2007July26, Thursday

Roman Christian or Antichristian?

Posted in The Church at 23:04 by Trey Austin

In the comments section of the post on the Pope not being “Catholic,” there has been some question on the issue that the original WCF and several of the Reformers call the Pope the Antichrist. These are good questions on this issue, so let me say a few things in answer to these objections:

First, i have not, and never have, sworn to uphold any version of the Westminster Confession that calls the Pope the Antichrist. Neither the ARP Church (a presbytery of which ordained me), nor the PCA Church (a presbytery of which currently holds my credentials) include the phrase in its version of the WCF. If they did, i would take exception to that point (though, thankfully, i don’t have to), but not because i think the Roman Church is so wonderful (anyone who would try and impute that view to me is nothing less than neglegently ignorant, or just plain can’t read English), but rather because i don’t believe that it is the place of any Confession, least of all the WCF, to lock ministers into a particular understanding of eschatology. So, while i readily admit that there are some statements in various Confessions that refer to the Pope as the Antichrist, and there are some statements in Reformers that speak similarly, i am free to disagree with any of those, as any other manmade statements that are apt to err, especially since i have not agreed to support or teach such a view. However, there is also good support in other Confessional and Church statements for the view that holds Roman baptism as valid Christian baptism, which implicitly holds the Roman Church is still, in some sense, a member of the visible Church. For example, the Canons of the Synod of Dordt, specifically forbids the repetition of baptism for those who have received Roman baptism. Likewise, the Synod of the Reformed Church of France, in 1581—long after the Council of Trent made its terrible statements—also affirmed that the Roman Church and Roman clergy had the authority and ability to baptize in Christ’s place (though it did specifically exclude monks from such authority for lack of proper sanction).

Second, the decision of the General Assembly of 1845 (Old School)—leaving aside the issue of the schism of the Church at that time, which means that it could not speak with a unified voice, and for such a decision to be binding, it would have had to be reaffirmed after reunion—as far as i know, was not or has not been ratified in the ARP or the PCA. Even if it were in the PCA (which it has not been), it would not have been in the ARP Church, which ordained me, and the views of which i am more apt to uphold, and i have been honest in this regard with my own presbytery (PCA) of original jurisdicion (e.g., my view that images of Christ are not inherently idolatrous, though i deny that they may lawfully be used in any form of worship; and my view that woman may and should be elected as deaconesses in Christ’s Church, as per Scripture’s teaching in 1 Timothy 3). Dr. Thornwell, as gifted a pastor and professor he was (incidentally, the Church that Thornwell co-pastored for many years is now an ARP Church: First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC), he was wrong about his protestations about the Roman Church, Roman baptism, and Roman clergy. Thornwell’s assertions have not gone unanswered; Dr. Hodge answered them astutely in his essay (indeed, Thornwell’s arguments were no different from the assertions of the findings of the decision of the OSGA, and Hodge answered them clearly in the Princeton Review). All the objections levied against viewing the Roman Church in any sense as part of the visible Church Catholic, Dr. Hodge addressed them adroitly. As Dr. Hodge said, it is a matter of definition. So long as you admit of false professors to be members of the visible Church Catholic, then there is no reason to exclude Roman Christians, many of whom, i am willing to admit, are indeed false professors of Christ and the true religion—but they are professors nonetheless. The only other option is to have a Baptist ecclesiology, which holds that only the truly regenerate are truly members of the Church in any sense. This i deny, and so the conclusion that Hodge advocates seems to me to flow from the principle of the visible Church’s mixed character.

Third, even as Hodge argued, and as the Reformers implicitly affirmed as well, there is a distinction between the Roman Church considered as a system of religion, which has, to say the least, departed from what Scripture teaches about many things, and the Roman Church considered as the people who profess faith in Christ who happen to be under the oversight and dominion of the Papal system. Anyone who has studied logic will know what i mean when i speak of the fallacy of composition (or, as in this case, decomposition, which is the mirror image of the fallacy of composition). It is the fallacious argument that what is true of the whole, or of an entity considered as a whole must necessarily be true of the parts. I may be able to say that the the Roman Church considered as the system of the papacy is unfaithful and has apostatized to a certain extent, but it is not necessarily the case that the Roman Church considered as the sum total of its members is similarly unfaithful and apostate—indeed, such an argument is inherently fallacious. But beyond the logic of the thing, just consider the way Jehovah and all of the prophets treated Israel and Judah under the Old Administration. When Israel was divided from Judah and officially codified idolatrous and anti-biblical worship, did Jehovah immediately brush it aside and say that it was no more in Covenant with him and no more to be considered part of the visible Church? Not at all. Quite to the contrary, the prophets who went to preach to Israel preached (even as the mouthpieces for Jehovah’s messages) to it as part of the visible Church that was being unfaithful to God and what he called them to be and to do. Their circumcision was a valid circumcision regardless of their idolatrous ways, and their Covenant obligations were not rendered void by their unfaithfulness, but they were rendered even *MORE* answerable and guilty precisely because of what they were sinning against—which, incidentally, could not have been true if they were not members of God’s visible Covenant people.

