Overture Asks PCA General Assembly to Direct SJC to Rehear the Leithart Case

Illiana Presbytery requests the 41st General Assembly to direct the Standing Judicial Commission to rehear case 2012-05 (RE Gerald Hedman v. Pacific Northwest Presbytery)

The Standing Judicial Commission heard the case at its March 6, 2013 meeting and voted, 15-2, to deny the complaint that Pacific Northwest Presbytery had erred in finding TE Peter Leithart not guilty of five charges that had been brought against him. The overture asks General Assembly to direct the SJC to rehear the case using standards from the Book of Church Order (BCO) that it alleges were not used in the March hearing.

 

At its April 13, 2013 meeting, Illiana Presbytery approved an overture from the Session of Providence Presbyterian Church in Edwardsville, Illinois. The overture to the 41st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America asks the GA “to direct the Standing Judicial Commission to rehear case 2012-05 (RE Gerald Hedman v. Pacific Northwest Presbytery) in accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America.”

The overture reminds the General Assembly that “the higher court does have the power and obligation of judicial review;” that higher courts do not have to show deference to a lower court’s ruling “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;” and that SJC members “shall not render judgment in any matter pending before the commission on the basis of anything other than the Constitution of the Church and the facts presented by the Record of the Case and the other materials properly before him.”

The Standing Judicial Commission heard the case at its March 6, 2013 meeting and voted, 15-2, to deny the complaint that Pacific Northwest Presbytery had erred in finding TE Peter Leithart not guilty of five charges that had been brought against him. The overture asks General Assembly to direct the SJC to rehear the case using standards from the Book of Church Order (BCO) that it alleges were not used in the March hearing.

The text of the overture:

Whereas, WCF 31-2 states that “it belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience”; and

Whereas, BCO 14-6.a grants the General Assembly power to “receive and issue all appeals, references, and complaints regularly brought before it from the lower courts; to bear testimony against error in doctrine and immorality in practice, injuriously affecting the church; to decide in all controversies respecting doctrine and discipline”; and

Whereas, BCO 39-4 states, “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”; and

Whereas, the issues being reviewed in SJC 2012-05 involve the interpretation of the Constitution of the Church; and

Whereas, the Operating Manual for the Standing Judicial Commission 2.4 states that, “A member shall not render judgment in any matter pending before the commission on the basis of anything other than the Constitution of the Church and the facts presented by the Record of the Case and the other materials properly before him”; and

Whereas, the SJC declared the “Statement of Issue” to be whether or not the Complainant demonstrated that the Pacific Northwest Presbytery violated the Constitution of the PCA when it concluded that the accused was not guilty, and thus ruled according to that “Statement of Issue”[i]; and

Whereas, nothing in the Constitution of the PCA places the burden of proof upon the Complainant, requiring the Complainant “provide sufficient evidence”[ii] or prove that the views of the one accused violated the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards[iii]; and

Whereas, each of the five charges in the original indictment charged the accused with contradicting the Westminster Standards, part of the Constitution of the PCA[iv]; and

Whereas, the complaint brought before the General Assembly in SJC 2012-05 is against the decision of Pacific Northwest Presbytery in their finding the accused not guilty of each of the five charges[v]; and

Whereas, the Constitution of the PCA therefore requires the SJC to independently examine the evidence in the Record of the Case and interpret and apply the Constitution of the Church according to its best abilities and understanding, regardless of the opinion of the lower court; and

Whereas, the SJC did not determine whether the accused is guilty of holding and teaching views that are in conflict with the system of doctrine taught in the Westminster Standards, rendering judgment instead on whether the Complainant demonstrated such a conflict, thereby failing to fulfill its duty to interpret and apply the Constitution of the PCA according to its best abilities and understanding (BCO 39-4); and

Whereas, the BCO 15-5.a permits the General Assembly to “direct the Standing Judicial Commission to retry a case if upon review of its minutes exceptions are taken with respect to that case”;

Therefore, be it resolved that Illiana Presbytery hereby overtures the 41st General Assembly to direct the Standing Judicial Commission to rehear case 2012-05 (RE Gerald Hedman v. Pacific Northwest Presbytery) in accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America.

[Editor’s note: These quotes were presented to Illiana Presbytery by a member of the Providence PCA Session that sent the overture to the Presbytery. In it he stated, “The following are selected citations taken from the transcript of Peter Leithart’s trial before Pacific Northwest Presbytery, which were printed as a part of the Record of the Case in SJC 2012-05. To the best of my knowledge, none of these statements have been retracted or repented of.”]

  1. Leithart signed the “FV Joint Declaration” along with Jeffrey Meyers, Steve Wilkins, Mark Horne, Doug Wilson, Rich Lusk, and Jim Jordan.
  2. Leithart wrote a letter to Pacific Northwest Presbytery in which he outlined his views, and distances himself from many of the “Nine points” of the PCA GA FV Study Committee report.
  3. Most of Leithart’s most troubling statements appear in his various books, and these statements were entered into the Record of the Case in SJC 2012-05.
  4. Each of the statements below come from the transcript of the Leithart trial and were either quoted by the Prosecution from one or TE Leithart’s bools, or come directly from Dr. Leithart’s responses to questions during the trial.

“As the baptized person passes through the waters he or she is joined into the fellowship of Christ, shares in his body, shares in the spirit that inhabits and animates the body and participates in the resurrection power of Jesus.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 186).


