Sunday, February 05, 2006

RC Sproul Jr.: Scandalizing the Body of Christ

RC Sproul Jr Koolaidby: Patrick Poole

Warning: If you're not interested in presbyterian polity or keeping up with evangelical church news, come back later.

Preface: There are MANY who are saying that I don't have the right to publish this article. Some are already writing thinly-veiled screeds directing divine judgement at anyone having the audacity to make reasoned judgments from the well-established facts at issue here. "Touching the anointed of the Lord" kind-of stuff. Even the Moscow Mullah, the Pasha of the Palouse, Doug Wilson himself publicly commented AFTER the RPCGA's recent action to shout down any discussion about his friend R.C.'s defrocking. (Gee, Douggie, why can you publicly comment and none of us allowed to do the same?) Some have also said that ecclesiastical charges should be issued against anyone making the following statements (a position rife with irony, as you will see as you continue to read). At least one individual was bragging earlier this week about having another blog closed down in retaliation for publishing the truth about this ongoing matter (which, thankfully, has reappeared). That's the poisonous atmosphere that has been intentionally created in the wake of this situation. However, the stakes in this matter are not limited to discussion miniscule points of dogma or isolated to a Reformed micro-denomination. At this point, much is already a matter of public record, with all sides having their say. Thus far, at least to my knowledge, none of those self-appointed Reformed "super-stars" who are aware of this situation have been willing to say anything publicly about it, presumably hedging their bets on how this whole affair plays out. Someone has to say, "we must stop this madness, or else it will kill us all." It is a shame to the Church that it has to be left to someone as insignificant and unqualified in all senses as me to say it, but there it is.

As some observers are aware, on January 26th the Westminster Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly (RPCGA) defrocked R.C. Sproul, Jr. and the entire session of St. Peter Presbyterian Church (link is to the Declaratory Judgment of the presbytery) for a laundry list of violations not in dispute by either the presbytery or the defrocked men. Additional disputed charges are to be brought up for trial by the presbytery.

As you can read in the Moderator's Declaratory Judgment (approved unanimously by the Westminster Presbytery), chief among the reasons for this action are abusive and unauthorized actions taken against members of the congregation, including refusing to allow the family to leave the church over doctrinal disputes, suspending them from the sacraments without trial, and ordering the entire congregation to "shun" the entire family (though only the husband and father was named in the session's censure). R.C. and the session members all agreed that these actions took place and offered their "apologies" (which fell along the lines of, "I'm so sorry you
r actions made me beat you..."). Additionally, several current and former church members gave written evidence to the same effect, including an apology letter sent to the targeted family from Rick Saenz, R.C.'s longtime and former personal assistant, admitting to not speaking out against the outrageous actions at the time they were occuring. St. Peter member (now former) Peter Kershaw should be applauded as well for being the first to denounce the treatment of the Austin family. You can read the entire documentary and evidentiary trail here.

These former church leaders have also admitted to illegally using the tax EID of another denomination as cover for the church and the Highlands Study Center, a violation of state and federal laws. Evidence has been given that this was deliberate and done at the direct instruction of R.C. himself. In light of this, the doctrinal differences between these former church leaders and the RPCGA noted in the Declaratory Judgment seem slight in comparison.

Again, this is all thus far undisputed and a matter of public record, with the written testimony of multiple witnesses and the confessions of the defrocked men themselves as witnesses against their abusive and illegal conduct.

All of the proceeding is not the cause of scandal to the body of Christ. This is biblical church discipline in process, and nothing unusual in that regard. If these men had shown repentance, it wouldn't be right for me or anyone outside. What is scandalous is the behavior of these men subsequent to their defrocking. At this moment, there is a note posted on the website of St. Peter Presbyterian Church/Highland Study Center that reads (UPDATE - the following quote has been removed from their website):

As many of you have read, Dr. Sproul Jr., along with the entire session of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, has heard from the moderator of the Westminster Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, General Assembly, that they have been deposed from their offices as elders in the church. This action was taken without a trial, indeed without even a conversation. We disagree with the action taken, and are considering our options as to how to respond. What we will not do is take shots against our accusers over the internet, and would encourage you not to do so, either. Please be patient, and please pray for the peace and purity of the church.

