Who is a “Real” Christian?

Feb 23rd, 2016 | By | Category: Blog Posts

I grew up an evangelical Protestant and became Catholic only in 2003. In the Church of my youth, we had a troubling practice. We distinguished “real Christians” from Christians in name only. People who had gone to Church all of their life would come to our meetings and declare, “I’ve just now become a real Christian!”  What they meant was that they had finally experienced conversion. In our minds, conversion was all that mattered. Everything else was just human tradition or ritual. The seemingly unconverted were not “real” Christians.

RealChristians

This way of speaking is not biblical, and it is certainly not Catholic.  Scripture teaches that “everyone who is baptized has clothed himself with Christ.” (Galatians 3:27) According to St. Paul, we “have been buried with him by baptism into death so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4) It is baptism, not the psychological experience of conversion that marks you as a Christian. Conversion is important, but it’s a life-long process. It’s not the beginning of Christian life, and it’s certainly not the end of it.

Catholic doctrine is clear on this point. All the baptized have the right to be called Christians. There are no “real Christians,” and “fake Christians.” There may be good and bad Christians, wise and foolish Christians, converted and not yet converted, but they are all Christians. This goes for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The Second Vatican Council was quite insistent on this point: “All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.” (Unitatis Redintegratio)

So, where did my evangelical friends get this idea that conversion was all that mattered? Why did they think other baptized believers were not really Christians? The germ of this idea comes from the Protestant theologian John Calvin (1509-1564).

Calvin was no evangelical. He didn’t overemphasize conversion, and he accepted the Catholic and biblical doctrine that God adopts us by baptism.  But Calvin introduced a seed of doubt into Christian life. He taught that baptism only “works” in the predestined.  For everyone else, Calvin held, it’s a more-or-less empty ritual. Thus, Calvin imagined two classes of Christians: the “real, predestined Christians” and the Christians-in-name-only.  The challenge for future Calvinists became, “How do you know which camp you are in?”

Seventeenth-century Puritans nearly drove themselves mad trying to answer this question. Predictably, they started fighting over who was really elect. Their churches and their society split into factions. (For an overview of this conflict, see Janice Knight’s book Orthodoxies in Massachusetts.)   Their experiment failed, of course, but it birthed the modern evangelical tradition.  Conversion became the one touchstone many Protestants could agree on. Everything else – the Church’s authority, liturgy and sacraments, the moral life, spirituality – faded in its significance.

Catholics approach these questions very differently.  To begin with, we know that valid baptism always works. It’s never just an empty ritual. Scripture does not divide the baptized the way Calvin does. But that doesn’t mean all the baptized are going to heaven. Baptism communicates real grace, but we are called to cooperate with that grace.  As St. Paul says, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” (Colossians 3:1)

Catholics don’t insist on figuring out who is elect and who isn’t. In this life, we don’t know who is headed for heaven or hell. Seemingly holy people may lose the faith before the end or die impenitent. Scandalous sinners, tied to the Church by the thinnest thread or not at all, may wind up as heroic saints.  Before they die, they may still fan into flame the grace of baptism.  What we do know with certainty are the means of grace. We can be joined to Christ in baptism. We can abide in him by “eating his flesh and drinking his blood.” (John 6:53) Our sins can be forgiven through the power of absolution. (John 20:21).

Dividing the world into “real Christians” and “fake Christians” is not the Catholic way. The Church can distinguish good and bad behavior, and she can define true and false doctrine, she may correct dangerous ideology, but we leave the final judgment of souls up to Christ.  Occasionally, the Church may have to invoke her disciplinary power against the scandalously sinful.  But even then, the baptized do not lose the name of Christian.

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  1. Excellent article David! It has always bothered me the way some protestants (ie James White) attack the Catholic Church with something like Romans 5:1 claiming that their justification by faith alone gives them “true peace.” It seems to me that if you cannot know you’re elect (which many reformed protestants admit), then the only way you can know where you stand is by your on internal feelings or by your outward works (works which don’t justify but merely show evidence of your justification). If that is the case, how would you know if you have done enough works to demonstrate that you are truly elect? Maybe you can give me the answer a reformed protestant might give. I also noticed that if a reformed protestant admits that he could be deceiving himself and really never was a “real christian,” then you cannot know if your sins have ever been forgiven at all, much less being one of the elect. Thank God for His Holy Catholic Church and the objective sacraments! Since they work ex opera operato, they don’t depend on me or any other man, but on God’s promise. I’ll take that over the alternative which amounts to strict subjectivism any day!

