Todd Allen

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With sincere apologies, I must record a correction. The fact is that the local court case was ruled unanimously in favor of the Hull Memorial and Eastern Heights churches. My thanks to Rev. Todd Allen for his gracious correction.

 

On April 17, 1966, because of extreme liberal trends in their parent church, two Savannah Presbyterian churches, Hull Memorial and Eastern Heights, led by their pastors Clifford Brewton and Todd Allen, voted to sever all ties with the Presbyterian Church U. S. denomination. This Action resulted in the Presbytery attempting to take control of the property, and a court case, settled first by a local jury that ruled unanimously in favor of the two congregations. Rev. Todd Allen comments that:

“Savannah Presbytery then appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court who approved the Jury decision unanimously in favor of the two congregations. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court who remanded the case back to the Georgia Supreme Court giving neutral principles of law for that court to use in adjudicating the case. The Georgia Supreme applied the neutral principle enunciated by the United States Supreme Court and by a  unanimous  decision awarded the two local churches their church properties. The presbytery again appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case and that ended litigation after 3 ½ years of litigation in January of 1970. It should be noted that all court decisions were unanimous.”

The Savannah court case was an unprecedented, history-making event that overturned nearly 100 years of inequitable law practices in the United States and changed the way the civil courts in the future could deal with church property disputes. The case caused major church denominations to study their administration, relations, and rules relating to their connection with local church congregations. The specific and immediate effect of the case was a means for a somewhat peaceful withdrawal in 1973—with their properties—of some 250 churches from the Presbyterian Church U. S.  The case was a crucial element in the success of the Continuing Church movement that resulted in the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

The significance of the historic event was, at least in that immediate historical context, that no longer could church tribunals exercise property takeover tactics to force compliance to certain disputed doctrines, or for any other reason the denomination may choose: Ended was the practice of stealing church property in the name of organized religion. This case liberated those local churches in the PCUS from denominational tyranny.

The heart of the Supreme Court ruling in the Savannah case was in favor of what are termed neutral principles of law, as opposed to the civil court being guided or even ruled by the doctrines (including bylaws and constitution) of the denomination.

During the time that the property issue continued to be debated and was sent to the Georgia Supreme Court, Pastor Brewton accepted an appointment as an aide to Governor Lester Maddox, resigned the pastorate at Hull Memorial, and moved to Atlanta. Meanwhile Pastor Todd Allen was at the forefront in the property struggle through the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled for the local churches, and the case then went onward to the U. S. Supreme Court. Allen also was a leader in organizing Vanguard Presbytery in 1972, a new presbytery established for churches withdrawing from the PCUS, thus providing them a Presbytery to join while awaiting the formation of the new denomination.

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In the last years leading up to the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America, preparations were underway on several fronts, laying the groundwork for a new denomination. Providentially, two critical legal cases in the 1960’s had established the property rights of congregations. Then by the early 1970’s, churches that were leaving the PCUS knew that they could not properly leave to independency. Thus the need for a Presbytery structure led to the formation of Vanguard Presbytery. Vanguard began its existence some fifteen months before the organization of the PCA, and continued to serve as a Presbytery of the denomination until 1977, when its churches were received into more geographically proximate PCA Presbyteries.

The PCA’s First Presbytery, Before There Was a PCA.

On September 7, 1972, 16 persons representing 10 churches which had already withdrawn or were planning to sever their connection with the Presbyterian Church U.S. met at Eastern Heights Presbyterian Church in Savannah, Georgia.

In a unanimous vote they adopted this resolution:
WHEREAS, We, the undersigned have met together to study the situation in the Church of Jesus Christ, and
WHEREAS, We are agreed that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and
WHEREAS, We are agreed that the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms set forth the system of Doctrine declared in the Scriptures, and
WHEREAS, The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (1934 edition) sets forth a reasonable and practical formulary for church organization, therefore
BE IT RESOLVED,

1. That we the undersigned do covenant together to form an Association to be known as VANGUARD PRESBYTERY, INC., a provisional presbytery for Southern Presbyterian and Reformed Churches uniting, and
2. That this Association shall have as its purpose to perpetuate the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as it was proclaimed in the Southern Presbyterian Church prior to the year 1938.

Read at the meeting was a letter which the Rev. Arnie Maves, a Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship evangelist, wrote to the Rev. Todd Allen who convened the meeting:

” … This is to confirm our telephone conversation on Monday evening concerning the upcoming meeting in Savannah, Georgia. I want to say on paper what I said on the phone, that I stand ready and willing to become a part of the Vanguard Presbytery which hopefully will be formed very soon. I want to be counted as one of the charter members of that Presbytery as soon as it is officially formed.

“I am presently a member of Cherokee Presbytery of the P.C.U.S. and have never changed in my beliefs as first stated some years ago upon my ordination. I still believe the Bible to be the Word of God written, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and I still adhere to the Westminster Confession with the Shorter and Larger Catechisms as the best interpretation of the Scriptures that I know.

“I feel that my denomination has changed and left me. I have not changed my views … nor my vows. Therefore, I can no longer hold to nor adhere to what the PCUS is now doing. I am in disagreement with them in most points … although I love them and do pray for them.

“Therefore, as you gentlemen come to do an historic work … I simply want to say, I am with you … and I want to become a part of this continuing Presbyterian work called Vanguard Presbytery. I don’t know who chose that name . . . but it’s a good one. Praise the Lord.”

Vanguard Presbytery was formally organized at a meeting held in Tabb Street Presbyterian Church, Petersburg, Va., on November 14, 1972. It was reported that their plan was to adopt the Confession of Faith and Book of Church Order which were in effect in 1933 (before the liberals started tampering with them) except for one very significant change, namely that the Book of Church Order would provide explicitly that the local congregation has sole ownership and control of its own property.

The Rev. Todd Allen, who was elected Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery, also served on the Steering Committee for the Continuing Church. Chester B. Hall whose church, First Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky., had renounced the jurisdiction of Louisville-Union Presbytery earlier that same year, was elected Clerk and Treasurer.

Words to Live By:
More than anything else, unbelief was the reason these churches left their old denomination. The unbelief of modernism was not necessarily a problem in the pews, but among the prevailing leadership of the old denomination, it was a different story. The crux of the problem was, as the patriarch Abraham said, “There is no fear of God in this place.” (Gen. 20:11). And more than anything else, these churches left to protect and preserve their ability to faithfully preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their purpose was to remain, as the long-standing motto says, Loyal to the Scriptures; True to the Reformed Faith; Obedient to the Great Commission.

Trivia Question: Who did come up with that name for the Presbytery?

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