Now This is the Way It's Done

It’s one thing for consistories, sessions, presbyteries, classes, synods, and general assemblies to make statements against the Federal Vision (and the New Perspective(s) on Paul). Those were and are necessary and important preliminary steps but those statements must be followed with ecclesiastical discipline. That means that, where a minister or teaching elder is contradicting the confession of the church he must face sanction for the peace and purity of the church and for the safety of the sheep. The PCA, RCUS, OPC, RPCNA, and URCs have all said that the Federal Vision theology is contrary to God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. One of the leading federal visionists is the Rev Dr Peter Leithart, a PCA minister who is laboring out of bounds in a CREC congregation in or near Moscow, ID, the headquarters of the CRE. That federation has become the de facto home of the federal vision movement. After the PCA GA rejected the FV theology in 2007, Leithart challenged his presbytery to discipline him. The presbytery assigned a committee to investigate the matter. The presbytery declined to discipline him. The Rev. Jason Stellman and others complained against the action (or refusal to act) by the presbytery and that complaint is being heard today in Atlanta by the Standing Judicial Committee (SJC) of the PCA. Pray for a good outcome and for the safety of Christ’s lambs.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
    Author Image

    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. I just spoke to my pastor who was formerly on the SJC. He seems to think they are going about this the wrong way and what should happen was that Jason J. Stellman and at least 1 other would bring charges up in the Presbytery and upon them either not acting or their siding with Rev Dr Peter Leithart then appeal that charge with specifics to the SJC not about the Presbytery but rather Leithart. The charges should show specifics of him breaking his ordination vows (defying specific parts of Westminster for example) and preaching another Gospel (again with specifics either in recordings or writing with dates attached). Stellman’s blog is a bit light on the details, but as read my pastor things the SJC will send the charge back to the Presbytery and not sanction them.

    Now if they did not investigate charges they may be sanctioned for failing to investigate a charge, but that is the extent of it. I hope they are bringing specific charges with full evidence against Leithart instead.

  2. RK

    My parents are members at Exile PCA where Rev. Stellman is the pastor. Prior to that my father was involved with FV issues at their prior church and took part in one or more presbytery meetings related to the Leithard process.

    All that to say, from what I have heard of the history and process of this I believe the complaint as it has been presented is in order and the proper course of action per the BCO. Dr. Leithart voluntarily presented himself for examination and assessment of his theology, the presbytery upheld his teaching, and the complaint is that the presbytery erred in so doing. Your father is correct that a likely outcome of this is that the SJC will send it back to presbytery for “proper” consideration. It’s how the wheels of our disciplinary process turn sometimes: slowly. Might have been “cleaner” to have Dr. Leithart brought up on charges, but since he voluntarily came forward first the process is a little different, at least as I can comprehend the complexities of the process in the BCO!

    • Curiouser and Curiouser, well since no formal complaint has been filed against Leithart, you are correct, it does seem however that Stellman should make a formal complaint, along with another witness, so that the presbytery can then uphold, ignore or correct Leithart. At that point then Leithart can be brought up on charges with the SJC.

  3. Would it be a good outcome if Dr. Leithart is exonerated?

    I have read very little of Pastor Leithart’s work and have no opinion about his theology (other than to assume that as a Minister of the Word in good and regular standing within the PCA that his teaching is orthodox).

    It is right to bring concerns about a Minister’s theology to the church courts in order to protect the peace and purity of the church. Yet, we should be careful not to turn our church courts into an FV witch hunt where the only acceptable outcome is to find the person accused guilty.

    Regretfully, we all tend to have an excessively high view of our own judgment which keeps us from honoring the church courts in practice the way we wish them to be respected in theory. For example, I believe that there are grave problems with Norm Shepherd’s soteriology; but I am also aware that his OPC presbytery never found him guilty of teaching outside of the bounds of the OPC’s Confession of Faith (it was a split vote). Nevertheless, opponents of Rev. Shepherd (and also of the FV) regularly point to Rev. Shepherd being let go by Westminster Seminary while neglecting to note that the Church courts didn’t find him guilty of anything.

    If we are going to to take the ecclesiastical courts of NAPARC denominations seriously, that means we have to respect them even when we might have voted differently.

    Since Dr. Leithart is both a well trained scholar and someone who (to the best of my knowledge) is trying to be clear about what he is teaching; the resolution of his status as a PCA Minister will be noteworthy.

    Will those who appreciate Dr. Leithart accept a finding that he is outside the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy? Will those who disagree with Dr. Leithart offer him the right hand of fellowship if he is not found outside of the bounds of Reformed orthodoxy?

    • I strongly suggest you re-read Dr Clark’s summary.
      1) Knowing that the PCA has determined FV to be contrary to orthodoxy, he challenged his presbytery to apply the general to him specifically.

