My Sunny Ecumenical Side

One last post on the whole issue of Protestantism, and then I will give it a rest. But this time I want to give things a push from the other direction. In this post, I want my little ecumenical self come out to play in the sunshine.

In my last post I mentioned that at Christ Church we receive Roman Catholic baptisms, and would welcome a visiting Roman Catholic to the Table, and a friend asked for an explanation of that stance — so here it is.

The first point is that the receiving of Roman Catholic baptism is the historic Reformation position. A few years ago, I debated this issue with James White, and you can get access to the audio here if you would like.

Here is a paragraph from my opening statement in that debate:

“From 1517, when the Reformation broke out, down to 1845, when J.H. Thornwell and Charles Hodge differed at the General Assembly of that year over this issue, the overwhelming position of the Reformed churches was that of receiving Roman Catholic baptism. This was not an issue that can be dismissed as an unexamined holdover from the medieval era. It was thoroughly examined, and regularly debated. This was one of the defining issues that distinguished the magisterial reformation from the radical reformation.”

This was John Calvin’s position:

“Such in the present day are our Catabaptists, who deny that we are duly baptized, because we were baptized in the Papacy by wicked men and idolaters; hence they furiously insist on anabaptism” (Calvin, Institutes IV.15.16-17).

And John Knox, that old temporizer, said this in a letter in 1556:

“No more ought we to iterate baptism, by whomsoever it was ministered unto us in our infancy; but if God of his mercy [should] call us from blindness, he maketh our baptism, how corrupt that ever it was, available unto us, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

A.A. Hodge provides us with a solid American example of this strain of thought:

“All who are baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, recognizing the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead, the incarnation of the Son and his priestly sacrifice, whether they be Greeks, or Arminians, or Romanists, or Lutherans, or Calvinists, or the simple souls who do not know what to call themselves, are our brethren. Baptism is our common countersign. It is the common rallying standard at the head of our several columns” (Evangelical Theology, p. 338).

Machen was not soft on Rome, but he said this:

“Yet how great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today! . . . The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all” (Christianity and Liberalism, p. 52).

So the argument I would want to present here is an a fortiori argument. The early Reformers were the ones who would receive Roman Catholic baptisms, and they were the ones who were in actual danger of martyrdom at the hands of Rome. If we were proceeding on a carnal basis, you would expect the Reformed drift to have been in the other direction — with the early Reformers rejecting Roman Catholic baptisms in the heat of battle and controversy, with later Reformed types mellowing out some. But this is the reverse of what we find.

So for myself, I want to align my position with that of the magisterial Reformation wherever possible, and on this issue I believe I have less ground for rejecting Roman Catholic baptisms than they did, and they did not. So here I am.

Communion might be a bit more difficult to explain, and so here goes. The reason we practice open communion is that we believe that, while we have a responsibility to fence the Table, we also hold that the Table fences us. It is not our Table — it is the Lord’s Table.

Nevertheless, we fence the Table in two ways. The first is that we have the following statement in our bulletin every week, under the heading “May I Come to the Lord’s Table?”

“The Lord’s Supper is observed every Lord’s Day at Christ Church. We warmly invite to the Lord’s table all those who are baptized disciples of Jesus Christ, under the authority of Christ and His body, the Church. By eating the bread and drinking the wine with us as a visitor, you are acknowledging that you are a sinner, without hope except in the sovereign mercy of God, and that you are trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. You also acknowledge to the elders of this congregation that you are in covenant with God, being active in a congregation which is covenantally bound to the triune God through Word and sacrament. If you have any doubt about your participation, please speak to the elders before or after the service.”

This does not mean that we are pronouncing that any church that a visitor might be coming from is a healthy church. It might not be healthy at all — but one sign of trouble would be a sectarian approach to the Supper, which we don’t want to duplicate ourselves. We believe our openness in this matter is quintessentially Protestant, and when a visiting Roman Catholic partakes with us, they are doing so on Protestant terms. It is consistent with our theology, and not with theirs. When they come to the Lord’s Supper administered by a Protestant minister, they are the ones making absolutely all of the concessions. We welcome them, and would like to see them come all the way out. But if we want them to come live with us, we don’t lock the door. While we tend to notice the high profile examples of evangelicals swimming the Tiber, there is also a steady stream coming the other way. I would estimate that between five and ten percent of our congregation have a Roman Catholic background.

