The Decision in the Leithart Case

Here is a copy of the decision in Word format for easier reading (the pdf’s are always a bit dim). This decision was written by friends of mine. I know who they are and I respect them, even though I deeply disagree with their decision. In short, I believe they selectively used the Book of Church Order, and failed to condemn erroneous opinion. What follows below is the decision in blockquote, and my commentary interspersed. You can read the summary of the facts yourselves, and I have no comments on them. I will start with the statement of the issue, Roman Numeral II.


Did the Complainant demonstrate, based on the record in this Case, that the Pacific Northwest Presbytery violated the Constitution of the PCA when it concluded that the accused was not guilty of holding and teaching views that are in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards?



It is important to realize that the basis for the decision must be the record of the case, not how well the prosecutor did in his job. So, the real question here is this: did the record of the case demonstrate that PNW Presbytery violated the constitution when it concluded that the accused was not guilty?

In the reasoning and opinion, the decision cites RAO 17-1, BCO 42-5, BCO 39-3.1 and BCO 39-2.4. I will not quote them in full, as they are in the document. I want to point out a couple of things in those very quotations that I think were ignored by the SJC. Firstly, the SJC needs to apply the Constitution of the church in resolving the matter (BCO 39-3.1). No doubt the SJC thinks that it did so. However, as we will see, it did so selectively. Secondly, there are provisions for a higher court reversing the lower court’s factual findings, and “matters of discretion and judgment:” there needs to be a clear error on the part of the lower court. Notice especially that this language is NOT limited to procedural matters only, but also to “matters of discretion and judgment.” Thirdly, the great deference normally shown to a lower court does not equally apply in matters concerning the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church. Does the Leithart case involve matters relating to the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church? It certainly does. The relationship of Leithart’s views with the Westminster Standards is most certainly a matter involving the interpretation, not only of Leithart’s views, but also of the Standards. So, in this case, the great deference normally shown to a lower court does not apply. There is clear error on the part of PNW Presbytery, and the case involves the interpretation of the Constitution, both very good reasons why the court should not defer to PNW Presbytery.

What follows is the first of several attempts to distance the SJC theologically from Leithart’s views. On the one hand, I believe these statements to be true expressions of the writers. On the other hand, since there is now no way of forcing Leithart to leave the denomination, this caveat is a bit moot. The horse is already out of the barn. It says, “In short, our review in this Case is constitutionally limited to the information developed in the Record dealing with this specific Case. Thus, nothing in our Decision or reasoning should be understood as rendering any judgment on any ‘school of thought’ within or without the PCA.” It is difficult, however, for this principle to be carried out, since the record of the case itself is chock full of information on one particular member of the school of thought known as the Federal Vision. Any ruling on the ROC is going to include an implicit ruling on the school of thought laid out in the ROC. Ruling on the ROC cannot be so easily separated from ruling on a school of thought.

What follows is the statement of the question as the decision sees it:

Our review could focus only on: (a) whether the Complainant demonstrated that the Presbytery committed procedural errors in its handling of this matter; (b) whether the Complainant demonstrated that Presbytery misunderstood TE Leithart’s views; and (c) whether the Complainant demonstrated that TE Leithart’s views are in conflict with the system of doctrine.

One procedural error that is not mentioned in this decision, but which should have been addressed is the failure of PNW Presbytery to condemn erroneous opinion (BCO 13-9f). This is a procedural matter. Even though the wording is that it has power to condemn, in context all the actions noted are actions that Presbytery is responsible for doing. So it is not just that it has the authority to do so, but also that it has the responsibility to do so, especially when it involves views that endanger the peace and purity of the denomination, and there are few opinions more dangerous to the peace and purity of the denomination than the Federal Vision. I have never seen anything so divisive. Secondly, there is a problem with letter b. We said above that the conditions of this case were such that great deference to the lower court is not required, and in fact should not be followed. Why is the SJC then claiming that the complainant has to demonstrate Presbytery’s misunderstanding of Leithart’s views? The basis for making a decision on whether PNW Presbytery erred is surely Leithart’s own writings, not what anyone’s opinion about them is. With letter c also, it is phrased in such a way as to suggest that the complainant has to do the proving. The ROC is what proves that Leithart’s views are out of accord with the Standards. On this particular issue, it wouldn’t matter whether the prosecutor proved anything. Even if (only to take the devil’s advocate position for a minute) the prosecutor did a complete slam dunk, the SJC still could only rule based on the ROC, not what the prosecutor derived or failed to derive from it.

