The Polity of the PCA


This is now an edited version reflecting some recent conversations I have had, and, I believe, has a more accurate picture of the situation.

I am continuing to talk to people about the Leithart case (sometimes it seems like that is the only thing I am doing!). I am gaining a somewhat clearer picture of the situation, and if this post is seen as something of a mild corrective to the previous post, so be it. I still believe that the SJC decision is the wrong one, and I am still convinced that there was a way to reverse the PNWP decision.

What I want to address here is the polity of the PCA. When he of blessed memory, Jack Williamson, helped to write the BCO, fresh in his mind and in the minds of those with him were the ecclesiastical abuses of the PCUSA. So, Williamson and Co. set out to write a BCO that would prevent ecclesiastical abuse. This worked fairly well as long as the denomination was unified around the truth. However, what it wound up doing was creating some ambiguities, which, over time, have been interpreted by the SJC in certain directions. Certain terms are being interpreted extremely narrowly, like “constitutional.” The SJC now seems to be interpreting this term to mean “procedural,” as if doctrinal matters are not covered under the consideration of the constitution.

Furthermore, what we have in our denomination is centralized power located in the wrong place. It is located in the committees and agencies, rather than in the highest court. As a result of this, the presbyteries are pretty much autonomous. There is now really no way of disciplining rogue presbyteries as long as they follow the “procedure.” This is not Presbyterian polity. This is a hybrid of congregationalism and presbyterianism. It is presbyterian with regard to sessions and presbyteries, but congregationalist with regard to the relationship between presbyteries and general assembly. Only we like to call it “grass roots” Presbyterianism. At this point, looking back on it with hindsight, that is a bit like saying “congregationalist presbyterian.”

Is there any way of fixing this? I tend to doubt it. Attempts have been made, and have failed. Our fathers did not foresee the problems that would arise from this form of government. It seems that grass-roots Presbyterianism is a failure at polity. The ambiguity of our polity is to blame (at least partially) for this disaster. As I said before, I still think there was a way to correct the PNWP, even with our ambiguous polity. However, our ambiguous polity sure didn’t help. There are still sections, some of which have been brought up in the comments, that clearly allow the SJC to reverse the lower court’s decision.

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183 Comments

  1. Frank Aderholdt said,

    April 4, 2013 at 11:01 am

    Thank you, Lane, for this “big picture” insight into the fatal flaw in the polity of the PCA. This is exactly where my thinking has been headed since I heard of the verdict.

    With regard to the SJC, we seem to be reaping the whirlwind after we sowed the wind. You are spot on – If we cannot effectively discipline a Presbytery at the General Assembly level, we are no longer Presbyterian, no matter what we call ourselves.

  2. Andrew Duggan said,

    April 4, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Lane, you could see if you could go “Old School” on them, and simply excise them from the church ala 1837, but you probably don’t have the votes for that. Seriously, though I don’t think that you will find that most PCAers have a fundamental problem with PCA polity. Like I’ve been saying elsewhere, most PCAers think that what church government they have is historic Presbyterian. I don’t think you have the time, resources or the comrades-in-arms to correct that misconception.

  3. April 4, 2013 at 11:18 am

    Lane – Nice analysis. I agree that our BCO looks a lot more like the the Articles of Confederation than the US Constitution. That’s not all bad, but as you point out, the Presbyteries are basically independent and largely unaccountable entities. Some currently harbor evolutionists, paedocommunionists, FVers, intinctionists, etc., but no one outside can take corrective action. I’ve written before about how presbyteries, because they consist of sinners saved by grace, rarely have been able to effectively discipline their friends. We’ve seen that over and over again.

    I’m not sure what the answer is. Like you, I still believe that the SJC could have ruled on Leithart’s aberrant theology within the scope of their BCO responsibilities. I find it sad when elders who have sworn before God to uphold the peace and purity of the church toss that aside to play as amateur lawyers. I pray that they repent, but it’s too late now for the purity of the PCA.

  4. April 4, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I forgot to mention that secret political parties like the National Partnership that sow division behind closed doors seem to be just fine. Only the aberrant seem to be given a pass these days.

  5. April 4, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I think we need a BCO amendment to give the SJC more explicit authority in ruling on doctrinal matters. No real denominational unity is possible without it,

  6. April 4, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    One big question we need to address is this: What do we do for the faithful, confessional men who live within the bounds of the PNW? Is the Presbytery even tolerant of confessional men & churches? Do we want to surrender a whole part of the country and be content to see it devoid of confessional PCA churches?

  7. greenbaggins said,

    April 4, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Jason, as far as I know, there are two such churches in PNWP.

  8. April 4, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    That’s good to hear. I have heard that life is difficult for them in the PNWP. They need our support and encouragement.

  9. April 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Reminds me of the 7,000 in Israel who did not bend the knee to Baal. God always preserves a remnant to Himself.

  10. Hugh McCann said,

    April 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Lane,

    Were there a flawless, fail-safe polity, Scripture’d give it to us, no? (I know, many of you are assured it does!)

    As a PCA pastor said to me years ago, church gov’ts (episcopacy, presbyterian, congregational) are only as good as the men within them.

    The failure is not political.*

    Nor is it procedural, or social, or psychological, any more than it’s physical, or medical.

    The failure is in the people. Their hearts are far from Him. It is called sin. No courts, procedures, trials, lawyers, judges, committees, or rules can stop evil.

    I pray you guys can move on. I would urge you ask, “What would Machen do?” Or, what would Luther/ Paul/ or Jesus do? Scripture gives us the answer.

    Jason, the “support and encouragement” faithful pastors, sessions, and congregations need today from you men who are in the know is biblical, prophetic, apostolic leadership. Not endless clericalism.

    A procedural aside: One problem, men, is that many (all?) of your presbyteries do not observe communion (a wretched oversight!).

    As a result, the TEs & REs are dispenser of grace, but with little-to-no accountability from their peers, no one to withhold the sacrament from THEM (you). No one to challenge you when you elders partake of the Supper. So accountability is left up to the minister to check himself, and to his session to check up on him, yet his “church” (his presbytery) is often sorely lax in doing so.

    The time for licking wounds and dissecting all angles has to soon end.

    As God told Joshua, “Get up from your prayers, and get going.”

    I urge my PCA brethren to fight the evil not merely in writing, but in face-to-face, personal rebuke. Such was Paul’s procedure with his brother apostle, Peter. Please reprove your erring brethren. And then, barring repentance, you must separate from them.

    May our God bless you, Lane & Co., as you serve our King!

    * Even if “[Y]our polity is to blame (at least partially) for this disaster.”
    “…even with [y]our messed-up polity.”
    Even if “[Y]our polity sure didn’t help.”

  11. Hugh McCann said,

    April 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Grommit @4,
    I think you mean that the National Partnership sow division.
    Whatever they may otherwise sew or crochet or knit…

  12. April 4, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Hugh – fixed, thanks. Multi-tasking like crazy.

  13. Hugh McCann said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    No doubt. You’re all in my prayers, brother.

    Keep making waves!

  14. Martin said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Thank you Lane, this is helpful. Perspective is always a good thing!

    I am, though, not so convinced (maybe I’m just stubborn) that the polity is quite that weak or broken. Nor that the founders of the PCA made quite so big a mistake. I think BCO 39-3.4 is enough to allow proper theology and practice to triumph over procedure and process. It seems it is purposely included to avoid a process/procedural error. Maybe that’s the same thing you’re looking at that convinces you they could have made a different decision as well.

    Whatever the founding culture of the PCA, it didn’t prevent the SJC from making the right decision in the Wilkins case.

    I guess I’m just not convinced polity is to blame, even a little. Could it be structured better? Sure. But the right decision was available and it was not taken.

    Thank you for your tireless efforts on this!!

  15. todd said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    I’m not in the PCA, but I think these calls on this thread for the confessionalists to leave the PCA are a bit premature. A court case is not the same as a change in constitution. In other words, this court decision was no Trent. A court case can make a poor decision for a number of reasons, and it doesn’t necessarily represent an entire denomination. Maybe the answer for now is simply to nominate better men for the court. A change or unbiblical addition to the church’s constitution (for ex., women elders you would then be forced to submit to) is usually when one is forced to leave a body.

    From Luther to Calvin to Machen, the historical reason to leave a denomination (or RCC for Calvin and Luther) has not been simply the existence of error, or even the toleration of it in places, but the enforcement of it that binds the conscience. It seems confessionalists are free to preach the true gospel in the PCA, are free to condemn FV theology from the pulpit, (and even approved a report as a denomination refuting FV), their offerings are not being used against their will to support heresy, so a requirement does not seem to exist where one must leave the PCA. I don’t know any denomination, historically or presently, where you will not find certain ministers teaching error and getting away with it.

    Even the faithful in the church at Thyatira, where the woman Jezebel’s teaching was tolerated, were not told by the Lord to separate from the church to form a more faithful church. The Lord gave them no other burden besides remaining faithful.

    “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet…. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’”

    Anyway, i know this is a discouraging decision for many of you, and I know the feeling, but I would hope you would not allow your emotions to cause you to do something rash when it may not be necessary.

    FWIW

  16. Sean McDonald said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    Personally, I like what our denomination did (until about 1945)… we kept the (Westminster) Form of Presbyterial Church Government, and simply added a procedural form specifically to address later developments and other issues (admission of members, quorums, etc.). Having a BCO that consists of little more than procedure has a tendency to obscure and obfuscate the fact that Presbyterianism really is by divine right.

  17. April 4, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    todd,

    A wise perspective with which I generally agree. FV, although vocal, is actually only held by a very tiny minority of PCA elders – way less than 1% of TEs. Though there are certainly hotbeds of error in PNWP, MO Pres, and Siouxlands, they don’t represent the PCA at large.

    As I said to someone on another issue before this result was known: “I’m sure that there are those who would love to see faithful officers who are true to the Reformed tradition leave the denomination, but I’m not inclined to give them the satisfaction.”

    I love the PCA and think that it’s well worth the fight to preserve. It may not be easy, but my vows require me to make it an impressive battle.

  18. Mike said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Todd
    Can you disclose your denomination, please? Also, are you an officer in the church? Thank you for the encouragement.

  19. todd said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Mike,

    I am pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Rio Rancho, NM

  20. Jerry Koerkenmeier said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Lane (et al),

    I’m failing to understand what part of our polity is to blame for this in any way. You said, “However, what it wound up doing was hamstringing the highest court, so that it could not really correct problems of the lower court, unless they were “procedural,” a term that now has a very narrow definition indeed, it seems.”

    Where or from whom do you get this idea? Can you point me to a portion of the BCO or share with us who gave you this impression?

    To my knowledge, the SJC was not hamstrung by the BCO in any way here.

    Just note the enumerated power of the General Assembly as the highest court.

    BCO 14-6: The General Assembly shall have power:
    a. To receive and issue (settle) all appeals, references, and complaints regularly brought before it from the lower courts; to bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in practice, injuriously affecting the Church; to decide in all controversies respecting doctrine and discipline;
    g. To suppress schismatical contentions and disputations, according to the rules provided therefor;

    BCO 39-4: 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.

    BCO 43-10: The higher court has power, in its discretion, to annul the whole or any part of the action of a lower court against which complaint has been made, or to send the matter back to the lower court with instructions for a new hearing.

    Finally, note that BCO 40-3 gives the higher court the power to completely reverse the judgment of a lower court in judicial cases upon appeal or complaint!

    Again, I cannot understand the suggestion that the SJC was only able to consider procedural issues given these statements.

  21. todd said,

    April 4, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    “A change or biblical addition to the church’s constitution (for ex., women elders you would then be forced to submit to) is usually when one is forced to leave a body.”

    Of course, I meant to write “unbiblical” there

  22. April 4, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    todd – fixed.

  23. Mike said,

    April 4, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Todd,

    Aside from Kinnard case a few years ago, is this issue bubbling up in OPC presbyteries?

  24. todd said,

    April 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Mike,

    No, I haven’t heard anything of FV in the OPC in quite a while, at least from my end.

  25. matt said,

    April 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Nute: “The invasion is on schedule, My Lord.”

    Darth Sidious: “Good. I have the Senate bogged down in proceedures. By the time this incident comes up for a vote, they will have no choice but to accept your control of the system.”

  26. Jerry Koerkenmeier said,

    April 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Sean (@15) and Bob (@17):

    The problem with such a view is that according to BCO 14-7, “judicial decisions are to be given due and serious consideration by the Church and its lower courts when deliberating matters related to such action. Judicial decisions shall be binding and conclusive on the parties who are directly involved in the matter being adjudicated, and may be appealed to in subsequent similar cases as to any principle which may have been decided.”

    This decision is to carry as much weight in the deliberations of lower courts as the FV Report. Furthermore, it sets a precedent with regard to the principle of the decision.

  27. April 4, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Jerry,

    No disagreement here. But neither changes the constitution itself. If I am involved In future FV cases, you can be that I’ll have the last weasel-worded paragraph of the decision highlighted, bolded, and all caps.

    A real problem that I see is that faithful men will be more reluctant to bring charges because they may see it as just a waste of time. All that is required for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing. Personally, I’ve never been very good at doing nothing.

  28. Frank Aderholdt said,

    April 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    The PCA may be becoming operationally non-Presbyterian, while remaining constitutionally Presbyterian.

    Moderates and progressives could well succeed in controlling the nominations process for the SJC and the permanent committees and agencies. If that happens, the Westminster Standards will become a dead letter. Confessional conservatives may speak as long and loud as they like, and it won’t make a bit of difference at the General Assembly level. I dread the scenario of a balkanized church, with some congregations and Presbyteries carrying on a consistent Reformed witness, while the denomination as a whole is at best only “broadly” evangelical.Come to think of it, this is what the old PCUS looked like in the 1960’s and early 1970’s – islands of faithfulness in a sea of decline.

  29. greenbaggins said,

    April 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Jerry, perhaps a more accurate way of stating the matter is that there are some ambiguities in the BCO, which the SJC has taken in certain directions that they do not have to go. In talking with Wes, this is the conclusion to which we came. I will modify the post accordingly.

