Evangelicals at the Eucharist

The Parakatathiki ("Charge"), when the Eucharist is placed in the hands of a newly-ordained priest by the bishop, and he is charged by him to guard it until the Second Coming of Christ. This picture is from my own ordination.
I was fascinated today to run across this call to the Eucharist, written from a Reformed perspective, by Peter J. Leithart, pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho, and an eminent Evangelical theologian. (Seeing this, along with my recent posts on Evangelicals observing Lent, I’ve decided to create a new category for posts on this weblog: Evangelical Appropriation of Tradition.)

This is a fascinating self-criticism from within Evangelicalism, but I have to admit that after I got to the end, I had hoped there would be more to it. There is something very much missing from this, and as I attempted to remember how I would have read this as I would have as an Evangelical sixteen or so years ago, it came to me. There must be Evangelicals who read this piece and are thinking: Why?

The argument that Leithart makes here for Evangelicals to put the Eucharist at the center of their worship is really pretty weak: It helps Christians to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. Yes, well, we can remember such things in other ways, can’t we? If it’s really just about remembering, why should we have to break out the wafers and grape juice all the time? (And, you know, we have to vacuum the carpet afterward.) What does all that ritual actually do, anyway?

Mind you, I think Leithart is actually right about all the criticisms he levels at the results of a de-liturgized worship life. There can be no Church without the Eucharist. Christians are politically vulnerable without the Eucharist. Christian life is reduced to fads and programmes without the Eucharist; or, in the words of Fr. John S. Romanides, “When theology is false, then Christianity is reduced to activities.”

But, why? Why is a de-liturgized worship so vulnerable to all these distortions? Why do Evangelicals largely not see the point in the Eucharist?

It is because the Evangelical Eucharist is, to use Leithart’s term, merely a Sign. If it’s really just a reminder—a sign—then once I feel like I’ve gotten my memory in order, I don’t need the reminder any more. (And let’s not forget that doing communion all the time looks suspiciously Catholic.)

But now, if the Eucharist is actually real, if it’s actually what Jesus said it is, “food indeed” and “drink indeed,” if eating and drinking it actually put life into you, if it’s really so serious that you could get sick or die if you partake unworthily—well, that’s something else. When you’re given the opportunity to eat and drink God, then of course you will put that at the center of your worship.

And when that Eucharist is truly the flesh and blood of God Himself, then there is no way you could ever stand to surround the act of communion with anything remotely faddish (if you do, it will clearly be a blasphemy). Eating and drinking God requires a dignity and power and reverence that are entirely beyond whiting out the lyrics of the latest Lady Gaga song to be replaced by what a friend of mine calls “Jesus is my girlfriend” music. There’s a reason why, when most of us picture Heaven (including the Biblical writers), we do not think of a pop concert.

And if you are eating and drinking God, and that’s putting life into you, then you are going to be granted, quite frankly, an otherworldly power that will not only make the unity of the Church utterly critical (not to mention, obvious), but you will also not be beholden to the temporal, transient temptations of this world, whether political or in other cultural ways.

In traditional Christian theology, the Eucharist creates an extension of the very incarnation of Christ. But in the Evangelical theological world, where associating physical matter with holiness is just idolatry, then you are creating an incarnational no-man’s land where holiness cannot touch. But you still have to live there, so you fill it up with programmes and politics, not to mention emotion and intellect.

A Christian life whose weekly high point is essentially a concert followed by a lecture (even a very good lecture) is not going to have the kind of otherworldly power as one where you get to eat and drink God. It just can’t hold a candle.

Leithart also speaks of the priesthood of all believers (and, indeed, the Orthodox believe in that, too), but what is the point of a priesthood who really aren’t offering up any real sacrifice? A priesthood of “signs” is really just a priesthood of pretense, of pretending. No one puts on costly vestments and takes up golden vessels if he believes that what he places into them is just a symbol of something that’s not really there. (Well, some do, but eventually, their theological descendents always eventually start to put those things off, because they just don’t see the point any more.)

The problem with Leithart’s call to Evangelicals to come back to the Eucharist is that he doesn’t give them any overriding, compelling, positive reason to do so. His negative reasons are good, but theology has to have its own inner purpose beyond preventing or addressing dysfunction. The Eucharist’s purpose is not to hold back these distorting tendencies he identifies so concisely. Rather, its purpose is for those who receive it to become partakers of the divine nature.

And when you’re doing that, well, that changes everything.

Update: A friend points out this piece which examines all these issues in terms of their Augustinian theological background from an Evangelical (but apparently non-Zwinglian) perspective. He also rightly points out that Leithart himself probably would not embrace the fully Zwinglian “pure sign” sacramental theology I make reference to above. But of course Zwingli’s ideas about the sacraments are the context for almost all Evangelicals, and Calvin’s Eucharistic theology (from which Leithart is drawing) has its weaknesses precisely for the reasons outlined in the post on Augustine’s sacramentology.

Another point well-made by my friend is that the real reason why there is not likely to be any sort of Eucharistic revival among Evangelicals is that they really have no actual priesthood. It’s not something that can simply be started up by people who read some books. If you have no connection to the ancient traditions of Christian priesthood, what would actually make you think that the prayers of your newly-created priesthood actually would be the means by which God transforms bread and wine into body and blood? Ultimately, the various elements of tradition that are being appropriated here by some Evangelicals will necessarily be distorted, because they have been removed from the context of the tradition that gives them their power and meaning.


  1. The Churches of Christ are having an interesting twist on your remark about future generations turning away from the Eucharist. As you probably know, Churches of Christ partake of the Eucharist weekly and have traditionally viewed it as a mere symbol. Over the past twenty years, however, there is a growing part of the Churches of Christ that are re-evaluating the role of the Eucharist in worship. Interestingly, however, they aren’t pushing it away but placing new emphasis on it. Some are even rearranging their services to center on the Eucharist. Many are rejecting their Enlightenment heritage and seeking a way forward with accepting more of the supernatural elements of the Christian life. Personally I think the logical solution is to become Orthodox and maybe in a few generations that will happen but right now they are so excited about interacting with the rest of the Protestant world that they don’t see the big picture yet.

    1. interesting, Joe. the mission i used to be a part of is no more, but of the 12 or so folks that regularly participated, 3 were former Church of Christ/Christian Church (both the anti-instrumentalist and the NACC “middle” branch). the rest were former RCs, or cradle Orthodox.

      thanks for pointing this out. i no longer keep up with the currents in the Restoration Movement of Campbell and Stone, but i will try to talk with family that are still there, to gauge their views. thank you.

  2. Father, I will repost this, and link it also. I knew Leithart, and as a Presby ran in his circles. Essentially Leithart would hold that Christ is the real celebrant at every Eucharist, he is the actor, and that grace is communicated in and through the Eucharist. The bread and wine are istrumental means, and while they can be verbally identified with the flesh and blood of our God, there is no real communication of divinity from Christ to the elements, and thus of course, not to us (hmm, St. Cyril of Alexandria had a word for this). Finally, all of this grace is triggered or effected by faith. This is quite contradictory of course for Calvinism, which has as its basic assumption that grace must precede faith (election).