      Given this bit of knowledge would you be willing to change your 2nd paragraph and thus the remains of your statement?

      2) If Leitheart refuses to repent from violating his ordination vows he should and God willing will be removed from licensed ministry.

      3) It does not matter if other accept it. What matters is that the purity of the church is maintained. Should he be found to not ne in violation of his vows (which means amongst other things he is not teaching FV) then discipline is maintained and he stays licensed and ordained, if not then he undergoes discipline as determined by the SJC with regards to the BCO.

      • Thank you for your question.

        Given that the Presbytery has not brought charges against Dr. Leithart after he presented himself to his Presbytery – I choose to not substitute my uniformed judgment for what I hope is their informed judgment.

        BTW – While we understandable speak of NAPARC condemning the FV (such shorthands are necessary), charges need to be based upon specific violations of the Confession and not on the undefined term Federal Vision.


        • “BTW – While we understandable speak of NAPARC condemning the FV (such shorthands are necessary), charges need to be based upon specific violations of the Confession and not on the undefined term Federal Vision.”

          Yes which is why I framed my statements for 2 & 3 to state violation of his ordinational vows.

          Remember, Leithart has proclaimed himself an Federal Visionist therefore he knowingly presented himself to his presbytery with a theology which is contrary to that of the PCA. If you do not agree with the theology of your ordaining church then you should renounce your ordination. If you are at that time still convinced of your call to ministry then seek out an ordaining body with whom you do agree. I faced this with Anglicanism in 1990 and it is why I am a PCA Presbyterian today.

    • David,

      On the day Shepherd sought dismissal from his presbytery he was on the verge of being brought up on trial. As I understand it the agenda was unusual in that they addressed his request for dismissal before they got to the charges and thus Shepherd got away. He was tried once but acquitted by a favorable presbytery. The Shepherd case, however, was not adjudicated really until the OPC justification report. His dismissal to the CRC put the case on hold until the Kinnaird fiasco embarrassed enough folk to deal with it finally.

      The WCF reminds us that “Synods and councils do err.” Just because a presbytery fails to do its duty or renders a bad judgment doesn’t make that presbytery’s ruling orthodox or true.

      That’s why we have Scripture as confessed by the church — to norm errant Synods and councils.

      • Dr. Clark,

        You wrote:

        the Kinnaird fiasco embarrassed enough folk

        Care to produce any documentation for that? If you are not aware of the events of the May meeting of the Presbytery of Philadelphia immediately preceding the GA where Kinnaird’s conviction was overturned, then you really should. You should focus on one particular motion, research who made that motion and who spoke ardently for it’s passage.

        • Yes, I’m aware of that. I said what I did intentionally. I don’t repent. Fiasco is the right word. I’m grateful for the work of the study committee and for the willingness of a strong majority at GA to receive that fine report which was a repudiation of the FV and of the errors that Kinnaird taught.

          That said, I believe that many people in the OP did not and probably do not yet understand what Kinnaird was saying about initial and final justification. That’s partly due to his inability to articulate what he’s saying. It’s partly due to the fact that many seem to be unfamiliar with the doctrine itself and partly because they remain in denial that any ostensible Protestant would teach such a thing.

          • Dr. Clark,

            Thanks for the reply, FWIW, I was really asking about the “embarrassment” part, since I don’t recognize that as something involved with the ideas of “peace and purity” of the church or the honor of Christ. If as you suggest that embarrassment was the reason for the production of the Justification Report, then that’s a pretty strong indictment of the OPC as church don’t you think?

            Nevertheless, so in which of the categories in your reply, of being “unfamiliar with the doctrine itself”, or being “in denial” would you place the author of said motion? I’m guessing you wouldn’t put the lack of clarity on Kinnaird’s part as the reason for the mover to failure to understand what K was teaching.

            Does the production of the fine report undo all that? “Repudiation” is a strong word. For me, repudiation on a denominational level only comes about by judicial action or constitutional amendment. Until that happens, K can continue to say what he likes, can he not, and as you’ve stated previously, he is, at least “online”?

            Since you seem to be aware of that May meeting, are you familiar with why the case was decided as it was in the February meeting? If not, try to correlate the time of day at which the vote was taken against the number of votes cast, and the roll call at the beginning of the meeting.

            Do you think this would be being discussed today if that vote had been different?

            • Andrew,

              I was at the presbytery meeting of the presbytery of the Midwest of the OPC when the overture from the church in Grayslake, IL came before the presbytery, the overture that would eventually be sent to the General Assembly, which would go on to spawn the justification committee. And I was also at the General Assembly that received that overture and erected the study committee. And I was at the General Assembly that received and commended the report of that committee.

              Now Dr. Clark says that it was “embarrassment” over what happened at the GA level when Mr. Kinnaird was exonerated. You find this particular word inappropriate for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. I’m not sure I would use the word “embarrassment”, but I don’t think Dr. Clark is saying too much here.

