I was interviewed last week by a Southern Baptist minister, Jon Harris, who does podcasts and videocasts on Conversations That Matter. He is a very sharp young man who already has a big influence among the conservative voices in the SBC. He also agrees mostly with the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faithwhich is very similar to the Westminster Confession of Faith. The interview also was before the General Assembly of the PCA passed Overture 23. Here is a link where you can watch the whole interview: https://youtu.be/zB0lrZj7Enw
Jon and I talked briefly before the interview started, but I was not given the specific questions that I would be asked. The answers, therefore, are not canned or prepared. One question that was asked was about how do you keep a denomination pure? That is a great question and the key question. It is something that we at Vanguard Presbytery have given a lot of attention to in our quest to develop a denomination that will last into the twenty-second century and beyond. My answer was that two things are necessary. First, you have to guard the front door. Second, you have to be willing to use the back door. In this article, I would like to elaborate on those two things.
Guarding the Front Door of a Denomination
First, a denomination that wants to remain pure must have the right Constitution. That includes doctrinal standards (Westminster Confession of Faith for Vanguard); polity (a simple BCO is best); and worship. If the regulative principle is not used to determine doctrine, polity, and worship, a denomination is setting itself up for failure from the beginning.
There are many secondary issues that flow out of getting the Constitutionright from the beginning.
Is Scripture the basis for all decisions? I served on the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA for 4terms. Towards the latter part of my service, I was often told that Scripture could not be used as an argument because it was not a part of the Constitution. That is a silly and dangerous argument. Scripture is quoted repeatedly in the documents of that denomination and is supposedly the basis for the Constitution. Scripture cannot be broken. One quote in one place opens the door for the use of Scripture everywhere and in every discussion. Otherwise, such a denomination is a club—not a church. In Vanguard, Scripture is clearly stated as the basis of everything we do and can be used in every case that comes before us.
Is the Constitution going to be easy or hard to amend? We in Vanguard think it is a serious error to make it easy to change the Constitution through the overture process. History shows that overture changes to a denomination’s BCO almost invariably result in more hierarchy which leads to progressivism. Vanguard’s requirements for amending the Constitution will protect the denomination for many years to come.
Are officers going to be allowed to take exceptions? The taking of exceptions has proved to be an Achilles heel that results in progressivism and liberalism. Vanguard does not permit exceptions, but requires full subscription.
Will the Directory of Worshipsimply be recommended? If so, that denomination can prepare for the worship wars that will ensue and the various practices that will follow. Vanguard has made the Directory of Worship a requirement for member churches.
Does the Constitution permit hierarchy at any court level? Most denominations do, but Vanguard does not and will not.
Using the Backdoor of a Denomination
Second, a denomination that wants to remain pure must be careful in approving ministers and officers within that denomination. History has proven that willingly receiving ministers and officers that do not agree with the Constitution of that denomination results in destroying the denomination from within. Scripture is clear: “Do two men walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Denominations that allow ministers to work for counter purposes concerning essentials will not last. Such denominations are houses divided against themselves.
The backdoor is the door of punitive discipline. It is not delightful, but it is often necessary. If a minister or officer changes his views, he is supposed to inform the court that has jurisdiction over him—presbyteries for ministers, sessions for ruling elders or deacons. I have never witnessed a minister informing his presbytery of his change of views. That is where the courts of the church have to have the courage to do the right thing. If a minister or officer is allowed to continue to serve with an exception to the Constitution, it will eventually destroy everything. In my reading of church history, there is only one instance that I have ever found of a minister who fell into heresy who ever turned back from it—just one instance. The idea that we need to be patient and minister to the erring brother is simply wrong. It is opposed to Scripture. Titus 3:9, 10 says: “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” Allowing factious men to remain in good standing will only lead to destruction from within. Vanguard Presbytery must be willing to practice such discipline if she is going to remain pure.
In denominations that are already compromised, these two steps will be very difficult and will have to be reversed. The back door must be used first in order to hopefully reach the point of guarding the front door. Yet, that will be very difficult—nay, almost impossible—if the denomination has a seminary that is producing heterodox and heretical ministerial candidates; if the denomination has an entrenched hierarchy which is unaccountable to the body; if exceptions are allowed to be taken by officers; if immoral and heretical people are already in the denomination; or, if a neo-Marxist is elected to the highest judicatory or as Moderator. I suppose there is a first time for everything, but… it is so much better for my heart to be in a denomination where we are walking together in agreement.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery (for more information visit www.vanguardpresbytery.com)
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