MNA Conference Features Woman Speaker (Audio) East Point, Georgia (March 19, 1999)-It is unusual for a member of a permanent General Assembly Committee to speak up publicly against action taken by his Committee. But Roland Barnes needed to clear his conscience.
The pastor from Statesboro, Georgia, a member of the Mission to North America (MNA) Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), wanted the world to know that he profoundly disagreed with a woman being a keynote speaker at an MNA-sponsored event. The incident occurred at the annual Asilomar Conference, held in February at Pacific Grove, Calif., for church planters in the West.
The woman, Dr. Diane Langberg, gave two addresses: "Faithfulness to Christ" and "What Faithfulness to Your Spouse Means." The psychologist from Jenkintown, Pa., has a counseling ministry which includes giving counsel to ministers and their wives. Her two talks included exhortation directed towards the church planters, and application of Scripture.
The approval of a female speaker appears to violate the instructions given by the 1997 General Assembly. New Jersey Presbytery had overtured the Assembly to request MNA to cease from the practice of using women as teachers and worship leaders in seminars sponsored by MNA. Although the overture was answered in the negative, the Grounds given by the Assembly were these: "Seminars led by women on biblical and theological exposition will have women as the intended audience. The Scriptures and the subordinate standards are clear that only men are to be appointed as elders. The subordinate standards are clear that the preaching of the Word in the public worship on the Lord's Day is to be conducted by elders, under the oversight of the session. The [General Assembly] recognizes that the ministry of women within the church, including MNA, must be exercised within the bounds of Scripture, including I Timothy 2:11-12."
Interviewed after the meeting, MNA Chairman Phil Douglass said that "this is an issue that the PCA is debating. On the one hand is the view that if an unordained layman would be allowed to teach in a conference like that, then a woman should be allowed as well. The other view in the PCA is that unordained men can teach, but women can't. . . . If the Assembly takes a position on that issue, then this Committee would submit."
When asked about action taken two years ago, Dr. Douglass responded that he was not sure "whether Assembly intended that to be a definitive statement." The Chairman was apparently thinking of the action of the Assembly in taking exception to the minutes of Southern Florida Presbytery for having women read Scripture and lead in prayer in public worship.
When told of the specific action taken by the Assembly regarding the MNA Committee, he was asked if that would be "definitive." He replied: "No, that would be definitive. That would be definitive. . . . I will need to talk to my staff about that."
Central Georgia Addresses MNA Committee Regarding Continuing Concerns At its April 13, 1999, stated meeting, Central Georgia Presbytery addressed a letter to the denominational Mission to North America (MNA) Committee, expressing continued concerns. The two particular issues are the oversight of regional coordinators, and the reluctance of MNA to enforce denominational standards with regard to worship.
The controversy began last year, when Central Georgia was thwarted in its efforts to send the Rev. Mr. Jason Wallace, a newly-ordained church planter, to Provo, Utah, an area outside the bounds of any presbytery. Documents demonstrated that the MNA Western Regional Coordinator was involved in a proposed doubling of the size of Northern California Presbytery, by adding most of Nevada and all of Utah to its territory. Having that area under Northern California's control would have meant that Mr. Wallace might have subjected him to the philosophy of ministry evident in the Regional Coordinator's correspondence, viz., that someone who cannot accept as legitimate the type of worship being practiced in many of Northern California's churches would not be welcome in the Presbytery.
One of the mission churches under Northern California's auspices is New Song-Salt Lake. The church in downtown Salt Lake City was designed to attract the young people of Generation-X. Among its worship practices was the use of alternative rock music and video clips from secular movies.
These two concerns-ministry in the West and worship practices regarded as non-Reformed-resulted in two overtures from Central Georgia to the 1998 General Assembly. The Assembly responded by denying Northern California's request for extension of borders, and by spreading on the minutes a letter of understanding from MNA personnel, which acknowledged that mistakes were made with regard to New Song-Salt Lake. The document also put forth MNA's position that, not being a court, the Committee was unable to settle matters of worship which the Assembly itself had been unable to resolve.
