The Substance of the Leithart Trial: Highlights from Leithart’s Testimony

I would like to provide here a few quotes from the Peter Leithart trial. You can read them all in context here. Here is a portion of the testimony

  1. “As the baptized person passes through the waters he or she is joined into the fellowship of Christ, shares in his body, shares in the spirit that inhabits and animates the body and participates in the resurrection power of Jesus.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 186).
  2. “Through baptism we enter into the new life of the spirit, receive a grant of divine power and are incorporated into Christ’s body and die and rise again with Christ. In the purification of baptism we are cleansed of our former sins and begin to participate in the divine nature and the power of Jesus resurrection.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 186).
  3. “The baptized in the new covenant enters into, is initiated into a community that is the body of the incarnate and ascended son that has received the spirit. And being a member of that particular community, I’m arguing, is – – is never a simply an external matter because of the nature of the community.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 187).
  4. “Baptism into membership in the community of Christ therefore also confers the arrabon of the spirit and in this sense too it a regenerating ordinance. There can be no merely social membership in this family.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 188).
  5. PROSECUTION [Stellman]: “Well, my – – my question is. I’m asking you is this your view namely that the – – the arrabon of the Holy Spirit, the down payment of future glory is given to all members of the visible church merely by being baptized and can be lost by those members of the visible church who later apostasize.
    WITNESS [Leithart]: Yeah, I – – I would say yes.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 190).
  6. “What would Adam have to do in order to inherit the tree of knowledge, which is I think the sign of – – of the glory that he was going to be given. He would have to trust God. And he would have to obey him. How do we receive eternal life? We trust Jesus and out of that trust we obey him. That’s the point I’m making about the continuity.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 194).
  7. “Yes we do have the same obligations that Adam and Abraham and Moses and David and Jesus had namely the obedience of faith. And yes, covenant faithfulness is the way to salvation for the doers of the law will be justified at the final judgment. But this is all done in union with Christ so that our covenant faithfulness is dependent on the work of the spirit of Christ in us and our covenant faithfulness is about faith trusting the spirit to – – to will and to do of his good pleasure.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 195).
  8. Q [Stellman]: But, okay. Let me ask this then. Are we, do we receive the eschatological inheritance by virtue of our perfect, personal and perpetual obedience?
    A [Leithart]: Obedience that’s coming out of faith? Yes.
    Q: So what the Confession says of Adam that he was to receive life, that life was promised to him upon condition of per- – perfect – – let me finish – –
    A: Yeah. I’m sorry. Yeah, I’m sorry. I – I need to change my answer. I didn’t – – I didn’t follow the whole question before. Perfect personal obedience? No. I didn’t – – I misstated. Are we, are we, do we receive the inheritance by a faith that produces obedience that’s what I would affirm.
    Q: I fail to see then how I am the one importing this extra-confessional, meritorious, or I forget the exact word that you used, legal structure upon what the Confession says about the covenant of works versus the covenant of grace. Because I just asked you, if that’s the case then, must we walk in, do we receive the inheritance based upon our perfect, perpetual and personal obedience the way the Confession says that Adam would have. And now you’re saying, the answer is no.
    A: Correct. The perfect, personal and perpetual obedience is not what is required of us because Christ has done that for us, we trust in him. But do we trust and obey? Again in that level, at that level of generality, Adam’s calling and our calling are the same.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 198).
  9. “COMMISSIONER: Dr. Leithart, [Acts] 2:38. Repent to be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In your judgment, does baptism confer the forgiveness of sins?
    WITNESS [Leithart]: That’s what the text says. Yeah.
    Q: What does that mean when, when you – – when you say that and by that you mean water baptism confers the forgiveness of sins. What do you mean by that?
    A: Right. Again, as was pointed out yesterday, water baptism is one part of, it’s – – it’s the visible portion of an event that involves God’s action. It is God’s action. And I would also point out that I’m, I can – – I can find exceptions, where I would say, you know, did some of these sins actually get forgiven if you have a, somebody who’s a settled hypocrite. If the paradigm is the, an infant of believing parents and they are baptized. Can I say to that infant as he grows, Jesus loves you, you are righteous before him, your sins are forgiven? And he says. How do I know? Can I point him to his baptism as a sign that that’s happened? I think I can, yes. And I think baptism, again, I’m explaining all this, the – – the – – the power of all this, I think, is the – – the reality of baptism as a entry into the visible church, the body of Christ.
