Leithart's future-end of Protestantism XI: the Mother of all his errors...

Error message

(This is the eleventh and last in a series of posts critiquing Dr. Peter Leithart's recent call for the "End of Protestantism." Here are links to the prior posts: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, and ten.)

'Peace' is certainly a pleasing word; but cursed is the peace that is obtained at so great a cost that there is lost to us the doctrine of Christ, by which alone we grow together into a godly and holy unity.  - Calvin on Acts 14:2

The Presbyterian Church in America's Dr. Peter Leithart is calling for an "ecumenical" peace with Rome and Constantinople and he labels his movement the "End of Protestantism" project, promoting it through his journalistic residence at the Roman Catholic journal, First Things.  Dr. Leithart has laid claim to be the new fresh face of the "ecumenical" movement and tells us his project seeks nothing more than the unity of the Church that Jesus asked of His Father during His Great High Priestly Prayer:

The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:22, 23)

No man who loves Jesus Christ can be a stoic concerning the unity of the Church. Nevertheless, across the centuries, calls for unity have often been used to cloak attacks upon the Gospel. Surely the Judaizers in Galatia attacked the Apostle Paul for divisiveness when his epistle to the Galatians was read to their congregation. And during the Reformation, the Roman Catholics never stopped accusing the Reformers of dividing the Church.

Yet what is the Church—this is the question Dr. Leithart avoids, crafting his appeals for unity as if there were no true and false Gospel, no true and false church.

When the Roman Catholic church charged the Protestant Reformers with schism, the Reformers faced the charge directly and this response found in the Scots Confession (1560) is typical. Here the Scots Confession begins by teaching that false churches have always existed and that those false churches have done their best to destroy the souls of men and persecute the godly. Therefore it is imperative the godly learn to distinguish between true and false churches ("kirk" means "church")...

Since Satan has labored from the beginning to adorn his pestilent synagogue with the title of the Kirk (Church) of God, and has incited cruel murderers to persecute, trouble, and molest the true Kirk and its members, as Cain did to Abel, Ishmael to Isaac, Esau to Jacob, and the whole priesthood of the Jews to Christ Jesus himself and his apostles after him. So it is essential that the true Kirk be distinguished from the filthy synagogues by clear and perfect notes lest we, being deceived, receive and embrace, to our own condemnation, the one for the other.

Having established the constancy of false churches across salvation history and the importance of learning the signs of the true church, the Scots Confession goes on to establish that, just as there are false churches, so there are false signs, marks, tokens, or credentials used by false churches to bolster their claims they are the true church:

The notes, signs, and assured tokens whereby the spotless bride of Christ is known from the horrible harlot, the false Kirk, we state, are neither antiquity, usurped title, lineal succession, appointed place, nor the numbers of men approving an error. For Cain was before Abel and Seth in age and title; Jerusalem had precedence above all other parts of the earth, for in it were priests lineally descended from Aaron, and greater numbers followed the scribes, Pharisees, and priests, than unfeignedly believed and followed Christ Jesus and his doctrine . . . and yet no man of judgment, we suppose, will hold that any of the forenamed were the Kirk of God.

With the first two paragraphs demonstrating that there have always been false churches and false marks or credentials used by false churches, the Scots Confession goes on to lay out the true or genuine marks ("notes") by which the true Church of Jesus Christ is identified:

The notes of the true Kirk, therefore, we believe, confess, and avow to be: first, the true preaching of the Word of God, in which God has revealed himself to us, as the writings of the prophets and apostles declare; secondly, the right administration of the sacraments of Christ Jesus, with which must be associated the Word and promise of God to seal and confirm them in our hearts; and lastly, ecclesiastical [church] discipline uprightly ministered, as God's Word prescribes, whereby vice is repressed and virtue nourished. 

The Scots Confession is typical of the Reformers' agreement that the true Church may be identified by these three marks:

  1. the true preaching of the Word of God;
  2. the right administration of the Sacraments
  3. the right administration of church discipline

Now we return to Dr. Leithart's "End of Protestantism" project and look for any mention of these marks. In his plea for a new ecumenism, a restoration of the unity of the Church, does Dr. Leithart call our attention to the importance of distinguishing between the true and false church? Does he warn his readers of the danger of the false church? Does he remind his readers of the constancy of the false church's persecution of the Godly? Does he reiterate our church fathers' warnings against the false claims false churches will make concerning their tokens of authenticity? Does he remind us of the three genuine marks of the true church?

