Contra Leithart: No, The Reformation Isn’t Over

Before You Reject At Least Understand It

peter leithartIn a post on the First Things blog today, Peter Leithart declares the “End of Protestantism.” It’s not at all clear, however, that he understands what he wants to end. He begins with a sociological observation about contemporary English non-conformists and uses that to leverage the definition of “Protestant,” which he proceeds to use as a foil to justify his refashioning of Protestantism.

For those who aren’t aware, until recently, he was Wilson’s right-hand man at HQ in Moscow. His mission, in which he seems to have succeeded (at least according to Lane Keister), was to take the sting out of the 2007 PCA GA ruling against the Federal Vision movement. Almost immediately after the ruling he, Wilson, and others issued a statement affirming the very errors rejected by the PCA. He was essentially daring the PCA to charge him. They did and, in what Lane Keister has called a “wagon-encircling kangaroo trial” his presbytery was unable to convict him. On appeal the Standing Judicial Commission voted 15-2 to refuse to consider the record of the trial, deciding to consider only procedural questions. As a result, Leithart remains a minister in good standing in the PCA while openly confessing doctrines at variance what was adopted by GA in 2007.

In the piece he juxtaposes “Protestant” with “Reformational Catholicism.” For anyone familiar with the rhetoric and teaching of the Reformers and their successors, this juxtaposition is just silly. The Protestants (Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin) and more to the point, the Reformed Churches did not cede the adjective “catholic” to the Romanists.

In contrast to the Reformed Reformation, Leithart wants to make Rome a true church. The Protestants and the Reformed Churches were the original Reformational Catholics. The Belgic Confession (1561), the confession of the Dutch Reformed Churches, distinguishes between the true church and the false church and sects (articles 28–29). It consigns Rome, with the Anabaptists, to the category of a false church or a sect. Calvin, in his lengthy response to the Council of Trent (a part of which you can read here) he castigated Rome for becoming a sect. William Perkins, in 1597, stoutly defended the confessional Protestants as the true catholics over against Rome. They accused Rome of becoming a sect because she, for the first time in the history of the church, in council, anathematized the holy gospel. In so doing, she cut herself off from the broad stream of the church universal (which is all catholic means). By definition, Roman Catholic is an oxymoron. There was a pastor in Rome, who arrogated to himself, over time, authority that belongs to no single pastor and then finally he made himself a competitor to the head of the church. For this reason, the Protestants, picking up the rhetoric of William of Ockham, called him antichrist.

Another great problem with Leithart’s analysis is that it doesn’t go far enough. He rejects prayers to saints, papal claims, the veneration of the host (i.e., the transubstantiated victim, which Rome claims to re-sacrifice memorially to turn away God’s wrath), prayers to the Blessed Virgin, and the elevation of tradition above Scripture. He affirms that “salvation is a sheer gift of God received by faith” but, as we know from the 2007 FV Statement and his ecclesiastical trial, the the Federal Vision definition of faith in the act of justification is not that of the Westminster Confession (ch. 11).

He doesn’t understand why confessional Protestants are skeptical of Rome’s claim that she believes in “salvation by grace.” I guess Leithart slept through the ECT controversy. Sigh. Protestants who know their Reformation history don’t doubt that Rome confesses salvation by grace. What we reject is her definition of grace as a medicinal substance, with which we are infused, that enables us to cooperate reciprocally with grace unto sanctification progressively toward justification. Real Protestants don’t equivocate on that which Calvin called the “exclusive particle” (in his commentary on Gal 5:6) when it comes to justification. The doctrine of justification is as J. H. Alting, a Reformed theologian, wrote in the early 17th century, “the article of the standing or falling of the church.” A true Protestant knows that Rome defines faith, in the act of justification, as sanctification. We, by contrast, define it as the sole instrument, an empty hand that receives and rests in Christ and his finished work for us. For Rome, justification is an ongoing work in us. In that sense, “in” in the Roman preposition and for is the Protestant preposition. [Before the “union with Christ” folks get wound up, I said “in that sense.” We believe in “in” too but that’s another post].