The second way we fence the Table is that we have a brief exhortation or homily that accompanies every administration of the Supper. The Word always accompanies the Supper, and the Word always welcomes every believer to Jesus Christ Himself — and no mediator.

One remaining question is whether or not the Roman Catholic Church “ripped it” with her formal denunciation of the gospel at Trent. This used to be my position, but is so no longer. Here is my comment on that issue from my debate with James White.

“It is important for me to acknowledge that this has not always been my position. In the past I have maintained (although I cannot find where I said this) that Rome was guilty of a final apostasy at Trent, where in solemn ecumenical council she anathematized any who faithfully held the biblical gospel. This is no longer my position, and if my worthy opponent has found a quotation of mine that says this, and returns to this point to press me with it, I will merely say, “I changed my mind, and it is a practice I commend to you.” It is nevertheless still my position that what happened at Trent deserved removal from the olive tree, that is, from the catholic church. But I am now convinced that such a removal has not yet occurred. God does not always give us what we deserve.

Why is this no longer my position? First, I find no signal event of providence that could be interpreted this way. No blazing meteor has landed on the Vatican, while crying out, ‘Come out from among her, and be ye separate.’ Secondly, there has been no concerted ecumenical rejection of Rome as entirely and completely apostate. It might be countered that the Westminster Assembly should count, and they reckoned the papacy as the antichrist. Does that not matter? No, because that Assembly occurred 198 years before classical Protestants began rejecting Roman Catholic baptisms in 1845. The men of Westminster would have been on my side in this debate—again, consider men like Rutherford.”

One last thing. I do think it is important for us to be hard line on Roman Catholic errors. But part of this means that we shouldn’t duplicate one of the their central ones.

Theology That Bites Back



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Congratulations. You did it.

  • Steve Morris

    Very helpful, that. Thanks, pastor Wilson.

  • rcjr

    Thanks for the answer. Now, would the session approve and would you approve a member of your church marrying a Roman Catholic? If not, why not?

  • Peter Jones

    RC Jr. wouldn’t that depend on what the relationship between the couple is? Is the RC going Protestant or is it the other way? If they were getting married by the priest and plan on attending St. Mary’s then that is a problem. But if they are getting married by Pastor Wilson and plan on attending Christ Church, wouldn’t that be fine? Peter Jones, Pastor Christ Church of Morgantown

  • Peter Jones

    Pastor Wilson, I had a couple of follow up questions. First, would your session excommunicate someone from your church who left for the RCs or EOs? And if so, what is your rationale behind that particular decision? Second, in Reformed is Not Enough you mention that Christ can remove the lamp stand from a particular church/denomination. What would be a sign that a group claiming Christ is actually lying and no longer has the lamp stand, i.e. Holy Spirit? Peter, again.

  • Andre Fowlkes

    First of all, is the paragraph you cited from Letham’s book on the Assembly? Second, are we willing to accept Rome’s baptism because it is offered in a trinitarian fashion? If so, would we accept a JW/Mormon’s baptism if they said that it was offered in a trinitarian fashion? I am thinking through this and believe that underneath any trinitarian baptism is the truth of the Gospel and if its understanding of the Gospel is flawed (which is putting it best with Rome) so is its baptism, even if offered in the correct formula. Pastorally, this hits home and wears shoe leather when one is approached by a congregant who wants to swim the Tiber, are they disciplined out or do we let them go and wish them God speed? If the former, then I am having a hard time seeing why the baptism as valid. As stated earlier, I am thinking through this afresh and am thinking aloud so to speak. Thanks for the interaction as I process.


  • rcjr

    Hey Peter,

    Hope you are well. I appreciate your question on my question but I’m not sure it actually matters. I can’t see how a pastor could forbid the marriage of one eligible to marry believer to another eligible to marry believer. So if I held that Romanists could come to the table (that is, they start out with a presumed credible profession of faith) then they would start out as eligible to marry people under my shepherding. Wile one could argue for the importance of impressing wisdom upon the young couple, it strikes me that the actual, legal door for the table should be the same size as the door to the wedding. Seems weird to say, “You can come to the wedding feast of the Lamb with us, but you can’t marry one of ours.”