It is my understanding that the Prosecutor did raise the procedural concern of failing to condemn erroneous opinions (BCO 13-9f). Therefore the following statement not only has an error of fact, but also one of judgment: “The Complainant raised no procedural concerns. Further, it is our conclusion that Presbytery carefully complied with all the procedural steps required by the Rules of Discipline.” All except condemning erroneous opinion.

The decision goes on to quote the Presbytery’s words in finding problems with Leithart’s teaching. I am a bit puzzled by this section of the decision. Why is PNW Presbytery’s recognition of problems in Leithart’s theology sufficient to get PNW Presbytery off the hook with regard to what they should or shouldn’t have done with Leithart? PNW Presbytery failed to condemn erroneous opinion. They noted problems, and then failed to do anything about it except mention it. This is not a condemnation of erroneous opinion. Whatever it is, it is not that.

One of the most important paragraphs is on the last page. I will quote it in full:

Presbytery’s Commission, however, concluded unanimously that the Prosecution did not prove TE Leithart’s guilt with regard to the five charges against him (hence the finding of “not guilty” on each of the five specifications) and, with regard to all the examples noted above (and other issues), TE Leithart’s differences with the Standards amounted to semantic differences. They noted that in his testimony that TE Leithart qualified many of his more provocative statements in ways that the Presbytery’s Commission concluded brought them into conformity with the Standards. In addition, the Presbytery’s Commission pointed out that TE Leithart expressly affirmed his subscription to specific statements in the Westminster Standards that were included in the indictment or raised during the trial. Presbytery overwhelmingly adopted the verdicts recommended by its Commission. We do not find that the Complainant provided sufficient evidence that TE Leithart’s statements affirming his subscription to the Standards were incredible or that Presbytery’s decision in finding TE Leithart “not guilty” of the five charges was in error.

There are several problems with this paragraph. First of all, as we have been noting before, there is much too much deference being paid here to the Presbytery’s opinion of what Leithart taught rather than to what Leithart actually said. The logic here seems to be that if the entire Presbytery says it, it must be true. Truth is not discovered by counting noses. The issue of whether Leithart qualified his statements in the trial is not to the point. He did not repent of any of his statements that were the most problematic. Affirmation of the standards is also irrelevant, since FV proponents understand something completely different by what the Standards say than what they actually say. All FV proponents have professed allegiance to the Standards at some point or other, with the possible exception of James Jordan. In the last sentence, we find the SJC basing part of their rationale on Leithart’s own evaluation of his innocence or guilt. Is a person on trial ever going to admit to guilt? There is more than sufficient evidence in the ROC to prove that Leithart’s statements affirming his subscription to the Standards are incredible. Again, the prosecutor doesn’t have to provide that if it is already in the ROC.

But the most problematic of all, and the paragraph that gives Leithart a pass theologically, is the second to last paragraph:

In light of our conclusions, we urge that Pacific Northwest Presbytery continue to encourage TE Leithart to take care that when he uses standard theological terms (such as baptism, justification, sanctification, efficacious, and arrabon) in non-standard ways that he make clear those differences in use and that he continue to clarify how his views in key areas are not in conflict with the Standards.

Implicit in this paragraph is the statement that Leithart’s views are not in conflict with the Standards. All Leithart needs to do, and all the Presbytery needs to do, is to continue to clarify how that is the case. That is all that is needed. There doesn’t need to be any repentance on Leithart for leading people astray by his aberrant views. There is no need for the Presbytery to repent of exonerating him. All that is needed is continued encouragement for the PNW Presbytery, aided by Leithart himself, to clarify and qualify his statements.

Lastly, we have the final paragraph, which is certainly intended as a damage control paragraph:

Finally, we reiterate that nothing in this Decision should be construed as addressing (or thereby endorsing) in general TE Leithart’s views, writings, teachings or pronouncements. The Decision is based on the specific issues raised in the indictment and the Record of the Case as developed at the trial. Our conclusion is simply that neither the prosecution nor the Complainant proved that TE Leithart’s views, as articulated at the trial or otherwise contained in the Record of the Case, violate the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards.

Here’s the problem: the indictment and the ROC involve heavily Leithart’s views. How, then, can a decision based on the ROC be NOT addressing Leithart’s views? The ROC is nothing but a discussion of Leithart’s views! The specific issues raised in the indictment and the ROC are Leithart’s views. The bar is set too high here, as well. The complainant and the prosecution, in one sense, do not need to prove that Leithart’s views are out of accord, if the ROC clearly shows that. I am a biased witness, of course, in this matter, as I also said at the trial. But I do believe that my testimony alone is sufficient to prove the case. There were no holes in my research. Their conclusion is that there are no proofs anywhere that Leithart teaches anything contrary to the Standards, since my research, included in the ROC, brought together ALL the problematic quotations of Leithart. That constitutes no proof, according to this judgment.