Yes, Protestants are creedal. A true Protestant knows and confesses the original understanding of the creeds. That’s why they wrote so many commentaries on the creeds. That’s why Calvin structured his Institutes around the Apostles’ Creed and the book of Romans—it’s both/and, not either/or. A true Protestant, however, isn’t deceived by Cardinal Newman’s theory of “doctrinal development” or by Romanist sleight of hand post-Vatican II. Yes, some things have changed (and are changing still) but have the essential issues been resolved? No. Rome still denies free acceptance with God through faith (trust) alone grounded in the whole, perfect obedience of Christ imputed to us. She still denies the perspicuity of Scripture and its sole, unique authority over the church. We are not family and, according to Rome, the only way we can ever be family is to stop being Protestants. On this point Leithart’s claims are contrary to fact and incoherent.

Liturgical forms? The Reformed published Liturgical forms. Calvin had forms of prayer. Here’s the Heidelberg Liturgy. Calvin’s liturgy is well-known. It is discussed at length in Recovering the Reformed Confession  and in “Calvin’s Principle of Worship.” Yes, the Westminster Directory for Public Worship (1644) offered rubrics rather than liturgy but there is strong unity in the Reformed dialogical principle and practice of worship: God speaks in his Word and sacraments and his people respond with his Word in prayer. Our worship is catholic! Transpose Calvin’s service over the 2nd century and it makes complete sense to Justin or Irenaeus or Polycarp. Transpose a Romanist service over the 2nd century and the fathers would repudiate it as collection of pagan rituals.

The Reformation isn’t over, not at least for the confessional Protestant churches, who don’t equivocate, who understand what Rome is really saying, who still submit to the Word of God as the sole, unique authority for faith and life, who affirm the sole sufficiency of Christ and righteousness for us for acceptance with God, for salvation from wrath, and for sanctification, who are resting in Christ and in his finished work for us, and who find their assurance in Christ for us and his promises to us. It’s unfortunate but telling that Leithart thinks these things are negotiable.

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  1. Dr. Clark:

    (1) What the heck is going on here with Mr. Leithart? It is by no means clear.

    (2) What was his doctorate in? E.g. Knowing “more and more” about “less and less?” Or, knowing where he’s strong and staying “in that channel of that strength” rather than making more orbital and national comments? In other words, the PhD in OT may not be qualified or widely read enough to deal with, say, 6th century church history, etc. Or, a cardiologist may not be licensed to do dentistry? Or, a criminal lawyer may have no background in the laws of estate and living wills (beyond a law course in it and the basics for the licensure exams). Or, is Peter an omnibus Doctor? I just don’t know.

    (3) Why, of course, Protestants have viewed themselves as “Catholics.” I’ve been confessing the Apostles and Nicene Creed for decades in Anglican services…the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Weekly, in fact. Or, in your context, that solid little Catechism, the Heidelberger, assuredly confesses this. What world is Peter addressing?

    From my world, different from the Reformed Confessional world, but still a good word from Mr. (Rev. Dr. Prof.) Henry Wace, Dean of Canterbury…a Protestant, Reformed, Catholic, and Anglican Churchman of the better sort:

    “But this assertion of the sole and paramount authority of Holy Scripture in controversies of faith is not merely of cardinal importance in the controversy; it indicates the whole character of the position which our Church assumes. It indicates, as I have said, that the Church of England is a Protestant Church. What is the meaning of that designation? The late Archbishop of Canterbury, in the remarkable legacy which he left us in his parting – we may almost say his dying – utterances in Ireland, declared that `people must very much mistake both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England if they imagine that everything wrapped up in the word Protestant is going to be overwhelmed.’ He had seen before him at Dublin the motto, that the Church of Ireland is at once `Apostolic, Catholic, Reformed, and Protestant.’ ‘There was not one of those words,’ he said, ‘that could be spared;’ and he added that, ‘if ever we began to doubt whether it was necessary to lay so much emphasis upon that last word, events which have been occurring in the last few weeks . . . . warn us that that word is not to be forgotten. No,’ he exclaimed emphatically, ‘it is not a word to be forgotten, but it is a word to be understood; a word which must not be used as a mere earthly, secular war cry.’ `It is a word to be understood.’ There is no truth which at the present moment we have more reason to take to heart. What is the meaning of the word `Protestant?'” Dr. Wace wrote this for a ladies’ group on the value of the Thirty-Nine Articles.

