Central Georgia Makes Inquiries

An overture from Central Georgia Presbytery, with a supporting overture from Grace Presbytery, turned the attention of the denomination to New Song-Salt Lake and PCA church planting practices in Utah. The 26th Assembly turned down the Central Georgia overture which asked for a full investigation and for the termination of employment of any Mission to North America (MNA) personnel who discriminated against ministers holding to traditional views of worship or who, knowing about said discrimination, did not bring the matter to the attention of the church-at-large.

One of the key contentions of the MNA committee was that the action contemplated in the Central Georgia overture was judicial, in that it asked for termination of employment. Accordingly, MNA argued that the overture was out of order, since Central Georgia had not gone through Scriptural procedures regarding discipline. The General Assembly, apparently not accepting MNA's line of reasoning, declined to rule the overture out of order.

Now, Central Georgia is pursuing the matter further. At its July 1998 Stated Meeting in Milledgeville, GA, the court adopted three letters: one each to Northern California Presbytery, to Rev. Phil Stogner (who had backed out of an agreement to mentor Jason Wallace, who was being sent by Central Georgia to minister in Utah); and to the MNA Committee in Atlanta. Printed below are excerpts from those letters.

To Northern California Presbytery:

Fathers and Brothers,

As you know the General Assembly meeting in St. Louis answered our Overture #17 in the negative, and attached a letter from the past MNA/GA Chairman, the present MNA/GA Chairman, and the Coordinator of MNA/GA (copy enclosed). We have been encouraged to continue to dialogue with MNA, Northern California, and other parties involved in order to resolve the difficulties surrounding the call to Jason Wallace, etc. We are sorry for any disturbance to your peace that we may have caused as we sought to resolve the confusion and controversy over the call which we issued to Mr. Jason Wallace. We are thankful for the communication to us from T.E. Lewis Ruff dated June 19, 1998. However, there are a number of questions which we have that have not been satisfactorily answered. Your assistance in answering these questions would be most appreciated.

1) Was regular preaching being done at New Song by those who were not licensed or ordained to do so?

2) Was communion served at New Song by one who was other than an ordained minister? Was this done with the knowledge of MNA personnel, Presbytery or General Assembly?

3) Was communion served to people at New Song who were not "members in good standing in an evangelical church?"

4) Was a wedding officiated at New Song by one who was other than an ordained minister? Was it done with the knowledge of the pastor or of MNA personnel?

Thank you for your willingness to dialogue with us as we seek to sort out these matters of concern.

To the Rev. Phil Stogner:

. . . We thank you for your letter dated June 2, 1998 in which you explain your perspective on Jason's call, your delayed response to our previous inquiries, and your position with respect to our perception that you represented Northern California Presbytery. While your explanations are helpful we still have some specific questions which arise out of your communication to Jason on 3/9/98 which we would like for you to answer.

1) You said in your communication to Jason that he needed to "conform to the guidelines." We would like to know what these guidelines are and whose guidelines they are. We found Jason was most willing to abide by our guidelines.

2) You also raised the question about whether Jason would "humbly serve first." Why was Jason's humble service in question? We had seen no reason to question his willingness to humbly serve. Who raised this question?

3) When you said that the question of Jason's "humble service" was before "the house," which house was this? This is not a question that has been raised in the house of Central Georgia Presbytery. Who raised this question and why?

4) You also mentioned "hurdles" which Jason faced in order to get to Provo. No hurdles were mentioned to us when we considered a call to Jason. What were these hurdles? Who had these hurdles in mind?

To Dr. Cortez Cooper, MNA Coordinator:

. . . We thank you for your letter dated June 3, 1998 in which you invite us to contact you with any concerns we might have arising out of the recent events with respect to Jason Wallace's call, etc. In that regard we would most appreciate it if you could address the following questions:

1) Is too much power or control respecting church-planting in the West concentrated in the hands of Lewis Ruff? Is it wise to have one man functioning as an assessor, a regional coordinator, and hold Presbytery positions as well?

2) Is adequate oversight of Area Coordinators being given?

3) Is it the view of MNA, explicitly or implicitly, that the future of the denomination is with "contemporary" worship rather than with traditional Reformed worship?

4) Is it the view of MNA that it is legitimate to use drama, dance, video, and rock music in Reformed worship?

5) What, in the view of MNA, is forbidden in worship and would not be permitted in a church under its supervision?

6) Is it possible that preference has been shown, whether overtly or subtly, to contemporary or novel forms of worship over traditional Reformed worship?

7) Have the accusations of favoritism towards those who advocate contemporary worship been investigated? Have participants in assessment centers been asked? Have church planters been surveyed?

8) Does MNA actively encourage the basic elements of Reformed worship, such as metrical Psalm-singing, expository preaching, and Biblical prayer?

Slated to appear before the next stated meeting of Central Georgia Presbytery is Dr. Cortez Cooper, MNA Coordinator. Also in attendance will be Dr. James C. Bland. Nominated to succeed Dr. Cooper as Coordinator in 1999, Dr. Bland is scheduled to assume a role as Associate Coordinator on October 1. Those two denominational employees will be present to answer questions at Central Georgia's meeting on October 13, 1998, at Vineville Presbyterian Church in Macon, Georgia.