"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Catholic baptisms, according to the PCA

Sean at You are Cephas refers to a 1987 document showing that the position of the Presbyterian Church in America (my former denomination, and the denomination of the seminary from which I graduated) is that Catholic baptisms are invalid, because (according to the PCA) the Catholic Church is not a church, but only a "Romish communion", because (according to the PCA) the Catholic Church is apostate. [CLARIFICATION: This is the majority position of the PCA's study committee on this subject; adherence to the majority position is not binding on any presbytery.]

Last year in "Responsa ad quaestiones" the Catholic Church made clear that it does not consider Protestant communities to be Churches, because they have failed to preserve apostolic succession. From the Catholic point of view, Protestant communities are in schism and in [material] heresy.

Of course it is painful to see the severity of the division. But I think it is important to grasp accurately where things stand between Catholics and Presbyterians, in order to move forward toward reconciliation. Pseudo-ecumenicism (i.e. let's just sweep our differences under the rug, focus only on what we have in common, and pretend we're all branches of a tree) is worthless in healing such a divide. Better is the sort of bracing honesty where one side says, "We think that you all are heretics." And the other side says, "We think you all are apostate." [pause] Protestant: "Alrighty then, let's pull up our chairs and start talking." Catholic: "So, why do you think we're apostate?" Protestant: "I'll get to that, but why do you think we don't have apostolic succession?" Etc., etc. Charity drives us to the ecumenical table, but charity and truth are not incompatible.

So where is ecumenicism now? See "Pauline Year: The Ecumenical Dream of Pope Benedict" by Sandro Magister. (July 02)


Please continue to pray that Presbyterians and Catholics will come together to talk about those matters at the root of the division between us. Holy Spirit, please bring us together in true and complete unity.

13 comments:

Todd Gwennap said...

Bryan,

I have to say that I am not particularly proud of that position paper. I, for one, would NEVER rebaptize a rightly baptized Catholic believer (Trinitarian formula, water, etc.). I stand with Augustine here, rebaptism is anathema.

I will certainly agree that the way forward in unity is not bland ecumenism but "laying our cards on the table," as it were. I would not call the Roman church apostate, but I do have some serious theological reservations.

True unity is unity in the truth. When we can agree on what that truth is, I will gladly join you in institutional unity. Until then, we remain brothers in Christ at an unfortunate distance.

Principium unitatis said...

Hello Todd,

Thanks for your comments. I'm glad to hear of your position on baptism. I'm sure that there are a good number of other PCA folks who agree with you.

I hope you've enjoyed your ecclesiology and eschatology class.

Perhaps at some point we can continue to discuss what still divides us.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

mel said...

good stuff going on. thanks for the discussions. i'd be interested in hearing more about your journey -- going from pca/ref. especially in the ministry, to rcc now. still searching and trying, too, to find that middle ground. what were some of your key issues -- either that began the doubting of your (then) faith to the acceptance of rcc as right for you.

still praying john 17....

mel (arp now)

Thos said...

As was touched on in the "You are Cephas" blog's combox, it appears to me that this is *not* *the* position of the PCA. Bryan, as you know, it can be difficult to identify any one position as being the PCA's position. This Report on baptism appears to me to be roughly an "INFO MEMO", to be taken under advisement by lower courts, but not binding. If it were a widely held position, to the point where it could more accurately be called the PCA's position, I would expect to see something with more binding effect than 'info only'. Also, my lived experience in the PCA (that is, in about four different particular churches in four different presbyteries) informs me (personally) that this is not even a majority position within the denomination. I would have to concede that there may be many presbyteries that would hold this position in majority. But I suspect the presbyteries I have been exposed to in Virginia, Maryland, and California would not widely hold to this position. My current pastor was baptized in a Catholic Church, as have many of my fellow congregants, and none have been PCA-rebaptized (to my knowledge).

I would, therefore, use this position paper as a criticism of the PCA only to this extent: that the view was even articulated by a General Assembly Committee, and that it was not immediately quashed.

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Creative Clayer said...

"Holy Spirit, please bring us together in true and complete unity."

Amen.

Principium unitatis said...

Tom,

I agree. The study committee's majority position is not binding on the presbyteries. So it seems to me to be more than just "here are arguments for both sides", but obviously less than "All presbyteries must rebaptize Catholics who join the PCA".

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Tom,

Following up to my previous comment. I'm thinking of the practical influence of other study commission reports; the fact that one side was the majority position generally made that the de facto position, one that in practice put the burden of proof on the other side.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

Mel,

I haven't written out my story in full. Pieces of it are scattered here and there throughout this blog. I hope to write up a short account some time this year.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Oso Famoso said...

Well...I found the paper via an online article http://biblebased.wordpress.com/2008/06/27/are-roman-catholic-baptisms-valid/ which seemed to say it was an official position.

But who can pin point an official "magesterial" statement from the PCA on anything?

Thos said...

Bryan,

Thank you for your reply, and I appreciate your perspective. I agree that when two parties are in disagreement in the church, the one who can point to a position paper supporting his position has the upper hand (or rather, is able to place to burden of proof on his interlocutor).

I know this post was about the substance of that position paper, but it also raises the whole issue of "position papers", "committees" and the General Assemby speaking with (and more often without) authority. It is very hard to know whether the denomination is coming or going in some instances. More so than other Reformed and Presbyterian denominations, the PCA seems inclinced to push judgment down to the lower courts, i.e., the PCA often exhibits strong Congregational tendencies. For a history of Congregationalism, one should consider how New England Protestants faired.

My wife and I were discussing this post last night. Our church has recently undergone a big shift in our communion practice, having the classic raised vs. unraised (improperly, unleavened) bread and juice vs. wine debates. I coupled that with this position paper on baptism, and the wide variety of views. I then observed that we define a true church as one where the sacraments are rightly administered and the true word is taught. It struck me that we can't even agree with ourselves how to right administer the sacraments, and yet there are some (it seems many) among us willing to articulate (by necessity, perhaps) that the Catholic Church is not a true church under that definition (word & sacrament).

Peace in Christ,
Tom

Principium unitatis said...

Sean,

Let me give an easier form for your link. It is at Andy Webb's site. Here's the link.

Thanks for that.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

I just posted this on Andy's site.

Andy,

The reasoning in the majority position seems to be largely based on the notion that the Catholic Church has not preserved the gospel. But does this mean, in your opinion, that baptisms by Protestant Arminians are also invalid? If not, why not?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

mel said...

I do agree with the majority here that it all does boil down to an authority. Whether it's a Magesterium or a General Assembly or Synod or a localized body of believers in an annual pastor's meeting, it's still an authority as far as earthly congregations go. Christ is the true head of all His people, and there are some things we may never know until we are before His throne. Everything else governmentally is just for the time we're on earth. My .02. I don't expect to find alot of likemindness here but do appreciate the oneness in Christ that only He provides. Thanks.