The Leithart Verdict Is In: The News is Not Good for Orthodoxy

peter leithart

Peter Leithart is a teaching elder (TE) in the Presbyterian Church in America. Until recently he was a minister, laboring outside the bounds of his presbytery, in a Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (CREC) congregation in Moscow, ID. The CREC is the home and base of the self-described Federal Vision movement. This movement identifies itself as “Reformed” but it departs from the Reformed confession in significant, even fatal ways. The federal visionistas have a two-track doctrine of salvation . They affirm orthodoxy on one hand and then, under the umbrella of their idiosyncratic covenant theology, deny it with the other. When they are speaking under the umbrella of “covenant” their doctrine is more that of Arminius’ than it is of Dort.

There has been an eccleisastical-judicial proceeding wending its way through the courts of the PCA for what seems like years. It began in the Northwest Presbytery of the PCA and finally made its way, by way of complaint, to what is the final court of appeals in the PCA, the Standing Judicial Commission. According to Lane Keister at Green Baggins, the full panel of the SJC of the PCA heard the case and voted “to reject the complaint that Pacific Northwest Presbytery erred in exonerating Leithart.” This means that the decision of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery, which declared that his teaching is not outside the bounds of the confession, stands. According to Lane, because the case was heard by the full panel, there is no avenue for appeal.

Before today the outcome seemed fairly straightforward:

  1. The PCA rejects the FV doctrines
  2. Leithart teaches the FV doctrines
  3. Ergo, his teaching is outside the bounds of the confession and rejected by the PCA

Somewhere in the process the syllogism became muddled. It is hard to imagine that the first (major) premise is in doubt, given the vote at the 2007 PCA General Assembly and previous SJC decisions. The truth of the second premise seems clear but one wonders whether something went awry in proving it to the satisfaction of the SJC?

This should be a matter for concern and prayer for everyone who loves the gospel and who has an interest in the future of the largest and arguably most influential body in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.

More details and commentary to come.

    Post authored by:

  • 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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68 comments

  1. Thank you for posting this concise summary of what has been going on with the Leithart case, Dr. Clark. Quite frankly, it has been somewhat complicated and confusing for those like me who are relatively new to Reformed theology. This clears things up a bit … although, you’re right, the final outcome is still confusing.

  2. I believe much of the theology of the Federal Vision is unhelpful at best and dangerous at worst. I can sympathize with your sentiments about that. One thing that makes all of this less confusing is that maybe the PCA is finally starting to understand what the Federal Vision folks actually do believe and teach. I do not sympathize with FV theology but I am most of the way convinced that many, like the PCA, have long misunderstood what these folks actually teach.

  3. Why do you not invite him to Westminster for a theological dialogue on the subject? It would be helpful to hear the interactions, questions and rebuttals that would take place in an atmosphere of academic discussion.

    • There has been rather too many years of dialog in my view. If someone wanted an introduction to this particular case, the PNW trial transcript is available, that should give a good set of interactions, questions and rebuttals (I said should, not that I think that it does). Also, Leithart has published numerous books, so discovering what his views are shouldn’t be that hard.

    • Hi Raymond,

      There has been lots of dialogue over the years. The FV movement started out as a renewed version of the “Shepherdite” movement from 1974, so, in that sense the dialogue is almost 40 years old now. The FV has been studied. It’s not a mystery. There are numerous ecclesiastical summaries and reports and judgments.

      I’m in favor of academic dialogue but I don’t see the point now. Should the University of Leiden have hosted Episcopius (Arminius’ successor) after the Synod of Dort? The FV isn’t an open question any more.

    • Dr. Clark, I agree that the Federal Vision had not been an open question anymore after the votes in nearly all NAPARC denominations to condemn it. But this new vote by what is by far the largest NAPARC denomination appears to reopen the question.

      Perhaps there are parallels to the 1924 General Assembly, in which it became clear that the PCUSA would not discipline those who openly advocated views that the denomination officially still rejected?

  4. As a member of the PCA via the ministry of an RUF minister who clearly and consistently taught and preached the pure gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and as one whose soul is daily nourished and whose conscience is daily quieted by the sure promises of Christ concerning my justification and adoption, I am profoundly disappointed, distressed, confused, and angry over the decision of the SJC and the Pacific Northwest Presbytery. To my young and clueless college self, the PCA sent a herald to preach sight and freedom; now the same denomination could send heralds to preach blindness and slavery to the thousands upon thousands of young and clueless college students attending our country’s colleges and universities. A very sad and disturbing development indeed.

  5. Dr Clark
    A question: Do you think that the transcript of the PNW trial gave the SJC sufficient grounds to convict Leithart? It has been a while since I read it, but I thought it should have.

  6. I have it, on good authority, that the reason for the “exoneration” was due to the poor job of the Prosecution and that the job was botched up so badly that it was not possible to overturn the lower courts’ decision. The Prosecutor has not only shown himself incompetent in this area but to rightly divide the Word of Truth in general (apostasized to Rome) so this is not entirely shocking.

    • I have to disagree. But please don’t take this on my authority (or lack thereof 🙂 ) or anybody’s good authority, read the trial transcript and judge for yourself, it’s public record.

  7. Thanks for speaking out on this important issue, brother! The path to rejecting confessional orthodoxy starts with little exceptions, and ends with big ones.

  8. As one who has been told by some TE’s in the PCA that the differences between RC’s and Protestants are overplayed this is not surprising. My family and I are in the process of becoming a members of a solid PCA church in the NW Presbytery but it still makes me a little nervous. I really wish a URCNA was up here. For such a big city I am surprised tiny, rural Lynden has one and we don’t.

    • Lynden is Dutch. The URC was historically a Dutch denomination and outside the West Coast still is.

      Not to have a URC in Lynden would be as unthinkable as not having one in Grand Rapids, Pella, or Orange City.

  9. Sad news. A big step in the direction of gospel apostasy for the PCA. The OPC would be more than happy to welcome confessionally sound PCA congregations wishing to “voluntarily realign” with a more consistently confessional denomination. (I’m sure the URCNA and other like-minded Reformed denominations would as well.)

    • Thanks Brother, a few PCA’s that might consider that come to mind (including the one I’m at, and me personally). I do think a little long term big picture perspective is in order here, though. One bad decision doesn’t always mean the end of a denomination. For example, if I remember correctly, it was an OPC presbytery that seemed to have extraordinary difficulty in getting rid of Norman Shepard, one of the men at least tangentially related to the modern origins of this issue (Shepard fled without discipline to my hometown and wreaked much more havoc). There’s a OPC church 406 miles from me that sends mission support money to a Federal Vision ministry. I don’t mean this as undue criticism of the OPC, I respect you guys a lot. My point is just that while this decision is bad, God may still have reform in mind for the PCA.