No, he does none of these things. Dr. Leithart does not mention any "synagogue of Satan," "horrible harlot," or "false church." He doesn't mention any "notes" or "marks" of the true Church. He doesn't mention any true or false preaching of the Word of God, any right or wrong administration of the Sacraments, and certainly no hint of the right or wrong administration of church discipline.

In other words, it is central to Dr. Leithart's ecumenical project that all thought of true and false churches be banished from his readers' minds, that no one attempt to evaluate any church by any marks of the true Church.

Take a run through the text of his "Future-End of Protestantism" and look for any mention of the true and false Gospel, the true and false Church:

Paragraph One, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Protestants often act as if the Reformation were the end of history, the moment when the Church reached its final condition. For these sorts of Protestants, the future of Protestantism can only be more of the same. 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.

Here above, Dr. Leithart equivocates in his use of "the Church" and "Protestantism." From the beginning, it appears Dr. Leithart is accusing Protestants of believing that "Protestantism" and "the Church" are one and the same. But of course this charge against Protestants is more slipped in than asserted. Then, quickly, Dr. Leithart moves into a cheerleading phase reminiscent of the early twentieth century's motto, "every day in every way the world is getting better and better."

Paragraph Two, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

In the beginning, God created the world in six days, and each day improved on the previous one. He spoke light, separated light and darkness, and said it was good. Come the next day, and first-day good was not good enough, so he separated the waters below from the waters above and inserted a firmament between. After he tore the waters and called earth to fruitfulness, he said that was good too. Another evening and morning, and again good was not good enough, so he spent the fourth day hanging lights in the firmament, the fifth calling swarming things to swarm in the sea and birds to hover on the face of the sky, the sixth filling the earth with animals and creating man male and female in his image. Each day was good, but each was followed by darkness and dawn that made good better. When he finished, Yahweh God pronounced it very good and rested in what he had made.

Dr. Leithart here uses the account of Creation to marshal support for his hope-and-change theory of history. There's nothing particular about the Church in this second paragraph.

Paragraph Three, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Something of the same rhythm continues after the Fall, with God's judgment a critical addition, with God tearing down in order to build up. After the scattering at Babel, he tears Abram from among the nations and sends him wandering through a land not his own, offering sacrifices at oaks and oases. The Lord midwives his son Israel through the travail of Egypt and carries him to Sinai, where he teaches him to worship in his tent and live in the land of promise. Solomon reorganizes tribes into districts and builds a temple, a well-watered Eden on Mount Moriah, with the king's palace hard by Yahweh's. Divided, the people of God take a new name, Israel-and-Judah, until Yahweh tears them from the land of promise and melds them together in exile into one new man, now all Jews, now all "Judahites," incorporated into the royal tribe. Through the cross and Resurrection, we are all separated from our native tribes and nations and grafted into the people of God, taking the name Christian.

Here Dr. Leithart strings together Old Testament references to the Church including "son Israel," "tribes," "people of God," "one new man," "all Jews," "royal tribe," and "people of God." His words "tear" and "meld" strike a negative enough note that readers can be led to think that Dr. Leithart is no Pollyana in his interpretation of salvation history. But those slight negative notes come nowhere near reminding the reader of the constancy of the false church in the Old Testament. So, for instance, there's no mention of "Esau," of "cows of Bashan," of "Lo-ammi," or even of our Lord condemning His People "as I swore in My wrath, 'they shall not enter my rest.'"

Paragraph Four, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

God creates Israel as tribes, then as a kingdom, then scatters them among the nations, then sends them to the nations, each good, each followed by the darkness of the tomb, each bringing good brighter than the good that preceded it. At each juncture, God calls his people to shed old ways and old names, to die to old routines and ways of life, including ways of life God himself has established.

Dr. Leithart's summary of Old Testament salvation history continues to speak of the Church ("his people") as if all God's people are truly God's people; as if all Israel is Israel.

Paragraph Five, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

We do not like this. We do not want our world shattered, even if God rebuilds from the rubble. We do not want to die. As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy put it, "Christianity and future are synonymous" because Christians confess that the world ends and begins again and again. Christianity and future are synonymous because resurrection faith alone enables us to meet the world's end and "to die to our old habits and ideals, get out of our old ruts, leave our dead selves behind and take the first step into a genuine future."

Here "Church" is displaced by speaking of "Christians" and "Christianity." Stop for a second, though, and ask yourself what makes a "Christian" and what is "Christianity?"

Dr. Leithart doesn't say. But when he writes "Christianity and future are synonymous," it's clear he means "Church and future are synonymous." If so, wouldn't it help us to know whether he's making this wonderfully optimistic assertion about the true or the false church? And is this wonderful future of the Church going to happen so easily that all the old work of distinguishing between the true and false church is obsolete?

