2. TE Leithart’s views on baptism also are out of accord with the Westminster Standards. Of course, as Jeff Cagle has pointed out, the issue of baptism hinges on the issue of the visible/invisible church distinction. TE Leithart is most clear on this in chapter 3 of his book. His position is that the body of Christ is the visible church, such that being baptized into the visible church means being united to Christ. He argues that 1 Corinthians 12:12 proves this, among other passages (see p. 55). He rejects the syllogism: 1. Baptism admits the baptized to the visible church. 2. The visible church involves an external, conditional, and legal covenant relationship with God. 3. Therefore, baptism admits the baptized into an external, conditional, legal relationship with God. He argues that this is not what the New Testament says (p. 56). Notice that TE Leithart pits the confession against the Scriptures immediately following: “The New Testament applies the language of intimacy to the visible church while the Westminster Confession confines it to the invisible church.” No doubt TE Leithart would only claim that he is going beyond the confession, not against it.
But the syllogism is present in Scripture. It is present in Romans 9:6-10, which plainly indicates an external, conditional, and legal relationship with God (physical descent) that is not equivalent to the internal, unconditional, intimate union (true believers) that the invisible church enjoys. If, however, TE Leithart were correct, then we would have to say that it is possible for a heretical-but-baptized person to have more than an external connection to God. I deny this utterly. This gets at the new category of people that the FV creates, called (not by them) the electrobate. I earlier used to call them geep and shoats.
Furthermore, the passages to which TE Leithart alludes do not support his claims. 1 Corinthians 12, for instance, is not talking about the visible church, but about the invisible church. The baptism by the Spirit in verse 13 points to the thing signified, not to the bare sign. This is clear at the end of the verse, where the same group of people is said to drink of the one Spirit. It is usually argued at this point that Paul is speaking to all the Corinthians, and that therefore Paul can’t be talking about the invisible church here. However, this is not the case, because Paul is speaking using the judgment of charity. He assumes them to be part of the invisible church unless they show themselves to be otherwise. I have yet to see, incidentally, a real attempt at a refutation of the judgment of charity argument. At any rate, it cannot be assumed that simply because Paul is writing to Corinth, that therefore everything he says has to be true of all the members. The same is true of verse 27 in the same chapter. He speaks using the judgment of charity there. TE Leithart thinks that I would be tying myself in knots here (p. 60). On the contrary, the language of the chapter indicates an organic union with Christ, which is not something that can be posited about the reprobate.
Why does TE Leithart’s views here contradict the standards? In a number of ways. Firstly, the special (as in, unique) benefits that the invisible church enjoys include union and communion with Christ in grace and glory (WLC 65), which indicates that the visible church does not in and of itself enjoy union with Christ. Secondly, WLC 68 indicates that those who have the common operations of the Spirit in the visible church “do never truly come to Jesus Christ.” This last phrase is completely unqualified, which means that there is no such thing as a true but lesser union with Jesus Christ that the non-elect can enjoy.
One of the problems here seems to be TE Leithart’s apparent denial that the invisible church is historical. He seems to be saying that those who oppose his view believe that the church is ahistorical (see p. 57). But how can the invisible church be ahistorical? Every member (or at least most members!) of the invisible church is at some point in time a member of the visible church, too. All members of the invisible church have lived their lives in space and time. The invisible church is not merely a way of saying that this is how God looks at the church. For I can know that I am a member of the invisible church. I can know in history that I am a member of the invisible church. The invisible church is not ahistorical.
The formulations of TE Leithart, especially in pp. 59ff, result in a denial of the visible/invisible church distinction. The best he can say for the distinction is that it “captures some of the reality of the church” (p. 59). TE Leithart undermines the distinction on p. 60, when he claims that there is no way to tell whether Paul is addressing the elect within the church or whether he is addressing the whole church. In other words, it is not a biblical distinction, for nowhere can one see it in action, supposedly.