Leithart’s Federal Vision Theology Injurious To The Peace And Purity Of The Church

On March 10, 2010, this Court decided the Bordwine v. PNWP case, 2009-06, holding that the Record of that Case suggested a strong presumption of guilt that Dr. Leithart’s views represent offenses that could be the subject of judicial process. This Court deferred to PNWP, urging it to counsel Dr. Leithart “that the views set forth above constitute error that is injurious to the peace and purity of the church…,” with the hope that Dr. Leithart would either recant or affiliate with some other “branch of the visible church that is consistent with his views.” Failing all that, “then PNWP shall take steps to comply with its obligation under BCO 31-2.” (ROC 5).

We agree “that the views set forth above constitute error that is injurious to the peace and purity of the church…,” and we believe this Court has deferred to PNWP long enough. This Dissent believes that the SJC erred in denying the Complaint and not finding that PNWP failed to uphold its responsibility to defend and guard the system of doctrine contained in the PCA Standards. The SJC should not have given deference to PNWP in this case. BCO 39-4 makes it clear: “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” (emphases added).

The SJC used a faulty standard of review as a basis for its conclusion:

We do not find that the Complainant provided sufficient evidence that TE Leithart’s statements affirming his subscription to the Standards were incredible or that Presbytery’s decision in finding TE Leithart “not guilty” of the five charges was in error.

The question is not whether the Complainant provided sufficient evidence or proved his case; the question is rather whether the Record of the Case shows that Presbytery erred. The SJC 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.” We dissent because we believe the SJC decision has failed to fulfill this duty. Read more»


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6 comments

  1. I’m confused: “We do not find that the Complainant provided sufficient evidence that TE Leithart’s statements affirming his subscription to the Standards were incredible or that Presbytery’s decision in finding TE Leithart “not guilty” of the five charges was in error.”

    vs.

    “III. JUDGMENT: Yes. The Record of the Case shows that the accused is guilty of holding and teaching views that are in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, and further, that Pacific Northwest Presbytery erred in rendering non-guilty verdicts on the accused. “

  2. Oh, I get it, that paragraph “We do not find…” is coming from the previous SJC, not from this current decision. Restoration of blockquotes/indentation would help.

    So this is good news then!

    • Well, it’s just a minority report. There are overtures that will go to the SJC, I think, for disposition. I’m unsure if anything will happen at this GA. This report is saying that the SJC erred by using the wrong standard of judgment, by not relying on the record of the case. Increasingly, as was pointed out at Vintage73 today, this might be about who is on the SJC now.

  3. The ROC is the only thing that the SJC is to use when judging the case. I think that concept is clear enough to most, and I would hope that when this issue comes up at GA, we will act accordingly.

  4. Mark B~ The judgment in the dissent states:

    III. JUDGMENT

    Yes. The Record of the Case shows that the accused is guilty of holding and teaching views that are in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, and further, that Pacific Northwest Presbytery erred in rendering non-guilty verdicts on the accused. The SJC should have annulled the non-guilty verdicts (BCO 43-10) and directed the Presbytery to either (1) conduct a new trial, or (2) request by Reference the General Assembly to conduct a trial (BCO 41).

    • Yes, exactly.
      “The question is not whether the Complainant provided sufficient evidence or proved his case; the question is rather whether the Record of the Case shows that Presbytery erred. The SJC 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.”
      The issue here is that the SJC clearly decided the case on the wrong premise (did the complainant provide sufficient evidence). When reviewing a case, the SJC cannot act on any new evidence outside the ROC. Hence, they cannot be saying that they wanted additional evidence from the complainant. If they are saying that they wanted the complainant to use a highlighter on the relevant portions and he didn’t do that, or they wanted him to explain why PNP erred more than he did, I can agree that that would be nice, but they are still wrong. It is their duty to review the complete ROC and decide, based on that information alone; did PNP make the correct judgement in the case? FWIW, I think the minority report quoted above lays it out very well, and the motion from Illiana Presbytery does as well. The other two motions from presbyteries that ask GA to assume original jurisdiction because Jason apostatized are weaker. (Just my opinion, I admit they may sway hearts where logic won’t)

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