Paragraph Six, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

As we reflect on the future of Protestantism it will not do to say that history is change, that the world is always coming to an end in the straightforward sense that today will become tomorrow. History is not a seamless garment. It has gaps and tears, some quite rough. We know that from our own history. The Reformers reached deep into the Scriptures and the catholic tradition, but they were revolutionary innovators for all that. A world came to an end five hundred years ago, and the Western Church was reborn in an unprecedented form—as Catholic-and-Protestant. New kinds of Christians began to appear for the first time, with new names like "Lutheran" and "Reformed" and "Anglican."

Now we begin to hit paydirt. Dr. Leithart asserts the Reformers did not pursue the continuation of the true Church of Jesus Christ begun by His Apostles. Rather, the Reformers were "innovators" who gave birth to "new kinds of Christians." Sure, they appealed to "the Scriptures and the catholic tradition," but the main thing Dr. Leithart asserts is that the Reformers were "revolutionary innovators" who split the "Western Church" into two, "Catholic-and-Protestant."

According to Dr. Leithart, the Reformers weren't really reformers at all. They were revolutionaries. They didn't unite the true church by dividing from the synagogue of Satan, but they divided the Western Church into two branches, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

If nothing else, Dr. Leithart is bold. For a Reformed Protestant to call the Reformers "revolutionaries" is revolutionary and it necessitates his taking the position that, following the Reformation, the Church had three branches, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant. No false Gospel, no false Church. Rather three true Gospels and three true churches, each a part of the One True Church. 

Paragraph Seven, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

But if God is alive, why would we think that the Church reached its final form in 1517 or 1640? Why would we think that the Reformation marks the end of history? Why do we think we can keep these names forever?

What names does Dr. Leithart say we cannot keep forever?

"Protestant," "Roman Catholic," and "Eastern Orthodox" because holding onto those three names is an obstacle in the path of Dr. Leithart's call for unity.

Paragraph Eight, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

We cannot. Division cannot be the final state of Christ's Church. Luther's protest against Rome was necessary, and we should reverently say that the division of the Church, like the division of Judah and Israel, like the division of heaven and earth at the beginning, was in some mysterious sense "from the Lord." Yet if the Gospel is true, this division is at best provisional. Jesus prayed that we would be "perfected in unity," and this unity must be visible enough for the world to notice and conclude that the Father sent Jesus (John 17:23). Paul told Peter that refusing to eat with Gentiles was an offense to the Gospel and an assault on justification by faith. Jesus is our Peace, who died to make the two into one new man in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. The promise of unity is internal to the good news.

The Reformation was Christ dividing His Bride? Really? Is this the state of Reformed scholars' knowledge of Scripture and Church history today? 

If Dr. Leithart thinks the Reformers divided the True Church, does he also think the Apostle Paul divided the True Church? Does he think the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians left two parts of the True Church in Galatia, one comprised of Judaizers and one comprised of Gospellers? One for the circumcision and one for the uncircumcision? And if so, when Abraham sent Hagar off into the wilderness with his son, Ishmael, was he dividing his covenant children? And from that point on was there a schism in God's Covenant People? Had Abraham divided God's People? And if so, when God caused the earth to open and swallow Achan and his family, was God the agent of division among the Sons of Israel and from the moment of judgment and death, did that division beg for resurrection and reunion? And if so, was Jesus needlessly divisive when He told the Samaritan woman "salvation is from the Jews?"

Were each of these divisions provisional allowances of God for the hardness of our hearts? Was each a "division" that "was in some mysterious sense 'from the Lord?'" 

Dr. Leithart then closes out this paragraph by appealing to the Apostle Paul's conflict with the Judaizers as if it bolsters his claim that the Reformation divided the True Church and one wonders if anyone is awake? How do we think the Apostle Paul would have responded to Dr. Leithart accusing him of producing schism through his letter to the Galatians? Of leaving the True Church of Galatia divided into two true parts, the Judaizers and the Gospellers? Will Dr. Leithart next write a piece for Al Jazeera titled "The Future/End of Trinitarianism?" For the Deseret News titled "The Future/End of Nicea?"

You say I'm joking but I'm deadly serious. If Dr. Leithart protests that the doctrines of the Trinity and the Divinity of the Lord Jesus are foundational to Christianity and therefore it is impossible to heal the breach between the Islamic and Mormon churches and the Christian Church, why does he assert that healing the breach between the Church of the Circumcision and the Church of the Gospel was possible back in Galatia? Was this what the Apostle Paul was working for in his letter to the Galatian church—the healing of the breach between the Judaizers and the Christians?