  • Douglas Wilson

    RC, thanks for the interaction. I guess I would challenge the premise. There are many people who should be brought to the Table, but who would not be suitable for marriage.

    In our situation, depending on the circumstances, a person certainly could come under church discipline for going RC or EO. If the prospect of marriage is the reason for it, then that would be relevant, but would not be the charge itself. The charge would be the doctrinal and liturgical disobedience — image worship, etc.

    And what Peter said above would also apply. If a young man in our congregation wanted to marry a Catholic, who was then going to follow his spiritual lead, I would perform the wedding. But if he was going to go with her, I would not. Who is the spiritual head, in other words.

    So a lot of this hinges on what direction people are going.

  • Nathan E.

    When they come to the Lord’s Supper administered by a Protestant minister, they are the ones making absolutely all of the concessions.

    That is a very good point. It is Rome that denies that Protestant Churches are even Churches. By merely partaking of the Lord’s Supper at a non-Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox service, the Catholic is rejecting a key component of their dogma.

  • Stephen McAlpine

    Love your work – normally – but this is ropey. You well know that a primary reason that the Reformers accepted RC baptism was tied up with reasons of church/state relations in a context in which they could not conceive of a church independent of the state. To untangle that would lead to all sorts of chaos. It’s clear that such a cosy state of affairs in regards to baptism can only exist within the paedo-baptistic traditions, leaving anabaptists the common enemy. In that context it is obvious that Calvin would affirm paedo rather than a second credo, but that was because he was, as we are, a person of his times. Baptism is our “countersign” as Hodge puts it, but it would also appear to be our dividing point, because his – and your -ilk rush to confirm the trinitarian orthodoxy of the administrator of the rite, rather than its recipient. Strange bedfellows indeed.

  • Eric Stampher

    Pastor, to say “it is not our table” and then “they are (attending) on Protestant terms” is a bit contradictory.

    You don’t get to make the rules.

    For example, nowhere does our Host require me to “acknowledge to the elders” that I am “active in a congregation” etc, — unless you’re referring to that eternal congregation.

  • Robert

    Even among Protestants, marriage would cause problems. Premillennialism/postmil, dispensational/reform come to mind. Where is the headship?

  • Mike Bull

    Great stuff. But this made me chuckle:

    “The first point is that the receiving of Roman Catholic baptism is the historic Reformation position.”

    If you’re already dealing in Monopoly money, a better counterfeit looks like legal tender.

  • Eric Stampher

    Mike Bull — tru’nuf. But if we’re playing Monopoly together, don’t complain about my Monopoly money.

  • katecho


  • katecho

    From Westminster Confession of Faith 27.3:

    The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

  • katecho

    Also from John Calvin’s _The Gospel According to St John_ regarding John 4:2:

    “it matters not to me whether he who performs the baptism is a diabolical man– or even the devil.”

  • katecho

    testing a post with the word Satan in it.

  • katecho

    testing … because even Satan …

  • katecho

    Even Satan would have to

  • katecho

    to baptize

  • katecho

    Ok, this is weird. I can’t seem to post a comment that has the phrase “baptíze us” anywhere in it. (I had to use an accented “i” to confuse the blog.) This is like the old Mablog that would mysteriously drop the word “union” from all comments.

  • katecho

    Anyway, I meant to say this earlier, but the blog censored me:

    Also from John Calvin’s The Gospel According to St John regarding John 4:2:

    “it matters not to me whether he who performs the baptism is a diabolical man– or even the devil.”

    Even Satan would have to baptíze us in the name of Christ and not in his own wretched name.

  • Gianni

    Katecho, I just knew there was a catch when we were given the paragraph breaks. Now we know.