    • It is ironic that some thirty years ago the PCA passed up the opportunity to merge with the OPC because of concerns that the latter was tolerating the teachings of Norm Shepherd.

  10. Hi all,

    Indeed this is sad news. The Federal Vision is condemned by and banned from the local Bible-Presbyterian Church which I belong to (I come from Singapore, in Asia). I appreciate the need for academic discussions on issues of doctrines, and there are bound to be differences on certain aspects of theology (e.g., not everyone would have the same views on eschatology). However, when a brother or a church deviates from the the truth of the gospel as contained in Scripture and summarised in the Confessional Standards, that brother or church should be counseled and called to repentance.

    Regards,
    David Han.

  11. It seems from the publised SJC decision itself that their decision was based on procedural grounds rather than substantive grounds. The decision both began and ended with the clarification that this was not an affirmation of the theology in question, but rather a conclusion that the given procedures bound them to rule as they did. Whether we ought to allow procedure to trump substance is, of course, another question.

    I will definitely be praying for our brothers in the PCA in the aftermath of this decision.

  12. The FVists are not defrocked and the Kellerites grow exponentially. Neither make for a confessionally-sound denomination.

  13. @Bill — thanks for sharing that. I think I recall that the OPC had a similar ‘procedure’ based ruling in relation to an Elder who was teaching Shepherdite/FV error.

  14. Just a quick question, for those who know more about all this. I’ve been passively following the whole Jason Stellman issue. Considering how closely timed his “reversion” was to his appointment as the prosecutor in the Leithart case (10/2010 to 07/2012) I have to wonder who (and how/why) Stellman was selected as the prosecutor? I’ve heard many comments about how “botched” the prosecution was, and for me this raises some questions.

    I’ve spent some time studying the idea of subversion as a tactic, not just in the wider West but within specific communities. The tactics of subversion used by the Philosophes and other Enlightenment figures in the 18th century, followed by Socialists and others in the 19th, then Fascists, Communists, Progressives/Liberals in the 20th, etc.

    One area I’ve found fascinating is the case of the Anglo-Catholic Tractarian movement (J. H. Newman, etc.) and it’s attempted subversion of the Anglican communion in the 1830’s/40’s. From my reading, it’s fairly evident that Newman in particular was already a Roman Catholic at least 10 or more years prior to his official “conversion.” In reading some of his earliers works, especially his attack on the Lutheran/Reformed/early Anglican Justification in his Lectures on the same, it seems pretty evident that he purposefully misrepresented the early Reformers in his attempts to fool his modern peers into thinking that by returning to Rome, they’d actually be closer to the original Protestants, etc. This was also picked up later during and after Vatican II when many attempts were made to present Luther as in line with Rome on Justification, etc. Also, Newman’s tactic of secretly buying a previously orthodox Anglican journal, etc. In this case, the wider Anglican communion caught on pretty quickly and it was only after these attempts were exposed and condemned that the Tractarians jumped the Tiber. (As a side note, this whole subversion attempt, in God’s grace, started the whole modern classic Reformed reprint movement – with all the lies told about the earliest reformers, the best way to counter them was to place those writings in modern hands – from the Parker Society to Banner of Truth…we have Newman partly to thank for this.)

    This is all a long wind up, but I have to wonder – was this whole trial possibly just a setup from the beginning? I mean, how could Stellman’s views really have changed in less than 24 months and no one notice? Wasn’t there any indication by anyone in his church or the NW Presbytery that had any hint? (Carl Trueman’s blog comments on Stellman’s reversion seem to indicate it wasn’t too hard to see).

    So, to put it bluntly, was this an act of subversion on the part of someone or group inside the PCA? Does anyone have enough info to speculate on this? If it’s true that the prosecution was “bungled”, so what – this is a tactic used in our own secular courts by Liberals/Progressives – they pick the “defender” of a cause that seems to be contrary to their own, only to have these hand-picked subversives take a fall.

    So is this what happened? I’m particularly intrigued by this little bit from way back in 2010 (via http://theaquilareport.com/pacific-northwest-presbytery-pca-to-prosecute-charges-against-a-minister-for-theological-views/):

    “During the discussion one of the members of Presbytery asked Dr. Leithart pointedly, “Given that you’re already ministering in a CREC ministry [Confederation of Reformed and Evangelical Churches] in Moscow [Idaho], why do you insist upon remaining in the PCA?”

    Leithart responded that he has consulted with other trusted ministers both within and without the denomination and has been counseled to remain and see this through to whatever conclusion will be reached. He also mentioned that his rationale for refusing to leave the PCA includes his hope that the verdict, if in his favor, will go a long way in aiding others in the PCA with similar views who have come under attack.”

    Hmm….seems almost like Leithart was surprisingly confident in the outcome. Please, feel free to expose this speculation as only conspiracy theorizing. But really, subversive tactics like these have been well practiced in the secular world for at least 3 centuries, it’d be suprising if the basics of it haven’t filtered down to the church level as well. Either way, I would be interested in knowing exactly how Stellman got the job of prosecution in the first place.

    • Curtis,

      Speculation and conspiracy theories get us nowhere. Conspiracy theories are a great American past time but they fail to explain the facts because they rely on speculation rather than evidence, they ignore evidence, and they distort evidence. Conspiracy theories are lazy and are the children of rationalism, i.e., the a priori conviction that “someone out there” unknown to the conspiracy theorist is must be doing something bad to us. Conspiracies are attempted and do succeed sometimes but usually only temporarily. They usually fail because this is a fallen world and it’s hard to get more than 2 people to cooperate in the open let alone in secret.

      Conspiracy theories seem to be particularly tempting to Americans because we live in a vast country where we are largely unknown to one another and where the decisions made by those unknown persons to have consequences for us. The truth, however, is less exciting and more mundane. The truth is that people err and unhappy things happen.

    • I did my senior thesis on John Henry Cardinal Newman. Having read Newman extensively on these issues, I believe it would be inaccurate to say that Newman had become Roman Catholic a decade before his formal entrance into the Roman communion.

      I have spent many years watching denominations be subverted by men who do not believe what they are required to believe by their ordination vows and do not have the integrity to lay down their offices as they should do under such circumstances. Such men show numerous commonalities in beliefs and behavior. They are not the sort of men of whom it can be said, like Newman, that they gave up a great deal, both personally and professionally, as a consequence of their beliefs.

