Of Catholicity and Confusion

US Conference of Catholic BishopsOne 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?

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  1. [Berkhof] In general, they considered a baptism as valid which was administered by a duly accredited minister and in the name of the triune God. [RSC]….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.

    It’s not just Berkhof, but our confessional artifacts, which answer the question “who can baptize (or validly administer any sacraments)”, with “only a duly ordained minister of the gospel.” Which Roman priests are not; that right there seems to me an open and shut case against accepting RC baptisms as valid. See also here…

    • Rube,

      The logic you offer doesn’t quite work. The very people who gave us the Heidelberg Catechism did not accept your premises. As I mentioned above, they did not re-baptize everyone in the Palatinate when the Reformation was imposed.

      As I also mentioned the same is true across Europe and the British Isles. So, they must have been operating from different premises then you have adopted.

  2. Thanks be to God that He isn’t hindered by the faithfulness of the pastor, priest, layperson doing the Baptism.

    God is actually the One who Baptizes, and who brings the Cross to bear in the life of the Baptized.

    I was Baptized by a Catholic priest.

    OK…maybe that’s not the best argument 😀

    • Thanks be to God that He isn’t hindered by the faithfulness of the pastor, priest, layperson doing the Baptism.

      Layperson! Check with your local Reformed pastor; if someone “baptized” by a layperson were to seek membership, they would be required to be baptized properly.

      • Rube,

        I am not sure about this. There is evidence in the Dutch Reformed church orders that supports your claim but there is evidence elsewhere, I think, that would say that lay, Trinitarian baptism is irregular but not invalid.

        What makes you certain that Reformed/Presbyterian churches would automatically refuse to recognize an irregular, Trinitarian baptism?

    • Hmmm. I took it as common knowledge; perhaps I’m wrong about that? It would seem then that the (majority) Reformed position devolves also to the first RC quote you gave, where the trinitarian formula are “magic words” that (along with “intention”) can make any baptism valid (albeit irregular)?

      Note, I am fairly certain that the invalid/irregular distinction cannot be found in 3FU or Westminster (but I’d love to be corrected).

  3. I am also leery of “the Word” as “preached” by a layman, as compared to the Word preached by a minister of the gospel lawfully ordained.

  4. The Word is the Word.

    If it’s the gospel, it doesn’t matter who’s mouth it comes out of.

    God uses earthen vessels. Who else does He have to use?

    Don’t you feel that way (if you are not an ordained pastor) when you speak to someone about Christ?

    I do.

    I realize that it is His power in that Word, and It will accomplish that for which It sets out to do.

    • I am not ordained as a pastor or elder (or deacon); when I speak God’s Word, it does not carry the same weight, nor bear the same promise of efficacy, as when an elder speaks it, especially when the elder is administering the means of grace (Word and Sacrament, i.e. Audible Word and Visible Word) during corporate worship.

    • The Word is the Word.

      SC89, LC155, the Spirit of God makes the reading but especially the preaching of the Word effectual to the elect.

  5. Ok, RubeRad.

    I guess we’ll have to disagree on that one.

    I think that when you (RubeRad) speak the Word to someone, it has the full power of God to do what He will do. (Romans 1:16)

    It’s actually pretty awesome when you think about it.

    Take care, friend.

  6. Calvin chimes in from his Institutes (4.15.16):

    “we shall be sufficiently fortified if we reflect that by baptism we were initiated not into the name of any man, but into the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, that baptism is not of man, but of God, by whomsoever it may have been administered. Be it that those who baptized us were most ignorant of God and all piety, or were despisers, still they did not baptize us into a fellowship with their ignorance or sacrilege, but into the faith of Jesus Christ, because the name which they invoked was not their own but God’s, nor did they baptize into any other name. But if baptism was of God, it certainly included in it the promise of forgiveness of sin, mortification of the flesh, quickening of the Spirit, and communion with Christ.”

  7. Steve,

    When the ordained ministers preaches the Word it is given as an effectual means of the grace of God. Though His Word isn’t diluted when Rube speaks it, it doesn’t have the warrant of being an effectual means of grace to one who receives it. Certainly the Holy Spirit and the Word work according to God’s will and are not bound by the mouth through which it is spoken (I came to faith through the gospel given by a relatively new believer during the so-called “Jesus Revolution”). But there is a difference.

  8. Rube,

    By your line of argumentation, it would seem Baptists would have to be rebaptized to become members of a Reformed church. Do you see this as the case?

    • That’s a good question. Basically what think makes sense is, instead of drawing lines at the trinity, we should be drawing lines at the gospel (where Paul draws lines). So personally (not that that means much), I would not insist on all three marks, but just one. So I would not rebaptize your average Baptist.

      However, I realize a position like this ends up requiring a whole lot of undesirable rebaptism. But that’s a practical, not logical (or theological) argument.

      Here’s back atcha, if the lines are to be drawn at the Trinity, given how liberal American “protestants” handled the virgin birth (incarnation), resurrection, and divinity of Christ (see Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism) shouldn’t we rebaptize those coming from PCUSA, ELCA, and Anglican churches?

