PCA SJC Overturns PNW Presbytery: Indict Leithart

Jason Stellman wrote late last night that the Standing Judicial Commission of the PCA has upheld the minority in the Pacific NW Presbytery and has ruled that the Pacific NW Presbytery erred in not finding a “strong presumption of guilt” that the views taught the Rev Dr Peter Leithart (who labors out of bounds in a CREC Congregation) are out of accord with the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Now the the ball, as it were, is back in the Presbytery’s court.

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SJC Panel: Indict Leithart

The NW Presbytery and Peter Leithart

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For Those Just Tuning In: What is the Federal Vision?

R C Sproul Jr: FV = Denial of the Doctrine of Perseverance

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    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.

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25 comments

  1. I have asked this question a number of times – why, oh why ,don’t the FV guys go congregate in the CREC? Why make a nuasuance in Reformed denominations like the PCA,OPC ,URC et.al. after these bodies have clear cut positions on the FV as being out of harmony with their respective standards?

  2. GLW,

    ….I know people call me extreme, but these are wolves in sheep’s clothing who are trying to devour as many as they can in their descent to the abyss.

    Ed. note: Jeremy I edited your comment. Your comment was over the top. Those are ecclesiastical decisions to be made. You’re entitled to your opinion but I have to draw the line.

    I have said similar things but on seeing this I think maybe I would do better to speak of the movement as “wolfish.” It tends to corrupt the gospel.

  3. The answer is simple Gary, they think they’re Reformed and you’re just a Baptist (or, worse, a Lutheran married to your Hellenistic law/gospel distinctions).

    So, when can we expect the PNP to begin process against Leithart? After all, that’s his cue to exit the PCA stage left and order new business cards.

  4. Sean
    You know we could start over -but you have got to stop trying to polk me in the eye all the time with snide remarks like the one ‘Hellenistic Law/Gospel distinction’- ( which you should know Gordon Clark did not go around bashing).

  5. Sean,

    After what Gary Crampton did, doesnt that lend some credence to the critique? Or does that sort of proof only work when FV guys go to Rome not when Trinity Foundation guys go Baptist?

  6. Sean,

    After what Gary Crampton did, doesnt that lend some credence to the critique? Or does that sort of proof only work when FV guys go to Rome not when Trinity Foundation guys go Baptist?

  7. Gary, what is it about tongue-in-cheek that you don’t you get? I was poking fun at men like Wilson who claim the defenders of the historic Reformed faith derive their doctrines and distinctions, like the visible/invisible doctrine of the church or law/gospel, from a rationalistic or Hellenistic mindset — not from Scripture or the Confession. They claim we all are reading the Confession through our little Greek intellectual lenses, while they are the ones recovering the true Reformed faith. In short, it’s all everyone else who need to leave the PCA, not those like Leithart.

  8. Sean,

    It is not only FV theology that leads somewhere, TF theology leads somewhere as well… Do you like Earl Grey or Green Tea?

  9. I like neither, I prefer coffee and black too. Of course, your argument, if you want to call it that, is ridiculous. If TF theology (which is really just the Scripturalism of Gordon Clark, so let’s be clear) necessarily implies believers baptism, then being a Presbyterian leads to the Federal Vision. Absurd, yes, well so is your asservation.

  10. One correction: To say that the SJC “has ruled that the views taught the Rev Dr Peter Leithart . . . contradict the Word of God as confessed by PCA in the Westminster Confession” is not quite correct.

    The second paragraph of the SJC “Reasoning and Opinion” states,

    “PNW [Pacific Northwest Presbytery] erred by declaring that TE Leithart’s views were not out of accord with our standards. Further, PNW may not, at this point (as Complainants have asked) declare that his views are out of accord with our standards. Nevertheless, the views of TE Leithart touching fundamentals of the system of doctrine (for example on baptism, the bi-covenantal nature of Scripture, and imputation) set out in the Record (in PNW’s own reports) suggest a strong presumption of guilt that these views represent offenses that could properly be the subject of judicial process (BCO 31-2, BCO 29-1 & 2).”

    We’re in pretty murky waters here, Book of Church Order-wise. The key phrase above is that Leithart’s views suggest “a strong presumption of guilt.” This is BCO language that is the trigger to begin a formal judicial process. In an opinion that may frustrate many and please very few, the SJC basically placed the responsibility to deal with Leithart back in the Presbytery’s hands, suggesting that PNW counsel Leithart to recant his views and leave the PCA if he can’t. If the counsel is not given or fails to achieve its purpose, then PNW should begin the formal judicial process, since there is a “strong presumption of guilt.”