              The fact is, this was started by one session. They saw what happened at the GA, and they were understandably upset. So they drafted an overture, designed to make its way through the appropriate channels to the next General Assembly, which asked the General Assembly to reaffirm its doctrine of justification and erect a study committee.

              I was at that General Assembly. I went so that I could see what happened. I was very troubled by these events. When the overture was opened up for debate, some tried to shoot it down for being out of order, so that it wouldn’t even be received. Once that epic battle was finally completed and they actually received the overture, then there was yet another epic clash of titans over how to respond, even whether or not to respond at all.

              After hours and hours of debate (no exaggeration), finally, an elder statesman of the OPC stood up, and a hush fell over the gathered presbyters. He was older with a very long and honorable track record of service to the OPC. (I think I heard someone say that he was at the first GA of the OPC in 1936.) Everyone knew him and apparently respected him a great deal. And when he stepped up to the microphone, he spoke loudly, clearly, boldly, and with generally more spunk than anyone I’d ever seen in my life (and I’ve been in the Marines!)

              That kind old gentleman was appalled. He rebuked the entire assembly. “We should be EAGER to affirm our stance on justification, not trying to avoid doing so on technicalities! So what if it’s out of order! There are people in the OPC, our denomination, people in OUR flocks who have begun to doubt what we as a church believe about justification. We should be falling all over ourselves to answer them!”

              And then he sat down. And the silence was heavy. The silence was complete. The silence was deafening. There was no further debate of any consequence. The assembly had been rebuked and hung its collective head in shame at how it had conducted itself. Ask anyone who was there, and they’ll tell you the same thing. It was one of the most remarkable things I’d ever seen in my life, and I don’t doubt that I’ll be saying that when I’m an old man.

              When the silence had blanketed the shocked assembly for a few moments, the GA swiftly, very swiftly, passed a motion reaffirming the OPC’s commitment to the doctrine of justification taught in the Westminster Confession of Faith and catechisms, and immediately set about erecting a study committee to delve more deeply into the New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision theologies.

              At the end of the day, the justification report came about because one session of elders, probably about 5 or 6 men, courageously decided to send that overture to their presbytery, and that presbytery sent it on to the General Assembly. So in point of fact, you only have proof that 5 or 6 men were at least troubled, though more likely embarrassed, at the previous year’s GA ruling.

              But had the GA not erected that study committee, I seriously doubt that everything would have been just peachy in the OPC. In fact, at that time, I heard the word “split” being whispered quite a bit, and not among the children. Had this not gone the right way, things would have gotten very ugly.

              I was also at the General Assembly where the justification report was received. One thing that sticks out in my mind was the outbreak of loud cheers and applause (which is nothing less than completely shocking when you’re talking about Presbyterians in the General Assembly) when one presbyter said of the Federal Vision folks, “Let’s really stick it to them!” (He was debating that names should be left in the report, and that the language of heresy and out of accord with Scripture should be left in as well, if I remember correctly.) Applause. Cheering. Red faced presbyters on their feet, hootin’ and hollerin’, smiling big smiles and hugging one another, while the moderator tried to regain order.

              And I remember the very-close-to-unanimous vote in favor of receiving the report.

              My, how far the OPC came in just a few short years. It’s very, very obvious to me that the eyes of the OPC were opened through this struggle, and that as a church, the OPC learned and grew in its understanding of justification.

              Forget Kinnaird. I think the OPC discovered about itself that it had forgotten what justification was all about, and it proceeded to refresh its memory and renew its zeal for the biblical doctrine.

              You might scoff at the notion that that should properly be labeled embarrassment. Maybe you’re right.

              But what else would you call it when the OPC, one of the oldest members of NAPARC, one of the most conservative, one of the most true to the Reformation, whose confession of faith is over 350 years old – what else would you call it when such a church discovers about itself that it had lost its zeal for the one doctrine that above all else set them apart from Rome? What would you call it when a church, scornfully dubbed Machen’s warrior children (but who now wear the title on T-shirts), who pride themselves on their high esteem of the Westminster Confession of Faith and in being staunchly Protestant, FORGETS the essence of the very gospel they profess to be preaching more ably, more clearly, and more accurately than the vast majority of other churches out there?

              In fact, I think “embarrassing” and “fiasco” are FINE words to describe these events. And PRAISE GOD that he brought us to this place of collective repentance and growth in zeal.

              May God so restore his gospel across his Church around the world. And if the OPC has to admit her embarrassment at having erred, so be it. The OPC is not above it, and as I have described, embraced the Lord’s rebuke with joy and mutual congratulations, boasting loudly of her weakness.


  4. Dr. Clark,

    Of course we confess that Synods and councils can err. Certainly Presbyteries can err when constituted as courts of Christ’s Church. Nevertheless, it seems fitting that we would doubt our own private judgments and only very reluctantly come to the conclusion that a Synod or council has actually erred.