      It **WOULD** be correct to say that Newman had moved away from anything resembling a historic Protestant position long before he joined Rome. However, his position for a very long time was that the Church of England needed to return to what he saw as being the theological views of the early church prior to the development of papal power in Rome. It was only at a much later date that he became convinced that Papal authority goes back to the earliest days of the apostolic church. I do not want to quote Newman from memory, but the essence of his position was that he became convinced that he could not say he followed the doctrines taught by the early church fathers while knowing there was “another doctrine” they taught, namely, papal authority, which he rejected.

      My response to Newman is twofold: first, papal authority is **NOT** taught by the early church fathers or by most of the later church leaders until at least the fall of Rome, and second, even if it was taught by them, it is not taught in the Bible and therefore is wrong. Newman’s “development of doctrine” theories confused me for a long time, and when I entered seminary I had enough integrity to openly tell my professors that I could not with integrity subscribe to certain key parts of the Belgic Confession on sola scriptura until I got my views clarified, but I do not believe it is fair to say that the earlier Anglican views of Newman are identical to the later Romanist conclusions with Newman drew from his earlier views through his “development of doctrine” viewpoint.

      The simple fact of the matter is that the large majority of the “high church” party in the Church of England did not follow Newman into Rome. You are correct that their theology had definitely deviated from that of Protestantism, and you are correct that they were “called out” on that by the “low church” wing of the Church of England as well as stricter people in the Church of Scotland, the Free Church, and the Nonconformists in England of the 1800s and early 1900s.

      The Reformed opponents of Newman did argue, as you say, that Newman was being disingenuous about his beliefs, and that the “high church” party were Laudians at best, and closet Romanists at worst.

      I think subsequent development of Anglo-Catholicism in the “high church” wing of the Church of England, coupled with its persistence even after the Pope declared that Anglican ordination was invalid, shows pretty clearly that Newman’s views were not shared by his colleagues in the “high church” party.

      My personal belief is that Newman was consistent with his core principles in deciding to go “all the way” to Rome, and I believe that the Anglo-Catholic position is inconsistent at best and historically revisionist at worst. But I’m not prepared to accuse Newman of being a theological liar. I just don’t see that based on his writings or his actions, even though he was accused of that by some of his contemporaries.

      In closing, please do not forget that I have an Italian last name. My ancestors came from the province of Trent. I am not unaware of what Rome teaches and I have major problems with Rome. However, I have far more respect for someone like Stellman who leaves the truth for Roman error than I do for someone who stays in his church while subverting its doctrines from within. I simply do not see that Newman did that, and I have close to zero patience with those who do.

  15. While no friend of the Federal Vision, I think that there are two things that need to be considered.

    First, this was a compliant and not an appeal. A complaint deals with process errors not doctrinal ones. There were no process errors according to the PCA’s SJC. It would actually be wrong to prosecute doctrinal questions through something designed to deal with process errors. Ends do not justify means; a bait-and-switch is not righteous. And in trials it’s important not only to defend the Lord Jesus, but to look like him. The PCA’s SJC did a good job of not confusing issues.

    Second, with all the emphasis on this blog and in your writings on the need to subordinate private judgments to ecclesiastical decisions, isn’t there something to be said in subordinating our own private readings of Leithart to the PCA’s Northwest Presbytery’s ecclesiastical reading? They’ve exonerated him. Unless a higher court of the PCA overturns it, I don’t see how it’s helpful or consistent with the principles argued here to call into question the decisions of another Reformed body; or to continue dragging a man through the court of public opinion when he’s been acquitted in an actual court in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even if I have my own private reservations about this decision, mutual submission requires me to put those under the decision of my brothers in the PCA.

    • Matt,

      1. Thanks for the correction. I’ve edited the post to say “complaint” instead of appeal.

      2. We ought to have high respect for ecclesiastical decisions but the tone of your second point verges on fides implicita. The only authority worthy of implicit faith is God and his Holy Word. All others pay cash. By that I mean “Popes and councils do err.” So, submission to ecclesiastical authority is a principle but it is by no means the principle. Sola Scriptura is a considerably higher place in the hierarchy of Reformed values than submission to the visible church. We are Protestants after all. We cannot set up a system whereby the church becomes de facto infallible or incorrigible. Remember, the PCA has not existed for 500, or even 200, or even 100 years. The PCA was formed by separation from another ecclesiastical body, which the founders of the PCA judged to have erred so grievously and fundamentally, that they had to separate and form another body and that only in 1973.

      3. Folk in the PCA need to be realistically critical (i.e., aware and able to analyze dispassionately) about what has happened in their communion since 2007. As I’ve been saying here for years (see today’s post), it’s one thing to raise one’s hand or voice at GA in 2007. It’s another thing to sit at presbytery and say, “This teaching by this TE is out of bounds.” Has there not been a pattern in now three presbyteries, of, shall we say, a certain unwillingness to convict federal visionists? There are reasons why this has happened. One of them is sociological (see pt 4) but another is a lack of understanding of the issues. Most PCA TEs don’t go to GA. Most probably didn’t pay attention to the FV controversy when it arose and there is still probably a significant percentage of TEs and certainly REs who have no idea what the FV is or why it is an issue. This is partly due to the fact that they were never educated about the issues or have never educated themselves. Let’s apply Marsden’s (?) “pies, docs, and kuyps” analysis of the CRC (pietists, doctrinalists, and Kuyperians) to the PCA. There are probably more pietists in the PCA than docs and kuyps in the PCA and they are resistant to (or even inoculated against) doctrinal controversy from the start. It’s not that they don’t believe in Reformed doctrine but it’s more theoretical than practical. They tend to prioritize religious experience over objective truth.

      4. The sociological reality in the PCA is that relationship are very important, perhaps more important in some cases, than confession and doctrine. The PCA is what one of my old profs called a “syndical” organization. It’s composed of a web of relationships or syndicates. Those webs are very powerful. That sociology is grounded in the PCA’s southern roots and in factors related to its separation from the mainline. The URCs have some similar characteristics though not to the same degree. The syndical character of the PCA makes it more difficult for it to address these sorts of issues at presbytery because the court has moved from the abstract (“federal vision”) to “this alleged federal visionist.” To make that decision is to prioritize confession over relationships and that’s not why many people are in the PCA.

      The good news is that a syndical-relational denomination is great for receiving new members and reaching populations that more doctrinalist, uptight denominations probably won’t reach, at least not to the same degree but the bad news is that it’s not well positioned to face and eliminate doctrinal error, even one that manifestly “strikes at the vitals of religion,” which is the acid test in the PCA.

      • Agreed. We avoided the more stodgy inward reformed bodies as we entered the world of The Reformation but now I’m wondering if that isn’t the best long term solution.

    • “The only authority worthy of implicit faith is God and his Holy Word. All others pay cash.” NICE!

  16. Dr. Clark,

    Understood.

