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Review of:

CREC Pastoral Commission Report on Saint Peter Presbyterian Church

© 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

There are glaring problems and logical inconsistencies with the CREC Pastoral Committee Report on Saint Peter Presbyterian Church, and I will address them herein. However, where I'm able to do so I will also offer my compliments to the Committee.

Supporters and friends of R.C. Sproul Jr, Laurence Windham, Wayne Hays and Jay Barfield are probably disappointed with the CREC Pastoral Commission Report. Some of them had boasted publicly in previous weeks that the CREC Pastoral Commission would "clear the names" of the four men, and that they "would be vindicated for the whole Reformed world to see." In so doing they acted foolishly by making the CREC Committee appear to be compromised and guided by a predetermined outcome, or as some had characterized them, "a rubber-stamping committee." The CREC Commission Report can be criticized on several fronts. However it would be an unfair assessment to call the Commission a "rubber-stamping committee."

In point of fact, at least in a few ways, the CREC Report affirms the RPCGA's Declaratory Judgment. The CREC Commission has also addressed at least one significant issue that has been a major source of contention for years at St. Peter Presbyterian Church, and for this the CREC Commission is to be commended.

However, the CREC's Report also completely evades or ignores some significant transgressions on the part of the four St. Peter Presbyterian Church men that resulted in their defrocking. In point of fact, even the very issue that the four men were deposed from pastoral office, and the gravity of what ecclesiastical deposement means, is largely ignored by the CREC.

The CREC Commission solicited the input of Westminster Presbytery (RPCGA) prior to finalizing its Pastoral Commission Report. In point of fact they seemed quite concerned about the RPCGA's opinion on the matter, and even of obtaining the RPCGA's approval of the Report (which they never obtained, but nevertheless they tried).

The CREC Commission submitted its Report a total of three times to the RPCGA, soliciting the RPCGA's "editorial input." The RPCGA responded to the offer by making numerous revisions. The CREC Commission accepted and utilized many (but not all) of the RPCGA's revisions. In this respect the CREC Commission demonstrated a measure of integrity toward their earlier commitment:

"The CREC respects the judicial bounds of the RPCGA and intends to operate within those boundaries." March 14 CREC Statement

Rather than presuming to interpose itself as an appellate court in a judicial matter in which they had no jurisdiction, the CREC Commission, in some measure, submitted itself to the judicial authority of Westminster Presbytery (RPCGA).

By submitting to the "editorial input" of the RPCGA, the CREC demonstrated a measure of respect toward the RPCGA. The CREC Report agreed in principle with the RPCGA's Declaratory Judgment by affirming that:

"It is our finding that there were significant pastoral mistakes, errors and sins by the former Session."

Two independent church bodies have now reached similar conclusions. This then calls into serious question the numerous false allegations that have appeared on the internet ridiculing the actions and methods of the RPCGA, not the least of which is that the charges lodged against the St. Peter Presbyterian Church Session were "fraudulent." Those who made such allegations, thereby disparaging the character of the witnesses who brought the testimony and evidence, and disparaging the character of the RPCGA and its Presbyters for having acted upon that alleged "fraudulent" evidence and testimony, now have some explaining to do.

Furthermore, those who brashly foretold that the CREC Commission would "clear the name of R.C. Sproul Jr" also have some explaining to do.

The CREC Report states of the four deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church men:

"Specific recommendations will be shared with each of them individually, and we anticipate evidences of godly repentance from these men."

The RPCGA "anticipated evidences of godly repentance from these men" too, accepting them at their word that they had genuinely repented, anticipating that the fruits of repentance would be forthcoming in short order. As the RPCGA's letter to the deposed session of February 3, 2006 stated:

". . .in light of your confession and repentance to the above mentioned issues, we accept your word, that you have knowingly and willingly given true repentance in a spirit of humility. . ."