    I have heard too many terrible sermons and bad theology come from the lips of NAPARC ministers to really believe that they are all truly teaching the whole counsel of God as summarized by our subordinate standards. Yet, so long as all Church officers continue to be fallible sinners, shouldn’t we assume that Ministers in good and regular standing are orthodox unless we have overwhelming evidence to the contrary? Aren’t we in danger of treating the decisions of ecclesiastical courts the way we treat the results of secular political elections? My judgment is that greater actual deference to the working of our church courts would be good for the Church.


    • David,

      We do have sufficient evidence to the contrary in the case of most of the FV and certainly in the case of Shepherd and Leithart.

      What we lack is the will to do what Christ requires, to lay down our lives, and to be “bad guys” (that is what will be said if one presses charges) long enough to endure the process.

      • Dr. Clark,

        Given the current climate in NAPARC, I suspect that it might take more courage to defend someone accused of FV teaching than to bring the charges themselves. The discussion that I have heard about Dr. Leithart has been: “The Presbytery ought to have brought him to trial – and they need to find him guilty.” There seems to be no room for the possibility that a detailed examination of his views in light of the Confession – with all of the clarifications that a trial affords – could result in his being deemed to be within the bounds of the PCA’s constitution. Be that as it may, I am very leery of TBI (Trial by Internet) where the courts are assumed to be incompetent unless they agree with me.


        • David see my reply to you above.

          Lets make it a basic syllogism

          By his own admission Leithart is a person who espouses FV:
          Leithart => FV

          Federal Vision has deemed contrary to orthodoxy by the PCA:

          3)Leithart => !PCA (1,2 Addition)

          • RK,

            Your syllogism is fine except a Minister cannot be convicted of teaching the FV in general, he has to be convicted of teaching that contradicts specific elements of the Confession that his Presbytery deems essential to the Confession’s system of doctrine.

            If Dr. Leithart’s Presbytery convicts him of being outside the bounds of Confessional orthodoxy – so be it. I have only read a couple hundred pages of Dr. Leithart’s work and have no opinion regarding his confessional orthodoxy. Other competent men, such as Professor Clark, have read Dr. Leithart in far greater detail than I have and do believe that he is outside of the Confessional orthodoxy. Yet, as much as I value the opinions of Dr. Clark – I choose to defer to the collective judgment of Dr. Leithart’s presbytery over the private judgment of a seminary professor.


            • So do I need to break down Federal Vision into its components then substitute the set into the equation? You have already said shorthands are necessary and so I assumed that mean you would be willing to do simple identity set substitutions.

  5. RK,

    I’m sorry that I am somehow being unclear. Let me take one more stab at it:

    You can’t simply substitute individual teachings that are considered part of FV. Even if you quoted directly from Dr. Leithart’s writings this would not be sufficient for a conviction. How would we know that he didn’t later qualify or retract such statements? Doesn’t the accused have a right to respond?

    Furthermore, so long as we are insisting that Synods and councils can err – there is no reason why Dr. Leithart should be prevented from making the case that the PCA GA has erred in how it formulated some of its condemnations of particular doctrines associated with the FV.

    That is why we leave trials to church courts.

    Let me add, I’m not trying to defend Dr. Leithart. I have no connection with Pastor Leithart nor do I have any expertise on his teaching. What I am insisting on is that we need to work for BOTH the peace and the purity of the Church. Deciding in advance that a Presbytery cannot exonerate a Minister of charges hardly seems like an approach that honors this commitment.


    • In fact you can substitute the individual teachings of FV for FV the identity set looks something like: FV{T1,T2,T3,T4,T5…Tx}.
      FV=> T1+T2+T3+T4+T5+…+Tx

      Now there could be some which are necessary causes and some which are sufficient causes which could make the set appear different, but fundamentally we are talking about the same thing. By endorsing FV Leithart endorses T1…Tx, now endorsement is probably not enough for de frocking but Leithart is not simply endorsing he is advocating and espousing, he issued the challenge to the Presbytery, and the Presbytery failed to act accordingly. Leithart is flaunting FV. I understand that you want there to be a full examination, and I can safely believe that there will be/has been one.

      Dr Leithart had the opportunity to contest the decision of the General Assembly back in 2007. It is not the place of the JSC to decide issues of theology. There comes a point where we cannot suck up the resources of the GA in arguing with every individual about this issue. They are free to leave and were free to comment on things during the discussion, but if they stay they need to abide by their ordination vows.

      OK enough of this from me, I do await the decision of the SJC.

      • But ministers who fall within the scope of NAPARC and who follow their own consciences aren’t that free to change their churches. There is at least one such minister out there who remains entangled in his original church’s presbytery despite half a decade’s worth of attempts on his part and that of another NAPARC church to effect his separation and re-commitment to the other church’s ordination vows.

