Sunday, February 03, 2013

Rome is a dialog partner that is not to be trusted

In a post entitled “Of Catholicity and Confusion”, Scott Clark reports on a USCCB (US Catholic Conference of Bishops) 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”, through the aid of what he calls “the mediating/hosting organization, Christian Churches Together.”

This is a non-event for a lot of reasons, and Clark nails it at the end:

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.

On the other side, news of the “agreement” prompted Bryan Cross to post the pithily-titled article, “Catholic Church and Four Reformed Denominations Agree to Recognize the Validity of Each Other’s Baptisms.”

And this he posted right at the top of his regular front-page feature, “Christian Unity in the News”. [Most of the artciles in this list refer to a Roman overture to wayward Anglican churches entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus, a program by which Anglicans are snookered into believing that they can find “unity” with Roman Catholicism, while still retaining their Anglican identity. More on this below]

But it is a non-event. Generally, Reformed denominations have not required Roman Catholics joining Reformed churches to be re-baptized [and Clark cites Berkhof to this effect], and nor has the Roman Catholic church required baptized Reformed individuals converting to Rome to be rebaptized. Citing CCC §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.”

It brings up the larger question, “why bother trying to do business with the Roman Catholic Church, in any event.

Again, Clark correctly identifies the useless nature of the USCCB: “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.”

But further to that, if these [Reformed] folks did get a chance to negotiate with anyone significant in Rome, it’s pretty clear that they’d end up with the bitter taste of dust in their mouths.

In recent years, there have been a number of these “from-the-ground-up” types of agreements, such as the ECT series, the “Joint Declaration” with [some] Lutherans on Justification, and so on.

While some of these “breakthroughs” get reported, the real substance is that, negotiation with Rome will get you nowhere.

For example, one of the biggest proponents of our time, of trying to get “Evangelicals and Catholics Together”, wrote with genuine disappointment at Rome’s failure to endorse the “Joint Declaration”. He wrote in an article entitled Setback in Rome:

In June the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) formally approved a “Joint Declaration” (JD) on the doctrine of justification that had been worked out over many years of theological dialogue with the Catholic Church. Shortly after that, Rome made its official response in a joint statement issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity (CCU). These developments received considerable play in the general media with stories about an “historic agreement” on the chief doctrine that had separated Lutherans and Catholics for almost five hundred years. The reality is somewhat more complicated than that.

Rome did officially “receive” JD in the sense that it affirmed that very significant progress had been made in removing past misunderstandings, and in moving toward full agreement on what it means to say that the sinner is justified by faith. However, many of the Catholics and Lutherans involved in producing JD are saying—mainly off the record, for the present—that the Roman response is, in the most important respects, a rejection of the declaration.
JD proposed that, with the new understandings achieved by the dialogue, the mutual condemnations of the sixteenth century no longer apply, and remaining differences over the doctrine of justification are not church-dividing. The Roman statement does not accept that proposal.

It would be an understatement to say that the theologians involved in the dialogue, both Lutheran and Catholic, were taken aback by the Roman response.
During the process, Rome had indicated problems with aspects of the declaration and, almost up to the last minute, revisions were made to take those concerns into account. The participants in the dialogue thought they had been assured that JD would be approved by Rome. Certainly that was the understanding that informed the LWF's approval of the declaration. In the immediate aftermath of the statement by CDF and CCU, the mood among dialogue participants was bitter and despondent. One Lutheran pioneer of the dialogue declared that the theologians, both Lutheran and Catholic, had been “betrayed” by Rome. For decades to come, he predicted, it would be impossible to reestablish confidence in any theological dialogue with the Catholic Church.

I’ve bolded key sections from Neuhaus. Rome will smile and nod, and smile and nod, and just when you think that some agreement has been reached, they say “no, it’s our way or the highway”, and you get to experience the bitterness of “buyer’s remorse”.