Now this is patently Clintonesque. They say that they won't "take shots against our accusers over the internet." Where is this posted? That's right: on the Internet. And what do they say? "We've been wronged by these ecclesiastical fascists who didn't even give us a trial!" Aren't we all glad that they are refusing to say anything in their defense, especially over the Internet?

Now for the truth:
  • At this time, these men have been defrocked on the basis of their own testimony of their actions, confirmed by multiple witnesses. When a man pleads guilty, there is no trial. For those accusations that are disputed, and thus, still pending, a trial is being arranged by the presbytery.
  • They would have you believe that they are being railroaded by an out-of-control moderator (as evidenced by the attack on Westminster Presbytery Moderator Ken Talbot this week on WorldMagBlog [posts #37 and #38] by one of R.C.'s friends, David Zuniga), but in fact this action was approved in accordance with the RPCGA's Book of Church Order, which as a member of their presbytery these men have submitted to. The Declaratory Judgment cites the relevant BCO language that allows for summary judgment when the facts are not in dispute.
  • It is also important to note that the entire Westminster Presbytery approved this action, and approved it unanimously. This is not the decision of a lone moderator.
  • The claim that this action was taken "without even a conversation" is entirely false. Ken Talbot examined this matter for almost two months, and the Declaratory Judgment even cites conversations between R.C. and the presbytery on this matter.
  • Another fact is that the Declaratory Judgment cites a December 15th email from R.C. to Ken Talbot asking for swift resolution of this matter: “It appears that at least three of our four elders cannot stay in the denomination... The particular hardship is this. We especially don't want to leave with a cloud over our heads. Could you either, having let us go, hear the complaints against us, and issue a ruling, or barring that, could you forward all those complaints to where we end up? We have had much to repent of these past few weeks. We have done so. We are sorry in turn that our failures have caused trouble for you and the presbytery.” (page 10)

The moral of the story? Be careful what you wish for.

The quote taken from R.C.'s email is quite telling. By this time, the investigation was in full swing, and it was only at this point that the "St. Peter Four" decided that they couldn't stick around the RPCGA on the basis of their "convictions" of practicing paedo-communion--a practice strictly banned by the RPCGA since 1997. But when an investigation is launched on matters much more serious than their views on the Lord's Supper, these cowards suddenly develop "convictions"? Remember that these men took vows before God and their fellow elders in presbytery to be in submission to the system and the judgments of the RPCGA. But using the canard of "convictions", R.C. has asked that they either be tried only after they are allowed to leave the denomination, making any judgment by the RPCGA meaningless (because they will no longer have any jurisdiction), or allow some other as-yet unspecified denomination to examine the evidence (meaning that they might have to Catch R.c. Evacuating Christianity). But one thing is clear--they don't want the RPCGA, the only authorized authority, doing the trial. How's that for accountability? Maybe Doug Wilson will blog on that topic this week. He thinks that having taken oaths and vows before God and men that he can leave the denomination without so much as a "by your leave"? Aren't these the same Federal Vision "men without chests" who endlessly proclaim "the covenant, the covenant, the covenant of the Lord are these" over every minute detail of theology and beat anyone over the head who doesn't agree with their interpretation of it? Covenants and vows apparently now mean nothing to R.C. and his Gang. This is pathetic in-and-of itself, but it gets worse.

Does anyone else but me see the sickening irony that R.C. is demanding for himself what he was ugly reluctant to give to others? The Austin family, who was the subject of malicious persecution by the ordained leaders of St. Peter, were refused when they requested to leave the church for their disagreements over paedo-communion and other doctrinal issues. What did R.C. and the Gang use as justification for their refusal to let the Austin family leave? Their membership vows. Another family states (cited in the Declaratory Judgment, p. 3): “Because of this we became more determined than ever to leave the church. R.C. and Laurence became just as determined that they were not going to let us go. They told us we had taken a vow to the Elders to stay in the church, and we could not leave unless they released us. They told us that we would never be able to join another reformed church if we were not in good standing with St. Peter and we would need their release for that to happen.” (emphasis added)

From the documentary evidence available thus far, we can see that this refusal to let families leave the church was part of an abusive pattern. Furthermore, R.C. and the Gang made all members take vows beyond what was allowed by their denomination (point 5, pg. 7 of the Declaratory Judgment).