    (4) While we’ve had a troubled, terrible and grievous history, we’ve had good moments too. To wit, we’ve always understood ourselves as “Apostolic, Catholic, Reformed, and Protestant.” I can’t think of any Reformed or Lutheran Churchmen who’d deny that either.

    (5) Or, for example, this handy, little volume. Thomas, W. H. Griffith Thomas. “The Catholic Faith: A Manual of Instruction for Members of the Church of England.” No location: Forgotten Books, 2012.

    (6) I realize you’re not Anglican. Fair enough. But, who the heck is Peter writing about and why?

    (7) Or, Mr. (Bp.) John Jewel’s apology for the “Catholic Church” of England? Which he wrote before the Arminian and Caroline Captivity–and ruination–of the Church of England in the early 17th century…

    (8) Or, “The Second Helvetic Confession” was a confession that Mr.(Canterbury) Matthew Parker endorsed; he wrote Heinrich Bullinger in 1566 that it expressed the beliefs “of all of us” (the episcopal bench). A lengthier document, Mr. Bullinger’s Decades was required for ordinands in the Church of England. You provided an outline of the “Decades” at: . The “Decades” is available at: . The Second Helvetic Confession is at:

    (9) Peter says this in closing: “It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.” What is he talking about? I am a Catholic, Protestant, and Reformed.

    Thanks for your post. Something else is roiling here.

  2. Thank you for this timely response. Dr Leithart appears to be determined to deconstruct and redefine the Reformation and the Reformed Faith. He is well on the road to Rome me fears!

  3. Leithart’s post is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever read, ranging from incoherence to nonsense and back again. Regardless of what you think of his theology, Leithart is usually a clear, polished writer. In this piece, however, the clouds part only occasionally to let a little light through.

    Dr. Clark’s analysis makes more sense than the piece itself. It’s like a well-written review of a bad movie. What an understatement: “It’s not at all clear, however, that [Leithart] understands what he wants to end.”

    I think the impossible thing that Leithart wants is a new NAPARC – National Aggregation of Presbyterians and Roman Catholics. Even C. S. Lewis in his broadest, lowest-common-denominator “mere Christianity” mood wouldn’t have gone this far.

    Speaking of the ECT controversy, I recently listened again to the programs on ECT from The John Ankerberg Show (1995, I think), with R. C. Sproul, John MacArthur, and (he of blessed memory) D. James Kennedy. Downloads available free from Grace to You,, as GTY54 and GTY55. Leithart could profit from a tutorial by some real Protestants.

  4. Dr. Clarke, thanks for your post. I think we Confessional Protestants need to do a lot more promotion and defense of justification as a forensic act, and re-affirmation of the evangelical over the sacerdotal principle. Greetings to Phil Veitch above, too–even if I am not an Anglican.

    I heard the FV position bruited about while I was a non-traditional grad student working on my Ph.D. in political science. But then I had to do an in-depth review of Reformed theology in order to explain how the Reformed ideas of political compact fit in with the theology, and I realized how much of the FV was simply not Reformed at all.

    It seems that the FV people want a clergy with powerful sacerdotal powers whose word must be taken period. Yet our Reformed fathers made it clear that whether in family, church, and state, authority is ministerial rather than magisterial. This has much to do with the doctrine of human sinfulness, and the need to check its ability to harm the community. John Adams may have been a Unitarian, yet his 18th century Unitarianism was full of those schooled in Calvinism and still Bible-oriented, so his idea that our Constitution would work only for a moral and religious people makes a lot of sense in light of what went on in the British and Continental Reformed world during the two centuries that went before him.

    While at present I am not in an ostensibly Reformed church due to location and family considerations, I continue to cheer for the Confessional Reformed churches.

  5. While charity makes me hope that Dr. Leithart is lamenting “the end of Protestantism”, I fear he might be wishing to proclaim it. Leithart really seems to want an alliance of Evangelicals and Romanists (and Faneriots, too). Yes, we have a lot more in common with Rome than with the various modern idolatries, but by the same token, as one who comes “ek peritomai”, I note we also have a lot in common with traditional Judaism, too–even if they deny that M’shiach has come.

    It’s one thing to be charitable and maintain civic peace with non-believing neighbors. Paul tells us to be at peace with all men, as much as it is up to us. But we still must recognize that many remain far from God’s grace.