  • rcjr

    I for one Katecho agree with the confession on the character of the baptizer. My view is not, “It isn’t baptism because the man doing it doesn’t have a credible profession.” It is instead, in my judgement, not baptism because the institution they are being baptized into isn’t a Christian church. While I believe the great creedal truths are great and essential, I see no reason why they should be privileged above all other essentials. I agree with Luther that justification is the article on which the church stands or falls. In like manner, if you have been baptized into a confessionally hyper-preterist church that denies the resurrection, you have not been baptized into the church, since they deny the resurrection of the Bible, one of the affirmations of the Apostles’ Creed. If an institution holds as dogma that which would lead to excommunication for a member of a sound church to unrepentantly hold, I can’t see how you could hold that church to be a church. Again, same size doors. You treat the person and the institution (assuming the institution has dogma as Rome does- that is it isn’t just a doctrine hidden in some catacomb that’s the problem here. Every Roman Catholic is formally required to affirm Trent on justification. The fact that some want us to nudge nudge wink wink at it so as not to embarrass them on their claims to infallibility is so much Lucy asking Charlie Brown to kick the football.) with the same standard.

  • rcjr

    oops, resurrection of the body.

  • Tim H

    Note that nearly all the arguments listed in the OP, whether from Reformers, Scotsmen, or American Presbyterians, at least as summarized, are not for accepting RC baptism, but for accepting ANYONE baptism i.e. not only by a cultist, but even a mid-wife, a kid brother, whoever. So it seems a bit disingenuous to present them as if relevant specifically to the RC question.

    The Machen quote isn’t in reference to baptism at all. But it were, then would it follow that baptism from the “liberals” that he calls a different religion should not be? I think not. So then, the relative “orthodoxy” of the RC is also not relevant to the baptism question. So why mention it?

    Another distinction that needs to be made is that for the first and second generation Reformers, accepting RC baptism was not accepting “Roman Catholic” baptism, but rather baptism in the “Western branch of Christendom,” which had been their church. There was only one church, in other words. But thereafter, we do not say that any more. Hence, a different argument is needed than was operative by the Reformers. Our premises are different from theirs, necessarily so by historical circumstance.

  • Peter Jones

    RC Jr. thanks for the comments. And I am doing well. Looking forward to my ninth arrow which is very exciting.

    I see your point and it is one that does not have an easy answer: At what point does a church or denomination cease being a church or a branch of the Church? You place the emphasis on justification. I would argue that for the RCs the doctrine of Mary, which is linked to their doctrine of justification, is the most dangerous doctrine currently. But do these doctrines cause Rome to cease to be a church? Where is the line? There are some denominations that allow unorthodox ministers but are not themselves unorthodox. For example, there are PCUSA churches that are blatantly unorthodox. Would you accept a baptism from a PCUSA church hands down because the denomination is still (I think!)orthodox? In other words, can’t an individual church be cut off just as a denomination can?

    I agree it is odd to excommunicate someone going to Rome while still accepting their baptisms when they come to us. But don’t we do that all the time with individuals and churches not RC? If a lesbian minister in an doctrinally orthodox denomination (say Methodist) baptized someone and that person wanted to join our church, we would ask a lot of questions, but we would accept their baptism. But if a member of my church wanted to go join a church with a lesbian pastor we would excommunicate them for abandoning the faith. I am not sure the doors in and the doors out are exactly the same size.

  • rcjr

    Glad for your happy news brother. That said, not sure I understand your closing line. That is, no, it still doesn’t make sense to me to welcome someone to the table that you would bar from the table for joining up with. As for the PCUSA, while it is rather more complicated, one could argue that when it’s highest court refused to discipline Mansfield Kaseman who was ordained despite refusing to affirm the deity of Christ that it showed itself to be apostate, if only for lacking discipline which is a mark of the church.

  • David

    Hi Peter,

    I do not believe that the analogy of a lesbian minister is applicable to this discussion, respectfully. The issue of a lesbian minister administering a water baptism using a trinitarian formulation, and without requiring adherence to a false view of justification in order to receive that baptism, would speak more to the issue of sacerdotalism than to the issue that RCJr is raising.

    I think I agree with RCJr on this one. I have to admit that I need to read more about what the Reformers specifically said with respect to RC baptism. I do not believe that the Reformers accepted RC baptism because they were proponents of an ecclesiocrastical form of government (I believe Calvin was theonomic in his sociopolitical ethics, based on his sermons on Deuteronomy, though I do not believe he wanted to see a theocracy with the church and the government being essentially the same entity).

    The RCC anathematizes the heart of justification by faith. They pronounce damnation unto hell for anyone who believes that they are saved on the basis of Christ’s merits alone. How can that baptism be what we call baptism?

