A panel of two teaching elders (ministers) and two ruling elders (elders) has recommended to the full Standing Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church in America that the complaint against the Pacific NW Presbytery of the PCA, which refused to prosecute the Rev Dr Peter Leithart for his FV views, be upheld. As Jason Stellman reports (quoting the panel’s recommendation): “the presbytery erred in its failure to find a strong presumption of guilt on the part of TE Peter Leithart due to his doctrinal views being out of accord with the Westminster Standards concerning various fundamental issues.” The presbytery has been instructed by the Standing Judicial Commission to prepare an indictment against him. The report of the SJC is available here. Contrary to those in the presbytery who criticized the original presbytery committee report, the SJC characterized the “work product of this Committee, including the Committee Report, the Minority Report, and Leithart’ Response,” as and “excellent BCO 31-2 investigative report.”
The panel found that the presbytery erred in two ways:
First, PNW erred in judging Leithart’s views “to be not out of accord with the fundamentals of our system of doctrine.” Second, PNW also erred in not finding a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of Leithart are “out of accord with the fundamentals of the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards.”
The panel rejected the argument of those in the presbytery who argued that there was not enough evidence to find a sufficient presumption of guilt so as to proceed to trial. Indeed, the panel concluded that exactly the opposite is true: “The only conclusion that a court should reach, given the excellent work product produced by the PNW Study Committee, would be that there is a strong presumption of guilt that some of the views of Leithart are out of accord with some of the fundamentals of the system of doctrine taught in the Standards.” The SJC says that a “thorough BCO 31-2 investigation has been conducted by PNW, the results of which PNW should have recognized raised a strong presumption of guilt that Leithart holds views that place him out of accord with our Standards (the Constitution of the PCA), PNW erred in not so doing.”
Yes, the panel concedes, Leithart is orthodox in certain respects but the ways in which he is orthodox do not constitute an
…appropriate criteria. One could envision such central tenets that would encompass Anglicans within its bounds; similarly, Reformed Baptists could affirm some central tenets of the Standards. This does not mean that either Anglicans or Baptists are within the Standards. In the same way, Leithart appears to hold some views that place him outside of the fundamentals of the Standards, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America.
The panel also remonstrated rather forcefully with the presbytery for seeking to use their interpretation of Scripture (that is that of the majority in the presbytery) to leverage the interpretation of Scripture published in the confession.
By appealing to Scripture in this way to justify positions that are out of accord with our Standards, an individual, or group, is in effect doing just that (i.e. amending the Constitution, not by judicial act, but by personal interpretation). If someone believes that the Standards have incorrectly or inadequately stated what Scripture says about a particular topic, then instead of ignoring what our Standards state and justifying their positions by personal interpretations of Scripture which are not consistent with the Standards, they should propose amendments to the Standards to clarify or expand the Standards, since our Constitution holds them out to be “standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture.”
Thus far the Rev Dr Leithart has been convicted of nothing but now there is to be a trial and, as the SJC reminds the presbytery the “sole question to be determined is whether Leithart’s views place him outside of the Standards, as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America.” The Presbytery of the Pacific NW, however, has been convicted, as it were, by the panel of reflecting the QIRC-y, biblicist spirit of the age. It is most heartening to see churchly, presbyterian, confessionalism in action, to witness real confessionalists in action who are willing not only to affirm formally the Confession of Faith but to insist on a substantial adherence to the Confession of Faith and who are willing to use it, and not one’s private interpretation of Scripture, as the basis for judicial proceedings. The minority of the presbytery is to be commended for its perseverance. Despite all the obstacles and despite the temptation to “let it go,” they sought to do the right thing in the first instance and then appealed this case even though their appeal was bound to win them few friends in presbytery (or elsewhere). God bless that persistent minority.
According to the panel, the minority was not only right theologically but pastorally. The majority in the presbytery “has failed to guard the church from teachings and writings “which injured the purity and peace of the church.” (BCO 13-9.1) and in doing so has caused much pastoral confusion and harm.” Now let us pray that a duly chastened presbytery will take to heart the instruction by the SJC. Let us pray that the presbytery comes to the same conclusion as the SJC that the “statement(s) and writing(s) of Leithart… place him out of accord with the fundamentals of the Standards….”
We should also hope and pray that those assemblies in the PCA (and everywhere in NAPARC) currently harboring Federal Visionists will also take instruction and encouragement from the panel and will begin to act in a way that is consistent with their ordination vows.