Through baptism we enter into the new life of the spirit, receive a grant of divine power and are incorporated into Christ’s body and die and rise again with Christ. In the purification of baptism we are cleansed of our former sins and begin to participate in the divine nature and the power of Jesus resurrection.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 186).


“The baptized in the new covenant enters into, is initiated into a community that is the body of the incarnate and ascended son that has received the spirit. And being a member of that particular community, I’m arguing, is – – is never a simply an external matter because of the nature of the community.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 187).


Baptism into membership in the community of Christ therefore also confers the arrabon of the spirit and in this sense too it a regenerating ordinance. There can be no merely social membership in this family.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 188).


“PROSECUTION [Stellman]: “Well, my – – my question is. I’m asking you is this your view namely that the – – the arrabon of the Holy Spirit, the down payment of future glory is given to all members of the visible church merely by being baptized and can be lost by those members of the visible church who later apostasize.

WITNESS [Leithart]: Yeah, I – – I would say yes.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 190).


“The baptized is enlisted in Christ’s army, invested to be Christ’s servant, made a member of the royal priesthood, given a station in the royal court, branded as a sheep of Christ’s flock. All that is gift. All this the baptized is not only offered, but receives. All this he receives simply by virtue of being baptized.” – Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 191).


“What would Adam have to do in order to inherit the tree of knowledge, which is I think the sign of – – of the glory that he was going to be given. He would have to trust God. And he would have to obey him. How do we receive eternal life? We trust Jesus and out of that trust we obey him. That’s the point I’m making about the continuity.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 194).


“Yes we do have the same obligations that Adam and Abraham and Moses and David and Jesus had namely the obedience of faith. And yes, covenant faithfulness is the way to salvation for the doers of the law will be justified at the final judgment. But this is all done in union with Christ so that our covenant faithfulness is dependent on the work of the spirit of Christ in us and our covenant faithfulness is about faith trusting the spirit to – – to will and to do of his good pleasure.” –Quoted by the Prosecution in Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 195).


“COMMISSIONER: Dr. Leithart, [Acts] 2:38. Repent to be baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In your judgment, does baptism confer the forgiveness of sins?

WITNESS [Leithart]: That’s what the text says. Yeah.

Q: Do you speak of, in your writings, temporary – – temporary forgiveness of sins?

A: Yes.

Q: What do you, what do you mean by that?

A: Right. There, there I have in mind, for example, the parable in Matthew 18 where the dead [sic debt] is forgiven and then the dead [sic debt] is reimposed on somebody who’s been forgiven. Jesus ends that parable by saying, so shall my Father do to you all of those of you who don’t forgive your brothers from the heart. So, there’s a statement in Matthew 18 of forgiveness that’s given and then withdrawn.

Q: Does baptism confer justification and, if so, what do you mean by that?

A: Yeah. In the same sense again that I’ve been talking all of these benefits of baptism, I’m arguing, are benefits of being in the body of Christ, being members of the visible church. The visible church is the, and – – and again I’m thinking in terms of our standard experience of baptism which is an infant who is in- -infant of believing parents and a faithful church. Are they right before God? Is baptism a sign of that? Is baptism, in fact, a declaration of that? That God is saying to that child when he is baptized. You are my child and I accept you as right in my sight. That’s – – that’s what I would, that’s what I mean by that.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 223).


“All of these passages [Matt. 13:20-21; Heb. 6:4-6; John 15:6; II Pet. 2:20-22; I Cor. 10:1-13] describe a real, although temporary, experience of favor, fellowship, and knowledge of God. These reprobates really were joined to Christ, really were enlightened and fed, really shared in the Spirit, and yet did not persevere and lost what they had been given…. The New Testament says pretty plainly that they have lost something real, which includes a relationship with the Spirit, union with Christ, and knowledge of the Savior.” – Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 395).


“Q: And so, in that respect, can we say that Christ, not only did but it was necessary for him to, as a human, merit the favor of God by, from birth to death, obeying 6 him perfectly.

A: If merit is just a stand in for learning obedience and being perfected. Yes.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 244).


“If you looked at the whole story line of a reprobate person who has temporary faith and then makes shipwreck of faith as Paul talks about as opposed to an elect person who let’s say is converted later in life. Is the – – is the quality of faith different? Yes. It’s not just a matter, it is a matter of duration. That’s true. The temporary faith doesn’t endure to the end, it’s not persevering. But it’s not just that. Again, the analogy that I used yesterday is an analogy having to do with marriage (inaudible) the temporary faith is like a, the relationship of two spouses who are heading for divorce. And their marriage is, doesn’t just differ from a healthy marriage in duration, it differs in all kinds of ways.” –Leithart Trial Transcript (p. 231).

[Author’s note: Good and bad marriages may differ in many ways, but they are also alike in many ways. They are identical in the eyes of the Law, in the eyes of God, in their duty to love and submit to one another. Calling a baptized reprobate as united with Christ in the same sense (but with a weaker union) means that they are those who were truly & spiritually united to the Head and groom, not merely formally and externally, but truly and internally.]

 

 


[i] Presbyterian Church in America Standing Judicial Commission. Case 2012-05: RE Gerald Hedman v. Pacific Northwest Presbytery (Proposed Decision on Complaint).  March 7, 2013.  Page 3, Lines 4-13.

[ii] Ibid.  Page 5, Line 14.

[iii] Ibid.  Page 5, Lines 28-30.

[iv] Ibid.  Page 1, Lines 20-46 and Page 2, Lines 1-7.

[v] Ibid.  Page 2, Lines 9-26.