Is Vanguard Presbytery Hyber-Calvinistic?

            A few days ago I was told of a seminary professor at a reformed seminary in the US who was being asked by students about Vanguard Presbytery. Supposedly, his reply was that Vanguard is far right and hyper-Calvinistic. I feel something of what Jesus felt when Nicodemus came to Him by night and our Lord had to say to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” Is there really a seminary professor in a reformed institution in this country who is not astute enough to distinguish between Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists? 

            Jesus faced such contradictions during His ministry. In Matthew 11:18, 19, He said, “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Concerning this passage, J. C. Ryle wrote:

It is a mournful fact, that there are always thousands of professing Christians just as unreasonable as these Jews. They are equally perverse, and equally hard to please: whatever we teach and preach, they find fault; whatever be our manner of life, they are dissatisfied. Do we tell them of salvation by grace, and justification by faith? At once they cry out against our doctrine as licentious and Antinomian.—Do we tell them of the holiness which the Gospel requires? At once they exclaim that we are too strict, and precise, and righteous overmuch.—Are we cheerful? They accuse us of levity.—Are we grave? They call us gloomy and dour.—Do we keep aloof from balls, and races, and plays? They denounce us as puritanical, exclusive, and narrow-minded—Do we eat, and drink, and dress like other people, and attend to our worldly callings and go into society? They sneeringly insinuate that they see no difference between us and those who make no religious profession at all; and that we are not better than other men.—What is all this but the conduct of the Jews over again? “We have piped for you, and ye have not danced. We have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.” He who spoke these words knew the hearts of men!    

            I realize that there are some, perhaps many, who will not immediately be able to distinguish between what a Calvinist is and what a hyper-Calvinist is. In a nutshell, a hyper-Calvinist does not believe in evangelism. A hyper-Calvinist does not believe in the free offer of the Gospel to sinners. A hyper-Calvinist does not believe that heralds of Christ are to call on men everywhere to repent and believe. 

            I can state categorically that no minister in Vanguard Presbytery is guilty of hyper-Calvinism. Vanguard Presbytery has ministers who are heavily involved in street preaching and door-to–door evangelism. We have two ministers who are executive directors of mission organizations that send out missionaries to various parts of the world—Reformed Evangelistic Fellowship (REF) and Church Planting International (CPI). Those ministers do not even take a salary from the organizations they represent. We have several ministers who are actively involved in the ministry of REF and evangelism. One minister leads the Samuel Davies School of Evangelism. Another minister wrote the biography of Davies, America’s greatest ever preacher and a stalwart evangelist himself. We have ministers who are very passionate about preaching the gospel to their flocks and all with whom they have contact. 

            Vanguard Presbytery also holds to the office of evangelist. We are greatly criticized for our position on evangelists by people who should know better. Some of our critics even claim to be followers of the views of James Henley Thornwell on church government. Well, Thornwell, like all the Old School Southern Presbyterians of his day, believed that the office of evangelist did not cease with the end of the Apostolic Age. He wrote about that office in his letters, The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell by Benjamin Morgan Palmer, and in the fourth volume of his collected works (at one time published by the Banner of Truth Trust). The books of polity of the old Southern Presbyterian Church recognized the continuation of the office of evangelist. Their books of polity underwent several revisions, but they always retained the office of evangelist. Indeed, evangelists were recognized by almost all denominations in this country until evangelism went out of favor in the 1980’s. Are we better off or worse off since evangelism and evangelists have been cast aside? 

            Do you see the conundrum of our critics? They criticize Vanguard Presbytery as being hyper-Calvinistic even though we hold strongly in word and practice to the importance of evangelism. Yet, a hyper-Calvinist is one who does not believe in evangelism. A hyper-Calvinist is like that Baptist group that told William Carey, “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathens He will do it without your aid or mine.”  Carey was not dissuaded and said, “Plan great things for God; expect great things from God.” 

            I find it interesting, though not unexpected, that Vanguard Presbytery is being criticized both for their evangelistic zeal and having evangelists on the one hand while also being falsely accused of being hyper-Calvinists on the other hand. I would like to ask our critics to please make up their minds concerning the real problem of Vanguard Presbytery. Is it that we are too evangelistic or is it that we do not believe in evangelism at all? It cannot be both. But, of course, that is the inconsistency of mankind. Jesus faced that type of opposition in His days. I am personally comforted by the words of D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones when he would say that you are in the right place when you have enemies on both sides. We make no apology for holding to the office of evangelist. Nor do we apologize for our aggressive efforts to take the gospel to the world. So, critics of Vanguard Presbytery, which is it? Are we to be criticized for being evangelistic and having evangelists or are we to be criticized falsely as being hyper-Calvinists? While our critics try in vain to make their choice, it is also comforting that people criticized Jesus for doing some things just the opposite of John the Baptist (whom they also criticized). Meanwhile, wisdom is vindicated by her children. 

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery through December 31, 2021. 

The Lord has greatly blessed Vanguard Presbytery through the generous contributions of many people and churches which gifts are primarily being used to help new churches get started. It is our commitment to spend those funds only for the bare necessities of the denomination while supporting the work of the gospel to the greatest degree possible. You can make end-of-the-year contributions to Vanguard Presbytery at: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540. www.vanguardpresbytery.com        

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