The communique adopted by Central Georgia comes after the appearance of MNA representatives-Dr. Cortez Cooper, MNA Coordinator; Dr. Jim Bland, MNA Associate Coordinator; and Dr. Phil Douglass, MNA Chairman-before the Presbytery at its stated meeting in October of last year. The letter reads as follows:
We thank you for your commitment to and love for Christ and His church as evidenced by the time and energy that your representative gave to our Presbytery by meeting with us at our October meeting. Both in spirit and action you have provided an example for us of what it means to promote the peace and unity of the church.
We remain concerned about two issues. First, the appearance of a discrepancy between the oral presentation of 10/13/98 and the written communication of 10/5/98. In our presence your representatives, Drs. Cooper, Bland and Douglass, asserted that there was inadequate supervision of the work in Salt Lake. They said that mistakes were made that became known only after the fact. Steps were being taken, we were told, to correct those errors.
Your written statement, however, asserts that the regional coordinators are "adequately supervised" and that you are not just pleased but "well pleased" with their work. In addition you "affirm" the work of the Western Regional Coordinator, the man most responsible for the oversight of the Salt Lake work.
On the one hand you acknowledge that there was a breakdown in supervision. You admitted this orally respecting the errors at both New Song-Salt Lake and in the handling of Jason Wallace. But your written statement still fails to take specific responsibility for these errors. Dr. Cooper was honest enough to assume responsibility in our presence. But others, more directly responsible should also be named, along with their failings. Only then can we feel confident that these errors have been identified specifically and will not again be repeated. As long as responsible parties and irresponsible actions remain unidentified, we can have no confidence that more of the same will not be forthcoming.
Second, we cannot concur with your claim that the MNA GA cannot "settle controversies" such as those involving worship "to which the Assembly has not found answers." The mind of the Assembly is known not through surveys or polls but through its confessional and constitutional documents. The Confession of Faith and Catechisms and the Book of Church Order have constitutional status. The Directory of Worship, while not having full constitutional authority, was approved by the Assembly as a "guide" that "should be taken seriously as the mind of the Church agreeable to the standards" (BCO Preface to Part III). The church has also addressed a number of particular issues such as Psalm singing through Assembly resolutions. The church has defined its faith and practice carefully and in considerable detail in these documents. It is the responsibility of the permanent committees to encourage this defined faith and not some other. Novel doctrines and practices should be discouraged when encountered by permanent committees. Historic Reformed practice should be championed. Only when the church declares a change of mind through official action, by amending the constitutional and confessional documents or clarifying its interpretation of these documents, should the Assembly's permanent committees feel free to advocate innovation and change. In other words, the permanent committee does not need specific direction to tell it that dance, drama and films are unacceptable additions to Reformed worship. Indeed the opposite is the case. Those who wish to introduce such need specific approval from the Assembly to do so.
Thank you for your consideration of these matters.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wallace last year transferred to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). His OPC mission work in the Salt Lake City area has had an average attendance in the mid 50's.
Rod Mays to be New RUM Coordinator
East Point, Georgia (March 18-19, 1999)-The Rev. Dr. Rod Mays was named the new Reformed University Ministries (RUM) Coordinator for the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The appointment was made during the meeting of RUM's parent committee, the Mission to North America (MNA) Committee.
RUM, the campus ministry arm of the PCA, has Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) groups on approximately forty campuses. The majority of these colleges are in the Southeast, but there has been a concerted effort to expand RUM's ministry across the nation. Recent additions to the RUM family include universities from Massachusetts to California.
A native of Logan, W. Va., Dr. Mays was ordained as a Baptist in 1974. He entered the PCA ministry by becoming pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Nitro, W. Va., in 1977. In 1987, he served a short stint on the pastoral staff at McLean (Va.) Presbyterian Church, before becoming pastor of St. Paul Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss. Since 1990, he has been Senior Pastor of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, S. C.
Dr. Mays graduated from Covenant College (B.A.), West Georgia College (M.Ed.), and Luther Rice Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He is married to the former Miss Debra McMahon. They have one daughter.
During the MNA meeting, the Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Benton was commended for his work as Interim RUM Coordinator since the post became vacant.