Contra Leithart: No, The Reformation Isn’t Over: Before You Reject At Least Understand It

Peter Leithart declares the “End of Protestantism;” it’s not at all clear, however, that he understands what he wants to end

The Reformation isn’t over, not at least for the confessional Protestant churches, who don’t equivocate, who understand what Rome is really saying, who still submit to the Word of God as the sole, unique authority for faith and life, who affirm the sole sufficiency of Christ and righteousness for us for acceptance with God, for salvation from wrath, and for sanctification, who are resting in Christ and in his finished work for us, and who find their assurance in Christ for us and his promises to us. It’s unfortunate but telling that Leithart thinks these things are negotiable.


In a post on the First Things blog today [Nov. 8, 2013], Peter Leithart declares the “End of Protestantism.” It’s not at all clear, however, that he understands what he wants to end. He begins with a sociological observation about contemporary English non-conformists and uses that to leverage the definition of “Protestant,” which he proceeds to use as a foil to justify his refashioning of Protestantism.

For those who aren’t aware, until recently, he was Wilson’s right-hand man at HQ in Moscow. His mission, in which he seems to have succeeded (at least according to Lane Keister), was to take the sting out of the 2007 PCA GA ruling against the Federal Vision movement. Almost immediately after the ruling he, Wilson, and others issued a statement affirming the very errors rejected by the PCA. He was essentially daring the PCA to charge him. They did and, in what Lane Keister has called a “wagon-encircling kangaroo trial” his presbytery was unable to convict him. On appeal the Standing Judicial Commission voted 15-2 to refuse to consider the record of the trial, deciding to consider only procedural questions. As a result, Leithart remains a minister in good standing in the PCA while openly confessing doctrines at variance what was adopted by GA in 2007.

In the piece he juxtaposes “Protestant” with “Reformational Catholicism.” For anyone familiar with the rhetoric and teaching of the Reformers and their successors, this juxtaposition is just silly. The Protestants (Luther, Melanchthon, Bucer, Calvin) and more to the point, the Reformed Churches did not cede the adjective “catholic” to the Romanists.

In contrast to the Reformed Reformation, Leithart wants to make Rome a true church. The Protestants and the Reformed Churches were the original Reformational Catholics. The Belgic Confession (1561), the confession of the Dutch Reformed Churches, distinguishes between the true church and the false church and sects (articles 28–29). It consigns Rome, with the Anabaptists, to the category of a false church or a sect. Calvin, in his lengthy response to the Council of Trent (a part of which you can read here) he castigated Rome for becoming a sect. William Perkins, in 1597, stoutly defended the confessional Protestants as the true catholics over against Rome. They accused Rome of becoming a sect because she, for the first time in the history of the church, in council, anathematized the holy gospel. In so doing, she cut herself off from the broad stream of the church universal (which is all catholic means). By definition, Roman Catholic is an oxymoron. There was a pastor in Rome, who arrogated to himself, over time, authority that belongs to no single pastor and then finally he made himself a competitor to the head of the church.

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