    Can someone comment on whether the RCC’s views on this have become worse in the time between Vatican I and II? That may account for the Reformers, and people in Hodge’s day, having a view of RC baptism which they would not now hold.

  • David

    Correction – I should have referenced Donatism, not sacerdotalism.

  • timbushong

    Peter Jones–you asked: “But do these doctrines cause Rome to cease to be a church? Where is the line?”

    That’s ironic, in a good way, because Doug made reference to James White, whose podcast is called “The Dividing Line”.

    The line is the gospel itself. If the ‘gospel’ that is taught by the RCC could actually save a person, then this is all moot. But it can’t save, it’s not the gospel of the apostles, so this is obviously still a big issue.

    I agree with Tim H. above, where he said that “Our premises are different from theirs, necessarily so by historical circumstance.”

  • Peter Jones

    David, your first paragraph was helpful. You are saying the issue is not the character of the minister, but rather what the person (or their parents) must adhere to in order to be baptized into that particular church.

    RC, your clarification was helpful as well. One quick question, this seems to focus on theology (Deity of Christ/Justification). Are there moral (I know the two cannot be absolutely separated) deviations that would cause us to put a church in the “cut off” category?

    With all that being said, why then did the Reformers accept RC Baptisms? I think we need more data here, more quotes and historical information. It seems that all of us, including Pastor Wilson, hold to the Reformed faith, think Rome is really messed up, etc. I have read the RC Catechism several times. Frankly, it is absolute disaster on numerous levels and could easily convince me that Rome is apostate. Yet my reformed fathers did not see it that way and the shift came from men (Thornwell) who had departed from the magisterial reformers in some ways. All of this gives me pause to simply declare everyone who is part of that communion apostate.

  • Peter Jones

    I should clarify what I said about the reformed fathers. They may have seen Rome as apostate. I am not entirely sure. But at the very least they accepted their baptisms.

  • Nathan E.

    As for the PCUSA, while it is rather more complicated, one could argue that when it’s highest court refused to discipline Mansfield Kaseman who was ordained despite refusing to affirm the deity of Christ that it showed itself to be apostate, if only for lacking discipline which is a mark of the church.

    RC Jr.,

    By this standard, I fail to see how Paul in Corinthians or John in Revelations could consider some of those Churches real Churches. Those Churches refused to discipline even egregious offenders, and yet remained Churches, so unless there is something special about tolerating homosexuality, I fail to see how tolerating such would make one lose their identity as a Church.

  • Nathan E.

    Those Churches refused to discipline even egregious offenders, and yet remained Churches, so unless there is something special about tolerating homosexuality,

    Sorry, I know the issue is the deity of Christ, I’m just so used to seeing the homosexuality objection to the nature of the mainline as Churches that I addressed that issue. However, the point still stands. The PC(USA) maintains the Trinity as an official doctrinal standard, even if they refuse to enforce it in many cases. However, that would also make the vast majority of the 4th Century Church at one point wholly apostate. Essentially, the Church ceased existing for a while because Arianism so dominated Church policy. However, this is one reason why I think Baptism in the name of the Trinity is the essential “mark” of the Church, along with possession of the Scriptures.

  • katecho

    For the record, I hope RCJr has some idea of how many people know and love his care and work for the kingdom. It was a joy to meet his entire family in Virginia and I wish there were more men like him. So my respect for him won’t change even if we don’t see eye to eye on this issue. I’m not sure how it is in God’s Providence that I even get another chance to interact with him, but who could pass it up? So here goes.

    rcjr wrote:

    “I for one Katecho agree with the confession on the character of the baptizer. My view is not, “It isn’t baptism because the man doing it doesn’t have a credible profession.” It is instead, in my judgement, not baptism because the institution they are being baptized into isn’t a Christian church.”