  6. Peter (Kepha), good to see you here too.

    (1) Peter (Kepha), in your charity, you hope that Mr. (Rev. Dr.) Leithart “laments” rather than “proclaims,” “heralds” or “calls” for the end of Protestantism. Mr. Leithart’s conclusion suggests a new confession of sorts. After eviscerating a few bogeymen, he puts forward some unidentified and inexplicable agenda and “call” or “confession” of sorts.

    Mr. Leithart ends his post this way: “It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.” That’s a real head-scratcher. Maybe the confusion isn’t in my head, but Mr. Leithart’s?

    I take it that Mr. Leithart “confesses” his individual and churchly faith vis a vis the WCF, WLC, and WSC? That is, a subscription oath by an officer of the PCA? Should he not be “confessing” his faith with these document or this article? The noun-idea of “Confession” has a verbal counterpart of “Confessing,” or, speaking pro-actively with the mouth and heart. If that’s what one confesses and that’s what that church confesses, then confess it. Mr. Leithart had a clear shot and opportunity to do exactly that, but didn’t.

    Can he not “confess” that “confession” to the world as per his ordination vows?

    Or, has Mr. Leithart officially logged, registered, and taken an “exception” to the language of 24.3, to wit: “It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent. Yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, papists, or other idolaters: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.”

    The Reformers near-wise to a man viewed the Roman Gospel as false. Or, is that language too difficult for Mr. Leithart to hold? Just on the subject of marriage (never mind all the other categories), the WCF puts Rome in the category of “infidels, papists, and other idolaters…” Can Mr. Leithart embrace this category and still be a Presbyterian Churchman in good standing while still writing this article? This is on marriage. Mr. (Rev. Dr. Prof.) Clark has called Mr. Leithart out on many, many other issues relative to the WCF.

    (2) Should Mr. Leithart not be confessing his faith and calling the Vatican to give up Trent which they assuredly continue to embrace?

    I’ll go back to lurking, scratching my head, and reading. Thanks, good to see you here too.

  7. While I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and no longer have a dog in this particular fight, I have a lot more respect and fondness for Dr. Clark’s position than Leithart’s. Leithart continues to both have and eat some cake.

    Whatever happened to having convictions of belief, and sticking to them? At least Clark et al. continue to do so, whether I agree with them or not.

  8. On a minor note–getting off on the wrong foot:

    In his opening salvo, Mr. Leithart, resident scholar on English ecclesiastical life, a sociologist of English life, claims: “When I studied at Cambridge, I discovered that English Evangelicals define themselves over against the Church of England. Whatever the C of E is, they ain’t.”

    However, not losing a beat, Mr. (Rev. Dr. Prof.) Gerald Bray, astute and heavily published academic on all-things-Anglican, a trustworthy scholar on Anglicanism, offered his quick rejoinder to Mr. Leithart at 829 AM, to wit: “Most English Evangelicals do not define themselves over against the Church of England for the simple reason that most English Evangelicals belong to it.”

    It’s best “to stay in the channel” and watch the buoys–port and starboard sides.

  9. Dear Donald,

    I hate to poke your Anglican sensibilities, but if you count Calvinistic churches in England the CofE contingent would be about a sixth or less of the total.

    I doubt the number would be higher if one took a woollier definition of evangelical.

    There is some truth, due to historical factors, of non-conformists defining themselves against the CofE. That is merely one factor in church life though. Many Calvinistic CofE church services look like non-conformist services these days anyway. There is also much more interchange between non-conformists and Anglicans these days compared to post-1966 England.

  10. I respectfully offer one clarification about a sentence admittedly peripheral to your main thrust. You wrote: “On appeal the Standing Judicial Commission voted 15-2 to refuse to consider the record of the trial, deciding to consider only procedural questions.”
    But it isn’t accurate to say the SJC “voted… to refuse to consider the record of the trial.” Each SJC member was required to read the entire Record of the Case, which was 722 pages and included the 406-page transcript of the 15-hour trial. The SJC’s Decision, the Record of the Case, and the pre-hearing Briefs of the parties can be found at this dropbox link:

    • Hi Howard,

      I appreciate this. I want to be accurate about this.

      Are you saying that the SJC, having read the record of the trial, that the commission made it’s decision on the doctrinal merits of the case? I’m happy to revise the post.

