Dissenting Opinion in the SJC Leithart Case

"The SJC decision fundamentally misunderstood and misapplied the role of the higher court in this case"

The question is not whether the Complainant provided sufficient evidence or proved his case; the question is rather whether the Record of the Case shows that Presbytery erred. The SJC has “the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court.” We dissent because we believe the SJC decision has failed to fulfill this duty.

 

Early this year, the SJC ruled in the Leithart case affirming Pacific Northwest Presbytery’s not guilty verdict. The Aquila Report published the Leithart decision back in April. The majority decision stated in conclusion:

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.

With General Assembly meeting next week, the Leithart decision, the dissent opinion, and two concurring opinions are published in the Commissioners’ Handbook. The concurring opinions are also available here and here. Included below is the full text of the dissent written by TE Dominic Aquila and RE Dave Haigler.

DISSENT
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA
STANDING JUDICIAL COMMISSION
CASE 2012-05
RE GERALD HEDMAN
V.
PACIFIC NORTHWEST PRESBYTERY
APRIL 11, 2013

I. SUMMARY OF THE FACTS

We concur with the Summary of the Facts contained in the SJC opinion.

II. STATEMENT OF THE ISSUE

Our dissent finds fault with the framing of the SJC’s Statement of the Issue, “Did the Complainant demonstrate…?” The Complaint was not dependent upon evidentiary sufficiency but on the Record of the Case (ROC). The correct Statement of the Issue would be: Does the Record of the Case show that the accused was guilty of holding and teaching views that are in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, and further, did Pacific Northwest Presbytery err in rendering non-guilty verdicts on the accused?

Further, the SJC decision fundamentally misunderstood and misapplied the role of the higher court in this case, applying an unnecessarily limited standard against which to judge:

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.

The SJC provides no justification for this limited standard of judgment, and it is incorrect. Nothing in our Constitution requires the Complainant to “prove his case” as is the case in secular courts, and the higher court in this case is not limited to this standard.

Note the broad standard of review given in BCO 39-4:

The higher court does have the power and obligation of judicial review, which cannot be satisfied by always deferring to the findings of a lower court. Therefore, a higher court should not consider itself obliged to exhibit the same deference to a lower court when the issues being reviewed involve the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church. Regarding such issues, the higher court has the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court (emphasis added).

BCO 43-10 states:

The higher court has power, in its discretion, to annul the whole or any part of the action of a lower court against which complaint has been made, or to send the matter back to the lower court with instructions for a new hearing.

Moreover, the subordinate Constitutional standards are presumptively biblical, and it is not the duty of courts to have to entertain proof these are biblical when someone says their views may vary from the Constitution, that is, that their views are more biblical than the Constitution. BCO 39-3 states in this regard:

While affirming that the Scripture is “the supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined” (WCF 1.10), and that the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America is “subordinate to the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inerrant Word of God” (BCO Preface, III), and while affirming also that this Constitution is fallible (WCF 31.3), the Presbyterian Church in America affirms that this subordinate and fallible Constitution has been “adopted by the church” (BCO Preface, III)“as standard expositions of the teachings of Scripture in relation to both faith and practice” (BCO 29-1) and as setting forth a form of government and discipline “in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity” (BCO 21-5.3) (emphasis added).

BCO 39-3 goes on to say that the standards of judicial review are designed “To insure that this Constitution is not amended, violated or disregarded in judicial process….”

We believe that the SJC’s decision misapplies these standards of judicial review, by establishing a presbyterial option on views such as TE Leithart’s, that is, by allowing this presbytery to determine what is Constitutional within its bounds, instead of following our clear duty to declare the undisputed views of TE Leithart to be out of accord with the Constitution. Such a presbyterial option weakens us as a confessional church, contrary to our Constitution. Respondent’s Brief shows this position to be intentional, as Respondent cites 9 SJC cases involving Constitutional interpretation, argues 4 of them allowed presbyterial options on issues such as judicial law for today, remarriage after divorce, and Calendar Day views of creation, and argues that 5 of them disallowed presbyterial options, holding that certain views “are unconstitutional and are fundamentally out of accord with the doctrine of the PCA.” (Page 8, emphasis in original), those 5 cases involving the finality of the Canon of Scripture, infant baptism and limited atonement.

