PCUSA, Papists, etc. - True Church?

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by Romans922, Jun 22, 2018.

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  1. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    THIS QUESTION IS ONLY FOR REFORMED AND PRESBYTERIANS (Read as - Not Baptist, Independents, or Congregationalists).

    The PCUSA is universalist, allows prayer to Allah and denies Sola Christus.

    The Roman Catholics have the Pope who is the antichrist and proclaims a false gospel.

    Now my question that stems I suppose from those who say that Roman Catholic baptism is valid (not arguing that here: for or against), what does the PCUSA and the Papists have to do so that their 'baptism' that they administer is no longer valid? There has to be a point where a 'church' becomes no church at all. What is that point? WCF 25.5 says, "The purest Churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error; and some have so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan."
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2018
  2. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I think the problem is that the mainline churches are all over the map. Some have said that the UCC is the most progressive denomination that calls itself Christian and has historic Christian roots (so excluding the UUA and MCC), but even so, you'll find relatively evangelical congregations within the Calvin Synod for example. Denominations like the PC(USA) have crazy stuff going on in many congregations and their general assemblies, but you still have many ministers and churches who remain orthodox.

    An example is this is a member of the ELCA: http://www.herchurch.org/ (warning: paganism)

    But there are still congregations of the ELCA that teach the gospel.

    I think this is becoming less and less true as you see more denominations forming to try to escape the mainlines (recent ones like ECO for Presbyterians, ACNA for Episcopalians, and NALC for Lutherans started more in reaction to gay marriage particularly, I think), but some have not yet made it out. I think the average (older) congregants of some denominations is still more conservative than the vocal leaders pushing for new agendas. And many rural churches are holding onto older ministers or going without because of such silliness. In fact, in my congregation, there are some very recent refugees from being life long members of the PC(USA).
  3. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    For me, the red line is whether they have anathematized the gospel or not. Rome did that at Trent. There is debate about whether the PCUSA has done so or not. For me, the jury is still out.
  4. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Sure but you are a baptist! And I would expect nothing less from a baptist than to say that, which is why I was limiting the conversation to others. :)
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  5. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    :judge:The OP intent was to limit this discussion to Presbyterian and Reformed folk.:judge:
  6. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I ask all of you here posting to forgive me, and I have now deleted all of my postings on this OP.
  7. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    David, my fault, I wasn't clear. No need to ask for forgiveness. I corrected the OP to make it more clear.
  8. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    If you are asking for my personal view, the issue is one of apostasy. Being an apostate, one once had the truth. For Rome, they were given the truth. Rome is still “a church” but an apostate church. They have the form of baptism and thus I find their baptism “acceptable”, in that sense.

    Unless the PCUSA stopped baptizing people in the form of the trinitarian baptism, I don’t see them as different than Rome.
  9. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    The issue is not baptism. The question stems from my thoughts about the validity of certain baptisms, but it is not the question I’m asking here. The question is: when has a church gone so far as to be considered no church at all (a synagogue of Satan), as our Standards teach?
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2018
  10. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I would say that a Christian is no longer a Christian when he ceases to profess the true religion.

    Likewise, a church becomes a non-church when it ceases to profess the true religion. In the Bible, we see people who call on the name of the Lord being considered God's people, even in times of great apostasy and merely formal profession and hypocrisy. (I think this insight can be found in Bannerman's Church of Christ.)

    The profession of the true religion is the fundamdentals of Christianity: that which is essential to Christianity that makes it Christian and which lacking, becomes non-Christian. As is known, the exact limits of the fundamentals is difficult to determine. Certainly, the Trinity, deity of Christ, and the Incarnation are among them.

    Rutherford (who held to the validity of the Papist baptism) viewed the church of Rome as a false church (he discusses this in Due Right of Presbyteries). Rutherford said that Rome professes the true religion, but it teaches and practices so many contrary things so as to undermine and strike against the fundamentals, i.e., strikes against and denies the truth that it professes with its mouth. Or in other words, it professes the true religion falsely. Hence, it is a false church, not a non-church. Worse, it was once a true church, so it is also an apostate church. Worse still, it is headed by Antichrist. Rutherford said the next ecumenical council should excommunicate the church of Rome.

    Nevertheless, Rome is not a non-church, and enough of the truth is professed so as to bring salvation to individuals within the Papist communion: as there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church, so there is an ordinary possibility of salvation within the Papal church. Having saved them, the Lord will lead them out into a true church.

    I would say that the fundamentals are those things contained in the catholic creeds; I don't recall if people like Rutherford said that though. These catholic creeds delimit the fundamentals of Christianity according to and with the authority of ecumenical church councils. Those who do not confess them are not within Christian bounds, even as those who do not confess a Reformed confession are not within Reformed bounds.