  3. When I think of subjects like you bring up here and how Evangelicals relate to it I think of the faith as the new wine skin that Jesus referred to. Protestants to varying degrees have poured out much of the wine and have cinched up the wine skins. When they view us w/ all the wine we were given by Christ they cannot see the point of the extra wine. Their skins are too small to hold it and because the wine skins are as full as they can get they think they have all that’s needed and our “extra” wine serves no purpose. There is no room for the fullness of the faith because their faith and the theology that supports it has been shrunk. They need to get new wine skins by dumping their truncated theology and embrace something very different and much more expansive.

    Hope this makes sense.

    1. Yes, it makes sense, though I think the metaphor needs some expansion and adjustment. From the viewpoint of most Evangelicals, I think they would say not that we have “extra” wine but rather that we have become enamored with fancy wineskins and probably forgotten wine altogether. If you have the wine, why not put it in a barrel or a glass or some other vessel? What does it matter?

  4. Father, Great post and excellent Blog. I have recently been introduced by Dr. Cyril Gary Jenkins. The use of the term “Evangelical” is most fitting in this case. As a recent development of Protestantism it departs significantly from it heritage in the “classic” reformed teachings on the Lord’s Supper. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and especially the American Puritan tradition is more realistic than what is currently held by Modern Evangelical Christians.

    I would encourage all, especially observant Protestant Christians, to read the the first American autobiography: THE LIFE AND DIARY OF DAVID BRAINERD by: edited by Jonathan Edwards. Brainerd’s description of long hours in prayer and his views of Holy Communion would and still does scandalize many Modern readers. The experience is almost foreign to the Modern Evangelical experience.

  5. The comments section after Leithart’s article was quite interesting. I am of the opinion that on-the-ground-evangelicalism (the version which has become so popular within the last few decades) would not concur with Leithart’s assessment. That is, the average evangelical who attends what passes for an evangelical church community these days. Leithart reveals a respect for tradition, in that he refers to Schmemann, and a need for the church to return to its roots, even if those roots are in the Protestant reformers. After all, the reformers were closer to the roots of the historical Christian Church than modern-day evangelicalism.

    Leithart posits himself in the classical Reformed camp, which is quickly becoming a minority within Protestantism. Classical Protestantism admits the need for catechisms and creeds, and regards the Church Fathers with deference, notwithstanding the insistence on Sola Scriptura. The climate of current-day evangelicalism has little to no need of these things.

  6. Oh, wonderful to see some interaction with my old pastor Peter Leithart.

    I know Peter well, as I spent nearly the last 10 years under his pastoral care, and teaching. He has been one of my theological heroes. He is a very, very, humble theologian. I’ve known several prominent theologians, and Peter Leithart is above them all in every way. A truly wonderful man to behold – even from afar.

    As a result of having listened to, and read, his Eucharistic meditations, preaching, lecturing, and books over the last several years, then comparing them it to Orthodoxy, I came to recognize that what I loved about Leithart was everything he was borrowing from Orthodoxy.

    In 2001 when I first discovered Leithart’s work, I was a Baptist. Well, the baptist part didn’t last long, and my wife and I moved across the country to learn from Leithart (and Doug Wilson). In 2002, before we moved to Moscow (Idaho), I was studying at the undergrad school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and I embraced paedo-communion thanks, in part, to Peter Leithart who is a very vocal proponent of paedo-communion (infant-communion). Of course, when I discovered paedo-communion I became somewhat impressed by Orthodoxy (for the first time).

    “Look at that! These Orthodox folks have been feeding their children for two thousand years! Good for them!” Of course, I knew nothing about Orthodoxy at the time! I was, however, very impressed because I had come to believe that paedo-communion was not just a matter of tradition, but that it was an application of Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 11, where Paul’s primary concern was that we not eat, or drink, unworthily by letting some go hungry while others are fed. The “eating unworthily” is, in that context, to eat in disunity, or “discommunion”.

    Peter has written many excellent articles, and a few books, touching on the Eucharist. After moving to Moscow I continued to be impressed by the depth, and richness, of Leithart’s Eucharistology. His meditations on the Eucharist are some of my favorite memories at Trinity Reformed Church. I quickly found that Leithart borrowed a lot from Schmemann. As it turns out Schmemann was required reading in one of Leithart’s classes at New St. Andrews College. I read “For the life of the world” and I was very, very, impressed. I took another step in my journey towards Orthodoxy thanks to Leithart.

    I don’t want to put words in Leithart’s mouth, but let me put it this way. I love your general critique, Fr. Damick, but when it comes to Leithart it doesn’t stick. Does Leithart believe in the real presence the way Orthodox do? Unless something has recently changed, I seriously doubt it. However, you would be hard pressed to find the difference. He has the most developed, “high”, Eucharistology of any Presbyterians I’ve ever read. He borrows a lot from Orthodoxy in all of his treatments of the Eucharist. (Though, he doesn’t always admit it.)

    I highly suggest these books by Leithart.

    “Against Christianity” – His chapter on the sacraments is fantastic.
    “Blessed are the Hungry: Meditations on the Lord’s Supper”
    “The Keys to the Kingdom”
    “From Silence to Song: The Davidic Liturgical Revolution”
    “Fyodor Dostoevsky” (The Christian Encounters Series)
    “Athanasius (Foundations of Theological Exegesis and Christian Spirituality)”

    And especially all of his Eucharistic Meditations on his website (I think he has 103 now)

    For Leithart, the centrality of the Eucharist is no joke. Leithart, along with the elders of Trinity Reformed Church, borrowed a smattering of the Divine Liturgy for worship. Don’t get me wrong, their liturgy is nothing when compared to the great glory of the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox faithful. However, Leithart, and his ilk, are certainly borrowing a LOT from Orthodoxy.

    Leithart instituted much, if not all, of the Anglican church calendar – except saints days. Leithart himself (used to) lead morning prayer from the Anglican book of common prayer – with people making the sign of the cross, and bowing.

    Leithart’s soteriology is also not common among the modern reformed Churches. Leithart was put on Church trial for involvement in a new movement among Calvinists that, while not coming near the fullness, and beauty, of Biblical Orthodox soteriology, comes closer than most Presbyterians are comfortable with.

    Leithart’s baptismal services, while nothing compared to the glory of an Orthodox baptism, are very high compared to your typical reformed Presbyterian Baptism. Leithart believes in a form of Baptismal regeneration, and believes that the Eucharist is not simply a means of grace, but IS grace. He formulates it all differently, but he has no low view of the sacraments.

    And, for these reasons, I really enjoyed his teaching. It made much more sense of the Bible – though not completely. And, as the I continued to read the Church fathers over, and over, I came to realize that everything I loved about Leithart was what he borrowed from the ancient Church.

    I thank Leithart for his being more honest with the Bible than other evangelicals. The more honest we are with the Bible, the closer we come to the Orthodoxy.

    Let me be clear, I’m not saying that Peter is nearly Orthodox, but after listening to Peter, and looking back at the Bible and the Fathers, I had to ask myself, as others asked me, why am I not Orthodox? Listening to Peter just made me jealous that I wasn’t Orthodox. I knew people that went Orthodox and I was secretly jealous of them.

    Now, I realize that Peter has serious disagreements with Orthodoxy, and it was those soteriological disagreements that were the last thing keeping me in the Reformed camp, but much of the liturgical, and sacramental, emphasis isn’t entirely consistent with reformed soteriology. In my opinion.