Since the time of their release from general membership as laymen in the RPCGA (they boasted that they were released "without censure," after they had already been defrocked, as though that was something to boast in), the evidence has been quite strong that their letter of repentance was insincere, perhaps even just a ruse to avoid having to go to trial by the RPCGA on additional "personal" charges. Now the CREC Commission seems to be confirming the St. Peter Presbyterian Church deposed session's lack of sincere repentance by their mandate for "evidences of godly repentance." If they had genuinely repented when they originally claimed they had, the CREC Commission would have no need to be pointing out the obligation now for "evidences of godly repentance." The CREC Report goes on to state:

"While we regard this as unlikely, should any of these men persist in sin, they will be subject to public rebuke, according to the instructions of 1 Timothy 5:20."

Now that the CREC Commission has issued their mandate for the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session to start showing "evidences of godly repentance," how long will the CREC Commission permit them to "persist in sin," the sin of unrepentance, before they issue a "public rebuke"? There are a number of families and individuals that the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session have committed "significant pastoral mistakes, errors and sins" against, and the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session is well aware of whom they have sinned against. The only family that the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session has ever made any attempt to repent to is the John Austin family, and many have serious doubts as to the sincerity of even that act of repentance. Indeed, the Austin family is being shunned to this very day. The deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session has made no efforts toward restoring fellowship with John and Julie Austin, or even of their five children. Any such restoration of fellowship could serve to give evidence of true repentance.

The single greatest concern of many has been what the CREC Commission's position would be on whether they would recommend reinstating the deposed men to pastoral office. CREC standards for ordination are remarkably low. Suspicions and concerns have been prompted by, among other things, the fact that the CREC is only a "confederation," more akin to a loose-knit association, rather than an actual denomination. The CREC Commission's findings now only exacerbate such concerns:

"While the Pastoral Commission has not disqualified any of the former session members, it is important to note that it will be the actual votes of the SPPC membership, working in conjunction with the session pro tempore, that will make the final determination as to each man's personal fitness to serve as an officer in the congregation of SPPC."

The CREC and its member ministers have often claimed that they are "Presbyterian." Yet, reinstating defrocked ministers in the fashion in which the CREC Commission proposes is alien to Presbyterianism and smacks of independent congregationalism.

Christian denominations of all stripes (not just Presbyterian) have policies which govern the reinstatement of defrocked ministers. Having been deposed, the Saint Peter session members could not be considered for reinstatement in any Reformed or Presbyterian denomination without first going through a formal process of "restoration." Restoration involves denominational counsel, oversight, pastoral training, and evidence of genuine repentance, reconciliation and restitution toward all injured parties. Pastoral restoration can easily require a year or more to complete, and only upon successful completion could a candidate then be considered ready for ministerial examination.

The CREC Report makes no specific mention of any formal program of restoration. Indeed, the language of the report implies that every one of the four men might be reinstated with only slightly more than a nomination and election:

"It is our finding that none of the former Session members are disqualified from potentially serving as officers in the church, but rather must go through the proper processes of constitutionally being nominated and duly elected to office, along with the necessary ordinations and installations."

As it applies to R.C. Sproul Jr, not only will he not have to go through any formal process of restoration, he won't even have to be reinstated to office!

". . .he shall not be required to fulfill the process for ordination and shall be considered ordained within the CREC accordingly."

This is nothing short of unprecedented. Although R.C. Sproul Jr. was defrocked, and thus is no longer an ordained minister, the CREC nevertheless states that he "shall be considered ordained within the CREC." I'm not aware of any similar pronouncement ever having been perpetrated by any church body, ever.

"Respecting the court of the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly [RPCGA], we believe the other men must be re-ordained, should they be called to serve as elders."