What are these required standards of judicial review? BCO 39-3(2) says a higher court may not reverse a factual finding of a lower court unless there is “clear error.” The same applies on matters of “discretion and judgment;” there must be “clear error.” 39-3(3). There does not have to be “clear error,” however, in matters of interpreting the Constitution. “Therefore, a higher court should not consider itself obliged to exhibit the same deference to a lower court when the issues being reviewed involve the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church. Regarding such issues, the higher court has the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court.” 39-3(4). Thus, the SJC’s reliance on evidentiary sufficiency and the burden of proof is misplaced. Of course, we are bound by the Record of the Case and such other documents that are properly before us, as our oath says (RAO 17-1).

Thus, the issue before the SJC should have been: Does the ROC reflect that one or more views of the defendant Teaching Elder (TE) Peter Leithart, as alleged in the 5-point indictment in this case, and as shown by the ROC, are at variance with the PCA Constitution, that is, out of accord with our doctrinal standards.

III. JUDGMENT

Yes. The Record of the Case shows that the accused is guilty of holding and teaching views that are in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, and further, that Pacific Northwest Presbytery erred in rendering non-guilty verdicts on the accused. The SJC should have annulled the non-guilty verdicts (BCO 43-10) and directed the Presbytery to either (1) conduct a new trial, or (2) request by Reference the General Assembly to conduct a trial (BCO 41).

IV. REASONING & OPINION

In General:

Crucial to the SJC’s conclusion is the statement of the Presbytery’s Judicial Commission, “TE Leithart’s differences with the Standards amounted to semantic differences.” As we demonstrate below, this is clearly not the case. His differences with the Standards are substantive, substantial, and do strike at the vitals of the system of doctrine taught in the PCA Standards.

Crucial also to the SJC’s decision is this statement of the Presbytery’s Judicial Commission: “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.” Again, this is not correct. The SJC says his variances with the standards are semantic; that is, as understood by the SJC TE Leithart’s views are Confessional. The SJC cannot avoid the effect that its affirmance of this case declares and condones the Constitutionality of Leithart’s views. Couching the affirmance in terms of evidentiary insufficiency or any other rationale for deference to PNWP is mistaken, and further, this does not work to preserve the peace and purity of the church.

Again and again, the SJC says in various ways the prosecution did not prove its case. But the correct issue is whether the 740 page ROC exposes numerous examples of TE Leithart’s views being out of accord with the Constitution; and the pointed answer is yes, as shown below.

The SJC says, “TE Leithart expressly affirmed his subscription to specific statements in the Westminster Standards that were included in the indictment or raised during the trial.” But the ROC shows that TE Leithart makes clear that he claimed to believe Confessional X, but what he meant by that was Heterodox Y, and our Constitution shows conclusively that Y is heterodox, that is, out of accord with our Standards.

The SJC says, “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.” However, it is not the business of our courts to merely “urge and encourage,” when someone uses “standard theological terms (such as baptism, justification, sanctification, efficacious, and arrabon) in non-standard ways….” It is their duty to say that such “non-standard ways” are out of accord with our Constitution. And we assert that the very fact that the SJC gave this counsel demonstrates a lingering sense that TE Liethart’s non-standard formulations are problematic, even to being more than just semantical.

On Baptism:

Charge 1 alleges that TE Leithart contradicts the Westminster Standards (WS) and Scripture by “attributing to the sacrament of baptism saving benefits such as regeneration, union with Christ, and adoption,” citing WCF 28.5-6; John 1:12-13; Rom. 2:28-9; and Heb. 4:2; 11:6 (ROC 59).

Dr. Leithart’s defense contends that, although his views on baptism might not accord unambiguously with the PCA’s Constitutional documents, his views are rooted in more ancient confessions and catechisms such as The Tetrapolitan Confession (1530), The Bohemian Confession (1535), The First Helvetic Confession (1536), The Large Emden Catechism (1551), The French Confession (1559), Theodore Beza’s Confession (1560), The Hungarian Confessio Catholica (1562), etc. (ROC 127-144).

But this appeal to other confessions that have not been approved by the PCA misplaces our standard of appellate review. It is no defense to being out of accord with the PCA Constitution to assert that others earlier in history may have also believed in a certain way.