If you haven’t read it yet, do read Hodge’s essay where he takes the affirmative position on the question of Rome being part of the visible Church, and also the essay in which he similarly argues that Roman clergy are lawfully ordained ministers of the Gospel. Hodge’s statements speak for themselves, and they are quite compelling, which is why i hold to them—not to mention the fact that his view is the same view that Calvin, Knox, Luther, Bullinger, Cranmer, Zwingli, Witsius, a Brackel, Ursinus, and many, many other Reformers and post-Reformation divines held. To borrow an argument used so prevalently these days, “How could they have *ALL* been wrong?” It may be possible that they could have been all wrong, but i have read nothing that has convinced me that they were. They would never have violated the principles upon which Amos could preach to Samarian citizens as violaters of God’s Covenant rather than aliens to it, and i don’t intend on being so obviously unbiblical either. My suspicion is, though, that Thornwell’s unhistorically Reformed views on lots of things, not the least of which was his view of Covenant Children, also informed his view of the Church. He may have been, in certain respects, an Old School theologian, but his overall ecclesiology was so obviously closer to that of Baptists than that of the Reformers that it is hard to deny that the influence of New School theology and revivalism had an effect on him or his view of the Church. I’ll stick with the *REAL* Reformers and their view on this until God’s Word convinces me otherwise.

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7 Comments »

  1. Sean Gerety said,

    However, there is also good support in other Confessional and Church statements for the view that holds Roman baptism as valid Christian baptism, which implicitly holds the Roman Church is still, in some sense, a member of the visible Church.

    Again, and this is to belabor the point, you are wrong and the Roman state/church is not a member of the visible church in any sense. That is, of course, if you take the definition of the visible church as per the WCF seriously; “The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion . . . .”

    The wealth of evidence disproving your position is volumes, but why not start with the gospel as defined, proclaimed and taught under the Roman system of doctrine and which is repeated in her catechism. Here are just a couple of samples that I’m sure you’re very familiar with:

    CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

    CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.

    Let’s see, the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness are denied. What of the Gospel is left Trey? Or do you believe along with Steve Wilkins that while our initial justification is by faith alone, our final judgment is by works done by faith? If that’s the case, I don’t think PCA apostasy is in any position to comment on the corruptions of Rome.

    Further, per WCF 25.4 the purity of the visible church is measured by the gospel “taught and embraced” (as demonstrated, there is no gospel taught in or embraced by the Roman state/church), “ordinances administered” (the WCF calls the Roman Mass “abominably injurious” and since they teach their baptisms have the magical power to remove the stain of sin it is equally abominable – admittedly not to FV men I suppose), and the “public worship performed” (Roman worship is idolatrous to its core, admittedly appealing to the senses as they lead countless souls to Hell).

    Consequently, given the Confession’s unambiguous statements concerning the visible church, I’m at a loss to see how any PCA elder, much less a pastor, could consider the Roman state/church valid in any sense?

    Dr. Thornwell, as gifted a pastor and professor he was (incidentally, the Church that Thornwell co-pastored for many years is now an ARP Church: First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC), he was wrong about his protestations about the Roman Church, Roman baptism, and Roman clergy. Thornwell’s assertions have not gone unanswered; Dr. Hodge answered them astutely in his essay

    Why, because you say so? Admittedly this is a lesser point in regards to your two posts now defending the Roman state/church and “Roman Christians,” but Thornwell not only overcame he destroyed Hodge’s arguments. Thornwell was answering Hodge, not the other way around. Trey, have you even read Thornwell’s argument?

    I may be able to say that the the Roman Church considered as the system of the papacy is unfaithful and has apostatized to a certain extent, but it is not necessarily the case that the Roman Church considered as the sum total of its members is similarly unfaithful and apostate—indeed, such an argument is inherently fallacious.

    The difference is that while an individual member of the Roman state/church might well be a Christian in spite of and not because of the anti-Christian Roman system of doctrine, it does not follow that her prelates and teachers are to be held to the same standard as the laity. It appears from your ongoing defense of Rome state/church that you consider even the pope himself a “Roman Christian.”

