The Papists, the Turks, and the Jews...
"...we affirm our fundamental unity with all the saints within the body of Christ, including those in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches..." -Trinity Reformed Church
(Tim) It's hip today for a man to identify himself with the "ancient" Christian church and faith. The early ecumenical creeds and the writing of the early church fathers are all the rage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I sense this movement often carries with it a dismissal of church history between the first centuries and today. It's as if all that happened in the intervening millenia and a half is brushed aside. The Reformation and Council of Trent were only bad dreams; it's time to wake up and smell the roses.
For instance, Trinity Reformed Church (where PCA pastor Peter Leithart serves) just issued a Statement on Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Reformed Catholicity which begins...
One holy, catholic and apostolic Church
Trinity Reformed Church recognizes itself as part of the ancient Christian Church established by the apostles, rejoicing in the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jud. 1:3). We are thankful for the fellowship we share with all the faithful in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church throughout the ages. We affirm with the apostle that there is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:5). Therefore with the holy fathers, we confess that one faith as it has been handed down in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Athanasian Creed. On this basis we cheerfully recognize the Trinitarian baptisms of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians, receive them (and all others who confess this ancient faith) to our celebration of the Eucharist, and warmly welcome them into membership in our congregation.
So, if I'm getting this right, the "one faith" of the "holy fathers" is the "basis" on which we all should "recognize the Trinitarian baptisms of (today's) Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christians."
Note carefully: Trinity Reformed is not saying the Ecumenical Creeds alone provide that basis, but that the "one faith" which was faithfully transmitted through the Ecumencial Creeds is still the one faith today which provides the basis for Sacramental unity between Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Reformed. Try as I might, I can't see any way to avoid concluding that Trinity Reformed believes in a continuity of orthodoxy from the church fathers down to Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism today.
Or maybe they meant a continuity of rituals and ceremonies done with the proper words--baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for instance?
So why didn't Calvin and Luther sue Rome for peace? The Pope accepted the Ecumenical Creeds. And the Papists' baptisms were Trinitarian, weren't they? Spend two minutes in his Institutes and it's clear no one needed to push Calvin to live and breath the church fathers. Also, following Augustine, am I right that Bernard of Clairvaux is his most frequently-cited source?
What's wrong with the Reformers, then, that they said Papists had to renounce Rome and her false doctrine before they could enter what the Reformers always referred to as the "true church" of the Reformation--in contradistinction to the "false church" of Rome.
With great consistency the Reformers lumped Papists, Turks, and Jews together, saying they all shared the same emphasis and trust in ritual and ceremony, the same "idolatrous" system of salvation by works and law rather than faith in Jesus Christ. So why is this theme absent from today's love fest of Patristics and church unity?
I think it's the bubbling up of that little word "cheerfully" that most sticks in my craw. Biblical Christians have argued over the efficacy of Roman Catholic baptism for centuries, but Trinity Reformed cheerfully issues her statement and all is well. Or, almost all. Later in the statement, warnings are issued to each group of schismatics, including a denunciation of "liturgical idolatry." But really, I would think it's precisely this--"liturgical idolatry" or faith in rituals and ceremonies--that Calvin and Luther would warn against if they saw Reformation brothers "cheerfully" welcoming Roman Catholics who refuse to renounce the idolatry and heresy of Roman Catholicism into membership in their churches and Lord's Table fellowship.
Not a hint of renunciation in this commitment of Trinity Reformed to "receive them (and all others who confess this ancient faith) to our celebration of the Eucharist, and warmly welcome them into membership in our congregation."
Further, going beyond their commitment to accept Orthodox and Roman Catholics to membership and the Lord's Table, Trinity Reformed rebukes those who won't join her in this commitment for "disparaging the validity of the ordinations or sacraments of other churches that worship our Triune God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ."
Then, this statement:
Individuals who join communions that effectively excommunicate their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters contradict their search for catholicity, and ironically, the goal of unity comes at the expense of further divisions in the body of Christ. We desire to be of one mind with all the saints, not by coercion, but by the same patient love of our brothers and sisters shown by Christ in His patient love for His Bride, the Church.