To suggest such a thing is preposterous.

Through his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul was not dividing the True Church, but rather forcing the division between the true and false church, between salvation by law and works, and salvation by grace through faith. The Apostle Paul was defining and distinguishing the True Church from the Synagogue of Satan, the Christian Church from the Church of the Circumcision. The Apostle Paul was damning the Synagogue of Satan, the Church of the Circumcision, for leading souls to Hell. Yet he felt no apparent guilt over his divisiveness. In fact, it almost seems as if the Apostle Paul never was as convinced of the godliness of his work as there in his letter to the Galatians when he did everything in his power to cut off the sons of circumcision from the sons of God:

I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.  - Galatians 5:12

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!  - Galatians 1:6-9

The same spirit of unity through division permeated the work of the Reformers. They never stopped doing everything in their power to further the division between the Roman Church's idolatry and denial of the the free imputation of Jesus' blood and righteousness, and the True Church of Jesus Christ which worshipped God in spirit and truth and never stopped proclaiming the Cross of Jesus Christ. The Reformers didn't seem to evidence any pangs of guilt over being divisive as they damned the church of Rome for leading souls to Hell, nor did the Romanists of the Council of Trent seem to feel guilty over damning those who teach justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Alone. 

In fact, the Reformers saw their work as unifying, peacemaking, irenic, and healing of the True Church of Jesus Christ very much in line with the unifying, peacemaking, irenic, and healing work of the Apostle Paul through his rebuke of the Apostle Peter and his letter to the Church in Galatia. Thus Calvin writes:

(W)here the truth of God is not sought, the whole outward appearance is nothing, but a mere mask. ...it is not enough for those who bear rule in the Church to gather together, unless it is done in the name of Christ. Otherwise, since it is a normal artifice of Satan's to disguise himself as "an angel of light" (2Corinthians 11:14), we shall be giving to him under the title of the Church the most suitable hiding-place that he can wish for.  - Commentary on Acts  5:25

The name "church" should never be tossed around in such a way that it provides cover for Satan.

Paragraph Nine, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

We can putter around with counterfactuals: What if the early disputations between Catholics and Protestants had been fruitful? What if Lutherans and Reformed had mended fences by 1600? What combination of theological principle, myopia, politics, and pride prevented it? Reconciliation might have happened sooner. But it didn't.

"Reconciliation" between two legitimate expressions of the One True Church, according to Dr. Leithart. But not according to either Rome or the Reformers: both denounced the other as the false church and "theological pride" was not one among four deterrents to Church unity, on a level with "myopia, politics, and pride." Can we even imagine Calvin or Luther's response to such a cavalier dismissal of their battle against the Roman church's betrayal of justification by grace alone through faith alone?

Paragraph Ten, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Now, however, there are signs that reconciliation is possible. For a century already, the ecumenical and liturgical movements have been chipping away at the old divisions in dogma and ritual. With regard to the proper role of ritual and ecumenical passion, I have often thought it my vocation to play a role in dragging conservative American Protestants, kicking and screaming, into the twentieth century. Yes, the twentieth, that's not a typo.

If the reputation of Rome is to be rehabilitated by Dr. Leithart so that those within the Protestant church bypass her condemnation of the Scriptural doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, it will be pulled off by Dr. Leithart "dragging conservative American Protestants, kicking and screaming, into the" twentieth century's detour around true Biblical doctrine—what he shames by referring to as "old divisions in dogma and ritual"—instead focussing on the enlightened twentieth century's commitment to renewed "ritual and ecumenical passion."

Paragraph Eleven, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

That century was one of ecumenical awakening, something we've been participating in even if too often unaware of—or unable to admit to ourselves and our congregations—the consequences. In the U.S. we have seen a foxhole ecumenism develop during the culture wars. Evangelical Protestants—historically the most anti-Catholic sector of the American Church—meet vibrantly faithful Catholics on the pro-life picket line, while Catholics realize that their best allies for upholding the definition of marriage happen to be Evangelicals. Old boundaries become permeable as theological differences get swallowed up in co-belligerency.

Ah yes, "ecumenical awakening." What glory! What bliss! What peace and unity! What Godliness! Dr. Leithart is dragging us there as we kick and scream in opposition, but once we admit his greater irenicism and we see the new horizon and allow ourselves to feel the hope-and-change stirring in our breast, we'll admit he was right and we were ignorantly provincial. Denominationally jealous. Crassly sectarian. We were promoters of the Balkanization of Christ's Church and for shame!