And, by the way, just for the record, I only started reading Leithart’s works in earnest AFTER I was asked to be a witness in the case. Before I was asked to be a witness, I had read exactly 1 book and 2 articles of Leithart. Hardly a vendetta or an obsession with Leithart, contrary to some things that were said during the trial. No doubt, if I had not read more than Leithart himself recommended to me (which was only The Baptized Body and Priesthood of the Plebs), the defense would have countered by saying that I had not read widely enough in Leithart’s writings to justify being an expert witness. ___if you do, and ___if you don’t.

No doubt, many will say to me, “Who are you to judge the SJC, you little pipsqueak?” I cannot change the SJC’s decision. Nevertheless, courts of the church may err, and in this case, they certainly did. That is my opinion. To my readers, that is worth whatever they assign to my opinion. I am voicing my opinion. That’s all it is. I would heartily encourage the members of the SJC to repent of their decision. It is the wrong decision completely. In time, I pray, they will come to realize just how wrong this decision is. I invite any one of them to talk to me about this. I have already talked to some. And I still respect many of them. It is fortunate indeed that one wrong decision on a court case like this does not condemn us to Hell. The blood of Christ is much, much more powerful than that.



  1. April 3, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    That last paragraph you quoted is very strange. If there were no actual issues with his teachings/beliefs (i.e. if he were not teaching FV), why the need for that last paragraph at all? Sounds kind of like kicking the can down the road. (If his views are being exonerated/cleared, shouldn’t the SJC be able to pronounce his views as acceptable?)

    I am confused why they would feel the need to state that they were in no way “addressing” his views. Wasn’t the complaint primarily about his views?

  2. April 3, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Very well said, Lane. I was contemplating a post, but gladly defer to your outstanding analysis. As a body, the SJC has let the PCA down. I pray that God will grant you His peace which surpasses all comprehension.

  3. April 3, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    Another puzzling issue is why my initial complaint was sustained and the PNWP ordered to trial. The SJC clearly thought the PNWP erred in failing to find a strong presumption of guilt. On what did they base that?

    Smells fishy.

  4. April 3, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    JJ – Excellent point. I hadn’t considered that. OTOH, the makeup of the SJC has changed since your initial complaint. I’ll stop there.

  5. Sean Gerety said,

    April 3, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    I second Bob’s point in #2. Very well said Lane. The SJC decision was a total slap in the face.

    But I do believe that my testimony alone is sufficient to prove the case. There were no holes in my research. Their conclusion is that there are no proofs anywhere that Leithart teaches anything contrary to the Standards, since my research, included in the ROC, brought together ALL the problematic quotations of Leithart. That constitutes no proof, according to this judgment.

    This is what Federal Visonists have been saying all along and that their opponents have just not understood them correctly. The PCA is now a safe place for Federal Visionist.

    Leithart has won.

  6. Mark B said,

    April 3, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    Re #4 I’m afraid that same thought crossed my mind, and I won’t stop there. Perhaps if confessional elders in the PCA don’t heed the advice to be “as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents” we will see more of this. A certain TE in PNW has spent a bit of time lobbying for exactly that change in makeup of the SJC…..

  7. pduggie said,

    April 3, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    “No doubt, if I had not read more than Leithart himself recommended to me (which was only The Baptized Body and Priesthood of the Plebs), the defense would have countered by saying that I had not read widely enough in Leithart’s writings to justify being an expert witness. ___if you do, and ___if you don’t.”

    that’s a rather hypothetical complaint, BTW

  8. Steve said,

    April 4, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Rev. Keister,

    I have a clarifying question about your closing paragraph. From your post yesterday it is clear that FVism in your view is likened to Roman Catholicism, and I certainly see the similarities especially as FVism is compared to traditional Reformed Theology. However, you seem to think this is no damnable offense on the part of the SJC, even though this, effectively, allows those with Rome-ward tendencies to remain in communion with the PCA. I suppose my question is, how exactly is the SJC’s ruling on FV any different than folks leaving the PCA for Catholicism altogether. After all, most here have agreed that it is certainly more admirable to leave once your views have changed rather than remain a Catholic in Presbyterian clothes. However those who’ve left for Rome have certainly been labeled apostates who may never have been regenerate in the first place. I’m just wondering what is the principled distinction, for those in the PCA, between FVism and RCism as it relates to discerning one’s state of grace. Forgive me if this distinction is obvious. I must admit I’m not as familiar with the FV as most of your readers. Thanks!