    But, for a few years I was really hoping that we would get Icons, and start using even more of the Divine Liturgy, and that we would petition the Saints to intercede for us. It’s sort of strange the Liturgy Peter helped fashion includes the prayers from the Divine Liturgy that come right before “By the intersession of the Theotokos…”, yet leaves that part out.

    Peter makes mention of evangelicals moving to Constantinople. In a sense, he has no one to blame but himself. He does a great job critiquing evangelicals, but, in my opinion, doesn’t have a very good defense against Orthodoxy.

    Before I go, I should mention that many other pastors and theologians were involved in my journey to Orthodoxy. Leithart happened to be very good at warming me up to Orthodoxy.

    Fr. Damick,
    Thank you for your contribution to my journey to Orthodoxy as well.

    Adam Saverian Naranjo (a.k.a. Adam Saverian)

    1. Thanks for all this. I was unaware of the extent to which Leithart borrows from Orthodoxy, mainly because I’m not actually deeply familiar with his work.

      That said, my intent in commenting on the article was to read it as one of the Evangelicals he was addressing might read it, then to analyze such a reading from an Orthodox perspective.

      His view of the Eucharist is obviously higher than your average Evangelical, but I don’t think his call to them to come “up there” with him will get too far, because it’s not really clear that there is a “there” there. If you can’t come out and say that the Eucharist is truly Christ’s Body and Blood, then there really isn’t much point to calling on Evangelicals to alter what they’re doing. They won’t (can’t?) see the point.

      1. Yes, I agree.

        Many high-church Presbyterians end up feeling stuck, because their tradition borrows many great teachings from the fathers, yet abandons the fathers in other respects.

        For Calvin the Eucharist, and Baptism, are efficacious. They actually do something. But Calvin, of course, stopped short of the fathers with regard to describing what Baptism actually does.

        For Leithart the Eucharist should include infants, and children, but the reformed tradition, generally speaking, still practices credo-communion.

        For Leithart St. John Chrysostom’s liturgy is great – except for that part about the Theotokos.

        For Leithart the Church ascends into heaven every Lord’s day, yet the bread and wine is not truly the Body and Blood the way Ignatius understood it. (At least I don’t believe he takes that view)

        In Leithart’s “covenantal soteriology”, through Baptism, it is possible to be “in Christ”, “saved”, tasting of the Spirit, and to commit true apostasy, but there is still a distinction between the “new birth”, being “born-again”, and baptism – at least in some sense to which the Orthodox would object.

        I think that Peter believes that his high-church, high-sacrament, reformation will keep parishioners from Constantinople. As if to say, “Hey we have a high view of the Lord’s Table too!”

        I disagree. I believe that parishioners, like myself, will only long for the fullness of these things. The ancient Church. The Orthodox Church.

  7. I forgot to note that Leithart has elswhere provided some very critical observations of the Eucharistology of the reformation.

    I’m sitting here looking at Leithart’s work in an attempt to find a quote, but I don’t know where to start. Everything he says is so good except where he seems to contradict himself in some sort of effort to remain reformed. To go “all of the way” would mean becoming Orthodox.

  8. Father,

    This article reminds me of a fad, in recent years, of celebrating a Messianic (Christian) Seder. A description of one such approach can be found at the popular website A Holy Experience (http://www.aholyexperience.com/). It seems that memorializing the Eucharist contributes to memorializing or creating memories of other “Christian” events. Or is this just a rejection of the sacramental approach to the Christian Faith? An important part to the Messianic Seder, that was pointed out to me recently, is the modern Jewish Seder is not celebrated today in the same manner as in the 1st century, yet it is the model for the Christian Seder. I guess it not just memorializing, but lacking history or historical context too..

  9. Adam, is it possible that Leithart realizes the risks if he were to depart from the Reformed Camp? Having “high views” of the Lord’s Table is one thing. Flatly affirming that the bread and wine are truly Christ’s body and blood is another thing altogether. Were Leithart to make such an affirmation, he would be seen as having catholic views – as in Roman Catholic. The Reformed Camp has a particular antipathy toward practices which resemble catholic practices, that is, in their minds Roman Catholic practices. The usage of the term priest craft comes to mind.

    The problem with classical Protestantism (in my opinion) is that it is quickly losing popularity. Fragmentation after fragmentation (schisms from schisms) occur at an astonishingly rapid rate these days within Evangelicalism. Justifications for such schisms are defended because “We are obedient and faithful to the perspicuity of Scripture,” and “There must be divisions (factions) among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Catechisms, confessions, creeds, etc.can all be re-evaluated in “the light of Scripture.” Remember “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda est” is the bedrock of Classical Protestantism. Thus, the Reformed churches must always re-examine themselves to make sure they are being faithful to true doctrine. Yet, when one observes such reforming practices, it is quite evident that they have led to schism after schism. It is no surprise that Presbyterians are often pejoratively referred to as the split peas.

    The teaching, practice, and application of Sola Scriptura (at least how it has evolved into its present day form) has virtually consigned tradition to an insignificant category so that it has become untenable within the Protestant paradigm. And here when I refer to tradition I mean the Orthodox understanding of the living Tradition within the Church, present throughout all the ages of her existence. So how does a Protestant revert back to a higher view of the Eucharist and convince others that such a stance is the plain meaning of Scripture without a defense from Tradition? And even if some are convinced, the regula fidei within Protestantism is such that it can be tested, questioned, and refuted at some point in the future because the church is semper reformanda. This model is like walking up a mountain of Jello – there is no firmness in this position.

    1. Darlene,

      Generally speaking what you’ve said is true, and you said it quite well by the way. Your characterization of non-anglican, Reformed, and non-reformed, Protestantism is right on.

      However, Leithart, and his “classical Protestant” friends, are no slouches. They understand the difference between Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and classic Reformed Protestantism. (Although, they know less about Orthodoxy since the reformers rarely mentioned the East.) Leithart is not concerned with the risks of being associated with Orthodoxy, Romand Catholicism, or anything else. Leithart is constantly charged by other Reformed Christians as being too Roman Catholic, or too Orthodox. Leithart doesn’t really care. He’s a Biblical scholars who has spent time in the pastorate, but currently spends most of his time heading up the graduate program at New St. Andrews College.

      Leithart is definitely in the stream of classical Reformed Protestantism, yet he also, as you pointed out, is working to reform errors in that tradition – particularly sacramental errors. And he does, without apology, go after the sacramentology of the reformers pretty strongly.

      Interestingly this classical Reformed Protestantism is actually experiencing a come-back. However, for every Reformed Baptist that converts to Reformed Presbyterianism a Reformed Presbyterian Converts to Orthodoxy. I hear of very, very, few conversions to Roman Catholicism among knowledgable Reformed Presbyterians. In part, this is due to the fact that Reformed Presbyterians tend to be very well educated and are aware of Orthodoxy. Anyone who looks at both Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism, and chooses Roman Catholicism is…well, I just don’t understand how any educated person, who’s read the early Church fathers, could make such a move. Certainly anyone who has a proper understanding of the Eucharist cannot countenance Roman Catholic Eucharistology. Paedo-communion (infant communion) alone is one of the greatest witnesses to the purity of the Orthodox Church. If choosing the Pope means excommunicating my daughter the Pope will have to find someone else to excommunicate.