    To borrow an argument used so prevalently these days, “How could they have *ALL* been wrong?”

    FYI. Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy Trey. Truth is never arrived at by counting head, but by every word the Lord has spoken and that alone. Besides, if you want to count heads, Hodge lost the debate and Thornwell’s position carried the day and by a substantial majority. It is only Presbyterian ecumenicists in the twentieth century that have (intentionally) forgotten and/or ignored earlier theological advances and victories, Thornwell’s included.

  2. tempe said,

    I’m going to stay out of the fireworks on this one, Trey. I was going to comment on a few minor things with regard to logic (such as the possible use of the ad populum fallacy, for instance; of course, I could turn around and say that there’s no way ALL those reformers et al were “wrong” in their views of the pope as antichrist, Q. 109 of the WLC, and the understanding that 1 Tim 3 does not teach that women may be ordained to an office of deaconess, but I digress 😉 ). I don’t know of anyone who refers to the fallacy of division as the fallacy of “decomposition” (of course, I’m not saying that no one does this, just that I’ve never seen anyone — besides yourself, of course — who has used this terminology). And this conclusion — The only other option is to have a Baptist ecclesiology, which holds that only the truly regenerate are truly members of the Church in any sense — might be an example of bifurcation (i.e., another option possibly exists, although I will need to mull this over for a while; of course, I would affirm that the the ecclesiological conclusion to which you allude is faulty, but you wouldn’t expect any less from me, now would you?!?).

  3. Trey Austin said,

    Mr. Gerety,

    I have told you before that i have no care to interact with you. I’m not sure why you are not willing to respect that—but i don’t imaging that anyone in association with the Unicoi sectarians would.

    At every turn you misrepresent what i have said. Any impartial observer who doesn’t have an axe to grind against me or the Romanists would clearly see that i’m not defending them, but that i’m simply presenting the way i see things as being.

    Why you ignored, though, the most important part of what i said, with regard to the Israelites who were *WHOLLY* given to idolatry, is really the most astounding aspect of your post. By your standard, a branch of the Church ceases to be part of the Church altogether when it falls into idolatry. Yet, as is so evident in the prophets who preached to Samaria, Jehovah regarded them as remaining in Covenant with him (though, with the great majority of them breaking that Covenant) and always regarded their circumcision as binding them to the terms of that Covenant. Were they saved? Not as idol-worshipers, and certainly not as those who failed to repent of their sins and trust in Jehovah (the terms of the Covenant). But no one is claiming that all Romanists, head-for-head, are saved notwithstanding their idolatry and perversion of the Gospel. If that’s what you think i’m claiming, you’re obviously not very good at comprehending what another person says.

    I have indeed read Thornwell’s arguments, but i remain unconvinced. I still agree with Hodge. The ironic thing is that, by what you have claimed, Dr. Charles Hodge, the great Princeton theologian, and those who came before him making the same distinctions that he made and affirming the validity of Roman baptism and of the Roman clergy (again, even while acknowledging the idolatry and perversion that is so much a part of that Church), they are all proto Federal Visionists. Now, while i don’t affirm the Federal Vision as it has developed, i’m sure that men like Wilson, Wikins, and all the others would be glad to know that you have given them such good company. I’m not sure i’d be so generous, but perhaps they have found in you an ally they overlooked.

  4. Trey Austin said,

    Tim, I don’t appeal to the fallacy of numbers with any seriousness. It was simply a rhetorical device. Perhaps i have made a false dilemma. The only way to show that i have, though, is to demonstrate that the Roman Church is no longer a part of the visible Church. Thornwell’s arguments haven’t done that for me, precisely because even a Covenant breaking Church is still a Church (cf., the Northern nation of Israel).

    I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing with me (and no, i wouldn’t expect anything less from you). However, i have a real problem having my Reformed bona fides questioned for agreeing with one of the greatest theologians that American Presbyterianism has ever produced. I don’t expect anything different from that particular source, though.

  5. Sean Gerety said,

    I have told you before that i have no care to interact with you.

    That’s fine. So why do you continue interacting with me? FWIW I’m happy to interact with public comments all by myself. 🙂

    I’m not sure why you are not willing to respect that—but i don’t imaging that anyone in association with the Unicoi sectarians would.

    At least the men at Trinity Foundation aren’t foolish enough to confuse Romanism with Christianity and claim papists are part of the visible church. I admit I am starting to see why you hate those at Trinity Foundation so much and why they rub you the wrong way.