  9. greenbaggins said,

    April 4, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Not really, Paul. Their modus operandi was to kill the messenger, and they crucified me. It only stands to reason that if there had been any holes in my research, they would have found a way to exploit those holes.

  10. April 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Paul – Lane’s right on target. They went after my credibility in the Meyers trial, though not like they went after Lane. Strongly implied that because I hadn’t published a pile of books and papers, my testimony wasn’t worth much compared to the well-known names on their witness list. This regardless of my ordination, extensive research on the subjects at hand, and detailed grasp of the subject on cross; and that their own expert in one area substantially agreed with my testimony. FVers are running these trials like pagan civil trials. Apparently the SJC has taken up that approach as well.

  11. Jim Cassidy said,

    April 4, 2013 at 8:48 am

    The judgment of charity here, I think, is that the SJC has been duped by Leithart’s distinctly dialectical methodology by which he can say the same thing in two contrary ways. Asking him to be more clear and precise, along with providing clarity and nuance, is to ask a leopard to lose his spots. Its nice of them to think Leithart can do better, and the only problem is that he was not as clear as he could be. But he’s a big boy who’s pretty smart – he knows what he’s doing. And this is precisely why the PCA remains wide open to the infiltration of Barthianism. It will succumb to the influence of modern theology, unless God intervenes in his grace. The SJC meant well – that is the charity. But, unfortunately, it was duped.

  12. Sean Gerety said,

    April 4, 2013 at 9:07 am

    @Jim Cassidy. If we’re going to charitable at all to the men on the SJC you nailed it. And, FWIW, this is something I’ve been saying to mostly deaf ears for nearly 20 years and why the answer to my little book, Can The PCA Be Saved? has now been officially answered.

    The only difference I see is that the infiltration of Barthianism was not at all under the radar; it was wide open and being taught by arguably the most revered and influential dialectical thinker in the entire history of modern Reformed thought.

  13. Jim Cassidy said,

    April 4, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Jeepers, Sean, with endorsements like that, why would I need critics? I am afraid that you neither understand Barth nor dialectical thinking.

  14. greenbaggins said,

    April 4, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Jim and Sean, you guys are only going to bang heads together on the Clark/Van Til controversy, with neither convincing the other. It’s not directly relevant to the discussion at hand. So I’d like to head this one off at the pass.

  15. April 4, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Forgive my ignorance, but how did this discussion make the leap from FV to Barth?

  16. April 4, 2013 at 11:17 am

    […] adjudicate the most notorious Federal Visionists in the PCA, Peter Leithart. You can read his piece here, but I just want to highlight a couple of […]

  17. Sean Gerety said,

    April 4, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Not to worry Lane. I’m not going to bang heads with anyone. The neo-othodoxy entailed in Van Til’s theory of biblical analogy and paradox has been recognized by man long before there even was a Federal Vision, even if some men too enamored by personalities have been able to notice.

  18. Sean Gerety said,

    April 4, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Should be “recognized by men long before…” Don’t worry I’m letting it drop. I realize this is a soft spot (or would that be a blind spot) for many on this blog.

  19. April 4, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Sean, could you provide a link(s) to an article, blog post, or book that deals with what you said in post #16?

  20. Jim Cassidy said,

    April 4, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Lane, I saw Sean’s comments going down that road long in advance, and have no interest in going there. My point, to answer Andy’s question, is a dialectical method of theology, which is shared by Barth and PL (though they are worlds apart on particular issues). If the SJC has been, even in part, been duped by PL’s method, it bodes poorly for the future of the PCA if they were so easily duped. Already dialectical theologians, such as Barth, are making inroads. The use of the method allows men to say one thing (which satisfies Presbyteries and men concerned for sound doctrine), while at the same time meaning something else (which allows them to go on their merry heretical way).

  21. greenbaggins said,

    April 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Steve, regarding your comment 8, some excellent questions. According to the FV, your standing as a Christian is wholly objective, time-stampable. It’s called your baptism. This, by the way, is not evidence that the FV has thrown over their baptistic roots and overly balanced on the other side, but it is rather evidence that they have not thrown off their baptistic roots enough. Baptists and FV’ers both tie salvation to the moment of baptism. The difference is that the FV ascribes salvation to baptism, whereas the baptist does not. They both connect salvation to baptism in time, though.

