Westminster Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), at a called meeting on October 26, 1999, sustained two of four complaints brought against the Session of Pulaski (Va.) Presbyterian Church. In doing so, the Presbytery agreed with the complainant that participation in Promise Keepers and the use of video clips during worship were violations of the denomination's standards.
Bringing the series of complaints was Jerry Johnson, a member of the congregation. Mr. Johnson had served previously as a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Assembly, and still holds Southern Baptist ministerial credentials. His step-father is the Rev. Jack Graham, a retired PCA minister.
Mr. Johnson complained against the "failure of the Session to take corrective action with regard to church-sponsored participation in Promise Keepers." The complaint claimed that said encouragement "goes contrary to the duty of the Session to 'watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein' (BCO 8-3)."
The complaint stated that the Promise Keepers (PK) organization "actively fosters beliefs and practices which go contrary to the Word of God and the subordinate standards of the Presbyterian Church in America." Among discrepancies between the PCA's standards and Promise Keepers were the following: a pragmatic approach to worship, in which "mob psychology rules"; a denigration of doctrinal positions; toleration of Roman Catholicism and Mormonism; recognition of female ordination as valid; and that the PK leader, Bill McCartney, is neither morally nor theologically fit to run a men's organization.
Another complaint that was sustained was the "failure of the Session to maintain proper Biblical worship." This had to do with the Session allowing and continuing to allow "the playing of video clips," including both those with Christian-orientation and others such as one from the TV show Major Dad, "during public worship."
In making the case against the Session, Mr. Johnson stated that this activity "violates the Biblical doctrine of worship, to which the Presbyterian Church in America is committed." He quoted from the Westminster Confession of Faith, which "says that 'the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.'" The complaint claimed that the "Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America does not list, and therefore does not recognize as valid, any other practices of worship" than those which are listed in the Confession of Faith, Chapter XXI. The confessional standards, therefore, imply that "there is a definite and 'closed set' of elements of worship"; accordingly, the use of video clips would be forbidden in PCA public worship. The complaint maintained that the "toleration of this improper practice of worship has caused, and is causing, disaffection among members of the congregation." He added: "This is contrary to the duty of the elders, both individually and corporately, to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the church."
The pastor of Pulaski Presbyterian, the Rev. Rusty Whitener, in defending the Session's use of video clips, presented what he claimed were the transcripts of the only video clips which he had used in the morning worship service. The one from Major Dad had one of the characters using the Lord's name in vain ("Oh , Good Lord!"). According to Mr. Johnson, the transcript which Mr. Whitener offered did not include another phrase which was heard when the video clip was played-a phrase which involved swearing.
Not sustained were two other points of complaint against the Pulaski Session. One was with regard to the change from a Sabbath evening to a Saturday night service. The publicly-announced grounds for the switch were: (1) because of "shift work at local plants, Saturday is more accessible for some to come into the church to worship"; (2) "There are some who will not come into the Lord's House on Sunday."
The complaint alleged that in making this change, "the Session has promulgated a fallacy, viz., that people who are employed in shift work could come on Saturday evening but would not be able to come Sunday evening. In doing so, the Session has by attitude and action not held before the people a proper view of the Sabbath." Among the Catechism support cited for this point was that superiors "are bound not only to keep it [the Sabbath] themselves, but to see that it be observed by all those that are under their charge." This failure by the Session, the complaint says, "is a manifestation of unkindness to the people of God, as they are thereby deprived of 'the great benefit of remembering it [the Sabbath] . . . and in keeping it, better to keep all the rest of the commandments, and to continue a thankful remembrance of the two great benefits of creation and redemption, which contain a short abridgement of religion'" (Larger Catechism, Q/A 121).
"In making this change," the complaint contended, "the Session has allowed the attitudes of the world to dictate to the church when public worship should occur. In doing so, the Session has disregarded the fact that the Fourth Commandment has prescribed the Lord's Day as the time for public worship, and that the one-in-seven principle is a 'positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages' (Confession of Faith, XXI.7)."
The complaint conceded that public worship can be conducted "on some other day of the week." However, the Session's low view of the Sabbath was seen "in the fact that Mr. Whitener, who has been called as the preacher and pastor, is being allowed not to preach the Word on Sunday evenings." In the view of the complainant, the Session has "abrogated its responsibility with regard to seeing that Mr. Whitener is performing his duties. When the congregation called him, it was with the expectation that he would fill the pulpit when the church was engaged in public worship. This was the call that was approved by Westminster Presbytery. In the Presbyterian Church, it is the presbytery which owns and protects the pulpit. Although men not licensed to preach may fill the pulpit on an irregular basis at the invitation of the Session, the expectation is that the man who has been called as Pastor is going to be the regular preacher."
Among the proposed amends was that "the Session recognize that the ordinances which God has established, which properly come in a context of public worship on the Lord's Day, are the ordinary means for bringing the elect into the kingdom, and that therefore it is unnecessary to employ other means for the saving of the lost."
Westminster Presbytery turned down that complaint, as well as a complaint with regard to Sessional approval of Teen Mania and its Acquire the Fire ministry.
Jerry Johnson had complained about the church's youth being encouraged to attend the Acquire the Fire rally at the Silver Dome in Pontiac, Michigan. According to the complaint, "Teen Mania is not in the slightest Reformed in its orientation"; and it is "oriented towards the charismatic movement." The complaint alleged that the Session, in failing to distance itself from Teen Mania, "has allowed false views of worship and false views of the charismatic gifts to be promulgated among the church's youth; and, furthermore, the Session has not done its duty in teaching the youth the falseness of these views and practices to which they have been subjected." The Presbytery voted, 18-19, not to sustain this complaint.
According to Mr. Johnson, a member of Westminster Presbytery has complained the failure of the court to sustain the two complaints regarding the Sabbath and Teen Mania. That complaint is scheduled to be heard at the January 2000 stated meeting of Presbytery.