An Answer to TE Rayburn, part 5

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.

34 Comments

  1. KJ Drake said,

    February 3, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    Lane,
    You seem to miss the point that TE Rayburn is raising. He asks, “Whether any of Dr. Leithart’s teaching actually amounts to a strike at the vitals of the “system of doctrine” taught in the Westminster Standard.” The BCO seems to say that one is only “out of accord with any of the fundamentals of these doctrinal standards,” as the SJC claims TE Leithart is, if it be found that the difference of the presbyter is “hostile to the system” or “strikes at the vitals of religion.” (BCO 21-4ef) The report by the SJC gave no consideration to this question. Seeing as the PCA does have a policy of systematic subscription, regardless of your personal thoughts, the SJC is surely to be found wanting for failing to address this fundamental question of the case.

  2. Andrew Voelkel said,

    February 3, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Reading this blog is causing major heart burn, so I must quit.
    As I depart for a while (maybe forever) I encourage you to read your own ordination vows and reconsider some of your positions asserted and strategies employed in this blog. Leithart is a minister in good standing in our church, and he is in subjection to his Presbytery. He does not have to receive or adopt the Westminster Standards as THE system of doctrine found in the scriptures, nor should he be faulted for attempting to preach and teach as if the the scriptures were our only infallible rule of faith and practice. He has made his views known to Presbytery, and his Presbytery has found his views to be acceptable for now. If he needs to be corrected, may the proper church courts do it, and do it well.
    ——————-
    PCA BCO 21-5

    Questions for Ordination
    1. 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?
    2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and
    the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of
    doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further
    promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with
    any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you
    will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery
    the change which has taken place in your views since the
    assumption of this ordination vow?
    3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of
    the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the
    general principles of Biblical polity?
    4. Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord?
    5. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart,
    to seek the office of the holy ministry from love to God and a
    sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?
    6. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the
    truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of
    the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise
    unto you on that account?
    7. Do you engage to be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all
    your duties as a Christian and a minister of the Gospel, whether
    personal or relational, private or public; and to endeavor by the
    grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your
    manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before the
    flock of which God shall make you overseer?
    8. Are you now willing to take the charge of this church,
    agreeable to your declaration when accepting their call?
    And do you, relying upon God for strength, promise to
    discharge to it the duties of a pastor?

  3. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 3, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Leithart is a minister in good standing in our church, and he is in subjection to his Presbytery.

    Thank you for pointing this out, as it needs to be heard and appreciated repeatedly.

    As a result of this process, that status may change.

    But until it does, we are commanded in the Word (1 Tim 5.17-21) to treat Dr. Leithart with dignity and honor.

  4. jared said,

    February 4, 2010 at 12:13 am

    I’m also curious. Lane says, “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.” Yet that seems to be exactly what the vow says. What gives?

  5. TurretinFan said,

    February 4, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Jeff Cagle wrote: “But until it does, we are commanded in the Word (1 Tim 5.17-21) to treat Dr. Leithart with dignity and honor.”

    It seems your understanding of that passage, Jeff, is a little unusual. Let’s imagine a more extreme example than the one we have now. Suppose that Leithart was saying that the Scriptures are not the word of God, or that he was saying that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Surely the appropriate course of action in such an instance (totally without regard to any action or inaction by his presbytery) would be to regard such a man as an unbeliever.

    Thankfully, that is a far more extreme situation than the one we are faced with, but it highlights the fact that the bare inaction of a man’s presbytery is not a barrier to our consideration of the man’s orthodoxy.

    Jared: You make an interesting point. The relevant ordination vow seems to be:

    2. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

    It looks as though (if that is being interpreted as “system” subscription) modification of the ordination vow may be necessary to avoid confusion.

  6. Kevin+ said,

    February 4, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Lane, in preperation for my own ordination I have been reading & thinking about the vows rather closely lately. And it seems to me that you might have misrepresented what the requirement is.

    It seems to me that we do in fact accept the WCF as “containing the system of doctrine taught in the holy Scriptures…” etc.

    Am I missing something?

  7. February 4, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    TF,

    … the bare inaction of a man’s presbytery is not a barrier to our consideration of the man’s orthodoxy.

    The Pacific Northwest Presbytery has not been “inactive” in attempting to deal with this, I am sure you know. We have been addressing this for a couple years now.

  8. greenbaggins said,

    February 4, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Of the three people who have asked questions about the ordination vow, it is crystal clear to me that none of the three got what I was trying to say. The ordination vow says that we believe that the WS ARE the system of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture. The vow does NOT say that there are many systems of doctrine taught in Holy Scripture, of which the WS constitute one of them. That is the difference between THE system versus A system. Hope this clarifies. Please re-read the post.

  9. David Gray said,

    February 4, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    >The Pacific Northwest Presbytery has not been “inactive” in attempting to deal with this, I am sure you know. We have been addressing this for a couple years now.

    The Presbytery cleared Leithart, didn’t they?