    Thanks again!

    Matthew

  2. This is a wonderfully simple explanation of the differences between Protestant and Catholic thinking on this point. I have been Catholic for almost a year now (April 4), and I still catch myself thinking along Protestant lines (well, after 35 years of evangelical Protestant input, it will take me time to get out of that particular rut). I especially catch myself thinking like a Protestant when I run into people who just don’t seem to be living out their faith. “Well, he is ‘apparently’ a Christian, but….” NO! He IS a Christian and I need to pray that he turns back towards God and begins to follow Him once again. Thank you for this article, David! I’m sharing it on two “Catholic converts” pages in which I am involved.

  3. David,

    To begin with, we know that valid baptism always works.

    This is ambiguous to me. A valid baptism always works for what? Consider a person who converts to Christianity and goes for RC baptism but is really lying and just “converted” in order to get a better place in the community or something. Did the baptism work for him and if so, in what sense?

  4. I completely agree with you, Jennifer. This is an excellent, clear article which has helped to clarify things for me, likewise a convert of 3 years after 38 years under Protestant tutelage.

    A further observation: in my UK charismatic / Pentecostal circles, the word used wasn’t so much ‘conversion’ as ‘born again’. What apparently marked out a real Christian was to be born again – and that wasn’t at water baptism, but at some undefined moment of personal experience of Jesus, which the person involved would “know when he knew”, and the rest of us could recognise by a similar witness of the Holy Spirit. That’s my best shot at describing it. If questioned more closely, there is no agreement on what proved all this, other than a new warmth of feeling towards God. Classic Pentecostalism required “the evidence of speaking in tongues”. Generally, there is an undefined connection between being “born again” and being “baptised in the Spirit”. A testimony might include all three: “I was converted as a …. then born again on … and filled with the Spirit when X prayed for me … ”

    The muddle and imprecision suits the Protestant view of the Church, which is an undefined collection of ‘real Christians’ to be found here and there and in or out of every “denomination”, the latter seen as purely human institutions

  5. I completely agree with you, Jennifer. This is an excellent, clear article which has helped to clarify things for me, likewise a convert of 3 years after 38 years under Protestant tutelage.

    A further observation: in my UK charismatic / Pentecostal circles, the word used wasn’t so much ‘conversion’ as ‘born again’. What apparently marked out a real Christian was to be born again – and that wasn’t at water baptism, but at some undefined moment of personal experience of Jesus, which the person involved would “know when he knew”, and the rest of us could recognise by a similar witness of the Holy Spirit. That’s my best shot at describing it. If questioned more closely, there is no agreement on what proved all this, other than a new warmth of feeling towards God. Classic Pentecostalism required “the evidence of speaking in tongues”. Generally, there is an undefined connection between being “born again” and being “baptised in the Spirit”. A testimony might include all three: “I was converted as a …. then born again on … and filled with the Spirit when X prayed for me … ”

    The muddle and imprecision suits the Protestant view of the Church, which is an undefined collection of ‘real Christians’ to be found here and there and in or out of every “denomination”, the latter seen as purely human institutions.

  6. Thank you David. As someone who was raised in the evangelical tradition and who was never quite sure whether or not “I really meant it” when I asked Jesus into my heart, I find this very refreshing. The subjectivity of the evangelical concept of conversion always bothered me. I never knew where I stood. I know people who have been faithful protestants their entire lives and still struggle with the question of whether or not they are “saved.” It seems that many Christians do not understand the objectivity that the Catholic church provides in so many areas. Not just regarding salvation.

  7. MJ,

    Are you saying the objectivity provided by the Catholic Church can end the struggle ? Perhaps the struggle ends because the question is no longer asked by catholics.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  8. The following two statements appear to be at odds with each other.

    “But that doesn’t mean all the baptized are going to heaven.” I agree, but then you say “the baptized do not lose the name of Christian”. Does that mean you think there are Christians that will wind up in hell?

    Can you clarify? Thx.

  9. Petros,

    Yes. There are baptized Christian who may go to hell. Baptism does make you a Christian, but it does not guarantee heaven.

    -David

  10. Re: #8. Thanks. I read/hear you, but do not understand. Can you clarify/amplify your thought there.

    Do you believe that a Christian is one who has the indwelling of Christ by the Holy Spirit? If not, why?