"Culture wars" bad. "Foxhole ecumenism" good.

And now we have something called the "American Church." Note the capitalization of "Church" and ask yourself if it benefits the souls under your care, father, elder, mother, or pastor to teach them that Protestants and Roman Catholics in America are, together, two divided parts of one True American Church? 

Then, to soothe the fears and assuage the guilt of "anti-Catholic" Evangelical Protestants, Dr. Leithart reminds them that Roman Catholics agree with them in opposing abortion and homosexual marriage. So how can any man who believes in the humanity of the unborn and the sanctity of the marriage bed refuse to give up "old boundaries" and "theological differences?"

Isn't "co-belligerency" in matters of moral theology sufficient justification for our giving up "old boundaries" and "old divisions in dogma" in matters of soteriology? If we're united in our opposition to abortion and homosexual marriage, why would we want to quibble over the lesser matter of justification that's heretofore divided Protestants and Roman Catholics?

Paragraph Twelve, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

What happens at the picket line happens in seminaries and pastors' studies. These days Protestant pastors read papal encyclicals for edification, and Western Christians discover unexpected wealth in the works of Orthodox liturgists. From the Catholic side, Vatican II, for all its excesses and false moves, has made the Catholic Church sound more Protestant because it has become more attuned to common biblical and patristic sources. Swimming the Tiber has become a popular Evangelical sport, partly because of the manifest attractions of Catholicism, partly because the Catholic Church is more hospitable to Evangelical concerns than anyone could have imagined in 1870 or 1950.

Again, Dr. Leithart shows his giggling excitement over liturgy: "unexpected wealth in the works of Orthodox liturgists." Then too, just look how the Roman Catholic Church has grown in its openness to reading the Church Fathers. Even the Bible. Somewhat.

Paragraph Thirteen, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Among Evangelicals, the most decisive signal of our new situation is our growing revulsion at the divisiveness of Protestantism. The modern age has seen more than its share of horrors, but none so stupefying as the spectacle of Christ re-crucified in our divisions. The only horror that might rival it is our complacency before this cross. The revulsion I speak of is not war-weariness or relativism; it is a recovery of the New Testament. Evangelicals are increasingly convinced that unity is a demand of the Gospel and that we are complicit in profound unfaithfulness so long as we acquiesce in permanent division. Evangelicals are finally making it into the last century.

Dr. Leithart's use of the first person plural expressing his supposed identification with "Evangelicals" is humorous. Something like "what's this 'we' white man?"

Then of course more pom-pom girl rhetoric like "decisive" and "new situation" and "growing revulsion" and "horrors" and "stupefying" and "spectacle" and "horror" and "revulsion" (again) and "recovery of the New Testament" and "demand of the Gospel" and "profound unfaithfulness." Whew!

But again, the thing to keep our eyes on is his begging the question of what or who is the Church of Jesus Christ. Thus his call here for "unity" is not attached to the unity of Christ's Church, but rather the unity of Roman Catholics and Protestants. Both are legitimate expressions of the true Church and that's that.

This is how Dr. Leithart can assert—not argue—that the division between Protestants and Roman Catholics is "Christ re-crucified." But if that's what the separation between Protestants and Roman Catholics is today, on what basis can Dr. Leithart avoid condemning the Reformers and the Apostle Paul for the same wickedness?

Paragraph Fourteen, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

The living God has reached into the post-Reformation Church and has begun tearing apart the sagging fences that have mapped our territories and discarding the badges that have named us. This is happening to the entire Church, and for that reason we should not be talking about the future of Protestantism but about the Church of the future. If we focus on the future of our particular enterprise, we perpetuate the tribalism we should renounce. If we rebuild what God is destroying, are we not transgressors?

Dr. Leithart's "post-Reformation Church" is half Roman Catholic and half Protestant, and the only thing keeping the two apart is "old boundaries" and "old divisions in dogma" and "sagging fences" and "badges" and this and that "particular enterprise" we use to "perpetuate the tribalism we should renounce."

It doesn't seem to have occurred to Dr. Leithart that his "Church of the future" is in any danger of turning out to be the "pestilent" or "filthy synagogue" the Reformers warned against, or the "synagogue of Satan" the Lord Jesus warned against (Revelation 2:9; 3:9). When Dr. Leithart speaks of the Church, he never ever warns against Satan appearing as an angel of light.