    I’ve had one occasion to interact with R Scott Clark in person. The topic I wanted to ask him about was baptism. I asked him who we are baptized into. Because of his previous talk, the only answer he could give was “no one”. That’s a direct quote, by the way. Clark explained that we are not baptized into anyone, but that we are baptized into a covenant. He didn’t mean the covenant people (because that’s a who). Rather he meant something very institutional and abstract (not a who). Yet Scripture is very clear that we are baptized into Christ:

    “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” – Gal 3:27 (and see Rom 6:3)

    Even in the old covenant they were said to be baptized into Moses (1Cor 10:2). This is not to deny that we are also baptized into a body, but this body is the body of a person, Christ Jesus, and it is a body universal, not a particular institution. We aren’t baptized into the institution administering the sacrament. Similarly we aren’t partaking of an institution when the sacrament of bread and wine are administered. We are partaking of Christ.

    So when RCJr uses a phrase like “the institution they are being baptized into isn’t a Christian church”, I would encourage us to be very careful about who we are actually being baptized into. In love, I offer the gravest possible warning to RCJr: don’t you be like R Scott Clark.

    rcjr also wrote:

    “As for the PCUSA, while it is rather more complicated, one could argue that when it’s highest court refused to discipline Mansfield Kaseman who was ordained despite refusing to affirm the deity of Christ that it showed itself to be apostate, if only for lacking discipline which is a mark of the church.”

    Another thought regarding this kind of instance. Suppose a new convert (call him Peter) had been baptized in the PCUSA while this Kaseman issue was still being tried in the PCUSA court? With respect to character, was the PCUSA lacking a critical mark of the Church only at the instant their verdict was read, or was this condition lacking for some time before, and only manifested by their refusal to discipline? Should Peter be concerned that his baptism in the name of Jesus didn’t take? Should he seek to be washed again? What about our own baptisms? Some gross failures are only revealed years after the fact. Are our baptisms in potential jeopardy?

    If baptism means (and is) what God says it is, and its character is established by Him, then I would offer that its character is not threatened by the character of the baptizer, whether we are referring to the (ad)minister, or to the church branch. The church in Laodicea was not instructed to stop baptizing until they got their act together.

  • rcjr

    Thanks for the good word brother. Two points. I have no quarrel with who, but I would suggest that we are being baptized into the bride of Christ, which is one flesh with Christ. The only difference between rejecting Roman baptism and Mormon baptism are these- 1. Rome believes in the Trinity. Mormons use the formula but deny the tri-une nature of God. 2. Rome was once a church, LDS never was. Or alternately one could take the position that Rome’s anathemas in Trent do not make her cut off. That ties into the PCUSA question, as well as Pastor Wilson’s point that there is no ecumenical counsel that has condemned Rome. On your PCUSA question I sought to word my point as carefully as possible to include that its apostasy did not come to pass until it formally found Kaseman’s views undisciplinable. In like manner I wouldn’t consider Rome apostate until Trent was formally adopted. Finally, I believe Pastor Wilson is overvaluing a formal ecumenical creedal pronouncement. Should the ECUSA adopt a creed affirming that one must be a practicing sodomite to join, and affirm the 39 articles I deny that we would need to convene an ecumenical council to determine they are outside the body. Ephesians 519-21 would suffice. Oh, and I say this all in good fun, but I think you just tripped over the Wilson corollary to Godwin’s Law by warning me I’m may be getting close to Dr. Clark. ;-)

  • R Popp

    Post a comment

  • Eric Stampher

    If just two meet who are truly in His name, there be a true church.

  • Tim H

    Here’s another reason not to receive RCs for communion. You are dishonoring their discipline. Their hierarchy would not approve of it. You are aiding and abetting members in rebellion to their own standards.

  • katecho

    rcjr wrote:

    “I have no quarrel with who, but I would suggest that we are being baptized into the bride of Christ, which is one flesh with Christ.”

    Of course I was being facetious about R Scott Clark, but I am concerned that some see baptism as a union with an abstract covenant “contract”, or as a union into an institutional expression of a part of the Church. We are not baptizing people into the PCUSA, or into the CREC, or PCA, etc. Baptism is into Christ. We are united to His death, and therefore united to His resurrection.

    rcjr also wrote:

    “On your PCUSA question I sought to word my point as carefully as possible to include that its apostasy did not come to pass until it formally found Kaseman’s views undisciplinable. In like manner I wouldn’t consider Rome apostate until Trent was formally adopted.”

