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.

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Steven Morris
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Steven Morris

Very helpful, that. Thanks, pastor Wilson.

rcjr
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest

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
Guest
Andre Fowlkes

Doug, 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… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

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… Read more »

Nathan E.
Guest
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
Guest
Stephen McAlpine

Sir 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… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
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
Guest
Robert

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

mikebull1
Member

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
Guest
Eric Stampher

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

Katecho
Member

test.

Katecho
Member

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
Member

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
Member

testing a post with the word Satan in it.

Katecho
Member

testing … because even Satan …

Katecho
Member

Even Satan would have to

Katecho
Member

to baptize

Katecho
Member

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
Member

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
Member
Gianni

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

rcjr
Guest

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… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

oops, resurrection of the body.

Tim H
Guest
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… Read more »

Peter Jones
Guest

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… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

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
Guest
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… Read more »

David
Guest
David

Correction – I should have referenced Donatism, not sacerdotalism.

timbushong
Member

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… Read more »

Peter Jones
Guest

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… Read more »

Peter Jones
Guest

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.
Guest
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… Read more »

Nathan E.
Guest
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… Read more »

Katecho
Member

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… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

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… Read more »

R Popp
Guest
R Popp

Post a comment

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

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

Tim H
Guest
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
Member

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… Read more »

mikebull1
Member

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.… Read more »

Katecho
Member

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,… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

Katecho, 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… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

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… Read more »

rcjr
Guest

British aisles? Mercy.

rcjr
Guest

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?

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

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