Paragraph Fifteen, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

What are we to do now? What kind of Church will emerge from the cauldron of exile? Each of us necessarily begins from where he is as we enter the future that God is preparing for all of us. I am Protestant, and therefore I must speak as one. Here, then, is my partial wish list—still Protestant in focus, tone, and priorities, but provisionally so, I hope—for the sake of the future Church:

  • Churches where "faith without works is dead" is heard as frequently as "justification by faith."
  • Preachers who teach the whole Bible in all its depth and beauty and who draw on the whole tradition of commentary as they prepare sermons. The word of God is active, a two-edged sword.
  • Pastors who form friendships with, pray with, learn from, and study the Bible with local Catholic and Orthodox priests, as well as other Protestant pastors. Pastors who take the time to cross the street to befriend a pastor from another denomination. For we are one body.
  • Seminaries where theologians are encouraged to follow Scripture wherever it leads, even if we have to admit that our opponents were right all along. Seminaries that pass on the tradition of the whole Church, rather than flatter tribal instincts. Professors who teach other traditions accurately.
  • Churches willing to give up some treasured tribal slogans and symbols for the sake of unity.
  • Churches whose worship centers on the Eucharist, celebrated at least weekly, where all the baptized are welcome. Evangelical Protestants who do not consider it "Catholic" to have a regular Eucharist, a sung liturgy, set prayers and responses, dialogic worship.
  • Churches whose members know Psalms as well as any medieval monk, whose hymns and prayers and praise are infused with the cadences of the Psalter. Be filled with the Spirit. Churches with enemies enough to make imprecatory Psalms meaningful. Break the teeth of the lions.
  • Churches that pray for the specific needs of churches from other denominations in public worship and know the specific needs of other churches.
  • Churches whose musical culture is shaped by the tradition of church music.
  • Churches where infants are baptized and young children participate in the Eucharistic assembly. Do not forbid them.
  • Churches whose pastors have the courage to use the tools of discipline with all love, gentleness, kindness, and patience—but use them, rather than using love and gentleness as excuses for cowardice and lethargy.
  • Churches that honor the discipline of other churches, rather than receiving rebels from neighbor churches. For we are one body.
  • Lutheran pastors who teach obedience (as Luther did!), Anglicans who exercise discipline, jolly Presbyterians with a reputation for levity, Pentecostals attuned to the Christian tradition, Baptists who acknowledge hierarchy, liturgical Bible churches.
  • Cities where all the churches pray and worship and labor together, where the pastors serve the interests of the city, speaking with one voice to civic leaders. Pastoral associations that include representatives of every church—Evangelical, mainline, charismatic, Catholic, Orthodox. Local pastoral associations that discuss theological differences, and do so honestly, vigorously, charitably, striving toward a common confession of the faith.
  • Churches that take the pedophilia scandal, or the upheavals of the Anglican Communion, or the persecution of Orthodox believers as crises among our people—not problems for someone else over there. If one suffers, all the members suffer.
  • Protestants who recognize that they are already members of a Church where some venerate icons, some believe in transubstantiation, some slaughter peaceful Muslim neighbors, some believe in papal infallibility and Mary's immaculate conception. For we are one body.

Dr. Leithart speaks of the Church being in "exile," but what Church is he speaking of? Has the Protestant Church exiled the Roman Catholic Church? Or is it the Roman Catholic Church that has exiled the Protestant Church? Maybe he's saying the division between the Protestant Church and Roman Catholic Church perpertrated by the Reformation and Counter-Reformation exiled the true Church from either and both?

Who knows? But clearly, Dr. Leithart's "future Church" has healed the old dogmatic divisions between the fractious Protestants and the fractious Roman Catholics, with equal blame for both as we gaze across the past five centuries. And to prove it, the list of improvements of the "future Church" are quite equitable in dispersing equal amounts of blame in the Protestant and Roman Catholic directions: works and faith; Scripture and Tradition; honoring tradition and traditions; repudiating "tribal slogans": the Eucharist at the center of worship and weekly; sung liturgy; read prayers; medieval monastic cadences; singing the Psalter; prayers of blessing across the divide; tradition in music, too; children baptized; children partaking in the Eucharist; resurrection of the practice of church discipline; honoring Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church discipline "for we are one body"; and on it goes.

Then this: "Protestants who recognize that they are already members of a Church where some venerate icons, some believe in transubstantiation, some slaughter peaceful Muslim neighbors, some believe in papal infallibility and Mary's immaculate conception. For we are one body."