      1. Another Reformed Presbyterian convert to Orthodoxy here. 🙂 In our last years involved with them, we were also fascinated by the writings of Leithart et al. and were utterly convinced of paedocommunion and a higher view of the sacraments in general. It was frustrating to see the disunity even with our small congregation of those families who were essentially baptist practicing their own version, non-paedocommunion parents practicing their own version, and us paedocommunionists practicing our own version. It was quite a mess and one of the many stepping stones that led us to Orthodoxy. At some point, we realized we couldn’t just pick and choose which sacraments, how, when, and where.

        1. Great point Alyssa,

          Interestingly I saw this same thing happening at Trinity Reformed Church (where Leithart is pastor). The variation of practices is even more pronounced at Doug Wilson’s church (Christ Church) down the street.

          I took offense to the variation of practice regarding in the inclusion of children at the Eucharist. The argument Paul provides in 1 Cor 11 strictly forbids the exclusion of anyone from the table. Their are obvious exceptions, of course, but the mass excommunication of children is precisely the sort of thing brings judgment. Because the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity it must be eaten in unity. One loaf, one body. I hated knowing that there may be children being excluded form the Eucharist (i.e., going hungry) while I was being fed. I felt as though to eat while others starve was wrong.

          This was one that caused me to seriously consider Orthodoxy.

  10. I don’t know how that happened, but I did not intend for the majority of my post to be in italics. :p

  11. Adam,

    These Classical Protestants have come to my attention as of late. They are a breed unto themselves, me thinks. 🙂 They appeal to those who care enough to study the messy history of the Christian Church and still have a high regard for the consensus patrum. Thus, I think Leithart’s audience resides in the halls of academia (not a bad thing necessarily) and among intellectual types (also not necessarily a bad thing, btw). However, mainstream Evangelicalism tends to eschew scholarly works and writings, preferring rather to cling to some form of “me and my Bible are sufficient.” Sola Scriptura has evolved into Solo Scriptura which ISTM was the logical outcome of the Protestant Reformation, albeit has taken 5 centuries in the making. Those within Protestantism (yes, I realize that’s a big tent) who resist this tide of anti-intellectualism, which in essence relegates the creeds, councils, and writings of Church Fathers to the dustbin of Christian history, are in the minority. How many Evangelicals are even going to bother to read Leithart’s article in First Things, a source whose audience is anything but Solo Scriptura Protestants?

    You mentioned that Leithart isn’t concerned with the risks of being associated with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Is that because he has a tenured position at New St. Andrew’s College and fellow colleagues there that are sympathetic to his views? I’ll interject an aside here: Doesn’t Doug Wilson also teach at New St. Andrew’s? It’s difficult for me to imagine that Wilson and Leithart would be colleagues, (congenial colleagues, that is) given Wilson’s low regard for Orthodox Christianity.

    On my way to the Orthodox Church, I took a route through Roman Catholicism. While there were many things that drew me in that direction, one of my major disappointments was the disparity between the Roman Catholicism I read about in books, writings of Catholic saints, etc., and the actual Catholicism I witnessed on-the-ground in real life. The Novus Ordo Mass reminded me of a form of hybrid Protestantism, which isn’t surprising given the involvement of Protestant theologians in the shaping of Vatican II. I’m sympathetic to those Roman Catholics who are aware of the vast changes in the current liturgy, changes they would contend were not for the better. Finally, the resolve not to become RC was my inability to reconcile the doctrine of Papal Infallibility and Supremacy with the witness of the Church in the first millennium.

    1. Leithart is a genuine man. He’s not concerned with being associated with Orthodoxy, or Roman Catholicism, because he knows those associations are simply caricatures used in the absence of reasonable criticism.

      Wilson, as far as I know, doesn’t really teach at NSA anymore. He provides an elective every once a in a while, or a seminar. Leithart is Senior Fellow of Theology focused mostly on the graduate program(s). I was at NSA in ’04, or ’05 (I don’t even remember), and while I lived in Moscow up until last September I wasn’t keeping up with all of the happenings at NSA.

      And, yes, Classical Reformed Protestantism is an intellectual movement, and because it represents one of the few ‘hold outs’ of traditional reformed protestant thought – among the wider array of protestant Churches – any Calvinist who seeks an intellectually robust faith ends up moving in that direction. However, they often continue to move towards Orthodoxy, or RC, especially if they come into a high-church, high-covenant, high-sacrament, New Perspective, reformed communion like the CREC.

      I ran into this interesting list of Reformed Presbyterian denominations. It includes conservative, and liberal, denominations. All-together they number less than 10 million.

      I noticed how the authors comments regarding the CREC (Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches) were rather negative, and provide a perfect example of how many Reformed Protestants view Peter Leithart:

      “Many advocates of the Federal Vision heresy, which denies justification by faith alone, have come here…” http://www.tateville.com/churches.html

      Of course, the caricature is incorrect. The Federal Vision teacher’s don’t deny justification by faith alone in the Reformed sense of that phrase. However, they do strongly qualify what that phrase does, and doesn’t, mean according to the reformers themselves. The reformers did not teach the easy-believism you find among evangelicals today. They taught a salvation that included the sacraments, a robust, working, faith, and allowed for Churches to discipline their members in such a way as they could truly be considered apostates. (That is, that they were truly part of the Body of Christ, and truly apostatized.) However, because the reformers made a distinction between the “election” of God, and the outworking of that election in time and space, it was possible to say that once one is “truly saved” then one is always saved. Salvation in the reformed view, when all is said, and done, is a thought of God. God decided to elect you, and thus you are “saved”. However, because such a soteriology, in, and of, itself, is so obviously unbliblical the reformers provided that this election works itself out in time, and space, as the Church, and God, reveal those who aren’t elect through ex-communication, or judgment of some sort.

      The reformers taught that sanctification – growing in holiness – is necessary to prove that one is of the elect.

      There’s also a growing group of pop-evengelical Calvinists, who prefer an intellectual experience, but still enjoy their free-for-all worship. They are represented by hipster reformed baptists like Mark Driscoll. http://theresurgence.com/

      Interestingly over the last couple of years Doug Wilson has been intentionally reaching out to these young Calvinists. Surely in an attempt to bring some of them into his “high-sacramental”, “high-covenant”, camp. When I say “high-sacrament” I mean, “higher-than-Baptists”. Doug has a long term vision, along with Peter, and others, to reform conservative protestantism, and correct its errors.

      I strongly believe that America is ready for Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, which, when it is lived out rightly, provides a Christian Culture (not “cultural Christianity”) that can save the world, because the Church’s culture is its visible faith. I pray every day that the Orthodox in America reject all other forms of culture that detract from the Church’s life. We must live Orthodoxy in our homes – both in prayer, and in in-depth teaching of our children. We must live Orthodoxy in the world. Our whole lives must be Orthodox. Ascetically Orthodox. Our homes must contain the “smell” of monasticism.

      America – and American churches – has worked out its multi-culturalism in a similar way that Rome did. One of the contributors to the fall of Rome was its failed attempt at unifying all of the various cultures, national, and religious, in the Empire. America, and modern societies in general, have very little unifying cultural expression. The cultural expression of the modern world is a post-modern individualism. However, mankind cannot live wholly without community, and culture. The City of God is the Church, and it has its own culture, and its own community. It is a community that contains both unity, and diversity. It is Trinitarian and incarnational.