R.C. Sproul Jr is being singled out to receive preferential treatment over Laurence Windham, Wayne Hays and Jay Barfield. One might easily assume, therefore, that R.C.'s "mistakes, errors and sins" were far less severe than the other men's. However, on the occassion when the RPCGA's Declaratory Judgment was read to the St. Peter Presbyterian Church congregation, R.C. Sproul Jr. stood before the congregation and took the "blame for everything." R.C. told St. Peter Presbyterian Church members that night that he alone was guilty and that no one else had done anything wrong (an assertion which I completely disagree with -- all of them were complicit -- but nevertheless, that's what he said). That being the case, why is R.C. being given the royal treatment and the others are, at least for now, being treated as subalterns?

According to the Report, the difference between them is that in the case of R.C. Sproul Jr:

". . .we have determined that since he had been previously examined for ordination (by three different presbyteries of three denominations ARPC, PCA, and RPCGA), he shall not be required to fulfill the process for ordination. . ."

Notice that the Report is careful to state "examined for ordination" and not "ordained" because R.C. Sproul Jr was never ordained in the PCA. He was indeed "examined," but he was later rejected from consideration for ordination. R.C. Sproul Jr. is getting preferential treatment in the CREC under the guise that he was ordained in two prior denominations, whereas the other three men had only been ordained once before. To put it only too politely, this is a very strange form of logic that seems to be based upon some strained mathematical formula:

1 ARPC ordination
1 RPCGA ordination
= 2 ordinations

- 1 RPCGA ordination (deposed)
= 1 ARPC ordination remaining (he's still ordained!)

In the real world of real church denominations things don't work that way. When R.C. Sproul Jr. left the ARPC his ordination was transferred from the ARPC to the RPCGA. This is denominational standard operating procedure. When an ordained minister voluntarily leaves his denomination (as R.C. Sproul Jr. did when he left the ARPC) his ordination cannot be retained but, rather, it must be transferred; and if a minister fails to transfer his ordination within a reasonable time frame (typically within a year) his ordination is terminated.

The CREC Commission is being disingenuous by treating R.C. Sproul Jr. as though he were still ordained, ignoring the fact entirely that his one and only ordination has been stripped from him. The CREC Commission is implying that there is some significant distinction between R.C. Sproul Jr. and the other three men, when there is none (other than that the CREC probably wants him real bad, and may not care as much about the others).

In reality, however, the CREC's extremely low ordination standards are unlikely to create any significant impediment for the remaining three men to soon follow R.C. into the CREC as well, and probably in relatively short order.

The CREC Report is at several points misleading, and it misrepresents the basis upon which the RPCGA deposed the four St. Peter Presbyterian Church elders. For example:

". . .Mr. Sproul was deposed from the ministry (primarily for violations of the RPCGA BCO which would not apply in the CREC). . ."

That's simply not the case. BCO violations are secondary to several much more serious charges. R.C. Sproul Jr and his fellow elders were deposed for "duplicity", "vow-breaking," stealing the tax ID number of the ARPC, and the fact that they are "not qualified" for the ministry, per 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

"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."

Though the CREC Commission in no way intended it, their statement that "Mr. Sproul was deposed from the ministry (primarily for violations of the RPCGA BCO which would not apply in the CREC)" is an admission of their own poor standards. It would be reasonable to ask that if in the CREC's view duplicity, vow-breaking and theft aren't sufficient grounds for deposing a minister from office, how serious would the transgressions have to become before it would be deemed worthy of deposement?

While it's apparent that when compared to any Reformed or Presbyterian denomination, the standards of ministerial ordination in the CREC are remarkably low, and managing to get oneself defrocked from the CREC might likely require something extraordinary, as well, such low standards in no way entitle the CREC to make the false and misleading allegation that "Mr. Sproul was deposed from the ministry primarily for violations of the RPCGA BCO."

Though the CREC Commission may be desirous of portraying this as a matter of mere doctrinal differences, or differences in practice, i.e. one BCO/church constitution versus another, the issue has little to do with BCOs. The real issue is who has rendered a proper interpretation of the biblical qualifications for the office of Elder?