  9. I just want it noted that Rube’s is not necessarily the view of the Outhouse. Some of us would recognize Roman baptisms. If the reformers themselves, who were baptized in Roman communions, did not submit themselves to re-baptism then who are we to demand it of others today?

    • Actually, my view is that (a) my view is that RC baptisms are invalid, and (b) more importantly, my view is inconsequential, since I hold no office and have no authority to judge validity of baptisms.

      Families that are admitted to membership in my church are interviewed by my session of ordained elders, whose responsibility it is to judge the credibility of their confession of faith, admit them to the table, and judge whether they need to be baptized. So if they deem a baptism valid, it’s valid. Keys and whatnot.

      • Rube,

        I agree with you that the session 6 of Trent is a great and terrible moment in the history of the W. church. I agree that, at that moment, Rome made herself a sect and a false church.

        Nevertheless, the Reformed churches did not re-baptize those converts after 1547.

    • Yes, so according to my minority position Trent also marks when the Reformed church became inconsistent by not rejecting RC baptisms.

      I’m curious; what was the Reformed reponse to Trent? Was there any officially-declared change in protestant/catholic ecclesiastical relations? Seems to me it would have been totally in order to announce “OK, that’s it; you’re not Christian anymore, so we reject the validity of your baptism (just as we have already been rejecting the blasphemy of your idolatrous mass)”

  10. Both RubeRad and Steve are correct re the proclamation of the Word in its oral and sacramental forms. As Dr Clark has insisted correctly sometime ago, the notion of every member evangelism (EME) can undermine a proper understanding of the ordained ministry.

    It might come as a shock but the notion of a priesthood of all believers as commonly understood did not originate with Luther but Pietism. Whilst the ordained ministry is not opposed to the priesthood of all believers, it is at the same time not open to all believers. To put it in its historical context, the Reformation understanding of the ordained ministry stands between Rome and Anabaptism.

    The distinction of service within the church is the distinction between public and private ministry. Ordained ministry belongs to the former -thus the proclamation of the Gospel in its oral and sacramental forms are ordinarily public ministry.

    And thus, on the one hand, no lay Christian can presume to assume the public ministry. On the other hand, the Word and Sacraments themselves are not conditioned on the ordained ministry. Rather, it is the way round.

    Baptism creates and makes the priesthood. And yet, not all (ecclesial)priests baptises.

    Lay baptism is irregular but not invalid since such baptisms are private baptisms. Roman baptism is valid since one cannot divorce the Trinitarian formula (i.e. the Word) from the water.

    • But apparently one can divorce the gospel from the water? Certainly the Trinitarian formula is a necessary condition; why is it sufficient?

  11. The position of the Westminster Confession of Faith (to which I subscribe) says of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: “…neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.” (WCF XXVII.IV.) So, it seems to me that the historic confessional Presbyterian position would be to accept the validity of baptism that is (1) Administered in the Name of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), and (2) Administered in a professedly Christian church by one who is recognized as a lawfully ordained Minister of the Word. Thus Romanist baptism would fit the bill, IMO, since it is performed in the Name of the Trinity by those who are recognized and ordained in that communion as professed Ministers of the Word (though obviously as Protestants we recognize that Rome seriously distorts the Word by its false gospel).

    Where the confusion gets intensified today is that (1) Some communions have allowed for changes in the baptismal formula to fit with a feminist agenda (for example, I believe the UCC allows for the Trinitarian formula in baptism to be replaced by “in the Name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer” instead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; which, in my opinion, is an invalid baptism); and (2) Many baptisms today are performed by women pastors, who (by the standard of Scriptural law) are not “lawfully ordained” (and thus, by good and necessary inference, would not the baptisms they administer be invalid?).

  12. “But apparently one can divorce the gospel from the water? Certainly the Trinitarian formula is a necessary condition; why is it sufficient?”

    Good point, Rube. You certainly have a point there. Your high view of the ordained ministry, for one, is solidly Reformational. My personal view is simply that the Trinitarian formula itself is the Gospel. This may not necessarily be Reformed, but is consonant with a Lutheran understanding of the Sacraments. Still, I think a case could be made that the orthodoxy of the baptismal formula “overrides” the orthodoxy of the minister.

    • I appreciate that; we do confess that the validity of the baptism has naught to do with the piety of the person administrating, but I would maintain it has everything to do with the office of the person administrating.

    • I think “point well taken” about covers it. For my side, I realize the position that makes sense to me is distasteful — and not just to others, but it is distasteful also to me to imply that so many baptisms are invalid. But I liken it to the issue of women in ministry. I personally find it distasteful to forbid women from ordained ministry. But “I don’t like it” is not an argument, it’s only an opinion; in the end the bible is inescapably clear.

  13. Yes, I understand. The other side of the disagreement would also claim that theirs is also an argument from Scripture, tradition no less. Having said this, your argument from “office” of the ministry is compelling. As a Lutheran, I’m sympathetic to your position. Practically speaking, I’d be open to either position, though a bit more inclined to the “one Baptism” view.