      • Dr. Clark – Rather than me offering a personal assessment of how the SJC made its decision, it’s probably best to simply point to the SJC’s wording itself. Below is an excerpt from the SJC’s 3-page Reasoning. (It’s probably helpful to note that Presbytery rendered 55 findings of fact regarding what the defendant did and did not believe. Those findings are in the Record of the Case, at the dropbox link I previously provided.)

        SJC: “The Complainant alleged that Presbytery’s summaries of TE Leithart’s views do not accurately reflect his views at all points, and that this is particularly true when those views are considered as a whole. We do find examples in the Record where TE Leithart’s views are confusing and, perhaps, contradictory. While we are not persuaded by all the Respondent’s explanations of those issues, we are also not convinced that these examples are sufficiently clear or pervasive in the Record as to constitute a “clear error on the part of the lower court” with regard to findings of fact or “matters of discretion and judgment which can only be addressed by a court with familiar acquaintance of the events and parties.” (BCO 39-3.2,3) …
        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. …
        Finally, we reiterate that nothing in this Decision should be construed as addressing (or thereby endorsing) in general TE Leithart’s views, writings, teachings or pronouncements. The Decision is based on the specific issues raised in the indictment and the Record of the Case as developed at the trial. Our conclusion is simply that neither the prosecution nor the Complainant proved that TE Leithart’s views, as articulated at the trial or otherwise contained in the Record of the Case, violate the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards.”

  11. This is what we in the PCA deserve for elevating our man made traditions of judicial process above Truth. Every member voting to not review should be permanently barred from ever adjudicating again. I pine for the days when Old saint Nick (santa claus) punched Arius in the face at Nicea. The PCA is trashing Genesis on one end, and permiting sacerdotalism at the other. This layman is considering where to go next.

  12. RSC: “Real Protestants don’t equivocate on that which Calvin called the “exclusive particle” (in his commentary on Gal 5:16) when it comes to justification.”

    Calvin says on Galatians 5:16: “Redeeming the time. By a consideration of the time he enforces his exhortation. The days are evil. Everything around us tends to corrupt and mislead; so that it is difficult for godly persons, who walk among so many thorns, to escape unhurt. Such corruption having infected the age, the devil appears to have obtained tyrannical sway; so that time cannot be dedicated to God without being in some way redeemed. And what shall be the price of its redemption? To withdraw from the endless variety of allurements which would easily lead us astray; to rid ourselves from the cares and pleasures of the world; and, in a word, to abandon every hinderance. Let us be eager to recover it in every possible way, and let the numerous offenses and arduous toil, which many are in the habit of alleging as an apology for indolence, serve rather to awaken our vigilance. ”

    I don’t see a reference to the “exclusive particle.” Should it be in another reference in Calvin?

    • Whoops. Wrong citation. That was from Ephesians 5:16. Here is Galatians 5:16:

      ” This I say then. Now follows the remedy. The ruin of the church is no light evil, and whatever threatens it must be opposed with the most determined resistance. But how is this to be accomplished? By not permitting the flesh to rule in us, and by yielding ourselves to the direction of the Spirit of God. The Galatians are indirectly told, that they are carnal, destitute of the Spirit of God, and that the life which they lead is unworthy of Christians; for whence did their violent conduct towards each other proceed, but from their being guided by the lust of the flesh? This, he tells them, is an evidence that they do not walk according to the Spirit.

      Ye shall not fulfill. We ought to mark the word fulfill; by which he means, that, though the sons of God, so long as they groan under the burden of the flesh, are liable to commit sin, they are not its subjects or slaves, but make habitual opposition to its power. The spiritual man may be frequently assaulted by the lusts of the flesh, but fulfill them, — he does not permit them to reign over him. — On this subject, it will be proper to consult the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans”

  13. I share your “you’ve got to be kidding” reaction to Leithart. This is not because I agree with Reformed confessionalism (I identify with Wesleyanism) but because there are so many in the PCA who really don’t. I graduated from Westminster back in the Shepherd days. The only thing that really surprised me was how many of the faculty didn’t get it. Robert Godfrey got it. Palmer Robertson got it. But the bottom line, it seemed to me, is that confessional Reformed folk just weren’t that comfortable staying in the circle. Peter Enns redux. John Frame revisited. I look on from the outside and wonder. Why can’t the central players get their confessional act together? What’s at work that keeps the PCA unstable on the theological balance beam?