  6. Hi all,

    Just a quick clarification for the record, the Minority Report which I authored goes into detail concerning Leithart’s unconfessional teachings (and it can be found online). In other words, we don’t simply say, “Oh, you’re one of those FV guys? But FV is bad, ergo, you must be bad, too!”

    Just saying….

    • Jason,
      If you are still out here in Atlanta do not forget to either stop by the world’s largest hot dog stand (aka the Varsity) for a heavy dog and and an FO or stop by Gladys Knight and Ron Winan’s “Gladys and Ron’s Chicken and Waffles” for a Midnight Train (chicken wings and a waffle) Yes it is that Gladys Knight and I am told she does at times cook. I mean it is a shame to come all the way in and not get a good solid southern heart attack right?

      I can’t say anymore as in my previous post I said I was done 🙂 Thanks for your efforts and have a good meal.

    • Jason,


      My comments were not directed toward you in any way. I would just like the Church courts to do their business – and for the rest of us to assume that they are being conducted in good faith. This includes not shortcutting the process to find someone guilty prior to the ecclesiastical courts completing their business.


  7. I confess, I don’t know what the whole debate is about here, rkbrumbelow is exactly right and so is his pastor and former SJC commissioner. Complaining about the delinquency of a Presbytery for its failure to do its duty in cases like Leithart’s is going about it the wrong way. That should have been obvious after the Wilkins case. All they’re doing is providing time for Leithart to simply remove himself from the PCA roles as he leaves as a so-called “pastor in good standing” and continues his labors in the FV denomination of the CREC. Admittedly, in Leithart’s case he might even be arrogant enough to stick around long enough and actually one day be charged with teaching heresy.

    Frankly, not only should Leithart have been charged years ago, but so should have the PCA’s Jeff Meyers, Mark Horne (something Andy Webb threatened to do and said so publicly on Green Baggins), William Smith (ersatz pastor of Community Church in Louisville), Joshua Moon of Good Shepherd PCA in Minnetonka, Minn. (recently “exonerated” by the Siouxlands Pres), Greg Lawrence of Christ Church in Mankato, Minn. (also exonerated by Siouxlands, but now being re-investigated by a newly formed and perhaps more FV condusive committee), along with investigating D.P. Cassidy from Redeemer PCA in Austin, TX who is one of the featured speakers in the upcoming Auburn Avenue Pastor’s Conference in January. And those are just for starters.

    When they’re done with those, I have a list of pastors and churches from my own former Presbytery (James River) that need to stop perverting the Gospel and probably should find a job flipping burgers or anywhere else except behind a pulpit.

    And if David Booth thinks it is more courageous to defend the doctrines of the many “Leitharts” in the PCA, then let him take up that charge.

    Then with Booth’s help, if the GA then exonerates a known Federal Visionists like Peter Leithart, as the OPC did in the Kinnaird case, then we can all say the PCA courts have indeed spoken and the false gospel of the FV may be taught alongside the true Gospel with impunity. After all, it already is.

    Of course, all his bravado aside, and make no mistake I want all these men to get a fair trial, I don’t think Booth has anything to worry about and that’s because Dr. Clark is also exactly right when he said:

    What we lack is the will to do what Christ requires, to lay down our lives, and to be “bad guys” (that is what will be said if one presses charges) long enough to endure the process.

    No kidding.

    • Sean,

      Some of the men you have named have publicly associated themselves with the FV movement (e.g. Myers and Horne) and so I have no problem with your naming names. From all I can tell disciplinary proceedings against them should have been undertaken some time ago. Moon’s name is, I believe, publicly associated with the ongoing case in a PCA presbytery. Cassidy’s decision to speak at AAPC, though unwise in my opinion, is not de facto evidence that he is a FV proponent. After all, Darryl Hart spoke there in an attempt to win them back to orthodoxy and Darryl is a strong critic of the FV.

      So I’m not aware, however, that all of the men you’ve listed here have publicly identified themselves as adhering to the FV or have publicly taught FV doctrines (whether they call it that or not is not the issue).

      Since I’ve removed other posts for similar reasons, Can you substantiate your claim’s regarding Smith and Cassidy and the James River Presbytery? Scripture forbids careless charges against elders so we should be careful lest the cause of orthodoxy be brought into disrepute.

    • Sean,

      You are badly misrepresenting me. Please re-read what I wrote if you would like to address what I actually did write.

      I am strongly opposed to those teachings that are distinctive to the Federal Vision. For example, I insist that a man must teach the covenant of works and the active imputation of Christ’s righteousness to be ordained. What I actually wrote is that it might take more courage to defend someone who is ACCUSED of teaching FV doctrine.

