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Friday, April 05, 2013

The SJC, Whiners and Moving Targets

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.

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Puritan Lad said...

Their study report was superior and appropriately more nuanced than even the OPC’s.

Not sure I follow this. The OPC's was quite clear, and as a result, Federal Vision theology is all but non-existant in the OPC, whereas the "nuances" in the PCA report leave room for the idea that the PCA makes some allowance for Federal Visions (though they clearly don't condone it.) In what way would you say that the PCA's report was superior.

Reformed Apologist said...

Hey, your initials are the same as Peter Leithart's. :)

It would be hasty to index a dearth of FV in the OPC to its study report. Anyway, in what sense does the PCA allow for FV?

Too much to get into now, but by the PCA being so nuanced it does the Reformed church a great service. The precision does not create loopholes, it plugs them.

Joshua Butcher said...

"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."

It seems to me that herein lies the crux upon which those who prosecuted the case are unwilling to admit. The assumption is that everything necessary for conviction was offerred, which presumes a significant oversight (or ignorance, or worst of all, knowing complicity to exonerate a guilty man) took place not only by the Northwest Presbytery, but also by the SJC. When two bodies of ostensibly God-fearing men believe that the prosecution has not made its case, perhaps the prosecution should look to itself for the cause of their cause failing.

Reformed Apologist said...

Brilliantly put, especially the trading on the word "cause" at the end. :)

Anonymous said...

Reformed Apologist,

It is hard to find someone who hates Federal Vision (FV) as you do AND principled enough to take to task those who find fault with the PCA General Assembly over this matter. You have not let your righteous hatred of FV cloud your judgment regarding church polity and the sphere of influence that judicial committees have.

Well done.

Reformed Apologist said...

Well, I will say that I've seen questionable attacks aimed at the SJC. The attackers aren't concerned whether the committee acts with integrity as long as the complainers get their way. Unfortunately, I've seen these unjust expectations come from Teaching Elders within the denomination. It's really no different than the job of any judge. Their task is not to correct wrongs but rather to rule according law (or in the case of the PCA the BOCO). Liberals had a problem with Robert Bork for the same sorts of things.