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R.C. Sproul Jr and the St. Peter Presbyterian Church Session "Deposed Without Censure."

Oh, Really?

© 2006 by: Peter Kershaw

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of Peter Kershaw and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Heal Our Land Ministries


March 27, 2006

For almost two months the phrase "R.C. Sproul Jr and the Session of Saint Peter Presbyterian Church were deposed without censure" has been broadcast all over the internet. From whence came this phrase, "deposed without censure"? Certainly not from the RPCGA. That phrase originated with R.C. Sproul Jr and his deposed session, and first appeared in their letter of apology to the RPCGA dated 02-02-06.

"Furthermore, as a result of the Declaratory Judgment of January 26, 2006 having been deposed without censure from the ministry of Westminster Presbytery we request that you dismiss us from the jurisdiction of the Westminer Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly."
The belief by the St. Peter Presbyterian Church session that they were "deposed without censure" only further confirms the RPCGA's determination that they were "not qualified" to serve as ordained Elders. Such "deposed without censure" statements demonstrates either gross ignorance or gross dishonesty.

On 02-03-06 the RPCGA released from general membership the four deprocked men. Almost immediately thereafter a public statement appeared on the Highlands Study Center web site, once again spinning their "deposed without censure" fairy tale:

"The presbytery has in turn, with great grace and kindness, deposed us from our offices in the denomination without censure, and has released us from their jurisdiction, as of February 3, 2006."
R.C. Sproul Jr has since removed the statement from the Highlands Study Center web site, but that hasn't stopped he and his friends from repeating the "deposed without censure" phrase like a mantra. For example, on March 2, 2006 Laurence Windham emailed a fund-raising letter in which he stated:
"As you may have heard, the elders of St Peter Presbyterian Church have been deposed from the ministry, without censure, by our former denomination."
Is it possible for an ordained minister to be "deposed without censure"? First of all we need to define "deposed":
Depose, v.
1a. To remove from office or power.
1b. To dethrone.
American Heritage Dictionary
Some have objected to the use of the word "defrocked" as it applies to R.C. Sproul Jr. However, "R.C. Sproul Jr was defrocked by the RPCGA" is an entirely fitting phrase, and perhaps is even more appropriate by definition than "R.C. Sproul Jr was deposed by the RPCGA":
Defrock, v.
1. To strip of priestly privileges or functions.
2. To deprive of the right to practice a profession.
3. To deprive of an honorary position.
American Heritage Dictionary
Next, we need to define the word "censure":
Censure, n.
1. The act of blaming or finding fault and condemning as wrong; applicable to the moral conduct, or to the works of men. When applied to persons, it is nearly equivalent to blame, reproof, reprehension, reprimand. It is an expression of disapprobation, which often implies reproof.
2. Judicial sentence; judgment that condemns. An ecclesiastical censure is a sentence of condemnation, or penalty inflicted on a member of a church for mal-conduct, by which he is deprived of the communion of the church, or prohibited from executing the sacerdotal office.
Webster's Dictionary (1828)
The very phrase "deposed without censure" is an oxymoron. No one considers R.C. Sproul Jr to be a stupid man, so for him to use such an incongruous phrase calls into question his honesty. Have any of the defrocked men deferred to the RPCGA's opinion on the matter? After all, it was they who issued the Declaratory Judgment. Wouldn't it be prudent, and wouldn't it be honest, for R.C. Sproul Jr and his defrocked session to ask the RPCGA if "deposes from the office of Elder" meant that they "deposed without censure"? Evidently they believe they're better qualified to interpret the RPCGA's Declaratory Judgment than the RPCGA is. Evidently they believe it's perfectly appropriate to put words in mouth of the RPCGA.

Because of the blatant misrepresentations being publicly made by the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session, the RPCGA issued a public statement on February 6, 2006 in which they stated:

"While these men were deposed (defrocked) from office for their continued pattern of actions in violation of the Book of Church Order, they were not brought to trial on personal issues from other allegations that were made. Westminster Presbytery was considering a further investigation of the allegations of personal sinful behavior against them to determine if there was sufficient evidence that a trial regarding these allegations was necessary. The apology letter states 'Deposed without censure' means that these men individually had not yet been dealt with regarding personal sinful behavior at trial and therefore were in good standing as laymen until such trial would take place. The 'deposition' or 'removing them from office' was and is a 'censure' by the Presbytery for their actions as officers in the church."
In point of fact, there's nothing as severe in the way of censures for an ordained minister than to be defrocked. About the only other thing the RPCGA could have done to the Saint Peter Presbyterian Church session is to excommunicate them. However, given that they submitted a letter of apology (which given their statements since then call into serious doubt the sincerity of their apologies) excommunication probably wasn't an option. Deposition is a censure in all Presbyterian denominations, and it's certainly a censure according to the RPCGA BCO:
D 7:6 Deposition
A. Deposition is a form of censure more severe than suspension. It consists of a solemn declaration by the trial judicatory that the offender is no longer an officer of the church.

D 7: 7 Procedural Considerations
A. The indefinite suspension, deposition or excommunication of an officer or other member of the church shall be announced to the church body in which the officer holds office, or in which the member holds membership. These censures shall always be accompanied by prayer to God, that He may graciously use this discipline for the restoration of the offender, the edification of the church and His own glory.

The RPCGA specifies five specific levels of church discipline that may be imposed, for cause, against an ordained RPCGA minister. All other Presbyterian denominations that I am aware of also recognize these same disciplines. Per the RPCGA BCO they are:
D 7:2 Admonition
D 7:3 Rebuke
D 7:4 Suspension
D 7:5 Excommunication
D 7:6 Deposition

I've been directed to comments on various blogs which state that deposition is just a form of indefinite suspension, when in point of fact they are entirely separate and distinct forms of discipline with entirely different outcomes and purposes. I've also been directed to comments that state that other Presbyterian denominations sometimes "depose without censure" their ministers, one of those denominations allegedly being the PCA. However, not once have I seen any such person offer any specific reference to support their novel theories of church discipline.

Given that the PCA keeps getting raised as an example by various allies of the Saint Peter Four, we'll herein reference the PCA BCO. What does the PCA BCO have to say of being deposed?

36-7. The censure of deposition shall be administered by the moderator. . .
Clearly, being deposed from office is, in itself, a censure -- a very severe censure. Some have also complained that the RPCGA's action of defrocking the Saint Peter Presbyterian Church elders before taking them to trial was unprecedented, unwarranted and unjust (this in spite of the fact that the RPCGA BCO makes expressed provision for it at D 6:9), and again making comparisons to the PCA. However, the PCA BCO also makes provisions for deposing an ordained minister from office without full process by trial:
34-7. When a minister, pending a trial, shall make confession, if the matter be base and flagitious, such as drunkenness, uncleanness, or crimes of a greater nature, however penitent he may appear to the satisfaction of all, the court shall without delay impose definite suspension or depose him from the ministry.
Could it be that the defrocked Saint Peter Presbyterian Church session believes that if they repeat their "we were deposed without censure" (a blatant misrepresentation) and "we were deposed without a trial" (implying the RPCGA's Declaratory Judgment deprived them of justice) mantra often enough, loudly enough, and widely enough, perhaps it magically becomes the truth? This pattern of continued public duplicity only reinforces what the RPCGA has already stated in their Declaratory Judgment:
"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."
As a direct result of the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session's February 2 letter of apology to the RPCGA, they were released from general membership, and it is only from their status as general members in the RPCGA that it could be rightly construed that they were released as laymen "without censure." Given the fact that they had already been defrocked, that's nothing to be proud of, nor is it worthy of boasting.

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