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The following article is extracted from Charles Hodge’s review of the 1845 General Assembly in which, in complete opposition to all other Reformed churches, the Presbyterian Church decided to not recognize the validity of Roman Catholic baptisms. Charles Hodge rose to defend the Reformed view in the summer issue of the Princeton Review that year in his regular annual essay on the General Assembly. This extract mainly deals with the question as to whether Roman Catholic priests count as ministers of the Gospel. Charles Hodge also deals with the question of whether or not the Romand Catholic Church should be considered a part of the true Church. However, since we have published another work by the author on this subject, it seemed unnecessary to cover that argument here.

I would also remind readers that God really does hate idolatry. Even though there is much evidence that God regarded the Northern Kingdom of Israel as his covenant people even when the nation was worshiping him at unauthorized shrines, there is every reason to believe that a decision on the part of a man living in Jerusalem to move up north so he could offer sacrifices at one of the golden calves would be regarded by God as an act of high-handed apostasy. Likewise, even though the Apostle Paul regarded the Corinthians as Christians and assured them that they were each members of the body of Christ (chapter 12), he also warned them against idolatry, saying they would provoke the Lord to jealousy so that he would destroy them just as he destroyed his own covenant people in the wilderness when they worshiped at the golden calf (chapter 10).

I post this article in the interest of disentangling Presbyterians from what I see as the pervasive influence of an Americanist “fundamentalism” that is lacking in a sense of history and ecclesiology. Baptist apologists for Protestantism often write polemical works with no commitment to the historical continuity of the church through the ages. In our present milieu, anything that might possibly lead to viewing Roman Catholics as “Christians” of some sort is regarded as some sort of self-evident departure from the Reformed Faith. We need to recover an othodox and confessional sense of where the “baseline” is before we evaluate such proposals. –Mark Horne

Copyright © 2003

Romish baptism fulfills all the conditions of valid baptism, as given in our standards. It is a washing with water in the name of the Trinity, with the ostensible and professed design of making the recipient a member of the visible church, and a partaker of its benefits. On what grounds then is it declared to be null and void?

Therefore Romish baptism is invalid.

It may be proper, before considering his argument, to ascertain the precise point to be proved, or what is meant by the words valid and invalid in this connexion. They seem often to be used in the sense of regular and irregular. Christ has appointed a certain class of men to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. For any one not belonging to this class, to perform either service, is irregular, and in that sense invalid. Valid, however, properly means available (able to effect). A thing is valid when it avails to its appropriate end. Thus a deed is valid, which avails to convey a title to property; a marriage is valid, which avails to constitute the conjugal relation. Sometimes the validity of a thing depends upon its regularity; as a deed if not regular, if not made according to law, does not avail for the end for which it was made. Very often however, the validity of a thing does not depend upon the rules made to regulate the mode of doing it. Many marriages are valid, which violate the rules of decorum, order, and even civil society. When Romish baptism is pronounced invalid, it is not declared simply irregular, in the sense in which lay-preaching is unauthorized; but it is said not to avail to the end for which baptism was institnted; it does not avail to make the recipient a professing Christian. Though a sincere believer should be baptized by a Romanist, such baptism would not signify or seal to him the benefits of the new covenant, nor express his purpose to obey Christ. Such is the declaration.

The first argument in support of this position is founded on the assumption that no baptism is valid, in the sense just explained, unless administered by a duly ordained minister of Christ. We do not mean to contest this proposition, and must not be understood as denying it, but we say its truth ought to have been proved and not taken for granted. Our standards do not affirm it. They say indeed that “neither sacrament may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the word lawfully ordained” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 27.4). But they say the same thing of
preaching. (Westminster Larger Catechism #168). Both are irregular but irregular and invalid are very different things. Again, this proposition is not contained in the definition of baptism. That ordinance is declared to be a washing with water in the name of the Trinity to signify our ingrafting into Christ. To say, “It is a washing with water by a minister duly ordained in the name,” is to give a new definition, essentially different from the old one. The insertion of this clause may be authorized, but the authority ought to be given.

Again, the principle in question, cannot be inferred from the nature and design of baptism. Baptism was instituted to constitute or declare the recipient a disciple of Christ, and to signify and seal to him the benefits of the new covenant. It does not necessarily follow from this statement that it does not avail to this end unless administered by an ordained man. If ordination did, as Puseyites say, convey grace and impart supernatural power, it would be more apparent, why baptism by unconsecrated hands should fail to have any efficacy. Puseyites, therefore, are very consistently anabaptists both here and in England.

