Leithart smokes his peace pipe...

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Presbyterian Church in America teaching elders, Peter Leithart, Jeff Meyers, Rich Bledsoe and Trinity House friends are pushing peace with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Till now, the main thrust of their work has been displacing Reformed soteriology and sacramentology through (oatmeal stout) Federal Vision Lutheranism, but now they have turned to larger things. And central to these larger things is their work seeking to displace historic Reformed principles of worship with Anglican, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic liturgism.

In a short piece that ran as the lead article in the latest issue of Lutheran-convert-to-Roman-Catholicism Richard John Neuhaus's First Things (August/September 2014), Leithart attempts to shame fellow Protestant and Reformed pastors. Note his holy vehemence:

The modern age has seen more than its share of horrors, but none so stupefying as the spectacle of Christ re-crucified in our (Protestant/Roman Catholic) divisions. The only horror that might rival it is our complacency before this cross.

If Dr. Leithart is right that our love for Biblically Reformed doctrine, sacramentology, and worship is perpetuating the worst horror of the modern age; if he's speaking truth when he claims that Reformed pastors committed to the Westminster Standards are "recrucifying" Jesus Christ; there's nothing...

for it but repentance and joining him and his fellow Trinity House fellows in working towards the creation of what he terms "Reformational Catholic Churches." One wonders why doesn't he call them Romanistic Reformational Churches or Orthodox Romanistic Churches? Or better yet, Lutheran Romanistic Orthodox Reformational Churches Becoming Catholic Enough To Include Baptists?

But I digress—back to the main point.

How is this healing of division to be carried out? Leithart points to twentieth century "ecumenism" as the little engine that could.

Can he be serious? Does he know the first thing about twentieth century ecumenism? Maybe he's hoping for an encore by that grand failure known as Evangelicals and Catholics Together?

In the first sentence of his piece it's already apparent Leithart intends to take no prisoners:

Protestants often act as if the Reformation were the end of history, the moment when the Church reached its final condition.

Keep in mind Leithart has published his prophetic word in a print journal founded by Lutheran priest convert to Roman Catholicism, Richard John Neuhaus. I've been a subscriber to Neuhaus's publication from the beginning so I know his work intimately. He died a couple years ago, but his journal remains essentially Roman Catholic and Lutheran. Why point this out?

Because when Leithart disses his fellow Reformed church officers here, falsely claiming they believe the Protestant Reformation is the apex of all church history, he knows things he's not saying. From the time of the Reformation a foundational principle of Reformed Protestantism—the brand of Protestantism Leithart holds formal membership in as an officer of the Presbyterian Church in America—has been Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, "the Church reformed, always reforming." And yet, Leithart didn't let First Things's Roman Catholic subscribers in on this historic motto of Reformed Protestantism. For all the Roman Catholics of First Things know, we'all think we've arrived and there's no need ever to reform the church again. That's what Leithart told them: Protestants believe "the Church (has) reached its final condition."

Leithart would have been more accurate and helpful had he said that it is non-Reformed Protestants who think the Reformation was the end of history. And yet, even there he'd be wrong. Even Non-Reformed Protestants don't think of the Reformation as the end of history. They think of it as their beginning. They consider it the recovery of the church from from those Dark Ages throughout which the Church was sunk in the foul pit of medievalism.

Leithart's misrepresentation of Protestantism continues:

For these sorts of Protestants, the future of Protestantism can only be more of the same.

Really? Look around and consider whether the Protestant churches you see drawing in thousands of souls each Lord's Day morning are truly as hidebound as Leithart claims? Is their Protestantism more of the same Protestantism we read of in the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth, or twentieth centuries? Keep in mind Leithart says we're in bondage to our complacency, to "more of the same."

Assuming Leithart's accusation is true, does your local Evangelical Baptist megachurch remind you of John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Spurgeon? 

Of course not. The "sorts of Protestants" all around us today Leithart is speaking of all have as their explicit goal to do absolutely nothing the same way they did it yesterday morning, let alone two or five hundred years ago. Incessant change is who they are. Innovation and contextualization are who they are. Not one of them gives a rip about "the future of Protestantism." Why they barely know what Protestant is right now, today, let alone why it matters. As far as they're concerned, they themselves are the future of Protestantism.

But Leithart has set up his straw man and he's off and running:

This cannot be. God is the living Creator, still at work in his world, and that means that the Protestantism of the future will be something new, and, given the pattern of God's creativity, something better.

Now Leithart is talking their language! Every Evangelical Baptist megachurch pastor would agree with him here, starting with Joel Osteen. These men and women Leithart speaks of are nothing if not hopeful, chipper, cheerful. So here we have Trinity House grafting itself on to Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, and Joel Osteen Ministries: every day in every way the church is getting better and better.

A century ago before the Great War dealt it such a cruel blow, this sort of illogical positivism gave birth to the slogan, "Every day in every way, the world is getting better and better." So how did it all turn out?

First were the 15-40,000,000 deaths of the Great War, soon followed by the 60-85,000,000 deaths of the Second World War, the 10-60,000,000 who died under Communism and Stalin, the 50-75,000,000 who died under Mao Zedong, the 2,000,000 who died under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge; then too, the 1,000,000 hacked to death by the machetes of neighbors and relatives in Christian Rwanda. And let's not forget the billions slaughtered by physicians wielding knives against little babies in their mothers' wombs as well as the starvation and dehydration of the defective, feeble, and aged growing like wildfire across the Western world. It was by far the bloodiest century of history.

Reading Leithart's triumphalism, I find myself looking for a brick wall to bash my head against.

His declarations seem completely, utterly, and entirely disconnected from reality. Are we to dismiss the twentieth century's obscene bloodshed carried out by all its utopian intellectuals? Are we to dismiss the bloodshed of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia? Even so, when viewed in the context of church history, Leithart's starry-eyed optimism seems like a prophetic word given during a Benny Hinn campaign.

Does the twenty-first century Leithart fault the twelfth century Peter Waldo for his failure to see the hopefulness of history? Would Leithart condemn Waldo for failing to write an article for a Roman Catholic journal of his time calling his fellow Waldensians to make peace with Rome? Does he think Waldo failed to seize the initiative in his own day because Waldo can nowhere be found to have pronounced that the Waldensianism of the future would be something new, and, given the pattern of God's creativity, something better?

Again, where's my brick wall?

So far, we have only dealt with the first paragraph of Leithart's piece. Our next post will pick up where we've left off, turning to Leithart's second and third paragraphs in which this hermeneutic of triumphalism includes the Fall.

Seriously. The Fall.

And lest you think my rejection of Dr. Leithart's triumphalism is a function of my Hal Lindsey/Left Behind dispensational premillennialism, not true, although you'll have to wait for the next post to understand why.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!