      This culture cannot consist merely of what happens on Sundays, or some feast days. This culture must consist of the transformed life that the Orthodox Church is uniquely empowered to live. It must transform the way we build our homes, how we use plastic bags, who we vote for, how, and if, we watch t.v., who we do business with, how we educate our children, how we read, how we drive, how we pray, how we treat others, how we think, how we repent, and so on. Every part of our lives must be touched by God.

  12. You said “But in the Evangelical theological world, where associating physical matter with holiness is just idolatry…”

    Without seeming to deliberately spark a “flame war” is it high time we start calling contemporary Evangelical theology doscetic gnosticism and be done with it? It is clearly what we have come to believe that it is. How do we show love while calling a spade a spade?

    1. That’s essentially the term that Philip Lee in his book Against the Protestant Gnostics used (Lee is himself a Presbyterian).

      Anyway, how one shows love while also speaking the truth is going to depend on the context and forum in which one is speaking, and most especially upon who one’s audience is.

  13. It looks like the point has already been made, but we’re not Zwinglians. I attended Pastor Leithart’s church for several years before moving to the East Coast. We’re Calvinists. We do believe that the bread is Christ’s body and the wine is Christ’s blood and that there is power and grace in that.
    We lack richness where we lack tradition but what you’re talking about, the power or blessing you’re talking about comes from the work of the Spirit (not a lack of connection to ancient traditions) and I shouldn’t have to remind any of you that the Spirit is at work even in us, those evangelicals.
    And for the record this statement “But in the Evangelical theological world, where associating physical matter with holiness is just idolatry…” is completely off base.

    1. How? You reject the characterization, sure, but on what basis?

      It’s a generalization, of course, and so it may well not apply to you, but I think it is fair to say that most Evangelicals would regard the idea that a particular object could bear holiness within itself as idolatry. If that’s not fair to say, show me the Evangelical predominance of relics, iconography, sacred altars, pilgrimage shrines, etc.

      1. The absence of relics, iconography etc. you see is, I do believe, a reaction to the Roman Catholic (and perhaps Orthodox as well?) worshipful obsession with physical objects that did not bear any holiness.
        The grounds on which I reject the characterization is the Incarnation and the Resurrection of the body: God became man, dwelt among us, died and was raised to life eternal, so that we all might die and be raised be life in him – a life that includes our bodies. I don’t need relics or sacred altars or shrines to separate myself from gnosticism when I cling to the Christ who became a man. Would you say that I do?

        1. It seems to me that you’re essentially just restating what I said, that holiness does not reside in objects and that believing that and venerating such things is idolatry.

          For the Orthodox, the Incarnation is not an exception, as you seem to be saying here, but rather the height and perfection of God’s work through matter, both before and since the Annunciation.

          1. You’re certainly not understanding me and I fear that I’m not understanding you either. I’m not saying holiness does not reside in objects, I’m saying not all objects are holy. There was historically a reaction to things like indulgences, kissing the feet of statues in order to gain holiness. Essentially the reaction was to the order of things. Holiness resides in you because the Spirit resides in you, but that doesn’t mean I need to venerate or worship YOU, that should further point me to the Holy Spirit. Giving money to the church is great, but not when you think it is replacing a life of sacrifice and a contrite heart. Physical things are great and glorify God and are therefore holy, like daisies and sunsets – but I don’t worship them. Again, I feel that I do not understand you. Do you think that we think that God doesn’t work through matter?
            We certainly believe in the story of God’s grace and love through history, all the dirt and leprosy and washing in the Jordan River, we believe in all of that. Of course God works through matter. I just don’t understand how you could confuse us with Gnostics when we do believe in the Resurrection of the body. That alone should be enough to separate us, but I am not saying that it is alone, or an exception. Just that if you think we need relics and shrines and altars TOO, that Christ’s resurrection isn’t ENOUGH to separate us from those heretics of old, perhaps you, like the 16th century Roman Catholic church, are mixing up the order of things.

          2. The conflation of veneration with worship shows that your approach really is essentially gnostic, i.e., that honor (veneration) shown to physical objects must necessarily be worship, which is unworthy of physical objects. A theology that is formed in reaction even to an abuse is almost always necessarily heretical. This is a classic case of “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.”

            In any event, the Orthodox (and Roman Catholics, too) do not worship any object. We do venerate people and things who show forth the holiness and presence of God, however. To refuse to do so is to deny God’s work in them. So while you may profess belief in the Incarnation and in the resurrection of the body, you deny that these things have any actual effect in the world by refusing to honor God through His work in physical matter. This is essentially a crypto-gnosticism and even (sometimes) a crypto-Nestorianism.

            In any event, veneration of holy objects was commanded by God of the Jews, and such veneration continued into the New Covenant, as well. The onus of proof to change this apostolic tradition is on those who would make the change, not those who would preserve the unchanging faith.

            To be consistent, though, anyone who would proscribe the veneration of holy objects should never salute the American flag, display family photographs in places of honor, or place flowers at the grave of someone beloved. All are acts of veneration shown to an object.

            For more on all of this, I recommend this piece.

      2. Interesting, though I must admit, I skimmed. I found no answer to my real question, which is this – do you conflate the lack of icons with lack of Christ & the Spirit and separation outside of the Bride of Christ? I am not surprised at how easily you toss around the word heretic, evangelicals do it too, but have the schisms in the church taught us nothing? You say Orthodox! Others say Catholic! Or Protestant! Or Paul! Or Apollos! No. That is wrong. We claim Christ. So then how are you against us?
        It seems to me that you wave your own flag and denounce those who do not follow in your ancient traditions, passed down from the apostles; the true interpretation of the Bible, for certain. We have the rest of our lives to talk about the importance of venerating objects but right here, right now you are either building up the body of Christ or breaking it down. (If you cry ‘heresy’ again I’ll tell you which I think you’re doing.) When will the Church learn that we don’t need to be at the same place each Sunday, we don’t need to hear the same sermon, we don’t need to have the same priest/pastor/cleric to be part of the same body of Christ? The divisiveness of the Church has nothing to do with the existence of different churches and different denominations and different views on icons and priests and prelapsarianism. (Divisiveness has more to do with us being like the seagulls in Finding Nemo. So you’re a bigger and an older seagull, great)
        The thing about communion is that we can have it even when we disagree, if we are united in Christ, and we can have it with those people who think the Eucharist is just a sign too, because true communion isn’t about thinking the right thing, it isn’t about being the right denomination, it isn’t about having icons or not having icons, true communion happens in Christ who covers and Christ who mends. And I pray for that day when all the churches can stop this masturbatory bickering and say “Peace be with you and with you and with you and with your Spirit” and then “Glory be to you Lord Christ.” Do you think you understand what it means to be the body of Christ when you try to take that name for yourself and call it your own?

        1. Regarding heresy, it’s worth noting that the Orthodox use that word differently than it gets used in Evangelicalism. For us, it has a clear technical meaning—something chosen (hairesis) that departs from the Orthodox faith given by Christ to His Apostles. I can’t really fathom what it might really mean for Evangelicals. After all, Evangelicals do not have one faith. They have many faiths. There is also no sense in which choosing heresy could put one outside of Evangelicalism—who has the authority to judge the case? It seems to me that heresy is essentially just a pejorative in Evangelicalism, since it’s not a charge that could actually be brought before a court that all Evangelicals would recognize.