    As to the SJC members, they felt constrained by the BCO to go with this decision.

    The FV tends to Rome, but is not precisely the same, since most FV’ers would reject Marianism, and many would reject the idea of the Papacy. However, in terms of soteriology, there are many similarities, particularly between Leithart and RCC. Both Leithart and the RCC believe that justification and sanctification are part of the same act. Leithart says he means definitive sanctification, but he never separates definitive and progressive sanctification such that the latter is not part of justification. Their views of the church as wholly visible are very similar to RCC as well.

    I guess the biggest problem for me is the level of deception that has gone on ad infinitum. They continually claim that their views are within the bounds of some nebulous, ill-defined Reformed tradition, as defined by quotes from the Reformed fathers taken out of context. They will not acknowledge that their views are unconfessional. They redefine the confessional terms, so as to narrow its definitions in order to make room for their “extra” definitions of terms. All except James Jordan. Jordan knows that the FV views are not confessional, and has actually taken some FV members to task for not being honest with the PCA about this. In many ways, Jordan has been the most honest of the FV guys.

  22. Dan MacDonald said,

    April 4, 2013 at 1:19 pm


    I apologize if the following is redundant to you. From the comment thread, I was not sure.

    After reading the SJC’s last paragraph, it seems to me that they are saying, and fairly clearly, that they are not judging PL’s teaching as a whole, but they are judging that part of PL’s teaching and doctrine that the ROC highlights and reveals.

    This is typical language for an appeal court. They are not re-trying a case, for they cannot in an appeal. They are limited to determining if the court of record (PNWP) erred, based on the records that they have before them of the trial itself, not based on the overall corpus of PL’s teaching.

    In so doing, it seems to me that they are reserving the right to re-examine, or re-try, PL or others with these views, some other day, while retaining the polity of the PCA to have presbytery, not SJC, be the court of first instance in trials of this kind. In effect, they seem to be saying ‘the case for heresy was not made in this trial, but a case for heresy may yet remain to be made, and we stand open to such.’

    I am not as sure as some are that the FV have won the day in the PCA. The GA pronouncement on FV was fairly clear. This SJC ruling is not a death blow to anyone. This is a long road, and we are just passing the first few bends. At most, what this whole trial says to me is that different presbyteries may be safer for FV thinking than others. But I think we already knew that.

  23. Sean Gerety said,

    April 4, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    In many ways, Jordan has been the most honest of the FV guys.

    Without question.

  24. Scott Roper said,

    April 4, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    To add (I think) to what Dan said, it seems to me that the statements you call damage control are pretty standard for an appellate court to use to reach a decision on the narrowest grounds possible. It is basically saying do not use this decision as a precedent for future or pending cases.

  25. Hugh McCann said,

    April 4, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    These don’t sound like a procedural issue.

    The SJC “failed to condemn erroneous opinion.”

    “There is clear error on the part of PNW Presbytery, and the case involves the interpretation of the Constitution, both very good reasons why the court should not defer to PNW Presbytery.”

    “One procedural error that is not mentioned in this decision, but which should have been addressed is the failure of PNW Presbytery to condemn erroneous opinion (BCO 13-9f). This is a procedural matter.”

    What?! Nay! ‘Tis a SIN issue!

    “Even though the wording is that it has power to condemn, in context all the actions noted are actions that Presbytery is responsible for doing. So it is not just that it has the authority to do so, but also that it has the responsibility to do so, especially when it involves views that endanger the peace and purity of the denomination, and there are few opinions more dangerous to the peace and purity of the denomination than the Federal Vision.”

    This failure of responsibilty is a sin. Let’s call it what it is.

    Lane also wrote, “The horse is already out of the barn.”
    Better: The fox has a pass to stay in the hen house.
    Best: The wolf has been allowed to stay in the sheepfold.

  26. April 4, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Scott – That’s know here in the former capital of the free world as dodging a difficult issue.

  27. April 4, 2013 at 9:19 pm

    […] week the word came that the PCA has upheld a lower court ruling that exonerates Peter Leithart’s teaching. It is an odd ruling because the PCA had approved a […]

  28. April 5, 2013 at 12:05 am

    […] More complete analysis of the SJC decision itself is here. […]

  29. Hugh McCann said,

    April 5, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Pardon me, but what is “RAO” & “ROC”?