There was a dispute at the trial whether Dr. Leithart’s views on baptism are characterized by ex opere operato, that is, “by the work worked” (ROC 471). One of the prosecution’s witnesses said:

ROC 415/12: Dr. Horton’s testimony: “Professor Leithart says he affirms ex
13 opere operato. So it’s at least Lutheran, if not further, a field from the reformed system on
14 baptism and therefore ecclesiology, visible invisible church, and therefore apostasy. And
15 when it comes to those questions, it seems to me that, it – – it’s completely Lutheran. It’s
16 indistinguishable. That is systematically Lutheran. Not just one point here or there but
17 systematically Lutheran in contrast to the Westminster system.”

Of course, Dr. Leithart denied he believes that baptism is ex opere operato) (ROC 471), but an objective analysis of his actual statements shows he does so believe (by virtue of baptism, the person baptized “has certain privileges,” but is not “eternally saved” (ROC 471). It is not a question of fact to which we owe deference to the Presbytery, but a question of interpreting the Constitution, which is our duty regardless of the Presbytery’s findings.

The prosecution’s witness, Dr. Horton, showed he was quite familiar with Leithart’s writings (ROC 358ff). Likewise, the prosecution’s other expert, TE Lane Keister, testified:

ROC 427/7: TE Lane Keister’s testimony: “I
8 felt it my duty to read far more widely in the works of Leithart. Adherence to the Ninth
9 commandments and love for the brothers that I am to embody required no less of me.
10 Following are the books that I’ve read of TE Leithart in chronological order: Daddy Why
11 Was I Excommunicated, 1992; Kingdom and The Power, 1993; Wise Words, 1995; A House
12 for My Name, 2000; Blessed Are The Hungry, 2000; Against Christianity, 2003; A Son to Me,
13 2003 – -“

At that point, we note that the Defense interrupted Rev. Keister’s testimony to “stipulate” that he had read all those books, but this interruption distracted the prosecutor and witness, and he failed to finish testifying to the list of books he had read. However, again by stipulation, 40 pages of testimony from Rev. Keister was admitted in writing, to save time in oral testimony, which is quoted in part below to take up at the point of interruption above to finish the list of books by Dr. Leithart that Keister had read (ROC 276):

From Silence to Song (2003);The Priesthood of the Plebs (2003); The Promise of His Appearing (2004); A Great Mystery (2006); 1 & 2 Kings (2006); The Baptized Body (2007); Among the Postmoderns (2008); Deep Exegesis (2009); From Behind the Veil (2009); Defending Constantine (2010); The Four (2010).

(ROC 276). Rev. Keister went on to list all the journal articles, etc., by Dr. Leithart he had read. Keister’s readings were by far the most extensive of any witness at the trial except perhaps Dr. Leithart himself (“read every single book, every single journal article, every single theological book”) (ROC 439), compared to the Defense’s experts, who testified that they had read very little of Leithart, that is, mainly materials supplied in connection with the trial (ROC 584). The Defense in their oral argument and at the trial (ROC 438) objected to Rev. Keister as being biased and incompetent against Dr. Leithart, as evidenced by these extensive readings, and apparently because he did not have a doctorate in theology (ROC 440). We hold that one of the qualifications of a good expert witness is specialized knowledge of the matters at issue, consistent with the trial moderator’s ruling (ROC 441), which in this case was the views of Dr. Leithart; so we hold the Defense’s objection to Rev. Keister unfounded. Rev. Keister testified as follows concerning the Confessional view of baptism:

Baptism in particular is the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church. Other passages in the Standards indicate that children are already members of the visible church. For instance, the very definition of the visible church in 25.2 says that the visible church consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, and their children. It does not say “and of their baptized children,” but simply “and of their children.” WLC 62 says exactly the same thing. This is based on the teaching of 1 Cor. 7:14, which talks about the faith of the believing parent as being the basis for the children being holy. Baptism is nowhere mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7. The basis for the children being holy is the faith of the parent or parents. That is the basis for why they should be baptized. They are already holy by virtue of covenant continuity. They are already part of the visible church. So when baptism is said to be the solemn admission of the party into the visible church, this means, as Thomas Boston says, “It supposes the party to have a right to these privileges before, and does not make them members of the visible church, but admits them solemnly thereto,” as quoted by Robert Shaw in his exposition of the Catechism. WLC 166 says that baptism is not to be administered to any that are out of the visible church. Therefore, adults need to profess their faith in Christ, but infants belonging to those professing faith are in that respect within the covenant, and are therefore to be baptized (WLC 166). The basis for baptizing infants is that they are already within the covenant. [ROC 277]