          Now, it is one thing to believe in heresy and another to be a heretic. A true heretic is one who has deliberately rejected the Orthodox faith. Most non-Orthodox are not even aware of Orthodoxy, so while they may believe in heresies, they are not technically heretics.

          As for lack of icons and heresy—I would not say that lacking icons makes one a heretic, but rejecting them certainly does. This isn’t news, though: The Seventh Ecumenical Council declared iconoclasm as heresy in AD 787. This was a council that pretty much all of Christendom accepted, until the Reformers (several centuries after the fact) decided they didn’t like it any more, because it didn’t square with their new doctrines.

          As for the factionalism you mention: I can imagine that from the point of view of denominationalism, “Orthodox” just looks like another denomination, another sect claiming to have the truth. But from the Orthodox view, we have simply maintained what we were given. It’s the other groups who have declared their allegiance to this faction or that, often even naming themselves after their founders—something that was always the mark of schismatics and heretics in the early Church. The Church was always simply the Church; it’s the “-ists” who departed, who were the Johnny-come-latelies. That we came to call ourselves Orthodox was simply in contradistinction to the ever-multiplying groups who claimed Christianity but had departed from the fullness of the faith. I can see how that viewpoint would offend, but let’s be honest—the idea that multiple “denominations” can exist, all with different doctrine, and yet somehow all be legitimately true is really a late modern development that has no place in historic Christianity. It is really just relativism, a complete abandonment of ecclesiology.

          Do you think you understand what it means to be the body of Christ when you try to take that name for yourself and call it your own?

          From the view of Orthodoxy, it is first Rome and then later Protestantism who departed from the Orthodox faith and then tried to claim that they were still members of the Body. How can a brother turn his back on the family and yet claim to be in the family?

          As for the rest of what you wrote about communion, etc., it is really predicated upon the total lack of ecclesiology of modern Evangelicalism, which is held together not by sound doctrine, not by being baptized into the one Christ (one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism), but rather by Pietism. We Orthodox are not Pietists. We refuse to take a “least common denominator” approach to Christian faith, in which legitimacy is measured by strength of feeling and certainly extremely minimal doctrinal affirmations (though even those are very much up for grabs), without any care for provable succession from the Apostles, for an unchanging, unbroken faith spanning the centuries. Pietism is sinking sand. In short, there is absolutely no reason a Pietist can give me to believe what he says about Christ other than that he feels very deeply that he is right. He could claim it’s “just what the Bible says,” but every Pietist says that, and hardly any of them fully agree.

          On a personal note, just about everything you’ve written is of course familiar to me—I was raised the son of Evangelical missionaries and know full well the Pietist anti-ecclesiology which Evangelicalism espouses. I came to see it for the bankrupt theology that it is, however, and rejected it.

          I can understand that it is offensive to encounter “one true Church” ecclesiology when you believe firmly that there isn’t such a thing, when ecclesiological agnosticism is the norm. But if it is that offensive, then be sure to steer clear of pretty much any history of Christianity that is more than about 50 years old, because you will find that “one true Church” is the rule, while ecclesiological relativism (denominationalism) is the exception.

      3. Or am I the one off base here? I would love to talk about what it means to venerate icons in a context of greater growth and understanding as a Christian but when the accusation of heresy gets ‘dropped’ it stops being a discussion that builds and starts being something foolish that tears down. (there are correct ways of pointing out heresy and none of them involve ‘dropping’) But if you’ll forgive me for being off-topic I am interested now in what you think of Church unity and what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

        1. Nothing was “dropped.” After all, you were the one who visited your theology upon me! 🙂

          As for Church unity: The Church is already one, holy, catholic and apostolic, as it says in the Creed. The Body of Christ is equal to the Church, which is only the Orthodox Church. While I do believe that people outside Orthodoxy’s visible bounds certainly may believe sincerely in Christ, they are not part of the Church in any way that can be known in this life. It may well be that upon their deaths, God will have mercy on them and include them in the Church. He may also exclude at their deaths those who in this life were indeed part of the Church but refused to remain in Christ. Ultimately, the full boundaries of the Church will only be known at the end of time.

          Becoming part of the Body of Christ requires being baptized into the Church. Staying in the Body requires maintaining that communion by faithfully living the life and believing the faith, most especially (though not exclusively) by participation in the sacraments.

      4. What is your normal response to those who quote Mark 9:40 at you? Do you consider everyone else since the Great Schism just a whole bunch of heretics who won’t go away? One last question and I’ll try to stop bothering, do you feel that the work of your Church is hurt or hindered by those who preach the same good news but outside of Eastern Orthodoxy?

        1. What is your normal response to those who quote Mark 9:40 at you?

          Well, I can’t say I’ve ever had it quoted “at” me, but if we hypothetically assume that you might wish to do so, I would first have to ask (as per Mark 9:38-39) which miracles you have been performing and which demons you have been exorcising in the Name of Christ. Assuming you have actually done so (and I have no real reason to believe you have not), I would also have to ask what you might say to 1 Cor. 1:10 and why you do not believe that we should “all speak the same thing” and “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Why, in short, do you regard it as necessary to remain apart from the historic Christian Church? Presumably the exorcists of whom the Apostles were suspicious in Mark 9 were not deliberately remaining separate from the Church.

          Do you consider everyone else since the Great Schism just a whole bunch of heretics who won’t go away?

          Of course not. But I also cannot regard their religious organizations as being part of the Church. How could I? Their forbears left it. The only way to be joined to the Church is to be actually joined to the Church, which is a real, concrete community that has maintained the same faith since the time of the Apostles. I do not fault those who, through ignorance, are not in this life joined to the Church, and I hope that God will have mercy on them and join them to the Church in their transition into the next life. At the same time, how can groups who deliberately began teaching a different Gospel and who broke communion with the Church be considered to be part of it? And even if their descendents did not deliberately do the breaking away, their own forebears could not give them that which they had thrown away. That is, once they had left the Church, they could not then bring others into communion with what they had rejected.

          …do you feel that the work of your Church is hurt or hindered by those who preach the same good news but outside of Eastern Orthodoxy?

          Well, having myself been on multiple sides of this question, I have to say that I do not really believe that those who reject Orthodoxy (which is far more than “Eastern”) actually are preaching the “same good news.” In most cases, it is a different Gospel (as per Gal. 1:8), one that is not recognizable to the Orthodox and would hardly even be recognizable to the early Reformers. As to whether that hurts or hinders the preaching of the Gospel by the Church, only God can really know.

      5. Mm, I did not see your first post that detailed more of your view on heresy and answered my second question. Now having seen that post, allow me to respond to one thing, you said,
        “the idea that multiple “denominations” can exist, all with different doctrine, and yet somehow all be legitimately true is really a late modern development that has no place in historic Christianity.”
        You’ll recall that it was the apostles who, after the council of Jerusalem, said to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols. Paul disagreed, but it was a matter for charity. Jesus said (Matt. 23) that there are weightier matters of the law, and things not as important. And Paul said there is one foundation only that is Christ. Some might build on it with gold, others with wood, some with praise music, others with age-old traditions, but when Christ is the foundation than we are talking brethren in Christ, not some loosey-goosey unknown area. So no, just having different doctrine and being a part of the same body of Christ (even if in different churches) is not a modern development. And at the end of the day, my Church is more catholic than yours (credit to Dr. Leithart http://www.leithart.com/2012/05/21/too-catholic-to-be-catholic/) because I consider you my brother, I consider all those who stand in the name of Christ, son of God, truly god and truly man my brother, and rightly so (Jhn. 14:6 or if it helps, First Council of Nicea, 325 A.D.).

