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R.C. Sproul's Pittsburgh roots

Written by Peter Smith on .



The Rev. R.C. Sproul may not have become a household name on the order of his classmate at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the 1960s, one Rev. Fred "Mister" Rogers.

But Rev. Sproul, who died last week and whose memorial service was on Wednesday, was a big enough name in his own right.

He was a a Pittsburgh native who began his ministry in southwestern Pennsylvania and took a geographic souvenir of it with him in the name of his Ligonier Ministries, which he transplanted to Florida in 1984.

He was big in conservative Protestant circles on multiple fronts.

Among them: He was a lead organizer of the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, a manifesto for a conservative theological reaction in multiple fronts, most prominently the Southern Baptist Convention.

And he was a leader in the revival of Reformed or Calvinist theology, which emphasizes the sovereignty of God in all things, including predestining human events and who gets saved. 

Yet in the early decades of his ministry here in southwestern Pennsylvania, he doesn't seem to have made many local news headlines. The Pittsburgh Press and the Post-Gazette frequently listed announcements that he would be speaking at this or that church. But in my search on, I only found a couple of references in actual news articles, both from the 1970s.

In 1975, he was identified as a "well-known area theologian" who was among a group joining a new Pittsburgh-area presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. He and others were decamping from the mainline United Presbyterian Church in the USA over the ordination of women and other liberal trends.

"The church has the right to decide these matters," he said. "I as an individual should resign peaceably if I don't agree. The church doesn't need that kind of hassle."

He refused to call the United Presbyterians apostate. "A lot of my brothers remain in the UP church. I am not about to declare war on it. There is plenty of work to keep us both busy."

In 1978, he joined other clergy leading a rally of about 1,000 people in Market Square in Pittsburgh, praying for an end to the nation's longest coal strike, then three months and running. The rally happened the same day the workers overwhelmingly rejected a contract.

He and other pastors struck a neutral tone at the rally.

It's been said that the church should stay out of the market place, out of the coal strike and even out of Market Square," the 1978 Post-Gazette article quoted him as saying. "But we're not."

He suggested that economic issues were not necessarily the chief issue in the coal dispute.

"When people get angry, it's a sign that they have been hurt. The miners have charged that the companies are ripping them off and the companies have said the same about miners. .. So today we're praying for reconciliation so miners and mine owners can embrace."

Embrace or not, the strike lasted a couple more weeks.

Beyond those articles, there was not much news that I could find from Rev. Sproul's early years here.



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