The following is an telephone interview done with
Dr. Cortez Cooper, Mission to North America Coordinator.
P&R News: "I'm
calling with regard to New Song-Salt Lake in particular and what's
happening in the West. What do you know about what's been going
on at New Song-Salt Lake?"
Dr. Cooper: "What I'd like to do, Frank, is
we here being MNA-obviously, the Presbyteries have the final decision,
not MNA, but since this is a church plant, we certainly have responsibility.
We've really been taking the high road about the overtures and
so forth. By that, I've been talking to those from Northern California
and from Central Georgia, for example. And that is not completed
yet. If you will give me a few days, uh, we have other conversations
by telephone conference coming up and I'd be delighted to tell
you the result of that."
P&R News: "Can
I ask you some general questions, then? . . . Would MNA approve
of people who are not ordained or not licensed preaching or leading
worship on a regular basis?"
Dr. Cooper: "No. Neither the Committee nor
the staff would do that."
P&R News: "I
take it the same thing in terms of administering the Lord's Supper
by a non-ordained person."
Dr. Cooper: "That is correct."
P&R News: "What
would you say if someone fenced the table by saying, 'If you believe
that you're converted this very moment, then you're invited to
partake of communion'?"
Dr. Cooper: "I would not use that way of fencing
the table. I just do not think that is a proper way to fence
the table. Now, I realize our Standards allow the individual
ordained person who's fencing the table some latitude, but only
within Scripture. And I myself am not prepared, Frank, to support
that fence for the Lord's table. Now I haven't bounced that off
my Committee. Really, these are the sorts of things that we are
talking about. But let me bounce that ball back toward you and
toward the presbyteries. . . . My hope is that the Assembly will
issue a clear hermeneutic on the regulative principle for worship
that guidelines would be given, but right now, I want to assure
you that the MNA Committee and staff do make a strong effort in
the training of church planters, in the seminars for church planters,
to pursue the Standards of our church very carefully. Now, mind
you, we are not a presbytery. We have no voice in whether a church
or church plant is doing that. When it comes to New Song, for
example, we would expect, even while recognizing this as a destitute
part of the church presently, we have expected Northern California
Presbytery to exercise the proper discipline over all its churches
and missions. And that's the kind of thing I believe that may
come out of the discussions in our Committee and staff about that
with the Presbyteries involved. I'm hopeful that it will. We
do believe, and you know we are very submissive to the presbyteries,
and nothing's going to go on or cease going on without the presbyteries.
But that's not to play dodge-ball. Because we at MNA are responsible
for those seminars we conduct, for the training we conduct. And
be assured, Frank, I'm going to take responsibility for those,
and my staff will."
P&R News: "Do
you think alternative rock music, just in terms of your own perspective,
is acceptable for public worship?"
Dr. Cooper: "Frank, I would rather not comment
now, because what I'm doing is I'm gathering facts about what
sorts of things were used in New Song or elsewhere. I would really
be happy to make a statement about that next week. . . . I think
it's a very important question, and I'm sure not going to dodge
that, but what we're doing now is talking to the Presbyteries,
men from these Presbyteries, both Northern California and Central
Georgia-it's been very edifying to talk to the brothers who have
some of these concerns. And you may already know this, but I
have asked Lewis Ruff to find out the specifics and the particulars.
. . . I certainly want to have that. And I know that Lewis would
be pleased to have that circulated in whatever ways it should
be. But I'd rather wait, and defer my talking about that until
I have looked at what Lewis is giving me."
P&R News: "$80,000
was loaned to [New Song-Salt Lake], along with $522,000 from Presbyterian
Dr. Cooper: "Right."
P&R News: "Are
you aware of the fact that there are no members in New Song?"
Dr. Cooper: "I am indeed aware of that, because
New Song is not a particular congregation. I am aware of that,
P&R News: "Aren't
there members in [and we were starting to ask, "in mission
congregations"-Ed.] . . . ."
Dr. Cooper: "Well, I will say this, though-let's
back up to say there are actually people committed to the ministry
of that mission church, who have put their lives and livelihood
on the line, it's my understanding, for this. This is in process,
because Fred Marsh is gathering those facts for me now, so that
we will actually know what it is. It is only my understanding
at the present, and I'd like to defer these statements until we
see what they are."
P&R News: "What
is PCA West?"
Dr. Cooper: "PCA West is the name given to the
MNA's [regional coordinator in the West]. . . . It's what Lewis
Ruff calls the Office of the Regional Church Planting Coordinator."
P&R News: "Does
it have a separate budget then?"
Dr. Cooper: "No, only insofar as that budget
is cleared with my staff, through the Committee. It's separate
from the standpoint that there are five presbyteries involved,
and those presbyteries each approve that budget. It's given to
us as information."