By contrast, Rev. Keister testified as follows concerning Dr. Leithart’s views of baptism. He quoted the following statement from Leithart’s book The Baptized Body (TBB), page 22, “Understanding sacraments as rites also helps us to understand the efficacy of sacraments…. Rites accomplish what they signify.” As Keister pointed out, this statement would “tie the efficacy of baptism to the time point of its administration, contrary to WCF 28.6.” (ROC 280).

Keister, referring again to TBB, pp 77-78, says Leithart believes there are qualities, as Keister puts it, that “we obtain by being united to Christ, which happens in baptism,” and “that the efficacy of baptism is tied to the moment of its administration,” and “that everyone gets something positive from baptism, even the reprobate. This would undermine the teaching that baptism only confers something when it is rightly used (WCF 28.6), and only to such as that grace belongeth unto (WCF 28.6).” (ROC 280-1).

Keister, quotes Leithart’s Priesthood of the Plebs (PP), pp 165ff, “Applied to baptism, then, our typology leads to a doctrine of ‘baptismal regeneration.’” And further, from p. 170 of PP, “[W]e can return more explicitly to our typology to show that it implies a theological, not a reductively sociological, view of baptismal regeneration.” And further, same page, “The baptized is no longer regarded as ‘stranger’ but born again as a ‘son of the house.’” And further, p. 171, “Baptism into the ecclesial priesthood that is the house therefore also confers the arrabon of the Spirit.” Keister comments on these Leithart statements, “One really cannot have clearer statements than these: baptism confers at the time point of its administration, saving benefits. The rite is not viewed by Leithart as having a confirmatory significance. Leithart relocates the efficacy of the rite by tying the Holy Spirit to the moment of baptism.” (ROC 281-2).

Keister quotes PP, pp. 175, Leithart saying the “’sonship’ conferred by baptism is not ‘external’ to our basic identity but constitutive of it.” Keister comments, “A higher view of baptismal efficacy could scarcely be imagined….” And, “Our standards do not attribute the acquisition of sonship to baptism. Chapter 12 of the WCF deals with adoption, and it is closely tied to justification. Baptism is not mentioned or even hinted at in this section of the WS.” (ROC 282).

Keister quotes from Leithart’s Daddy Why Was I Excommunicated, pp. 29-30, “If they are not baptized, they are not members of the Church.” And Keister says, “If Leithart is correct, then Abraham was not a part of the visible church until he was circumcised, some 19 years after his conversion. Leithart’s view is also in direct contradiction to WLC 166, which states that no one may be baptized who is not part of the visible church, and then defines the visible church as consisting of believers and their children. (emphasis added) (ROC 284, with several other quotations showing the same point, which are not shown here because of space limits).

Keister spends several pages critiquing Leithart’s exegesis of I Cor. 6:11 and concludes, “He takes the position he does on 1 Cor. 6:11 in such a way that he ascribes sanctification and justification to baptism. This is not forced by the text, even if baptism is referenced in the text (which many commentators believe it is). That does not force us to the position that sanctification and justification are given in baptism. And we do not have to prescribe any one interpretation of the passage to realize that Leithart’s rather forced interpretation of the passage is in contradiction to the standards, where he simply does not have to interpret the text that way.” (ROC 287).

Keister quotes from Leithart’s From Behind the Veil, p. 173, “We are adopted into God’s family by water; the Christian life is not by water only, but by water and blood.” Keister says, “The Westminster Standards say that we are adopted into God’s family by faith, not by water (WCF 12 on adoption, as it follows WCF 11 on justification). (ROC 290).

Keister quotes from Leithart’s The Kingdom and the Power,p. 189, “the Scriptures treat baptism as the turning point in a person’s life.” Keister says, “faith is the turning point in a person’s life, which may not be at the same time-point as baptism (as in the case of Abraham, the thief on the cross, Paul, and many others, including myself.” (ROC 292). Indeed.