But actually, that's not what they wrote. Rather, they didn't refer to "Roman Catholic," but "Protestant brothers and sisters:"
Individuals who join communions that effectively excommunicate their Protestant brothers and sisters contradict their search for catholicity, and ironically, the goal of unity comes at the expense of further divisions in the body of Christ. We desire to be of one mind with all the saints, not by coercion, but by the same patient love of our brothers and sisters shown by Christ in His patient love for His Bride, the Church.
By way of contrast, imagine Trinity Reformed adding any of the following quotes as an appendix to her statement, or using them as supporting text within the statement itself:
Thus in all ages it has been everywhere a prevailing opinion, that although all men are infected with sin, they are at the same time adorned with merits which are calculated to procure for them the favor of God, and that although they provoke his wrath by their crimes, they have expiations and satisfactions in readiness to obtain their absolution. This delusion of Satan is equally common among Papists, Turks, Jews, and other nations. (Calvin on Psalm 32:1,2)
And so we see that when we once know the benefits brought to us by Christ, and which he daily offers us by his gospel, we must also be joined to him by faith. For the Jews, Turks and Papists, and all such like, are cut off and estranged from Christ and rot away in their own corruption, because they presume to work wonders of themselves. For it is a common principle among the Papists, Jews, Turks and all the heathen that ever were, that they must appease God’s wrath. And how? By a great variety of means of their own devising, and of every man’s imagining in his own brain. Such men, therefore, have no part in Christ. Wherefore, if faith is the key that opens the door to enjoy the treasure of which St. Paul has just spoken, then that is how we shall be made as rich as is necessary for our salvation, so that we shall not lack anything if we are joined to Christ by faith. (Calvin on Ephesians 1:7-10)
For the gospel teaches that the Christian religion is by far something other and more sublime than showy ceremonies, tonsures, hoods, pale countenances, fasts, feasts, canonical hours, and that entire show of the Roman church throughout the world. Indeed, in all these things the Turks are by far superior. Nevertheless, they continue to deny and ardently persecute Christ, no less than our papists deny and persecute him. May they finally then grasp this truth, namely, that the Christian religion is by far something other than good customs or good works. For this book shows that the Turks are far superior to our Christians in these things as well.
So now be off with you, you tyrants and pontiffs, and for the sake of faith in Christ—i.e., for the sake of your ceremonies—kill, burn, suffocate, proscribe, and rage in full force, since here you see that the splendor of your ceremonies is no splendor at all alongside the excellent splendor of the Turks and that your customs are clearly an abomination when compared to theirs. Accordingly, it is likewise as a kind of apology for our gospel that we are publishing this book.
For now I understand the reason why the Turkish religion is so concealed by the papists, why only base things are told of them. It is because they sense what in fact is true, that, if it should come to the point of arguing about religion, the whole papistry with all its trappings would fall. Nor would they be able to defend their own faith and at the same time refute the faith of Muhammad, since then they would have to refute those things that they themselves most approve and for which they most strive, and defend those things that the followers of Muhammad most approve and for which they most strive. (Luther's 1530 Preface to his Libellus de ritu et moribus Turcorum, "Tract on the Religion and Customs of the Turks.")
I'm sorry to say this, but it's exceedingly difficult for me not to see this statement of Trinity Reformed as one more manifestation of the truth of Allen Bloom's observation that the only so-called "value" left in America today is the duty we all have to get along with one another. It's inconceivable to me that signatories to such a document would write of the similarities between the pomp and circumstance of Papists and Saracens.
Rather than talk of Trinitarian baptism, reformed pastors might consider this exhortation from our Westminster fathers. Just prior to the sermon each Lord's Day,
...the Minister who is to preach is ...to pray for the propagation of the Gospel and Kingdom of Christ to all nations; for the conversion of the Jews; the fullness of the Gentiles; the fall of Antichrist; and...for the deliverance of the distressed churches abroad from the tyranny of the antichristian faction, and from the cruel oppressions and blasphemies of the Turk... (The Westminster Assembly’s Directory for the Public Worship of God)