    However, I would like to know the process whereby Stellman was selected (or the process in general as well). Also, given Trueman’s concerns about Stellman (and assuming anyone else in NWP noticed the same drift), what kind of oversight or review of a prosecutor’s own abilities and theology does a presbytery exercise to ensure they don’t end up with a prosecutor possibly operating at cross-purposes to the wider PCA goal of ensuring doctrinal conformity? Is there anything that could have been done to ensure a better prosecution?

  17. MWC,

    Per the PCA’s BCO, a complaint can be doctrinal in nature and not just procedural. The question, formally, is whether or not the judicial body erred. But that error can be doctrinal. And per BCO 39 (if I remember correctly – don’t have it in front of me) the higher/broader courts have a duty to look at and correct theology and practice if the lower court erred in such areas.

    To others here, I think a fair and judicious reading of the over 700 pages in the record of the case would demonstrate that the prosecution actually did a fine job showing Leithart’s errors. There is no conspiracy, TE Stellman and his witnesses did quite well under the circumstances, and the SJC ignored the evidence regarding doctrinal error in favor of a procedural ruling.

    My heart is grievously heavy over this.

    Martin

    • Martin,

      Where can one find/read the records (online)? Thanks for your feedback, I haven’t heard anything but negative on the original prosecution. It is very sad the coincidence between Stellman’s defection and the Leithart decision.

      Thanks.

    • Thanks Martin,

      For the record here is BCO 39

      39-3. While affirming that the Scripture is “the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined” (WCF 1.10), and that the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America is “subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God” (BCO Preface, III), and while affirming also that this Constitution is fallible (WCF 31.3), the Presbyterian Church in America affirms that this subordinate and fallible Constitution has been “adopted by the church” (BCO Preface, III) “as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice” (BCO 29-1) and as setting forth a form of government and discipline “in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity” (BCO 21-5.3). To insure that this Constitution is not amended, violated or disregarded in judicial process, any review of the judicial proceedings of a lower court by a higher court shall by guided by the following principles:

      1. A higher court, reviewing a lower court, should limit itself to the issues raised by the parties to the case in the original (lower) court. Further, the higher court should resolve such issues by applying the Constitution of the church, as previously established through the constitutional process.

      2.A higher court should ordinarily exhibit great deference to a lower court regarding those factual matters which the lower court is more competent to determine, because of its proximity to the events in question, and because of its personal knowledge and observations of the parties and witnesses involved. Therefore, a higher court should not reverse a factual finding of a lower court, unless there is clear error on the part of the lower court.

      3. A higher court should ordinarily exhibit great deference to a lower court regarding those matters of discretion and judgment which can only be addressed by a court with familiar acquaintance of the events and parties. Such matters of discretion and judgment would include, but not be limited to: the moral character of candidates for sacred office, the appropriate censure to impose after a disciplinary trial, or judgment about the comparative credibility of conflicting witnesses. Therefore, a higher court should not reverse such a judgment by a lower court, unless there is clear error on the part of the lower court.

      4. The higher court does have the power and obligation of judicial review, which cannot be satisfied by always deferring to the findings of a lower court. Therefore, a higher court should not consider itself obliged to exhibit the same deference to a lower court when the issues being reviewed involve the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church. Regarding such issues, the higher court has the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court.

  18. I am by no means an expert, but in briefly reviewing the transcript and speaking with an expert witness, my impression is that Stellman did a fine job. I think it is a credit to his character that he made a good case, even as doubts were arising about his own confession (on his own admission) and his heart perhaps wasn’t totally in it.

    I also think Stellman deserves high praise for recognizing his own views conflict with the confessions and leaving the PCA. Would that more doubters and deviators would take this honorable course.

    I do, however, fault Stellman for speaking out publicly on his conversion while his wife and children are still attending (and presumably members) at Exile PCA, the church he helped found. He recently publicly stated this to be the case: see comment #13 at this page:

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2013/03/jason-stellman-tells-his-conversion-story/

    It is not befitting a Christian father (not to mention an officer of the church) to divide a family’s church membership except under the most extraordinary circumstances. I admittedly don’t know all the circumstances, but I would hope that Stellman would realize that this disqualifies him (at least temporarily) from leadership or teaching in the church, either officially or unofficially.

    In short, I don’t think it reflects well on his character that he now seeks to lead others to Rome before he has faithfully done so with his own family. I don’t envy him, but I would urge him (and have urged him) simply to work through his confession and hold his silence until he reaches a more stable place.

    • It is interesting that Jason comments that his family thinks he is “crazy.” Yikes. In any case, I believe he did a good job as the prosecution in the Leithart case; Monday morning quarterbacking is unfair in this case, and conspiracy theories are nuts.

    • Dr. Lee, I understand your point, I’m not sure I agree on how far you have carried it.

      In principle, let’s say the situation were reversed. Let’s say we had a Roman Catholic lay leader become convinced of Reformed doctrine and want to join a Reformed church. Perhaps some of us would tell a Reformed Baptist or a Lutheran to stay in their church until their wife and children were ready to become Reformed, but if we believe what our confessions teach about Roman Catholicism, I do not think we have any choice but to say that a Roman Catholic who wants to leave his church should be encouraged to do so. Heidelberg Q&A 80 is not mild in its denunciation of the Roman Catholic Mass. That, at least as I see things, is a very clear example of the “most extraordinary circumstances.”

      Someone in that situation clearly does not belong in the special offices of pastor, elder, or deacon, but I’m not convinced that very many Calvinists would tell a former Roman Catholic who had joined our church that they cannot urge others to leave Rome until they’ve convinced their own family to do so.

      As a side point, I’d note that even in the days of the Puritans in the late 1500s and early 1600s, it was not at all unusual for English merchants and soldiers in the Netherlands who had married Dutch wives to be members of an English-speaking Reformed church, often pastored by an expatriate English pastor who had been expelled from England for his objections to Episcopal church government or liturgy, while their wives remained members of a Dutch-speaking church. The consistory records of the English congregation in Amsterdam have numerous requests for wives who were members of Dutch churches to be admitted to communion in the English church and requests by husbands who were members of the English church to be admitted to communion at their wives’ Dutch church.

      This is not ancient history. As you know quite well from your Korean background, that is not an uncommon situation in the United States for immigrant Korean churches, and in situations where the immigrant Korean pastor speaks little or no English, I see few realistic alternatives. It is not the ideal, but sometimes it is the best of bad options.