Again, the principle assumed is contrary to the belief and practice of the great body of the people of God in all ages. The common doctrine of the church has been, that baptism and teaching belong properly to ministers of the word; in cases of necessity, however, baptism by unordairied persons, was regarded as not only valid, but proper; in all other cases, as irregular and censurable, but still as baptism and not to be repeated. At the time of the Reformation this doctrine was retained by the whole Lutheran church, and by the church of England. Calvin, Beza, the French church, and the church of Holland rejected it, and so we presume did the church of Scotland. Though, therefore, the Reformed or Calvinistic churches have generally maintained the position assumed by the Assembly, as to the invalidity of lay-baptism, yet, as it is not asserted in our book, and has been denied by so great a majority of Christians, it ought not to be made the ground of an argument, without some exhibition of the grounds on which it rests. This is a subject to which we presume less attention has been paid in our church, than it merits.

We repeat the remark, that we are not to be understood as denying that baptism must be administered by an ordained man, in order to its validity; we are willing to concede that point in the argument, the conclusion however utterly fails, unless the minor proposition above stated can be proved. Admitting that baptism must be administered by ordained ministers of Christ, it must be proved that Romish priests are not such ministers, before it can be shown that their baptisms are invalid. Let us inquire then what is an ordained minister, and then see whether the Romish priests come within the definition.

According to the common doctrine of Protestants, an or dained minister is a man appointed to perform the sacred functions of teaching and administering the sacraments in any community professing Christianity. There is a right and a wrong way of doing this; there is a way agreeable to Scriptural precedent, and there are many ways which have no such sanction. Still whether it be done by a prelate, a presbytery, by the people, or by the magistrate with the consent of the people, if a man is recognised by a Christian community as a minister, he is to be regarded as having due authority to act as such. It does not follow from this that we are bound to receive him into ministerial communion, or to allow him to act as a minister in our churches. That depends upon his having the qualifications which we deem requisite for the sacred office. Should a prelate or presbytery ordain an ignorant or heretical man, we should be under no obligation to receive him to the sacred office among ourselves. And if the people should elect a man to that office, we are not bound to receive him on the ground of that election, since we believe that ordination by the presbytery ought to be required. Since, however, Christ has not made the ministry essential to the church, much less any particular method of inducting men into that office, we have no right to say that a body of Christians are no church, and have no valid sacraments, because they differ from us as to the mode of ordaining ministers.

It is one of the Popish principles which have slid in to the minds of some Protestants, and which was openly avowed upon the floor of the Assembly, that the ministry is essential to the church. Such a sentiment is directly opposed to our standards, and to the word of God. According to the scriptures, a church is a congregation of believers, or of those who profess to be believers; according to the hierarchical system, it is “a congregation of believers subject to lawful pastors.” An intrusive element, which is the germ of the whole hierarchical system, is thus introduced into the idea of the church, which changes and vitiates the whole thing. Bellarmine has the credit of being the first writer who thus corrupted the definition of the church. The being of a church does not depend upon the ministry, nor the being of the ministry on the rite of ordination. Any man is a minister in the sense of the proposition under consideration, who is recognised as such by a Christian community.

The soundness of this principle appears,

FIRST: From the consideration already referred to, that we have no authority in this matter to go beyond the Scriptures. If Christ or his apostles had said that no man should be recognised as a minister, nor his official acts accounted valid, unless ordained in a specified manner, we should be bound by such rule. But the scriptures contain no such rule, and we have no right to make it. All that the Bible does, is to make known the fact, that ministers were examined and authenticated as teachers by other teachers, but that it must be so, they nowhere assert.

SECOND: This doctrine flows from what is one of the distinguishing principles of the evangelical, as opposed to the hierarchical system, viz.: that all church power belongs originally to the church as such. The original commission, the promises and prerogatives were given, not to the church officers as their peculium, but to the people; and they may exercise those prerogatives not regularly, not orderly, or wisely, it may be, but still validly under any form they see fit. They ought, indeed, to follow scriptural examples, as to the mode of making ministers, but still as the power to make them was involved in the original commission granted to the church, we cannot deny it.

THIRD: To reject the principle in question is to involve ourselves in all the difficulties, absurdities and assumptions of the doctrine of apostolical succession. Every church would have to prove that its ministry had been regularly ordained in a specific manner from the apostles to the present time. This, from the nature of the case, can no more be done, than a man can prove that all his ancestors were regularly married from the time of Adam. It may be assumed, but it cannot by possibility be proved. And since there is in scripture no promise of any such unbroken succession of ordinations, to assume it, is gratuitous; and to make such assumption the basis of ecclesiastical claims, or of religious hopes, is absurd and ruinous.

FOURTH: We all act upon this principle. What Presbyterian feels called upon to trace up historically to the apostles, the ecclesiastical genealogy of every minister whose act he is called upon to recognise? Or who ever thinks of inquiring whether every candidate for the admission to the Lord’s supper, if from among the Methodists or Baptists, was baptized by a man ordained in a particular way? It is always considered enough if the applicant was baptized by one having public authority in the body whence he came, to administer the sacraments.