        1. I read Dr. Leithart’s post that you link to here with interest, and its internal contradictions are really quite astounding. You and Dr. Leithart are “so catholic” that you would presumably welcome the Orthodox and Roman Catholics into communion, while in nearly the same breath actually proclaiming us to be idolaters!

          Catholic here seems to mean being so inclusive as to accepting to communion not only heretics but even idolaters. I wonder whether communion should have any limits at all then. Should it even be extended to the unbaptized? It makes little sense to me that Dr. Leithart would remain apart from the Orthodox and Roman Catholics on the basis of his doctrines—doctrines which proclaim us and most Christians throughout the ages to be idolaters—and yet somehow chafe at the exclusivity of the tradition of closed communion?

          Unfortunately, Dr. Leithart has essentially accepted the Roman Catholic definition of catholic, which is “universal.” Mind you, Rome applies this universality in terms of its governance, but Dr. Leithart appears to be applying it in such a sense that it obliterates the very point of sound doctrine. Either he would gladly admit idolaters to communion, or else he is simply unhappy that the lines that he would draw for communion are different than the ones that others do. Either way, it makes little sense.

          In any event, the traditional definition for catholic is not the political one Rome uses nor the confusedly pietistic one of Dr. Leithart, but rather simply what the word actually means—katholikos, from kata and holos, “according to the whole.” That is, the catholic faith is the whole Christian faith, and the one Church is catholic because she maintains the wholeness of the Christian faith, not merely a few minimal parts in which critical things such as whether Scripture must be somehow read apart from the tradition that produced it or whether succession from the Apostles avails anything at all are up for debate and considered to be non-essentials.

          If someone removes himself from the actual community built by the Apostles upon the foundation of Christ, I cannot see how he can claim to be building upon Christ. The foundation has already been claimed and covered by the Church. Another building can only be built on another foundation. There is only one Church.

      6. Hmm, just one point here, I do consider you as a brother in Christ (and I think Leithart would agree with me here) in spite of your idolatry because I do believe you and I claim the same savior who covers our sins (I am almost certainly a worse idolater than you). And I will continue to pray that the Church will be unified on Earth as it is in Heaven, and it will be, and I hope to see that day.

        1. But don’t you see how nonsensical a position that is? You honestly believe that I worship something else as God. How can I be your “brother in Christ”? According to you, we don’t even worship the same thing! “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor. 6:16)

          This is what I mean by reactionary theology being almost always heretical. Here, you would be willing even to give the Body and Blood of Christ to an unrepentant idolater, because doing so satisfies your definition of catholic.

          How that makes any sense, I really have no idea.

      7. It seems hard for you to understand true grace which comes to us as sinners and leads us by the hand. You will be saved because you loved Christ, not because you kept the commandments and I would hold communion with you on the same basis because we come to communion as sinners. Of course the idolatry in the church is a wart that will be washed away when we are fully purified. But I commune now with a Church that looks very different than it will after Judgement Day. And needless to say, I’m not trying to convince you to become Protestant – worship God after your convictions and do His work (Rom. 14:23). I only ask that you cling to Christ first and foremost because many of our convictions will be proven mistaken (how could they not? you point this out well for the variety of churches around you) but Christ is constant.

        1. I’m not sure you appreciate the import of what idolatry actually is—it is to worship another god. This is not merely being tempted or falling into sin, but actually to turn away from God and to worship something else. And this is not merely “idolatry” in the more metaphorical sense, e.g., worshiping possessions, etc. This is the real deal. How can an idolater therefore be said to love Christ? Even if he claims to, his “Christ” is really just one of his many gods and not the true Christ.

          As for “many of our convictions will be proven mistaken,” it is of course true that falsehood will be revealed for what it is. I do not, however, accept the theological agnosticism of Protestantism, i.e., that we don’t really know the truth and will only know it in the next life. What exactly did the Holy Spirit lead the Apostles into, anyway, if it wasn’t “all truth”?

          In any event, if I should embrace theological agnosticism, I don’t see why I should follow after any particular teacher at all. After all, they’re all probably wrong. Eat, drink, be merry—perhaps that is the truth. It’s just as likely as any of the rest.

      8. The Holy Spirit did lead the Apostles into all truth but that doesn’t mean the Apostles always got it right (e.g., the things we’ve been talking about, Peter separating table-fellowship from the uncircumcised, the Apostles deciding that meat sacrificed to idols was wrong). I’m not advocating agnosticism, I’m advocating a fierce and God-honoring search for the truth but that Christ we grip onto and doctrine we hold with an open and humble hand.

      9. I’ve started listening to your lecture Doctrine Matters Part 2 (I didn’t see Part 1), so far it’s helping me understand your frustration and divide with Evangelicals and also the light in which you have understood my arguments. I agree with everything you’ve said in the lecture so far and I think we would both critique the pietism in that branch of the Church similarly, although of course it would look very different since you wouldn’t consider evangelicals a branch of the Church.

  14. I greatly enjoyed your article, and am always delighted to see Christians enter into debates on this type of formative, foundational issue, rather than politics or finance or some other result. Also, I can see and agree with your criticism of Leithart In that post.

    That said, I think you’re fighting a straw man. Leithart would never limit the Eucharist to merely a sign: I agree, he wasn’t as explicit in this post as he is elsewhere, but it’s hard to fully summarize a theological point every time you refer to it. Leithart would fully agree that the Eucharist is not just a sign: it is a sign, but not just a sign. He would definitely disagree with you on a great deal of other things (filioque clause, et al), but the power of the Lord’s Supper?

    Here he is in his own words:


    and there are countless others (well, a couple hundred; I’m just lazy) as well as his book, http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1885767730/leithartcom-20, in which he maintains things like “the Supper’s significance is as large as creation itself,” among others. I had the privilege of sitting under Dr. Leithart for a year as a student, and a great deal more time as a member of his congregation, and I’m afraid that your argument, while doubtlessly well meaning and stemming from an intelligent, exasperated zeal for what we as a Church have done to the Lord’s Supper, is based on far too small a sample of his writings to provide an accurate critique. This time, Phinehas, I think you pinned the wrong guy.

    Again, thank you for your article, and I apologize if I misread anything. I am more than over my head here, but it is a joy to leave the kiddie-pool even if I still need the water wings.

    Jesse Broussard

    1. I’m afraid that your argument, while doubtlessly well meaning and stemming from an intelligent, exasperated zeal for what we as a Church have done to the Lord’s Supper, is based on far too small a sample of his writings to provide an accurate critique. This time, Phinehas, I think you pinned the wrong guy.

      Well, this is precisely the problem, isn’t it? What does “we as a Church” actually mean here? It certainly doesn’t include the Orthodox, who have simply maintained what we received from the Apostles. Context is key, and I think you’ve got “the wrong guy” (er, context, really) for your remarks.

