The Danger of Paper Popes

or Getting a Handle on the Scandal

“We are on the right track as long as we have biblical horizons.”

Peter Leithart has been put through the ringer with accusations and trials for having some “Romish” doctrines. He’s posted some good defenses (links posted on here recently). Basically, Protestantism threw out some baby with the bathwater, and we need it back.

Now it turns out that the gent at the centre of the condemnation of Dr Leithart for going over to the dark side was himself a Sith Lord in training.

I’m thick when it comes to legal details, but this is what it boils down to: the Westminster Confession is treated by some as a sort of “paper Pope.” That is, it has an earthly authority over the Scriptures. The accuser says that holding Dr Leithart to account because he wasn’t submitting to this paper Pope, even while he himself was moving on up to a real pope, was entirely logical. Logical, perhaps. Human, no.

Before this post gets boring, here’s a good summary if you are interested.

The only reason I’m interested, and posting about it (despite being a fanboy of Dr Leithart and concerned that he was being demonized) is what’s going on theologically behind the opprobium and the personalities. What’s really at the heart of it all, and how can I get a  handle on the scandal?

The Spirit gathered the Church by the Scriptures, and the Church gathered the Scriptures by the Spirit. We don’t like that idea. We want control. And Protestantism is messy. [1] But growing up always is. This sin of Roman Catholicism, a desire for a certainty we cannot have (at least not all in one go) has led that church into certain error.

And I guess we can have no doubt that treating any confession as if it were inspired will have a similar result over time, more or less. Doing so is desiring kingdom–the fruit of the second tree–before God’s time. The Bible shows us that this is what is behind every turn to the dark side in the history of Church and State. It is simply a lack of submission to the Word and Spirit of God. We are on the right track as long as we have biblical horizons.

Dr Leithart has some words here on confessionalism:

…essential as the past is, for Protestants the past ought never become an ultimate standard. Even the fixed points can be freshly formulated (cf. recent developments in Trinitarian theology and in Pauline studies). Beyond those few fixed points, much remains up in the air (for Catholics and Orthodox too), and will for centuries to come, as Christians continue to pore over the Scriptures and seek unity of mind concerning what they teach. Scripture remains fixed and immovable, the test and touchstone always of everything. Our understanding doesn’t stay fixed. Protestants should be perfectly comfortable with that.

[1] See A Priesthood of All Believers Can Be Messy.

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