The RPCGA painstakingly made it's case in showing why the men were "not qualified," based upon not only the evidence and testimony that the RPCGA has made publicly available, but upon several times more in evidence and testimony which the public, and the CREC, has never seen. Plainly put the CREC knows but a fraction of what Westminster Presbytery (RPCGA) knows.

The investigative time, effort and energy expended by the CREC Commission was trivial when compared to that expended by the RPCGA. As such it should surprise no one that the CREC made so poor an attempt to demonstrate why the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session is qualified to be reinstated. Duplicity, vow-breaking, abuse of ecclesiastical office, and theft aren't mere denominational formalities that should be nonchalantly brushed aside, if not completely ignored. Yet, that's exactly what the CREC has done.

The CREC Report fails to make any mention of the fact that one of the significant reasons for which R.C. Sproul Jr, in particular, was deposed is because of his theft and unauthorized use of the ARPC's tax ID number, as well as his failure to repent in the matter. R.C. claims to have personally "apologized" to the ARPC. Yet in dialogue with the ARPC the RPCGA was told that the ARPC had never received any form of communication from R.C. Sproul Jr. At most, the only thing that R.C. did was to direct that an unsigned letter on St. Peter Presbyterian Church letterhead, with no names attached, be sent to the ARPC. Rather than repenting, the letter attributes everything to an "administrative oversight." Rather than repenting, it would appear that R.C. Sproul Jr was attempting to prevent the ARPC from becoming aware of the fact that it was he who was personally culpable.

The CREC Commission made some good recommendations that will hopefully address serious concerns regarding financial accountability that have for years troubled a number of current and former Saint Peter members (myself included). In my own review of the church's "accounting" records in October 2005, I was immediately concerned that the records were at best a hodgepodge, and at worst a sham system rigged to conceal financial mischief.

As just one example, over $110,000 in expenditures over a twelve month period (9/04 - 9/05) were placed under two "miscellaneous" categories -- not exactly a legitimate form of "accounting." No detailed itemized categorical accounting of expenditures, disbursements, or income has ever been done in the church's eight year history, and the published "financial reports" are an utter farce. Additionally, all funds of Saint Peter Church and the Highlands Study Center have been held in a joint bank account, thereby commingling funds.

Saint Peter is now functioning under a mandate to have a CPA review all receipts and statements and establish a real accounting system. The days of "Just trust your Elders" are hopefully over, and the CREC Commission is to be commended for taking steps to remedy these egregious problems.

The CREC Commission makes the "recommendation" that the St. Peter Presbyterian Church congregation vote to adopt a constitution provided by the CREC:

"It is our recommendation that the members of SPPC affirm by vote a Constitution provided to them by the session pro tempore. Should any member of SPPC not agree to be governed by this Constitution, they will be helped by the session pro tempore as they seek out a new church home."

How can the CREC's "recommendation" be viewed as anything other than an actual mandate, when any who are unwilling to vote for it as is will be "helped" to find another church? In reality, this is a take it or leave it proposition, with St. Peter Presbyterian Church members not even being afforded the opportunity of making amendments to the so-called "constitution" prior to being compelled to vote for it.

The CREC Commission also makes the "recommendation" that the St. Peter Presbyterian Church congregation vote to have the Commission temporarily step in to govern St. Peter Presbyterian Church:

"It is our recommendation that SPPC be governed by a session pro tempore, consisting of the five original Pastoral Commission members. These elders pro tempore will remain as part of the session, along with any duly elected elders, until such time as SPPC is placed under the care of another CREC church or is particularized."

