The next issue is really the big issue: does TE Leithart teach things that are out of accord with the Westminster Standards. TE Rayburn believes (bottom of p. 2, and top of p. 3) that this has not been proven. More specifically, TE Rayburn believes that the panel is attempting to have their cake and eat it too by saying that TE Leithart is part of the “broader Reformed community,” yet is out of accord with the Westminster standards on fundamental issues. So, we will deal with two issues here. First, the relation of the confession to the broader Reformed community, and then secondly, whether TE Leithart teaches things that are out of accord with the Westminster Standards.
What TE Rayburn is saying amounts to this: the essentials of the Westminster Standards correspond to the broader Reformed community. This would correspond roughly to a “system subscription” view of the Westminster Standards, which, in my mind, creates a standard within the standards. It amounts to a limitation of the essentials of the system to an indeterminate number of doctrinal points, and then saying that that is the Reformed faith. I have dealt with various views of subscription here. The one point I wish to reiterate here is that the Federal Vision debate is NOT about strict subscription! My position is not strict subscription. But people do not understand what good faith subscription actually is. Good faith subscription means that candidates declare their differences with the confession, which are then ruled on by the Presbytery in accordance with the new RAO requirements, and then the Presbytery (after due examination) takes on good faith that the candidate agrees with everything else in the standards. The reason this is important is that some may believe that the particular points controverted are non-essential points to the system.
However, if one does not hold to a system, or loose subscription, then it is quite possible to belong to the “broader Reformed community” and yet hold views that are contrary to the system of doctrine in essential points. For instance, it could easily be argued that Reformed Baptists be included in the “broader Reformed community,” if one defines “Reformed” not as confessionally Reformed, but as soteriologically Reformed. And yet, what Presbytery would ordain a Reformed Baptist? They are part of the “broader Reformed community” and yet they hold views which strike at the essentials of the system of doctrine, particularly on the issues of covenant, church, and baptism. We need here to be reminded of the vows that we take as office-bearers in the church. We vow that we believe that the Westminster Confession is the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. We do not take a vow that states: “I believe that the Westminster Standards contain the system (or worse, a system) of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture.” This would be a Barthian confessionalism. These vows mean that any differences, however small, need to be taken very seriously by Presbyteries.
Secondly, does TE Leithart teach views that are out of accord with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards? I believe that he does.
1. TE Leithart’s views on justification collide with the confession on several points. First of all, he connects justification and baptism way too closely (see p. 75 of The Baptized Body). He ascribes a deliverance from sin (his word is “deliverdict”) to justification, and it is most certainly not merely a judicial deliverance from sin’s guilt. He does this by committing the word-concept fallacy in Romans 6:7 (just because the word “justify” is there does not mean that this verse speaks to justification). But the Reformed doctrine of justification is about a verdict of “not guilty,” and it has to do solely with guilt, not with deliverance from sin’s power. The deliverance from sin’s power happens in sanctification, both definitive and progressive. See the following phrases from the WCF: 11.1 “Those whom God effectually calleth, He also freely justifieth: not by infusing righteousness into them, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for any thing wrought in them” (which both definitive and progressive sanctification most certainly are wrought in the believer); 13.1, which hints at definitive sanctification: ” They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, etc.” This last reference clearly connects any positional sanctification to progressive sanctification, and not to justification, whereas TE Leithart clearly connects definitive sanctification to justification. The next point will wait for the next post.