  30. Hugh McCann said,

    April 4, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Todd @ 15 – Good to hear from you! :) I remember you fondly from WTSCA days.

    I can concur that a presbytery and a judicial committee do not a denomination make.

    But don’t their decisions now bind the consciences of the brethren in the PCA?

    Over at “http://greenbaggins.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/the-leithart-verdict/#comment-106947,” things are lit up over the call for submission.

    And you’re right enough when the gospel isn’t at stake or when the conscience isn’t being bound.

    But if these guys (Lane & Grommit & Co.) are right, then a wolf has been exonerated and then the exonerator’s been cleared as well.

    Does not the SJC’s decision “bind the conscience”?

    Are not the Greenbaggins mumurers and disputers,
    these troublers of Israel,
    (these few, these happy few…*),
    this band of brothers,*
    these wild boars in the Lord’s vineyard,
    are they not being told to submit to ungodly folly that in protecting heretics, endorses heresy ?

    Happy Hugh

    * Lane – Methinks I’ve found your greatest grandfather – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDZVxbrW7Ow

  31. todd said,

    April 4, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Jerry # 26

    I am not suggesting some cannot be conscience bound to leave at this point. There are many valid reasons to leave a church and denomination. I was arguing against the position suggested here that Scripture requires faithful officers and churches to leave the PCA now. Our reformed forefathers, in general, would not have agreed, not until they were bound against their consciences to preach or support unbiblical views.

    Hugh – You likewise.

    It depends what you mean by submit. If submit means the verdict must be recognized, sure. But submit here does not mean that confessionalists are bound not to preach and teach against FV, or bound to support it financially, or bound not to preach the true gospel. Historically, it is when submission includes the latter type of submission (Machen bound to support social gospel missions and not allowed to raise theological objections at his trial) that the confessionalists saw no choice but to leave.

  32. Scott said,

    April 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Lane, what are the possible ways to fix this, that is, have a trial on substance, not procedure?

    Also, is there not a way General Assembly can decline the ruling, accept the dissent, or assume jurisdiction?

  33. Hugh McCann said,

    April 4, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Todd @31 – Agreed.

    I saw that you’d said they could go after FV-ers in #15. We aren’t talking about critizing the FV or even its proponents.

    We are talking about the place between that and secession.

    About the ‘baggins gang not submitting to the NW Presbytery or the SJC in their decisions.

    About the former complaining, reproving, rebuking, and generally disregarding decisions they see as being absolutely bogus.

    Three posts & threads here are getting confusing, but

    “The Decision in the Leithart Case,”
    “The Leithart Verdict,” &
    “The Polity of the PCA”

    all point to serious differences of opinion amongst some PCA elders about the decisions of their courts and how to best respond to these decisions.

    Some are calling for submission such as shutting up. “The courts have spoken – you had your say – now shut up.” That’s what I thought you were advocating. Glad to read that I misread you!

  34. Tim Harris said,

    April 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    It seems to me that just the fact that the prosecutor was revealed shortly after the trial to be an apostate should have been enough to remand the case back to be re-tried.

    Even the secular appelate courts do this, when it turns out that the judge in a case had a conflict of interest — even when no specific proof is offered that an error of procedure occurred, and it was a jury trial.

    I understand Ron’s point, that everyone, no matter how heretical it appears he be, is entitled to a fair hearing, and a hearing can’t just be set aside because “everyone knows.” Granted. But on the other hand, the idea that a matter of doctrine is mere techne, and can be adjudicated by whoever — a believer, an unbeliever, doesn’t really matter, goes against everything we know of faith.

    This is also the problem with the committee that decides the “critical text” of the Bible. As if the church should be expected to “receive” the best version of the Word of God by a group of men including not only representatives of churches not recognized by them as true churches, but even including avowed unbelievers, as long as they have a certain level of philological competence! As Dabney pointed out, the unbeliever is cold and hostile to the word of God — and this is going to affect his decisions about the text in a dozen subtle ways that are hard to pin down and expose to the light.

  35. Hugh McCann said,

    April 4, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    Tim Harris @33 – Hear, hear!

    Per Lane’s amendations / redactions? ;)
    I must amend my footnote in #10, above:

    * Even if “[Y]our polity is to blame (at least partially) for this disaster.”
    “…even with [y]our ambiguous polity.”
    Even if “[Y]our ambiguous polity sure didn’t help.”

    P.S. I miss “messed-up”!

  36. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 5, 2013 at 12:07 am

    It’s difficult to find a complete set of trial documents these days — Exile PCA has taken down the SJC “presumption of guilt” ruling from ’09. Nor have I been able to find the text of the Hedman complaint.

    So forgive me if these questions are ignorant.

    (1) If I’m reading the verdict correctly, the complainants Hedman et al had a burden to show from the trial record a clear-and-convincing case that PNW erred constitutionally in its verdict.

    In other words, the complainants could not simply point at the trial documents and say “Look!”, but they had to provide their own reasoning that demonstrated error.

    Is this correct?

    (2) If so, then did Hedman do this?

    (3) If so, why is there no acknowledgement of or rebuttal to Hedman’s argument in the SJC verdict?

    (4) Why did Nease withdraw as a complainant?

    (5) Why did the SJC make no reference to their ’09 decision?

    This last question is fully loaded. I’m trying to understand from a polity standpoint what the verdict means. One could read it either as

    (a) The complainant didn’t make his case, OR
    (b) Based on the trial record, the SJC does not find reason to overturn the verdict.

    The latter has more far-reaching implications for our understanding of theology.

    (6) The SJC seems to give great deference to the court of original jurisdiction. It was a kind of anti-Marbury decision in that regard: they gave no consitutional review of the Presbytery decision at all.

    Does this mean, however, that other Presbyteries would not be bound by PNWP’s decision? Hypothetically, could other Presbyteries issue their own understandings of and rulings on Leithart’s teachings?

    I don’t welcome or suggest that outcome! But SJC’s light touch here seems to give wide latitude to Presbyteries to make their own decisions about what is or is not constitutional.

  37. Ron said,

    April 5, 2013 at 12:09 am

    It seems to me that just the fact that the prosecutor was revealed shortly after the trial to be an apostate should have been enough to remand the case back to be re-tried.

    Now that is an interesting point.

  38. April 5, 2013 at 9:09 am

    [...] Another helpful post, which clarifies that the problem in this case does not rest with the SJC but with the BCO, go here. [...]

  39. greenbaggins said,

    April 5, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Scott, I don’t think there is any way to fix this. The SJC is a commission, not a committee, and therefore acts for the GA. The SJC’s decision is the GA’s decision.

  40. Brandon said,

    April 5, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Hey JRC #36.

    You asked, “Does this mean, however, that other Presbyteries would not be bound by PNWP’s decision?”

    In my work on some other issues in the PCA I’ve had previous members of the SJV explain that there is no such thing as “case-law.” This means you cannot appeal to another ruling made by a court as setting precedent for other cases. What I’ve understood this to mean (and others in the PCA can help me out here if I’m wrong) is that the SJC deals with particular cases and circumstances.

    Consequently, if you’re in the Siouxlands Prebsytery, the PNWP’s case does not mean that you would be prohibited from prosecuting FV views. And if you chose to prosecute this individual he could not appeal to the SJC’s decision as setting precedent because the SJC only ruled on the particular question of Dr. Leithart’s fidelity to the Confession.

    So to answer your question in a word, yes.

  41. Jerry Koerkenmeier said,

    April 5, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Jeff (@36) & Brandon (@40),

    Taking the questions one at a time:

    The SJC seems to give great deference to the court of original jurisdiction. It was a kind of anti-Marbury decision in that regard: they gave no consitutional review of the Presbytery decision at all.

    Right, and BCO 39-4 says, “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.”

    Does this mean, however, that other Presbyteries would not be bound by PNWP’s decision? Hypothetically, could other Presbyteries issue their own understandings of and rulings on Leithart’s teachings?

    Other presbyteries are not bound by it, as it’s binding only upon the parties in the case. However, all presbyteries and sessions must now give it deference and may appeal to it in principle:

    BCO 14-7. Actions of the General Assembly pursuant to the provisions of BCO 14-6 such as deliverances, resolutions, overtures, and judicial decisions are to be given due and serious consideration by the Church and its lower courts when deliberating matters related to such action. Judicial decisions shall be binding and conclusive on the parties who are directly involved in the matter being adjudicated, and may be appealed to in subsequent similar cases as to any principle which may have been decided. (See BCO 3-5 and 6, and WCF 31:3.)

    Brandon, you said, “I’ve had previous members of the SJV explain that there is no such thing as “case-law.” This means you cannot appeal to another ruling made by a court as setting precedent for other cases.”

    As you can see by reading BCO 14-7 above, this is not accurate.

    You went on to say, “And if you chose to prosecute this individual he could not appeal to the SJC’s decision as setting precedent…”

    Again, the BCO explicitly contradicts this statement. Such an individual could (and no doubt will) appeal to this decision.

  42. Brandon said,

    April 5, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Jerry,

    Thanks for the further information from the BCO.

    You mention that the case can be appealed to in principle, which is true, but I wonder which principle was established in this particular case. Do you have a principle in mind? The Decision was emphatic that it was not vindicating any of Leithart’s views and even detects ambiguity. The ruling of the SJC is a judgment that the PNWP did not err in exonerating PL.

    The reason that my statement about case-law is fully compatible with 14-7 is that precedent, in legal terminology, implies a binding [Emphasis here] decision which must be obeyed by lower courts. In my reading of the decision there is nothing binding about this decision except that other Presbyterian ministers ought to regard Peter Leithart as a TE in good standing in the PCA.

    In terms of binding precedent, I’m not sure that this ruling of the SJC prohibits other presbyters from prosecuting those who believe violate the Westminster Standards. That individual could not appeal to the vindication of Leithart as setting precedent because the SJV expressly stated as much AND because the trial was specifically about the confessional subscription of one man. Hypothetically, if the individual espoused exactly the same views as Leithart in exactly the same language, he may be able to appeal to the PNWP’s findings but this would not be binding (and thus does not set precedent in a strict sense) upon the court (whether a Presbytery or the SJC).

  43. Chris said,

    April 5, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    While case law history and precedent may not be a technical/official factor in future ecclesiastical cases (besides perhaps pious advise/wisdom of others), and as much as they are not perhaps held in the same light as say civil/criminal cases being viewed in light of U.S. Supreme Court precedent being the law of the land, nevertheless this does reveal the animus (mind) of the PCA on this matter. As the SJC speaking for the PCA GA (that in itself HIGHLY problematic, PCA should fix this in this year’s GA, putting everything back to full GA review, not this SJC “super-apostle’s” court. My opinion). So while a given Presbytery could try a TE teaching identical views, it would SEEM as if, if they appealed to the GA (SJC) then the SJC would exonerate them. Although this makes me wonder if on appeal to the SJC, if a hypothetically say a Presbytery HAD “convicted” the man of teaching identical views, and had deposed him from office, would the SJC be inclined to over-rule the Presbytery?

    In other words are they merely rubber-stamping the lower court’s ruling? Would they be more hesitant to overturn a conservative Presbyteries “conviction” (wrong word, you get the gist)? How the SJC does not see their current actions as permitting the teaching is beyond me. They don’t want to be held responsible/accountable, but they clearly are. They “owned” this problem in their verdict.

    The buck stops (or rather should have) with them, and they balked just like the Supreme Court did with regard to Roe. v. Wade and the idea of actually making a ruling as to when life begins (they balked and said that was outside of their expertise). If not them, then who? Seems very much like others have deemed it– “Congregationalist Presbyterian”, with each Presbytery having rather radically different standards.

    Does not bode well for the future purity, nor peace of the church (PCA denomination specifically). These folks who would have “peace” at all costs, do not see they are just punting the conflict down the field, until it really reaches an intolerable level. “Wise” in someone’s eyes I suppose. Thank God for our doctrine of Divine Sovereignty (well more properly that God is Sovereign, not just our teaching of it), and that salvation does not rest in the hands of men. But with rulings like these, it begs the question why even bother with all the pretense of confessionalism and prebsyterianism?

  44. Bob S said,

    April 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    39The SJC is a commission, not a committee, and therefore acts for the GA. The SJC’s decision is the GA’s decision.

    Lane,
    Then it’s settled and binding until another GA overturns it, no?
    In the meantime one puts up with it and refrains from public disagreement with the court?

    IOW I’d rather not see the confessionalists conduct themselves like the FV when they disagree with the constitution.

    Or am I missing something?

    thanks

  45. Mike said,

    April 5, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    Was there ever disclosure of the members that make up the SJC? I did not see names on the summary report?!?

    Of note, why publish the 9 points refuting the FV in 2007 if this is the end result.

  46. Cris Dickason said,

    April 5, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I am offering a couple of initial thoughts and questions. I started this line of thought based on the OP [original post!], but I don’t see the updated post changing my line.

    Lane’s original post:

    Furthermore, what we have in our denomination is centralized power located in the wrong place. It is located in the committees and agencies, rather than in the highest court. As a result of this, the presbyteries are pretty much autonomous. There is now really no way of disciplining rogue presbyteries…

    I would suggest that if the presbyteries are autonomous and untouchable in terms of discipline, then that is where power is “centralized,” or perhaps, better phrased, that is where power is concentrated. What you have at the GA/denominational level, is a centralization or concentration of administrative and bureaucratic power, and perhaps fiscal power.

    I think recognizing that there are these two types of power being aggregated in two different loci or levels in the PCA might be helpful. Yes I realize there’s a terminological quirk here, an apparent contradiction, that one of those levels, the presbytery, is actually numerous distinct instances or entities, but the fact is each of these is set as a “one” against the “many” or the “whole” of denomination/GA.

    But further, isn’t this exactly the way it’s supposed to be? Who ordains Teaching Elders? The Presbytery. So who is it that polices the presbytery, why the presbytery itself, of course. While there is a court “higher” than the presbytery, it is “higher” only in specifics ways, for specific purposes.

    I have some further thoughts, but I’m going to chew on them longer, I just thought we should remember that the presbytery is a primary locus of authority/power in Presbyterianism. That does not equate to each Presbytery is a law unto itself (autonomous), but it carries some weight.