    • Dr. Clark, if the person commenting is the same Dr. Brian Lee who now pastors in the URC and who used to be at Seventh Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, my wife and I both met him years ago. I’ll certainly defer to those who know him better than I do, but when my wife attempted to speak to him in Korean and he quickly changed to English, we both believed that he was either a second-generation or 1.5-generation Korean who no longer was fluent in the Korean language, or perhaps a Korean adoptee. Korean culture being what it is, we did not press the point because it would have been rude to ask further questions, causing him to “lose face.”

      If I am wrong about this, obviously I will appreciate being corrected. This would not be the first time that Korean cultural standards prevented me from asking questions which could have solved a lot of problems if I had known the answer before acting on wrong information.

      There are many things I like about Korean culture, and it is clearly far closer to Scripture than many modern American cultural practices, but the inability to be direct and the need to avoid even the possibility of unintentional offense stems from Confucianism and not a Christian worldview. It takes many generations to Christianize a culture, not just a century, and it should not surprise us that after barely a century of Protestant mission work, Korean Christianity is a mixture of both biblical principles and traditional conservative Confucian values, some of which are good and some of which are bad. Even some of the good points of traditional Confucian values which are congruent with Scripture may be overemphasized to the point that they become unbiblical by eclipsing other biblical principles — an obvious example being the absolutization of respect for family rather than the biblical principle of following God rather than men.

      It would be quite ironic if Dr. Lee is in fact not Korean, but in our attempt to avoid offense, we failed to ask a simple question which would not have offended him in the slightest.

      Anyway, Dr. Lee is presumably reading this and I hope he is amused rather than offended by what may be my decade-long error on his ethnic background.

  19. Dr. Clark,

    I know its bad form to comment and then disappear for the day, but my day has kept me away from the computer. Sorry about that.

    Let me just say this because I know if I don’t my comments following might be misread: The Federal Vision is dangerous; deadly so. On that we agree wholeheartedly. And now let me add this: Nothing that I’m going to say has anything to do with the FV; it has to do with how we respond to the judicial decisions of our fellow brothers in Christ.

    So with that, I don’t think my point was any where near implicit faith. Councils can be questioned and decisions revisited. They can be condemned and corrected; and indeed, they have been and should be: “Always reforming according to Scripture”, and all that. I wasn’t really addressing that issue.

    The issue I was raising, though, is how does one apply your own principles of subordinating private judgments to ecclesial ones to this particular situation. And my point more fully stated is this: Councils and churches have the right to be condemned and corrected by other councils and churches – not by private individuals. It doesn’t seem consistent to condemn them privately, nor does it seem appropriate to then encourage people to join in that private condemnation. Isn’t that the same spirit of hyper-individualism that pervades so much of the church? To play off your analogy: Who made you or me or my uncle Bob the cashier?

    If the PCA’s PNW erred, or the SJC of the PCA erred, it’s up the PCA to declare that and fix it. Or, perhaps other NAPARC churches, as churches, could get involved and raise the issue. But if and until that happens Leithart is a minister in good standing in a church with which we both have an ecclesiastical relationship through our respective denominations (at least if I remember correctly the URC and the PCA have some form of fraternal relationship). You don’t, however, have to invite him to your pulpit (I’m not rushing to buy him a plane ticket to Indiana, if you get my drift). But certainly a private condemnation of a minister in good standing in a Reformed Church, especially after he’s been exonerated, isn’t consistent with the principles you articulate here.

    That, and that alone, is my point.

    • Matt,

      I’ve had this discussion many times since the FV controversy arose.

      I don’t agree that publicly taught errors cannot be challenged or corrected publicly. Leithart has published his views. Of course a blog is not a judicatory. It’s the late modern equivalent of 17th-century pamphlets. I don’t know that we’ve ever taken the view, as churches, that a minister’s views are beyond criticism because an ecclesiastical court ruled one way or the other on them. I’m not saying that he’s not a minister in good standing but I am saying that I disagree with the judgment of the presbytery and am puzzled by the ruling of the SJC. I don’t see how saying that places me outside Presbyterian and Reformed polity.

      I’m saying that it’s quite clear that Leithart is a public advocate of the Federal Vision doctrines, that he publicly challenged the courts of the church to convict for flouting the decision of the GA in 2007. Presbytery failed to convict him and the SJC upheld the presbytery for reasons that are not clear.

      I cannot see how the failure of presbytery and the ruling of the SJC now become a de facto muzzle for criticism of Leithart or of particular judicatories.

      According to my reading of history, Reformation happens both by internal and external stimuli. Luther criticized the church mightily before 1520-21 and he continued after 1520-21. Should he have stopped after he was excommunicated? Synods of the CRC ruled differently over the years regarding women in office. Should confessionalists have been silent after a ruling went one way or the other?

      Process is important but so is truth. I don’t think we must juxtapose them. I believe in good order but I don’t see how what happens here is contrary to good order.

      As to NAPARC rising up and witnessing to the PCA, I suppose it is possible, but given the PCA GA in 2007, that would seem untoward. That’s the mystery here. The PCA is on record as opposing the FV root and branch. The only question here is the middle premise, that Leithart advocates the FV.

      He signed the Joint FV Statement in 2007, published just after the PCA GA, that says in part:

      We affirm that apostasy is a terrifying reality for many baptized Christians. All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace. The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate had to Christ was not merely external.

      We deny that any person who is chosen by God for final salvation before the foundation of the world can fall away and be finally lost. The decretally elect cannot apostatize.

      This is the essence of the FV. I showed years ago now that this doctrine, the very heart of the FV doctrine, is contrary to the Reformed confession and contrary to the entire Reformed tradition. It is manifestly contrary to the explicit and implicit teaching of God’s Word (“a Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly” “Not all Israel is Israel.”) When they say, not “merely external” they were taking direct, deliberate aim at the confession of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

      Neither Holy Scripture nor the Westminster Standards know anything about a temporary, conditional, union, justification etc conferred in baptism and retained by cooperation with grace. They certainly don’t know anything about two kinds of election, decretal and covenantal. The idea that those who apostatize were really united to Christ and are falling from grace is the doctrine of the Remonstrants rejected at the Synod of Dort.

      I don’t mean to diminish the work done by witnesses and judicatories. I know it was difficult and painful and ultimately frustrating. The issue is clear, however, and Leithart’s position on the essential issue is clear enough—why isn’t this sole paragraph sufficient evidence for conviction? Hence the mystery of the the Presbytery’s ruling and, assuming Martin is correct, the SJC’s ruling.

    • I’ve had my “go arounds” with Dr. Clark on a number of points, but I’ll defend him here, and defend him strongly, on his right to publicly criticize public error apart from formal ecclesiastical action.

      It is not consistently Protestant to say, or even to imply, that a decision by the assemblies of the church or the public statements of a minister of the gospel cannot be criticized in the public press.

