One of the most confusing aspects of Protestant-Romanist dialogue is trying to determine “who speaks for Rome?” and trying to answer the question, “What does Rome believe?” One reason it can be difficult to answer these questions is that Rome likes it that way. Take the recent announcement that, via the organization “Christian Churches Together,” representatives from the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have reached an agreement with representatives from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ to accept as valid baptisms performed in those communions.
How important is this grand ecumenical achievement to Rome? Surely it would warrant a major announcement on the website of the USCCB, right? Nope. Perhaps there is an announcement somewhere but it isn’t prominent and it doesn’t turn up in a search.
To further muddy things, it is not entirely clear what the status of the USCCB actually is in Rome. For American evangelicals, any organization that gathers and says something may have significance but in my ecclesiastical world, an informal gathering of pastors that produces a statement has the ecclesiastical weight of the pixels by which it appears. Rome has a pope. It has a general council. It has archbishops and bishops, priests, deacons and so on down the hierarchy. I think it has a consistory (or at least it once did). It has offices (which it calls “congregations”) to perform various functions. It has papal electors (cardinals) but it’s clear that the USCCB makes pronouncements regularly that have no ecclesiastical sanction or force. They are nothing more than pious (or impious) wishes. American Romanists routinely ignore the pope and general councils. Why would they attend to the USCCB? Thus, it is not clear what genuine authority, even within the Romanist labyrinth “representatives” of the USCCB actually have.
Then there is the small matter of the mediating/hosting organization, Christian Churches Together. If the actual, ecclesiastical sanction of the USCCB is unclear it is even less clear what sanction such an organization has. Did the synod of the CRCNA and the snyod of the RCA authorize their representatives to negotiate with representatives of the USCCB on their behalf? Are the consistories of the RCA and CRCNA aware of these negotiations? The news coverage, of course, does not enter into the details of this “historic” announcement.
Finally, there is this little gem in the coverage by the Statesman (Austin, TX).
Before the agreement, Protestant denominations of the Reformed Church tradition normally accepted Catholic baptisms, but the Catholic church did not always accept theirs, said the Rev. Tom Weinandy of the Catholic bishops conference in Washington.
Which gets me back to the thread I’ve been pursuing intermittently: Who are the true catholics here? To the best of my knowledge, most of the Reformed church, most of the time, have accepted Roman baptisms. I’m not aware that, e.g., in Geneva, when the city became Protestant under the influence of Farel’s ministry that there were mass re-baptisms. Ditto for England, the rest of the British Isles, Heidelberg, the Netherlands, and France.
Louis Berkhof wrote,
They have generally recognized the baptism of other Churches, not excluding the Roman Catholics, and also of the various sects, except in the case of Churches and sects which denied the Trinity. Thus they refused to honour the baptism of the Socinians and of the Unitarians. In general, they considered a baptism as valid which was administered by a duly accredited minister and in the name of the triune God.
Which seems accurate. Yes, there have been Reformed folk (e.g., those in the Southern Presbyterian tradition) who have argued that Rome is so corrupt that we should not recognize her baptism as valid but that hasn’t been the dominant view. Were there a consensus on the necessity of re-baptizing Roman Catholics upon entrance into a Reformed congregation, William Perkins would surely have mentioned it in his treatise, A Reformed Catholic (1611) but he did not. The Church Order of Dort (1619) says nothing about re-baptizing converts from Romanism.
If it is true that the dominant view and practice in the Reformed churches has been to accept Romanist baptism, despite the many and obvious corruptions adhering to the Roman communion, who is more catholic? Those who have accepted Roman baptism because of the Trinitarian formula (and the intent to administer a Christian baptism as distinct from the Mormon sacrilegious of the Trinitarian name in a ceremonial initiation into a religion that denies the doctrine of the Trinity).
In answer to the question, “Who can baptize?” (the same question Berkhof was answering) the Catechism of the [Roman] Catholic Church teaches:
§1256 The ordinary ministers of Baptism are the bishop and priest and, in the Latin Church, also the deacon. In case of necessity, any person, even someone not baptized, can baptize, if he has the required intention. the [sic] intention required is to will to do what the Church does when she baptizes, and to apply the Trinitarian baptismal formula. the Church finds the reason for this possibility in the universal saving will of God and the necessity of Baptism for salvation.
I suppose that the crux is “any person, even someone not baptized, can baptize, if he has the required intention.”
There is also this section in the Catechism:
If the news account is correct then the situation is even more bizarre. A protestant minister is “anyone.” Whether Rome recognizes his baptism (or not) if he baptizes in the name of the Trinity, that’s a baptism, right?
The Roman Catechism says:
§1271 Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” “Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.”
The quotations come from Unitatis redintegratio promulgated as part of Vatican II in 1964.
So, Protestant baptisms are valid, except when they aren’t? Rome contradicts herself so often and with such openness that it would be breathtaking if such things were so frequent in our age.
We haven’t even gotten to the matter of mode. Rome really insists on “running water”? Really?
So, this heralded breakthrough does not seem to be much of a breakthrough at all. It probably has the same status in Rome as Evangelicals and Catholics Together: none. Judging by what Rome has confessed since 1964 Protestant baptisms have been regarded as valid even though we are “not yet” (or not ever!) in communion with or submission to Rome. If we have the right intention. Is the intent to administer a Christian (as distinct from Mormon) baptism sufficient intention? If we have the right mode.
Who are the true catholics again?