But we do not have to rely on Rev. Keister’s recitations of Leithart’s own words; we have Leithart on Leithart at the trial, e.g., from a Commissioner’s question on the visible church and baptism:

Commissioner’s question to Dr. Leithart: Q: But our standards read that all those who profess the true faith and their children are members of the visible church. It doesn’t say that all those who profess the true faith and their children whom have been baptized are members of the visible church. (emphasis added).

A: And I would – – I would ask the same kinds of questions you were asking
yesterday. I would ask what does that mean about a 3 year old child who has not been baptized. Is that child still a member of the visible church? I don’t think so. Mr. Keister, to my mind, never answered that question. I don’t believe that a child in that situation is a member of the visible church. The visible church is marked out by visible signs. That seems, that’s straightforwardly what the visible church is. And if you don’t participate in the signs, you’re not a member of that church. Is an infant, who’s bap- – who’s before his baptism, you know in the – – in the eight days or the month or two months before they get baptized, a member of the visible church? I – – I would say yes in that case. If the child goes on and on and on and never gets baptized, I would say no. (ROC 570).

Many other shocking examples of heterodoxy on baptism could be cited, including references to “baptismal regeneration” (ROC 294), baptism as part of the ordo salutis, (ROC 299) (concerning which, we note, Respondent incorrectly argued at the SJC hearing that Complainant’s comments on ordo salutis were outside the record), “a baptism that works ex opere operato,” (ROC 307), etc., but page limits constrain us.

Dr. Leithart’s own words convict him of a pattern of saying, in effect, yes, I believe the Confessional standard X, but what I mean by that is Heterodox Y, which we find to be out of accord.

We do not have to disbelieve Dr. Leithart on any point of disputed fact, we do not have to find him not to be of good character, and we do not have to question his Christian sincerity – all of which would require us to defer to the Presbytery’s findings as cited above. But on the question of whether his own statements and equivocations put him out of accord, it is our judgment to make without deference to the Presbytery.

On the Covenant of Works/Grace:

Charge 2 says that Leithart rejects the covenant of works/grace structure in Scripture and the WS, citing WCF 7.2-3; WLC 20; Gen. 2:16-7; Hos. 6:7; Rom. 5:12-14; I Cor. 15:21-22; and Gal. 3:12. (ROC 61).

Again, the defense appeals to confessional standards preceding our Constitution, and seems to argue that Dr. Leithart’s views are closer to those of fathers in the faith such as Calvin, John Murray, and Peter Lillback, even if not expressed precisely in terms of our Constitutional standards (ROC 145-148). It was not Complainant’s burden to show that Calvin or anyone else was out of accord with our Constitution in order to show that Dr. Leithart also was; this is a non-sequitur. Calvin had been dead (since 1564) for 55 years when even the so-called “5 points of Calvinism” were formulated by the Synod of Dort in 1619, which in turn was 29 years before the Westminster Standards were finalized in 1648. There has been a progression of confessionalism (ROC 365), and our Constitution is rooted in the Westminster Standards; comparisons with other standards prove nothing, and render Dr. Leithart’s defense suspect.

Cited in support of this charge is Dr. Leithart’s own statement, “covenant faithfulness is the way to salvation, for the ‘doers of the law will be justified’ at the final judgment.” (ROC 61).

We believe this is self-evidently out of accord with the Constitution.

Prosecution witness Dr. Michael Horton quotes Dr. Leithart disagreeing with WCF 7.2 and concludes that Leithart rejects “the teaching of the standards on the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.” And, “he is in fact mono covenantal.” (ROC 371). The prosecutor asks Dr. Horton why this is important, and Dr. Horton says, “it matters because it is essential, in my view, essential to our reformed system to uphold the mediatorial work of Christ in our place, in our stead, imputing his righteousness to us even as our sins were imputed to him. There’s – it’s like a house of cards; they stand or fall together. I have a quote here from R.C. Sproul I just came across, if I may, that is to the point:

Without Christ’s active obedience to the covenant of works, there is no reason for imputation. There is no ground for justification. If we take away the covenant of works, we take away the act of obedience of Jesus. If we take away the act of obedience of Jesus, we take away the imputation of his righteousness to us. If we take away the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us, we take away justification by faith alone. If we take away justification by faith alone, we take away the gospel and we are left in our sins. There is nothing less than our salvation at stake in this issue. (ROC 371).