Fr. Robert Hart, an writer for Touchstone Magazine and at the blog The Continuum (referring to a “continuum” of Anglicans whose efforts revolve around “continuing” to understand and hold the doctrines of the historical Church of England), wrote in a characteristically “uncharitable” blog post entitled Baiticum and Switchorum (That’s “Bait-and-Switch” for those who don’t understand Latin):

"What this means for the average small [Anglican] parish thinking of accepting the offer is that the entire parish will no longer have autonomy.

*[you] will begin Roman catechism for 2 years, [your] clergy will step down and become laymen and will have to complete their education if lacking before being able to serve anyone; your buildings, if any, will need to be disposed of.

*you will be directed to a local RC Diocese since ours are far flung and overlapping many RC dioceses in between.

*you will likely be directed to a local RC parish (100 families is the minimum standard for a RC parish) for worship in the early am.

* you will be somewhat segregated from the RC congregation.

* your priest if he can pass muster will be counted on to do Vatican II services as directed by the local Bishop (so don't count on the level of pastoral care you had before.)

*your children will learn Roman Catholicism, you will die, the Roman Church will go on as before and that will be the end of that….

Let us be clear. Unlike the "uniates" and "rites," former Anglicans will not have their own church within the Church. They will be absorbed, but with permission to use something different, but as of yet undefined.

Rome=”The Borg”. Lots of folks don’t yet know this, however.


  1. Rome will smile and nod, and smile and nod, and just when you think that some agreement has been reached, they say “no, it’s our way or the highway”, and you get to experience the bitterness of “buyer’s remorse”.

    So it seems that the Roman church is uncompromising. What else would one expect?

    Why do we need "dialogue?" Why do we need to keep having dialogue after dialogue after discussion after discussion to try to convince ourselves that the gulf between Rome and Protestants is a mere misunderstanding? Is the Tiber merely a semantic issue? It seems to me like repeated efforts at "dialogue" are assuming this. That is my humble opinion, admitting that I have had very little exposure to Rome or its apologists.

    Would that Protestants quit seeking "dialogue" with error and just, for once, stand uncompromisingly for truth.

    1. Hi Justin -- Some Roman Catholic apologists, especially the Called to Communion folks who have posted the "unity" chart above, are deadly serious about bringing Reformed believers into the fold. Note this paragraph from their posting guidelines:

      Since truth and love go together, make sure that your comments arise from a genuine love for the persons about whom (or to whom) you are speaking. It is a good habit to pray for the person you are writing to (or about) both before and after you write your comment. Pray that you will be united with this person in the Body of Christ. If you are criticizing another participant’s claim or position, address your criticism to that person in the second-person; don’t speak about that person in the third-person. Speaking about another participant as though that person is not present is impolite, and suggests that you wish only to criticize a person, and not to be reconciled with that person in the truth.

      This is to be a forum wherein unity is pursued in the context of humility, charity, respect and prayer. For that reason, ad hominems are not allowed. That means that you may not criticize or insult or belittle or judge or mock any person, his character, intelligence, education, background, or motivations. Attacking persons is fallacious and uncharitable and will not be permitted here.

      I'm with you -- I'm all for seeing Protestants stand uncompromisingly for Biblical Truth. However, there are quite a few Protestants these days who are buying the story that these Called to Communion folks are putting out. So we just have to keep plugging away.

    2. John-

      I've spent a little bit of time looking over CtC articles. I'm new to this portion of the blogosphere, being introduced to it when I heard about that ex-Reformed minister who wrote "I fought the church and the church won" (I forget his name right now).

      I can have dialogue with folks who disagree with me, but it seems based on what you quoted from CtC and what I have read, that many times people are using the word "unity" solely for its emotive value. After all, who doesn't want unity?!! What seems to me to be often meant by the term "unity" is more accurately put as "coming to an RC understanding of the faith," because if everyone is being wholly honest, Rome isn't budging one bit for "unity" with Protestants.

      Thanks for your site. It is helping me greatly in my walk and in learning.


    3. Thanks Justin. The individual you are talking about is Jason Stellman. And I would nuance what you said about "unity" - yes, they do use the word for emotional purposes, but they also intend to male converts out of all of us. That is their view of "unity".