    If a Christian ‘does’ have the indwelling of Christ by the Holy Spirit, and a Christian is in hell, is it not logical to infer, then, that according to Catholic theology, that one of the following is true: a) Jesus and the Holy Spirit have left him and no longer indwell him, or b) that indeed Jesus and the Holy Spirit are kinda stuck in hell with that person?

    If so, do you think “a” is correct, or is “b” correct, or do you have another option to posit?

  11. Dr Anders,

    Reformed Pastor John Piper today posted on his website his response to the following question: “How Do I Wisely Tell a Professing Believer I Don’t Think They Are Saved?<a?"

    Here are some key comments that Piper said:

    The mainline churches are just as plagued as the Bible Belt by people who think they are Christians when they are not.

    I live in Minnesota and to be Minnesotan is almost to be Lutheran or Catholic. And those churches just as much as any Baptist church in the Bible Belt are shot through with people who think they are Christians when they are not. And it always has been a huge concern. Already in the New Testament we read, “They went out from us, but they were not of us” (1 John 2:19). So for a long time there they were. There they were in the church, looking just like everybody else. And they went out and that is how you knew finally that they weren’t of us.

    Paul speaks to whole churches words of warning that those who fail to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit will not inherit the kingdom of God. And he is just talking in general to the whole church. He is not saying: Oh, there are one or two unbelievers among you. He means all of you take heed, because you might be faking it.

    So let me just throw out a few possible suggestions for how to relate to someone in whose life you don’t see — and you are not infallible here — you don’t see sufficient evidences of God’s grace to give you confidence that they have been born again or are truly Christian.

    Continually circle back to the affections that the new birth brings about. The point here is that genuine Christianity is marked by a new heart, new emotions, not just new ideas and new patterns of behavior. That is quite down the road. That is fruit from this sap surging up from the root of the new birth called the religious or the Christian affections. So draw them out so they can recognize they may not have them. And they may have a totally superficial, external formalistic view of the Christian life. And all this talk about affections will be a foreign language to them and they may wake up and say: I don’t think I have been born again.

    And one of the easiest ways to do that, by the way, is to be in a little Bible study with them, and when you come to those words, just ask them to talk to you. This is a Bible study. What do you think that means? And how do you experience that? And maybe they will say: I don’t. And then you can get to the root of the matter.

    And lastly, if and when the time seems right, you might just want to be straightforward and express your concern for their soul. One way to approach this gently would be to ask if they ever struggle with assurance of their salvation, and tell them you do from time to time. And then illustrate for them how you apply the promises of God to make war against doubt and fear to encourage your own soul, and maybe they will open up like a flower and say: Yeah, I really do sometimes wonder whether I am a Christian. They may get angry at you for asking that question. They may pull away from you. But always assure them you love them and you are praying for them and you want to be their friend and however that shakes out, you don’t want to pull away from them.

    This response from Piper basically sums up the whole problem you wrote about in your article. As one of the most respected Reformed Pastors in America today, it’s no small thing for Piper to be saying all these “churches” are full of people who think they are saved but really are not. Astonishingly, the only verse that Calvinists can point to for their “never really saved” claim is a single verse, 1 John 2:19, which isn’t how anyone in history ever interpreted the verse. The verse says “they [in context, false preachers, the antichrists] went out from us but were not of us,” and yet when John uses this identical language elsewhere it’s not about losing salvation, but rather about false teachers “going out” into to the world, pretending to be sent by the Apostles (1Jn4:1; 2Jn1:7). Indeed, this exact phrase in Greek appears in Acts 15:24, where the Council declared “we have heard that some persons have >>gone out from us<>we gave them no instructions<<.”

    In John Calvin’s Institues (Book 3, Chapter 2, Paragraph 11), he invented the notion of “Evanescent Grace,” where God gives many people a fake grace that makes them think they are saved but Calvin says this is only so God can damn them all the more:

    Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith, is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

    So a Calvinist leaning Protestant cannot really have Assurance, because they are in fact assuming they are elect, and they cannot really know if they have been deceived by God to think they are elect when in fact they might be reprobate with Evanescent Grace. There is no escape from this terrifying trap, except embrace the Catholic position which teaches that Jesus died for all men (which would require abandoning Limited Atonement, and it’s companion doctrine, Penal Substitution).

