The following material was originally published in the April 2009 edition of the Trinity Review. Since this publication, there have been several significant developments in the course of events surrounding Peter Leithart, who is currently scheduled to stand trial in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the PCA. For more information, visit godshammer.wordpress.com.
Editor’s note: the following is taken from the forthcoming book Can the Presbyterian Church in America Be Saved? by Sean Gerety, which will be available later this year.The life span of denominations that stay true to Biblical Christianity is growing shorter and shorter in this present day. Despite strong statements against the Federal Vision in the PCA’s report by the Ad Interim Study Committee on Federal Vision, New Perspective, and Auburn Avenue Theologies, the PCA has still not effectively dealt with the problem of the Federal Vision within its own ranks. In the same report Federal Visionists are referred to as “brothers.” Since the report’s near unanimous adoption by the PCA’s general assembly in 2007, two presbyteries have approved the teaching of FV men, the latest being Peter Leithart by the Pacific Northwest Presbytery. No Federal Visionist has been convicted of teaching heresy by any court of the PCA.
On Friday, October 3, 2008 the Pacific Northwest Presbytery (PNW) exonerated Federal Visionist and PCA pastor, Peter Leithart, stating that his teaching, specifically in the areas where he took issue with all nine declarations found in the PCA’s committee report, “is in complete conformity with the Westminster Confession of Faith.” Once again a major court in the PCA has affirmed the Federal Vision as an acceptable scheme of salvation that can be taught with impunity within the PCA. The PNW issued both a majority (1) and minority (2) report in light of their examination of Leithart. Thankfully, the minority report offered some hope that there are still a couple of Christians left in the PNW who understand the Gospel, even if they’re not the majority.
Here is a brief rundown of Leithart’s rejection of the nine declarations and the PNW’s majority ruling in each case:
1. Regarding Bi-covenantal Structure
Leithart rejects the idea of a Covenant of Works in contrast with the Covenant of Grace and contends that “the differences between Adamic and post-lapsarian covenants are not at a ‘soteriological’ level…but at the level of covenant administration.”(3)
According to the Westminster Confession 8:2 the Covenant of Works promised life “to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” Whereas, the Covenant of Grace offers to sinners “life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.” You’ll notice that in both cases, and in opposition to Leithart, both the “Adamic and post-lapsarian covenants” differ greatly and precisely at the “soteriological level.” One promises life to Adam and his posterity on the basis of Adam’s perfect and personal obedience, whereas the other promises life as the result of belief in the perfect and personal obedience of Jesus Christ alone.
Elsewhere the Minority Report makes clear Leithart’s rejection of the Confessional bi-covenantal structure where he writes:
Yes, we do have the same obligation 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 will and to do according to His good pleasure.
First, the phrase “the obedience of faith” does not mean what Leithart seems to think. It does not mean “covenant faithfulness,” nor does it mean that “the ‘doers of the law will be justified’ at the final judgment.” In spite of Leithart’s clear misapplication of Romans 2:13 teaching a form of works righteousness and his rejection of the bi-covenantal structure taught in the Confession (along with an unambiguous rejection of the doctrine of justification which is by faith alone and not “covenant faithfulness”), the PNW committee ruled that it “does not find his views out of accord with the WCF.”