      I do want those who are teaching contrary to our doctrinal standards to be charged, tried, and expelled from our churches. What I am advocating for is simply that this is the business of the church courts – and that our courts should follow due process by not assuming that someone is guilty simply because they have been charged.

      As Dr. Clark has titled this blog entry: “Now This is the Way it is Done” – let me say I couldn’t agree more strongly. Men, who believe that their Presbytery erred in not bringing charges against Dr. Leithart have appealed their Minority Report to the Standing Judicial Committee of the PCA. This is exactly what they should have done.


      • I didn’t misrepresent you David and I am well aware you said “that it might take more courage to defend someone who is ACCUSED of teaching FV doctrine.” I said as much, although I have no idea why it would take so much courage. Richard Gaffin defended Norm Shepherd throughout the entire 7 years Shepherd’s damnable doctrines were being debated among the stymied faculty and administrators at WTS and while being taught to unsuspecting and open minds in Shepherd’s classroom. And, besides Gaffin, Peter Lillback also vigorously defended Kinnaird specifically in his abuse of Romans 2:13. Again, not particularly courageous.

        Defending gross heresy and the heretics advancing them is not very admirable in my book. This isn’t some Christian version of Law and Order where all defendants are entitled to be vigorously defended no matter what sort of Christ denying nonsense they’re promoting. Also, I know you agree with Dr. Clark on this and I happened to agree with those who think men like Leithart need to be charged directly and that it is foolish to keep repeating the same strategy that we saw played out in the case of Steve Wilkins.

        • Sean,

          Perhaps that is what you meant to say, but it is not what you actually wrote. I am happy to except your retraction if you offer one:

          You wrote: “And if David Booth thinks it is more courageous to defend the doctrines of the many “Leitharts” in the PCA, then let him take up that charge.”

          But I never said any such thing. There is a world of difference between defending the doctrines of someone (which would imply that I agree with them) and saying that someone deserves a trial. It should be quite obvious that I have no interest in defending the teaching of Peter Leithart given that I have repeatedly stated that I have only read a small amount of what he has written and have no expertise regarding his theology.

          I will leave it to others to judge whether or not I am right when I suggested: “Given the current climate in NAPARC, I suspect that it might take more courage to defend someone accused of FV teaching than to bring the charges themselves.” The fact that you wish to treat me as a doctrinal latitudinarian, or even a protector of heresy, for what I have written doesn’t lead me to believe that my assertion was wrong.


  8. Dr. Clark wrote,
    “The Shepherd case, however, was not adjudicated really until the OPC justification report.”

    Dr. Clark,

    Do you care to expand on what you mean by this sentence? Left without some sort of further explanation it severly misrepresents the nature of reports in the OPC as well as our judicial process as laid out in the Form of Government. Reports “received” dont have judicial power or binding and no one was on trial during the making of the report so I dont see how what you state above can possibly be the case unless it is to be read metaphorically.

    • Hi Jesse,

      Sure. I understand that receiving a report isn’t a judicial verdict. I’ve acknowledged that many times. It is a weakness in American Presbyterian polity. I understand that the adjudication happened in the Phila Presbytery.

      What I meant by “really” was to suggest that in formal terms the case what adjudicated, but in substantial terms the theological issues remained outstanding. I’m old enough to remember the period just after the case leading up to the more recent developments culminating in the report. There was a sense inside and outside the OPC that the issues had not really been addressed. So long as Shepherd was quiet they remained dormant. Upon his retirement, however, and subsequent publication of his errors, the substance of the case became active again. The mishandling of the Kinnaird case by GA also gave the OP an opportunity to address the substance, i.e. the theological and exegetical errors in Shepherd’s teaching. The Study Committee report was well received and by GA and it gave the orthodox majority in the OPC a vehicle for expressing its affirmation of the confession contra Shepherd’s and Kinnaird’s denial of it.

  9. ‚Äú…if the GA then exonerates a known Federal Visionists … as the OPC did in the Kinnaird case…‚Äù
    If a slander if repeated often enough without rebuttal people come to believe it, even though it is false. But surely slander cannot honor our Lord, or build up the church, or further the cause of gospel truth.
    Here [] is my own attempt to state the facts of the Kinnaird case. I wrote this shortly after the Assembly in question while I was still general secretary of Christian Education in the OPC. I still believe that it is an accurate summary of the truth of the matter:
    “The case of ruling elder John Kinnaird from Bethany OPC in Oxford, Pennsylvania, revolved around what it means that, at the final judgment, our Lord will judge his people according to their works and openly acknowledge and acquit them (see Confession of Faith XXXIII, Larger Catechism 90, Shorter Catechism 38). He had been accused of teaching that God justifies sinners not through faith alone, but through faith and works, and his session had found him guilty. He appealed to his presbytery, which upheld the verdict. And so he appealed to the General Assembly. Again, the case provoked considerable debate. He contended that he did not teach justification through faith and works but was only concerned to emphasize that salvation involves not only justification but also includes sanctification and glorification.
    “Again, there was considerable divergence over whether the debate was over the doctrine itself or over the way that doctrine was stated. Some were persuaded that Mr. Kinnaird intended to teach orthodoxy, but that the way he actually taught was culpably confusing. Others argued that, even if at points he expressed his views in a way that confused some, his actual views are nevertheless orthodox.
    “In this case, the General Assembly determined that the session and presbytery had erred in convicting him. This means that it reversed the original verdict. The Assembly insisted on maintaining both a free justification (the primary concern of the accusers) and a full salvation (the concern expressed in the teaching the accusers were challenging). In other words, *the Assembly did not determine that what Mr. Kinnaird was accused of teaching is legitimate in the OPC; it determined that Mr. Kinnaird was not guilty of teaching what he was accused of teaching.*”