  14. Donald Veitch pointed out something obvious that I’d missed in my first post. Leithart still formally subscribes to the Westminster Standards. He remains, at this moment, a Teaching Elder in good standing in the PCA. A legitimate question, then, is “How can anyone who confesses that the Westminster Standards teach ‘the system of doctrine contained in the Scriptures’ say the things that Leithart says?” It’s incomprehensible to me. Take the broadest and loosest view of subscription possible for a “conservative,” and mix it with the most gracious, charitable view of the person (that is, stretch the benefit of the doubt to the limit). Throw in two extra measures of patience and another hearty dose of “love believes all things.” Are you there yet? Are you comfortable with Leithart now? I confess that I cannot get there. If subscription to the Westminster Standards is to mean anything, there must be some things that a man will not say or write. Note that I’m not referring here to denials of major points of Reformed doctrine (although Leithart seems to have gotten away with that, too). I’m speaking of the way a man presents himself, what he is willing to tolerate, whom he admires, and not least, what he does *not* say.

    I’m fully aware that it’s not a chargeable offense to write a provocative article (or an entire book, for that matter) that says nice things about Roman Catholics or seems to want to abandon the term “Protestant.” This sort of thing is, however, part of the tragic fallout from the Federal Vision finding a safe harbor in the PCA. Within the past year, I heard a prominent PCA pastor and leader dismiss FV influence in the PCA as “only twenty or thirty men.” Yet even a little leaven leavens the whole. That which is tolerated will soon be accepted.

    Actions have consequences, sometimes serious unintended consequences. If the Federal Vision poison continues to work through the PCA, we’ll see more oral and written examples like Leithart’s post. When a church’s confession become non-authoritative or “non-operative,” that church ceases to become a confessional body, regardless of ordination vows. If your binding documents do not guide your course, you may as well abandon them all together. Maybe this is what the FV men want. I don’t know and wouldn’t presume to speak for them. The end result is the same, however. Commitment to the Confession and Catechisms exists only on paper. In actual practice, anything goes. This is how institutions die, whether constitutional republics or Christian denominations.

  15. Thank you, Don, for your comments @ 6:27 a.m. I was writing while you posted. Your last sentences are right on target: “Why can’t the central players get their confessional act together? What’s at work that keeps the PCA unstable on the theological balance beam?” I’ve been in the PCA since the beginning (early in 1974, actually), and I still can’t figure it out. It’s all so very sad.

  16. Leithart is an idiot and a wolf in sheep’s clothing. All Protestants have always held that Rome was an apostate church, nothing true at all in it. That is why most Protestants have refused to accept its Mass as a true form of the Lord’s Supper, its priests as true ordained ministers, and its baptism as true baptism. There is very little difference between the Roman Catholic “church” and Islam.

    • Jeremy,

      1. I’m adamantly opposed to Leithart’s Federal Vision theology but he’s not an idiot. He may not be as clever as some folk think he is, but he’s clever enough to be dangerous. He challenged his presbytery to try him and emerged without a conviction. There were extenuating circumstances within the presbytery that helped him but we shouldn’t underestimate him.

      2. The Belgic says that Rome is a sect and false church. Nevertheless, we’ve always said that there are believers within her pale. That’s why Calvin wrote against the Nicodemites. He was calling believers, or at least those who professed faith, whom he treated as believers, to come out of Rome and to unite with the Reformed Church.

      3. Yes, the Heidelberg Catechism describes the Roman mass as idolatry (Q. 80).

      4. Some Southern Presbyterians have rejected Rome’s baptism as legitimate but historically we’ve not required converts from Rome to be re-baptized. The 16th and 17th-century Reformed Churches and ministers didn’t say that Roman converts were to be regarded as unbaptized.

      5. Islam rejects the Trinity. Rome affirms the Trinity. Islam says that Jesus was not crucified. Rome says he was and raised. There are real differences. I understand your passion but if our rhetoric should reflect realities or we play into Leithart’s hands.

  17. My prediction is we’ll hear an announcement about Leithart joining the Roman Catholic ‘church’ within the next year. To believe that ministers need to wear robes shows his sacerdotalism. Leithart needs to repent, convert to Christ, and become a Christian.