    Q: Do you speak of, in your writings, temporary – – temporary forgiveness of sins?
    A: Yes.
    Q: What do you, what do you mean by that?
    A: Right. There, there I have in mind, for example, the parable in Matthew 18 where the dead is forgiven and then the dead is reimposed on somebody who’s been forgiven. Jesus ends that parable by saying, so shall my Father do to you all of those of you who don’t forgive your brothers from the heart. So, there’s a statement in Matthew 18 of forgiveness that’s given and then withdrawn.
    Q: Does baptism confer justification and, if so, what do you mean by that?
    A: Yeah. In the same sense again that I’ve been talking all of these benefits of baptism, I’m arguing, are benefits of being in the body of Christ, being members of the visible church. The visible church is the, and – – and again I’m thinking in terms of our standard experience of baptism which is an infant who is in- -infant of believing parents and a faithful church. Are they right before God? Is baptism a sign of that? Is baptism, in fact, a declaration of that? That God is saying to that child when he is baptized. You are my child and I accept you as right in my sight. That’s – – that’s what I would, that’s what I mean by that.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 223).
  10. “If you looked at the whole story line of a reprobate person who has temporary faith and then makes shipwreck of faith as Paul talks about as opposed to an elect person who let’s say is converted later in life. Is the – – is the quality of faith different? Yes. It’s not just a matter, it is a matter of duration. That’s true. The temporary faith doesn’t endure to the end, it’s not persevering. But it’s not just that. Again, the analogy that I used yesterday is an analogy having to do with marriage (inaudible) the temporary faith is like a, the relationship of two spouses who are heading for divorce. And their marriage is, doesn’t just differ from a healthy marriage in duration, it differs in all kinds of ways.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 231).
  11. COMMISSIONER: Follow up. Can I ask, continue to ask questions? Regarding your role with the presbytery that you mentioned earlier, does the credentials committee, does everyone on the credentials committee share your view of the sacraments?
    WITNESS [Leithart]: No.
    Q: Does your role as an examiner in a category that you mentioned earlier, is that, does that, does the committee approve of your determination or does it make its own independent determination of the – – of the candidate’s baptismal or other sacramental views?
    A: The committee has always trusted my evaluation of exams and sacraments.
    Q: Where did that test come from?
    A: I made it up.” – Leithart Trial Transcript (pp. 260-261).
  12. “Q [Commissioner]: Do you believe that the people who are concerned about your views, some of them very vocal, are so disrupting the peace of the church that court should encourage them to find another fellowship where they can be more irenic.
    A [Leithart]: Yeah – – I wouldn’t comment on the last part of that. I do believe, though, that there are certainly critics of mine and of other people that I’m associated with within the PCA that I think are disrupting the peace of the church.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 237).
  13. “Q: And so, in that respect, can we say that Christ, not only did but it was necessary for him to, as a human, merit the favor of God by, from birth to death, obeying him perfectly.
    A: If merit is just a stand in for learning obedience and being perfected. Yes.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 244).
  14. Q [Commissioner]: Okay. Let me see what else I have for you here. Your use of union, referring to the elect only in the Confession, you acknowledged that earlier.
    A [Leithart]: I did.
    Q: And, but we’ve established that you use that with relation to those who are not elect.
    A: Correct.
    Q: Do you believe that that should be noted as an, as a, as an exception to the Confession or – – or not?
    A: I wouldn’t think so. I don’t think that by agreeing to the Confession, we’re saying that these are the only uses of these particular terms that we will ever use.” – Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 244).
  15. Q: Is there any, is there any unique characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s union with the elect that is not shared by the baptized reprobate?
    A: There certainly would be and one of them obviously would be duration. I guess, just as an example, a biblical example that I’ve used, when – – when Saul’s conversion is described, when Saul’s reception of the Holy Spirit is described. The Spirit comes on him and the Scriptures say that he became a new man because the Spirit came upon him. And then the Spirit departed from him. So there’s, that’s an example I think of a very strong statement about the Spirit’s work in a man’s life. But the Spirit doesn’t persist with that, because – – because Saul resists the spirit, quenches the Spirit, grieves the Spirit and the Spirit departs. That’s the, that’s the story of Saul and I think that, that seems to me to be similar to what’s going on in – – in Hebrew 6. I think I’ve lost track of your specific question.