But that's still not fully viewing how scandalous this affair truly is. One of the things at issue in the Austin's de facto excommunication was that it was done without any trial whatsoever. At least Westminster Presbytery is willing to let these men go to trial for the matters that are in dispute, they having admitted to the substance of the charges laid out in the presbytery's Declaratory Judgment. That notwithstanding, R.C. and the Gang are still complaining that they were not given a trial before they were defrocked. But when the shoe was on the other foot, they felt completely justified in acting without due process against the Austin family and others in violation of denominational rules.

At this point, if you still feel any pity for these reprobates, remember that the RPCGA is acting in accordance with their Book of Church Order, which the former leaders of St. Peter agreed to live by when they entered the RPCGA. No one put a gun to their head to make them join this denomination, and their rules were not treated as some kind of Masonic secret; their BCO is published on their website. Those who live by presbyterian polity can die by presbyterian polity.

As of this date, the previous statement that the church was part of the RPCGA has now been removed from the church's website, making clear that these men are on the run. And they are looking for a safe haven. Time will tell where they might land, but at least one commentator, Tim Bayly, has provided this week a "hypothetical scenario" in which R.C. and the Gang could justifiably (sic) discuss moving their credentials to the CREC, where Douggie Wilson and his gang of drug dealers and illegal casino operators reside.

The scandal still keeps coming. R.C. has said that he is going to devote his time to the Highland Study Center, which has historically been a ministry of St. Peter Presbyterian Church (even sharing the illegally obtained tax EID number). However, R.C. incorporated Highland with the state of Virginia on January 10th (in the midst of the presbytery investigation), effectively stealing the ministry from the Church that he is not even a member of (ordained elders are members of the presbytery, not of the church they minister to). Whereas the St. Peter/Highland website used to read that Highland was "an integrated ministry of St. Peter Presbyterian Church", that is no longer the case. It has been pilfered by R.C. and the Gang.

RC Sproul Jr ecclesiastical tyranny
Make no mistake: these men are spiritual outlaws. No matter how much they want to hide behind their recently acquired "convictions" about the perils of presbyterian polity, they are autonomous religious renegades, and ought to be considered as such. Any ministry that planned to feature R.C. or any of his Gang as speakers at their events should withdraw the invitiation immediately, and anyone previously invited to speak at future Highland Study Center conferences should now decline to speak. Is this what I expect will happen? Not likely. These squibs are going to look for safe harbor, and my bet is that they'll get it. Some wanna-be Reformed micro-denomination would be glad to add R.C.'s name to their roster, regardless of the stench he drags behind him. Certainly there can be restoration with demonstrated repentance, and Lord willing, that will eventually occur. These men could even be restored to ministry at some future date. But as Westminster Presbytery has made clear, these men are currently unqualified and unfit to shepherd any flock:

The consistent pattern of actions taken by these men are duplicitous in nature, and demonstrate that they willingly and knowingly act in an arbitrary fashion in violation of their vows of ordination and in violation of our denomination’s Book of Church Order. Most importantly, their actions manifest that they lack the qualification for the ministry (1Timothy 3:1-7). It would be unwise to allow these men to continue to hold an office for which they are not qualified. They have no interest to govern themselves appropriately within this presbyterian system of government that they vowed to submit and conform to its rules and regulations with conduct becoming ministers of Jesus Christ. (Declaratory Judgment, p. 11)

RC Sproul Jr spiritual abuseNo one should should be under any illusions. R.C. and his Gang of Thugs will try to paint this as nothing more than a difference over doctrine. They are "suffering servants" for the cause of paedo-communion (what a pathetic hill to die on!). But this is one of the clearest cases of spiritual abuse and reckless leadership the evangelical world has seen in a while (excepting Certain Reformed Evangelical Cults in Idaho). These men are in fact unqualified and unfit for office (and at this point, membership) in any church, and should be regarded and treated as such. The Westminster Presbytery should be applauded for the lawful defrocking of these petty tyrants. Their decisive removal from office in the face of overwhelming evidence is presbyterian polity at its best. Other Reformed denominations have had similar cases where they have refused to act. And the presbytery is lucky to have a man like Ken Talbot (who is both a theologian/churchman and an attorney) to oversee this matter. In light of the present conduct of R.C. and the Gang, hopefully further sanctions will be forthcoming. R.C. and the Gang are a direct threat to the purity of the body of Christ. Their mockery of the Reformed ecclesiology that they have publicly preached but perverted in order to lord over others, will hopefully be put to an end. May this scandal be disassociated with the name of Christ.


