Thursday, May 05, 2005

"Reformed" Catholics?

In answer to your two questions, I don't know the specifics. I assume he doesn't like Warfield because Warfield was a fan of Westcott and Hort.

Textual criticism is a specialized field. This is my take, for what it's worth:

1. Since most conservatives (as well as moderates and liberals) support the principle of an eclectic text, that gives me prima facie reason for believing that it's not a liberal Trojan horse.

2. It seems reasonable to me that you need to evaluate MSS, not merely by numbers, but by antiquity, evident care or carelessness, and the textual tradition to which they belong. If many MSS belong to the same tradition, do we count them as many or one?

3. The issue is, in any case, overblown. Due to the amount of redundant teaching that God has built into the Bible, I don't see that any article of faith is threatened regardless of whether we go TR or eclectic.

<< Have you been following the so called "Reformed Catholics" at all? They have a new website and I was curious of your take. >>

I've not examined this movement in any systematic fashion, although isolated issues have come up. In an effort to answer your question, I gave the website a whirlwind tour. This is my rough first impression.

1. Link to Doug Wilson.

He's a high priest of Auburnism. I think that develops some weak points in Presbyterian theology in a worse direction--hypercovenantal, hypersacramental.

I regard the sacraments as signs of grace, not means of grace.

I don't think their administration either presumes some preexisting spiritual status about the recipient, or effects a change in his spiritual status.

If you want to know my reasoning, read the following essays on my blog:

* Sign or sacrament?

* One faith, one Lord, one baptism

I don't have much use for the category of "covenant children." Although God is more likely to place the elect in a Christian home, election cuts across family lines, with elect children of reprobate parents and reprobate children of elect parents.

There is, unfortunately, in just about every denomination, some quick-deed insurance policy to get your kids into heaven. I regard this as false assurance, which pushes the source of true assurance out of the way.

Auburnism is a recipe for dead formalism. They're going down the same road as stiff-necked Israel.

2. Link to First Things.

Has some useful material, but a commercial for Catholicism. Conservative Catholics can be allies in the culture wars. Doesn't assume that we're brothers in Christ. Some are, some aren't. Trent is still Trent, and Vatican II is a trojan horse for modernism.

3. Link to Touchstone.

Less useful that First Things. Heavy on Catholic piety and ecumenism.

4. Link to Bahnsen's outfit.

A pity if that's being taken over by Auburnites.

4. Sola fide as union with Christ?

No way, Jose! At a practical level, we are justified by faith, not by union with Christ.

There is a sense, in eternity, that we are justified by union with Christ a la election. But that is "activated" by faith.

There is also a sense in which all our salvific blessings can be related to union with Christ, but that doesn't mean that one blessing is contingent upon another, or interchangeable with anotehr, as though justification were contingent on sanctification, or two sides of the same coin. A son and a daughter are related to each other because they're related to a common parent, but that doesn't mean that because their dependent on a common parent, they are dependent on each other, or interchangeable with each other.

Sola fide is clear in Scripture. It is illicit to define justification by a high-level theological construct like union with Christ. You don't define it from the topdown, in terms of theological synthesis, but from the bottom-up, in terms of direct exegesis.

5. The eucharist.

Should our worship be centered on the eucharist? No. This is a word/sign relation. The sacraments are object lessons to illustrate the Word, like an enacted parable.

6. Conciliar?

It's fine to speak and act in concert when we can, but our duty is to follow God's word regardless of whether we have any company.

7. Episcopal?

In my opinion, there is no normative form of church gov't in Scripture. So it's a point of liberty.

So I think it's a pragmatic question. Do what gets the job done--the work of the Lord. I place function over form.

No one thing works all the time. In a sense, every polity is a failure.

i) Episcopacy concentrates power. This gives it the greatest potential for good or for ill. It all depends on who's on top. It is very efficient for good or evil. Once it's taken over by the liberals, it's a lost cause since there is no higher court of appeal.

ii) Congregational. The flip side of episcopacy. Same tradeoffs, but in reverse. Least efficient for good or evil. Often criticized for lack of discipline, but once a topdown polity is corrupted, you have no discipline either--except to persecute the faithful remnant.

Although it's inefficient, it promotes individual initiative and freedom of action. So a lot of work can still get done. You don't need the approval of upper management to get on with the job, and there is no upper management to close you down.

Congregational-type churches go liberal over time as well, but it's much easier to exit the burning building than in prelatial churches.

iii) Presbyterial. This is a randomizing device that averages out the pluses and minuses of topdown and bottom-up polities. Not as good as the best at its best or the worst at its worst.

Has an excellent track-record of building Christian institutions. Downside: remarkably litigious.

8. Ecumenism?

What is there to say? If it could work, it would work.

Bible-believing Christians are already one in the Lord, which is why we get along with each other just fine at an informal level and do a lot of networking.

It is good to debate our differences, but ecumenism puts unity first, answering the question before the question has been asked, and avoids debate since that would be offensive and devisive. Ecumenism is like a gerbil on a wheel--going round and round at a furious pace without going anywhere at all.

Basically, ecumenism is a feel-good club--a group-hug for those whose low-carb creed leaves them shivering for a warm body to snuggle up against.

9. Liturgy?

This is a matter of taste. It often signals a shift away from a word-centered faith.

One problem is that Christians need to be clear on what level of spiritual experience we can expect in this life. We're pilgrims. Heaven lies ahead, not here-and-now. A certain yearning and longing and hunger and thirst is a natural and normal and inevitable part of the walk of faith. For we haven't arrived at our destination. God is not quite absent, but God is not quite present.

Liturgy tends of foster a fake communion with God, a man-made sense of intimacy, confusing smoke-and-mirrors with the Shekinah.