So just because Dr. Leithart announces it, every man and woman standing in the line of faithful church fathers that passes through the Apostles Peter and Paul and John, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Augustine, Peter Waldo, Bernard, Hus, Tyndale, Wycliffe, Calvin, Luther, Knox, Cranmer, Edwards, Spurgeon, and Lloyd-Jones is to repent of the division of the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches that prevents the unity of the True Christian Church, and is to make his or her peace with the idolatry of icons, the idolatry of transubstantiation, the murder of innocents, the blasphemy of papal infallibility, and even Mariolatry.


"For we are one body." Which is to say "we are One True Christian Church."

Dr. Leithart declares it and that makes it so.

Paragraph Sixteen, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Let's call the resulting churches "Reformational Catholic Churches." Will they still be Protestant? Though they will look more like Catholic churches than many Evangelical churches do today, they remain Protestant in many respects. My wish list will appear odd only to those who have lost connection with classic Protestantism.

Now we have a name for the true Christian Church of the future that gives both contributing divisions stakeholder status in the name: it's both Reformed and Roman Catholic, and isn't that wonderful! And if the good reader is not on board with this madness, it's simply because he has lost touch with "classic Protestantism." Martin Luther would recognize the Godliness of Dr. Leithart's project. John Calvin would recognize the Godliness of Dr. Leithart's project. What's wrong with you?

Paragraph Seventeen, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Yet insofar as definitional opposition to Catholicism is constitutive of Protestant identity, to the extent that "Protestant" entails "of-another-Church-from-Catholic," insofar as Protestants, whatever their theology, have acted as if they are members of a different Church from Roman Catholics and Orthodox, Jesus bids Protestantism to come and die. For either side to persist in a provisional Protestant-vs.-Catholic self-identification is a defection from the Gospel. If the Gospel is true, we are who we are by union with Jesus in his Spirit with his people; it then cannot be the case that we are who we are by differentiation from other believers.

Dr. Leithart tells us that Luther, Calvin, Knox, Cranmer, and the good men who wrote the Scots Confession are to be condemned for acting "as if they were members of a different church from Roman Catholics." And their theological defenses of that commitment?

Dr. Leithart responds "whatever."

If anyone contradicts his redefinition of "Church" in such a way that no distinction between true and false church and no marks of the true Church are tolerated, here is what Dr. Leithart has to say to him: he is resisting Jesus' call to come and die and is defecting from the Gospel.

To reject Dr. Leithart's abuse of the nature and unity of what he calls "Church" is to reject Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

Breathtaking, isn't it?

Paragraph Eighteen, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Some might take this as an exhortation to abandon the passionate pursuit of truth. It is the opposite: If Rome is simply outside, we can leave it to its errors. If we are one body, Rome's errors are errors in the Church of which we too are members. Brothers correct brothers, and certainly the correction is mutual. It is easy to criticize from a distance; it is much harder patiently to correct family members. Some might take this as an exhortation to "convert" to Rome or Constantinople. Again, it is the opposite: No one has to leave home to become a full member of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church, despite Catholic (and Orthodox) claims to the contrary. If I were addressing a Catholic audience, near the top of my list would be the wish that Catholics would abandon—repent of— even the moderated exclusivism of Vatican II. Catholic tribalism is no more defensible than Protestant, no matter that Catholics have a bigger tribe.

By "if we are one body" Dr. Leithart means "since we are one body."

Protestants and Roman Catholics are both members of the same One True Church.

Protestants and Roman Catholics are both brothers in Christ. Every last one of them.

Protestants and Roman Catholics together are equally members of the household of faith, the pillar and foundation of the truth, the family of God, the Church of the Living God.

Protestants and Roman Catholics together are equally members of the One Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church.

And it doesn't stop:

Paragraph Nineteen, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

Someone once asked me how I respond to the charge that Reformational Catholic Churches do not exist. My response is, "That's right. They don't." There are pockets; any church may become a Reformational Catholic congregation in spirit. But as a visible body it is a Church of the future, a city yet to come. That may be bewildering, but it is where Protestants always are; it is where all Christians ought always to be. One of the great contributions of Protestantism has been our insistence that we walk by faith not sight: Here we have no lasting city. Being a Reformational Catholic Christian is a circus ride, a high wire act with no net but the loving arms of our faithful Father. Christian faith is not safe. Don't follow Jesus unless you are willing to have your world upended, again and again.

Again, Dr. Leithart goes on about his "Church of the future" telling us he's certain this is what God is doing today, and soon we'll be able to see the "city yet to come." The city of God, that is. The kingdom of God.