  10. Hi Larry,

    This is helpful.

    Maybe it’s not possible to say, after all who knows why presbyters do what they do in an assembly, but isn’t it possble that GA didn’t really adjudicate the case on the merits of what Kinnaird had written and said but rather on the basis of what he said on the floor of GA?

    Further, when Kinnaird announced after GA, apparently without a hint of irony, that he had been “vindicated” by GA don’t you think he took the verdict differently than the GA intended?

  11. Warm greetings, Scott,
    I think you’re right that it’s not possible to say with certainty — who does know why each presbyter votes a certain way? I myself was of the opinion that Elder Kinnaird intended to teach orthodoxy but that the way he taught it was culpably confusing. In my opinion, Elder Kinnaird admitted as much in the statement he made to the Assembly expressing regret for the confusion and division that had ensued. I myself believed that the Assembly SHOULD have found Elder Kinnaird guilty and then mitigated the sanction in light of that statement of regret. Accordingly, I was one of the signers of a protest against the action taken. Nevertheless, I still firmly believe that the truth of the matter is that “the Assembly did not determine that what Mr. Kinnaird was accused of teaching is legitimate in the OPC; it determined that Mr. Kinnaird was not guilty of teaching what he was accused of teaching.”

  12. Jesse,

    I have a question; when you say reports are not binding, is one to understand that the OPC report on justification does not obligate much less provide a didactic tool by which an OPC minister is to understand justification as laid out in the WCF?

  13. Oops, sorry, I neglected to answer your question. I don’t know what Mr. Kinnaird said, but “vindicated” is not really the way I would describe the action of the Assembly. I suppose that he was “vindicated” in the sense that the Assembly found him not guilty of teaching what he was accused of teaching. But the teaching that he was alleged to propagate was by no means vindicated. Indeed, several presbyters pointedly and pastorally rebuked him for the confusion in his teaching on this crucial issue in the course of the Assembly, and that seemed to me to express the mind of the Assembly. The disagreement came, then over how to deal with the charge in light of all that had been said.

    • Not to retry the case here, but had GA adjudicated the case solely on what Mr Kinnaird actually said and taught and wrote I cannot believe that the assembly would not have sustained the original verdicts of his session and of the presbytery. The evidence that he had contradicted the Word of God as confessed by the OPC in the secondary standards is quite strong. Wanda and Arne Wilkening saw it and they have no formal theological training. With just a little assistance from an aged but still Valiant for Truth OP minister they were able to make the case to a presbytery that was, some cases, quite hostile to them. Kinnaird had, as part of his defense a professional theologians

      I don’t know if you can comment on this, but I can say it. In our NAPARC world there is a certain buddy-system. I’ve seen it at work in my own federation and in other denominations. We’re small churches/ denominations/federations and the ministers have been known sometimes to put personal loyalty ahead of the confession of faith. This is partly due to the sociology of our groups. As small-ish sometimes beleaguered a brand loyalty develops in response to extrinsic pressure. That brand and personal loyalty can make it more difficult for presbyteries/classes, synods, and GAs to see issues as they are. Who wants to be the fellow who casts the deciding vote against a former moderator of GA? Are people aware of this? I don’t know. I suppose not in every case.

      Thus we may disagree in our assessment of what Kinnaird was actually saying. I remain convinced that he was saying that there is an initial justification sola gratia, sola fide and there is a final justification partly on the basis of Christ’s righteous imputed and partly on the basis of Spirit-wrought sanctity. Such teaching is contrary to God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. Rick Phllips’ summary of these issues is helpful. John Fesko’s chapter on this in his excellent on volume on justification is also helpful as he connects our final judgment to Christ’s resurrection. WCF 33.1 teaches a judgment but 33.2 and 3 indicate that judgment is not a fearful thing for us. In it believers shall receive “the fullness of joy” and “refreshing.” That we shall stand before Christ the judge should deter us from sin (33.3) but is our motivation legal or otherwise? The turn to consolation in 33.3 suggests that our motivation is otherwise. WLC 90 says it perfectly:

      Q. 90. What shall be done to the righteous at the day of judgment?

      A. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there openly acknowledged and acquitted, shall join with him in the judging of reprobate angels and men, and shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully and forever freed from all sin and misery; filled with inconceivable joys, made perfectly holy and happy both in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and holy angels, but especially in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. And this is the perfect and full communion which the members of the invisible church shall enjoy with Christ in glory, at the resurrection and day of judgment.