  30. April 5, 2013 at 10:37 am

    […] recently mentioned that David Cassidy on Lane Keister’s Greenbaggins blog nailed it when he wrote concerning the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission’s failure to defend the Gospel in the […]

  31. April 5, 2013 at 10:53 am


    RAO = Rules of Assembly Operations. It includes the operating rules for the SJC in Article 17.

    ROC = Record of the Case. This is all the trial documentation: evidence, statements, testimony transcripts, etc.

  32. Hugh McCann said,

    April 5, 2013 at 11:23 am

    Cracking answer, Grommit! :)

  33. truzzi said,

    April 5, 2013 at 5:02 pm


    I don’t usually foray into these things–I tend be of the grab-the-popcorn-and-watch sort–but I’m having a hard time understanding how you can claim various “levels of deception” on the side of Dr. Leithart and the FV as a whole, while blatantly lying yourself about the their view of baptism. The joint FV statement, to which Dr. Leithart signed (, states very clearly the complete and thorough opposite of your ridiculous accusation in #21, denying, in no uncertain terms the “common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration” among other wrongful accusations:

    “WE AFFIRM that God formally unites a person to Christ and to His covenant people through baptism into the triune Name, and that this baptism obligates such a one to lifelong covenant loyalty to the triune God, each baptized person repenting of his sins and trusting in Christ alone for his salvation. Baptism formally engrafts a person into the Church, which means that baptism is into the Regeneration, that time when the Son of Man sits upon His glorious throne (Matt. 19:28).

    “WE DENY that baptism automatically guarantees that the baptized will share in the eschatological Church. WE DENY the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration—i.e. that an “effectual call” or rebirth is automatically wrought in the one baptized. Baptism apart from a growing and living faith is not saving, but rather damning. But WE DENY that trusting God’s promise through baptism elevates baptism to a human work. God gives baptism as assurance of His grace to us personally, as our names are spoken when we are baptized.”

    It appears to me that you’re looking to the wrong side for the dishonesty.

  34. greenbaggins said,

    April 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    Bethany, in Priesthood of the Plebs, Leithart explicitly, unequivocally, and without any qualifications whatsoever affirms that baptism regenerates in the fully transformative sense. The FV guys are experts at using language imprecisely, and then hiding behind that imprecision when one tries to nail anything down. Have you read Leithart’s works? Yes, there are differences among FV proponents as to just how much efficacy they ascribe to baptism, but they all make covenant membership a visible thing entirely.

  35. April 5, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    Here are a few of Leithart’s statements about baptism that I adduced at trial, both via direct testimony and in my closing argument:

    “Understanding sacraments as rites also helps us to understand the efficacy of sacraments…. Rites accomplish what they signify.”

    “Our typology, as I have extrapolated it, challenges the basic conception that a sacrament is an ‘outward sign of inward grace’ by insisting that the outward signs reach to the innermost parts and that God extends His grace to us in the outward form of concrete favors.” He says further that the “sonship conferred by baptism is not ‘external’ to our basic identity but constitutive of it.”


    “Far from being reductionist, this typology and the framework extrapolated from it permits a richer and stronger affirmation of the objectivity of baptismal grace than found in traditional sacramental theology, which has hesitated to affirm that baptism confers grace ex opere operato.”


    “Baptism is the washing that opens the eyes and, by doing so, lets the light of Jesus flood in, so that the baptized can shine with light. Baptism puts us face-to-face with Jesus, the glory of God, so that we are transformed from glory to glory.… every baptism unites the baptized with the One Sent. Baptism sets us aflame and sends us out as lights into the deep darkness. It opens our eyes and sends us into the world of the blind. It calls us to bold faithfulness in the midst of intense pressure. Baptism grants us a share in the suffering of Jesus, making his enemies our enemies even as it makes him our friend.”


    “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.”


    “Through baptism, we enter into the new life of the Spirit, receive a grant of divine power, 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.”


    “Baptism effects a transition, as Rowan Williams (archbishop of Canterbury) puts it, not only in the regard of men but in the ‘gaze of God,’ and this makes us ‘new creations’ in the deepest possible sense.”


    “The baptized is no longer regarded as ‘stranger’ but born again as a ‘son of the house.’”


    “Baptism into membership in the community of Christ therefore also confers the arrabon of the Spirit, and in this sense too is a ‘regenerating’ ordinance. There can be no ‘merely social’ membership in this family.”