  18. Every few months, I read something from 19th-century historian J.-H. Merle d’Aubigne. Now, there’s a man who knew what he believed, stood firmly upon it, and never shrank from saying it. We all need a good shot of “red-meat Protestantism” on a regular basis. If you feel that you’re far too sophisticated to read d’Aubigne, you may already have stepped away from the Protestant center. Here’s a good test: Do you wince at d’Aubigne’s judgments on Roman Catholicism, or do you believe that Roman church is essentially the same today, in spite of a few little changes here and there?

  19. Dr. Clark,

    You’re right. I did let my rhetoric get out of hand. I don’t really think Leithart is an idiot; I think he is very clever indeed. But that’s what makes it worse! I think he is intentionally misleading people and stirring up the flock of Christ. He is leading many people down a path toward damnation.

  20. Just an observation – The etymological grounds for “idiot” meaning “stupid” is based in going against the overwhelming majority consensus. In PL’s case, I think its safe to say that he is at least going against the overwhelming consensus of the PCA. He obviously defines his positions by some standard other than those of the visible church he claims to be under the authority of. I wouldn’t call him an “idiot” based on the English definition and usage, but in ancient Greece, he probably would have been called an “idiot” because refraining to call him an “idiot” would imply that he might be correct in his divergence from the majority. If we can’t call him an “idiot,” can we at least say that he is wrong and himself ought to be more reflective since he diverges so far from the majority positions? At some point, one must consider whether one is acting against the peace of the church to which one belongs. The fundamental question for me is not whether PL is right or wrong (this is evident), but rather: is he intentionally staying in the PCA to upset the peace of the PCA, or does he honestly see himself as a victim standing up for victims? I think PL might need to more prayerfully consider this moving forward, and perhaps the PCA should as well.

  21. Dr. Clark,

    One of the many misleading pieces of rhetoric in the article is the notion that Protestantism necessarily finds its identity over and against Rome. We find our identity in Jesus Christ. Yet, because we find our identity in Christ we must protest Roman Catholicism which assaults His majesty and grace.

    When any church …

    1. Anathematizes justification by faith alone;
    2. Exalts its leadership as being intrinsically infallible in defining issues of faith and life;
    3. Promotes worship other than what our LORD commanded; and
    4. “Infallibly” teaches that Muslims worship the same God that we do;

    … then those who find their identity in Christ will necessarily protest that church. It really is that straightforward.

    That some people want to give up contending for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints doesn’t mean that this faith isn’t worth still contending for. Indeed, we are commanded by Christ to do so (Jude 3).

  22. Don
    I too was at WTS during the Shepherd controversy- in addition to Godfrey and Palmer men like Stanford Reid, Meredith Kline, Philip Hughes, Leslie Sloat and especially Robert Knudsen ( who took to the floor in the open debates in Van Til hall repeatedly to voice his opposition to Shepherd). I detail this in the interview I gave to Martin Downes in the book he edited ‘Risking The Truth: Handling Error in the Church’ ( Christian Focus Publications, 2009).

    • Do we know one another? What year did you graduate? I am the class of ’79. I remember being stunned by Shepherd in class when he commented that Frank Sinatra should be considered in the covenant as a baptized Roman Catholic and in need of church discipline for breaking covenant faithfulness. At that point I knew that we had two very different views of regeneration and covenant. I shook my head in disbelief. I had come all the way to WTS to hear a professor make the case for Sinatra being in the covenant community? It went on from there. The paralysis of the faculty on such essential matters was, and still is, stunning to me.

  23. Leithart’s argument comes from a Roman Catholic apologetic book called “The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism” by Louis Bouyer. In short, it claims that Rome has answered or resolved the complaints of the Reformation, so there is nothing for Protestants to protest.

    Instead of swimming the Tiber, Leithart claims “Reformed Catholics” are in a dialectical relation with Catholicism that will ultimately lead to reunification.