    -=Cris=-

  47. Howard Donahoe said,

    April 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Here’s a link to the 10-page Preliminary Brief filed by Presbytery before the Hearing in this case. I think it should give some helpful context to the decision. https://www.dropbox.com/sh/kpzd4mjnptyipkm/ApHiA1kiZ9

  48. Mike K. said,

    April 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Ron (#37),

    I’m less concerned with JJS’s role in the case and leaving the PCA than his ongoing inclusion in the confidence of the committee (or some member thereof) while the PCA laity was made to wait for a verdict. The “confidentiality” around this decision had all of the dignity of teenage Facebook drama. Is this representative of how the PCA operates?

  49. CD-Host said,

    April 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    @Howard —

    That 10 page brief was very helpful. Thank you!

  50. Ron said,

    April 6, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Mike,

    I’m not following the question.

  51. April 6, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    MIke,

    I put four years of my life into this issue, a friendly heads-up was hardly a breach of national security!

    PS – I also know who’s going to win the NBA championship, but I’m not telling.

  52. John Bugay said,

    April 6, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Jason 51 — what percentage of your time time went into “this issue” during those four years, and what percentage of your time went into figuring out Roman Catholicism? And what safeguards did you put into place to assure that one wasn’t bleeding into the other?

  53. April 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    27% went into the FV thing, and 14% into Catholicism.

  54. John Bugay said,

    April 6, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    You usual level of seriousness, I see.

  55. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    JJS,

    I knew you were exact and punctual, but WOW!

    Now that the FV thing is nearing 0%, does the Catholic thing take up the lion’s share of your time?

    But seriously, for those who have not heard them, I recommend Jason’s two talks at Called to Communion. We need to know why apparently godly, smart, good guys are poping.

    One from last 11/11/12, (An hour+.): http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2012/11/how-the-church-won-an-interview-with-jason-stellman/

    and the other from 03/21/13, (1/2 hour or so): http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2013/03/jason-stellman-tells-his-conversion-story/

    Hughuenot

  56. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    John Bugay @52 & 54 – I posted Jason’s interview from Nov 2012 also b/c he therein addresses the charge that he was distracted from his prosecutorial duties last year by his fascination with things popish.

    He refutes that notion, and I while he’s obviously been influenced for the worst by his interacting with Roman apologists, etc., I have no reason to doubt him, that his zeal for the PCA’s courts and standards were above reproach.

    But the possibility does exist (true, Jason?) that he might very well have been unconsciously adversely affected by his touching the unclean thing, thereby rendering not only his zeal and discernment suspect, but his cognitive abilities, as well.

    Jason, this is not to say that you’re stupider than I; these things simply seem possibilities from our POV, methinks.

  57. April 6, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    Hey, if I had been influenced by Moscow I’d have nothing to lose by admitting it now, but I still think the Federal Vision is lame.

  58. Sean Gerety said,

    April 6, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Stellman should have recused himself from the outset. Instead he did pathetic job prosecuting the case for reasons that are now obvious to everyone. His new church/state only benefits from his deception. Further, he began his prosecution by soliciting funds to “help in the prosecution” of Leithart most of which I suspect he just pocketed. Some might recall Stellman’s plea:

    The main need for funds is due to the cost of providing air fare and lodging for the witnesses that we plan to call. Obviously the prosecution desires to argue the best case possible, and so those of you who oppose the Federal Vision can be assured that your contributions will be used to that end. And of course, whatever funds that are sent but are not needed will be returned with many thanks. Make checks payable to:

    Just curious, did anyone ever receive a refund?

  59. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    It is – having taught for a year at a high-church Anglican seminary (still Rome-lite, I know), and having been in PCA back in the 1990’s (before late unpleasantness), I agree.

    Maybe a backwards collar here or there, a hoisted host, a stole and gown, something sounding liturgical, but the PCA –at least from what I’ve seen– can’t hold a candle (pun intended) to even the Anglicans, much less, the full-on Romanists!

    And the FV heresy is neither fish nor fowl: Neither Geneva nor Rome.

  60. Sean Gerety said,

    April 6, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Why would you admit it now Jason? Your orchestrated failure created a funnel that only makes it easier for papist trolls like Brian Cross and your new pals at “Called to Damnation” to snatch unsuspecting souls from the one truth faith.

  61. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Sean,

    I am sure that Jason has given full account for all his expenses to his presbytery, congregation, and other givers. Haven’t you, Jason?

    Jason…?

  62. Sean Gerety said,

    April 6, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Did he let his presbytery know he solicited funds under false pretense?

  63. John Bugay said,

    April 6, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Hugh, thanks for the links at 55. I didn’t listen to them, but I listened to the short snippet that James Swan posted:

    http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2013/03/roman-convert-needs-job.html

    It’s tough and frightening being unemployed. I know what that one’s about.

  64. greenbaggins said,

    April 6, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Sean, etc., I think your views on Stellman’s job as prosecutor are now well known, and do not need to be any further rehearsed. Personally, I am willing to give Stellman a bit more credit than that. First of all, he had never done this sort of thing before. Secondly, I am convinced that he was doing what he thought was the best job he could do. Sure, hindsight is 20/20. I’m not sure I would have done better, except perhaps in one thing: I think I would have pressed Leithart harder on the things he said on the stand versus what he said in his published writings: quite a bit of discrepancy between those two things. It would have made the clear error of the PNWP a bit clearer. But again, as I said, hindsight is 20/20. For what it’s worth, it seems clear also that Stellman still thinks that Leithart is not confessional and should leave the PCA.

    Is it possible that Stellman’s struggles vis-a-vis Roman Catholicism cost him clear-headedness with regard to his being a prosecutor? Sure it is. But it would be difficult for me to ferret out which parts of his job were affected by that as opposed to which parts were affected by simply not having done this sort of thing before.

  65. CD-Host said,

    April 6, 2013 at 6:13 pm

    @Sean

    You don’t think you are being a bit paranoid? An orchestrated failure? That’s a rather complex conspiracy. Federal Vision is a movement that started in the right wing reformed community and has stayed there. Of course the PCA is going to be involved and involved for a very long time.

    Leithart wrote stuff in books
    That stuff seemed to contradict statement in creeds
    Liethart was asked about those creedal statements and he affirmed them.

    That’s the makings of a complex trial. How about Jason tried to prove a complex case and failed. Or another way of putting this is the FV may violate the spirit but not the specific wording of reformed creeds.

    As for the funnel, we are moving off justification to sociology. There is no funnel from the PCA to Catholicism. Groups like Pew study religious flow between American denominations and conversion flow not involving marriage is negligible for Protestant to Catholic. The way Protestants in meaningful numbers become Catholic is by having sex with Catholics not by reading about the Federal Vision. And BTW that flow is still mainly in the Catholic to Protestant direction.

    Whether the Federal Vision is a short term fad or Doug Wilson et al becomes a well respected Reformed Thinker whose ideas become incorporated into the Conservative Reformed Mainstream is ultimately not about courts. The RPCUS declared Douglas Wilson a heretic long ago and the public hasn’t respected that and instead considers his ideas worth of consideration like any reputable theologian.

    This is not even really about the PCA. It is about the millions of Christians in denominations like the SBA who are influenced by but not part of the conservative Reformed movement who have to decide whether they think Federal Vision makes sense or not. And right now they are deciding yes.

    They aren’t deciding yes not because Jason Stellman threw the case, which he didn’t. They aren’t deciding yes because Jason was distracted, which maybe he was. They aren’t deciding yes because Jason was not a Thomas Dewey quality prosecutor. They are deciding yes because Federal Vision offers a consistent well presented logical framework for interpreting the Reformation. They make valid points and screaming heresy isn’t going to cut it.

    No one threw the case. These are just very complex ideas.

  66. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    @65 CD – But high-profile converts and reverts to Rome make headlines. When a pastor popes, it’s news. Called to Confusion has enough PCA & OPC ex-ministers who’ve seen the darkness and crossed the Tiber.*

    It was big enough in the 1990s, too. Grodi, Hahn, Matatics. Then, we might have said, “Well, these are from liberal denoms.” But increasingly, it’s not the liberal or non-denom seminaries that are producing future papists – it’s the RTSes, Westminsters, etc.

    Perhaps we all are a little too concerned about numbers, not called, converted ministers?

    * Is that what “don’t pay the ferryman” was all about? ;)

  67. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Sean @ 58/ 60/ 62,

    I want to side with ‘baggins @64 on the Stellman deal.

    Yes, he lost the case;
    yes, he solicited funds of well-meaning folk such as yourself;
    yes, he was sleeping with the enemy at time of trial;
    yes, he then done poped.

    But he was duly ordained and didn’t break the rules. Right?

    HAD IT ENTERED HIS MIND, HOWEVER, HE MIGHT HAVE RECUSED HIMSELF FROM THE TRIAL SINCE HE WAS STARTING A ROMAN LOVE AFFAIR… (Just a thought!)

    Is it a bit like a lawyer prosecuting a drug case,
    losing the case,
    all the while he’s been dabbling in crystal methamphetamine,
    and after losing the case,
    decides to quit practicing law for drug-selling?

  68. CD-Host said,

    April 6, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    @Hugh #66

    @65 CD – But high-profile converts and reverts to Rome make headlines. When a pastor popes, it’s news. Called to Confusion has enough PCA & OPC ex-ministers who’ve seen the darkness and crossed the Tiber.* …
    Perhaps we all are a little too concerned about numbers, not called, converted ministers?

    Funny I’m going to end up typing something similar in both my responses on two unrelated threads. :)

    The right wing traditionalist Catholicism of CtC, Vatican I style represents a tiny fraction of Catholicism.

    1/4 of the USA population is evangelical. 1/90th of the evangelical population in the USA is conservative reformed. You and CtC travel in a very small circle. The vast vast majority of people considering conversion have no idea who Jason Stellman is and have never heard of the Federal Vision.

    When we start talking about conversion, in terms of numbers you want to move to huge groups. There is a huge number of disgruntled Catholics who are several generations removed from the people who became alienated as a result of Pope Paul VI counter liberalization, in particular birth control. They are culturally and to a limited extent religiously identified with the Catholic church. When they marry Protestants they often become Protestant.

    When we talk about people raised evangelical who leave for this generation (millennials) the drivers of their alienation are the “meanness” issues related to culture wars: antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, too political. out of touch with reality, insensitive to others and boring. Federal Vision doesn’t even show up on surveys.

    Most (all) of the meanness issues are going to apply to a PCA congregation. Those are the issues on which you lose large numbers of people. And they aren’t spectacular conversions they are the child who drifts away during college and never comes back. The CtC crowd is just as: antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, political. out of touch with reality, insensitive to others and boring as you all are. You tie, they aren’t addressing your real issue. But the real Catholic church is somewhat better because the Catholic church in real life (and not in CtC) aims to be Catholic. That is while it is right wing theologically it simultaneously works to be a social institution that includes all people.

    An active practicing openly homosexual Catholic can be part of his church, in a way he could never be part of a PCA church. A guy with tattoos, a stripper, a woman whose restaurants regularly get closed for undocumented workers… can be meaningfully part of the Catholic church. The PCA by definition is a niche of a niche, a right wing offshoot of a theological minority. Which has built closer ties an thus recruits from the right wing of evangelical Christianity.

    That’s a good targeted product. But there are people who don’t want that.

    Now let me be clear. I think its fun to talk theology. But if and when we actually want to to talk numbers…. those are where the converts are. Jason is a statistical blip.

  69. April 7, 2013 at 12:16 am

    Yes, you all caught me red-handed. My plan since 2007 was to discredit the PCA and join the Pentavaret along with the Queen, the Vatican, the Getties, the Rothschilds, and Colonel Sanders (before he went tits-up). Suffice it to say that Phase 1 of my evil plan is complete. Now all I have to do is point my “laser” at the moon and threaten to blow it up unless the U.N. will pay me… one MILLION dollars.

    Joking aside, anyone who wants to can read the trial transcript and decide whether I threw the fight. The very notion is completely ridiculous, but some of you (*cough* Sean Gerety *cough*) have enough hatred in your heart for me and the Catholic Church to pretty much believe anything, regardless of how petty and conspiratorial. I’m not going to defend myself against such charges or answer fools according to their folly.

    By the way, it’s equally plausible that the reason the prosecution lost is because Mike Horton sucked, or because the trial commission was biased and rigged from the outset, or because Lane got his degree in piano-playing, or because Rayburn played dirty, or because the PCA doesn’t have the stones to enforce its own FV Report. It could be a combination of those things, or none of them, or something else altogether. We’ll never really know. All I can say is that I conducted the case (to which I was appointed, by the way) exactly how I would have if I had never heard of Catholicism. Those issues were completely sealed off in an airtight compartment and never crossed my mind during the trial or during my prep for it. You can choose to believe me or not, but my conscience is clean.

    PS – The trial funds—which didn’t amount to a whole lot—were managed by the diaconate of Exile Pres and used for the travel, hotel, and eating expenses for my two witnesses. Any money that was left over was to be sent to confessional men who were preparing to fight a similar battle in their presbyteries.

  70. dgwired said,

    April 7, 2013 at 7:29 am

    Jason, but if you add the magisterium and the Early Church Fathers to FV it walks?

  71. Sean Gerety said,

    April 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

    @Jason. I’m glad your conscience is clear, as I wouldn’t want anything to interfere with your Austin Powers marathon. I do find it interesting that you in no way take any responsibility for your failure to successfully prosecute the case. Yes, it could have been any of the myriad of things you mention that contributed to the outcome, and, yes, the PCA doesn’t have the stones to enforce its own FV Report. And, yes, I will even concede you could have kept your adulterous affair with Rome “sealed off in an airtight compartment” the whole time, but I’m reminded again of something Ron DiGiacomo said;

    PL essentially denied on the stand what FV has gone on record affirming. All that is left to do at that point is to pepper the defendant with questions regarding inconsistency in view of previously written (or stated) Roman Cahtolic tendencies. That did not happen and that was Jason’s job. Consequently, the SJC was left with too many uninterpreted brute particulars that were not fleshed out with formal argumentation. Again, to have drawn their own conclusions based upon arguments that were never formulated would have been to put PL on trial without the right of a defense attorney. We’re Presbyterian not papists.

