient in either doctrine or practice. So, returning to our question above, the following are some reasons that conservatives lose.
First, conservatives lose because they compromise in the beginning. They are too nice and are too willing to try to gather the biggest tent possible. They allow people who really do not qualify as conservatives to be a part of their denomination in the misguided hopes that they will come around. They do that concerning both ministers and churches. Numbers become more important than faithfulness. Jesus used the opposite approach. He started His church with 12 apostles and commissioned them to be faithful. The large crowds that once followed Him rapidly diminished after His teaching in John 6. By the time Jesus made it to Jerusalem for the last time, the crowds were so fickle that they shouted Hosannas on Palm Sunday, but cried for Barabbas five days later. Thousands had once been fed by Him, but only 120 were left to establish His church after His resurrection. Yet, those 12 disciples, those 120 followers in Jerusalem, and those 500 Galileans who saw Him after the resurrection turned the whole world upside down through their dedication. Like Gideon, we think we need 30,000 to win the battle. God decides that we really need just 300 and the conviction that the battle is the Lord’s. He will be the victor.
Second, conservatives lose because they merge with groups and denominations that are already compromised. The two saddest examples of this from American Presbyterian Church history are the two reunions that took place about a century apart. The first was the reunion between the Old Side (Old Light) Presbyterians and the New Side (New Light) Presbyterians in 1758. The Old Side was against the Great Awakening and had refused to allow the New Side to be seated at the 1741 Synod. Thus, a split ensued and the New Side greatly prospered while the Old Side completely floundered. The Old Side gave lip service to the confession in the same way that progressives today do, but they were not confessional. Then, Gilbert Tennent reached the point that he could no longer take the heat and criticism for his sermon, “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry.” Tennent championed the reunion while the Old Side never made a single concession for all the things they had done against the New Side. In fact, the ink was barely dry on the reunion papers before the Old Side ministers began to sharply criticize the New Side ministers. There was a paper reunion, but not a real reunion. It was a very bad decision. The cause of Christ would have been better served if the reunion had never taken place. That reunion caused numerous problems for the Presbyterian Church and resulted in the doctrinal divide in the nineteenth century known as the Old School- New School division.
Once again, the division into Old School and New School Presbyterian branches was over both revival and doctrine. In this instance, though, it was the Old School Presbyterians who were the good guys. The New School Presbyterians were followers of the man-made revivalistic practices of Charles G. Finney and Albert Barnes. They were also heterodox, if not heretical, on various points of theology. This division took place in 1737 and lasted until 1768. Then, the Old School Presbyterian branch went brain dead and reunited with the unchanged New School branch. It was for the purpose of being able to do greater things for Christ with a larger church, but that did not work out so well. Now, we must remember that the Civil War had further separated the Presbyterian churches into northern and southern branches. There were Old School Presbyterians in both the north and the south who were separated from one another. The same was true for the New School branches. So, when the Old School and New School branches reunited, they formed the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) in the north and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) in the south. These reunions were trumpeted as opportunities to do more together for the kingdom of God than could be done separately. Yet, both reunions quickly led to the erosion of orthodoxy in their respective denominations. It happened much more quickly in the north, but it happened in the south also. I have a collection of children’s sermons preached by a Southern Presbyterian minister in the 1940’s in which the gospel is blatantly missing. The sermons are moralistic messages only. Compromising truth for unity is always wrong!
Third, conservatives lose because they have often permitted their Constitutional documents to be amended and changed. They permit hierarchy to develop in their denominations contrary to Scriptural church government. They have allowed changes to their doctrine and practice. One supposedly small change here and another there. Soon the denomination has been turned in another direction. God’s truth does not change. What happens is that people fail to see the difference between essentials and non-essentials or adiaphora (which means things that are indifferent). The times for church service on the Lord’s Day are matters of indifference. There is nothing sacrosanct about 11 AM worship services. In fact, the first Christians in Israel had to meet either before or after the workday since Sunday was not a day of rest for the Jews. Yet, too often Christians and churches have made man’s ideas the laws for their societies and have neglected the truths of Scripture.
Fourth, conservatives lose because they fail to discipline. Dr. Morton Smith once told me that heresy was permitted in the old PCUS because the conservatives would say, “Well, I know Jim. I know he is wrong about this matter, but he is a good guy. We need to just let it go.” Friendship with the world and with the spirit of the world always makes us enemies of God (James 4:4).
It is certainly true that denominations can be too strict. There are a few examples of that fact. But the more prevalent danger is that of compromise over essentials. Such compromise has never ended well for conservatives. It is the reason they keep losing their denominations.
NOTE: Vanguard Presbytery has a large number of contacts of people all over the USA who are interested in a Vanguard mission church. We also have a number of groups that are being started already. We will not be able to start churches by bankrolling them with hundreds of thousands of dollars like some denominations do. That is a business model of church growth. Vanguard is going to practice the Scriptural plan of evangelistic outreach. We would like to help each new mission church become viable as quickly as possible through these evangelistic efforts. We need people who are willing to help us do this—ministers, elders, church members, etc. If you are willing to help us, please reply to this email and let me know of that interest.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery
Visit us at: www.vanguardpresbytery.com Contributions may be sent to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540.