The congregation of St. Peter Presbyterian Church should bear in mind that after voting for their Elders, and after voting to join the CREC, the congregationalism immediately ends and the autocratic "top-down" rule begins. St. Peter Presbyterian Church members will then have little if any additional say in the governance of their church. Every significant decision will be made by the session pro tempore, who is likely to delegate all decision-making authority to the Elders which the congregation voted into office, who will then govern the church as they please per the fast and loose constitution typical of the CREC. R.C. Sproul Jr. in the past has rightly criticized the CREC for its lack of accountability, and it looks like St. Peter Presbyterian Church is about to get to experience it first-hand. As evidence of this:

"The Pastoral Commission will move toward an equitable distribution of funds from SPPC to the Highlands Study Center. The amount and reasoning behind the amount will be presented to the congregation for comment before the funds are disbursed."

Why is there no mention of "an equitable distribution of funds" from the Highlands Study Center to SPPC? The Highlands Study Center has been operating in the red for years, with shortfalls made up for by St. Peter Presbyterian Church. More specifically the recurring shortfalls have been made up for from the tithes of St. Peter Presbyterian Church members, without their knowledge or consent. For example, from 9/04 - 9/05 HSC income was $118,520. However, total HSC expenditures were $173,218, leaving a shortfall of $54,698. The total shortfall over some eight years of in-the-red operation is substantial.

It's not like the session ever went before the St. Peter Presbyterian Church congregation and asked them if it was okay for the session to abscond their tithe money and hand it over to the bottomless pit known as the Highlands Study Center. If for the sake of settling accounts there needs to be any payback (and there does) then HSC needs to pay back St. Peter Presbyterian Church. But rather than doing that the CREC now proposes handing over even more St. Peter Presbyterian Church money to R.C. Sproul Jr's Highlands Study Center Incorporated.

Only in the parallel universe of the CREC could anyone call it an "equitable distribution of funds" for St. Peter Presbyterian Church to have to pay HSC even more money, when HSC has already been bleeding tens of thousands of dollars out of St. Peter Presbyterian Church for years. Moreover, the CREC's language means that the session pro tempore could quite possibly transfer most of the bank account funds to R.C. Sproul Jr's Highlands Study Center, Inc., even though the majority of funds in the joint-bank account came from tithes of St. Peter Presbyterian Church members given not to HSC, but to St. Peter.

St. Peter Presbyterian Church members may get to "comment before the funds are disbursed" by the directive of the CREC session pro tempore, but they won't be able to stop it if they don't like it. Welcome to the CREC's parallel universe of "Presbyterianism."

Some will choose to criticize me at this juncture for, perhaps, "ignorant speculation." However, I know of what I speak. I'm a former member of a CREC mission church. I've been all too up close and personal with the CREC hierarchy, and I'm painfully aware of their self-professed "top-down" rule, masquerading as Presbyterianism. I don't doubt but that a majority of St. Peter Presbyterian Church members are eager to join the CREC, and it's entirely their prerogative if that's what they really want. However, they shouldn't be ignorant of what they're in for. If what they truly want is to have no say in the governance of their church, and little if any Elder accountability, then the CREC would be the ideal fit. But they shouldn't deceive themselves into believing that it's Presbyterian.

In What Is Presbyterianism, the Rev. Charles Hodge characterized Presbyterianism, in part, as:

"That the people have a right to a substantive part in the government of the Church."

See also Charles Hodge’s Discussions Of Church Polity.

If St. Peter Presbyterian Church embraces the CREC Commission's recommendations, its session pro tempore intends to, among other things, do the following:

"The session pro tempore shall review the finances of the church and make specific salary recommendations to be voted on by the members of SPPC at a duly called business meeting.  Until that time, some remuneration for services shall be paid to Laurence Windam, Wayne Hays, Jay Barfield, and R.C. Sproul, Jr., as determined by the session pro tempore."

The obvious question then would be, what are the specific "services" that would be rendered for said "remuneration" that would be paid out of the coffers of St. Peter Presbyterian Church, prior to the time that the session pro tempore makes its "salary recommendations"? All four have been defrocked. In what capacity then would Laurence Windam, Wayne Hays, Jay Barfield, and R.C. Sproul, Jr. be serving St. Peter Presbyterian Church?

