A Response to Leithart’s “Staying Put”

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart has written a short essay on why he doesn’t want to leave the PCA. This question arose as a result of his participation in the Biola conference which David G commented on here, and I commented on as well.

His reasons for staying put are primarily pragmatic. He would have to navigate an unfamiliar landscape, and figure out who his friends and enemies are. As if in anticipation of possible objections, he writes that “Even pragmatic reasons aren’t entirely pragmatic.” What he mans by that is explained in the next sentence (referring to James Buchanan): “[T]he status quo isn’t decisive, but it does have ethical weight.”

He states that his primary reason is theological. I wonder about that. Put simply, his primary reason seems to be that since we don’t know what the church of the future will look like, he will stay put for now, because God is constantly overturning our expectations.I wonder why that is a reason for not joining the RCC. The unknown future cannot determine our actions in the present. There are only some things we know for sure: Christ’s second coming, judgment, glorification, things that the Bible has revealed. But the Bible also has things to say to us about determining our present course of action based on the unknowns of the future (“There’s a lion in the street!”). One wonders why he says later in the essay that we cannot know what the church of the future will look like, but earlier he seems rather confident that “Though both are crucial to the future of Christianity, neither Roman Catholicism nor Orthodoxy is the Church of the future.” How does he know that? (I am here basing my question on his presuppositions, not my own).

He has additional theological reasons (Purgatory, Marian doctrines, Papacy, icons, and “ambiguities” regarding justification and tradition) for staying put. But if these do not constitute reasons for believing that the RCC is a false church, then they also cannot trump church unity, can they? I still come back to the idea that if the RCC is a true church, then we ought to be a part of it. My own position is that the RCC is a false church because of these reasons (though I would not phrase the RCC position on justification as “ambiguous.” There is hardly any ambiguity in Trent’s doctrine of justification). They do not have the gospel. They twist the sacraments into something unrecognizable, and their version of church discipline is surely wide of the mark in the papacy. The marks of the church are therefore either so twisted as to be negligible, or else non-existent. The ultimate reason (for me) for not viewing the RCC as a true church is its own self-understanding as an extension of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is idolatry of the church. It is man worship, church worship. It takes what belongs only to Jesus and gives it to the church, despite its own claims that it does not do that.

He then goes back to the more pragmatic reasons related to what he would have to say about his Eucharistic experiences (this is the by-now familiar charge of his that becoming Roman Catholic would be for him a step backwards in catholicity).

In response to this essay, I would answer that pragmatic reasons, even if he thinks they are not purely pragmatic, are not a reason to trump church unity. Would he use the same reasons about the Eucharist in counseling a person who was contemplating leaving the RCC? Would he counsel them to leave or stay if they said that they would be leaving behind their social group, and that they would have to learn an unfamiliar terrain? The theological reasons he adduces are not enough for him to declare the RCC to be a false church.


  1. Reed Here said,

    May 23, 2014 at 9:52 am

    Good stuff Lane.

    I agree with your observation about the RCC’s idolatry, seeing itself as the on-going incarnation of Christ. I was wondering if you could enumerate a few areas where one might “prove” that to a doubter?

    I.e., when I am discipling someone as to why the RCC is apostate, false, a synagogue of Satan regarding their denial of the gospel, I can take them to the pronouncements in the Council of Trent, or some in their Catechism and quickly say, “see, in their own words they deny what Christ teaches.” Where would I go to show this idolatry, the RCC as the continuing incarnation of Christ?


  2. May 23, 2014 at 10:03 am

    Nice analysis, Lane. I would suggest that Leithart belongs in the CREC where one can believe anything their little heart desires without fear of discipline. If he tries to stay in the PCA in Evangel Presbytery, he’ll surely be deposed sooner or later – either for working out of bounds in the CREC in defiance of Evangel’s proper ruling, or for his heresies if he tries to make a stand in Evangel. Evangel isn’t PNWP and I predict that they won’t give him a pass like his old presbytery did because most of Evangel is actually orthodox and confessionally Reformed. Like Lusk, Leithart will find out the hard way, but unfortunately, he’ll waste a lot of the PCA’s time and money in the process. Maybe that’s his real goal – to do as much damage as possible before leaving.

  3. Chris Donato said,

    May 23, 2014 at 10:22 am

    NB: Leithart’s less than stellar response on this doesn’t mean that it’s incoherent to remain separate despite recognition that the RCC is a true church. It just means that Leithart’s offering is less than coherent.

    I do think Leithart lacks the resources to offer a bona fide coherent reason, as would any church that doesn’t stand (wait for it) . . . in succession with the apostles via the faith once delivered and the bishopric.