FIFTH: All Protestant churches have recognised the saru principle. The language of the twenty-third Article of the Church of England may be taken as expressing the general sense of the age of the Reformation on this subject. That article says: “Those ought to be judged iawfiilly called and sent, who are chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them, in the congregation, to call and send ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.” This asserts the necessity of a call, without prescribing any particular mode as essential to its validity. Accordingly, the validity of the orders which many of the reformers received of the Romish church, was universally admitted; while at the same time, no objection was made to the vocation of those who had received nothing more than election by the people. It was held, indeed, that under ordinary circumstances, no one should assume the sacred office to himself, and that besides election by the people, there should, in a regular state of the church, be an examination and imposition of hands by the presbytery. But it was denied that these things were essential.

Do, then, the Romish priests come within this wide definition of ordained ministers? Are they appointed by public authority to teach the Christian religion, and to administer its ordinances? The question is not whether they are good men, or whether they do not assume sacerdotal and other powers to which they have no claim, or whether they are correct in doctrine; but simply whether, in a body professing to hold saving doctrine, they are appointed and recognised as presbyters. If so, then they are ministers within the sense of the received Protestant definition of the term. [This is the ground on which the Reformed churches defended the validity of the orders received from the Church of Rome. “Talis autem est,” says Turrettin, “episcoporum et presbyterorum vocatio in ecclesia Romana, quae quoad institutionem Dei bona fuit, sed quoad abusum hominum mala facta est. Unde resecatio errorum et corruptelarum ab hominibus invectarum, non potuit esse vocationis abrogatio, sed correctio et restitutio.” –Vol. iii. p. 265.]

We maintain that as the Romish priests are appointed and recognized as presbyters in a community professing to believe the scriptures, the early creeds, and the decisions of the first four general councils, they are ordained ministers in the sense above stated; and consequently baptism administered by them is valid. It has accordingly been received as valid by all Protestant churches from the Reformation to the present day.

Calvin, in his Institutes, (Book IV, chs 15, 16), after saying that baptism does not owe its value to the character of the administrator, adds: “By this consideration, the error of the Donatists is effectually refuted, who made the force and value of the sacrament commensurate with the worth of the minister. Such are our modern Katabaptists, who strenuously deny that we were properly baptized, because we received the rite from impious idolators in the papacy; and they are therefore ferocious for re-baptism. We shall, however, be sufficiently guarded against their nonsense, if we remember we were baptized not in the name of any man, but in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and therefore baptism is not of man, but of God, no matter by whom it was administered.”

The first canon of the chapter on baptism, in the book of discipline of the French church, declares, “Baptism administered by an unordained person is wholly void and null;” yet the twenty-eighth article of their Confession of Faith declares Romish baptism to be valid.

In the national synod of 1563, Jobn Calvin presented, in the name of the pastors and professors at Geneva, a letter in reply to reasons pronounced by tbem “very feeble and impertinent,” in behalf of lay-baptism, one of which was derived from the assumption that Romish priests were not true ministers, and yet their baptisms are valid. To this the reply made was: “Popish baptism is grounded upon the institution of Christ; because the priests as perverse as they are, and utterly corrupt, are yet the ordinary ministers of that church in which they so tyrannically demean themselves.

To this view the French church steadily adhered long after the council of Trent, whose decisions were assumed by some of the members of the Assembly, to have wrought such a change in the character of Romanism. The illustration used by Calvin, derived from the fact that those circumcised by apostate priests under the old dispensation, were never recircumcised, or treated as not having received that rite by the inspired prophets, we find repeated by all subsequent writers.

The church of Holland agreed with the French church in regarding the Romish priests as authorized to administer baptism.* Such, too, has been the constant doctrine of the Lutheran church,t and of the church of England. Indeed, we know of no church that has ever taken different ground.

[* Morus, tom. v. p 449 Hinc passim judicant Nostri rebaptizandos esse qui ad no transeunt ante in coetu Socinianorum antitrinitario baptizati . . . De baptizatis in ecclesia Roman a hodierna mitius judicium Nostri ferre solent, ob retentam illic cum elemento visibili aquae baptismatis, fidem Trinitatis et administrationem baptismi in Dei triunius nomen. He quotes the acts of the Synod of Dort, which forbid Romish baptism to he repeated where “the form and substance” of the rite have been retained. Doubts, it seems, were entertained as to baptisms performed by vagrant priests, as a question relating to that point was presented to the French Synod of 1581, who replied: “Since authority to baptize belongs to them according to the order of the Romish church, baptism administered by them is not to he repeated; but baptism by monks to whom no such authority belongs, is void.”]

The Assembly, therefore, has taken a position on this subject in opposition to the principles of the whole Protestant world. A fact which of itself creates a presumption almost overwhelming against their doctrine.

Copyright © 2003

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