    The “one Baptism” does not regard inaccurate and distorted understanding of Baptism by Roman “priests” as invalidating Baptism because the theological “priority” lies in the sacramental act itself which by its very nature include words but 1st order — “I-it-you” rather than 2nd order systematic theology.

    And thus, the “Roman Baptism” is reformed, corrected later on, i.e. outside the apostate Church, not by rebaptism, i.e. repeating the sacramental act but by catechism and 2nd order teaching.

  14. The “one Baptism” view thus either explicitly or implicitly recognises apostolic succession not in terms of church govt, e.g. papacy or otherwise but the proclamation of the Gospel in Word and Sacraments — the paradosis — passing on of tradition. The office lies in the proclamation of the Word in its oral and sacramental forms – 1st order discourse — “I baptise you,” etc.

    This is why the claim by papists that the Protestant Reformation is something de novo is untrue.

    Justification by faith alone as 1st order discourse (and not just 2nd order theology) — “I baptise you,” “I forgive you,” “This is my Body broken for you … My Blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” … has always been proclaimed in the Church everywhere, always and all despite the doctrinal perversion and corruption.

    The Protestant Reformation corrected the “misalignment” between the Word and the Sacraments, 1st and 2nd order theology, doctrine and practice.

    And it could be further said that Protestants have a better claim to saying that worship informs belief as much as vice-versa.

    Doctrine ignited the Protestant Reformation; and yet doctrine was grounded in the practice of the Sacraments.

  15. As a Lutheran,…inaccurate and distorted understanding of Baptism by Roman “priests”

    I have heard a Lutheran say before that there is essentially no difference between the Lutheran and RC understandings of baptism. What’s your take?

    These categories of 1st/2nd order are new to me, do they come from Lutheran sources?

  16. By “understanding,” I take it that that Lutheran meant doctrinal understanding. If so, then no, that Lutheran is grossly incorrect, though not entirely wrong. I mean whilst both Lutheran and Romanist hold to “baptismal regeneration,” there are critical differences. And yes, particularly from my perspective as a pre-Book of Concord Lutheran.

    In following Luther (rather than Lutheran Orthodoxy), the key difference can be summed up by the difference between imputation and infusion.

    For me, grace is not infused but imputed in Baptism, i.e. the Old Adam is destroyed entirely in Christ only to be resurrected as the New Adam in Christ as per Romans 6. Infusion implies a “continuous existing subject.” Imputation marks a break between the old and the new (aeons, creations, kingdoms, etc.).

    Baptism then is an eschatological event that happens in time and space, in the here and now, in the living present. An alien, from another world event that happens in, with, under, through this old creation.

    Thus, instead of imputation merely a declaration; Luther’s imputation is proclamation, i.e. it does what it says, and says what it does. This is why unlike Roman Baptism, Luther’s understanding of Baptism which formed part of his Reformational breakthrough was that Baptism can never be “left behind” — a past, historical event that forms part of a continuing sacramental life of the Christian.

    Rather Baptism is the Christian life. It encompasses the whole of the Christian life — as it overlaps with life as the Old Adam.

    On 1st and 2nd order discourses, AFAIK, the distinction is not used by Lutheran Orthodoxy and their successors in e.g. the LCMS. The distinction comes from Lutheran theologians who read the BoC through Luther rather than the other way round. One good example is the late Dr Gerhard O. Forde. See the Preached God (Eerdmans) of the Lutheran Quarterly Book series.

    But the distinction is actually found in Luther himself — in the Bondage of the Will which though normally associated by the Reformed with predestination is actually a treatise also on preaching — that is the distinction the preached and un-preached God which the 1st and 2nd order discourses are related and correspond to.

    A good example is Ezekiel 18 and 33 where God expressly declares that He desires not the death of a sinner but that the sinner turn and lives.

    Luther refuted Erasmus who wanted to make the passage(es) to mean that God desires the salvation of all indiscriminately. Of course, according to Erasmus’ own logic, it presupposes and implies free-will. It is also a description of God — which in this case calls into question His omnipotence. It also confuses Law and Gospel because it turns a statement of unconditional promise into a statement conditional offer. Pastorally, such interpretation or approach provides no comfort or consolation to sinners who in that passage is described as dying(!)

    Thus, whilst philosophically it “protects” free-will and describes a loving God, in reality it is of no use to sinners at all.

    This happens because as Luther said, scriptural clarity in both theology and proclamation is lost. In theology, one speaks about God; but in proclamation one speaks for God.

    Theologising about God is different from preaching the Gospel. Only preaching the Gospel ends God’s wrath. And the Gospel is anything but Law.

    In other words, anything type of preaching that turns the Gospel into Law, whether materially (contents) or formally (presentation) undermines the Gospel.

    Thus, at the end of the day, the distinction between 1st and 2nd order discourses is meant not so much to protect God’s omnipotence although it is that but to protect proclamation — that is, protecting (the unconditional character of) the Gospel.

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