North Georgia Addresses Concern over Parkview Baseball Service
Session Expresses Regret for the Confusion Caused by its Conduct of Worship on that Sunday
Stone Mountain, Georgia (January 16, 1999)-A unique worship service under the auspices of Parkview Church, Lilburn, Georgia, on August 23, 1998, with a baseball theme had brought a formal expression of concern from Ascension Presbytery. Correspondence from Ascension, adopted by that court in October, 1998, asked North Georgia Presbytery if it was going to look into the matter.
During the Shepherding Committee report, Committee Chairman Bob Sweet introduced Parkview's pastor, Jon Adams, who read a statement from the Parkview Session. Dated November 30, 1998, it reads as follows:
To Whom It May Concern:
The Summer 1998 issue of Presbyterian & Reformed News (Volume 4, Number 3, which appeared in October) contained an account of Parkview Church's "Vision Awareness" event on Sunday, August 23, 1998. The primary purpose of this annual event is to provide information concerning the new ministry year, which begins on September 1st. On this day the leaders of the various church ministries (e.g., Men's Ministries, Missions, etc.) are introduced, and information pertinent to the life of our congregation is presented. Although visitors are invited to come (as they are every Sunday), the aim of Vision Awareness is not so much "to attract people to [our] new season," as the headline of the article stated, but to provide essential information about Parkview Church to members and visitors alike.
We try to communicate this information in an engaging and creative manner. This year, certain aspects of the sport of baseball were employed as metaphors for facets of Christian life and ministry. While this approach might be legitimate in other contexts (e.g., a different day or time), holding this event on a Sunday morning resulted in a program that unfortunately blurred the boundaries between divine worship and other activities.
We desire that our congregation's worship of God be marked by fidelity to Holy Scripture, informed by the Westminster Standards and the "Directory of Worship" of our denomination's Book of Church Order (BOCO). Our Sunday morning worship services normally are planned in accordance with the regulative principles of Reformed worship as interpreted by BOCO, and we sincerely regret any confusion or offense caused by insufficient attention to these guidelines on August 23rd.
Sincerely in Christ,
David L. Foote, Clerk of Session
Mr. Sweet then stated that the Presbytery Clerk had forwarded to him a copy of a letter from Ascension's Stated Clerk, Jay Neikirk. It reads as follows:
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus, the great King and Head of the Church! It has been reported that one of the churches within your Presbytery had at its morning worship, August 23, 1998, a worship service centered on a baseball theme. These reports have raised with many of us questions about how this service can conform with the principles of Scripture and our Constitution.
Given the connectional nature of our church, we recognize that the activities in one part of the body will impact the witness and work of the other parts. This is particularly true in the area of worship, since that is central to our purposes as a church. For this reason, we believe we have a legitimate concern about these matters, even as we want to be fully cognizant of your jurisdiction.
It is out of these concerns that we write to ask if you have made or intend to make inquiry into the worship practices of Parkview Church on August 23, 1998, for their conformity to our Constitutional Standards; and if so, if you would be kind enough to share your findings with us.
We pray that God will grant you grace as you consider these issues, and as you labor for Him in that portion of the kingdom's vineyard.
Mr. Sweet reported: "I contacted Jon Adams, and we discussed the situation in the letter. It turns out that no one from Ascension Presbytery had contacted either Mr. Adams or any member of the Session. They had taken upon themselves to have a resolution entered at their own Presbytery without contacting the subject of that inquiry. And so, as Chairman of the Shepherding Committee, I responded to Mr. Neikirk."
Mr. Sweet then read his response. Dated December 8, 1998, it reads as follows:
I am in receipt of your letter, dated November 10, 1998, to me.
I have discussed your letter with the Rev. Mr. Jon Adams, Parkview Church's pastor. My notification was the first knowledge he had that Parkview Church was the subject of discussion and action by your Presbytery. I am appalled that your court would take such action without even contacting Parkview's pastor or other church leaders.