      What do I mean by that? You took this article as a criticism of Leithart and his theology of the Eucharist. But it’s not. (Mind you, I would still regard his theology of the Eucharist as something happily better than pure Zwinglianism, but still falling far short of what our Lord meant when He said, “This is My Body.”) Rather, I am entering into the same “room” (so to speak) that Leithart is—namely, an appeal within the larger Evangelical world. He explicitly starts his article stating what his context is: “I was recently asked to identify the biggest cultural challenge facing American Evangelicals.” He doesn’t say he’s addressing his own congregation, fellow “high church Calnvinists,” etc. So while Leithart might be something of an exception among Evangelicals, he is an exception. And those who would know far better than I tell me that he is exceptional precisely because he borrows so much from traditions outside of Evangelicalism.

      Again, the problem in grappling with this question really is ecclesiological—with no real theology of the Eucharist, there is no ecclesiology. And with no ecclesiology, pretty much all theology is up for grabs. It is nice that there are high-minded Evangelicals like Leithart out there to call his fellow Evangelicals to something more than pure memorialism in the Eucharist, but he’s shouting into the whirlwind here, and it’s clear that his calls need resources from outside Evangelicalism to have any real force to them. But of course borrowing from a tradition really only emphasizes the legitimacy of that tradition and not those doing the borrowing.

      So, if by “we as a Church” you mean the theological chaos of Evangelicalism, well, of course you are right that much has been “done” to the Lord’s Supper. But Evangelicalism is not a church, and it certainly is not the Church. How could it be? It is a house divided many times against itself, and it certainly does not maintain the apostolic faith given once for all from the beginning. Leithart is in some ways an admirable outlier in this regard, but I doubt that his call will have much effect in a theological world that has gone essentially gnostic.

      1. Fr Andrew,

        I came out of the “Federal Vision” brand of Presbyterianism that Dr. Leithart espouses (and some would say, helped “found,” alongside James B. Jordan), and am very familiar with his writings, etc. I definitely think he is an exception to the rule, even among the Reformed/Presbyterian — especially on “sacraments.”

        However, as you’ve pointed out, it all eventually unravels with the docetic Ecclesiology (if you will).

        Jordan and Leithart have both borrowed heavily from the Eastern/Greek tradition, especially when it comes to aspects of Liturgical theology and worship, the Eucharist, Paedo-communion and more. Frustratingly, they also write-off the Orthodox as idolaters and followers of the “church babies” (what Jordan calls the Church Fathers), who are nowhere nearly as enlightened and informed as we are in the 21st century. It seems to me that this is little more than trying to corral their small-but-vocal group (and prevent fallout), but their efforts haven’t been too successful. For every convert to Orthodoxy I know personally, more than half have come from this brand of Reformed-dom.

        In peace,

      2. Vincent, I’ve read statements by Leithart to the effect of claiming that Protestantism is the best thing that the Catholic Church ever created or that Protestantism is the fulfillment of Catholicism. Is this accurate?

        And if so, how is this justified apart from some quasi-hegelian dialectical view of history as progressive? It seems to me that many Protestants who claim the above need to rely on such a view — even if only implicitly.

    2. By the way, I don’t know if you read the comments above, but much of what you say was addressed in them when this was first posted.

  15. Father,

    You may very well not be interested in this, but Leithart has written a general reply in response to “various web skirmishes concerning Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism” that have invoked him, “including friends, who claim that I nurtured them along in their departure from the Protestant world.” Most of his points mirror those made by Mr. Trovato above.


    On a completely unrelated note, I wanted to thank you for maintaining this blog and gracing us with all of your writing–it has been most enriching. My wife and I are recent converts from Evangelicalism, currently Catechumens in an Antiochian Orthodox church in Northern California, and we very much value reading pieces like this, as they serve to reinforce our understanding of what we have been learning.

      1. It has been very interesting following the ongoing discussions here. Fr. Andrew, thank you for your thoughtful and considerate replies to various posters who have criticized different practices of the Church, from her ancient witness to ‘closed communion’ which seems to offend so many Protestants, to our veneration (doulia) of icons. In response to Dr. Leithart’s article which Horace posted, you wrote:

        “Catholic here [in Leithart’s view] seems to mean being so inclusive as to accepting to communion not only heretics but even idolaters. I wonder whether communion should have any limits at all then. Should it even be extended to the unbaptized?”

        The Episcopal Church is about to consider a resolution at their July General Convention which would remove a Canon forbidding non-baptized individuals from receiving Communion in that denomination. It is highly plausible that this resolution will pass given the Episcopal Church’s continuing theological liberalization, evidenced by the recent consecration of additional female bishops and the previous General Convention’s overwhelming vote to strip away any remaining restrictions on the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals.

        According to the female Episcopalian priest quoted in the article, the practice of giving communion to the unbaptized has been going on in her diocese for some time. The reasons she gives in this article for why she does this speak volumes about the degree to which mainstream Episcopalian beliefs on the Eucharist and communion have radically shifted. That she should undergo no discipline or censure for her public admission of deliberately violating an existent Church canon astounds me, but it is truly saddening that this Church is likely to pass this radical measure. To my knowledge, this the first instance of any liberal mainline denomination to propose something quite like this.

        I was a Roman Catholic prior to being led into Orthodoxy. Many Catholic priests practice a kind of de facto open communion (against Church teaching). The main excuses or defense I have heard (by lay Catholics) is that the priests cannot possibly know whether a person stepping forward to commune is a Catholic, let alone one in good standing, since parishes tend to be large. Even at parishes where the celebrating priest makes clear that only Catholics who have properly prepared are to commune, I have seen non-Catholics step forward, and the priest has no idea who they are, but still communes them. I imagine some non-baptized have been able to receive Communion this way as well.

        This leads me to think that the way in which the Eucharist has been administered in Roman Catholic parishes since the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae — the consecrated host is usually just handed to worshipers as they step forward in a kind of ‘assembly line’, cupping their hands to receive — further limits priests’ ability to discern who they are actually communing. The fact that there is no personalized calling of a communicant by his/her patron saint’s name to the chalice also adds to the less personal nature of Communion in Roman Catholic churches.

        Here is the link: http://www.christianpost.com/news/episcopal-convention-to-discuss-removing-baptism-requirement-for-communion-75054/

    1. Peter Leithart released that statement in the wake of my conversion to Orthodoxy, and my public statements regarding how his theological work, along with the work of other protestants, provided the proper conditions for me to consider Orthodoxy. I spent about 8 years under Peter Leithart’s teaching, and pastoral care. He’s a very good man, notwithstanding the fact that he’s only as theologically consistent as a protestant can be. Unlike many other pastors, and theologians I’ve known, Peter is brilliant, humble, and good-hearted.

      I’m just over 1,000 words into my response, and will likely finish it up Wednesday. I plan on posting it on my new website. http://www.forthelifeoftheworld.com I hadn’t planned on making my site public for a couple of months, but I figured this would provide me as good a time as any to launch it. Anyway, that’s not why I stopped by.

      I just wanted to reiterate that Peter Leithart is an excellent theologian – for a protestant 😉

      And I know of several families who have converted to Orthodoxy who were influenced by his work.

      I encourage you all to continue to interact with him, but to do so respectfully. Lord willing he will pull a Jaroslav Pelikan.

Comments are closed.