At 2:45 PM, Anonymous Disgusted said...

"Certainly there can be restoration with demonstrated repentance, and Lord willing, that will eventually occur."

I think we can all safely say that no amount of time will bring R.C. to his senses. His closest friends are rescuers and enablers. Even his father is an enabler, as evidenced by this.

R.C.'s church members and Highlands Study Center staff now refer to him as "Job". That little factoid was even mentioned in R.C.'s Every Thought Captive periodical. Never was there a more apt graphic selected for a blog article as the Koolaid packet you included above.

At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a former member of St. Peter Presbyterian. I wish I could say it was a good experience. For the first few months it was. But over time we began to see some serious problems with the leadership. We loved the people, and we also loved R.C. and Laurence. But no church is perfect and R.C. and Laurence aren't able to deal with anyone who has views different from their own. They're right. They're ALWAYS right. Even when they know they're wrong they can't admit it. That's a sure sign of men who are terribly insecure.

St. Peter was the most awful church experience of our lives. No one should ever have to go through anything like that. The Austins aren't the only family that R.C. and Laurence have abused. We were abused too. It's taken a long time for us to feel a little "normal" again. God is faithful to heal, but the healing can take a long time and it's very painful. It's also really hard to have to admit that you could have made such a terrible mistake by joining such an abusive church.

We've read some books on spiritual abuse to help with our recovery process. One of them is Ken Blue's book, Healing Spiritual Abuse; How To Break Free From Bad Church Experiences. I'd like to share from the book, starting at page 134. It describes R.C. and Laurance to a tee.


1. Abusive leaders base their spiritual authority on their position or office rather than on their service to the group. Their style of leadership is authoritarian.
2. Leaders in abusive churches often say one thing but do another. Their words and deeds do not match.
3. They manipulate people by making them feel guilty for not measuring up spiritually. They lay heavy religious loads on people and make no effort to lift those loads. You know you are in an abusive church if the loads just keep getting heavier.
4. Abusive leaders are preoccupied with looking good. They labor to keep up appearance. They stifle any criticism that puts them in a bad light.
5. They seek honorific titles and special privileges that elevate them above the group. They promote a class system with themselves at the top.
6. Their communication is not straight. Their speech becomes especially vague and confusing when they are defending themselves.
7. They major on minor issues to the neglect of the truly important ones. They are conscientious about religious details but neglect God's larger agendas.

Spiritual abuse is never the result of confused thinking. It is caused by a lust for power. Leaving may be your only option. But it may not be easy. One of the major indicators of an abusive system is the difficulty people face in leaving it.


We know all about that. R.C. and Laurence made it very difficult for us to leave, as they did for anyone else who wanted out. You can't just leave St. Peter, especially if it's to transfer to another local Presbyterian Church. If you want out without being attacked you have to leave the state and make up a good story. Like for job reasons. That way R.C. and Laurence get to preserve their precious image. That's all that really matters at St. Peter. The church exists for R.C. and Laurence's massive egos. You can't leave if it's because of them. If you do you'll be excommunicated and shunned by the entire church. That keeps the sheep in line. The compliant sheep lie when they leave. The not so compliant, like the Austins, tell the truth and face the consequences for truth telling.

Ken Blue says, "Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for abusive leaders is to leave them. Sometimes the most humane act is to let an abusive church die."

It may sound harsh to outsiders, but for people like us who've been on the inside of St. Peter and experienced the abuse, I can now confidently say that the most humane act would be to just let St. Peter die.

At 3:20 PM, Anonymous Spicer said...

Anon, your story is similar to Rick Saenz, who ran RC's Highlands Study Center for years. In his letter of apology to the Austins he says, "Quite frankly, I stopped asking about the situation when I began to suspect that pursuing it might bring the same sort of treatment upon me and my family; rather than pursue it, I transferred our membership to a church in Kentucky as quickly as possible."

A lot of people have had to flee St. Peter over the years. It's got CULT written all over it.

At 10:30 AM, Anonymous ET said...

You've said that RCJR is guilty of ecclesiastical tyranny. I know from personal experience that's true. The Bible describes him as "malicious." RCJR is a malicious man. He's the worst kind of malicious man because he's so cunning in his maliciousness. He's got so many people fooled.

A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Proverbs 26:24


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