At first I didn’t even see it. I saw a reference to it on Dave Armstrong’s blog, of all places. Good ol’ Alexander the Coppersmith (AtC), who has the amazing ability of joining hands with anyone, no matter what their beliefs, as long as it means he can get into print insulting me, had posted on l0g0s’ blog regarding the “Reformed Catholic” issue. I suppose we should give him some leeway: when you hate someone as much as this man hates me, you lose all perspective and end up saying things that really do not reflect well on you. But then again, what we will document here, while fully consistent with the personal insults AtC has sent me over the years in private e-mail, is also fully consistent with the diatribes of other “Reformed Catholics” as well, and anyone familiar with the rhetoric of those in positions of political power who used that power to attempt to suppress Baptists in centuries past knows it is really nothing overly new. The irony, of course, is seen plainly in the fact that while they are the first to scream out “schism,” ranting about how Baptists are opposed to Christian culture, and hence enemies of the gospel itself, what happens when they see us making common cause, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with paedobaptists on the issues of the gospel? Well, that’s easy: those are not real Presbyterians, of course, but “wet Reformed Baptists” or some other such insulting moniker. The reality today is the same as it was in the 1700s: to be part of “the true church” is to agree with them. True ecumenism, I believe, is one based upon truth, not upon tradition or power.
And so I started reading through AtC’s comments. Of course, he begins with the obligatory assertion that anyone and everyone who disagrees with him is, of course, ignorant. After this came the standard one-sided representation of Calvin and “the Reformers,” but all of this is really just a lead-in to the real heart of the matter. Reformed Catholics detest Baptists, period.
The heart of the problem is the unbiblical sacramentology of Baptist schismatics. Baptist schismatics do not see the proper covenantal function of Trinitarian baptism, and hence they render asunder the visible unity which unites Protestants with their Roman Catholic brethren.
There’s the real issue. Anyone who has read Verduin’s Reformers and Their Stepchildren will be going, “Ah, indeed, I’ve heard that rhetoric before.” To hold a biblical sacramentology one must believe that Trinitarian baptism places one in the new covenant, gospel or faith notwithstanding. I have missed the phrases “sacramentology” and “Trinitarian baptism” in my reading of the Scriptures, so, of course, I reject the addition of the term “biblical” to these terms, and point out that this is the very issue that we seek to bring to light: whether such a belief is in fact biblical. That’s why we are debating the issue in November. It will be nice, we trust, to have a discussion that does not simply assume the end of the argument as its beginning. But in any case, to not hold this particular view is to make oneself a Neo-Donatist (as l0g0s had said), or a schismatic, as AtC and TGE like to put it.
Now, some of you might be wondering why this issue has been coming up on my blog of late, and might be tired of it. I understand. So am I. But you see, one of the most perplexing questions for many today is why those who at one time, it seemed, were with us in seeking to proclaim the gospel of free grace to those who need to hear it are now doing anything but making that proclamation. How does one go from evangelizing by proclamation of the truth to seeking to call people to “faithfulness to their baptism” as if this somehow is the same thing? Well, consider the words above: AtC thinks Trinitarian baptism creates unity with Roman Catholics: a visible one, no doubt, and one that he might wish to nuance, but unity nonetheless. See how important this is? The false brethren of Galatians 2 had been baptized, too. So, there was a “visible unity” with them, or was there? Paul clearly indicated that they were enemies of the gospel, false professors who wished to enslave the people of God, and that Paul had opposed them and their attempts to pervert the gospel of Christ. So, was Paul a schismatic for anathematizing those who shared with him the properly-administered form of baptism? Or is there something missing in AtC’s theology that is present in Paul’s, and, I hope and pray, mine? Might it just be that Paul knew that the gospel is what defines the faith, not a “proper sacramentology”? It sure seems so. But AtC was not done. Nooo, he was just warming up:
They turn what is intended primarily as a God-centered sign of the divine commitment to the covenant community into a man-centered sign of the “faith” of the individual. Hence they exchange the objectivity of baptism as God’s pledge to us for the subjectivity of baptism as our “sincere” pledge to God.