    But even if one doesn’t buy that the locus of apostolic succession is in and through the bishopric and instead believes it’s only in the transmission of the orthodox faith, that one would still have to come to conclusion that the church of which they’re a part does not offer valid Word and Sacrament. In that case, then yes it would be totally incoherent and sinful to not swim the Tiber (or the Bosphorus). It’s possible Leithart’s assuming this theological reason when he writes that “since we don’t know what the church of the future will look like, he will stay put for now . . ..”

  4. Rusty South said,

    May 23, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Should anyone be up to the challenge, try reading Dr. John Gerstner’s “When Must A Person Leave a Church.” Found in Soli Deo Gloria Publications’ Onward Christian Soldiers, Protestants Affirm the Church, pages 272-309.
    Have some Tums readily available..

  5. Jack Bradley said,

    May 23, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Disappointing to see Leithart’s reference to “ambiguities concerning justification.” I don’t see any ambiguity in Trent’s direct, detailed repudiation of justification by faith ALONE.

  6. Jack Bradley said,

    May 23, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Lane, speaking of “ambiguities concerning justification” I was very glad to see this from N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, pp. 948-949. It seems to clear up the cloudiness in his previous expressions regarding the present/future aspects of justification:

    “In Paul’s theology all this means two tightly interconnected realities, both of which he urgently wants to stress. First, all those over whom that declaration is made are *permanently* ‘in the right’. The status of dikaiosyne is not temporary. It truly anticipates the verdict which will be issued on the final day. This is why ‘justification’ is the heart of what later generations would rightly see as Christian *assurance*. Properly speaking, ‘justification’ is not ‘how someone becomes a Christian’, but ‘how someone who becomes a Christian through believing the gospel and being baptized can be sure they will receive the verdict “righteous” on the last day.’ The judge has already pronounced it, and his word will stand.”

    (Asterisks indicate Wright’s italicized words)

  7. Chris Donato said,

    May 23, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Jack Bradley, Wright has only been over-cloudy to those unwilling to read him charitably. I wrote about seven years ago on this, pointing out that Wright had been plenty clear on the “inevitability” of that future verdict: Baxter’s Soup, Wright’s Soap, and Helm’s in Deep.

  8. Jack Bradley said,

    May 23, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    I think your assessment is accurate for the most part, Chris. I do think, however, that these are necessary clarifications on Wright’s part.

    I should mention Wright’s second of the “two tightly connected realities” regarding justification, which he referred to, because I think it clears up another area that needed further clarity from Wright.

    “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” p. 949:

    “The second point is the main theme of Galatians. . . Paul would, I think, have said that the second point reinforces the first: it is by being accepted as a member of the single family that people are strengthened in their assurance.”

    The “single family”, Wright repeatedly emphasizes, is “Abraham’s worldwide family.” And by emphasizing these “two tightly connected realities” (permanence of justification, acceptance in Abraham’s family) he shows a much more profound connection between ecclesiology (Abrahamic covenant family) and justification, than many have given him credit for.

    One thing that becomes clear in the process is that a non-covenantal, baptistic understanding of salvation makes virtually no connection to the Abrahamic covenant, and is therefore deficient. Obviously not deficient to anything like the degree of deficiency of the Roman Catholic understanding, but deficient nonetheless.

    This is demonstrated in Wright’s response to John Piper’s book, “The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright”

    N. T. Wright, “Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision”:

    p. 15-16: “. . . John Piper [does not] deal at any point with what is central for me, the question of Paul’s understanding of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15.”

    p. 48: “. . . Paul’s repeated quotation of Genesis 15 throughout [Romans] chapter 4 indicates strongly what is going on. That chapter was where God established his covenant with Abraham. . . (4.13) . . . Here we have it: God’s single plan, through Abraham and his family, to bless the whole world. . . . and that it is because of this covenant that God deals with sins through the faithful, obedient death of Jesus the Messiah (3.24-26).”

    p. 49: “God has a plan to save the world: Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite. That is what God has now provided.”

    p. 74: “Paul’s understanding of God’s accomplishment in the Messiah is that this single purpose, this plan-through-Israel-for-the-world, this reason-God-called-Abraham finally came to fruition with Jesus Christ. Here is the point which has so puzzled John Piper that he thinks a ‘covenantal’ reading would be a *belittling* of Paul’s meaning.”

    p. 105: “God’s single-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world has turned, as God always intended, into God’s single-plan-through-the-faithful-Israelite-for-the-world-now-including-Israel-too.”

    p. 80: “Welcome to Paul’s doctrine of justification, rooted in the single scriptural narrative as he read it, reaching out to the waiting world.”

    It really is shocking that Piper’s book on justification has zero reference to the central scriptural narrative regarding justification.

