Back In Court?

A California appeals court has opened the door for a new trial in a lawsuit filed against John MacArthur, a well-known Christian author and pastor; his church; and three of his church staff members.

In a 2-to-1 ruling, the appeals court upheld a motion for a new trial filed by Walter and Maria Nally. They have charged that incompetent counseling received at MacArthur’s Grace Community Church contributed to the suicide of their son, Kenneth, in 1979.

The suit, filed in 1980, was dismissed the following year by a California superior court judge. In 1984, a California appeals court overturned the lower court ruling. But in May 1985, a superior court judge dismissed the suit, saying a ruling for the Nallys would have a “chilling effect on the exercise of freedom of religion.”

The Nallys then filed a motion for a new trial, which was upheld in September by a state appeals court. In a 70-page opinion, Justice Earl Johnson said the case “has little or nothing to say about the liability of clergymen for the negligent performance of their ordinary ministerial duties or even their counseling duties except when they enter into a counseling relationship with suicidal individuals.…”


Few Protest Merger

The American Lutheran Church (ALC) reports that only 13 of its congregations have pulled out in protest over the church’s coming merger with two other Lutheran bodies. However, as many as 50 other congregations have taken the first step toward leaving the denomination.

The dissident congregations say the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, set to come into existence January 1, does not hold to the authority of Scripture and will allow too little congregational autonomy. Seven of the 13 former ALC congregations are joining the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations, a Minneapolis-based group that claims some 20,000 parishioners in 155 congregations. Robert Lee, vice-president of the church body, said about 50 other congregations are considering membership.

One former ALC congregation has joined the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and several others are in the process of joining the St. Paul-based American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC). James Minor, AALC treasurer and organizer, predicts a larger breakaway from the ALC. A total of 863 ALC congregations voted against the church merger, but almost all of those churches have remained in the denomination.


Rejecting An Inquiry

A panel of Episcopal bishops has decided not to investigate charges filed against John S. Spong, the bishop of Newark, New Jersey.

Charges were filed by the Committee of Concerned Episcopalians and the Prayer Book Society. Those organizations took issue with Spong’s support of a diocesan study document calling for debate on whether the church should accept sexual relationships between homosexuals, and between unmarried heterosexuals. The charges also take issue with Spong’s public questioning of the authority of Scripture and certain Christian beliefs, including the divinity of Christ.

The seven-member panel of bishops appointed to study the charges rejected them on the basis that they were filed improperly. Bishop Duncan M. Gray of Mississippi, chairman of the panel, said such charges must be signed by at least ten bishops. (The charges against Spong were signed by three priests and 19 laypersons.)

George T. Smith-Winnes, a member of the Prayer Book Society, called the panel’s ruling “a cop-out.” Meanwhile, Spong has pledged to continue examining doubts about church doctrine, including questions regarding Christ’s virgin birth and physical resurrection. He also said he would support efforts to change church bans on nonmarital sex and homosexual relationships.


Episcopal Evangelist

Eighty Kalamazoo, Michigan-area churches representing various denominations sponsored a recent evangelistic crusade led by British-born Episcopal clergyman John Guest. The eight-day event was Guest’s second major city-wide crusade.

“God loves you,” he told the audience. “He loves you personally. It’s not [just] a theological truth. It’s personal.”

Guest, who pastors Saint Stephen’s Church in suburban Pittsburgh, was converted at a 1954 Billy Graham crusade in England. More than 27,000 people attended his Kalamazoo meetings, with more than 800 making first-time Christian commitments or rededicating their lives to Christ.


Briefly Noted

Died: Wendell P. Loveless, 95, station manager for Moody Bible Institute’s radio station WMBI from the 1920s to the 1940s; October 3, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Asked last year about his years at WMBI, Loveless said, “When I started, my secretary and I were the radio department.… When I left, about 160 people were taking part in the radio programming.”

J. Stratton “Strat” Shufelt, 77, former minister of music at Chicago’s Moody Church, song evangelist who worked with Billy Graham on a number of his early Youth for Christ crusades in Europe; September 19, in Muskegon, Michigan.

Resigned: From the Southern Baptist ministry, Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson. In his resignation letter, Robertson stated: “To many of our citizens the election of an ordained clergyman of any faith—Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish—to as high a public office as the Presidency of the United States would, in their opinion, be tantamount to a preference of one religious denomination over all others.”

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