On the Imputation of Christ’s Obedience to the Believer:

Charge 3 says Leithart rejects the teachings of Scripture and the WS that the obedience of Christ is imputed to the believer, citing WCF 8.5; 11.3; Rom. 4:1-8; 5:17-18.

Cited in support of this charge is Dr. Leithart’s own statement, “There is no ‘independent’ imputation of the active obedience of Christ, or even of the passive obedience for that matter; we are regarded as righteous, and Christ’s righteousness is reckoned as ours, because of our union with Him in His resurrection. What is imputed is the verdict, not the actions of Jesus, and this is possible and just because Christ is our covenant head acting on our behalf.” (ROC 62).

We believe this is self-evidently out of accord with the Constitution as stated in Larger Catechism 70-73.

On Justification & Sanctification:

Charge 4 says TE Leithart fails to distinguish between justification and sanctification, contrary to Scripture and the Westminster Standards, and cites statements of Leithart in an article entitled “Judge Me, O God.” (ROC 62). In support of this charge, expert witness Rev. Lane Keister says:

WCF 11.1 says that we are not justified “for anything wrought in” us. Definitive sanctification is a grace wrought inside us. Therefore definitive sanctification and justification cannot be the same act. Definitive sanctification would certainly fit within the Larger Catechism’s definition of sanctification as being “renewed in their whole man after the image of God” (WLC 75). Definitive sanctification is definitely more closely related to progressive sanctification than to justification, as an examination of WLC 77 will show (though, of course, definitive sanctification is nowhere mentioned in the WS). Therefore, it is unconfessional to say that definitive sanctification is part of justification, which Leithart certainly does say.

Rev. Keister’s assessment of Leithart’s views on Justification and Sanctification is based mainly on two articles by Leithart, “Judge me, O God,” and “Justification as Verdict and Deliverance: A Biblical Perspective,” cited in full in the record (ROC 307). For example, Keister quotes Leithart as saying the “Reformation doctrine of justification has illegitimately narrowed and to some extent distorted the biblical doctrine” (ROC 308). Keister quotes other scholars who say, “Leithart’s dogmatic case flounders insofar as he fails to distinguish between scriptural language and theological terminology” (ROC 308). Keister spends several pages explaining Leithart’s “totality transfer fallacy,” or “word-concept fallacy” (ROC 309-10), which we do not need to explain fully here. It is not necessary to fully understand how Leithart illogically includes sanctification within justification; it is enough to see that he unconfessionally does so. Keister says, “There is no precedent for Leithart’s views in the entire Reformed tradition. The material adduced in the defense exhibits to prove that there is precedent only prove[s] that justification and sanctification are inseparable. They do not prove that justification includes definitive sanctification.” (ROC 311). What difference does this make, Constitutionally? A very important one, because it mixes grace with works, as the basis of salvation, as Keister explains: “Leithart inherently agrees with those modern theologians who want to say ‘that justification involves not only a verdict but also a transforming act’” (ROC 311). Keister goes on to say, “This in itself conflicts with WCF 11.1, which tells us that justification does NOT include anything wrought in us. Although Leithart protests that he believes that justification is not based on anything wrought in or done by us (see [B]rief o[f] the Defense, pp. 10-11), this protest does not ring true when one takes into account all the other material Leithart has written on justification as including an act that is inherently wrought in us.” (ROC 311).

The fact that some of this reasoning may be hard to follow does not justify the SJC in saying we must defer to the fact findings of PNWP, because, again, it is not a matter of fact. This is not Keister v. Leithart, on facts, and PNWP believing Leithart and not Keister. It is rather Leithart, sometimes equivocating, when challenged by Keister pointing out the consistency of his unconfessional beliefs. As Keister concludes this point:

The upshot of the problem is this: if Leithart includes definitive sanctification under the rubric of justification, what is to prevent him from including progressive sanctification under justification as well? Remember that definitive sanctification and progressive sanctification are organically and inseparably related as the start and continuance of the freeing of the Christian from the power and presence of sin. How could justification include the start of that process without also including, even if only in seed-dorm, the entirety of that process? In which case we are indeed back to Rome, and certainly contrary to the Standards, which tell us that justification happens outside of us (WCF 11.1). (ROC 313).