      That principle, if consistently followed, would lead to Rome. We cannot reject “Roma locuta est, causa finita est” (Rome has spoken, the cause is finished) and then substitute the word “synod,” “presbytery,” or “general assembly” for Rome.

      Rome is an absolute monarchy. Episcopacy is a qualified monarchy within the diocese and a collegiate authority of absolutism when the bishops have concurred in Convocation.

      With apologies to Archbishop Ussher, Archbishop Cranmer, and other Calvinists in England, Hungary and America who have held the unbiblical office of bishop, we are neither Romanists nor Episcopalians. That concept of church authority may very well have very early roots in the teaching of Irenaeus — on that point, I’ll grant the Anglican arguments of a very early date for the development of the episcopal office in the fight against heresies — but it is not rooted in the Bible and therefore ought not to be found in Reformed churches.

    • Dr. Clark (and Mr. Maurina),

      So, I don’t want to take up much more of your time with this. I want only to say that I don’t think the point I’m making is hitting its mark.

      Let me try and get at it this way: There is a (great?) difference between publicly refuting public errors of individuals and publicly condemning someone who has been cleared by church courts of teaching public errors. And there is even a difference between those and condemning the court itself. This isn’t a case where the Rev. John Q. Badexegete has taught something erroneous in his pulpit and has been called to the carpet by various individuals for his bad teaching. This is the case where John Q. Badexegete has been exonerated by a church court and declared him to be within the bounds of their confession.

      And given the kind of situation this is, I’m really asking how we should respond? Or to ask it slightly differently: How can we respond when we “lose” in a way consistent to our response when we “win”?

      Take what happened with Federal Vision theology proper. When the Federal Vision was (rightfully and thankfully) declared unconfessional and unbiblical, those who were FVers, or who didn’t want the FVers to be removed from the denomination, publicly complained and condemned the church courts. And those who supported the decision of removing the FV – such as you and me – basically said, “The church has made a ruling and this view has been declared unconfessional and unbiblical and you need to abide by that ruling.” So the principle of subordinating private judgments to ecclessiastical ones was put in to play to defend the decision we supported. But now that some feel like they’re on the losing side, the principle of sola Scriptura is used to trump the principle of (shall we call it) subordination. And, I might add, the same principle of sola Scriptura was used by the FV folk for why they condemned our reading of the Bible and the confessions, and the reply was not only exegetical arguments (sola Scriptura). It was to tell them that they needed to submit to their brothers and the larger church in these matters (subordination).

      Thus what I’m point out is an inconsistency that can look for all the world like special pleading. If the PCA had made a different ruling I’ve no doubt the subordinating principle would be applied. But they didn’t. And so now they’re judged to be in error because their ruling didn’t uphold my private view, and to defend myself and my reaction I’ll play the sola Scriptura card.

      Now, I agree that church courts err. I agree that decisions can be questioned and that they can be reversed. I know that these things are messy and difficult and there are no easy answers or one-size-fits-all solutions. But I do think that more careful reflection on the basis for defending ourselves and complaining about others needs to occur. It also seems to me that one should be careful of applying principles in an ad hoc way that seems to justify whatever it is one wants to do. Finally, I also think there is another principle that needs to be applied, particularly by someone like myself who is uncomfortable with the PCA’s decision: Christian humility: Shall I only submit to my brothers when they agree with me?

      • Matt,

        1. I am not in PCA. I don’t have to submit to her judgments. I think they should be discussed respectfully and if someone crosses that boundary here on the HB they should be censured.

        2. Certainly we may agree that the SJC ruled that the prosecution didn’t make its case but that is not the same thing as determining that one has been cleared of being a Federal Visionist.

        3. It is a fact that Dr Leithart is a signatory to The “Federal Vision Profession.” One cannot be a signatory to a document entitled “Federal Vision Profession” and not be a Federal Visionist. The syllogism is quite plain:

        • Only animals live in zoos (Only federal visionists sign FV statements)
        • Babar lives in a zoo (Leithart signed a FV statement)
        • Ergo Babar is an animal (L is a FVist)

        4. One of the 9 points adopted by the PCA GA in 2007 speaks explicitly to the two-track FV doctrine of “decretal election” and “covenantal apostasy.” The GA rejected that doctrine the the FV Profession affirms it. Those are facts. We must deal with facts. Courts deal facts but they also deal with procedure and the specific wording of specific charges. We can say that he was cleared of the charges but that isn’t being cleared from being a federal visionist or of teaching contrary to the standards in every instance.

        5. Analysts of court decisions dissent from court opinions constantly. It’s what law professors do. It’s what pre-law professors do. I cannot remeber how often I heard profs savage SCOTUS decisions as incompetent, stupid, racist, and the like. In minority opinions SCOTUS justices attack each other’s arguments sometimes quite pointedly. They criticize precedents in very strong language. The fact that a court has ruled only means that there is a precedent. It doesn’t mean that analysis must cease or that dissent from the court’s decision cannot exist. When a decision is handed down or a precedent occurs future judgments must account for it but lawyers and teachers continue to try to persuade people that the decision was a mistake. That’s how precedents get overturned. The SCOTUS makes mistakes regularly and reverses itself (although less now, it seems than it once did) and other courts regularly. Church courts do the same.

    • Matt, et al,

      If I may butt in a little…

      How would you relate the Leithart decision by the SJC to the Synod of Diospolis acquitting Pelagius in 415? Should Augustine have kept silent? Was it special pleading for him to continue to write and speak out against Pelagius? I realize it’s a bit of a different case as Diospolis wasn’t the highest or broadest court – but times and polity were different back then. Arguably, if one follows your reasoning, Augustine should have deferred to the court who actually interacted personally with Pelagius.

      For me, the struggle here is that this isn’t about whether or not my private opinion was upheld, or about appealing to Sola Scriptura. We can appeal to the prosecution’s case in the 700+ page record which, maybe not as elegant as it could have been presented, nevertheless presents the facts showing Leithart is out of accord with our Confessional Standards, and the FV declaration previously made by our GA. I don’t see how that is special pleading.

      The SJC made, to me and others, a tremendously perplexing and contrary decision, and has not (as yet) really explained why. Their decision is public. I don’t see how public questioning or criticism of that decision is out of bounds.

    • Martin (et. al),

      I think I can break my concerns in two. That might help clarify further what I’m saying.

      1. The special pleading I was referring to is which principle, sola scriptura or (as I’ve termed it) subordination, gets pressed into service to defend or argue against decisions made within the church. As I said, when one’s side wins the call to subordinate one’s own views the views to church is used. When one’s side loses, sola Scriptura is used. Now it’s been a while since I’ve read Augustine’s writings related to the Council of Diospolis, but from what I remember he uses both the concerns of the Scripture and the concerns of the historic theological position of the church. It seems to me that applying both at once is a consistent position. And to the degree that we do that, with Scripture always normalizing tradition, I think that it’s very consistent.

