R.C. Sproul Jr and the PaedoCommunion "Controversy"
© 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
April 5, 2006:
R.C. Sproul Jr is considered a Who's Who in paedocommunion circles. Paedocommunion is discouraged, if not banned, in most all Protestant and Reformed church denominations. The practice of paedocommunion is also verboten in virtually all Presbyterian denominations, including the RPCGA. However, a growing number of Reformed Presbyterians are becoming sympathetic to the practice of paedocommunion. Many more are just indifferent.
Honest and learned theologians and churchmen have cordially debated paedo-communion vs. credo-communion, and there's nothing new about this debate. In fact it's been going on for centuries, and in recent years the debate has become almost commonplace in Reformed circles. There's a small but growing movement in the Reformed world to make the practice of paedocommunion permissible. The single biggest obstacle is the Westminster Confession of Faith, including the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Reformed Presbyterians all subscribe to the WCF and an honest read of the WCF makes the practice of paedocommunion impermissible:
Dr. R.C. Sproul, the noted Reformed theologian and father to R.C. Sproul Jr., is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. As a member of the PCA Dr. Sproul is required to subscribe to the WCF. As such, Dr. R.C. Sproul is a "confessionalist." Therefore, it should surprise no one that Dr. R.C. Sproul is opposed to the practice of paedocommunion.
On Sunday, April 2, 2006 immediately prior to serving the Lord's Supper at Saint Andrews Chapel Dr. Sproul stated, "There's a great controversy in the church today over paedocommunion, that is the receiving of the elements by children of believing parents. This is not what should be practiced. If any parents feel that their children are of such growth in their spiritual life, and they have not yet made a confession of faith, or gone through a communicants class, then those parents should approach their respective elder for their child to be examined, after which the child would be admitted to the Lord's table."
Already word of this is getting out, and it's being interpreted that "Dr. Sproul is attempting to distance himself from his son's paedocommunion controversy with the RPCGA." However, Dr. Sproul has known for years that his son is a paedocommunionist and he's never really said much about it, and he's certainly never publicly criticized R.C. Jr. for it. From all appearances Dr. Sproul has had little if any concern for his son's practice and teaching on paedocommunion, or anyone else's for that matter. Several paedocommunionists, such as Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins and Steve Schlissel have taught at Ligonier Conferences and/or written for Tabletalk. If the practice and teaching of paedocommunion were of serious theological concern to Dr. Sproul it's unlikely that he'd utilize paedocommunionists in his conferences and publications.
So why would Dr. R.C. Sproul need to say something now? Raising the issue now is not only suspect, raising the issue now is actually quite helpful to his son's plight. Is paedocommunion the real basis of R.C. Sproul Jr's "controversy with the RPCGA," or is R.C. Sproul Jr just using that as a smokescreen to cloud the much more serious issues that resulted in his defrocking?
If a tale can be convincingly spun that R.C. Sproul Jr was deposed by the RPCGA over little more than a doctrinal dispute (e.g. paedocommunion), another denomination that would have no such doctrinal disagreement with R.C. Sproul Jr (such as the CREC) could easily justify re-ordaining him in their denomination (or "confederation"). If such a tale were convincing enough it could make R.C. Sproul Jr out to be the martyr-hero and the RPCGA the ogre-persecutor.
Even weeks prior to his being defrocked R.C. Sproul Jr. was spinning that very tale -- that he was the victim of an unjust ecclesiastical proceeding in which he was "deposed without a trial" over nothing more than a trivial "flap with the RPCGA" that grew out of doctrinal differences over paedocommunion.
However, the "flap" was never about paedocommunion. Rather, the real issue is the fact that R.C. Sproul Jr. took vows to the RPCGA to not practice or teach paedocommunion, but he did so anyway in violation of those vows. As I stated in my Open Letter to R.C. Sproul Jr and the entire deposed St. Peter session on February 10, 2006:
At the same time that I published my Open Letter I also publicly released my written testimony to Westminster Presbytery on the St. Peter Presbyterian Church session paedocommunion conspiracy, dated 12-20-05. Since that time others have stepped forward corroborating the fact that R.C. Sproul Jr and his session had an agenda to bring into the Presbytery additional "like-minded men" (paedocommunionist Elders) and then by acquiring a majority of paedocommunionist voting Elders to take over Westminster Presbytery, and then ultimately the entire RPCGA, and make it a paedocommunion Presbyterian denomination. R.C. Sproul Jr has even confessed that this was his agenda.