    But maybe it’s not so surprising, when Baptists diminish this same narrative when it comes to the mark of salvation itself. For them to acknowledge the former would necessarily entail acknowledging the latter.

  9. Chris Donato said,

    May 23, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    I agree, Jack. Thanks so much for this helpful follow-up!

  10. Timothy said,

    May 23, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    I think what is underlying his affirmative position in staying, at least in his presentation at BIOLA, is related to his Neo-Hegelian views of the future and sublation, the necessity of ‘false’ churches for the future as well as the low-church evangelicalism (though he wants to perish). They are all necessary in the synthesis of the future. There is good reason he referenced the neo-Hegelian philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.

    Much of his presentation reminded me quite a bit of Moltmann and Pannenberg, and the Eucharist as proleptic partaking of God’s future in a Lubacian sacramentality within a ‘Reformational’ garb. All is in stasis and to be open to the future IS faith and faithfulness, culminating in the openness to God in the Eucharist. From the ashes of self-death, arises the phoenix of the future church. His ontological and philosophical assumptions were beyond the men at the debate, at least from what could be seen in the conversation.

  11. Bryan Cross said,

    May 23, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Hello Lane,

    I mostly agree with your criticisms of Leithart’s post, so I’ll take a moment to cherish that common ground. I posted a similar criticism today at CTC, from the Catholic perspective. I was struck by one thing you said here, and I wonder if you would clarify it for me. You wrote:

    The ultimate reason (for me) for not viewing the RCC as a true church is its own self-understanding as an extension of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is idolatry of the church. It is man worship, church worship. It takes what belongs only to Jesus and gives it to the church, despite its own claims that it does not do that.

    Would you clarify for me what the “it” is that you think “belongs only to Jesus” and is wrongly given to the Church? Thanks.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. tominaz said,

    May 23, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    Good discussion!

  13. greenbaggins said,

    May 23, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks, Bryan, for the vote of confidence! lol The “it” that I believe that the RCC takes for itself is worship. I know very well that they say they do not worship the church. And they make very fine distinctions between “doulia” and “latreia.” But the fact is that the RCC worships itself as the extension of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, whether it is the pope with people kissing his ring, or the worship (I mean, of course, “veneration”) offered to the saints, or the worship offered the bread and wine because a priest has the ministerial power to transubstantiate bread into Christ’s body (that is quite the divine power there!). The “it” is worship.

  14. Dennis said,

    May 24, 2014 at 10:33 am


    I struggle to see where the problem is with the Church as the Incarnation of Christ. Doesn’t Paul say the same thing in 1 Corinthians 12? Doesn’t he say that some are apostles, some are teachers, etc.? Nowhere does he say that we are all teachers or that we should interpret for ourselves. Every part of the Body is important but some are assigned different “parts” as per God’s design.

    I don’t see the Church as “worshiping itself” but rather to extend outward to the world. To reach out and save as many people as possible. To get as many people on the Ark as possible to save them from sin and death.

    I only see one reason to join the Catholic Church. Because it’s true. You and I are obviously on different sides of the spectrum on this. If the Church is not true, then it should be abandoned with vigor and destroyed. But if it is, and a person becomes convinced of it…then they have no choice but to join.

    With the Catholic Church, like Jesus Christ in His day, there are only two options. Accept it as the incarnation, or reject it and try to kill it.

    We are on two different sides of the coin.

  15. Bryan Cross said,

    May 24, 2014 at 11:29 am


    Thanks for clarifying. I don’t agree that Catholics give latreia to the Church. Latreia, by its very nature, is directed to that which one believes to be the highest authority or highest end. If one is giving honor or obedience to something as something less than one’s highest authority and less than one’s highest end, one is ipso facto not giving it latreia. This is why Elisha wasn’t giving Naaman permission to commit idolatry, or forgiveness in advance for committing idolatry, in 2 Kings 5:18-19. Naaman now knew that Rimmon was not the true God, and he would therefore no longer be giving latreia to Rimmon, even while bowing in Rimmon’s temple next to his master. What made it no longer latreia is what was now in Naaman’s heart, namely, an understanding and acceptance that Rimmon was not his highest authority and highest end. But any Catholic with any modicum of catechesis knows that the Church is not the highest authority. That’s why we confess also all the lines of the Creed preceding “and in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” That’s why in the first centuries we were persecuted for being ‘atheists,’ because our God is invisible. The Church, though she is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and thus by grace participates in the divine life as the Mystical Body of Christ, and is that through which the word of God comes to us on earth, is visible. We don’t give latreia to the Church for the same reason we don’t give latreia to fellow Christians in whom the Trinity lives; the creature participating in the divine life is both distinct from and subordinate to the divine life in which he participates. Same with the Church. The Bride is a creature elevated by gracious participation in the divine life, but nevertheless eternally a creature, and thus never given latreia by any Catholic who knows that the Church receives all she is and has from Someone higher than the Church, namely, her Head, Jesus Christ.