    The same reasoning would apply to the PCUSA. So far as I'm aware, they still profess the true religion (holding to the catholic faith), but like apostate Israel of old they are worshipping false gods also. They are therefore a grossly corrupt and apostate false church, but not a non-church yet.

    As for when some former church becomes a synagogue of Satan, it depends on whether we mean "non-church" or "false church." A church becomes a false church by a false profession of the true religion (professing fundamentals but so undermining and corrupting them to regard the profession as false). A church becomes a non-church by not professing the true religion at all. Thinking in terms of this language, with regards to its false profession, the church of Rome can be considered falsely constituted and therefore no church at all. However, the catholic visible church (to which the ordinances and ministry are given) extends beyond the bounds of particular churches, and the catholic visible church still exists within the church of Rome. So, due to this and due to Rome's profession of the fundamentals (and also its ministry and baptism, which were considered to have their essential form and so valid, since they are relative to the catholic visible church, not particular churches), it still retains the form of a church and is regarded as a church in that sense. Hence, you find people like Calvin and Turretin using this sort of language with regards to Rome (and very likely, WCF 25.5 too, since Antichrist is said to exalt himself in the church, and Rev 18:4 shows God's people were in it).

    Note: In using the terminology, "true" and "false" church are judgments that can only be pronounced on particular churches. It is not a judgment that identifies whether a church or individual is a member of the visible catholic church or whether the visible catholic church exists within an entity. So one could say that Rome (a particular church) is a member of the visible catholic church (since it professes the true religion), but can say without hesitation or qualification that it is a false church. Because the ministry and ordinances are relative to the catholic visible church, it is possible for a false particular church to have a valid ministry and administration.

    Quotation from Puritan Sermons or Morning Exercises (vol. 6, pp. 47, 48), by Peter Vinke. From an earlier thread.


    But more particularly as to "the church of Rome" (for so we call them that, professing to hold the Christian faith, are united in subjection and obedience unto that see, and do acknowledge the pope their universal pastor): when we call them "a church," we mean no more than that they are a society or company of men who make profession that they are Christians. Thus the Laodiceans are called "a church" (Rev. 3:14), though they were "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," and we do not read of a sound part amongst them (verse 17). Thus God himself calls the ten tribes his people, after their defection, by reason of circumcision, which they yet retained, and their being the offspring of Jacob (Hosea 4:6). In this sense, soundness of faith is no more essential to a church, than health is to a man. And as a man that hath the plague or leprosy is still a man, though to be shunned; so they may be thus a church, though by all means to be forsaken. But as they themselves take a church for "a company of true believers joined together in communion," so they are no church, their faith being far from the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ."
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2018
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  11. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior


    Are you using the terms true and false to express verity or fidelity? Would you say that Rome is truly a church (in terms of verity), but is a false church (in terms of fidelity)?
  12. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    Yes, I suppose that in the end I am saying it is true in terms of verity and false in terms of fidelity. However, I am hesitant to use such language, since true/false church is usually used with respect to the marks of a church (i.e., a false church is one that lacks or grievously corrupts the marks [depends on the exact manner in which one states the marks, I suppose]), and so that was the way I intended to use the true/false terminology. I even hesitate to say Rome is a true church in being (unless I review the definition/how Bannerman and Rutherford use it), since it is the mere form of a church that remains (Rutherford would instead say that Rome is materially a church): a society of people professing the true religion, along with having something of Christian ordinances and ministry remaining.

