I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead. Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”
I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.
At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into one:
1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit. Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.
2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!
3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.
4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.
5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.
6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.
7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.
8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.
9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).
10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.
I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.
I have it from the horse's mouth (e.g. one of the theologians) that two overtures to declare the Federal Vision trials of Dr. Peter Leithart and TE Jeff Meyers as mistrials were clearly defeated. The moderator moved both motions as out of order, and the floor of the General Assembly voted and ultimately supported the moderator's decision.
This has made some people in the PCA very relieved but severely rankled the tempers of others, as can be seen from this article on the Green Baggins blog. Mattes feels strongly that the whole General Assembly was manipulated to avoid open, honest debate of the issues by a particular group of people. His complaint sounds very similar to complaints from the Federal Vision theologians when the 2007 General Assembly adopted the PCA's committee report on the Federal Vision: that any open, honest debate on the FV was deliberately being squashed.
Though Dr. Peter Leithart was effectively exonerated by the Standing Judicial Committee of the PCA in March, he may come under judicial scrutiny again after the General Assembly in June. Three PCA presbyteries have unanimously voted to overture the General Assembly to take original jurisdiction over the PNWP vs. Leithart case on the Federal Vision. They claim a mistrial because the prosecutor, former PCA TE Jason Stellman, converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after a negative verdict.
More details can be found here:
And, as this controversy picks up steam yet again, Dr. Leithart has decided to restate his views on baptism:
May the Lord bring peace and justice to His church.
It seems that Peter Leithart has been exonerated for the final time now!
Lane Keister reported this on his blog GreenBaggins:
In the case of the Leithart trial complaint, the case was heard by the full court. That means that the decision is usually the final verdict, unless a motion (which has to be in order) has been filed to reconsider the case. If that happens, then the verdict will be treated as if it were a panel’s decision. That is what has happened in the Leithart case. The verdict is in, and the verdict is to reject the complaint that Pacific Northwest Presbytery erred in exonerating Leithart. That may be a bit hard to follow. PNW Presbytery exonerated Leithart in the trial. That decision was complained against. The complaint always goes first to the Presbytery, which in this case rejected the complaint. That complaint was then taken to the SJC. The SJC has now concurred with the PNW Presbytery. This is the final decision, since there has been no request for a reconsideration.
Praise the Lord who saw fit to exonerate a righteous man from all accusations brought against him!
Dr. Timothy LeCroy adds his voice to the discussion. His doctorate in Historical Theology gives him a unique perspective into early medieval ecclesiology. LeCroy engages the Roman Catholic claim that a church is defined by "apostolic succession." Dr. LeCroy responds:
The only problem is that the bible doesn’t define the true church this way, and neither did the catholic church before the late middle ages. I don’t have a copy of Denzinger on me, but I would guess that, as with most things, the doctrine of apostolic succession as we know it today was not articulated until the Council of Trent. Nevertheless, even the article from the New Catholic Encyclopedia on “apostolic succession” admits that all the churches did not even have bishops until the 2nd or 3rd century, and that in many churches before that time rule was by a college of presbyters, what we today call a presbytery.
Biblicist, liturgical, sacramental, ecumenical Protestantism is the antidote to Roman fever, not the cause. --Peter Leithart
See also: "Too Catholic to be Catholic" by Peter Leithart
Stellman's Farewell to the Presbyterian Church letter of resignation (here) concludes with these striking words:
Due to the fact that these disagreements strike at the very core of the system of doctrine set forth in our Standards, I feel that I have no other choice than to tender my resignation from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America.
I would like to express my gratitude to the godly and faithful men of the Pacific Northwest Presbytery for the eight years I have been a member of this body. My desire when I joined was to remain pastoring in Woodinville for my entire life and ministry, and it is with deep disappointment and regret that this will not be the case. My sincere hope is that the fathers, brothers, and friends I have gotten to know here will keep me in their prayers, and forgive me for any offense I may have caused during my involvement in the case against TE Leithart, as well as for any offense I may be presently causing by breaking my ordination vows.
Jason Stellman, longtime critic of the Federal Vision, and the man who brought charges against TE Peter Leithart, has announced that he is leaving the PCA. The reason for his leaving revolves around his changing theology, specifically in regard to Sola Fide and Sola Scriptura, both of which he no longer holds.
You can read his own words on his blog here: http://www.creedcodecult.com/2012/06/heartfelt-farewell-to-pca.html.