    Thanks again for your clarification.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Bryan Cross said,

    May 24, 2014 at 12:44 pm


    Also, here’s how I would respond to your following claim:

    whether it is the pope with people kissing his ring, or the worship (I mean, of course, “veneration”) offered to the saints, or the worship offered the bread and wine because a priest has the ministerial power to transubstantiate bread into Christ’s body (that is quite the divine power there!). The “it” is worship.

    Let’s separate out the Eucharist from the examples you cite, because yes, we do give latreia to the Body and Blood of Christ, because we believe them to be Christ Himself, and Christ is God. But we don’t believe that the Church is identical to the Eucharist; rather, we believe the Church participates in the Eucharist, offers the Eucharist, receives the Eucharist, and is nourished and elevated by the Eucharist. But we do not believe that the Church is identical to the Eucharist.

    The veneration of the saints is not latreia because we don’t believe the saints to be God. If you don’t believe there is a distinction between latreia and dulia, do you believe then that in heaven the saints do not give honor to each other? Surely you believe that we should honor our fallen veterans, this being Memorial Day weekend. How much more, then, is it right and fitting that we honor properly the heroes of the Kingdom of God, which is far greater than the USA? And if so, then you must believe that there is a principled difference between the honor you give to the heroes of the Kingdom, and the adoration you give to God alone. Same with Catholics.

    Regarding kissing the pope’s ring, so long as a person doesn’t believe that the pope is God, that’s not latreia, for the reason I explained in my previous comment. That’s a showing of honor and respect. Kissing a ring is not intrinsically latreia, for the same reason that Naaman’s bowing was not intrinsically latreia.

    Regarding the priest’s power in relation to the Eucharist, the priest does not have in himself the power to transform bread and wine into the Body and Blood. The Holy Spirit effects this transformation. Through his valid ordination the priest has the promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit will do this when the priest invokes the Spirit in the celebration of this sacrament. But this does not make the priest God. Just as Peter and Paul being vehicles of divine power by performing miracles in the NT did not make them God, so likewise the priest being a vehicle of the divine power by which bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ does not make the priest divine. Hence just as acknowledging the Apostles’ gift to be an agent by which God performs miracles is not latreia, so acknowledging the priest’s gift to be an agent by which God performs the Eucharistic miracle is not latreia.

    So none of the four examples you cite shows that Catholics give latreia to the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Timothy said,

    May 24, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    It has more to do with the lodging of the church as totus christus into the processions of the Trinity (between Son and Spirit) and removing the freedom of the Spirit in Proclean fashion. That is idolatry. It has less to do with individuals post Vatican II and more to do with the church as a whole, which can in microcosmic fashion be seen to be representative in the pope himself.

    Calvin, in good Chalcedonian fashion, sought a pneumatology that avoided idolatry, especially in his Eucharistic thought. If the Spirit cannot be absent, then he is no longer present. If there is no room for the removal of the lampstand, that is idolatry.

    One cannot distort the economic Trinity without distorting the immanent/ontological Trinity. A good Thomist would understand this. It has more to do with just honoring the king or emperor as supreme or other saints. It alters Trinitarian thought itself by creating an aporia in the life of God that becomes inexorable. That is an idol.

  18. Timothy said,

    May 24, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    I might add that even Leithart gets that, and so, is not a modern papist.

  19. Jack Bradley said,

    May 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

    Before we continue too far afield, the issue here is justification.

    Michael Horton, the Christian Faith, pp. 622ff:

    . . . “the Council of Trent (1545-1563) in no uncertain terms condemned the Reformation’s understanding of justification. . . Rome teaches that. . . while initial justification is by grace alone, final justification depends also on the works of the believer, which God graciously accepts as meritorious. Since the believer’s progress in holiness is never adequate to cancel the guilt of actual sins, he or she must be refined in purgatory before being welcomed into heaven.

    By contrast, the Reformers taught, and evangelicals teach, that justification is distinct from sanctification. . . . justification is a verdict that declares sinners to be righteous even while they are inherently unrighteous, simply on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed to them. Whereas Rome teaches that one is finally justified by being sanctified, the evangelical conviction is that one is being sanctified because one has already been justified.

    . . . the understanding of justification as an exclusively forensic (legal) declaration, based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness through faith alone, was the chief insight of the Reformation. . . God’s free acquittal of sinners for the sake of Christ. . .

    . . . Trent, Canon 12: ‘If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.’”

    Trent anathematized the central truth of the gospel: grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone.