Keister’s Summary:

As Rev. Keister put it, “The issue is whether Leithart’s exegesis of Scripture contradicts the Standards’ exegesis of Scripture…. The Confession teaches that God does not change His mind and that His plan never changes. If someone were to come along and say that they believe the Westminster Standards, but they also believe that Scripture says that when God repents, He is changing his mind, going to plan B, and is open to the future, would we not have a right to complain that this person says they are holding to the Standards, and yet their exegesis of the text puts them at odds with the Standards? That is what is happening by analogy here. Leithart affirms in words the Confession. And yet, his exegesis of texts puts him at odds with the Confession at a number of key points: the position of children in the visible church before they are baptized, tying baptism’s efficacy to the time-point of its administration, and confusing justification with sanctification by confusing justification with definitive sanctification.” (ROC 316).

On Falling Away:

Charge 5 says Leithart contradicts Scripture and the WS by saying that some people may be truly united with Christ and receive saving benefits from Him, and yet fall away and lose those benefits, citing WLC 65-6, 69, 79; John 6:38-40; 10:28-9; Rom. 8:28-39; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 7:25.

The Defense’s own testimony at trial sheds light on this charge:

Defense Counsel Dr. Rayburn’s question to Dr. Leithart: Q: Do you believe that reprobate persons united to Christ receive and then lose saving graces? (ROC 486).

Dr. Leithart’s answer: A: Yeah, I think that the – – Part of what I’ve tried to do in thinking about – – starting with my understanding of baptism and trying to think about all these other topics is to try to think of them in personal, personalist categories. There is a tendency in all theology to abstraction that we tend to think of, when we – – when we use a word like justification. We tend to think of it as an entity or a thing that we can talk about and manipulate. We’re talking about a certain relation between a divine judge and a sinner. That’s what justification is. And so when I think about things, questions about the reprobate, I think it’s most helpful in my mind to think about those in terms of personal relation – – Do reprobate people for a time in a certain sense have a personal relation with Jesus? And I agree that they do. I believe that they do I should say. (ROC 487).

We believe that statement is self-evidently out of accord with the Standards.

Moreover, prosecution expert Dr. Horton testified, “In Romans 8, where predestination, redemption, effectual calling, justification, sanctification and glorification are held together as, as logical sequential aspects of the salvation that we have in Christ. And so all that we have in Christ we have together with all of these gifts. There is no, as Calvin says, you can’t grab onto Christ for your justification and not also get sanctification in the bargain. Because to cling to Christ is to cling to him and all that he is for us and for our salvation…. And when we’re effectually called through the gospel and given the faith to embrace Christ through that union we have everything that Christ is for us and we have it infallibly so that, this is essential to the system that one cannot be justified, for example, and not be glorified. (ROC 383-4).

Conclusion:

On March 10, 2010, this Court decided the Bordwine v. PNWP case, 2009-06, holding that the Record of that Case suggested a strong presumption of guilt that Dr. Leithart’s views represent offenses that could be the subject of judicial process. This Court deferred to PNWP, urging it to counsel Dr. Leithart “that the views set forth above constitute error that is injurious to the peace and purity of the church…,” with the hope that Dr. Leithart would either recant or affiliate with some other “branch of the visible church that is consistent with his views.” Failing all that, “then PNWP shall take steps to comply with its obligation under BCO 31-2.” (ROC 5).

We agree “that the views set forth above constitute error that is injurious to the peace and purity of the church…,” and we believe this Court has deferred to PNWP long enough. This Dissent believes that the SJC erred in denying the Complaint and not finding that PNWP failed to uphold its responsibility to defend and guard the system of doctrine contained in the PCA Standards. The SJC should not have given deference to PNWP in this case. BCO 39-4 makes it clear: “The higher court does have the power and obligation of judicial review, which cannot be satisfied by always deferring to the findings of a lower court. Therefore, a higher court should not consider itself obliged to exhibit the same deference to a lower court when the issues being reviewed involve the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church. Regarding such issues, the higher court has the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court” (emphases added).

The SJC used a faulty standard of review as a basis for its conclusion:

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.

The question is not whether the Complainant provided sufficient evidence or proved his case; the question is rather whether the Record of the Case shows that Presbytery erred. The SJC has “the duty and authority to interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court.” We dissent because we believe the SJC decision has failed to fulfill this duty.

TE Dominic Aquila
RE Dave Haigler