Of course, to properly unpack this issue one needs to engage the text of Hebrews 8 so that we can ascertain what the biblical definition of a “covenant community” is, and what the nature of the covenant in the blood of Christ involves. For those interested, I have written a two-part article for the Reformed Baptist Theological Review on this very subject. The first half will appear in the July issue this year, the second in the January issue of 2005. Suffice it to say that a very strong, very robust case for seeing the covenant community of the New Testament as defined by grace, faith, the atonement, and the forgiveness of sins, can be presented from the biblical text itself. One need not embrace this “either/or” false dichotomy: baptism is both a personal confession of one’s union with Christ (doesn’t the WCF say the same?) as well as the common experience of the community as a whole.
Because Baptist schismatics hold to a Marcionite interpretation of the Old Covenant, they fail to see the continuity of covenantal structure within the progress of redemption.
Or, for the serious minded person, because we recognize both the continuities and discontinuities, and are convinced by the exegetical evidence, we see those elements of continuity that are biblical, and those elements of discontinuity that are biblical.
Hence, they reject the baptisms of those whose individual confessions of faith are deemed suspect because of a failure on the part of Roman Catholics to articulate with hair-splitting precision the precise mechanism of their justification.
Re-read that section again and consider what it means. Evidently, if these words mean what they say, the difference between AtC and Rome on justification is mere “hair-splitting” regarding the “precise mechanism.” This says volumes, does it not? The anathemas of Trent are merely over “hair splitting.” The difference between forensic imputation and Rome’s impartation (which includes in it all the elements of sacramental distribution of grace, partial forgiveness, merit, supererogation, purgatory, indulgences, and the like) is mere “hair splitting” for this “zealous Reformed Catholic.” Well, it should not be overly surprising, then, that such folks hurry to identify themselves as our opponents when we are so clear about proclaiming that Rome’s gospel is no gospel at all. How schismatic of us! See why this is important?
As if the validity of baptism as a sign of the unity of the New Covenant church (Eph. 4:5) depended upon an individual’s theological precision!
This has become such an oft-repeated straw-man that some are in danger of thinking it an accurate representation. Consider just a moment: is there not a difference between recognizing the difference between true and false Christs, true and false Spirits, and true and false gospels (all biblical phrases, are they not?), and “an individual’s theological precision”? Of course! Anyone can see this, but the rhetoric of these “Reformed Catholics” cannot stand if they allow that kind of precision to exist. How about we compare AtC’s comments above with the following:
The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. (Doctrine and Covenants 20:73)
Now, should someone say, “Oh, but wait, Mormons are not Trinitarians,” I would have to reply, “Oh, but are you not asking of them ‘individual theological precision’ on such a difficult subject as the Trinity? Aren’t you being a schismatic here?” Ah, that knife is sharp, and cuts both directions, does it not? Upon what consistent ground could our zealous Reformed Catholic friends stand here, outside of the blatant embracing of their own tradition? One wonders.
Trinitarian baptism continues to mark out Roman Catholics as God’s covenant children, just as cirucumcision (sic) continued to mark out Israel as God’s covenant children even in their desparate (sic) condition of apostasy and judgment (Gen. 17:7, 10 cf. Deut. 32:18-20).
If I believed Christian baptism exists apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, I might be able to make sense of that claim. For some odd (and I think biblical) reason, I do not believe Christian baptism can exist apart from the Christian gospel.
The theology of the Baptist schismatics stinks. Its fumes offend any biblically balanced person like the smell of a contruction (sic) site porta-potty at a fancy wedding.
It is hard not to think of the post-modern liberal running about, “You must be tolerant!” showing all the time they are utterly intolerant of anyone who is intolerant. Now, don’t get me wrong. AtC has every right to separate himself (umm, isn’t that ‘schism’?) from me and believe my theology stinks. And since he is the true scholar, this kind of analogy must be more scholarly than how I would express the fact that I have just as strong a dislike of AtC’s beliefs as he has of mine. I just channel that dislike into the demonstration of its error in light of the truth. Not nearly as flashy, I admit, but in the long run, possibly a better route?