    I have great difficulty, therefore, seeing the RCC as a true church. Not, of course, to say that there are not true Christians in the RCC, but most emphatically to say that they are true Christians in spite of the official teaching of the RCC.

  20. pilgrim said,

    May 25, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Does Peter Leihart know how divisive he is being in all of this?
    How can he not?
    And yet he persists.

    Isn’t that alone a basis for church discipline?

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with PNW’s verdict on Leithart, how can they ignore the divisive nature he has been showing?

  21. greenbaggins said,

    May 25, 2014 at 9:29 am

    Bryan, I know very well that the RCC doesn’t think it is offering God-worship to the creatures. I already qualified my remarks in that vein. So I wasn’t ever actually accusing the RCC of consciously and explicitly offering latreia to anything except God. What I challenge is the distinction between dulia and latreia. In practice (especially in Mariology), the distinction gets quite blurred, especially for the lay-member who doesn’t understand the officially described difference between dulia and latreia. If plain old honor is all that dulia meant, then dulia away (we are even commanded to honor our parents in the 5th commandment). But what the RCC ascribes to Mary goes WAY beyond plain old honor. Surely even you must see this. Her mediatorial role both in prayer and in atonement encroaches on the mediatorial role of Jesus, not to mention that it assumes God won’t really hear us without Mary.

  22. Bryan Cross said,

    May 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Lane, (re: #21)

    I don’t want to take your thread off-topic, so please stop me if you wish.

    What I challenge is the distinction between dulia and latreia. In practice (especially in Mariology), the distinction gets quite blurred, especially for the lay-member who doesn’t understand the officially described difference between dulia and latreia. If plain old honor is all that dulia meant, then dulia away (we are even commanded to honor our parents in the 5th commandment).

    If I’m understanding you correctly, you’re acknowledging the distinction (or something equivalent) between dulia and latreia, because you agree that honor is rightly given to mere human persons (e.g. parents), while latreia is rightly given only to God. So your objection is not to the distinction itself, but to Catholic practice that blurs the distinction to lay members. I can see that as a legitimate concern, though I would say that the solution to that problem is better catechesis, not the rejection of the distinction. At the same time, even in spite of the rather poor state of lay catechesis in the Catholic Church, I have never met a Catholic who believed that any particular saint is God, or that the Church is God. I think that distinction, i.e. between God and creatures, is quite clear in the minds of most all practicing Catholics, even if they are poorly catechized in other areas. It is a distinction made clear by the Creed, which practicing Catholics recite at least once a week.

    But what the RCC ascribes to Mary goes WAY beyond plain old honor. Surely even you must see this. Her mediatorial role both in prayer and in atonement encroaches on the mediatorial role of Jesus, not to mention that it assumes God won’t really hear us without Mary.

    Well, I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that we believe that God won’t really hear us without Mary. Again, I’ve never met a Catholic who thinks that. We believe that God is omniscient, and thus knows what we’re going to ask even before we ask it. So the Catholic doctrine of “communion of the saints” does not presuppose either that God is not omniscient or that He ignores prayers that do not come from saints. God ignores nothing, and responds to every sincere prayer, because He draws near to all who draw near to Him. (James 4:8) Yet at the same time, and all other things being equal, it is true that a prayer made by many is more efficacious than a prayer made by one, and a prayer made by a holy person is more efficacious than a prayer made by an unholy person, as I’ve explained here. So we ask others, and especially holy persons, to pray for us not because we believe that otherwise God won’t really hear us, but rather so that our petitions might be more efficacious, as coming from the household of God, and especially from those most beloved to God. We include Mary in the persons we ask to pray for us because we believe that by the grace of Christ’s Cross she is the holiest creature God has made, and because in making her the Second Eve, God has made her also the mother of all the living, i.e. those living by grace. So it has pleased God to give her to us as mother, as Christ did from the Cross in saying “Behold, your mother,” the Apostle John there being a type of the whole Church.

    Regarding the “encroaching” objection, I don’t see how or why her praying for us encroaches on Christ’s mediatorial role, if you believe that asking other people to pray for you does not encroach on Christ’s mediatorial role. In other words, in order for her praying for us to encroach on Christ’s mediatorial role, it would need to be true that any efficacy of prayer by a mere creature for another creature encroaches on Christ’s mediatorial role. But surely your own congregation makes prayer requests, right? So to me the objection seems ad hoc, by treating her prayer for us as illegitimate or competing with Christ’s intercession, while at the same time allowing and accepting and encouraging other persons’ prayers for us.