    As far as hatred, I don’t hate you. Unlike some others, I don’t respect you and feel sorry for you. You have traded true liberty for abject slavery. I think what bothers me is your complete lack of humility even after you first came out of the closet and confessed your rejection of Christ and His Gospel. If you could be so wrong about the central tenets of the Christian faith, even after spending years as an ordained minister of the Gospel, and after being the lead prosecutor in arguably the most important case in the history of the PCA, what makes you so confident now? Instead of simply disappearing into the woodwork as common decency would dictate, especially given the scandal of your defection, you are the proud ubiquitous Internet poster-boy for “Called to Confusion” and have become a very public shill for the Roman church-state.

  72. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Amen, Sean, on your last comment.

  73. Sean Patrick said,

    April 7, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    # 71.

    So, in summation, if one converts than ‘common decency’ dictates that such a person disappears into the woodwork and does not defend or explain his decision.

    So I guess this means we won’t be getting to read anything further from John Bugay and other former Catholics? I mean, we would want to betray ‘common decency’ would we?

    Speaking of ‘common decency’ I wonder what ‘common decency’ has to say about making baseless accusations about another man pocking money like you did in # 58?

  74. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    The common thread, Sean Patrick, is that Jason was yearning and pining after Rome, and all the while trying to pretend that he was not — that he was upholding his ordination vow, for example.

    I’m not a person who just jumped off the turnip truck into a new denomination. I’ve been around a long time, I’ve had a chance to study, to genuinely learn a lot about the Biblical faith. I spent years at the NTRMin discussion, learning the New Testament, and I’ve also spent years following online seminary courses, reading works of church history. I’m able to put Roman Catholicism into context for a Protestant audience. I talk about what I had known as a Roman Catholic, and to put Roman Catholicism into context that Protestants will understand. You’ll notice, I don’t try to teach Protestant theology of any kind. But then again, it’s not like you to ever notice anything subtle like that.

    Jason is out begging for people to put him on the speaking circuit. He is, according to your system, “a new convert”, and yet he wants to be out teaching people what he himself doesn’t know.

    Sean Gerety’s point is well made: “If you could be so wrong about the central tenets of the Christian faith, even after spending years as an ordained minister of the Gospel, and after being the lead prosecutor in arguably the most important case in the history of the PCA, what makes you so confident now?”

    Jason has set himself up to crash-and-burn, and you CTC guys have all rooted him on in that endeavor, in the interest of getting another big-ticket notch for your belts. Did you notice, it’s his PCA church which is still supporting him and his family?

  75. April 7, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Did you notice, it’s his PCA church which is still supporting him and his family?

    Where are you getting this stuff, John? This is completely false.

  76. Ron said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    A key premise that remained absent from the prosecution’s questioning is that the entire FV movement was predicated upon the idea that they had new insights to offer the Reformed tradition. After all, Reformed was not enough for these men, including Leithart. Accordingly, if nothing in Leithart’s testimony was actually new to Reformed thought regarding soteriology and the church, then either (a) he was not being completely honest in his testimony about what he originally thought his written statements meant or (b) he lacked basic understanding of Reformed theology when he (and his cronies) thought they had found something new or rediscovered something lost. Either way, it would seem to me that it could have been argued that Peter Leithart would have disqualified himself from Reformed ministry either for being a liar or else a muddled thinker and teacher of historical Reformed theology.I opt for the latter. It’s safer given my finitude.

    The problem is, as I see it, much hangs on the unspoken premise that Lethart and company thought they had something new and exciting to offer the church, or at least had redisovered something that was historically lost. (Whether that premise should have been used by the SJC is another matter.) For without that premise, Leithart was handed the opportunity to interpret his writings any which way that suited him.

  77. Sean Patrick said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:03 pm

    # 74.

    In the spirit of ‘common decency’ I will refrain from impugning motives and psychoanalyzing people here. Maybe you should too.

  78. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Jason — up above you said the church is still paying you severance.

  79. April 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Do you have a comment #? Whatever severance they paid me is long gone, and was a one-time gift in the first place. They’re not “still paying” me anything.

  80. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    http://tquid.sharpens.org/stellman.mp3

    Your congregation gave you a severance that runs out in two months, and in two months, you’re “out of money”.

  81. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    That snippet was from your “conversion story” dated March 21 at the CTC blog.

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

  82. Sean Patrick said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    # 78.

    No, I think he must be still supporting himself from all the money he pocketed from donations for the trial (# 58).

    What a great way to rip people off.

    Step 1 – Become a pastor

    Step 2 – Have other pastors elect you to prosecute a case against another minister

    Step 3 – Solicit a small amount of money to defray the cost of the case

    Step 4 – Pocket that money

    Step 5 – Resign from your job

    Step 6 – PROFIT!

  83. April 7, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Ah, gotcha. I misspoke there. My severance ran out ages ago, the money that runs out in two months is from another source, having nothing to do with my former church.

    PS – That’s from a completely impromptu talk I gave at a conference, for which I had done absolutely no prep at all, which explains the discrepancy I hope. Thanks for letting me clarify.

  84. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Sean Patrick, have you noticed that your use of the word “profit” is the first and only time that word appears on this page (except for my use of it here, pointing it out)?

    You are, in fact, the one who is blowing things up.

  85. Sean Patrick said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    John.

    The ‘profit’ is really an old internet meme, a joke if you will, from a southpark episode. In the episode there are little gnomes that steal socks and underwear while people are sleeping. They go around and outline their plan to each other that starts with ‘steal underwear’ and ends with ‘profit.’

    I used it to illustrate the absurdity of Sean Gerety’s # 58.

  86. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    Jason 83, good that you and your CTC editors checked all the facts before publishing it. That seems to be consonant with what has been said about your prosecution of the case. Thanks for clarifying.

  87. Sean Patrick said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    http://www.southparkstudios.com/clips/151040/the-underpants-business

    For John. Now, that is silly. But not as silly as Sean Gerety’s # 58.

  88. John Bugay said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Gee Sean Patrick, I must have missed that episode…

  89. Sean Patrick said,

    April 7, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Too busy delving into various ancient texts so that you could educate us I guess.

  90. Hugh McCann said,

    April 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    For those of us who believe that the tenets of sovereign grace found in the Westminster Standards & 3 Forms of Unity best outline the Christian faith (most critically, soteriology – Christ’s work on behalf of his elect), I find myself forced to increasingly side with John B. & Sean G. and question your integrity, Jason.* Your timeline is suspicious.

    Substitute pastor for lawyer/ D.A., presbytery for law firm, R.C. doctrine for drugs, and poping for drug use in the following illustration:

    Again, if a district attorney prosecutes a drug case and loses the case, and later discloses that all the while he’d been using similar drugs, would he not rightly be just a wee bit suspect?

    How much more so, if he decides to quit practicing law to become a drug user & dealer?

    The fact that he told the bar and his law firm that he was investigating the drug trade is the least he could have done, but it is shameful that he had one foot in the courtroom prosecuting a drug dealer, while with the other was out experimenting with illegal drug use. Worse, his “investigation” into the drug world was knowingly subsidized by his law firm!

    That his superiors finally stripped him of his credentials was appropriate, but the pastor’s admission of dabbling in illicit trade should have been a huge red flag that everything was wrong in his life, and that presbyterial intervention was called for, not private, personal “investigation.” (One wonders if the “investigation” included fingering beads and muttering “Ave Marias”.)

    In Stellman’s case, he’s imbibed a more deadly & addictive narcotic/ hallucinogen than crystal meth. And, no, gentleman, I am not speaking sarcastically or hyperbolically, however poetically.

    These are not intellectual games we’re playing. We’re dealing with men’s very souls. Or else you don’t find Stellman’s apostate slide damned tragic. [Pun intended.]
    ___________________________

    * (Sorry Bob/ Grommit, I disagree that Jason showed laudable integrity.)

  91. Bob S said,

    April 7, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Thanks to Howard Donahoe, posting over at Sean G’s, the 736 page Record of the Case (ROC), can now be found along with the other two previously posted docs from the PNWP and the SJC.

    April 7, 2013 at 11:58 am

    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

  92. Ron said,

    April 7, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Again, if a district attorney prosecutes a drug case and loses the case, and later discloses that all the while he’d been using similar drugs, would he not rightly be just a wee bit suspect?

    Hugh,

    Although there might be occasion for suspicion in such a case, the transcript would lend insight to whether the prosecution actually tried to throw the case.

    Regarding the Leithart case, Jason certainly tried to show that Leithart from a Reformed perspective conflated soteriology with ecclesiology. Secondly, I find no motive for Jason to have tried to “throw the case” as it were. Whether Jason should have stepped down due to what might have been a conflict of interest does not logically make him guilty of trying to do something devious with respect to undermining the trial. After all, to have convincingly shown a stark difference between Leithart’s theology and Westminster theology, which was Jason’s task, hardly would have brought reproach upon Jason’s religion of Roman Catholicism. So what was in it for Jason not to do his best?

    In any case, I really wish this witch hunt would stop with respect to trying to impugn motives to people.

  93. jamesswan1 said,

    April 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    In any case, I really wish this witch hunt would stop with respect to trying to impugn motives to people.

    I’ve causally followed this discussion. Pinning whatever blame one wants to on Jason Stellman will not change the outcome. In my own denomination, if I understand our polity, such decisions can be appealed if the outcome troubles enough people. They’ll get back together in synod, and fight it out again, and again, and again [that's the way the Dutch are :) ]. I hope for those of you not happy with the outcome, such an opportunity is likewise available in the PCA.

    Those of you who know me, know I’m no friend of Rome, especially her self-appointed apologists…. but: I wouldn’t begin to try and figure out Mr. Stellman’s inner-workings…trying to understand a person I’ve never actually met who was in a complicated mess of church polity and personal conversion issues is not prudent. Granted, Mr. Stellman certainly isn’t helping himself joining into the fray.

    On the other hand, scrutinizing Mr. Stellman’s personal interpretation of his previous Reformed faith and his personal interpretation of Romanism certainly is.

    JS

  94. Hugh McCann said,

    April 7, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    Gentlemen,

    I do not question Jason’s statement[s] that his conscious intentions (conscientiousness) were not good. I do not impugn his conscious motives. But, integrity means more than well-wishing or believing we’ve done our best.

    From Merriam Webster:
    1. firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
    2. an unimpaired condition : soundness
    3. the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

    The fact of the matter is that Jason Stellman failed to keep himself pure/ unspotted from the world, to adhere, remain unimpaired/ complete toward the Faith. ~ 2 Tim. 2:21; Jas 1:27. (cf. 1 Tim. 4:1, 16; Heb. 6:4ff.)

    He dabbled in sin and has been seduced by it. He is fallen from grace; he has fallen away from Christ.

    Complicity with error will take from the best of men the power to enter any successful protest against it. ~ C.H. Spurgeon, 1888.

  95. Hugh McCann said,

    April 7, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    Now the Spirit expressly says that
    in latter times some will depart from the faith,
    giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,
    speaking lies in hypocrisy,
    having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,
    forbidding to marry, and
    commanding to abstain from foods
    which God created to be received with thanksgiving
    by those who believe and know the truth.
    For every creature of God is good,
    and nothing is to be refused
    if it is received with thanksgiving;
    for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

    1 Timothy 4:1-5

  96. timharris said,

    April 7, 2013 at 11:26 pm

    Ron, to speak of “Impugning motives” is a loaded term. Motive also has an objective aspect, as when a secular court establishes “motive, means, and opportunity” for a crime. As an unbeliever, Jason objectively had a motive not to prosecute the case vigorously, regardless of his own subjective description of his motives.

  97. Hugh McCann said,

    April 7, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Ron @92,

    Points well taken. Please hear that I am not arguing that Jason threw or tried to throw the case. I am too far removed to make any such judgment.

    I agree that he was not necessarily “trying to do something devious with respect to undermining the trial,” though we are agreed that he was suffering (whether consciously or unconsciously) “a conflict of interest.”

    I agree wholeheartedly that “Jason should have stepped down.”

    It’s not an attempt to impugn motives; it is stating the facts that
    PL teaches X
    Rome teaches X
    Jason is studying Rome while prosecuting PL for X
    Jason is seduced by Rome while prosecuting PL for X
    PL “wins”
    Jason demits his Protestant (anti-X) ministry for Rome
    Jason sees PL’s X as being Roman doctrine.*

    My contention is that Jason would have to have been a spiritual Superman in order to have “…conducted the case (to which I was appointed, by the way) exactly how I would have if I had never heard of Catholicism. Those issues were completely sealed off in an airtight compartment and never crossed my mind during the trial or during my prep for it. You can choose to believe me or not, but my conscience is clean.” (From #69, above.)

    I do not charge Jason with consciously lying to us (I cannot know that), but I do believe he is mistaken in his self-awareness here. He may not have been consciously affected, but his dabbling in the black arts adversely affected his prosecution of another charged with the same.
    _____________________
    * On his CCC blog, Jason quotes 10 “passages from [PL's] writings [which] were adduced both in direct testimony and in my closing argument.” Of these, JJS says, “This is all completely Catholic, but in no sense is it Reformed.”

  98. Joshua Butcher said,

    April 8, 2013 at 1:18 am

    It seems just as plausible that Jason Stellman would have been more capable of prosecuting Peter Leithart as a result of his pursuit of Roman Catholic theology as it is plausible that he would have been less capable, and the former might even be more plausible if one does not attribute ill intentions to the man.

    Consider: a Reformed man is being tried upon suspicion of teaching doctrine contrary to Reformed Confessions and leaning toward Roman Catholic doctrine. Another man who teaches and confesses Reformed doctrine is called upon to prosecute the case, but who has, while in the midst of studying Roman Catholic doctrine, found it more persuasive. Consequently, if the man-on-trial’s teachings were indicative of Roman Catholicism, why would not the prosecuting man-who-is-persuaded-to-Roman-Catholicism be as likely, if not more likely, to identify and bring to conviction the man-on-trial than a Reformed man who is remaining faithful to the Confession in his own beliefs? A man in the midst of assenting to RC doctrine would seem as likely as any to spot such doctrine in others’ teaching. A dog finds the scent that it is looking for wherever the scent may be found.