It is a subtle form of legalistic justification by works.
In case you just lost touch with reality, let’s review this. AtC says Roman Catholics are unified with us by Trinitarian baptism in the new covenant as the children of God. They may anathematize anyone who believes in sola fide, and promote all sorts of additions to the gospel, but that one action creates unity. But if you insist that the new covenant in the blood of Christ is perfect, so that one is joined to it by the sovereign grace of God through faith, and not by any human action, you are promoting a “form of legalistic justification by works.” Yes, well, reality can become quite skewed in the heady halls of academia.
God’s ability to save me is contstrained (sic) by the purity of my theological precision.
If you have no idea who he could be talking about, it means you have failed to be properly over-awed by the rhetoric that came before. Obviously, this kind of straw-man is again quite popular, despite how obviously fallacious it is upon a moment’s reflection. But there is an important error lying behind this kind of rhetoric. One is not saved by ones “theological precision.” But, does it then follow that when one is renewed by the Holy Spirit and made a new creature in the image of Christ, that one will lack a love of the truth? Will one desire “theological precision” as a means of honoring one’s Lord, or will one show disrespect for the truths of the gospel by ignoring the clarity of the revelation provided to us in Scripture? Does the Holy Spirit lead us to be more, or less, concerned about truth? The answer seems too simple for comment, but much of the rhetoric of the “Reformed Catholics” evaporates in its light.
The god of Baptist schismatics sends people to hell for failing to accurately “exegete” all the relevant passages selected from a list of favorite proof-texts.
This sounds very much like the standard arguments used by atheists, or, maybe by some radical Arminians against Reformed theology. When I use the small “g” form of “god” about someone else, I am clearly indicating that I worship a different God than they do, and that is surely AtC’s intention here. He is obviously far more at home with someone who shares his correctly-parsed view of baptism (and yet likewise embraces transubstantiation in the Mass, purgatory, priestly absolution, the Marian dogmas, and Papal Infallibility) than he is a dreaded Baptist (but remember, I’m the schismatic). If you cannot figure out how that works, please do not feel badly. I cannot either. But whatever it is that motivates such an viewpoint likewise motivates simple dishonesty, for AtC is surely bright enough to know the falsehood he here places before others. Unless he is willing to say that the issue of the nature of the gospel is nothing more than a list of proof-texts correctly exegeted, he knows that neither I, nor anyone else, believes such a thing. Now, I’m sure even the former Baptists amongst his fellow RC’s will not call him on the carpet for such rhetoric, for one thing I have learned over the past number of months: while every effort will be made to read Roman Catholics or Mormons or anyone else in the best possible light, if you are a Baptist, any old insult or straw-man will do. I would dearly love to be proven wrong, but I doubt I will be.
No matter how sincerely one clings to the saving mercy of the Triune God for eternal life, a confusion of justification and sanctification, or a misunderstanding of the nature of free will is sufficient to condemn a person to eternal misery.
Again, one is left to wonder who AtC is talking about? No one knows, since this is obviously not meant to be taken seriously.
Thanksfully, (sic) biblically grounded Christians will reject Baptist schismatic heresy for the inarticulate, clumsy, historically clueless drivel that it is. Speaking as one zealous Reformed Catholic, I am frankly sick of this sectarian nonsense.
Ponder well the attitude displayed by AtC, and then realize that in his mind, he does not see how utterly and fully sectarian his position truly is. “Reformed Catholicism” breeds this kind of insulting, condescending rhetoric. What it doesn’t breed is clarity on what really counts in this day and age. Is the gospel you read of in Scripture reduced to Trinitarian baptism properly administered? Does this kind of writing clarify the gospel, or muddle it? Let the reader decide.