On what basis can remuneration be justified for defrocked ministers? On what basis can salaries be subsequently justified? The logical answer to these questions is that paying such men can be justified only when seen through the CREC's rose-colored lenses of not viewing them as defrocked. No Reformed or Presbyterian denomination possesses such rose-colored lenses, but obviously the CREC does.

At least one of the three St. Peter Presbyterian Church parishes does not wish to remain a part of St. Peter, specifically the Abingdon, Virginia parish. They are being encouraged by the CREC Commission to become a mission work of a CREC church:

"It is our recommendation that those members of St. Peter who wish to particularize as a church distinct from SPPC accomplish this by becoming a mission work of a CREC church. This process is outlined in the CREC Constitution and Book of Procedures, and is to be overseen by Gregg Strawbridge, Moderator of the Augustine Presbytery of the CREC. Additionally:
 "a. This new work shall receive a one-time gift from SPPC commensurate with her relative numbers of member households as determined by the Pastoral Commission."

Is the CREC Commission attempting to entice entry into the CREC with the promise of a financial "gift" that they are legally entitled to have anyway, regardless of whether or not they remain with St. Peter Presbyterian Church, and regardless of whether or not they join the CREC? It would appear so. Given that several of the members of the breakaway St. Peter parish have likely been some of the biggest financial contributors to St. Peter, even should they accept the CREC's "gift" offer, the "one-time gift from SPPC commensurate with her relative numbers of member households" hardly seems equitable.

Apparently the CREC's bait wasn't enticing enough because the Abingdon parish has made their split with St. Peter Presbyterian Church official, as well as their lack of interest in joining the CREC. They take with them 15 families. They have dubbed this continuing work "Christ Church." There are some fine families in that church that I have high regard for. I wish Christ Church well.

In summation, the CREC Pastoral Commission Report is a mixed bag, both positive and negative. As to the positive, the Commission has acted decisively to bring correction to one or two glaring problems which have been a source of contention for years at St. Peter Presbyterian Church (e.g. the accounting chicanery).

Overshadowing what few positive things that can be identified in the Commission's Report, we have a number of serious problems. Rather than offering genuine hope for remedying years of abuse of office by the four deposed men, the Report and its recommendations will likely only serve as a source of additional anxiety for those of us who were the subjects of the St. Peter Presbyterian Church session's ecclesiastical abuses, as well as those who remain at St. Peter who were hoping for some genuine correction and accountability.

The deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session used the Presbyterial authority delegated by the RPCGA to abuse their flock. For the sake of protecting the flock, and to prevent further abuses, the RPCGA very wisely stripped the mantle of authority from them. Now the CREC presumes to give it right back again. In so doing the CREC only makes a mockery of Reformed Presbyterian church discipline.

The CREC's proposed "pastoral oversight" for St. Peter Presbyterian Church, as well as for the four deposed men, only creates a whole new set of concerns for accountability. Whatever accountability that might come we can be certain, based upon the CREC's reputation, that it won't be Presbyterian accountability. Furthermore, offering long-distance "oversight" calls into question just how serious the CREC is about guarding the St. Peter Presbyterian Church flock from recurrences of the sorts of ecclesiastical abuse that the deposed St. Peter Presbyterian Church session has yet to demonstrate any fruits of repentance for.

If R.C. Sproul Jr, Laurence Windham, Wayne Hays, and Jay Barfield were almost able to get away with their ecclesiastical abuses in a real Presbyterian denomination, I can only just imagine how many abuses they're likely to get away with in a fast and loose "confederation."

While the Report does not "clear the names" of the four deposed men, as many R.C. Sproul Jr. loyalists predicted that it would, the Report completely glosses over and ignores some of the most significant aspects of the RPCGA's Declaratory Judgment.

Some who were dubious of the CREC's intentions had publicly predicted that the CREC's Report would prove to be a "whitewash." I'm sorry to say that, on the whole, I have to agree.

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