    Further, even if there were motive involved, as Ron intimated, Mr. Stellman seems to have little to gain from Leithart’s exoneration from the charges. If anything, he would stand to gain more by Leithart’s conviction, since a Reformed theologian and preacher who is well-known among Reformed and Roman Catholics would have been shown to be sympathetic to Roman Catholicism, seeming to lend more credence to Roman Catholic doctrine.

    Now I’m neither arguing that any these suppositions are true, nor if true that Mr. Stellman was an ideal choice as a prosecutor. I merely make these suppositions to point out that the argument that Mr. Stellman’s emerging Roman Catholic beliefs were a cause for the prosecution’s failure to gain conviction is a very weak argument.

    As Ron has pointed out several times already, the prosecution failed because it didn’t follow lines of questioning that would have brought the controversial matters to a head where the opportunities to do so were presented. That much may be Mr. Stellman’s fault, but if so, it does not follow that the fault stems from his subjugated Roman Catholicism. A more likely cause would be from Mr. Stellman’s lacking the necessary aptitude for argumentation in the preparation for and/or performance of the prosecution’s duties. Being well read and adducing lots of evidence is not the same as being skilled at getting a witness from the evidence to a crucial admission of error or to proving a contradiction between the evidence and a witness’ testimony, or within the witness’ testimony itself.

    Does not a Good Calvinist recognize that God uses means to accomplish ends? Does he not find that in those cases where the means prove ineffectual for the ends desired, then it is time for the Good Calvinist to recognize that God has providentially sided against those desires, for whatever reasons He sees fit? Does he not, instead of complaining about outcomes, reflect upon the possibilities and actualities of his own sin and error, and look to God in repentance for those sins and errors, seeking restoration with God and anyone who has been wronged as a result of those sins and errors? Does he not then and only then seek to find the next step of obedience in the matter at hand?

  99. April 8, 2013 at 4:08 am

    Gents, I understand that JSS’s name is mud in our circles these days, and that is true for some legitimate reasons, but it is simply scapegoating to pile on him and blame him for these ill fortunes relating to the Leithart case. The men who witnessed the trial and voted to acquit Leithart were grown-ups. Moreover, they were not Johnnys-off-the-street, they were trained ministers and elders. Any competent and honest elder was provided with more than sufficient evidence to convict Leithart. This verdict was not excusable, it should not have even been a close call.

    I don’t recall this sort of armchair quarterbacking when the Leithart decision first came in from PNW Presbytery, some months before Jason’s conversion. I might have missed comments to this effect, but I don’t recall criticisms of Jason’s performance in the trial at that time.

    I thought Jason did a good job, and as his case was augmented by Lane and Michael Horton’s testimony, I thought that, in sum, it was a very good case. But even if the performance was mediocre (which I don’t grant here), that can still provide an adequate case if it is on the side of truth and rests on the merits of the facts. The question should not be, “could it have been better?” Was it adequate or not? Should a competent person have been able to discern the truth?

    Ask the question, was anyone else in the PNW Presbytery as qualified as Jason to address the FV issues as prosecutor? I don’t run in presbyterian circles personally, but I would find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t be, at the very least, at the very top of any list of qualified ministers in a typical classis or presbytery. And for the armchair quarterbacks, can you with a clear conscience assert that YOU could have done a better job? Without the benefit of hindsight, and being forced to think on your feet under pressure? I know a handful of very smart people that I think might have done a better job, but I can count them using only the fingers on my two hands.

    I think it is more likely that Jason’s critics just can’t bear the reality that so many ministers and elders in their denomination failed so profoundly in their duty to uphold the Gospel, the doctrines of the Reformation, and their vows as ministers. It is easier to think that it must have just been a lousy prosecutor.

  100. April 8, 2013 at 4:39 am

    As a post script, have any of you men seen the show “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel? I’m reminded of these sorts of jobs when I consider the unenviable job of serving as prosecutor in an ecclesiastical case like this. Isn’t it prudent to offer men willing to do such things in service of the church, without additional pay, our gratitude?

  101. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 8, 2013 at 6:41 am

    What David said. But also, if you seek to ynderstand the outcome, you need to start with SJCs own words: The complainant failed to show from the trial record…

    Jason provided the trial record. The complainant provided the argument.

  102. Ron said,

    April 8, 2013 at 7:43 am

    My contention is that Jason would have to have been a spiritual Superman in order to have “…conducted the case (to which I was appointed, by the way) exactly how I would have if I had never heard of Catholicism

    Hugh,

    You said you were suspicious of Jason’s intentions. Yet the transcript showed that he tried to argue that Leithart was outside the Reformed tradition. Moreover, given Jason’s RC leanings a case can be made that his greatest motive would have been to win the case. I can tell you that I’m no spiritual superman and obviously no friend to Roman Catholicism, but on almost any given day I could argue strenuously and by God’s grace effectively against a misrepresentation of a Roman Catholicism. So, why wouldn’t Jason had been equipped, even as a Roman Catholic, to argue with good motive against a man who he thought was pretending to be Reformed? A willingness to argue for the truth need not be indexed to conversion.

  103. Ron said,

    April 8, 2013 at 8:12 am

    David,

    I haven’t seen the show. But along those lines, when I read the transcript it struck me that I would not have wanted to be a lawyer for either side let alone a witness in the trial. So, in that respect I respect the job these men felt called to, lawyers and witnesses. Whether I think I could have done a better job is irrelevant. It might be though if I was faulting Jason for the job he did, but to defend the SJC’s decision not to overturn the verdict based upon the prosecution’s case hardly implies finding fault with Jason. It wasn’t a blame game that anyone was playing. Remarks regarding how the prosecution presented the case were made in an effort to defend the character of those who were called to sit in judgment of the facts of the case as presented by both sides. Noting that conclusive arguments were not made is not to find fault per se, let alone blame, when made in an effort to vindicate the SJC of the accusations that have been levied against it.

    So, I (for one) would not want to “pile on.” No, my main concern is that no argument has been given why we should doubt that the men who comprised the SJC aren’t “truly confessional” and “honest.” Yet you and Lane have asserted that their decision proves they aren’t.

  104. Stuart said,

    April 8, 2013 at 8:26 am

    I am not that familiar with the Leithart case (I am OPC) but I am interested in polity and disciplinary process questions (where I think the thread started). If one assumes that the trial record should have resulted in a conviction of some sort, is it possible that the original phrasing of the charge(s) opened the door to defenses and confusion that allowed for acquittal? I seem to recall that the charges spoke of beliefs and teachings …. We may generally assume when someone teaches something that he does so because he believes it. But what happens when a man’s beliefs are given attention rather than focusing exclusively on what he actually taught (past tense) in sermon X or article Y? The door gets opened to “clarifications” about what a man intended or believes. But the injury or offense arose to the church in what he taught. What he actually taught or did not teach might be open to some reasonable differences of opinion but assessing the reasonableness of those alternatives is more fruitful, I think, than delving into what might be a strained construction arising out of what a man now says he believes. If the form of the charge were something like, “Mr. L did teach X” or “Mr. L did in effect deny the doctrine of Y” might that have focused the issue on whether he did in the recent past commit a doctrinal offense? Whether he still maintained the position is a separate question and if he does not, presumably some public restitution would be in order. I do not know if my observations match the situation, but if they do, then the SJC presumably might have ordered a proper restatement and narrowing of the charges.
    -Stuart

  105. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Thanks, Ron @101. Again, I do not charge Jason with consciously lying to us, or trying to throw the case of PL. My first concern is not even that the prosecution lost the case.

    Jason should serve as a warning to any and all of us who think we stand- that we take heed lest we fall. I do not believe that any of us (apart from God’s grace alone!) can withstand the tempter’s schemes.

    The elder Peter urged us to steadfastly resist Satan IN THE FAITH, and to be sober, to be vigilant; because our adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour.

    That Jason was being misled into spiritually fatal errors while he was prosecuting another for some of those errors is beyond dispute. His discernment was adversely affected months if not years before his apostasy.

    Who could have prosecuted the case while being spiritually impaired by the enemy of our souls? Jason was under the influence of the seducing spirit of Romanism. Of course this wasn’t “completely sealed off in an airtight compartment.” How silly. He was nipping at the bottle all the while he was seeking a guilty verdict against the bootlegger.

    Again I quote Spurgeon, “Complicity with error will take from the best of men the power to enter any successful protest against it.”

    Jason’s “conscience is clean.” So what? Are we so naïve and gullible as to think that an apostate man -who has thrown away his testimony to Christ for the pope’s church- can reasonably analyze himself?!

    He is deceiving and being deceived.

  106. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 10:20 am

    Ron @101 – Please rethink this. It is dangerously silly:

    …why wouldn’t Jason had been equipped, even as a Roman Catholic, to argue with good motive against a man who he thought was pretending to be Reformed? A willingness to argue for the truth need not be indexed to conversion.

    Why wouldn’t Jason have been “equipped”? First, because he was being seduced by the father of lies.

    2ndly, unregenerate men have no good motives. Surely you jest about a noble papist? A papist cannnot “argue for the truth,” anymore than Satan can. I hope I am misunderstanding you.

    You also claim that

    …on almost any given day I could argue strenuously and by God’s grace effectively against a misrepresentation of a Roman Catholicism.

    I should hope so. BY GOD’S GRACE, indeed. This is something a Roman Catholic certainly lacks. That is indeed “indexed to conversion,” as you put it!

    Mr Stellman was not truly converted, as his apostasy from his bibical profession proves.

  107. Ron said,

    April 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Hugh,

    So, what you are saying is that Roman Catholics aren’t capable of telling the truth? I’m afraid what must be considered rants of yours aren’t worthy of serious consideration.

  108. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 8, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Hugh:

    Mr Stellman was not truly converted, as his apostasy from his bibical profession proves.

    … Unless he repents.

    This line of reasoning is unfruitful. The key here is to understand what the SJC was telling us, and their verdict had naught to do with Stellman’s religious predilections.

  109. April 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Stuart, RE #104,

    Leithart is a prolific author, both in print and on his blog. His public teachings formed the basis for the charges and are well-documented in the ROC. I think that the fault here is with the SJC treating the case like a secular court and not ecclesiastically according to their oath to preserve the peace and purity of the church. The BCO requires the latter in cases touching the doctrine and constitution of the church as has been documented above, but the SJC shamefully chose a different route.

  110. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Thanks Jeff, for your opinion.

    Ron, yes, those who are deceived may occasionally tell a truth, but so too does Satan, the head of Catholicism. But RCs cannot “argue for the truth” as you put it

  111. Ron said,

    April 8, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Stuart,

    I think those are very good distinctions. By PL affirming enough key Reformed doctrines on the stand the prosecution’s case was greatly weakened if PL’s “beliefs” were on trial (and not his teachings). And, of course, affirming those Reformed tenets on the stand was not sufficient to prove that PL did not actually teach contrary to the Confession.

    Not sure whether the SJC is / was within its power to refine the charges, but even if not, the charges could be modified and a new case opened? Not sure about that either.

    My only dog in this race, my biggest concern at this juncture, is that I believe the SJC is comprised of honorable men who are confessional. If they erred, I would not want to be found attributing their error to dishonesty or not being confessional, but I guess I’ve made that point already.

    I hope all is well. :)

  112. Ron said,

    April 8, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Hugh, if “those who are deceived may occasionally tell a truth” then why can’t they (at least on occasion) “argue for the truth”?

    All the anti-Christ stuff is not helping me think more clearly about your point… just saying. :)

  113. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Ron @112 – Because to argue for something against which one is inveterately opposed is downright impossible.

    I should clarify that I speak of biblical Truth (true Truth).

    Under the influence of the enemy’s favorite religious deception (Romish doctrine), one would be hard-pressed to tell much Truth, let alone argue for it.

  114. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Jeff, per #108: I Tim. 4:1ff, Heb. 6:4-6, and II Peter 2 appear to apply. The latter closes with:

    For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.

    For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.

    But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

  115. Ron said,

    April 8, 2013 at 11:41 am

    Ron, to speak of “Impugning motives” is a loaded term. Motive also has an objective aspect, as when a secular court establishes “motive, means, and opportunity” for a crime. As an unbeliever, Jason objectively had a motive not to prosecute the case vigorously, regardless of his own subjective description of his motives.

    Tim,

    I think I appreciate your point. Even in this thread (post 37) I responded in accordance with that very supposition – that a reasonable argument might be made for a mistrial based upon conflict of interest. My issue on this front is something a bit more serious than whether a possible motive can be established. I was addressing this sort of mindset: “unregenerate men have no good motives.” Accordingly, the prosecutor in the eyes of one had ill motives. At the very least, there seems to be a bit of equivocal thinking here. That a person can do no spiritual good does not mean that an unbeliever cannot be motivated to argue truthfully (albeit for ungodly reasons ultimately speaking.) So, I appreciate your point and opportunity to clarify myself.

  116. Ron said,

    April 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Ron @112 – Because to argue for something against which one is inveterately opposed is downright impossible.

    Hugh,

    I don’t agree that one cannot argue for something he opposes. Lawyers do that sort of thing all the time. Classroom mock trials also display that sort of thing all the time. In any case, the theology of Roman Catholicism does not oppose a distinction between Federal Vision and Reformed theology. In fact, if Federal Vision is as Roman Catholic as you seem to think, then Roman Catholicism actually affirms a stark difference between Federal Vision and Reformed theology.

  117. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Ron 116, Thank for making me clarify <i<myself!

    For one to consistently argue with any real integrity for something against which he is inveterately opposed is downright impossible.

    Again, I was speaking of biblical Truth (true Truth).

    A Romanist is hard-pressed to tell much Truth, let alone argue effectively for it.