    Bottom line: This story is not over. Stay tuned for more developments.

    –Frank Aderholdt, PCA Ruling Elder, The First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, MS (in Grace Presbytery, far, far away from Northwest Pacific!)

    • Frank,

      Would you help those of us who are not entirely familiar with how the PCA handles judicial cases?

      You wrote: “… the SJC basically placed the responsibility to deal with Leithart back in the Presbytery’s hands, suggesting that PNW counsel Leithart to recant his views and leave the PCA if he can’t.”

      Doesn’t Pastor Leithart have the option of choosing to have a trial in the Presbytery in an effort to vindicate himself? In that case, what happens between the SJC and PNW if the Presbytery fails to find him guilty?

      Thanks,

      David

  11. One clarification to my correction. (I said we’re in murky waters here.) The SJC did not actually find and declare that there is “a strong presumption of guilt” that Leithart’s view are out of accord with the Standards. The SJC said that his views “suggest a strong presumption of guilt.” Some will argue that the opinion is neither fish nor fowl. Be that as it may, NWP has the case again, and it’s clear what the SJC desires the Presbytery to do.

  12. One more point, which I hope will clarify and not obscure: There is a specific reason why the SJC in this opinion uses words like “suggests” and “these teachings could reasonably be deemed to be injurious to the peace and purity of the church.”

    Here’s the reason, as I read the text: In the first paragraph of the “Reasoning and Opinion,” the SJC states, “Without formal judicial process, PNW does not have the authority to render a definitive judgment as to whether those teachings strike at the vitals of religion or were industriously spread (BCO 34-5 & 6). Therefore, Complainants are not entitled to a declaration that these teachings are out of accord with our system of doctrine. Similarly, without the completion of judicial process, PNW could not declare that these teachings are not out of accord with our system of doctrine.”

    If you’ve followed all the “nots” carefully (you may have a headache too by this time!), you’ll see that the resolution of this case hinges on a formal judicial process, according to the SJC. Whether the SJC’s opinion is consistent with its rulings in previous similar cases, I’m not prepared to say.

    Presbyterian polity at its best? Wouldn’t want to go there. Personally, I hope that Leithart will either recant or leave the PCA–if the latter, with as little acrimony as possible. At least the SJC directs the Presbytery toward actions to bring about the desired result. (NOTE: My conclusions, not the SJC wording!). Counsel and pastoral advice first, then formal judicial process if necessary.

  13. David Booth,

    As I wrote in my last post, the ball is back in PNW’s court to follow the directives of the SJC, which are first to counsel Leithart, and then if necessary to do its duty under the BCO, which is formal judicial process. I read the SJC Opinion as going on record that it will rule definitively if a Complaint comes up to the SJC from either party after formal judicial process. All eyes are now on Pacific Northwest Presbytery.

    I need something simpler to do for a break, like memorizing the schematics of the space shuttle.

  14. The PCA SJC reminds me of Bill Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony when he said;

    “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true.”

    Presbyterian polity at its best? Wouldn’t want to go there. Personally, I hope that Leithart will either recant or leave the PCA–if the latter, with as little acrimony as possible.

    You’re kidding right? You want the PCA and the SJC and the PNW to abdicate it’s responsibility to Christ and His Gospel and for Leithart to just go away?

    • Funny, Bill Clinton’s statement on the meaning of “is” was one of the most honest things he ever said. If we all agreed on “is” then at the very least, we would all know exactly what the Lord meant when He said “This is my body”.

  15. Sean,

    I’m amazed that you could draw such a conclusion from what I wrote. Of course I want everyone to fulfill their responsibilities and do the right thing-often the hardest thing-each and every time. The SJC’s Opinion is what it is, though, and none of us can change it at this stage. From my point of view as a brilliant armchair quarterback, they could have already ended the game on this matter. Not being present during their deliberations, I have only the text of the Opinion to go by, and I’m not convinced that their conclusion was the best one. They are faithful and honorable men who may have just missed the mark this time. I don’t think that the Opinion expresses Presbyterian polity “at its best.” But we have to deal with what was done, not with the ideal of what we would like to have happened. That being said, the Opinion still serves as the basis to move forward, though with greater complications and more delays. Sort of like real life, isn’t it, and our own sanctification: Two steps forward, one step back.