Such a nefarious, unethical and duplicitous agenda has all the intrigue of a hostile takeover in the corporate world. Indeed, I've heard it said that R.C. Sproul Jr might be better suited as a corporate-raider than a church pastor; and like a corporate-raider what R.C. Sproul Jr claims he believes has sometimes been proven to be nothing more than a smokescreen for what he actually practices:
One of the issues over which R.C. Sproul Jr and his session were deposed for is "duplicity."
Duplicity and vow-breaking are hardly inconsequential matters that should be trivialized with terms like "flap" and "controversy." Yet, from all appearances, that's exactly what many allies of the Saint Peter Presbyterian Church session are actively engaged in. The "paedocommunion controversy" is a "controversy" entirely of R.C. Sproul Jr's making. Manufactured controversies are often useful in setting up "wag the dog" scenarios whereby the public is distracted from critically examining the much more significant issues at hand. Irrespective, there never was a "paedocommunion controversy," and there is no such "controversy" today:
At no time did R.C. Sproul Jr have a "controversy" with the RPCGA over paedocommunion. R.C. Sproul Jr disagreed with the RPCGA's position on paedocommunion, and he made his position known to the RPCGA prior to his being ordained. But rather than openly objecting to and challenging the position, he vowed to submit to the RPCGA and not practice or teach paedocommunion. R.C. Sproul Jr only aired those differences privately with his session, with certain St. Peter Presbyterian Church members (myself included), and with other paedocommunion pastors that he encouraged to join the RPCGA. They too never took their disagreements with the RPCGA's anti-paedocommunion position to the RPCGA. Rather, they just talked behind their backs, while they plotted a takeover. By definition there was never a "controversy," but there was a "conspiracy."
The only part that paedocommunion played in the deposing of R.C. Sproul Jr and his session is in the fact that they duplicitously practiced paedocommunion in violation of their ordination vows. They weren't charged and convicted for believing in paedocommunion. Rather, they were charged and convicted for duplicity and vow-breaking.
It's unrealistic to suppose that the Saint Peter Four will take to heart the more than obvious ramifications in the RPCGA's judgment wherein they declared:
It's now more than apparent that the Saint Peter Presbyterian Church session, irrespective of what the RPCGA says about their lack of biblical qualifications to be church Elders, are not about to leave the ministry, even for just a year, and pursue biblical restoration to the ministry. Rather, they are actively pursuing immediate re-ordination, and once ordained they have every intention of "serving" as church Elders again. Furthermore, it's not at all difficult to perceive that the CREC Commission is eager to receive and ordain the Saint Peter Four. The red carpet was rolled out weeks before they were defrocked.
Given the certitude of CREC ordinations for R.C. Sproul Jr, Laurence Windham, Wayne Hays, and Jay Barfield, it would be pointless for anyone to argue with the CREC of the inadvisability of doing so. If they are going to be ordained then let it be the CREC who ordains them. I concede that in belief and in practice the CREC is the best possible fit for them. Indeed, it's the only real option they have (no real demonination will touch them). Furthermore, I concede that it's an excellent fit for St. Peter Presbyterian Church, as a paedocommunionist congregation (a number of whom are Federal Vision adherents, as well).
My prayer is that the CREC Commission, should they deem the Saint Peter Four worthy of CREC ordinations, would ordain them strictly on their qualifications without parroting St. Peter Presbyterian Church subterfuge and falsehoods, such as, ". . . the elders of St Peter Presbyterian Church have been deposed from the ministry, without censure, by our former denomination. This action was done without a trial, called witnesses, cross-examination, or opportunity for a defense." My hope is that the CREC will avoid resorting to smear tactics, whether it be smearing the RPCGA, or anyone else. That would be consistent with what CREC Moderator Randy Booth stated in the CREC Commission statement of March 14:
1. I first embraced the doctrine of paecocommunion in 1994, under the teaching of Dr. Max Sotak. Pastor Sotak had been ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Rocky Mountain Presbytery (PCA) in Denver. However, after becoming a paedocommunionist the Presbytery was unwilling to allow him to remain in the denomination, even if he didn't practice or teach it. Dr. Sotak peaceably departed the denomination, being permitted to demit his ordination without censure. Shortly thereafter he started an independent Reformed church, which I and my family became members of.
In recently reexamining the doctrine of paedocommunion, and particularly in light of the WCF, I've come to have concerns and reservations, and can no longer endorse it. However, I remain sympathetic to those who do, and appreciate why they do.
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