Theopolis men, the PCA, and Roman Catholicism ...

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One of Peter Leithart's Theopolis Institute teachers is Rich Bledsoe, a friend from pre-seminary days. We met back in 1979 at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder. Rich had just jumped into theonomy, and although he had been teaching one of the church's adult Sunday school classes, becoming a theonomist resulted in the pastoral staff distancing Rich from any leadership in the church. In 1980 Mary Lee and I left for seminary and soon Rich left for seminary himself, returning to Boulder a few years later to plant Tree of Life Church for the Presbyterian Church in America. He served as Tree of Life's pastor until recently when he left parish ministry for institutional chaplaincy.

Some time back I noted Rich had taken up with Peter Leithart, Jim Jordan, Jeff Meyers, and their Theopolis Institute friends. All these men are notable for their promotion of the Oatmeal Stout Federal Vision sacramentalism which, along with its handmaiden, sacerdotalism, greases the path for Protestant pastors to "go back home" to Father and Mother—which is to say the Pope and Rome. No surprise, then, that Dr. Leithart made his recent pronouncement of "the end of Protestantism," and did so under the auspices of the Roman Catholic journal First Things.

Dr. Leithart wasn't alone among the Theopolis men in setting this new very old agenda. Rich Bledsoe jumped on Dr. Leithart's wagon with a strange Theopolis piece that seemed as if Jim Jordan were ventriloquizing Jim Dobson. Or maybe Jim Dobson ventriloquizing Jim Jordan—it's hard to say which. The piece was Rich's declaration of solidarity with Dr. Leithart's call for Protestants to make peace with Rome. Rich called for Protestants to turn away from our adolescent project of rebellion started in the Reformation. We Protestants must go back home and make peace with our Father and Mother:

The typology of the church had almost universally been that of the Holy Mother [and] as the church was the Holy Mother, the Pope was the Holy Father. ...We must face the fact that we are really still fighting with our parents. It is time to reconcile. It is time for Protestants and Catholics to reconcile...

[Protestants must] make up with our parents.... 

The truth is, if we do not reconcile with Roman Catholics and also with the Eastern Orthodox, we will stall in attempts to reconcile with each other. Brothers and sisters who are all in conflict with mother and father, will never be able to look each other in the eye.

As I watch Leithart and Bledsoe's Holy Mother/Holy Father project, I'm reminded of another friendship which began the same year Mary Lee and I left Boulder for seminary. Beginning studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I met a student who was every bit as intense as Rich in his promotion of theonomy. His name was Scott Hahn and he too was a Presbyterian. But shortly after graduation while serving as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, Scott and his wife, Kimberly, converted to Roman Catholicism. Scott justified his Roman Catholic conversion and called other Presbyterian adolescents to make peace with their Father and Mother in his book, Rome Sweet Home

Another friend from Gordon-Conwell days, Marcus Grodi, also converted to Roman Catholicism. Marcus's work now is hosting EWTN's Coming Home Network.

You see the theme, right? Mother. Father. Home.

Moving to Bloomington, Indiana in 1992, I met Dr. Ken Howell who had planted the PCA church there in Bloomington a few years earlier. Ken and I spent an afternoon together during which he recounted for me how he had left the church in Bloomington to join the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He said he had been attending Roman Catholic mass (daily if I remember correctly) there in Jackson when "one day [during the consecration of the elements] I realized it really had become the body and blood of Christ." This was Ken's conversion story (to Roman Catholicism) and he went on to explain how it had taken some time to extricate himself from professing at Reformed Seminary, but in time he left and had just moved to Bloomington where he was keeping himself busy doing post-doc work. We have had several of Ken's family members in our congregation including his brother-in-law, David Canfield, who serves as our clerk of session.

Many more Presbyterian pastors and elders have converted to Roman Catholicism in recent years, and it's common for those who haven't yet crossed the Tiber to repudiate five centuries of Protestant warnings and condemnations of Roman heresies. Calvin, Knox, Luther, and all their brothers in the faith down across the centuries have been wrong, they tell us. These fathers in the faith led what is best understood as an adolescent rebellion, but bright men see the truth that the time of the Reformation is over. Sure, it had some good points which we should seek to retain, but in the main it was an adolescent rebellion that is old and in the way.

As they age, theonomists who have given their lives to the pursuit of the millenium get impatient, and maybe a little fearful. What better legacy to leave behind than peace with Rome? Start the project by hammering the theme of sacramentalism relentlessly. Move on to casting lots of doubt on the Westminster Standards at lots of places, but be careful to float like a butterfly while you sting like a bee. Keep casting aspersions against those Westminster Divines while not allowing anyone to pin you down on anything.

Incidentally, a few years ago I asked Vern Poythress what he thought of Federal Vision and he responded, "You know, I can't really figure out what they are saying." So what, Vern is dense? Slow? Somewhat limited in his reading comprehension?

Of course not. Vern is the brightest man I've ever known. If Vern can't understand me, it's my fault.

But back to the Romanizing project of our Oatmeal Stout Federal Vision brothers...

The messification of doctrine accomplished, it's off to ritual. Jeff Meyers has spent years changing Presbyterian worship by teaching everyone the Only True Pattern for Christian worship is the recapitulation of the order of Old Testament sacrificial rites. And he's been wise to call his innovation "Covenant Renewal Worship." What good Presbyterian would oppose anything called "covenant" or its renewal?

Peter, Jeff, and friends have been successful in getting Presbyterian pastors to return to the wearing of robes and stoles which help solidify in the eyes of their congregations the same priestly dignity Roman Catholics possess. For more than ten years, Peter and friends have been making progress leading fellow Presbyterians to make peace with Rome and in this Theopolis men are just one more iteration of the Romanizers who have plagued Protestantism across the centuries. Take, for instance, John Henry Newman.

One final thing: note carefully these men's denominational home.

Like others before them such as Ken Howell and Scott Hahn, Rich Bledsoe, Jeff Meyers, and Peter Leithart are teaching elders in good standing in the Presbyterian Church in America.

If you thought these men were CREC, you were wrong.

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!