    I don’t understand your last sentence. No doubt you saw JJS’s declaration that PL’s baptism stuff “is all completely Catholic, but in no sense is it Reformed.”
    @ http://www.creedcodecult.com/crap-i-should-have-just-stayed-in-the-pca/

    Also there, from David Meyer:

    April 5, 2013 at 4:39 am

    “This is all completely Catholic, but in no sense is it Reformed.”

    After reading the Leithart quotes above, I realize how right you are. When I was Reformed, I was a devote of Leithart and Wilson, yet I insisted they were confessional and thought the whole FV controversy was a big misunderstanding. I realize now that was just a fantasy on my part. Baptismal regeneration is true, but it ain’t Reformed. I think in my mind I just really wanted to keep all the Refomed stuff I liked (TULIP, with emphasis on the L) while affirming things which scripture obviously (to me) teaches but are not confessionally Reformed in the slightest. I was naive enough to believe that all the Reformed denoms could eventually agree and unite, while my FV friends left the PCA and started a CREC church. But without the Magisterium there will never be unity. Only more division. Heck, I could have started my own new Presbyterian denom, my views were fairly unique.

    One thing I find very curious is why Leithart and Wilson don’t admit their doctrine (particularly on baptism) is Catholic? After a few years of believing it, I was forced out of intelectual honesty to admit it to myself. But they seem to just keep rolling down the road.

  118. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Ron, we have seen the Meyer quote on April 6, comment #37 under “The Decision in the Leithart Case.”

  119. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Hugh,

    All of that may be true. But if it is, then it will show up concretely in the arguments that Jason made.

    You aren’t alleging, after all, that the SJC is unregenerate, or that the PNWP is unregenerate. They and not Jason were the ones who made the decision.

    So we have the following logical possibilities.

    (1) McCann hypothesis: Jason’s arguments were substandard because he is unregenerate.

    If this is so, then one should be able to point at the deficiencies AND to the places in the SJC verdict where these deficiencies came into play.

    (2) Jason’s arguments were adequate, but the SJC rejected them

    (2a) Because they were blinded,
    (2b) Because they were overawed by PNWP,

    This is almost certainly not the case, since the verdict doesn’t address the arguments made by Jason.

    (3) The SJC didn’t consider Jason’s arguments.

    (3a) Mattes hypothesis: Because they cared more about procedure than substance.
    (3b) Cagle hypothesis: Because the SJC considered the arguments made by the complainant, not the prosecutor.

    (4) FV hypothesis: Jason’s arguments were inadequate because Leithart is in fact orthodox.

    The SJC explicitly denies making this ruling.

    A simple reading of the verdict indicates that some version of (3) is almost certainly the case.

  120. April 8, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    Jeff,

    Nice synopsis. I think that the Mattes/Cagle hypotheses should have been first in the list as the most likely, but that’s just me. :-)

  121. Hugh McCann said,

    April 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Jeff @ 119 – Dunno which number is right (or how much of which played into it), but per #1, it’s a fact that Jason’s thinking was substandard because he is unregenerate. Probably his arguments, then, were too.

  122. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 10:12 am

    Stellman’s arguments were inadequate because he initially refused to base them on scripture. When the prosecution will not base the case on scripture it seems to communicate a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of God’s Word. In hindsight that is the most probable as the prosecutor defected to Rome.

  123. CD-Host said,

    April 9, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    @John #122 —

    He didn’t simply fail to base them on scripture he wanted to disqualify defense arguments based on scripture. Jason, and I think rightly, was concerned that he’s be playing into this opponent’s strong suit. The entire Federal Vision came after the scriptural arguments for Calvinism. It is a response based on scripture to Calvinism. It is unquestionably a plausible read of scripture. By plausible I don’t mean a judge would agree with it, but a judge might very well agree that they make some good points and that the positions are based on scripture.

    Peter Leithart has spent his entire career making the scriptural argument for his positions from people with a reformed leaning hermeneutic. Had Jason done what you are suggesting he likely ends up losing much worse, he gets mauled not beaten.

  124. April 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    John,

    Stellman’s arguments were inadequate because he initially refused to base them on scripture. When the prosecution will not base the case on scripture it seems to communicate a lack of confidence in the sufficiency of God’s Word. In hindsight that is the most probable as the prosecutor defected to Rome.

    I discussed this with several confessional ministers and profs, and it was clear to all of us that to open up the WCF’s theology to biblical scrutiny (“The Confession says that justification is X, but is that the best way to discuss the matter biblically?”) would have been the worst possible approach to take. It was Peter Leithart, not the Westminster Standards, that was on trial.

    So my approach was to say, “We’re not here to place our doctrinal standards in the dock and theorize about whether they’re sufficiently biblical or not, for we have all vowed as ministers that we believe they are. So instead of trying to decide whether the Confession is biblical, we’re going to try to decide if TE Leithart is confessional.”

    For what it’s worth, there’s a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on here. I am genuinely disappointed in the way the PCA has come down on this. But it’s also true that no one on the confessional side ever thought to criticize my approach before the trial, or my performance after it. But now, two years later when we’ve lost and I’ve become Catholic, it is all of a sudden so incredibly obvious why Leithart was exonerated. If my approach and performance were so bad, then why didn’t anyone mention it back when we all thought we were going to win? Instead, all I got were high-fives from the people who now blame me for this mess, some of whom even wonder aloud publicly whether I threw the fight.

    And Cagle is right: The SJC didn’t even consider the arguments made at the actual trial. They went off of the complainant’s case and found it lacking.

  125. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    @CD-host #123-

    I think you being a somewhat left leaning catholic agreeing with Stellman’s tactics in this case should be an adequate warning to many of the opponents of FV here who are sympathetic to your assessment.

    I also think since the prosecution was trying the case before a group of men who are committed to a reformed understanding of scripture, this would have been a tilting the balance in favor of the prosecution had they primarily used scripture to demonstrate how Leithart was out of accord with a reformed understanding of scripture.

  126. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    @Stellman#124
    I read your reasons for using the WCF in the trial transcripts. I also showed the transcripts to confessional friends and ministers in the OPC who believe Leithart to be out of accord with a reformed understanding of scripture on JBFA. They were equally appalled by your not using scripture primarily to prosecute Leithart on this. There is a reason why the first chapter in the WCF explicitly removes itself from being used in the way you tried to use it. The irony of your tactics is you were being perhaps more anti-confessional than leithart by denying the sufficiency of scripture. You attempt to defend your tactics by stating your motive of not putting the WCF on trial. This is irrelevant because the standards exclude themselves from being used in the courts to determine controversies of faith and practice. I have discussed some of Leitharts writings with my wife. After reading some of his writing my wife was inclined to agree with his exegeting of certain scriptures. I took the same scriptures he used and explained them from a more traditionally reformed understanding and she immediately agreed with me and saw the error in his interpretation. I believe if you had taken this approach you would have been more successful. I think it is a shame that many so called confessionalists did not see the pitfall in your tactic and actually encouraged you toward that approach. I think this reveals an inclination towards elevating the confession to the point of idolatry. Which many of them would likely accuse you of now doing with the teachings of the RC ad the Pope. As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is irrelevant whether or not Leithart vowed to sincerely adopt the WCF as the system of doctrine contained in scripture. That was his second vow and he sincerely believe he does. His first vow was, Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as originally given, to be the inerrant Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice? If you attempt to prosecute someone based on your your understanding of the WCF you are reduced to debating personal interpretations of a fallible document. The Divines rightly excluded the WCF from being used in this way.

  127. Sean Patrick said,

    April 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    “If you attempt to prosecute someone based on your your understanding of the WCF you are reduced to debating personal interpretations of a fallible document”

    As opposed to debating personal interpretations of an infallible document.

  128. April 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Jason, as I mentioned above (#99) I agree with you that the armchair quarterbacking needs to stop. In fact I would say that it is shameful to shift the blame due to the presbyters in PNW who voted to acquit Leithart (and also to some extent the SJC at the appellate level), to you and your efforts in prosecuting the case.

    John (#126) I don’t know what OPC pastors you talked to, but what you are describing is biblicism, not confessionalism. WCF 1.10 says the Bible is the supreme” judge, but that does not mean it is the only judge. The confessions have derivative authority, and it is therefore right that we should hold our ministers to this standard until such time as we are given reason to question the biblical underpinnings of the confessions. Since Leithart was explicitly *not* questioning the Westminster Standards, and indeed was affirming that his teaching was harmonious with the Standards, there is no strict reason to use Scripture “primarily” or even at all. It is assumed by all parties that the Standards are biblical, and therefore carry the authority of Scripture derivatively. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel every time an aberrant teacher is tried in a confessional denomination. As Jason pointed out, the Standards were not on trial, Leithart was.

    This understanding of the use of confessions is not at odds with the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Scripture contains all doctrine necessary for salvation, as well as the life, ordering, and tasks of Christ’s church. The confessions merely summarize these doctrines.

    You wrote This is irrelevant because the standards exclude themselves from being used in the courts to determine controversies of faith and practice.

    No, it does not assert that. That is the implication you draw based on your faulty exegesis of the Standards. Indeed, using the Standards in the courts is one way by which they operate as a “help” (31.4) to the ultimate rule of faith and practice (i.e. Scripture).

    I took the same scriptures he used and explained them from a more traditionally reformed understanding and she immediately agreed with me and saw the error in his interpretation. I believe if you had taken this approach you would have been more successful.

    You obviously did not read Lane’s testimony, because this is precisely what he did, in eye-watering detail.

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is irrelevant whether or not Leithart vowed to sincerely adopt the WCF as the system of doctrine contained in scripture. That was his second vow

    But how does the fact that Leithart took multiple vows negate the second vow? Your reasoning here is bizarre.

    If you attempt to prosecute someone based on your your understanding of the WCF you are reduced to debating personal interpretations of a fallible document.

    What, precisely, is the problem with that? Is it that it is a “personal interpretation”? Or is it that the confessions are fallible?

    A document such as a confession can be fallible yet inerrant.

  129. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    “A document such as a confession can be fallible yet inerrant.” care to explain?

  130. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    According to the thesaurus the primary synonym for inerrant is infallible. The confessions are neither.

  131. David Gadbois said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    Inerrant means that something is without error. Infallible means something *cannot* err.

  132. CD-Host said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    @John #130

    This comes from the Chicago declaration.

    Inerrant = does not happen to contain errors
    Infallible = incapable of being in error

    Something that is tautologically true:
    A -> B
    A
    therefore B

    is infallible. It cannot possible be wrong.

    Jane is a member of of the ACBL
    All ACBL members have membership cards
    therefore Jane has a membership card for the ACBL

    Might happen to be right or wrong. If right then this argument is inerrant but not infallible.

    What David was saying is that the creeds could in theory be in error but aren’t. So one can work from them as things that are inerrant but fallible.

  133. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    David wrote in #128,
    “You wrote This is irrelevant because the standards exclude themselves from being used in the courts to determine controversies of faith and practice.

    No, it does not assert that.”

    Actually it does in Chapter 31 section III.

    Dave in “#131 wrote,
    “Inerrant means that something is without error. Infallible means something *cannot* err.”

    Since the Westminster as adopted by the PCA is a completed work if it is without error (inerrant) it also cannot error (infallible) unless amended. You cannot make the claim that the WCF is in its present form inerrant without concluding it is infallible. Even making the claim that it is inerrant is elevating to a position the Divines would probably repudiate given the statement in Chapter 31 sextion 4.

  134. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Sorry I meant section 3

  135. Hugh McCann said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    John@ 133 – Interesting – I look forward to the answer[s] forthcoming from others more learned than I.

    How indeed can a written, inerrant (“does not happen to contain errors”) document err/ be fallible (capable of being in error)?

  136. Hugh McCann said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Or, more simply, how does an error-free document err?

  137. Hugh McCann said,

    April 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    I guess it’s an error-free document that COULD HAVE erred.

    It’s an inerrant document that is capable of being errant? Sort of like pre-lapsus Adam?

  138. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 9, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    Behold the fallible, inerrant statement:

    2+2 = 4

    Fallible, because I am (quite) capable of arithmetic errors. Inerrant, because it happens to be error-free.

  139. April 9, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    31.3 doesn’t mention confessions nor the Standards in particular, so no, it does not assert what you say. And inerrancy does not imply infallibility as you fallaciously deduce. The capability of error is inherent in the authorship. Whether that capability was actualized is what determines whether or not the document actually has errors. I can take a piece of paper and write 2+2=4 on it, and it would be without error, although it cannot be said that I had been safeguarded by supernatural forces so that I couldn’t possibly have erred when I wrote that.

  140. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    We are evaluating the WCF not the divines who wrote it. You start with evaluating the statement 2+2=4 then move to evaluating the maker of the statement by declaring yourself fallible. When you declared yourself fallible you cease making declarations about the statement. Under your assessment the WCF can be neither fallible or infallible. The WCF is capable of doing nothing because it is a completed document. If the WCF is inerrant why not just teach from it rather than scripture since scripture contains such difficulties as James chapter 2 and many others?

  141. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 7:14 pm

    David, was not the Westminster Assembly a council? Do you actually think they meant to exclude their work from the statement made in Chapter 31.3?

  142. Bob S said,

    April 9, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    142 John,
    Distinguish between the possibility to err and actually committing error.
    Or IYW between possible and actual. They are not the same.

  143. April 9, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    John wrote We are evaluating the WCF not the divines who wrote it. You start with evaluating the statement 2+2=4 then move to evaluating the maker of the statement by declaring yourself fallible. When you declared yourself fallible you cease making declarations about the statement. Under your assessment the WCF can be neither fallible or infallible. The WCF is capable of doing nothing because it is a completed document.

    You are simply introducing your own non-standard terminology to confuse the issue. When theologians say the Bible, for instance, is infallible, we are saying it cannot err *because of who wrote it*. You cannot remove it from the issue of authorship. And for the same reason this is why we say the confessions are fallible. Now a document can be without error, but infallibility is only one way to get there. It could be the result of dumb luck. It could be the result of careful study and writing. The one concept does not entail that the other must be true.

    If the WCF is inerrant why not just teach from it rather than scripture since scripture contains such difficulties as James chapter 2 and many others?