P&R News: "So,
the budget itself for that office is approved by [those presbyteries]?.
. . . And so your office would have the information on that then?"
Dr. Cooper: "Yes."
P&R News: "Who's
responsible for Asilomar?"
Dr. Cooper: "Asilomar is the responsibility
of Lewis Ruff, our church planting coordinator for the West."
P&R News: "Are
you aware of some of the correspondence that's been filed with
Central Georgia Presbytery, where Lewis Ruff has apparently been
trying to keep people out of Northern California Presbytery or
out of Utah who do not accept the legitimacy of other styles of
Dr. Cooper: "No, I have spoken with Lewis about
that directly, and he denies it categorically, and has a response
to that. I wish you could read his response. . . . I really would
like you to talk with Lewis, because he has made an official response.
By official, I mean he's willing to e-mail it. . . . He's given
it to Central Georgia. And that is a recent development, I would
love for you to have and to look at."
P&R News: "I'd
be delighted to do that."
Dr. Cooper: "Please do."
P&R News: "Is
MNA still supporting Utah church plants, such as Phil Stogner?"
Dr. Cooper: ". . . Phil's is now a particular
congregation. . . . We supported the PCA church there until recently.
He has been a part of our overall MNA church planting budget."
. . . . .
P&R News: "One
other question, and it's a tough question, and if you think it's
an inappropriate question, that's fine. The MNA Intercessor
for the West stated recently that the organizing pastor and
his wife 'are stepping out of ministry for awhile after experiencing
the strain of starting this church.' As you know, the minister
was actually suspended-"
Dr. Cooper: "That's correct."
P&R News: "-for
two years. Do you think that that statement by the MNA Intercessor
is an accurate way of portraying the situation?"
Dr. Cooper: "I have concern-I would rather not
comment, Frank, except to say that we have registered the official
action of Presbytery, which we think was appropriate. And I'd
like to just limit my comments to that. As you know, we simply
print the prayer requests as they come in. I think there are
a number of us, not just myself, who might have worded that different,
but I understand what was the attempt there. It was the attempt
at a time when that body was absolutely ruptured emotionally and
was heart-broken over sin and how that had made an impact on the
congregation. And that was apparently an effort to help and encourage
a young church and to avoid further pain. If I had been wording
it, I probably would not have put it that way. . . . But the thing
that we're aware of, and this is the most important point, that
the Presbytery did act and that a suspension was applied."
[That telephone interview was originally scheduled for May 20th; we had informed Dr. Cooper's office of which phone number we would be at. He called us at our other phone and left a message on the answering machine, saying how sorry he was that he missed us. We re-scheduled the telephone interview for May 26th, and did speak with him then. As indicated above, Dr. Cooper wished to decline comment on several of these matters until a telephone conference call meeting of the MNA Committee scheduled for June 1st. We informed him that that was our deadline date, but that, as long as we could speak with him on that Monday, we would hold open the space in the newspaper. He made a telephone date with us for 4:45 PM on June 1st. We called his office about an hour ahead of time, to make sure that the switchboard would still be receiving calls. The receptionist informed us that Dr. Cooper was not in the office that day; and that, unless she was instructed otherwise, any calls received after 4:30 PM would go automatically into voice mail. At 4:46 PM, we called the MNA number and listened to a recording, after which we left a message for Dr. Cooper, reminding him that we were calling per the prior arrangement.
We are sorry that Dr. Cooper was not available for
our further interview. We have listed below some of the questions
we would have liked to have asked him.-Ed.]
Questions Which We Would Like Dr. Cooper to Answer
Should an MNA staff member hang up on a PCA teaching
elder who is seeking information regarding his work?
You have denied that Lewis Ruff was trying to keep
out of Utah a man who does not accept the legitimacy of other
styles of worship. If it were true that he was trying to do that,
would you favor Mr. Ruff continuing as an employee of MNA?
Does MNA control PCA West? If so, why will your
office not give the information regarding its budget?
You said that you did not want to dodge the question
about alternative rock music in public worship. Let me now give
you an opportunity to say, for the benefit of the entire denomination,
what your position is on that.
Do you approve of the worship practices at New Song-Salt
Lake? Are they in accord with the Confession of Faith? How are
they different from the experimental worship of the Southern Presbyterian
Church in the 1960s?
Is MNA going to support a new organizing pastor for
New Song-Salt Lake? Is Jeffrey Szakonyi going to be brought in
(via ordination at his Willow Creek-affiliated church)?
Why is Utah under Northern California, rather than
Rocky Mountain or Southwest Presbytery?
Members of the General Assembly have a fiduciary
responsibility to see that denominational finances are handled
properly. Why is your office unwilling to give information about
the loan given to New Song-Salt Lake?