Paragraph Twenty, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

It is only in this faith that we can embrace the death that God demands of us. I dearly hope that Protestant tribalism dies; I will do all in my power to kill it, not least in myself. I long to see churches that neglect the Eucharist blasted from the earth. I hope to see fragmented Protestantism, anti-liturgical and anti-sacramental Protestantism, thinly biblical Protestantism, anti-doctrinal and anti-intellectual Protestantism, anti-traditional Protestantism, rationalist and nationalist Protestantism slip into the grave—and I will not hesitate to turn that grave into a dance floor. Insofar as these are the things that make Protestants Protestant, I am hoping for the death of Protestantism.

All former divisions were simply "Protestant tribalism," but where is any mention of justification by grace alone through faith alone? Where are the marks of the Church? Where are the Reformers in all this guilt-tripping and sentimental manipulation?

Has Dr. Leithart ever read Luther or Calvin? Has he ever read the Scots Confession? The Westminster Confession?

IV. This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.

V. The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a Church on earth to worship God according to His will.

VI. There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God. 

- Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV

Does Dr. Leithart really believe he can declare that those who reject reunion with Rome are rejecting the cross of Jesus Christ and opposing the Gospel, yet continue to claim he subscribes to even Scripture's "system of doctrine" taught in the Westminster Standards? Dr. Leithart's ecumenical project contradicts the Westminster Confession and yet he remains free to have his credentials in the Pacific Northwest Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America. It is scandalous.

Paragraph Twenty-one, "The Future-End of Protestantism":

But death is never the last word for the Church of the living God, the God who is faithful to death, and then yet again faithful. Christianity and future are synonymous. If Protestant churches must die, they die in faith that they will be raised new, more radiant with glory than ever. For the Creator who said in the fifth and ninth and sixteenth centuries "It is good" will not finish his work until we come to the final Sabbath, where everything will, once and for all, be very, very good.

And so it ends.

Dr. Leithart has betrayed the Church of Jesus Christ and his betrayal is clear even (and maybe especially) to the simple and uneducated. He denies the division between the True Church of God and the Synagogue of Satan. He denies the marks of the true Church. He denies that the unity and peace of the Church may never be separated and cannot exist separate from the purity of the Church. He denies both the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

In our decadent age that hates every distinction made by God, Dr. Leithart announces there is no such thing as a false church, no such things as false marks of the Church, no such things as true marks of the Church, no such people as false shepherds, no wolves in sheep's clothing, no persecution, troubling, or molestation of the true Church and its members by Cain, Ishmael, or Esau; no persecution of Christ Jesus Himself and His Apostles after Him by the Jewish priests; and therefore no need to learn the marks by which the true Church may be distinguished from the filthy synagogues because no one at all is in danger of being deceived into receiving and embracing the false church to their own condemnation.

Let me leave this examination of Dr. Leithart's false call for the unity of the Church with two quotations, one from Calvin and one from Pascal:

The name "Church" is honorable and rightly so; but the greater the reverence it deserves, the more careful and attentive should we be in observing the distinction between the true Church and the false. Christ here says plainly that we are not to regard as shepherds all who claim the title, nor reckon as sheep all who boast the outward marks.

...if the so-called shepherds try to lead us away from Christ, we should flee from them, as Christ tells us, as if they were wolves or thieves; and we ought not to join or to stay in any society save that which is agreed in the pure faith of the Gospel.  - Calvin on John 10

Just as the only object of peace within states is to safeguard people’s property, so the only object of peace within the Church is to safeguard the truth, which is its property and the treasure wherein lies its heart.  And, just as it would be contrary to the purpose of peace to allow foreigners into a state to pillage it without resistance, for fear of disturbing the peace (because, as peace is only just and useful for the safeguarding of property, it becomes unjust and pernicious when it permits it to be lost and war, which can defend it, becomes both just and necessary), likewise, in the Church, when truth is injured by enemies of the faith, when attempts are made to uproot it from the hearts of the faithful, and make error reign in its stead, would it be serving or betraying the Church to remain at peace?

And is it not obvious that, just as it is a crime to disturb the peace when truth reigns, it is also a crime to remain at peace when the truth is being destroyed?  There is therefore a time when peace is just and a time when it is unjust.  It is written: “There is time for war and a time for peace,” and it is the interests of the truth which distinguish between them.  But there is not a time for truth and a time for error, and it is written, on the contrary: “The truth of the Lord endureth for ever,” and that is why Jesus Christ, who said that he had come to bring peace, said also that he had come to bring war; but he did not say that he had come to bring both truth and falsehood.  Truth is therefore the first rule and ultimate purpose of things.  - Blaise Pascal, Pensées No. 974 

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!