    Yes, I would rather see Leithart leave amicably than have a trial, if he will not recant his views. The issues are clear; the arguments have been made. After more than eight years of FV point-counterpoint, I don’t expect anything substantially different to be said. As an officer in the PCA, I took a vow to strive for the peace AND the purity of the church. I’m not prepared to declare Leithart and other FV’ers “heretics.” I will not assert that they have no understanding of the Gospel. I do believe, however, that their views are out of accord with the Standards and strike at the fundamentals of the system to which I am committed. In my view, the FV’ers have no place in a church faithful to the Reformed Confessions. If no ecclesiastical body had yet spoken on FV issues, I would welcome a trial. But at this point in time, for Leithart to retire from the field would not only strengthen the PCA but send another clear message that we will stand fast in our defense of the Standards.

    Let’s remember that the SJC’s Opinion was not “neutral.”

  16. I need to add a little more to the end of my last post:

    The SJC’s Ruling was not “neutral” by any means, nor was it in any way favorable to TE Leithart:

    “Statement of the Issue:

    Did PNW err in its handling of the reports from the PNW Study Committee appointed to examine Leithart’s fitness to continue as a PCA Teaching Elder?

    Judgment:

    Yes. The Complaint is sustained, and the case is sent back to PNW with instructions to proceed according to the Reasoning and Opinion of this Decision.”

    It’s the “Reasoning and Opinion” itself that some of us believe was not strong enough. To my knowledge, no one on the SJC is “going soft” on the Federal Vision. Perhaps the SJC’s Ruling will prove to be the most wise one in the long run.

  17. I’m amazed that you could draw such a conclusion from what I wrote…Yes, I would rather see Leithart leave amicably than have a trial, if he will not recant his views.

    It would seem I drew exactly the right conclusion.

  18. I’m not prepared to declare Leithart and other FV’ers “heretics.” I will not assert that they have no understanding of the Gospel.

    And that is precisely the problem with the PCA; they fail to mark and treat Gospel deniers like Leithart as they should. The man should be charged and tried for heresy. Then, should God not grant him repentance, he should be cutoff like the dead branch he so clearly is. If you’re really interested in the peace and purity of the church then these men need a lesson in the true meaning of the parable of the vine and the branches.

  19. Sean
    Can’t always tell with you. Does that mean all those jabs at Van Til were tongue in cheek? If so then we can be good buddies! By the way ,what about Jesse’s reference to Crampton?

  20. Does that mean all those jabs at Van Til were tongue in cheek?

    No Gary, I’m still no Vantilian, so I guess for you that means we can’t be buddies.

    As for Jesse’s reference to Crampton, so what? What’s that got to do with me? If he or you really believes that “TF theology” logically implies the creado position than demonstrate it, don’t just assert it. Further, Dr. Crampton has a book coming out where he defends his new found belief, something he says he’s been wrestling with for twenty years. So, if you’re concerned about Crampton becoming a Reformed Baptist then read his book and be prepared to refute his arguments.

    And I’ll just add, since I know Dr. Clark doesn’t want another Clark/Van Til debate, while Scripturalists, in principle, operate from the same underlying epistemic presupposition, the axiom of Scripture, we’re still sinners and are still guilty of lapses and errors in logic. Consequently, we’re all not going to agree on everything. None of us will this side of Glory. Frankly, Gordon Clark was a historic premillenialist. I’m a convinced Clark was wrong, which is why I’m a convinced amillenialist. I guess Jesse will now claim that TF theology necessitates historic premillenialism.

    OTOH, and as tragic as this may be for the future health and survival of the Reformed faith, I share a lot more common ground with a Reformed Baptist, Anglican, Congregationalist, Reformed, and Presbyterian Scripturalist than I do with most Vantilians regardless of their affiliation. The Clark/Van Til controversy provided a major watershed and created a rift that I don’t think will healed any time soon save immediate divine intervention. In the meantime, I’m just thankful there are Vantilians like you and Dr. Clark that understand the simple truths of the Gospel and can still the recognize clever frauds being advanced by the NPP and FV men. As I’ve argued before, my difference with you men, and as much as I love you, is that you have no epistemological reason for opposing the contradictory doctrines being advanced by Federal Visionists (and Vantilians) like Leithart, but I’m thankful that you do anyway. 🙂

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