    Similarly, an objection claiming that we encroach on Christ because we give more honor to Mary than to our earthly parents seems also to be ad hoc, for the same reason. Just because we give more honor to Mary than to our earthly parents, it does not follow that we are giving latreia to Mary. Just as honor given to parents does not encroach on Christ, so greater honor given to Mary does not encroach on Christ. What is needed, in order to make the objection principled, and not ad hoc, is showing that what we give to Mary is latreia, and not merely some form of dulia. And again, for the reason I explained above from the case of Naaman, pointing to cases of Catholics honoring images or icons of Mary, or praying in front of such images or icons, does not show that these are cases of latreia, because typically in such cases the person is approaching the image knowing both that the image is not God and that Mary is not God.

    Having been a Catholic eight years now, and having visited scores of Catholic churches during that time, I’ve never once witnessed an instance of latreia given to Mary. Of course I’ve heard many Protestants raise this objection many times, but it seems to me that the objection begs the question by presupposing [mistakenly] that these forms of honor we give to Mary are latreia, just as the objection that we worship bread and wine begs the question by presupposing precisely what is in question between the respective paradigms, namely, that the bread and wine does not actually become the Body and Blood of Christ. Regarding the encroaching objection in relation to honor given to Mary, however, the problematic assumption, it seems to me, is that because the form of honor Catholics give to Mary is not a form of honor any Protestant (as Protestant) would give to any mere creature, therefore it must be latreia. So to resolve the disagreement, in my opinion, we have to lay out the principled difference between latreia and dulia, which requires uncovering the very essences of latreia and dulia, respectively. Then we have to see whether Catholic practice toward Mary is latreia or a form of dulia. It is not enough to show that Catholics give more honor to Mary than Protestants do, or give to Mary honor that Protestants wouldn’t be comfortable giving to Mary. Those claims are presumably true, but their truth doesn’t demonstrate that Catholics give latreia to Mary. We have to go deeper than that, and I expect that you agree with me at least on that point. But perhaps I’ve already said too much for one comment. A blessed Lord’s Day to you Lane, and may Christ graciously continue to help us resolve what still divides us.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  23. May 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Pilgrim – The same way that MOP ignored that Meyers wants to rewrite chapter 7 of the WCF, amongst others, and both MOP and PNWP ignored Meyers and Leithart confusing the roles of the Lord’s Supper vs. baptism and thereby hold to baptismal regeneration lite. In thinking about it later, both Meyers and Leithart have said substantially, and sometimes literally, what Wilkins wrote before he came within hours of being indicted by the SJC and fled the PCA. His presbytery couldn’t see the truth, either, but at least they had the courage to refer the case.

  24. Jack Bradley said,

    May 26, 2014 at 11:52 am

    I can appreciate these side discussions, but let’s continue to remember that the big E on the eyechart is justification and the four Solas. These are what made the Reformation Great and what we must continue to preserve and propagate.

  25. May 26, 2014 at 6:34 pm


    Justification is precisely what FV undermines. Here’s how baptized reprobates are described by Leithart, Meyers, Wilkins, et al:

    They may enjoy for a season the blessings of the covenant, including the forgiveness of sins, adoption, possession of the kingdom, sanctification, etc., and yet apostatize and fall short of the grace of God. [link with more details here]

    Further, FV offers union with Christ to the baptized reprobate, failing to distinguish between the broad and narrow considerations in the Covenant of Grace:

    In fact, covenant is a real relationship, consisting of real communion with the Triune God through union with Christ. The covenant is not some thing that exists apart from Christ or in addition to Him (another means of grace)-rather, the covenant is union with Christ. Thus, being in covenant gives all the blessings of being united to Christ. There is no salvation apart from covenant simply because there is no salvation apart from union with Christ, and without union with Christ there is no covenant at all.

    Because being in covenant with God means being in Christ, those who are in covenant have all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Union with Christ means that all that is true of Christ is true of us. This seems clear by how the apostles address the churches. [my bold]

    FV includes the baptized reprobate in that description. That cuts the heart out of the gospel, assigning saving benefits to the reprobate and eliminating assurance for the elect, the latter of which is offered repeatedly in the New Testament, not least of which is Phil 1:6. According to Leithart, perseverance comes through the baptized individual’s covenant faithfulness as assessed at the (mythical) final verdict of justification. FV, in its own word, turns the “big E” on the chart on its head by requiring our faithfulness rather than God’s for perseverance. That’s sounds more like Arminianism or Romanism than the Reformation gospel to me.

    None of this is new. FVers have been openly writing and teaching these abominations. Leithart and Meyers are teaching them now at FV central, Trinity House Institute, along with the usual FV heretics. It’s hard to see which sola (of which there are five, BTW) they do not pervert. But that seems just fine with PNWP and MOP.

  26. Jack Bradley said,

    May 26, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    RM, I do stand corrected on the number of solas :) (I left out “Deo Gloria”) But I’ve said all I have to say re: FV and stand by my previous comments.