    In the metaphor of the olive tree, fig tree, or lamp stand, there is a coming for inspection before condemning and breaking out. In other words, the condition of being fruitless doesn’t, in itself, coincide with a branch falling out from the tree. The breaking out is a separate act of judgment. Unrepentance doesn’t, of itself, cause the lights to go out. There is a distinct knocking sound at the door before the lampstand is removed.

    As a practical matter, if we view the entire PCUSA as being instantly illegitimate at the moment of delivery of the formal Kaseman verdict, what happens if we learn that their decision was reversed the following week on appeal? Were all of their baptisms invalid during that week? Do we have to have a recall on those baptisms? (Thank God that the new covenant sign is not circumcision.)

    In principle, I agree that there are properties to the ceremony of baptism that make it a baptism into Christ, and not simply a shower, or a bath. For example, secretly baptizing people in their sleep or spraying a crowd with water and calling it a mass baptism doesn’t make it so. Identifying these properties in a strict way is more difficult than it might seem. It’s a bit like asking what properties make a wedding. We know a wedding when we see one. We also know that the character and obedience of the institution that administers and facilitates the wedding doesn’t change the objectivity of the marriage union. Baptism and wedding are both objective covenant rituals in that sense.

    Now Mormon baptism is like a bishop who (all other ceremonial externals being equal) believes he is baptizing Susie into union with Jesus the TV repair man, and Susie agrees with the bishop. I grant that the basic identity of the one we are being baptized into is as important to the ceremony as the basic identity of the one we are being married to in a wedding ceremony. Even so, we don’t have to be exhaustively correct about the identity. For example if a bride thought she was marrying Joe Smith, grandson of Jedediah Smith, but Joe was actually grandson of Ebenezer Jones, she would still be objectively married in covenant union with Joe. As tempting as it might be to think so, the failure of the PCUSA to discipline Kaseman doesn’t change the basic identity of who they hold Jesus to be. Similarly with the Roman Catholic Church. So baptism by Mormons seems to be a bit of a red herring.

  • Mike Bull

    It’s clear from this discussion that paedobaptism is an idol. The spiritual state of the hypothetical Roman Catholic who wants to partake is made irrelevant. Paedobaptism is entirely carnal, a human distinction, as worthless as an indulgence. It is all about the claim of earthly fathers, whether they be dads or priests. It has nothing to do with the New Covenant, and is exactly the kind of error Paul rails against in Galatians. It amazes me that theologians who can expound Paul’s rejection of circumcision fail to see that paedobaptism is the same false doctrine in a more devious form. Paedobaptism appeals to the flesh and needs to be put to death. Any question about its carnality is answered by the glee with which many of my Reformed friends see the “fact” that their offspring are the “heirs” of the kingdom.

  • katecho

    Perhaps hijacking threads can also become an idol.

    In any case, Paul describes in 1Cor 10:1-12 that our spiritual state is not guaranteed head-for-head in the New Covenant any more than it was in the Old. They had the same spiritual blessings in the Old Covenant. They ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink (Christ the Rock). So, with the Old Covenant as our example, we must all take heed, lest we fall (vs 12). As such, the ritual sign of New Covenant union speaks of our identity, not of our faithfulness to that identity. Likewise, the ritual of marriage covenant speaks of our new identity as husband and wife, not of our faithfulness to that identity.

    There is nothing about paedobaptism that entails an automatic inheritance. Baptized infants (just like circumcised infants in the past) are still required to be raised in the faith, lest they fall. They are to be taught to be faithful to their covenant identity, just as husbands are to be taught to be faithful to their covenant identity, lest they fall. Paedobaptism does not entail a presumption of automatic blessing. Mike Bull needs to pay more attention to what is being said, rather than assuming the worst about others.

    There is an equivalent danger for credobaptists to presume that an adult confession confirms a particular spiritual state. But we know this is simply not the case. There are many adults who gave a confession, and were baptized, who then fell away. Credobaptism does not guarantee or secure anything about our spiritual state. If we think it does, then we have indeed created an idol. We must all take heed, lest we fall.

    So the concern of baptism is not our spiritual state, but our covenant identity, either as children born of even one believing parent, or as converts to that covenant family. We either view our children as strangers and foreigners to the covenant, or else belonging to God, and born to Him, needing to be raised up in the faith, as His little ones.