      But there’s another way to think about consistency with respect to these principles, and that is, Do they ever restrain me from action as well as free me to act? And in this respect I wonder how consistent folk in our circles (myself included) really are in applying them today. By that I mean it seems like people use whatever principle is convenient to justify whatever it is they want to do. Thus, my concern about the appearance of special pleading isn’t to say that one can’t ask questions or be confused . It’s special pleading to use whatever principle allows me to justify my actions, but never questions or critiques them: If theological principles always free me to speak and never require me to be silent then there is a problem (at least, it seems so to me).

      And when a church court speaks, declaring an individual to be within the bounds of the confession (which has a fairly close relationship to our practice and use of sola scriptura), do I have an obligation to submit myself to it? Now, it may be that I do not have to do that in particular instances. But why is this not one of those instances? There has been a court case and 700 pages of documentation and multiple votes.

      2. If one is free not to submit, maybe even required not to submit, then there is an order that one must follow (That is such a Presbyterian thing to say, I know). It seems to me that questions can and should be asked of the SJC and others as to why they voted as they did. Martin, you’ve said they haven’t answered fully yet so there’s no harm in pressing for a full answer. Until one has that answer, I don’t think its fair game to condemned the court or their decision. (If one never comes or is delayed (subjective, I know), then good arguments could be made to not submit to this decision. But that’s a different scenario.)

      My initial comment wasn’t meant as a blanket statement to silence all questions. I was an attempt to get at those subdivided concerns: the cart before the horse and the inconsistent use of principles that dominates such much of the NAPARC world these days.

      I hope that’s helpful.

  20. CTM,

    I’m hoping they get everything up and posted in one place, soon. It would be very helpful in providing a full, complete picture of what has transpired.

    Martin

  21. What grieves me most as a Teaching Elder in the PCA is that PRESBYTERS are excusing their failure to “take heed to” their fellow presbyters (i.e., TE Leithart) and to all the flock (i.e., the PCA) by incorrectly appealing to PROCEDURAL limitations. Good grief. The BCO enjoins higher courts to abandon the usual deference to lower courts when it comes to the interpretation of our constitution, which includes the Westminster Standards. That was the whole point of the original trial (39-3.4). TE Leithart publicly espouses erroneous FV doctrine which is out of accord with the Westminster Standards at several essential points.

    But let’s set aside the procedurally complex & cumbersome BCO for a moment. Brothers, we are not lawyers, or judges, but PRESBYTERS. If y’all will allow me to go Babtist here and actually quote the Bible, consider Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian presbyters in Acts 20:26-32:

    26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. 32 So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    The sad fact is the SJC, made up of PRESBYTERS, failed to take heed to an errant presbyter, Peter Leithart, and therefore failed to take heed to the flock under our care – the PCA. And as a result, there is a wolf among us, who continues to have free access to the sheep & lambs, to speak “perverse things,” and to divide the flock.

    Lord, have mercy.

  22. The biggest thing that strikes me about the Federal Vision (and its proponents) is how hard it is to wrap your arms around vs. the relatively straightforward Reformed theology taught in the Three Forms of Unity or the Westminster Confession. For teaching to be helpful it needs to be clear and this is not the case with the Federal Vision. If teachers are not able to teach in a clear way because they are “treading new ground” or “formulating a new take on the Confessions” they need to do the church a favor and keep this on the down low until they have their views worked out. I once heard Doug Wilson interviewed and he talked about how his church was “putting together a book of confessions”. This is what liberals do (see the history of the PCUSA). Don’t try to be novel, don’t try to be all things to all people, don’t try to be complex and inscrutable — just be faithful to Scripture and the Reformed Confessions.

  23. Darrell,

    Yeah, if you click my name above, you go to the web page of Christ Reformed Church (URCNA) in Washington, DC, where I pastor. I’m the white guy in the welcome video. I live in Alexandria, and I am now officially one of the Virginia Lees (look us up!).

    No offense taken. Pretty sure this is a simple case of entire identity confusion, as we never met under the circumstances you describe, and I never pastored in Grand Rapids (though I did live and worship there). But I’d be lying if I said that once or a thousand times before someone assumed I was Asian based on my name.

    More importantly, on the substance of your point, I didn’t condemn Stellman absolutely for leaving a church without his family. I said there could be extenuating circumstances for such a move. My primary concern is that he is holding himself up as an example and telling his conversion story on blogs and in interviews before he has reached what I think he would agree is a stable position in his new profession of faith. Frankly, I think prudence would dictate that a new convert would take more time before promoting his view, while having something of a compromised profession in one’s own household. Who knows, his wife may convert him back, and then he would appear to be a double-minded man.

    Also, of course I would urge a Roman Catholic to leave his church, if necessary, without his spouse and family (though I’d urge a father to do this with great care and concern for the faith of his wife).

    But unless I am mistaken, Rome doesn’t have the same view of the URC (or PCA) that the URC has of Rome (at least on paper, or the most current paper). According to Rome, Stellman’s salvation is not ultimately at stake if he remains for a while longer in the PCA, for the sake of his wife and family. I presume Stellman would agree that his wife is still saved and a child of God, though a “separated sistren” from the true church.

    But I don’t ultimately question Stellman’s decision to do so, because I don’t know the facts. What I do question is his wisdom of holding himself up as a teacher in the church under this unfortunate state of affairs, and I would urge him to take the humbler course of silence.

    One might point out that this is polemically motivated, and an ad hominem argument. Well, yes, it is, in part. I of course think Stellman is wrong for abandoning a truly apostolic church for a false church, and the battle for the truth should be joined so he does not lead others astray. I further believe that his testimony should be compromised both among Roman and Protestant believers on the basis of his apparent inability to lead his household in common family worship, or at least worship together with them on the Lord’s Day. He has made that a matter of public record, and it is relevant to his witness. If his conscience is so bound that he simply must join the church of Rome apart from his family, so be it, but he shouldn’t seek to lead others into that communion before he has led his wife and children there (though I can’t say I wish him success in that venture).

    • We should pray for the Stellman family as well as Jason. The family still attends Exile.

    • Greetings, Dr. Lee. I have done some quick Googling and found a different person with the same last name who served as an assistant pastor at Seventh Reformed Church, I think while attending Calvin Seminary in the same program or a similar as yours. For quite a number of years I have thought you were that person, and that after finishing your time at Calvin, you were ordained in the URC and eventually went to Washington DC. Obviously I’m wrong, I’ve been wrong for years, and I certainly apologize to you! If I ever meet or correspond with the “other Lee,” whose name is best left unsaid in case my memory is even more defective than I think it is, I will have to apologize to him as well.