  27. May 26, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    I don’t know what I have to offer in a thread where Bryan Cross is covering the bases, but it seemed to me as I read your post that you might be misunderstanding something when you complain that the Catholic Church views herself as “an extension of the incarnation of Christ.” I have never heard any claim of the Church stated in such a way, and it seems to me perfectly biblical theology to say that we all, as Christians, having been baptized into Christ and having received His Spirit, have Christ living in and through us in this world. We are the Body of Christ: we are His hands and feet and voice. We are the Church. Is the “Body of Christ” not, in a sense, an “extension of His incarnation”?

  28. Timothy said,

    May 26, 2014 at 11:17 pm


    While it is helpful and essential to describe these very issues, it will make little effect if the philosophical assumptions are themselves not exposed and dealt with in a constructive manner. What good is it to say someone doesn’t believe in justification sola fide, when their metaphysics make such a view of nature/grace impossible? It does little good.

    Lest we forget, there were many philosophical advancements that actually made the precise definition of justification possible in the Reformation that was not present prior to that time. With developing philosophical nuance, came a breaking point in theology and more precision became necessary (i.e. developmental theory of dogma).

    The Reformation distinctives are being undermined long before we even get to the heart of the Gospel. We do not live an age that makes sense of imputation either in a conceptual or structural manner. So, to speak of imputation even within NAPARC circles is becoming very difficult, and even nonsensical, for most of these churches’ constituency.

    So, the ‘other’ issues are not tangential, but rather of the essence of the debate, about which no one is speaking, except the very people we are ‘criticizing’. They keep talking about different issues, but we somehow can’t see that they are talking about anything else. This is problematic for linguistic and apologetic reasons.

  29. May 27, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Jack – I knew that you knew there are five, but I couldn’t resist. :-)

  30. May 27, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Well, I don’t know where you’re getting the idea that we believe that God won’t really hear us without Mary.


    The idea is bound up in the very nature of her unofficial yet prevalent co-mediatorial role of all graces. One might believe that the Father won’t hear us apart from the mediation of the God-man Jesus; and so it is among many Catholics regarding Mary seeing that she is believed for good Catholic reasons to share the same status as the Son in this regard.

    Again, I’ve never met a Catholic who thinks that

    It is presupposed in practice. That it is not explicitly stated or clearly understood by Catholics only speaks to the manner in which Catholics think hard about any of their beliefs.

  31. Ron said,

    May 27, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I might as well add that many Catholics only have rosary prayer meetings. These same Catholics often pray to Mary as opposed to through Mary. So, although they are not strictly thinking in terms of God not hearing them without Mary. They behave as if Mary is the one who answers prayer, which cashes out the same: the goddess “won’t really hear us without Mary.” Now, of course, this is not in accordance with Roman Catholic theology, but it is undeniable a practice among Roman Catholics that is at least not often corrected and more commonly tacitly approved. The reason being, whatever keeps one professing their Catholicism, even if it’s an idolatrous practice, is usually fine with the local parish officials.

  32. May 30, 2014 at 8:55 pm

    A cynic would say that Leithart is staying put because both the Anglican Church and the RCC are more highly structured and hierarchical than the PCA is, and he would have less freedom to “move around” intellectually or theologically than he has now, if he went over to one of those communions. Likes his freedom, doesn’t want more authority over him. That’s what a cynic would say…

  33. May 31, 2014 at 1:18 pm


    I agree. Leithart hasn’t worked in the PCA in decades. The PCA in general, and PNWP in particular, provide his top cover as you assert. He could operate freely in the CREC, who actually provides his paycheck, but having the CREC after your name doesn’t have the credibility of connection with the PCA, at least until FVers bring down the PCA to the level of the CREC and it becomes a wash.

  34. dgwired said,

    June 1, 2014 at 4:46 am

    Bryan, what about “co-redemptrix” don’t you understand?

    “62. This maternity of Mary in the order of grace began with the consent which she gave in faith at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, and lasts until The eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this salvific duty, but by her constant intercession continued to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation. By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and cultics, until they are led into the happiness of their true home. Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked by the Church under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. This, however, is to be so understood that it neither takes away from nor adds anything to the dignity and efficaciousness of Christ the one Mediator.

    “For no creature could ever be counted as equal with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer. Just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by the ministers and by the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is really communicated in different ways to His creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source.