  • rcjr


    Now for the third time- in the case of the PCUSA the whole point is that nothing changes until the decision has gone through the entirety of the court system and cannot be appealed. The PCUSA was not apostate when presbytery approved Kaseman originally. Nor when he was tried at presbytery. Nor when presbytery was tried by the GA, but only when all appeals had been exhausted after their version of the SJC ruled. I supposed one could hold out hope that now, 30 years later, they could repent and turn back. With Rome, however, Trent is not a decision of a lower court. It isn’t even a decision of their highest court. It is an ecumenical creed. They can no more change it than they can change Nicea. To do so would be to bring their entire system crashing to the ground because it would deny tradition as infallible. They have irretrievably painted themselves into a corner. Were the Holy Spirit to move tomorrow and every clergy and layperson in the entire system to come to saving faith in Christ, technically speaking they would all have to leave the institution, rather than change it. Because it is unchangeable. Once again the issue is, does calling justification by faith alone a damnable heresy, and calling such a calling unchangeable dogma, make Rome not a church? I say it does, Protestant ecumenical council or not. If you say it does not, are you saying there is nothing they could do that would force you to believe it isn’t a church?

  • rcjr

    If I might seek further understanding, Pastor Wilson, can I ask you this? If tomorrow Rome convened an ecumenical council. Said council meets and brings forth its creed, which says God is one person in three manifestations, wearing three different masks, but with only one consciousness, and if the Pope and said council affirm that this creed is in fact the Pope speaking ex cathedra, would you still believe Rome is a church and accept her members at your table and their baptisms as valid? Would you wait until Protestants could somehow manage to convene their own ecumenical council to rule on Rome being a church or not? What if, say, a group gathered in the Netherlands, but it was a local group, and they said Rome was apostate? And a group in the British aisles, along with delegates from the US made the same determination? Still not good enough?

  • rcjr

    British aisles? Mercy.

  • Douglas Wilson

    RC, in the scenario you describe, I believe that I would urge our session to stop receiving baptisms administered by representatives of that church, provided we were talking about the baptisms were administered after that decision.

  • rcjr

    Thank you Pastor. Is it fair then for me to understand your perspective as one where getting the Trinity horribly wrong is of greater import than getting justification horribly wrong?

  • Douglas Wilson

    RC, not exactly. I think they are both of great import. But since baptism is into the triune name, then getting the Trinity wrong blows up the baptism. That is why I wouldn’t receive Mormon baptisms, even though they use the right formula.

  • Eric Stampher

    In deciding which sheep to feed, you might want to take the time to do more than check their baptismal papers.

  • Ellen

    “Since baptism is necessary for salvation and God wills the salvation of all, the Church recognizes all validly administered baptisms, even if Protestant. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

    The ordinary ministers of baptism are the bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon. In case of necessity, anyone, even a non-baptized person, with the required intention, can baptize by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula. The intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes. The Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of baptism for salvation. (CCC 1256)

    When considering the validity of non-Catholic baptism, the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism instructs:

    Baptism by immersion, or by pouring, together with the Trinitarian formula is, of itself, valid. Therefore, if the rituals, liturgical books, or established customs of a church or ecclesial community prescribe either of these ways of baptism, the sacrament is to be considered valid unless there are serious reasons for doubting that the minister has observed the regulations of his/her own community or church. (DE 95.a)”


  • Eric Stampher

    Does baptism by the Spirit count as valid?

  • Rick Davis


    Spirit baptism is fully valid, but unfortunately, God doesn’t give each pastor a pair of magic glasses to see who has been baptized by the Spirit. Since the pastor is a man and not God, he must judge like men judge (1 Samuel 16:7). Fortunately, since we can’t see people’s hearts, God has given an outward sign to mark His people out and define the boundaries of His Church: water baptism. And thus Jesus tells Nicodemus that a man must be born of water and the Spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:5).

  • Eric Stampher


    That’s a convenient excuse for so-called pastors who don’t take the time to get to know who are His sheep, hiding in the pulpit or in their studies 90% of the week as most do, rather than walking among the flock. Regular glasses suffice.

  • Robert

    Ellen, baptism is not necessary for salvation. It is a sign of obedience.