    • Thanks for reminding me of this book. Sometime ago I had meant to read it but then it sort of evaporated. I will bear down this time and get that done. I am amazed at how often the Protestant dialogue takes us back to the long term conversation we have with Rome. It never really fades. Some accuse me of thinking of Rome too often (though I very seldom mention it from my pulpit). Yet its presence casts a shadow over all. I do love to read John Henry Cardinal Newman. His psychological insight into the dynamics of the spiritual condition are erudite, of some real depth and time-tested. His conversion to RC is haunting. After I finally came to terms with his An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, I can easily read his stuff and find significant gain. For a long time I was a bit afraid of that book. I didn’t know I had the intellectual or psychological power to resist it. When I stopped being afraid, felt comfortable with where he was and where I was, Newman could be welcomed into my front door as a dialogue partner in spiritual formation. Interestingly enough I found in Warren Wiersbe’s book, 10 People Every Christian Should Know, a chapter on Newman – Wiersbe of all people. His usual audience is not very RC friendly.

    • Gerjan,

      Thank you. This is helpful. In some ways the West has never really gotten past Hegel. Evangelicals seem to be more and more taken with him, without always being aware of what’s happening.

  24. I think you are right when it comes to Hegel. He is little read and known even in the seminary community. Immanuel Kant is as critical to me – changing, as he did, the focus from metaphysics to epistemology, from the known to the knower. The renewed emphasis on Barth among Evangelicals requires an ability in philosophical theology that those of us who are suspicious of Barth need to hone. The mapping of contemporary theology was where I found my time at Westminster lacking. I know one doesn’t go to seminary to read Kant and Hegel but I think this absence kept us back in early Enlightenment conversations rather than keeping pace with where much of the conversation was and now is taking place. In my opinion the divinity student must be in conversation with Hegel and Kant to directly challenge the movements in both liberalism and progressive Evangelicalism today.

    • Josh,

      Rome became a false church when she condemned the gospel. See the Council of Trent, session 6:

      If any one says, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.

      That was a sectarian declaration.

      See this category of posts:

  25. Great piece, Scott! I wanted to write a rebuttal to Leithart’s piece after reading it today, but as usual, yours is way better than what I had in mind. Thank you for your consistent, courageous stand for the gospel of Christ against such heresies.

    I was raised in the RCC, so both recognize its elements and know the dangers first-hand. Leithart and his Federal Vision buddies at Trinity House are playing the fool for Rome. The only reunification in sight is that of these fools with their pope. The RCC will always hold the Council of Trent as infallible, along with its anathematizing the true gospel, because they must to survive. There can never be peace between the true gospel of pure grace recovered in the Reformation and the false gospel of Rome.

  26. Don
    I was at WTS from 1978 t0 1981 and then again from 1986 to 1992. I might recognize you if I saw you. I knew both Peter Leithart and Pete Enns as well as James Jordon who was Shepherd’s bulldog. One thing that needs to be kept in perspective-Shepherd played hide and seek, played word games and resorted to sleight of hand tricks whenever he could. Richard Gaffin personally told me that had he known the full extent of where Shepherd was headed ( denying the active obedience of Christ in particular) he would not had defended him. This stands in sharp contrast to John Frame who still defends Shepherd.

    • Of course, the issue to me how it is that so many students saw rather immediately what took the faculty so long to see, and even then with great reluctance. In this case the students rose to the occasion and the faculty lagged behind.

  27. Don,

    The same way that LAP, PNWP and MOP all could not/would not convict their blatant Federal Visionists – willful disbelief to keep from condemning a colleague/friend. They remain loyal to the wrong people. That’s an integral part of our fallen human nature. That and the related issue of the path of least pain. Courage can overcome both, but courage is a rare commodity. We have few men with chests.

  28. Mark B.
    Sounds like Leithart, as a bona fide member of John Frame’s Worship Children, has also bought into the Trinitarian/triadic paradigm into which all things theological ala Procrustes must be shoehorned, since Ramus has long since fallen out of fashion.

  29. It’s true, innit? Jordan, Wilson, Leithart, Schlissel, Meyer, a whole slew of FVers just happened to agree with Frame on worship.
    Is there a direct connection? I’d say both are pretty sloppy when it comes to the respective confessional POV.

  30. “In contrast to the Reformed Reformation, Leithart wants to make Rome a true church.”

    Of course. Leithart has the same doctrine, for essence, of justification by faith as Rome does. ‘Infused righteousness.’ In denying that Christ’s actual obedience is imputed to us, and in affirming that our sanctification is our positive righteousness, Leithart in essence affirms ‘infused righteousness’ – that our sanctification by the new nature is our positive righteousness. And this is the doctrine of Antichrist – of the pope, the man of sin, the son of perdition.

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