Regarding the August 23rd service, Parkview attempted to combine (1) a Vision Awareness, (2) a call to commit to using spiritual gifts, "Step Up to the Plate", and (3) morning worship. The juices got rolling in planning (1) and (2) and spilled over into (3). Hindsight makes it clear that this was unwise and will not be repeated.
I know and have high respect for the Rev. Mr. Adams and the officers and members of Parkview Church. I do not share your Presbytery's concern about Parkview Church's worship practices; but to allay any fears you may have, the Session has prepared this statement:
"We desire that our congregation's worship of God be marked by fidelity to Holy Scripture, informed by the Westminster Standards and the 'Directory of Worship' of our denomination's Book of Church Order (BOCO). Our Sunday morning worship services normally are planned in accordance with the regulative principles of Reformed worship as interpreted by BOCO, and we sincerely regret any confusion or offense caused by insufficient attention to these guidelines on August 23rd."
Mr. Sweet then moved that Presbytery acknowledge the response of the Parkview Church and accept its remarks.
During the discussion, a commissioner asked Mr. Adams, through the Moderator, if the Session was going to distinguish its worship from its vision awareness activities, so that the type of worship exhibited on August 23rd would not happen again. Mr. Adams replied: "We're going to be much more careful about anything that is planned for Sunday mornings. I don't think the statement says that we won't have anything that's vision oriented, but that we will be taking care" not to blur the proper distinctions.
Another question from the floor was: "As I heard their response, I didn't necessarily hear them say that they had done anything wrong-simply that there was confusion. I'm trying to understand the nature of their statement."
Mr. Adams responded: "I think the nature of the statement is, that we do regret how the service came off. And so that's certainly something that we will take great care in the future as we plan any service, to make sure that it conforms to the regulative principle, which we embrace. . . . For next year, we've already planned to put the Vision Awareness in an evening format. . . . Sunday morning is given over to the worship of our great God."
Another commissioner rose to offer an amendment to the motion: "That we communicate to the Ascension Presbytery that they also conduct an inquiry as to why Matthew 18 was not observed in this." After the motion was seconded, he stated: "I share my brother's being appalled at this gross negligence in proper procedure. That we, in love, seek to correct our brothers, and ask them to make some sort of satisfactory explanation of that failure."
A presbyter rose to oppose the amendment. Ascension Presbytery, he noted, had said "if the information be true." "They did not assert that the information was true as to that August 23rd worship service. And I could perceive, in all Christian charity towards them, that they were not so presumptuous as to come and investigate a congregation of our Presbytery without going through the Presbytery to inquire-and I feel that what they did was most appropriate."
The mover of the amendment stated that he was willing to find other language. But he wanted for North Georgia to express concern over the way in which Ascension went about this matter: "Not to make any accusations, but to ask that we understand better this process that was conducted."
RE John White, a member of the denominational Standing Judicial Commission, countered: "I think you're misunderstanding Matthew 18. Matthew 18 relates to private [matters]; this was something made public."
After some more debate, a church planter for North Georgia Presbytery and Perimeter Ministries, said: "If there's any question about what Ascension Presbytery may have said, it's in that wonderful Reformed edition of the National Enquirer called the Presbyterian & Reformed News." He waved the Summer 1998 issue of P&R News in the air as he continued: "It's in full print, written right here, sir, if you don't have it."
TE Sam Wheatley, formerly a deacon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, supported the amendment as he expressed a concern: "We're reading third party editions of accounts in other presbyteries. And we're becoming a very litigious society in general. And it seems like we're reflecting our society's litigiousness, even in our own church courts, and that's a concern to me. It would have only been a matter of someone picking up the phone and calling a fellow Session member of the church, and saying, 'I saw this story-can you substantiate it or not?'"
The Moderator called for a standing vote on the amendment. It lost, overwhelmingly.
The original motion then carried without further discussion.
[Editor's Note: The gentleman who compared P&R News to the National Enquirer later apologized to this Editor. He said that he had been hasty in his remarks, and had been under a misimpression that P&R News had had the communique which Parkview Session sent to us and yet had not printed it in the last issue of the newspaper. In point of fact, the letter which Parkview Session mailed to our editorial offices was received after the last issue had gone to press.]