    The matter of preaching and public worship is a separate issue. And, incidentally, many churches do have catechetical sermons based on various reformed confessions.

    David, was not the Westminster Assembly a council? Do you actually think they meant to exclude their work from the statement made in Chapter 31.3?

    I get the feeling you are actually referring to 31.4. But even in 31.4 it simply says negatively that the decisions of councils (such as confessions) may not “be made the rule of faith, or practice”, but positively it says that that are to be used “as a help”. Nowhere does it say that they cannot be used in a trial.

  144. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    David,

    In your view, what is the difference in status between an argument made from the Scripture and an argument made from a Reformed confession?

  145. John McNeely said,

    April 9, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    David
    The WCF still says the supreme judge by which ALL controversies of religion, doctrines of men whose sentence we are to rest are to be NONE other than the Holy Spirit speaking through scripture. These are the issues of trials. The prosecution did not attempt to use the WCF as a help. They attempted to use it as THE supreme judge to settle the controversy. Even to the extent of refusing to use scripture in their formal charges. This clearly violates both chapter 1.10 and 31.3 of the WCF.

    On your accusation of me using nonstandard terminology I would say you are moving the goal post. You cannot refute the plain irrationality of saying a document is simultaneously inerrant and fallible. Scripture is infallible because it is the Holy Spirit speaking through a document. (Notice the wording of the Divines.) Certainly the Divines were fallible but the WCF can be neither fallible or infallible since it is incapable of anything. If you believe the WCF to be inerrant that is debatable. If as you believe the WCF is an inerrant summary of scripture then are you implying it is superior or synonymous to scripture? After all the WCF being an inerrant summary omits the difficult phrases like “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone”James 2.

  146. Hugh McCann said,

    April 9, 2013 at 8:45 pm

    John @145 concluded, “the WCF can be neither fallible or infallible since it is incapable of anything.”

    OK: A document (or equation or statement) is either errant or inerrant – it has errors (errant) or it doesn’t (inerrant). But it’s the author who possesses either fallibility or infallibility, correct? He either has or has not the ability to err.

    Documents (e.g. the WCF, David’s equation, God’s word) simply are; these “speak,” either fallibly or infallibly.

    It therefore seems inaccurate and unhelpful to say that a document is capable of erring (fallible) or not (infallible)? Documents are what they are (pardon the tautology).

    But, David @139 says that he “can take a piece of paper and write 2+2=4 on it, and it would be without error.” OK.

    Then, “it cannot be said that I had been safeguarded by supernatural forces so that I couldn’t possibly have erred when I wrote that.” OK, you fallibly wrote an inerrant equation, right? Now it’s written.

    Once it’s written, it can’t degrade or become errant, right?

    How is this not infallible?

    You are and were fallible upon writing the equation, but now that it’s been fallibly written inerrantly, how can it be capable of erring?

    The WCF or David’s equation were written fallibly but they are inerrant. Though their authors were capable of error (fallible), once these inerrant statements are made, why are they not infallible?

    _______________________________________
    FYI: WCF { Taken from the OPC website }

    31.1 ~ For the better government, and further edification of the church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils…

    31.2 ~ It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same: which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word.

    3 ~ All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.

    31.4 ~ Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical…

  147. Dave said,

    April 9, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    How does BCO 29-1 fit into this discussion about proper approach to prosecuting a case like this?

    29-1. An offense, the proper object of judicial process, is anything in the doctrines or practice of a Church member professing faith in Christ which is contrary to the Word of God. The Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, together with the formularies of government, discipline, and worship are accepted by the Presbyterian Church in America as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice. Nothing, therefore, ought to be considered by any court as an offense, or admitted as a matter of accusation, which cannot be proved to be such from Scripture.

  148. April 9, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    John said The WCF still says the supreme judge by which ALL controversies of religion, doctrines of men whose sentence we are to rest are to be NONE other than the Holy Spirit speaking through scripture. These are the issues of trials. The prosecution did not attempt to use the WCF as a help. They attempted to use it as THE supreme judge to settle the controversy.

    You cannot conclude that the Standards are operating as a “supreme judge” simply because they are being used as a proximate, derivative standard for a minister’s teachings in an ecclesiastical trial. For it to be supreme, there would have to be no higher authority above the Standards, no further “court of appeal” above the Standards, thus making the Standards irreformable. But Leithart is not even making the argument that the Standards are wrong, so none of this has any bearing in this case.

    Even to the extent of refusing to use scripture in their formal charges.

    It is a non sequitur to conclude that the Standards are being considered the “supreme judge” simply based on this fact alone.

    On your accusation of me using nonstandard terminology I would say you are moving the goal post. You cannot refute the plain irrationality of saying a document is simultaneously inerrant and fallible.

    You are making assertions that you don’t support. How are the goal posts moved, precisely? And how is it “plain irrationality” when I am employing the very basic distinctions that have governed the theological discussions of biblical inerrancy in the last century (see, for instance, the Chicago Declaration)?

    Scripture is infallible because it is the Holy Spirit speaking through a document. (Notice the wording of the Divines.) Certainly the Divines were fallible but the WCF can be neither fallible or infallible since it is incapable of anything.

    Why is the authorial element relevant to one and not the other?

    If you believe the WCF to be inerrant that is debatable.

    I’m actually a 3 Forms of Unity guy, but I would say that Westminster is certainly inerrant on justification, election, the covenants, the sacraments, and all the other issues relevant to FV errors.

    If as you believe the WCF is an inerrant summary of scripture then are you implying it is superior or synonymous to scripture?

    No, it just means that on these issues the Standards are correct and biblical, and thus should be used to discipline aberrant teachers until such time as can be demonstrated the Standards are wrong or unbiblical on the issue at hand. Again, this is not what Leithart is even attempting to demonstrate.

  149. April 9, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Jeff, look at the Standards as akin to laws passed by a legislative branch of government. In this act, Scripture is both the proximate and ultimate standard by which the doctrine of our confessions is judged. But when a minister is examined in trial, as in the case of Leithart, it is an act of the judicial branch. The judicial branch is supposed to *apply* the law to the case at hand. The law might be bad, and so laws must be reformable. But it is not the job of the judicial branch to pass, amend, reform, or overturn laws, that is the legislative branch’s job.

    There are obvious disanalogies here, but does that make sense?

    If the “law” is bad then address and reform it in the appropriate forum. But if the law is good and it can be shown that someone is not following it, then address the perpetrator.

  150. CD-Host said,

    April 9, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    @Hugh #146

    The issue is why is it correct. If Jeff were incapable of making arithmetic mistakes then it would be correct by property of Jeff. If Jeff is capable of making a mistake then it is correct by property of the equation.

    Remember when I made the comment about Paul and Calvin that you agreed with regarding Reform theology.

    Calvin is correct in so far as he agrees with Paul, Paul is correct by definition.

    That’s another way of saying Paul is infallible. Paul doesn’t get checked against some other source, he is the source. Calvin conversely at best can say something inerrant but never can be infallible.

  151. Hugh McCann said,

    April 10, 2013 at 12:08 am

    Right, David & CD, I get the difference.

    So, please, how can an inerrant statement be fallible?

    It’s author may capable of error, but once the statement’s inerrancy has been established, how can it then later have the ability to err?

    Its author HAD the possibility of erring in his construction of his statement, but now that it’s finished and determined to be inerrant, how can it be fallible?

    Statements cannot err or not err. Only their authors can.

    2+2=4 is infallible, no?

    The Westminster Standards in so far as they are inerrant are infallible, no?

    Thank you,
    Hugh

  152. Hugh McCann said,

    April 10, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Or, how can 2+2=4 have the ability to err?

  153. Ron said,

    April 10, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Peter Leithart vowed to uphold the system of doctrine taught in the Confession. Accordingly, in many ways it is much more efficient (and effective) to argue from the Confession and not Scripture. Consider, not all who embrace the Confession use the same verses as proof-texts to demonstrate particular confessional doctrines. Yet those doctrines the Confession teaches are to be upheld regardless how one arrives at them. Yet if one arrives at them in an unsatisfactory manner, it weakens his case. Consequently, tactically speaking it’s safer to reference the clear statements found in the Confession.

    What became a slightly more tricky part of the case is that although the WLC Q&A 68 mentions common operations of the Spirit that unbelievers may have, the Confession does not say too much about it; yet the writings of the Federal Vision, including Leithart’s, use this slice of doctrine as a kind of launching pad for their confusion over union with Christ. Their tactic has been to weave into the Federal Vision fabric (i) equivocal statements regarding baptism, (ii) the blurring of the visible and invisible church distinction and (iii) the common operations of the Spirit in the life of unbelievers. Yet even with all that to deal with, the Confession is sufficient to argue against such sophistry because the Confession not only does not affirm what Leithart has written it unambiguously denies his writings on these matters. That’s why I think using the Confession as a primary standard in the case was not only acceptable but even the best course of action.

    That brings me full circle. I too think it’s disgraceful, all this Monday morning quarterbacking. I probably can’t make that point strongly enough. Notwithstanding, I think there is one exception and that is when not only the SJC is faulted for the outcome of the case but in the process it is implied that the men on the committee are not confessional and even worse, dishonest for upholding for Leithart. I find that even more disheartening than the pile-on-the-prosecution I’m seeing. (It truly grieves me.)

    I can only wonder if the SJC would have responded differently to another approach, one that didn’t put Leithart’s beliefs on trial (whether intentionally or unintentionally), but instead ended up prosecuting him for his writings. When Leithart interpreted his writings in a very selective way that was more agreeable with the Confession, it should have been argued that the literal interpretation of his writings do not comport with his exegesis of them. That, of course, would have led to an impasse of sorts, unless something extraordinary happened. Then it might have been established that his writings both presupposed and implied that he thought he had discovered or rediscovered something novel for the church, but given that he really hadn’t it could have been proved that he was, therefore, unaware what Reformed theology has affirmed all along, that the visible church is to be regarded as God’s people. So, either Peter Leithart never understood the Reformed faith to begin with or else his writings were not intended to have been in concert with the Reformed faith in the first place (yet he now interprets them as such.) Again, I only mention this Monday-morning approach to the case because I don’t think the SJC was handed Leithart on a silver platter by any stretch but they are being accused as though he was.

    Finally, after reading the transcripts I can say that I would not have wanted to have been in Jason’s shoes (or on the stand either). I thought some of Jason’s statements were very good and downright clever at times. I have no hard feelings over how the case was prosecuted and I have nothing but respect for the SJC and all those who poured their hearts into this matter these past several years.

  154. John McNeely said,

    April 10, 2013 at 12:21 am

    David said #149
    “You cannot conclude that the Standards are operating as a “supreme judge” simply because they are being used as a proximate, derivative standard for a minister’s teachings in an ecclesiastical trial. For it to be supreme, there would have to be no higher authority above the Standards, no further “court of appeal” above the Standards”

    Your characterization of how the standards were used is not accurate. The defense repeatedly asked for scripture to be used to substantiate the charges. Their requests were repeatedly denied. If the standards are used instead of scripture, when the defense responds to the accusations with scripture the very thing happens that the prosecution supposedly hoped to avoid. Namely the accuracy of the prosecution’s understanding of standards interpretation versus Leithart’s becomes the point of contention. (the stadards are on trial) By continually denying the defense’s request for scripture references in the formal charges and responding with the WCF the prosecution was functionally communicating there was no appeal higher than the WCF.

    You also asked, “Why is the authorial element relevant to one and not the other?”

    Because as the Westminster Divines worded the confession, the only infallible source is the Holy Spirit speaking through scripture. Do you believe the WCF to be a source where the Holy Spirit infallibly speaks? That would seem to be the logical conclusion to believing it is an inerrant summary of Scripture. You cannot say it is an inerrant summary of scripture then say it is fallible. The subject of the WCF’s alleged inerrant summary is infallible. The authors of the WCF were not transcendent. The Author of scripture is transcendent. He still speaks through scripture. That is why the authorial element is relevant to scripture and not the WCF. That is why you can say scripture is infallible and inerrant. You can try to make a case that the WCF is inerrant but then because the WCF is a summary of scripture you fall into the trap of functionally communicating the WCF is of equal or superior authority with scripture. The WCF continually points back to scripture. It nowhere points to itself as the rule for faith and practice.

  155. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 10, 2013 at 7:15 am

    Hugh, to say that a statement is infallible means that its source and the process that produced it are not capable of being wrong.

    Hence the Scripture is infallible because it is God’s Word. It could not hypothetically be in error “if God just happened to make a mistake.”

    Meanwhile, 2+2=5, oops 4 is fallible because the source and process are hypothetically capable of error.

    You’re correct that an inerrant statement of itself is not erroneous, but that’s not what infallible means.

  156. Hugh McCann said,

    April 10, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Jeff @155 – OK, I get it about the source & process, but please, how can an inerrant statement err once it exists in its final form?

    2+2=4 is now incapable of error. So too the WCF.

    These had the possibility of error in their composition, but once they’re completed, they cannot be said to be able to err. If they are incapable of erring, they are infallible.

    Infallible* is not defined as you give it: “to say that a statement is infallible means that its source and the process that produced it are not capable of being wrong.” From where do you derive your definition?

    I get your point, but we are talking about statements, equations or confessions, not their sources.

    Greenbaggins readers & moderators – can you help?

    * @ Merriam-Webster:
    1: incapable of error : unerring “an infallible memory”
    2: not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint : certain “an infallible remedy”
    3: incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals

    * @ Dictionary.com:
    1. absolutely trustworthy or sure: an infallible rule.
    2. unfailing in effectiveness or operation; certain: an infallible remedy.
    3. not fallible; exempt from liability to error, as persons, their judgment, or pronouncements: an infallible principle.
    4. Roman Catholic Church; immune from fallacy or liability to error in expounding matters of faith or morals by virtue of the promise made by Christ to the Church.

  157. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 10, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Hugh, you’ll notice that all three M-W definitions as well #2-4 in dictionary.com are predicated about source and process, not about statements. It is the memory, the remedy that is infallible.

    And actually, so is #1 from dictionary.com. The rule produces various propositions or judgments. In its operation, it is not able to err.