    Nevertheless, it is also true that separation--where the fundamentals are professed--is more a matter of degrees, rather than of sharp lines. Perhaps because of this, Rutherford was able to (polemically) say that Rome was a true church in so far as it had a ministry true in essence (the essentially true ministry is what made Rome a true church insofar as that was the case), and that the Reformed church did not separate from Rome's ministry or ordinances insofar as they were ordinances of Christ.
  13. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    I don't see how Rome can be called a true church in any sense of the word. Not only do they preach a false gospel of works, but they condemn the true gospel. They kicked out the Reformers. I don't know what more they would need to do to qualify as false in every sense. Just because they retain the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ does not mean that they are a true church. Surely, a true doctrine of salvation is necessary also for a church to be true!
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  14. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    The Scots took as tough of a stand as any in their 1560 Confession of Faith (§22) noting they rejected and separated from the RCC's sacraments. Yet five years later when the issue came up which is usually attached to this question (yes, I know, the thread is not about baptism), as whether to rebaptize, they said no need. The GA answered the question that when the young, who had been baptized by a priest prior to 1560, were examined for partaking of the Lord's supper, and they had learned to and did actually reject the RCC teaching on the sacraments, baptism was not to be re-administered, "for no papists ministers baptisme [e.g. baptize] without water, and some form of word, which are the principals of the external sign. We ourselves were baptized by papists whose corruptions and abuses now we damn, cleaving only to the simple ordinance of Jesus Christ, and to the virtue of the Holy Spirit, which makes baptism to work in us the proper effects thereof, without any reiteration of the external sign" (spelling updated) Book of the Universall Kirk, volume 1, p. 75. Thus there is really little difference in the first Scottish Reformers and their later theologians such as Rutherford.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2018
  15. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    So I take it you examine those partaking of The Lord's Supper with what exactly, if you hold that a baptism is not valid if done in a RC church? The idea that this baptism is not valid seems to be a huge issue and can only create schism.
  16. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Earl, I was not opining on the (admittedly closely related) topic of whether Rome's baptism is valid. Andrew's OP was about the line a church has to cross in order to become apostate. So, in going back to that topic, what would, say, Rome have to do that they have not yet done in order to become a completely false church? I say that they have crossed it and are a synagogue of Satan. Do you believe that they are still part of the true visible church?
  17. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    No one on the side of the validity of Rome's baptism or on the side that views Rome as part of the visible catholic church is arguing that Rome is a true church. It is a false church in every sense. It is an apostate church. This is agreed upon by all sides. However, the visible catholic church extends beyond any particular church to all who profess the true religion and their children, and the ordinances belong to the visible catholic church. The argument on this side is that Rome has not crossed the line to exit the visible catholic church and that true/false only apply to particular churches: if it did cross that line, it would be non-Christianity or some non-church society of people in which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation; instead, it is corrupted Christianity and a false and corrupted church and individuals can have an ordinary possibility of salvation within that church (due to the truth that Rome does profess).

    I re-iterate that I would see the line of becoming a false church being the line of apostasy: preaching a false gospel, teaching against and undermining the fundamentals.

    The line of becoming a non-church is no longer professing the fundamentals.

    I see the creeds as having the gospel in rudimentary form, as do the Christian Scriptures that Rome holds to which the creeds give an Christian interpretation (contra things like Mormonism). Rome creates a contradiction by teaching other things that are against this foundation that it professes: including its profession of the true gospel in the creeds and Scriptures.
  18. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Professor

    Officially I would say they are a false church with some congregations or particular congregants true Christians. Some may think this is a crazy line of thought, but knowing many RC's I have come to this conclusion with todays "folk Catholicism". Take for instance my parents who a few years ago heard a RC priest boldly say with his fingers waged toward everyone at a mass say "There ain't none of us getting to heaven by works".
  19. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but I see no reformed creeds that speak of “false churches” as distinct from “no church(es).” Where would I go to find a reformed creed/confession that clearly shows a category for “false church?”

    WCF 25.5 does speak of a true church and one that is not a true church.
  20. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    I, at least, don't know of any. The closest I can think of is the Belgic in its discussion of a true and false church and the marks of a true and false Christian. Of course, there were plenty of authors who discussed this, as you know, e.g., Turretin, Rutherford. And of course, WCF does not speak in terms of true and false church explicitly, although the concept is there.

    I think it may largely be a matter of common sense, so perhaps that is one reason it was not an issue to discuss in the confessions. A falsely professing Christian is in a different state from an atheist or anyone who professes something other than Christianity. The (visibly; some false professions are not easily detectable) falsely professing Christian is one who, although professing Christianity, so goes against Christian fundamentals in word and deed that one cannot consider that Christian's profession to be true. Such a Christian is eventually excommunicated if their sin is scandalous and repentance is not found. Likewise, a falsely professing church (a false church) is a different entity from an atheistic or pagan or heathen assembly or society, and there comes a point where the false church must be excommunicated.

    Nevertheless, I would note that WCF 25.6 does say Antichrist (the Pope of Rome) exalts himself in the Church. It is impossible for this to be the case if a false church/synagogue of Satan is no different from a heathen or pagan assembly or society (more specifically, it is impossible unless Antichrist is in the Church in some way; we do not consider Islam or Buddhism to exalt themselves in the Church, since they are not part of the visible catholic church).

    Also, WCF 25.2 teaches about the visible catholic church: the only requirement for membership in it is profession of the true religion, and it thereby extends beyond particular churches (oracles-, ordinances-, and ministry-organized portions of the visible catholic church). WCF 25.3 teaches that the oracles, ordinances, and ministry particularize parts of the organic body into a particular church, which WCF 25.4 says are also to be considered members of the visible catholic church. This view of catholicity and this view of particularization then makes it possible for members of the visible catholic church to be present in a false particular church (Rev. 18). Although maybe not required by the language of the confession, since particular churches are members of the visible catholic church, it is also possible to view false particular churches as members of the visible catholic church in some sense, in the sense that they still profess the true religion (while affirming that in another sense--namely as they are false--they are not): howbeit, degenerate, cancerous members of the body that need to be cut off for the body's health.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2018
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