    “The Church does not hesitate to profess this subordinate role of Mary. It knows it through unfailing experience of it and commends it to the hearts of the faithful, so that encouraged by this maternal help they may the more intimately adhere to the Mediator and Redeemer.” (Lumen Gentium)


    40. After the events of the Resurrection and Ascension Mary entered the Upper Room together with the Apostles to await Pentecost, and was present there as the Mother of the glorified Lord. She was not only the one who “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith” and loyally persevered in her union with her Son “unto the Cross,” but she was also the “handmaid of the Lord,” left by her Son as Mother in the midst of the infant Church: “Behold your mother.” Thus there began to develop a special bond between this Mother and the Church. For the infant Church was the fruit of the Cross and Resurrection of her Son. Mary, who from the beginning had given herself without reserve to the person and work of her Son, could not but pour out upon the Church, from the very beginning, her maternal self-giving. After her Son’s departure, her motherhood remains in the Church as maternal mediation: interceding for all her children, the Mother cooperates in the saving work of her Son, the Redeemer of the world. In fact the Council teaches that the “motherhood of Mary in the order of grace . . . will last without interruption until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect.” With the redeeming death of her Son, the maternal mediation of the handmaid of the Lord took on a universal dimension, for the work of redemption embraces the whole of humanity. Thus there is manifested in a singular way the efficacy of the one and universal mediation of Christ “between God and men” Mary’s cooperation shares, in its subordinate character, in the universality of the mediation of the Redeemer, the one Mediator. This is clearly indicated by the Council in the words quoted above.

    “For,” the text goes on, “taken up to heaven, she did not lay aside this saving role, but by her manifold acts of intercession continues to win for us gifts of eternal salvation.” With this character of “intercession,” first manifested at Cana in Galilee, Mary’s mediation continues in the history of the Church and the world. We read that Mary “by her maternal charity, cares for the brethren of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led to their happy homeland.” In this way Mary’s motherhood continues unceasingly in the Church as the mediation which intercedes, and the Church expresses her faith in this truth by invoking Mary “under the titles of Advocate, Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix and Mediatrix.” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater)

    That’s a little bit higher than my deceased parents’ pay grade.

  35. Bob S said,

    June 1, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    27 I don’t know what I have to offer in a thread where Bryan Cross is covering the bases, but it seemed to me as I read your post that you might be misunderstanding something when you complain that the Catholic Church views herself as “an extension of the incarnation of Christ.”

    Joseph, Bryan does indeed have a way of covering the bases – as in obstruction of the same. Nobody denies that the church is the body of Christ. For starters, the question is whether that body partakes of his divinity; further that the hierarchy is the only part of that body that counts, much more partakes of God’s infallibility.

    I have never heard any claim of the Church stated in such a way, and it seems to me perfectly biblical theology to say that we all, as Christians, having been baptized into Christ and having received His Spirit, have Christ living in and through us in this world.

    The salient biblical/theological distinction again is whether baptism automatically ipso facto unites us to Christ, or whether the sacrament of baptism is a sign and seal of the baptism of the Spirit which unites us to Christ by faith. And since Rome and the FV both are inclined to take the sign for what it signifies, the sacrament for the spiritual reality; from a biblical and theological point of view, confusion results.
    (But maybe that’s what was intended from the get go. It’s easier to get the hoi polloi in the pew to drink the kool aid.)

    Add to that Leithart’s shell game of where to find the true church, never mind what kind of gospel the true church would be preaching. Of course the true church can’t be found in his stalking horse/proxy for Protestantism, but by the same token it also can’t be found at Rome. Go figure. (Bryan has his work cut out for him here.) Talk about having your cupcake and eating it too. But any day now, the true church will appear upon the horizon and Leithart will transfer his credentials promptly/joyfully.

    FWIW suffice it to say, neither Leithart’s agenda nor Bryan’s efforts at ecumenicity scratch our itch or adequately assuage our skepticism of their competence, never mind credibility, to answer the questions they purport to address.

  36. June 8, 2014 at 1:36 am

    This will not be a theological argument but an experiential one. Having been raised in the RCC, converted at age 18 to the Biblical faith, I had no idea what the Word of God said until a Protestant showed me. The RCC obfuscates any teaching directly from the Scriptures. I experienced this fog in my parochial school education as well as in the weekly mass. The lacquer of extra-Biblical ceremonies, sacraments, ecclesiastical hierarchy, formalism, Hellenist epistemology, Mariology, saint veneration, Platonising celibacy, etc, etc. was so thick that getting at the Word was truly impossible. Anyone who tells you differently has no real experience inside of Roman church life.

    Men may leave the Protestant church and go to Rome, but they do so with an understanding gained in and from the Protestant church. They read their current experience from one that could never have been gained inside the Roman; they are self-deceived.

    This is not to say that there have not been great men inside of Rome. De Lubac and Rhaner come to mind. But these men tinkered with the Hellenist system and got slapped for it. They made some headway, but never affected the total structure of the Vatican. They were the exception.

    All for Christ,

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