Here We Fall. We Can Do No Other. God Help Us –By Tim Bayly

Stellman says he has embraced two of Rome’s dogmas: that the Word of God is subordinate to the Church’s tradition, and that infusion is right and imputation wrong. In other words he has publicly repudiated sola Scriptura and sola fide.

Those following the doctrinal battle of the past couple of years within the PCA’s Northwest Presbytery were surprised to see a pastor of that presbytery, Jason Stellman, announcing a couple days ago that he’s renounced his ordination vows. He says he has embraced two of Rome’s dogmas: that the Word of God is subordinate to the Church’s tradition, and that infusion is right and imputation wrong. In other words he has publicly repudiated sola Scriptura and sola fide.

It’s important to note that Mr. Stellman has been at the center of his presbytery’s doctrinal battle as prosecutor of his fellow presbyter, Dr. Peter Leithart, for heresy. Mr. Stellman’s work was completed when the court acquitted the accused. Now the accuser himself has embraced some of the very errors he was opposing in his prosecutorial work.

The two things cannot be unrelated, and while the precise nature of that relationship is known only by God, it would be foolish not to look for warnings we may take from this train wreck. Since Rome’s heresies lead to apostasy, wise men will examine the paths of those who have fallen for indications of what we must avoid if we are to persevere to the end.

That said, nine days before Mr. Stellman embraced Roman Catholic doctrine, the acquitted posted a short piece saying he is too catholic to embrace Roman Catholicism. In that piece Dr. Leithart summarized his opposition to Rome… as follows:

I agree with the standard Protestant objections to Catholicism and Orthodoxy: Certain Catholic teachings and practices obscure the free grace of God in Jesus Christ; prayers through Mary and the saints are not encouraged or permitted by Scripture, and they distract from the one Mediator, Jesus; I do not accept the Papal claims of Vatican I; I believe iconodules violate the second commandment by engaging in liturgical idolatry; venerating the Host is also liturgical idolatry; in both Catholicism and Orthodoxy, tradition muzzles the word of God. I’m encouraged by many of the developments in Catholicism before and since Vatican II, but Vatican II created issues of its own (cf. the treatment of Islam in Lumen Gentium). I agree with those objections, but those are not the primary driving reasons that keep me Protestant.

When I read this some days ago, I wanted to point out to Dr. Leithart how flaccid his objections to Rome are compared to any prior Reformed father of the faith in the centuries since the Reformation. Rather, I would expect this sort of wording from men like Tom Howard, John Henry Newman, and Richard John Neuhaus during their “almost thou persuadest me” stage just before converting to Rome. This is the sort of language and nuance Benedict XVI employs speaking of Jews–that “certain of their teachings and practices obscure” the true path of salvation.

But can anyone imagine coming across such mealymouthed words in Luther’s exchange with Erasmus or Calvin’s response to Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto’s letter to Calvin’s Genevan congregation, enticing them to return to Rome? For the purpose of comparison, here are a couple excerpts from Calvin’s response:

That I might perceive these things, Thou, O Lord, didst shine upon me with the brightness of thy Spirit; that I might comprehend how impious and noxious they were, Thou didst bear before me the torch of thy Word; that I might abominate them as they deserved, Thou didst stimulate my soul.

* * *

But if I desired to be at peace with those who boasted of being the heads of the Church and pillars of faith, I believed to purchase it with the denial of Thy truth. I thought that anything was to be endured sooner than stoop to such nefarious compact. For Thy Anointed Himself hath declared, that though heaven and earth should be confounded, yet Thy Word must endure forever (Matt. 24:35). …And the apostles declared that there would be no enemies of Thy Church more pestilential than those from within who should conceal themselves under the title of pastors (Matt. 7:15Acts 20:292 Pet. 2:11 John 2:18).

Why should I have hesitated to separate myself from persons whom (the Apostles) forewarned me to hold as enemies?

* * *

But the most serious charge of all is, that we have attempted to dismember the Spouse of Christ. Were that true, both you and the whole world might well regard us as desperate. But I will not admit the charge, unless you can make out that the Spouse of Christ is dismembered by those who desire to present her as a a chaste virgin to Christ–who are animated by a degree of holy zeal to preserve her spotless for Christ–who, seeing her polluted by base seducers, recall her to conjugal fidelity–who unhesitatingly wage war against all the adulterers whom they detect laying snares for her chastity.

And what but this have we done? Had not your faction of a Church attempted, nay, violated her chastity, by strange doctrines? Had she not been violently prostituted by your numberless superstitions? Had she not been defiled  by that vilest species of adultery, the worship of images? And because, forsooth, we did not suffer you so to insult the sacred chamber of Christ, we are said to have lacerated His Spouse. But I tell you that that laceration, of which you falsely accuse us, is witnessed not obscurely  among yourselves–a laceration not only of the Church, but of Christ himself, who is there beheld miserably mangled.

Really, what kind of man can subscribe to the Westminster Standards while speaking of Rome’s doctrine of salvation merely “obscuring” the imputation of our Lord’s righteousness as our only hope in life and in death?

And then there’s the matter of these things being only secondary or tertiary obstacles to Pastor Leithart’s consideration of Rome. Notice he ends that list with the statement, “I agree with those objections, but those are not the primary driving reasons that keep me Protestant.”

So what are his “primary driving reasons?”

If I told you the Sacraments are the brick wall keeping him from Eastern Orthodoxy or Rome, you may be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief, assuming Dr. Leithart’s greatest objection to union with Rome is the ex opere operato at the heart of Rome’s sacramentalism. Sadly, this isn’t so.

Instead, Dr. Leithart speaks to men like Jason Stellman as follows:

What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople?  Are you willing to start going to a Eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome?  …For myself, I would have to agree that my ordination is invalid, and that I have never presided over an actual Eucharist.  To become Catholic, I would have to begin regarding my Protestant brothers as ambiguously situated “separated brothers,” rather than full brothers in the divine Brother, Jesus.  To become Orthodox, I would likely have to go through the whole process of initiation again, as if I were never baptized.  And what is that saying about all my Protestant brothers who have been “inadequately” baptized?  Why should I distance myself from other Christians like that?  I’m too catholic to do that.

Dr. Leithart’s brick wall isn’t Rome’s doctrine of infusion or her repudiation of sola Scriptura or sola fide. It isn’t Benedict XVI’s promotion of a parallel path of salvation for Jews that bypasses the New Covenant in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It isn’t even the unbiblical requirement of priestly celibacy that has resulted across the centuries with great regularity in predator shepherds who destroy the souls of Christ’s little ones.

Rather it’s the exclusivity of Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy’s sacramentology.

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