  10. greenbaggins said,

    February 4, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Yes, they did, David, which is why the decision has been complained to the next higher level, the SJC.

  11. rfwhite said,

    February 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Could the point in the lead post be restated as follows: we vow that we believe that the Westminster Standards have as their content the system of doctrine taught in Scripture? In other words, the content of the Standards is the system taught in Scripture; the content of the Standards is not a subset of the system taught in Scripture. The system taught in the Standards is the system taught in Scripture. Is this correct?

  12. greenbaggins said,

    February 4, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    Yes, Dr. White, that is exactly what I am trying to say. Obviously, you said it a lot clearer than I did.

  13. greenbaggins said,

    February 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    On the issue of TE Leithart’s standing, I recognize that he is a member in good standing of his Presbytery. Otherwise, I would not call him TE Leithart. Neither am I attempting to call him names of any sort. But my opinion is that he is teaching things that are contrary to the Standards, and I am making that opinion known. I am seeking to do so in as dispassionate a way as I can, for the debates usually generate more heat than light, and I would prefer the reverse. But how is stating that I believe his opinions to be out of accord with the Standards somehow being disrespectful of TE Leithart?

  14. February 4, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    David,

    The Presbytery cleared Leithart, didn’t they?

    Yes, but the issue is still ongoing (three of us presented our complaint to a panel of the SJC, which ruled in our favor against the PNWP. If the SJC itself upholds the panel’s decision, there may be charges forthcoming).

  15. Reed Here said,

    February 4, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Lane, #13:

    It’s not disrespectful, and people of good intent on both sides of the issue will agree.

    Bombastic boasters will be firestarters no matter what you say. May the immature heed your wisdom and not play with matches.

  16. February 4, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    If my home State of California banned newspapers from printing editorials, I could appeal the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If they ruled against me, I could appeal to the US Supreme Court. If they ruled in my favor, then the 9th Circuit and local California courts have to abide by the decision.

    I’m not sure how I would be disrespectful of the politicians and judges of the lower courts by questioning and appealing their actions. And I’m not sure I understand Andrew Voelkel’s point about TE Leithart’s being a member in good standing of his lower court…What has that to do with anything…..? Andrew, what exactly are you suggesting?

  17. David Gray said,

    February 4, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    >If they ruled in my favor, then the 9th Circuit and local California courts have to abide by the decision.

    Even if it says that abortion enjoys constitutional protection.

  18. February 4, 2010 at 5:06 pm

    “>If they ruled in my favor, then the 9th Circuit and local California courts have to abide by the decision.

    Even if it says that abortion enjoys constitutional protection.”

    Yes, David. We Americans have a system that won’t make everyone happy (especially theonomistic libertarians like me). So I can move, or rebel, or submit, either accepting the ruling on faith, or quietly and legally working within the system to further my agenda. It’s not really that different than the system we’re discussing.

  19. David Gray said,

    February 4, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    >It’s not really that different than the system we’re discussing.

    So you assert that the PCA system is about power rather than truth? Even I’ve not suggested that…

  20. February 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    Grow up, David. If you want to run to the modern US Reformed Baptist model, which has a very, very general constitution and the individual churches can do basically as they please, then do so. But your impact on the thinking of those 99% of paedobaptists who take Jethro’s advice to Moses and the Acts 15 council seriously will just dismiss your opinion on the matter.

    This whole FV garbage is like KJV only thinking. Maybe one person in confessional Reformed churches out of 200 takes it seriously. Don’t think you are more influential or numerous than you are.

  21. Reed Here said,

    February 4, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    Tim: remember, David’s deliberately being provocative. Shoot ’em down for sure (love ya David :-)), but try not let him provoke you.

    Just a friendly caution.

  22. February 4, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    I’m a division 1 All American in wrestling. I love it when people are being deliberately provocative. It’s easier to beat them. The main problem in this sort of format is to force them to either back up their point or to concede they were wrong, and that’s another benefit of being in a Presbyterian system. The mills may grind slowly, but they grind thoroughly.

  23. David Gray said,

    February 4, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    >David’s deliberately being provocative

    Actually I”m deliberately trying to get him to think through his flawed analogy. I confess that I seem to have failed, this time.

  24. David Gray said,

    February 4, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    >Don’t think you are more influential or numerous than you are.

    I’m not actually FV. But I have a sufficient sense of what is honorable, I believe, to oppose the dishonorable conduct that has frequently, although not invariably, characterized anti-FV activists.

  25. David Gray said,

    February 4, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    BTW Mr. Vaughan you seem to have put your email where a URL should be, if you wish to provide one. This makes your email publicly available which you may not wish to be the case.

  26. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 4, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    Lane (#13):

    I’m sorry for being overly broad. You have been debating the ideas, not targeting the man; that seems precisely what we’re called to do, and no criticism of it was intended.

    I rather had in mind certain comments in the threads which presume guilt or convey a sense of “good riddance.”