      BTW, I checked your website yesterday and I’m glad to see that your URC church has moved its meeting location to President Teddy Roosevelt’s former church, and even more glad to see that apparently Roosevelt’s church has remained at least somewhat evangelical despite its UCC affiliation. You may be aware that I was baptized in the UCC and I am painfully aware of how bad most of their large and historic churches have gotten, theologically speaking. Is my memory correct that your URC congregation once met in the Swedenborgian church? If so, I’m glad you were able to move to a church which is evangelical in its basic beliefs.

      On the substance of your post, I think we’re more or less on the same page though not the same place on the page. I take a pretty hard line with regard to Rome, and the sort of conservative Roman Catholics with whom I normally deal will use some pretty strong language with regard to people like me. Let’s just say that unlike lots of Baptists in the South who are politely called “invincibly ignorant” of the “truths” of the Roman Communion, people of an Italian, Irish, Polish, or Hispanic ancestry who have become evangelical Protestants do not get a “free pass” from Roman Catholics, any more than a “VanderSomething” gets away with leaving the Reformed faith for something else.

      If Stellman has been dealing with the sort of conservative Roman Catholics who I know from politics and the pro-life movement, he will have come under some pretty strong pressure to join Rome regardless of what his family does. He may have been told that he must love the Body of Christ, i.e., the Roman Catholic Church, more than his wife and children or he is not being faithful to God. Obviously I disagree, but once the Roman Catholic premises are granted, the conclusion inexorably follows.

      Have a good Lord’s Day, Dr. Lee, as you seek to pastor a church which is in the American equivalent to the city of Rome.

  24. For more complete context of the Complaint filed against Pacific NW Presbytery, three files can be viewed in a Dropbox folder at
    https://www.dropbox.com/sh/kpzd4mjnptyipkm/ApHiA1kiZ9

    The folder includes (1) the 736 page Record of the Case, (2) the Presbytery’s 10-page Brief filed before the Hearing, and (3) the Decision of the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission (vote was 15-2).

    • Id like to find out which churches in the NWPresbytery voted for and against Leithart. We are deciding on joining a PCA in the Seattle area and want to make sure we join one that is confessionally sound, and to me the vote on this trial is a litmus test on that question.

    • 736 pages?

      The sheer volume of pages itself is a clue that the truth isn’t being told (by the FV gang), but rather, there is a trickery of words.

      The Arians said “Jesus is God,” but they did so with a wink. They said the right words, but loaded them with wrong meaning.

      Pinning the FV and the Arians down is like trying to grab a watermelon seed.

  25. On a tangent as to fallout from this decision,Why does the PCA continue to grow, and why dont conservatives leave for other bodies like the OPC or URCNA? I’m curious as a new Presbyterian why the OPC which began decades earlier than the PCA is still more confessional? One would think the OPC would be the more liberal one. Why didnt the PCA join with the OPC since they already existed in 73? It seems like the confessional PCA churches should join the OPC and the PCA can merge with the EPC or something. Just an newbie’s observation.

    • Long story. The OP had a lots of opposition from the PCUSA when they withdrew in 1936. They were forced by a lawsuit to adopt a less attractive name and it was not clear to many in the PCUSA how corrupt it had become or would become. Thus, they did not leave the PCUSA to join the OPC. Further, unlike at least some congregations in the PCA, he OPC had to give up their buildings and go to unattractive locations.

      The PCA left the PCUS in 1973 with more people and with less opposition than the OPC faced in 1936.

      It is also probably true that the PCA is more like American evangelicalism and is more closely connected to the new school Presbyterians of the 19th century than is the OPC, which is rooted in the old-school 19th-century Presbyterians. So, the discontinuity between the OPC and American evangelicalism is greater and thus they have had less success in leading American evangelicals away from their broadly evangelical, revivalist congregations and into OP congregations. It’s sometimes a shorter journey from American evangelicalism into the PCA than into the OPC.

      The history of the proposed merger with the PCA is complicated. See D G Hart’s history of the OPC. The merger was proposed about the time the OP was celebrating its 50th anniversary and there was a move toward remembering why they were founded in the first place. The PCA’s mechanism for union was, in my opinion, an unhappy one, and the OP wanted a more negotiated merger. When it didn’t happen several OP congregations (many of them associated with Jack Miller’s “New Life” movement in the OP) left the OPs and joined the PCA. That significantly diminished the numbers in the OP and she has been recovering since the late 80s.

      There are sociological factors too. The OP is largely blue-collar/working class and the PCA has a higher proportion of white-collar, professional middle class, suburban, and economic upper class members. OP congregations are still sometimes located in less favorable, affluent, and prosperous areas and PCAs are more more likely to be located in prosperous, affluent, suburban areas. Of course these are generalizations and there are counter examples to which one could point in both cases.

  26. All of this is making me want to reconsider joining the PCA, or at least join one up here that didnt side with Leithart, which if I am correct only leaves me one choice in the Seattle area, and that is Stellman’s ex-church Exile, which is still the most conservative and traditional of all in the area. I am curious how the multi-site CrossPoint Churches of Greenlake and Ascension voted.

    • Michial,

      It’s fair to ask pastors (TEs) and elders (REs) how they voted on a case and why. The latter is important. Setting the Leithart case aside for a moment, presbyters may agree theologically and yet reasonably vote differently. In the Leithart case it may be that presbyters may be opposed to the FV doctrine but did not believe that the prosecution made its case. I have not reviewed all the trial records. I also think it’s fair to ask presbyters if they are convinced that the FV doctrines are outside the bounds of the confession and whether there is any instance or case in which they would be prepared to vote to convict someone of teaching federal vision theology. That’s a discussion worth having.

      • I asked our TE and he was only hear in the midst of the trial. Mike Kelly the TE at our home church with this quasi multidirectional with shared session voted in favor of Leithart. Our site TE who is a Wscal grad said its detailed and he doesn’t know enough about it but respects the decision of the Presbytery that PL was not out of accord with the Standards. He said he and this presbytery are not strict confessionalists though he said they were still confessional, and apparently to them so was Leithart. The other TE with Stellman who took over his post Rev Nease, another Wscal grad, subsequently was a complainant after the ruling but later removed his name as a complainant. So I’m not sure what is up. Very confusing to me.

        • I apologize for the horrendous apple spelling auto correct. I meant to say here and multi-site

    • Wow. Enlightening article about polity by Lane. I take it the OPC has a different polity? I always assumed all Presbyterians had a Presbyterian polity. This is all an education. Yikes.

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