    It’s not a big deal. No one is alleging that 2+2 is not 4 in some alternate universe (just in base 3 … kidding). We’re just drawing a distinction between

    statements that are correct (inerrant), but could have, hypothetically, been in error (and therefore need checking).

    AND

    statements that could not (infallible and inerrant), hypothetically, be in error (and are therefore above checking).

  158. Hugh McCann said,

    April 10, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Thanks Jeff –

    OK, in the WCF, there are statements that are correct (inerrant), but could have, hypothetically, been in error (and therefore need checking)?

    And in the Bible, we have only statements that could not (infallible and inerrant), hypothetically, be in error (and are therefore above checking)?

  159. Hugh McCann said,

    April 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks again, Jeff. I don’t see why these statements are untrue:

    Though written by fallible men who were capable of error,
    the Westminster Confession of Faith is inerrant (without error)
    and therefore is incapable of error; unerring;
    not liable to mislead, deceive, or disappoint; certain,
    incapable of error in defining doctrines touching faith or morals.

    Further, the WCF in it final, inerrant form
    is absolutely trustworthy & sure,
    an infallible rule.
    It is unfailing in its effectiveness or operation;
    it is certain.
    It is not fallible;
    it is exempt from liability to error;
    in its pronouncements it is an infallible principle.

    In its final, inerrant form,
    The WCF is immune from fallacy
    or liability to error in expounding matters of faith or morals
    by virtue of its inerrancy.

  160. CD-Host said,

    April 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    @Hugh #156

    I think he’s trying to say this. Infallibility is a property of the author. Inerrancy is a property of a statement.

    This came originally from liberalism. Liberals during the 19th century had to make credal statements that the bible was “infallible”. Which has always been understood as meaning that everything it said was true. But that belief was getting harder to maintain and so more and more believed that the bible was infallible but errant. That is they believed it communicated what it needed to about salvation perfectly but on statements of geology or history it was communications devices. The Holy Spirit was incapable of error i.e. the Holy Spirit infallible but the process of communication with man introduced error. Princeton and Fuller adopted this position.

    Part of the defining characteristics of the 4th great awakening, the current surge away from the mainline churches to the evangelical churches was the argument that infallibility implied inerrancy.
    http://www.churchcouncil.org/ICCP_org/Documents_ICCP/English/01_Biblical_Inerrancy_A&D.pdf

    So for a PCAer it became axiomatic that infallible -> inerrant but they still accepted the basic distinction between an infallible author and an inerrant statement.

    Don’t go by the dictionary here. David and Jeff are using these words in ways specific to evangelical and Conservative Catholic Christianity.

  161. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    If we said this, then would not the WCF be incapable of revision?

  162. Hugh McCann said,

    April 10, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    CD 160 – I get the distinction & am somewhat aware of the history in evangelical & neo-orthodox & liberal debates.

    But author and composition are two different things.

    Jeff 161 – No, if it’s inerrant, then the WCF it has no need of revision. It has no mistakes within it to revise!

    It may be incomplete, since it was composed by fallible men, and hence, possibly in need of addenda but it is inerrant.

  163. Ron said,

    April 10, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Jeff / Hugh,

    I think I am detecting some questionable statements that need at least some refinement.

    “Hugh, to say that a statement is infallible means that its source and the process that produced it are not capable of being wrong.”

    If God was the sole “process” in the producing (and receiving) of Scripture then indeed that’s true without question because God is incapable of error being God. However, the process that produced Scripture included fallible men, who although were preserved from error (as well as under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost) were indeed capable of error as men, just not in that instance.Therefore, the definition being used might be a bit too all-encompassing because in a sense men are always capable of error being men. Now if we wish to say that in that particular instance of producing Scripture they were not capable of error because they were writing under inspiriation, then should we also be willing to say the same thing of any process in which God providentially preserves the process from error, say in the production of a math book? Under such circumstances, God can be said to have made the process incapable of error virtue of his decree and the ordained, metaphysical principles that would ensure its fruition through ordinary providence. However, I don’t think we want to say that. So, if we wish to include men in the process of Scripture, then the definition of infallible would have to draw a distinction between divine inspiration and ordinary providence, which too is divinely ordered.

    “Meanwhile, 2+2=5, oops 4 is fallible because the source and process are hypothetically capable of error.

    The source of 2+2=4 is God. That’s why 2+2 cannot equal 5. The process of writing math curriculums with such formulations as 2+2=4 is fallible even though the math books might have been providentially preserved to be without error.

  164. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Hugh: In which case, it would be best not to say that the WCF is inerrant.

  165. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    Ron: If God was the sole “process” in the producing (and receiving) of Scripture then indeed that’s true without question because God is incapable of error being God.

    We are saying that God is the source of Scripture, and inspiration is the process, which is ground for infallibility.

    Ron: Now if we wish to say that in that particular instance of producing Scripture they were not capable of error because they were writing under inspiriation, then should we also be willing to say the same thing of any process in which God providentially preserves the process from error, say in the production of a math book?

    Because the writing of math books is not done under inspiration. God’s providence allows people to make errors; hence, providence alone is not a sufficient condition for infallibility.

    Ron: The source of 2+2=4 is God. That’s why 2+2 cannot equal 5.

    I don’t actually agree there. The abstract concept of addition may well be a fundamental fact of the universe, and the source of general revelation is certainly God.

    But the actual symbols ‘2’ and ‘+’ and ‘=’ were not delivered in tablets to Moses, and the stringing of those symbols together to form a sentence is a process capable of error. Hence: not infallible.

    There is a difference between a concept and its encoding in symbols. This is why we consider the Scriptures in the original languages to be infallible, but not the translations thereof.

    I sense we’re getting into a Clark/non-Clark area, so I’ll leave off.

  166. Ron said,

    April 10, 2013 at 2:57 pm

    Hugh wrote:

    It may be incomplete, since it was composed by fallible men, and hence, possibly in need of addenda but it is inerrant.

    Jeff replied:

    Hugh: In which case, it would be best not to say that the WCF is inerrant.

    Hi Jeff,

    It sounds as though you’re saying that on the basis of it being less than exhaustive relative to some standard of “100% exhaustive” it should not be called inerrant. In other words, it is not inerrant because it’s “incomplete” (i.e. could address more doctrine).

    Although I wouldn’t want to refer the standards as inerrant (even if I thought they were without error), I find it a bit unusual to refrain from calling it inerrant strictly based upon it not including more doctrine. Hugh could simply reply: “It’s inerrant in what it states.”

  167. Ron said,

    April 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    But the actual symbols ’2′ and ‘+’ and ‘=’ were not delivered in tablets to Moses, and the stringing of those symbols together to form a sentence is a process capable of error. Hence: not infallible.

    Jeff,

    You have the same problem with assigning symbols to words found in Scripture. Most of Scripture wasn’t dictated let alone the symbols. If you want to talk propostions, then the propositions of basic math and Scripture come from God. If you want to talk symbols, you’re in the same boat in both cases, Scripture and math.

  168. Ron said,

    April 10, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    God’s providence allows people to make errors; hence, providence alone is not a sufficient condition for infallibility.

    Jeff,

    As I noted, I was clearly speaking of divine providence that ensures no error, which God ordaines most frequently. That sort of providence is sufficient for “no error” by the nature of the case, which is why I suggested that the definition you gave to Hugh needs refinement, in order to distinguish from divine providence that preserves error and inspiration.

  169. Ron said,

    April 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    God’s providence allows people to make errors; hence, providence alone is not a sufficient condition for infallibility.

    Jeff,

    More clearly…

    As I noted, I was clearly speaking of divine providence that ensures no error, which God ordaines most frequently. That sort of providence is sufficient for “no error” by the nature of the case, which is why I suggested that the definition you gave to Hugh needs refinement, in order to distinguish between two sorts of preserving from error: (a) divine providence that preserves from error and (b) inspiration.

  170. marknen said,

    April 10, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    How can it be “congregationalist with regard to the relationship between presbyteries and general assembly” when congregationalists neither have presbyteries nor general assemblies?

  171. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 10, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    Ron (#166): I was responding to Hugh’s “No, if it’s inerrant, then the WCF it has no need of revision.”

  172. Tim Harris said,

    April 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    BTW CD-host, I don’t think your comment re Princeton is quite right. Princeton insisted “infallible therefore inerrant” while its liberal opponents were saying “errant yet infallible,” infallible defined along the lines of sufficient to find the way of salvation or whatnot. The liberal position was incoherent however, since on that view it is not Scripture that is infallible, but rather God who is able to accomplish salvation despite the inherent errancy (and thus per se fallibility) of the text.

    Perhaps you are thinking of B. B. Warfield’s proposal for how to interpret the genealogies to permit a much longer time scale than Usher. However, this proposal was motivated just because he affirmed inerrancy, and ALSO accepted the long time periods of science. An errantist in that position would simply say the genealogies were wrong, technically and literally, but good enough to the spiritual point that is being made.

  173. Hugh McCann said,

    April 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    John @154 asked ~

    Because as the Westminster Divines worded the confession, the only infallible source is the Holy Spirit speaking through scripture. Do you believe the WCF to be a source where the Holy Spirit infallibly speaks? That would seem to be the logical conclusion to believing it is an inerrant summary of Scripture. You cannot say it is an inerrant summary of scripture then say it is fallible.

    John, I realize you’re making more than this point in your post, but I want to highlight this one that seems to be escaping the others here (except possibly Ron). Thanks!

  174. Jeff Cagle said,

    April 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Hugh, to be clear: I’m on board with John in resisting the idea that the WCF has equivalent status to Scripture. That’s the important point; the exact terminology is less so.

  175. CD-Host said,

    April 11, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    @Tim #171

    I’ve been following up on your comment. I was right about Fuller dropping the criteria (quoting an iffy but long source: http://www.biblical-data.org/Fuller_seminary.pdf)

    1947: “The books which form the canon of the Old and New Testaments as originally given are plenarily [fully] inspired and free from all error in the whole and in the part.

    1971: “Scripture is an essential part and trustworthy record of this divine self-disclosure.”

    I keep running into the claim that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton seminaries had all dropped it by then (1971). Princeton being the most important because of the importance Old Princeton had played prior to the 1920s.

    If you have anything beyond that, I’m all ears.

  176. Tim Harris said,

    April 11, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    CD — oh, certainly by 1971. I meant pre-1928.

  177. Tim Harris said,

    April 11, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    @Hugh #152

    Because the WCF is written by uninspired men, it is in principle fallible, and always will be. It might always be that with improved theological acumen, people will discover an error some time in the future. Yet, prior to that occurring, one could believe it to be without error, hence inerrant. The point is, that belief is defeasible.

    In that sense, it follows that one could never KNOW that the WCF was inerrant; yet one could hold the corrigible opinion that it be so.

    In contrast, we CAN know that Scripture is inerrant, since it follows from its being the infallible the Word of God.

    With this clarification, what is the cash value of saying that some proposition P or set of propositions S is “inerrant” rather than simply saying “P is true” or even more simply, “P”?

    I guess there really isn’t any payback, other than it can be a helpful way to illustrate the difference between infallibility and inerrancy.

  178. Tim Harris said,

    April 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    oops, that’s @Hugh #172 not 152.

  179. Ron said,

    April 11, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    In that sense, it follows that one could never KNOW that the WCF was inerrant; yet one could hold the corrigible opinion that it be so.

    Hi Tim,

    Yet you do allow for one to know that a set of propositions is true. So, although I appreciate and agree with the distinction between infallible and inerrant, the former being predicated upon inspiration, are you also drawing a distinction between inerrant and true? In other words, you allow for knowledge of uninspired truth yet do not allow one to know something is inerrant?

  180. Ron said,

    April 11, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    In other words, one can know that the WCF contains a set of defined propositions that that are all true; it just can’t be known that they are inerrant? I’m trying to tease out the difference between inerrant and true with respect to the proposition itself and it’s knowability. If we index the truth of inerrant propositions to inspiration, I don’t see why those propositions are any more knowable than other true propositions (especially given you’re not Clarkian). So, it seems to me that all you’re saying is that one can know that the WCF is true but it can’t be known it’s inerrant, but that would only be due to it not being written under inspiration. In which case, the difference is a semantic one, not an epistemic one. Yes? It’s late and I’m tired so I am probably confusing something quite evident.

  181. Tim Harris said,

    April 12, 2013 at 12:11 am

    Ron,

    No, the burden of my point in #176 was to say that “inerrant” and “is true” say the same thing. However, thinking about your questions leads me to suggest that perhaps there is a difference in how “inerrant” is used in different contexts.

    If someone says, “the WCF is inerrant,” he means he has examined all the propositions P1, P2, … contained therein, and is willing to affirm “Pn” for all n, with specific content for each.

    On the other hand, when we say Scripture is inerrant, we are saying something different. It is now a purely formal statement. Whatever proposition Pn is asserted by Scripture, Pn=true, even though I may only even be cognizant of a small subset of {Pn}. WCF chapter 14 teaches a Protestant version of implicit faith: “By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein.” The “whatsoever” is purely formal; it’s content has not yet been exhaustively exhibited prior to the affirmation. It is thus analogous to the papist that says, “I don’t know much about what I believe, but whatever the Church believes, that is what I believe.”

    But this method could never be applied in affirming inerrancy of the WCF. One could never say, “I haven’t finished reading or studying the WCF, yet I know it is without error.”

    So, when “inerrant” refers to implicit, formal faith (as in the content of Scripture), then it would be equivocating to say that the same concept is being applied when affirming that any uninspired document believed to be true were inerrant.

  182. Ron said,

    April 12, 2013 at 6:45 am

    Great clarifying response, Tim. I also happen to agree with it. You also seemed to appreciate what I was driving at. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea that we could never know that a revised version of the standards was without error because it would still be uninspired. For instance, what if it was reduced to Justification by grace through faith alone? As you say thouugh, being inspired affords implicit knowledge that whatever is stated we can know to be true, which may not be said of the standards or anything other than God’s word.

  183. April 13, 2013 at 11:14 am

    [...] his defection to Rome.  Stellman also cried these same crocodile tears on Lane Keister’s Greenbaggins blog [...]


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