    “That’s not all that the baptized receives. In receiving baptism, the baptized receive a great deal more. The baptized person is brought into the community of the church, which is the body of Christ. That’s a gift. The baptized is made a member of the family of the Father. That’s a gift. The baptized is separated from the world and identified before the world as a member of Christ’s people. That’s a gift. The baptized is enlisted in Christ’s army, invested to be Christ’s servant, made a member of the royal priesthood, given a station in the royal court, branded as a sheep of Christ’s flock. All that is gift. All this the baptized is not only offered, but receives. All this he receives simply by virtue of being baptized.”

    Interestingly, when I posted these on my blog yesterday, a commenter who was a former Leithart devotee shared how naive he now realizes he was back when he was insisting with other FV-ers that these views were actually Reformed. The guy’s a Catholic now.

  36. Hugh McCann said,

    April 5, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    The federal visionary “Petrine” baptism quotes above make sense if one sees Rom. 6:3 & Gal. 3:27 –baptized into Christ– not as aquatic, but as Spiritual baptism.

    What makes these two texts to be necessarily speaking of water baptism?

  37. Sean Gerety said,

    April 6, 2013 at 8:58 am

    In case folks would like to avoid spending time on Jason’s blog, here is the comment he is referring to above. I think it is instructive because this person is a great example what the PCA has now become as a result of the Leithart decision; a conduit to Rome:

    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.

  38. Ron said,

    April 6, 2013 at 9:41 am


    It can also be speaking of water yet attributing to the sign that which is signified by it. That is a very common Reformed interpretation, one I hold to.

  39. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Thanks, Ron.

    Do you believe that “very common” interpretation is the majority report in Reformed circles? Is it the Westminster and/ or Three Forms of Unity report?

  40. Howard Donahoe said,

    April 6, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Here’s a link to the 10-page Preliminary Brief filed by Presbytery before the Hearing in this case. It should give some helpful context to the decision.

  41. Ron said,

    April 6, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    Hi Hugh,

    WCF 27.2 (Of the Sacraments) speaks of the names of the reaity being attributed to the sign itself. This sort of thinking is not popular in fundamentalist circles but it has always been part-and-parcel with Reformed thought. Proof texts for WCF 27.2 are Genesis 17:7 where circumcision is called the covenant; Matt. 26:27 where cup is called the blood; and most powerfully, Titus 3:5 where washing of regeneration is referenced sacramentally. Moreover, both Romans 6:3 and Galatians 3:27 (the water passages you refrenced) are indexed in WCF 28.1 ( (Of Baptism) for being engrafted into Christ and and walking in newness of life respectively. Of course, these sacramental truths in the wrong hands (FV hands) is a dangerous proposition, but rightly understood they allow us to face Scripture without making excuses.

  42. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Thank you, for this very helpful clarification, Ron.

    I do understand what you’re saying, but I cannot accept it.

    It is as yet beyond me how Calvin et. al. can say that Titus 3:5 is speaking about anything ritual/ sacramental/ watery.

    The “and” indicates that the regeneration IS the washing:
    …not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.

    These verses also speak of “being engrafted into Christ and and walking in newness of life respectively” – which is to say, wholly Holy Spiritually: Rom. 6:3* & Gal. 3:27** – unless one says that being “baptized into Christ” necessarily means an outward, aquatic ritual. Which I as yet cannot in good conscience.

    How you “rightly understand” these, and Rome & Fv-ers do not, is still beyond me. Guess I again go against the “Fathers,” patristic and “Reformed.” Sigh.

    * …as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death.

    ** For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

  43. pduggie said,

    April 6, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    Stellman: Where does the quote that says it opens eyes and sets hearts aflame from?

    And what trial document contains it? I don’t see it in the basic transcript, but there are a lot of document

  44. greenbaggins said,

    April 6, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Hugh, it is important to realize here just how important this sacramental language is. It allows us to understand 1 Peter 3:21 and Titus 3:5, etc. The FV’ers, by the way, absolutely hate the idea of sacramental language. In their thought, it takes all the teeth out of the Scriptural language. But it is not a confusion of sign and thing signified. Rather, it is an explication of how such language works. In my mind, it is a bit like the figure of speech called synechdoche, where a part stands for the whole.

  45. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Lane @44 – I’ll have to take your word for it (sort of like implicit faith!) – b/c I do not see the three I quoted as being about water. Thanks, tho’.