      Nevertheless, as one who struggled mightily for years to get people to pay attention to these issues I’m thankful for Mr Kinnaird for making it possible for the OP to address them so well.

  14. Since I’ve removed other posts for similar reasons, Can you substantiate your claim’s regarding Smith and Cassidy and the James River Presbytery?

    Hi Scott. Notice I said that I think Cassidy should be “investigated,” I didn’t say he was FV simply because he is one of the featured speakers along with Meyers, Wilkins, and Wilson. To be frank, I never heard of Cassidy until I saw his name on the Auburn Ave Conference announcement. Now, admittedly, I suspect he is FV or at least FV friendly from some of the things I’ve read so far on his website, including his displeasure with the passing of the FV/NPP report. He wrote concerning the report:

    Those who conclude that NPP literature and scholarship should be avoided because of this Report’s acceptance will find themselves needlessly impoverished and blinkered in their study of Scripture and hampered in their work of applying Scripture to the Church and world.

    In noting this I am offering thanks for the work of NT Wright most especially. I have my disagreements with some of this Anglican Bishop’s theological formulations, but remain very grateful for his sterling insights and his able defense of ancient and historic orthodoxy.

    I am also grateful for the work of those usually referred to as ‘FV’ theologians. I am in debt to men like Jim Jordan, Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart, Steve Wilkins, and Jeffrey Meyers, and many in Austin have been blessed by the labors of Rich Lusk, who served here some years ago. Even those who disagree with the thought and work of these men have no doubt been sharpened in their thinking about the matters they raised. I appreciate these men and count them as friends.

    Interestingly too, he is particularly critical of Sproul’s comments on the floor of the GA in opposition to the motion to table the report when Sproul was one of the few who seemingly grasped the gravity and the threat entailed in both the FV & NPP movements.

    In another post he recommends Jeff Meyers’ well circulated preemptive strike against passage of the report and states that he would vote against the report and would give his reasons on the floor of the GA (I’ll have to re-watch the proceedings when I have time to see if he in fact speak against passage and what his arguments were).

    Plus, while perhaps only suspect, he calls Leithart’s book “The Baptized Body” the “book of the year” and one that we should read, “then read it again, out loud to your wife and all who will listen.”

    Again, all these things and more are reasons why I think someone might want to investigate Cassidy.

    As for James River I didn’t mention anyone or even any churches by name. If you’d like me to, please email me privately and I’ll be happy to share what I know.

    Finally, and BTW, I just got the Strimple book and read both your contribution and Godfrey’s on the plane home last night. Thanks for the recommendation. Your contribution to the discussion was original and worth the time (even if now I have notes all over the margins). :-0

    • Hi Sean,

      This is helpful.

      I remain little concerned about the comment regarding the James River Presbytery since it leaves the impression, without substantiation, that many, if not most, of the TEs in that presbytery are unorthodox.

  15. Sean,

    The report was “received” which is different than it being “adopted”. The report does not become, as you would say, a vehicle by which one must now interpret the confession. We have the confession and we have the Word, ministers, elders and courts that determine how it is to be interpreted. This report is received by the GA, sent to the Presbyteries and through an organic use can function in a way that becomes a lens to interpret but it is not legislated, it’s not canon law.

  16. I remain little concerned about the comment regarding the James River Presbytery since it leaves the impression, without substantiation, that many, if not most, of the TEs in that presbytery are unorthodox.

    I certainly didn’t intend on giving that impression. There are many godly and orthodox TEs and REs in James River, not least of all my former pastor and session. That said there are still FV churches well known to those in James River, including one, that is not FV per se, where the pastor has been heavily influenced by Wright, recommends members study his book on justification, seriously questions the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, and was opposed to the passage of the FV/NPP report. I still have those that I love and pray for that attend that particular church. Admittedly, I also have other friends that have left because of the teaching there.

    And to Jesse, I haven’t said anything about the OPC report, the one which oddly left out any reference to Romans 2:13, the verse central to Kinnaird’s (and Shepherd’s) view of final justification. You must have meant your comment for someone else.

  17. Dr. Clark,

    You mentioned how the PCA, OPC, RPCNA, RCUS, and URC have rejected the FV. The ARP Church did the same at its last General Synod meeting. How come we ARPs don’t get love from you west coast people? 😀

Comments are closed.