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Correspondence on Covenantal Catholicity

That the assumption by the Romanists that they are "the only Christians" is "gratuitous" and "monstrous," and it is "a historical fact that all the peculiar doctrines of Romanism were not received in the early Church as matters of faith" (p. 123, Vol. 1).

  • Steve M. Schlissel,
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In his column "Covenantal Catholicity" Rev. Schlissel says that Charles Hodge "argued forcefully (and correctly) that the Roman Catholic Church is a church." And he says that "in this he followed Calvin." Well, now. What did Hodge and Calvin say that Schlissel leaves out? Quite a bit. For example, here's some of what Hodge says in his Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1982):

That the assumption by the Romanists that they are "the only Christians" is "gratuitous" and "monstrous," and it is "a historical fact that all the peculiar doctrines of Romanism were not received in the early Church as matters of faith" (p. 123, Vol. 1).

That the Romanist "believes because the Church believes. This is the ultimate reason. The Church believes, not because she can historically prove that her doctrines have been received from the Apostles, but because she is supernaturally guided to know the truth." This means that "tradition resolves itself into the present faith of the Church" (p.127, Vol. 1).

That the Romanist assumption that the church is an external, visible organization, organized in one definite, prescribed form, "is not only unreasonable, it is unscriptural ... contrary to the whole spirit and character of the gospel ... " (p.131, Vol. 1).

That "the assumption that subjection to the Pope, as the vicar of Christ, is necessary to the existence of the Church, is utterly unreasonable. This is the climax. There is not the slightest evidence in the New Testament or in the apostolic age, that Peter had any such primacy among the Apostles as Romanists claim" (p.131, Vol. 1).

That Romanists "have transferred the whole Jewish theory to the Christian Church; while Protestants adhere to the doctrine of Christ and His Apostles" (p.134, Vol. 1).

"Almost all the points of difference between Protestants and Romanists depend on the decision of the question, 'What is the Church?'" (p.135, Vol. 1).

"Romanists falsely assume the perpetuity of The Apostleship" (p.139, Vol. 1).

"The world has never seen or suffered a greater imposture than that weak, ignorant, and often immoral men, should claim the authority to teach and rule that belonged to men [the Apostles] to whom the truth was supernaturally revealed, who were confessedly infallible in their communication, and to whose divine mission God Himself bore witness in signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost" (p.140, Vol.1).

The Romanist teaching that "the salvation of men should be suspended on their acknowledging the Pope to be the head of the Church in the world, or the vicar of Christ," is "a monstrous error, contrary to the Bible, to its letter and spirit, and shocking to the commonsense of mankind" (p.147, Vol. 1).

That the Romanist "doctrine of the merit of good works ... is another most prolific error" (p.148, Vol. 1).

That these errors, and more, taught by the Roman Church, "prove that the Church instead of being infallible, is so corrupt that it is the duty of the people of God to come out of it and to renounce its fellowship" (p.149, Vol. 1).

That the Reformers, "with one voice," pronounced the Roman Church to be "the Babylon of the Apocalypse which was to be overthrown and rendered desolate." And the Reformers "held up the Papacy as the antichristian power predicted by Daniel, by St. Paul, and by St. John ... " (p. 832, Vol. 3, Part 4).

Now, Brother Calvin. Among other things, he says the following regarding the Roman Church, as quoted in Graham Miller's book Calvin's Wisdom: An Anthology Arranged Alphabetically (Banner Of Truth, 1992):

"We are ever now and then enforced to show and testify how much Papistry differeth from Christianity, and what a hurtful plague it is to be yoked with the unfaithful enemies of Christ."

"Their whole doctrine contains nothing else than big words and bombast, because it is inconsistent with the majesty of Scripture, the efficacy of the Spirit, the gravity of the prophets, and the sincerity of the apostles ... It is ... an absolute profanation of real theology."

"It is better a hundred times to separate from [the Papists] than to be united together, and thus form an ungodly and wicked union against God."

"[The Papacy] brought feigned washings from the lake of hell, to make dry the blood of the Son of God ... Instead of the Holy Ghost; he ... erected man's free will ... the true Christ is banished far from the Papistry."

-""The whole of Popery ... is built on ignorance of Christ."

"Under Popery ... every person had a different method of washing away his sins."

"What is the worship of God in the papacy these days but a confused jumble, which they have thrown together from numberless fictions? ... fabricated by the will of man."

"In the whole body of worship which has been established, there was scarcely a single observance which had an authoritative sanction from the Word of God."

"Roman antichrist invites us to himself, under the pretence of unity, and pronounces all to be schismatics who do not spontaneously submit to ... the yoke of his tyranny."

"The Popish hierarchy I execrate as a diabolical confusion, established for the very purpose of making God Himself to be despised, and of exposing the Christian religion to mockery and scorn."

"Papists ... have a diabolical synagogue."

"We know well that under the Pope there is a bastard sort of Christianity, and that God will disavow it at the last day, seeing that He now condemns it in his Word."

For more on this important subject, I recommend a new book The Reformation's Conflict With Rome Why It Must Continue (Christian Focus Publications, 2001) by Robert L. Reymond, with a Foreword by R.C. Sproul.

John Lofton
Laurel, Maryland

Dear John:

Here is the explanation you seek, John, from the best of the Reformed (in distinction from but not as opposed to the Presbyterian) tradition. From Van Dellen and Monsma's commentary on the Church Order, 1951 edition, pp. 47-48:

Our fathers looked upon the Roman Church as being fearfully corrupt, deformed, teaching and practicing God-dishonoring and un-Biblical doctrine, but they did not deny at heart it was a manifestation and representation of the body of Christ. Consequently, they acknowledged the baptism administered by those duly appointed by the Church of Rome.

This is really simple: If Rome was not in covenant, their baptism could not be recognized. It has been and is recognized by Reformed (and by far most) Presbyterian churches. This is THE Reformed position. It was not Thornwell's, of course, but it certainly was Calvin's and Hodge's and that of Continental Reformed denominations.

You may in time find that you are caught in a uniquely American (read "Fundamentalist Baptist") dilemma, but this has been and is standard fare for Reformed churches. Like it or not, those are the facts.

Love from NYC,

  • Steve M. Schlissel

Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children  and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.

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