10. Revival?

John Stott once drew a useful distinction between evangelism and revival. Evangelism is something we do. The Church has standing orders to preach the word and reach the lost. Revival is something God does. Revival is heaven-sent. Revival is unpredictable.

Evangelism does not depend on revival. Revival is a bonus. And we should be thankful whenever God sends a revival.

11. The Orthodox way?

If Evangelicals wish to experiment with a particular style of worship, with the aesthetics of EO (e.g., music, visuals), that's fine with me--up to a point. But when they cross over into the theology, that's a grave mistake. Orthodox soteriology is unscriptural--based on an automated sacramental piety. God in a vending machine. And it pads out the diet with ersatz mysticism.

12. Eclecticism?

Theological traditions come in bulky packages. Some of the elements may be directly Scriptural. Other elements are logically interrelated. Still other elements may be unscriptural. Yet other elements are merely conventional. It's a historical accident that they were stuck together in the first place.

For example, there's no logical reason to be a congregationalist and a credobaptist, or a Presbyterian and a paedobaptism--although there may be a Scriptural reason.

So there's nothing necessarily wrong with breaking down these packages and doing a mix-and-match routine. But it has to be Scriptural. And a logical set of beliefs is a take-it-or-leave-it affair.

13. Catholic baptism?

This is a presuppositional issue. It assumes a distinction between valid and invalid or irregular baptism, which, in turn assumes that a sacrament is a means of grace, and that a necessary condition for the valid administration of baptism or communion is a validly ordained minister.

I regard that whole framework as pretty dubious. There is no formal ordination ceremony in Scripture.

There is also a kind of gentleman's agreement in Christendom where almost every church honors every other church's baptism, although they don't honor anything else. I can't see that this is a principled position to take.

A traditional reason for opposing rebaptism is that baptism conferred an indelible mark upon the soul. This, of course, assumes a particular theory of sacramental grace. If you reject it, then there's no a priori impediment to rebaptism.

Do the ancient creeds amount to a credible profession of faith? Not taken by themselves, for they are more interested in the person of Christ than the work of Christ.

In addition, RC theology has a way of negating some of what is true in the ancient creeds.

So I don't think a Catholic can make a credible profession of faith. If he converts to the Evangelical faith, he should be rebaptized.

That, in a nutshell, is my take on "Reformed Catholics."


  1. Dear Mr. Hays:

    Thank you for your overview of "Reformed Catholicism". I am not very familiar with this viewpoint. I agree with your critique at every turn. Your blog is great, thanks for investing so much time into it, I find it very helpful.


  2. Well, c.t., my point is that the way you join the visible church in the NT is to be baptized, so that when an RC converts to Evangelicalism, he is joining the church for the first time, and should therefore submit to the covenant sign of baptism as the outward rite of initiation into the invisible body of Christ. It doesn't save him, and he could be saved without it, but this is a part of Christian discipleship. I hope that clarifies matters.

  3. I drew a distinction between the visible and invisible church. We do not join the invisible church by baptism, but baptism is a NT ordinance that is the membership rite in the visible church, and which signifies (but does not effect) membership in the invisible church.

  4. Water baptism is a NT command. I said nothing about who performs it. It can be performed by a layman, as far as that is concerned.

  5. I was born into and raised in the RLDS church and baptised at eight years old. It wasn't until years later and after college that I became a Christian. I was then baptised as a Christian, should I not have been?

  6. c.t. you said, "then I got to your second-to-last sentence about somebody needing to get rebaptized and I thought: wait a minute, this sounds just like the nonsense of other Christians who see the sacraments rather than Word and the Spirit as the means of regeneration."

    This is the premise that you have set-up and applied to Steve. Then, you go on to attack your own premise rather than Steve's. Are you arguing with yourself or with Steve's position? You even went on basically preaching to...yourself?...concerning other issues of baptism. Can you give a brother the benefit of the doubt or atleast clearly state objections to Steve's position using his actual stated position?

    Also, can you give me your input in what I asked? I will ask again. I was born into and raised in the RLDS church and baptised at eight years old. It wasn't until years later and after college that I became a Christian. I was then baptised as a Christian, should I not have been?


  7. c.t.,

    You just did it again. You set-up a position and applied it to me when you said, "If you think it [baptism] regenerates you you're a duped fool." I never said nor do I believe it. Steve has never claimed this position either, he even denied it.

    When you say, "Regeneration is effected by the Word and the Spirit" what exactly do you mean by Word? Do you mean the Logos as in John 1:1 or do you mean the Word as in the Scriptures?

    One more thing, should a Christian be baptised at all, yes or no and why?


  8. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  9. Interesting stuff, man! I'll definitely be reading your blog from now on!

  10. Just to clarify my overall position one more time:

    1. I affirm that baptism is a dominical command (Mt 28:19-20). We see this mandate carried out all through the Book of Acts. You can use a concordance as well as I.
    2. I deny baptismal regeneration.
    3. I deny that baptism is necessary for salvation.
    4. I deny that baptism is unrepeatable.
    5. I affirm the existence of church office in the NT (e.g., Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Tim 3; Titus 1).
    6. I affirm, on the basis of (5), that it is not illicit for a church officer to administer the sacraments.
    7. I affirm that it is not illicit for a layman to administer the sacraments. Scripture never expressly assigns their administration to a church officer. In the OT, which had priesthood, Passover was a lay rite, celebrated by the pater familias.

    The fact that a divine ordinance can be abused is no excuse to disobey God. My duty is to uphold the whole counsel of God.

    As to the repeated charge of cowardice, you are welcome to your aspersions, but since any position I take is bound to offend someone or another, the charge rings hollow.

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