PCA’s Pacific Northwest Presbytery Finds TE Peter Leithart Not Guilty of Federal Vision Charges

The PCA’s Pacific Northwest Presbytery, at its October 7, 2011 meeting, found Teaching Elder Peter Leithart not guilty of charges brought against him regarding holding and teaching views associated with Federal Vision. The vote of the Presbytery approved the findings of a judicial commission of the PNW which conducted a trial on June 3-4, 2011.

The trial came about as a result of specific charges that were brought by members of the Presbytery against TE Liethart, as follows:

1. That TE Leithart in his views and teachings contradicts both the Westminster Standards and Scripture by attributing to the sacrament of baptism saving benefits such as regeneration, union with Christ, and adoption.

2. That TE Leithart in his views and teachings rejects the covenant of works/covenant of grace structure set forth in the Westminster Standards.

3. That TE Leithart in his views and teachings rejects the teaching of the Westminster Standards that the obedience and satisfaction of Christ are imputed to the believer.

4. That TE Leithart in his views and teachings fails, contrary to the Westminster Standards, to properly distinguish justification from sanctification.

5. That TE Leithart in his views and teachings contradicts the Westminster Standards by teaching that people may be truly united with Christ and receive saving benefits from him, and yet fall away from Christ and lose those saving benefits .

The background leading up to this trial began in 2007 when General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America received the report of the Study Committee on “Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theology” (see it here and

here),

It also approved nine declarations and five recommendations. Recommendation 3 stated the following:

That the General Assembly recommend the declarations in this report as a faithful exposition of the Westminster Standards, and further reminds those ruling and teaching elders whose views are out of accord with our Standards of their obligation to make known to their courts any differences in their views.

In light of this recommendation, TE Leithart, a Senior Fellow of Theology at New St. Andrews College in Moscow, Idaho, wrote his responses to the nine declarations, sent them to Pacific Northwest Presbytery, and asked the Presbytery to judge whether his formulations were in accord with the PCA Standards. PNW studied TE Leithart’s responses and ruled that they were in accord with the Standards. A Complaint was filed by some members of PNW alleging that PNW erred in finding TE Leithart’s views in accord with the Standards. The Complaint was denied by PNW and subsequently filed with the PCA Standing Judicial Commission (SJC).

At its March 2010 meeting, the SJC sustained the Complaint (Judicial Case 2009-6), framing the issue in this manner: “Did PNW err in its handling of the Reports from the PNW Study Committee appointed to examine Leithart’s fitness to continue as a PCA Teaching Elder?” The SJC’s judgment to the issue was: “Yes. The Complaint is sustained, and the case is sent back to PNW with instructions to proceed according to the Reasoning and Opinion of this Decision.”

In its Reasoning, the SJC stated the following:

The Record in this matter suggests that there are aspects of the teachings of TE Leithart that are in conflict with our standards. These teachings could reasonably be deemed to be injurious to the peace and purity of the church (BCO 13-9(f)). Further, the Record shows that Complainant and Respondent acknowledge the same. However, without formal judicial process, PNW does not have the authority to render a definitive judgment as to whether those teachings strike at the vitals of religion or were industrious spread (BCO 34-5 & 6). Therefore, Complainants are not entitled to a declaration that these teachings are out of accord with our system of doctrine. Similarly, without the completion of judicial process, PNW could not declare that these teachings are not out of accord with our system of doctrine.

PNW erred by declaring that TE Leithart’ s views were not out of accord with our standards. Further, PNW may not, at this point, (as Complainants have asked) declare that his views are out of accord with our standards. Nevertheless, the views of TE Leithart touching fundamentals of the system of doctrine (for example on baptism, the bi-covenantal nature of Scripture, and imputation) set out in the Record (in PNW’s own Reports) suggests a strong presumption of guilt that these views represent offenses that could properly be the subject of judicial process (BCO 3 1-2, BCO 29-1 & 2).

At its October 2010 stated meeting, PNW acted on the SJC decision, appointed a prosecutor, and erected a judicial commission charged with adjudicating the case against TE Leithart.

The trial was held in closed session on June 3-4, 2011. The prosecutor called a number of witnesses, including TEs Lane Keister and Michael Horton. The defense also called a number of witnesses, including TEs Will Barker and Jack Collins, both of whom had also testified for the defense in the TE Greg Lawrence trial, where the charges were almost identical to the charges in this case.

The judicial commission’s verdict was sealed until it was presented to and acted on by PNW at its October 7 meeting. Details of the trial will be published when they are available to The Aquila Report.