    Thanks for your efforts,
    Jeff Cagle

  27. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    TurretinFan (#5):

    It seems your understanding of that passage, Jeff, is a little unusual. Let’s imagine a more extreme example than the one we have now. Suppose that Leithart was saying that the Scriptures are not the word of God, or that he was saying that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Surely the appropriate course of action in such an instance (totally without regard to any action or inaction by his presbytery) would be to regard such a man as an unbeliever.

    I agree with your basic diagnosis, but I was focusing on remedy.

    If my pastor next week preached such from the pulpit (!!), I would consider the appropriate remedy to be to (a) talk with him, (b) check the recording, and (c) notify Presbytery. And, to leave the church.

    But I would not consider it an appropriate remedy to go publishing on an Internet blog that pastor X is not really Reformed and should just go become a Unitarian (you haven’t done this necessarily … I’m just giving an example).

    Such a public statement really stands outside of the authority of the visible church and is not supported by its verdicts; and as such, it is, well, lawless.

    It dresses up the personal opinion of the speaker in the language of an official decision of a church court.

    So yes: One should form opinions about doctrine and which teachers should be treated with caution or ignored entirely. But those opinions need not be broadcasted publicly. That was my point: Wise as serpents, harmless as doves.

  28. TurretinFan said,

    February 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    I had said: “… the bare inaction of a man’s presbytery is not a barrier to our consideration of the man’s orthodoxy.”

    Jason J. Stellman said: “The Pacific Northwest Presbytery has not been “inactive” in attempting to deal with this, I am sure you know. We have been addressing this for a couple years now.”

    Agreed. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise.

    My comment regarding inactivity was in the context of “Leithart is a minister in good standing in our church, and he is in subjection to his Presbytery.” My point being simply that his presbytery has not yet acted to remove him from office, despite his very public signature on the Federal Vision Joint Statement (to give just one instance). Only in that limited sense has it been “inactive.”

    Even if his presbytery had passed a resolution commending him as “the most orthodox man we ever met” — even that would not serve as a barrier to our consideration of his orthodoxy.

    -TurretinFan

  29. TurretinFan said,

    February 4, 2010 at 7:06 pm

    Jeff Cagle said: “But those opinions need not be broadcasted publicly.”

    Certainly such is not absolutely required in every instance. There can, however, be a need for such warnings to be made public.

    While speaking the truth unseasonably is a violation of the ninth commandment (and should be guarded against), so is “concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calls for either a reproof from ourselves, or complaint to others … .” (WLC q/a 145)

    It is for that reason that I (among others) have publicly addressed some of the matters, as well as why, God willing, I plan to provide a number of further responses.

    – TurretinFan

  30. February 4, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    “This makes your email publicly available which you may not wish to be the case.”

    That’s fine.

  31. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Well, it’s one thing to talk about ideas. For example, I’ve criticized the FVJS’s ecclesiology. But it’s another to make public declarations about persons as “false teachers.” To wit:

    (1) Without facts on the ground, we have a hard time distinguishing between errors of “acts of infirmity that may be amended” and more serious errors.
    (2) Full context is hard to come by (though I would regard you as likely to do due dilligence).
    (3) Why would you feel that you are the person to make those declarations? Should they not come through proper channels?

    (Or are you planning more a discussion of the ideas?)

    Here’s the background: we all know of at least one case where someone has gotten a bee in their bonnet about pastor X and started telling others that he is a false teacher. Some of these folk even put up websites “mypastorisaheretic.com” or whathaveyou.

    It seems to me that this is simply out of order. Quite apart from the question of whether the pastor really is a heretic, some actions are inappropriate.

    Thanks,
    Jeff Cagle

  32. TurretinFan said,

    February 4, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Jeff Cagle wrote: “Without facts on the ground, we have a hard time distinguishing between errors of ‘acts of infirmity that may be amended’ and more serious errors.”

    I’m not sure I would disagree with that. I would hope no one would confuse my demonstration of someone’s doctrinal errors with the exercise of church discipline.

    Jeff Cagle wrote: “Full context is hard to come by (though I would regard you as likely to do due dilligence).”

    Context is important, of course. It’s necessary that any criticism of teaching be a fair reflection of the teaching.

    Jeff Cagle wrote: “Why would you feel that you are the person to make those declarations?”

    a) Not just declarations, but explanations and demonstrations.

    b) That’s my calling.

    Jeff Cagle wrote: “Should they not come through proper channels?

    a) The disciplinary channels should be acting, and God willing they will act appropriately (and in some cases, they have acted appropriately). What I’m doing is not an exercise of church discipline, nor a substitute for it.

    b) And, of course, if I viewed public response to public statements an improper channel, I wouldn’t pursue it. I don’t think you would disagree with me that it is proper to publicly respond to public teaching.

    -TurretinFan

  33. Jeff Cagle said,

    February 4, 2010 at 8:39 pm

    I don’t think you would disagree with me that it is proper to publicly respond to public teaching.

    Yes, I agree. Just so long as we’re clear on the ideas v. persons distinction, which you seem to be.


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