Machen on Christian Fellowship

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Puritan Board Sophomore
Has anyone come across J. Gresham Machen's view on the maintenance of Christian fellowship with the existence of differences?

Amongst Eschatology and the Lord's Supper, he includes the division between Rome and Evangelical Protestantism, where he says, 'Yet how great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today! We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.'

At one level he may seem to be saying that there is more truth in liberalism than Roman Catholicism, but given the context of the maintenance of Christian fellowship where there is difference, it almost suggests that he would consider the RC church as Christian.

I would appreciate thoughts from others as to how you would view this.

The book can be found Here and the relevant section from page 48 onwards.
I have noticed many RC's do indeed agree with us on the creeds while not denying the essential doctrine of faith alone because they are trusting in Him alone and not following the official teachings of the RC "church". Now "protestant" liberalism almost denies all the creeds along with faith alone as a general rule. What is interesting is one will find many more Christians in a RC "church" than a typical protestant liberal "church" because the later teaches against the creeds and faith alone from the pulpit. The typical RC mass has little "teaching" for their service but a lot of scripture reading...praise be to God.
At one level he may seem to be saying that there is more truth in liberalism than Roman Catholicism, but given the context of the maintenance of Christian fellowship where there is difference, it almost suggests that he would consider the RC church as Christian.

I believe his point is to show that liberalism is not merely a perversion of Christianity, but is actually in opposition to Christianity. So as bad as Roman Catholicism is (it's a perversion of Christianity, getting many essential things wrong), liberalism is even worse. Liberalism takes critical truths that even Catholics would affirm and asserts the opposite.

In my experience, when it comes to finding agreement with others, Machen is right. I can talk to Catholics or teach their kids about the gospel and most of them are generally appreciative. They largely agree in concept with important ideas such as substitutionary atonement, repentance, and who Jesus is. True liberals, though, quickly get annoyed when I speak of such things. They don't want to hear about the wrath of God that requires a sacrifice, or about turning from sin, or about the Son of God who became man. Indeed, they are in opposition to Christianity in many ways that Catholics are not.
Though a liberal RC can be worse than a liberal protestant. This is the horror of horrors.
Thanks both for the responses.
Jack, I appreciate your second paragraph and I can see that Roman Catholics would agree with many important truths and for that reason would be more open to discourse than liberals may be. That's a very good point.

In relation to your first paragraph, would it not be the case that however much agreement we might get from Roman Catholics on any number of issues, they are wrong on justification and with that wrong on Christ and wrong on the Gospel. That would in turn mean that, similarly to liberalism, Roman Catholicism, is not merely a perversion but a false religion in opposition to Christianity.

Would you consider Machen's comments to give room for considering Roman Catholicism, despite errors, as part of the true church or am I not picking up the thrust of what he's saying here?
I don't think Machen intends, in that book, to set forth his stance on Catholicism, so I think we miss the point Machen is trying to make if we take that comment and try to determine from it how he regards the Catholic church. If he'd wanted to tell us, he'd have dealt with that more directly. Perhaps his other writings say something, but I'm not familiar enough with them to know. Someone else here might be.

I think it's helpful if, rather than simply label groups as "opposed" or "not opposed" to the gospel, we acknowledge that some are more opposed than others. A good Presbyterian might say that Wiccans are more opposed to the gospel than are Catholics, who're more opposed than Arminians... and yet all are opponents of the gospel in some sense. Acknowledging degrees of opposition helps us see how to approach people in each group and keeps us from becoming jerks who can't admit that our opponents do get some things right.

So, yeah, we certainly could say Catholicism is opposed to the gospel—but not to the same extent that some others are, which is often a helpful distinction to make. It might be unwise, then, to apply the same label to both. If you don't like the words I chose, you could probably come up with some that are clearer. But I do think acknowledging some distinction between those who affirm God's law/sin/atonement/Trinity and those who don't is called for.
I take your point that the force of Machen's comments weren't intended to deal with Catholicism. I just wonder whether he might have been a bit more careful in his wording to avoid leaving it open to read as if Roman Catholicism was part of the true church. Would anyone be able to clear up Machen's position on Roman Catholicism?

That said Jack, as I say I appreciate the helpful distinction you're making concerning degrees of opposition :up:
Not sure if this is helpful but could J.Gresham Machen's assertions been in the context of the debacle that created the OPC ? Here is a brief article reviewing some of those facts. Even more, also from the OPC website, on Reverend Machen and his writings here.
I think Machen is saying that one can be a Roman Catholic and a Christian. The two may be inconsistent, but one can hold them because Roman Catholics worship the same God we do. However, the God of liberalism is not the God of Christianity.
I don't know enough about Machen to know whether he intended this or not, but I understand the statement as making a distinction between a corruption of the true religion and a false religion. From what I understand, the Roman Church traditionally was viewed as being a member of the catholic visible church (so Antichrist exalts himself in the church), but it would be seen as a false particular church. Hence, it is a corrupt and false church, not a non-church (though in another context, the vocabulary seems to allow one to say that a false church is not a church at all, while still recognizing its membership in the catholic visible church; or maybe when using that language, one could only say the catholic visible church exists within Rome?). Thinking in these terms, it would seem Machen would view liberalism as not being in the catholic visible church and so a non-church and not Christianity at all? Which I guess is basically the same thing as what Philip said above.
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