  46. pduggie said,

    April 6, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    here’s a quote from Robert Godfrey (WTSCAL) on water baptism in Romans 6

    “. . . when you read the New Testament, Paul, over and over again, makes appeal to baptism as a present reality in the Christian life and experience. I think that’s true in Romans 6, for example. When Paul wants Christians to mortify sin in their experience he reminds them that they’re a baptized people and that baptism speaks to them about sin being washed away. But we can get nervous about that. Even so noted a theologian as Martyn Lloyd-Jones just didn’t want to think that all that stress upon baptism in Romans 6 could be water baptism. It must be Spirit baptism, because we don’t want to become formalists. But I really think he misses the point there. You see, have you been Spirit baptized? It is a little harder to be sure that you are Spirit baptized than to be sure you’re water baptized. You see, water baptism, which certainly testifies to Spirit baptism-and we need Spirit baptism, every Christian is Spirit baptized, I believe all those things-but, you see, again, if you just begin introspectively to ask, ‘Have I really been Spirit baptized?’ you get right back in the morbid mess. And the water baptism, you see, is the way out, is the way to the objective statement of the glories of God’s grace and mercy to His people.”

  47. Hugh McCann said,

    April 6, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    pdug @46 – Thanks for quoting my WSC prof. & pres. A better man would be hard to find. And I can agree to a great degree. It’s a good & helpful quote.

    As Paul “over and over again makes appeal to [spiritual] baptism as a present reality in the Christian life and experience,” and, “that [water] baptism speaks to them about sin being washed away,” we should all be agreed “water baptism… is the way [or, a way] to the objective statement of the glories of God’s grace and mercy to His people.” Fine. Glorious, really!

    Is Romans 6 speaking of BOTH? It cannot be a necessarily-Spirit-infused-100%-of-the-time (ex opere operato) baptism. But he says (6:1-6): What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.

    Reminds us of Col. 2:11ff ~ In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.

    I wonder if it “proves” too much. That’s a lot of great stuff happening in/ at one’s baptism! Is that true of all baptized? No, only the elect. Else, we’re in the FV camp &/ or Romeward bound?

    So again, he speaks of BOTH spiritual and water baptism?

    Finally, it is interesting to ponder Paul’s pronouns. Just as the hugely important “for OUR sins” (1 Cor. 15:3) needs right definition, so too the pronouns “we,” “you,” “our,” “us” in Romans and Colossians! I think that’s it – he’s speaking of us regenerate, twice-baptized folk.

  48. CD-Host said,

    April 8, 2013 at 8:15 am

    @Hugh #47

    Eph 44:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

    One repeated 7x. On which other of those did Paul actually mean 2? Two Holy spirits? Two hopes? Two Jesus? Two different faiths? Or maybe when Paul says this sort of thing over and over again he means what he appears to be saying.

    Maybe there are no twice baptized folks?

  49. April 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    There’s no new ground here on baptism to be discovered by Leithart or anyone else. WCF 28.6 clearly points out:

    The efficacy of Baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered;

    The proof text is Jn 3:5, 8, wherein Jesus states that:

    Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

    There’s no magic in the water. Until the Spirit acts to regenerate, the baptized are in the Covenant of Grace broadly considered. They partake of the benefits listed in WLC 63:

    The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

    Note that doesn’t include any of what we commonly refer to as “saving benefits.” These benefits are limited exclusively to the regenerate, which are those who born of water AND the Spirit. Only these regenerate are in the Covenant of Grace narrowly considered and receive the saving benefits listed in WLC 66:

    The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.

    In agreement with WCF 28.6, J.I. Packer wrote:

    The outward sign does not automatically or magically convey the inward blessings that it signifies, and the candidates’ professions of faith are not always genuine. Peter had to tell the newly baptized Simon Magus that he was still unrenewed in heart (Acts 8:13-24).

    The Old Testament provides no support for FV. Some argue that the Israelites who came out of Egypt were all equally saved from the Egyptians. That’s true physically as far as it goes, and they were part of what we now call the visible church. In this regard, they had the same kinds of benefits as enumerated in WLC 63 – they were under God’s special care, government, general protection, etc. However, they were not all saved spiritually (i.e., born of the Spirit) as evidenced by their later falling away. This isn’t rocket science.

    Amongst other areas, FV runs off the rails in granting even pseudo-saving benefits (i.e., justification, sanctification, forgiveness of sins, etc.) to baptized reprobates. I believe that they are driven to this by their defective view of the covenants and erroneous ecclesiastical views, which then leads to aberrant views of the sacraments. Not only is FV not Reformed, at places it’s sub-Christian. That the SJC would not rule on this as they did with LAP and Wilkins before is unconscionable.

  50. June 25, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    […] There is a round-up of the affair (from a critic’s perspective) which you are find here, here, and […]

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