    Q: No, I think you’re fine. Let me finish a couple (inaudible) – –
    A: Yeah, so I – – I would say duration obviously is one thing. Somebody could be participating in the Spirit as Hebrew 6 says, tasting the Spirit and then fall away. The Spirit departs from them. I would use the same kind of description that I’ve used about temporary faith that the relation between the Spirit and the reprobate person is one of resistance, maybe not, probably not all the time but resistance and quenching and grieving the Spirit that impenitent sin, unrepentant sin that eventually leads to the Spirit to abandon him – – (inaudible)
    Q: So is that, is that essentially like a dysfunctional marriage in your analogy?
    A: Right, that’s – – that’s the, and I’d use that analogy again.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (pp. 240-241).
  16. “Q [Commissioner]: Let me go on to some – – some more about your views. Thank you for – – for indulging that. As I understood you yesterday, you articulated that definitive san- – , and correct me if I’m wrong, definitive sanctification and justification are one act or essentially one act. Is that your understanding?
    A [Leithart]: That’s right.
    Q: Does that mean that they’re two parts of one act but distinct? Or that we should understand definitive sanctification as a result of justification, the justification act or? Please unpack that. I mean, are they parallel but simultaneous?
    A: Yeah, I would be happy with saying that they are two dimensions of a single act. And again, my main text on this is Romans 6:7. And I’m, as I pointed out yesterday, I’m – – I’m reading that in the context of various passages particularly from the Psalms – – Psalms and prophets that talk about justification as or judgment, favorable judgment as a delivering act.
    Q: So are you – –
    A: But, but I would say that there’s both. I – – I – – I would be happy with saying that there’s a single act in – – Romans 6:7 (inaudible) Paul is talking about a single act that is a judicial act, a forensic act. Something I’ve emphasized in all my writing on this that is, has this other dimension of delivering us from sin.
    Q: So you’re comfortable testifying that they are not identical in every respect and even though they are part of one act, they’re different dimensions?
    A: Yeah. I think that, again, I think that Romans 6:7 to my mind is – – is Paul using the word justify to describe deliverance from sin.”
    Q: Okay.
    A: So, I think it is a single act. But, again, if – – if you wanted to parse it out as two dimensions of a single act, I’d be happy with that.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (pp. 237-238).
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Peter Leithart’s 10+ Years of Work on the PNW Candidates & Credentials Committee

How is it that a Presbytery of the PCA could exonerate a man in the face of the General Assembly’s Federal Vision Report, which specifically condemned the teaching of this very man? Perhaps one of the reasons is that for thirteen years, Peter Leithart has been on the Pacific Northwest Presbytery Candidates and Credentials Committee. Peter Leithart has been “specifically charged with examining incoming candidates regarding sacraments.” Here is Dr. Leithart’s testimony on the matter:

COMMISSIONER: Peter, beginning, thank you for being part of this. And I want to express for the record, thanks for – – to your wife as well who is here present with us. The – – In the cross examination yesterday, the prosecution spoke of your relationship to the PCA and this presbytery and distinction from your involvement in another denomination. You’re obviously serving out of bounds. I would like to ask a couple questions about your relationship with us. You’ve been serving in this presbytery, I know it’s part of the record but I don’t recollect, for how long now?
WITNESS [Leithart]: Since 1998.
Q: Since 1998. You’ve been involved heavily in the examination of incoming transfers and presbyters and men coming under care extensively, haven’t you?
A: I have. Yes.
Q: And has that had a meaningful form of impact, do you think, on the presbytery?
A: I think it’s been beneficial to the presbytery. I should say just for the record and for those who don’t know, I’m on the examination credentials committee and that I’m specifically charged with examining incoming candidates regarding sacraments.
Q: And so you are, so that’s been formative to a number of men on their way through right?
A: I think it’s been helpful to a number of men coming into the presbytery who during the course of the examination realize that they have gaps in their training and knowledge that the – – the exam exposes. One of the questions asks concerning the reformed liturgical tradition and ask them to answer question partly in terms of that. And there’ve been a number of candidates who knew nothing, virtually nothing about that and this forced them to do some studies. So, yes I think it’s been (inaudible)” –Leithart Trial Transcript (pp. 235-236).