    Why you ignored, though, the most important part of what i said, with regard to the Israelites who were *WHOLLY* given to idolatry, is really the most astounding aspect of your post. By your standard, a branch of the Church ceases to be part of the Church altogether when it falls into idolatry .. Yet, as is so evident in the prophets who preached to Samaria, Jehovah regarded them as remaining in Covenant with him (though, with the great majority of them breaking that Covenant) and always regarded their circumcision as binding them to the terms of that Covenant. Were they saved? Not as idol-worshipers, and certainly not as those who failed to repent of their sins and trust in Jehovah (the terms of the Covenant).

    And I think you are ignoring what the Confession clearly states concerning the visible church and by your reasoning there are no “synagogues of Satan” and anyone who claims to be a Christian are what they say. By the standard of the gospel, which is by belief alone, the Roman church is neither a church or Christian. Further, every man is already a covenant breaker in Adam. Bearing a sign changes nothing. As Paul argued: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

    However, why is it that you along with other FV defenders and sympathizers universally fail to grasp the meaning of Christ’s parable of the vine and the branches?

    Those who are cut off are those who appear, but are not (literally) grafted into Christ. The parable has to do with the visible church. God in His mercy prunes the visible church by exposing and removing false teachers (and false brothers) in her midst.

    Calvin writes:

    Every branch in me that beareth not fruit. As some men corrupt the grace of God, others suppress it maliciously, and others choke it by carelessness, Christ intends by these words to awaken anxious inquiry, by declaring that all the branches which shall be unfruitful will be cut off from the vine. But here comes a question. Can any one who is engrafted into Christ be without fruit? I answer, many are supposed to be in the vine, according to the opinion of men, who actually have no root in the vine. Thus, in the writings of the prophets, the Lord calls the people of Israel his vine, because, by outward profession, they had the name of The Church.

    God has made no covenant with unbelievers and bearing a sign does not make one a child of God or Christ’s beloved or united with Christ or even a member of the Covenant of Grace.

    But no one is claiming that all Romanists, head-for-head, are saved notwithstanding their idolatry and perversion of the Gospel. If that’s what you think i’m claiming,

    No, that is not what I think you are claiming. What I think you are claiming is that the Roman church/state is part of the visible church IN SPITE OF their perversion and complete obliteration of the Gospel and in spite of what the Confession teachers concerning the nature of the visible church and how we might recognize it. What I objected to is quite simple and that is referring to Romanism as part of the visible church even implying, as you did in your first post, that the pope is a “Roman Christian.” That’s it and for this I get subjected to your vitriol. FWIW I agreed with most of what you wrote. I just think you stretch the word “catholic” too far and beyond the bounds of the Confession.

    Now, while i don’t affirm the Federal Vision as it has developed, i’m sure that men like Wilson, Wikins, and all the others would be glad to know that you have given them such good company. I’m not sure i’d be so generous, but perhaps they have found in you an ally they overlooked.

    Then why is it that every time I’ve seen you chime in on the topic it has always been in defense of these false teachers? Why do you include the writings of these men on your “blog roll”? The fact that the errors of the past provides these deadly heretics cover is hardly a sound argument Trey.

  6. Trey Austin said,

    I defend FVists for the same reason that i often defend Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Arminians, and even Romanists against misunderstanding and slander. If you conclude from my reading them and interacting with them and even my speaking positively of them against those who would slander them that i am, therefore, one of them (all of them? is that even possible?), you’re not only sorely mistaken, you really have no clue. In defending them, i am not explicitly or implicitly claiming to be part of any of those movements. But the tactic of guilt by association is so prevalent with the Unicoi sectarians and their afficionados that it doesn’t surprise me that it is used against me by those very people.

    I said: “But no one is claiming that all Romanists, head-for-head, are saved notwithstanding their idolatry and perversion of the Gospel. If that’s what you think i’m claiming…”

    You said: “No, that is not what I think you are claiming.”

    Well, it certainly *LOOKS* like that’s what you think i’m claiming. You said this: “God has made no covenant with unbelievers and bearing a sign does not make one a child of God or Christ’s beloved or united with Christ or even a member of the Covenant of Grace.”

    Well, i never said that the Covenant sign makes one a child of God or Christ’s beloved or makes one (ipso facto) united to Christ in the vital union that saves. However, the Confession you claim to believe says as clearly as it possibly can that baptism officially and solemnly initiates a person into the visible Church. And, because i believe that the visible Church in each administration of the Covenant of Grace is a function of that administration, and because i believe that you can’t take part in the administration of a thing without being part of the thing itself in some sense, i hold that all those who have been baptized are, therefore, members of God’s Covenant. Now, they don’t necessarily partake *SAVINGLY* of the Covenant of Grace, but all of the Reformers are quite clear that even reprobates share in God’s Covenant. The Reformers didn’t share your baptistic understanding of the Covenant of Grace that keeps it exclusively to the elect and/or regenerate in any sense. They rightly said that only the elect will receive all of the saving benefits of the Covenant, but that’s not the same thing at all as saying that only the elect are members of the Covenant of Grace.

