There are sundry complaints floating about regarding the SJC's decision regarding the Peter Leithart case. (i) The SJC should have overruled the presbytery’s decision. (ii) By not doing so the PCA condones or will be perceived as condoning Federal Vision. (iii) The BCO needs to be amended.Those three complaints seem to be a progression of thought. Once it became apparent that the SJC might have exercised good principles in not overturning the Presbytery’s decision the unhappy crowd turned to a pragmatic argument, the ramifications of the SJC’s decision not to overrule the Presbytery’s decision. Now that those assertions are being challenged and debunked, the flavor of the day seems to be the supposed weakness in the BCO.
Regarding (i), we must keep in mind that the SJC was not permitted to take into account any evidence other than those things pertaining to the trial itself. Imagine, for instance, the SJC basing a guilty verdict on evidence not argued at the trial. To have done so would have been to find a man guilty without him having an opportunity to defend himself.
Regarding the trial itself two thoughts come to mind regarding Peter Leithart’s testimony. First off, nobody seemed to rejoice that Leithart affirmed Reformed theology under oath. That alone tells me that those going after him (before, at and after the trial) were doing so with a vengeance. It’s a sad day when people would sooner see a man censured than confess orthodoxy. (I saw the same thing with the Kinnaird trial.)
Secondly, a link I was sent included this quote from the Aquila Report.
“Leithart’s tactic in defending himself in trials has been to deny that the language he uses means what everyone for hundreds of years has agreed that it means...”If that is indeed Leithart’s modus operandi, or at the least his reputation (whether true or not), then why wasn’t it anticipated by the prosecution? Even if not anticipated, if Leithart's testimony was at odds with his writings, then shouldn't he have been pursued at the trial on the basis that if he has not violated the ninth commandment under oath, then he is not fit for the office of teaching elder due to equivocal language on crucial points of theology? Yet that conclusion was not argued at the trial. Given that reality, on what basis could the SJC overturn the verdict? The trial testimony showed Leithart to be Reformed in all his dealings and based upon (i) the SJC was not in a position to try the prosecution's case for them.
Regarding (ii), the PCA does not condone Federal Vision. Their study report was superior and appropriately more nuanced than even the OPC’s, and it spoke out against the theology of Federal Vision. Now I suppose it’s possible for one to sincerely infer that the PCA condones Federal Vision, but I don’t think for a moment that those who are saying such things today really believe it. In any case, let someone bring forth an actual argument that the PCA condones Federal Vision; or that the implication is they do; or that it might be rationally inferred that they do. (One problem is, the ones asserting such things also don’t realize that there were no actual arguments presented to indict Mr. Leithart. Secondly, a movement wasn't on trial, a man because of his theology was.)
Regarding (iii), how is the BCO to be amended without becoming Episcopalian? Do we really want to see Presbyteries rely on the SJC more than it should?
I see all this as a fine providence and outright victory for Presbyterian government. If a man is guilty of something, the presbytery better do its job.