    I am a tri-covenantalist, and so i say that the elect and them alone are members of the Covenant of Redemption (roughly synonymous with the invisible Church); all those who are members of the visible Church, which includes elect and non-elect alike, are also members of the Covenant of Grace; and of course, the context in which the Covenant of Grace comes as the historical outworking of the Covenant of Redemption is the Covenant of Life or Works, which Adam broke, and, as you said, all men everywhere are members (and breakers) of it. But that premise itself undercuts your proposition that God does not enter into Covenant with non-believers. In order to be a Covenant breaker, one must be in Covenant with God. All men everywhere, by your own acknowledgement, are Covenant breakers, which means that all men everywhere, including unbelievers, are in Covenant with God. I just happen to affirm the same thing that you affirm of all men with regard to the Covenant of Works to all members of the visible Church with the Covenant of Grace. And, of course, Scripture everywhere affirms that the Israelites broke Covenant with God, which, there again, shows that they are in Covenant with God—not just the Covenant of Works, but of the Covenant of Grace. You can’t *BREAK* Covenant if you’re not *IN* Covenant. If you’re right, there is no such thing as a Covenant breaker, since only the elect are in Covenant, and none of the elect will ever be lost. But that’s precisely what my Baptist friends have always maintained. I just don’t understand what you think is signified and sealed in the baptism of an infant you don’t know is elect or not.

    So, there are some places where there is overlap with me and FVists. We alike agree that non-elect people can be in Covenant, and we both take seriously the affirmation that baptism marks out those who are in Covenant with God. However, i’m a Tri-covenantalist, and they are, at best Bi-covenantalists (if not, as the accusation goes, Mono-covenantalists). I am also an Amillennialist and not a Postmillenialist, which has been overwhelmingly affirmed is part of the warp and woof of the Federal Vision. I am also not a Paedocommunionist, even if i believe that the standards for coming to the table shouldn’t be so stringent as they sometimes are, i still believe that it is for those who make an open profession of their faith in Christ, and not simply for those who have merely the seed of faith, as in the case of Covenant Children. And finally, i hold to presumptive regeneration, whereas the FVists seem to hold to a kind of baptismal regeneration, however they define it (delayed, or whatever).

    I don’t find it necessarily to condemn everything that i disagree with. I don’t have a martyr complex or any kind delusions of being a modern-day Luther the way i’m convinced some people today fancy themselves. However, i do find it necessary to work with people with similar interests and goals to mine toward a closer refinement of the truth.

    I honestly don’t have anything against you or Robbins or anyone else. I don’t have a problem with you disagreeing with me. Just disagree and be done with it. Go and be about the work of the Kingdom instead of thinking to tear down everyone in it who just doesn’t happen to agree with you.

  7. Trey,

    I offered the following in response to Sean’s quote of Calvin on Green Baggins blog. I’ll repost it here.

    Sean,

    When Calvin uses the phrase, “according to the opinion of men”, do you contend that he is saying that this opinion is erroneous? Or could Calvin possibly saying that we as men can only view things historically and outwardly and that this opinion is an opinion we derive from God’s own declaration about His people? Hense Calvin’s following sentence, “Thus, in the writings of the prophets, the Lord calls the people of Israel his vine, because, by outward profession, they had the name of The
    Church.”

    It would seem to me, from a proper reading of Calvin here, that this echoes what Tim is saying (with which I agree), that we operate in light of what is historically and outwardly discernible and we do so precisely because God Himself has ordained it so. He has given us the covenant with it’s associating signs to visibly mark out a people for himself and form this covenant people some have the internal special work of grace and others only have the outward profession and as Calvin himself describes it “an inferior work of the Spirit”, which will eventually fall away or as Christ describes in the parable, these branches will be removed and burned. Therefore, with the exception of church discipline that takes place historically, we will not know who these outward only professors are till the the end.

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West

    P.S. For those interested take at look at these as well. The first is a continuation of Calvin from the same section. The second is Vermigli dealing with the church.
    1. An “Inferior Operation of the Spirit” in the Reprobate – Continued
    2. Worth Quoting – Peter Martyr Vermigli on the Church “Visible/Invisible”

    Blessings in Christ,
    Terry W. West


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