    What is ironic here is that the Catholic position actually gives true Assurance/Hope, and it is really the Protestant side that puts a person on a “works-treadmill” where they never know if they’ve done enough good works to ‘prove’ they were truly born again. As soon as the good works stop, they must question whether they were originally saved. And to make matters worse, they cannot explain how true believers can and do fall into grave sin (e.g. David) and stay there indefinitely (as the Westminster says is possible), if their dogma states that being Born Again is about the Holy Spirit and Regenerate Heart taking over your (non-free will) body such that good works flow automatically.

  12. Sorry, I forgot to close the html tag for my link.

  13. Nick, you wrote:
    …and it is really the Protestant side that puts a person on a “works-treadmill”…

    Yes, assurance is obtained in a way which includes good works. It means we must abide in love. See 1John 4:15-17. Any sense of not abiding should be countered with a diligent examination. We must continue to make our calling and election sure. Therefore, seek to overcome yourself because the great joy of loving others is found here.

    If anyone supposes he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him. (1Cor 8:2,3)

  14. Ooops, sorry. My questions in #10 were directed to Dr. Anders’ comment in #9 (not #8).

  15. Hi Petros,

    Jesus tells us in John 14:23 that if we love him and obey his commands, then he and the father will come to us. The indwelling trinity is conditioned on our loving him and keeping his commands. St. Paul also warns us to keep in step with the spirit, and not return to mortal sin. Christians can, in fact, lose the gift of sanctifying grace, and of the indwelling Trinity. They do not cease to be members of Christ in this life, but if they die impenitent, they will go to hell. This does not imply that the Holy Spirit indwells them in hell. Far from it. As you suggest, the Holy Spirit no longer indwells that person.

    -David

  16. Eric,
    You asked:
    Are you saying the objectivity provided by the Catholic Church can end the struggle ? Perhaps the struggle ends because the question is no longer asked by catholics.

    I am simply saying that find the objectivity of the Catholic church refreshing. Having been raised in a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, where every Sunday there was an alter call, and always feeling guilty for not going forward, I am thankful to have found the Catholic Church.

    Regarding Catholics asking the Salvation question, it seems somewhat presumptuous on your part to inform me that the members of my church are not concerned with salvation.

  17. Just a quick nitpick:

    So a Calvinist leaning Protestant cannot really have Assurance, because they are in fact assuming they are elect, and they cannot really know if they have been deceived by God to think they are elect when in fact they might be reprobate with Evanescent Grace. There is no escape from this terrifying trap, except embrace the Catholic position which teaches that Jesus died for all men (which would require abandoning Limited Atonement, and it’s companion doctrine, Penal Substitution).

    What is ironic here is that the Catholic position actually gives true Assurance/Hope, and it is really the Protestant side that puts a person on a “works-treadmill” where they never know if they’ve done enough good works to ‘prove’ they were truly born again.

    I think that there are other Protestants, of the “Once Saved, Always Saved” variety common in Southern Baptist and Independent Bible Churches, who would contest this. I think that they would argue that the claim that there is “no escape from this terrifying trap, except embrace the Catholic position…” is false.

    In their view, they need not bother with the “works-treadmill” because the mere fact that on August 13, 1989 they prayed to accept Jesus Christ as their “personal Lord and Savior” was, in itself, all that was necessary. They do not see Calvin as a founder, and only borrow bits from his ideas when they personally happen to agree with them. As a consequence, they can deny that there is any such thing as “Evanescent Grace,” or any chance that someone who has had a conversion experience of their favorite type (sinner’s prayer, altar call, etc.) could ever turn out to be reprobate.

    Now, of course, the difficulty with this view is that there are persons who’ve had exactly that kind of conversion experience, who later apostasized altogether. But persons of the “Once Saved, Always Saved” may not personally know any such persons! For of course their entire social set often consists of the persons they see at choir practice and Wednesday night fellowship dinners and their Sunday School classes and small-group meetings…and when people who used to attend these events apostasize, they typically stop attending.

    In spite of this lack of direct contact, a few Christians of the “Once Saved, Always Saved” variety can be made to admit that apostasy sometimes happens. They can even, with effort, be dragged into admitting that it seems to contradict their soteriology. But, also in my experience, they will not actually revise their soteriology in response. Instead, they will say something like: “It only seems to contradict: We don’t know what’s going on inside them. Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart. They may repent before they die; in which case they were saved all along. Perhaps they never had a real conversion, but only faked it for social reasons. But I know that I didn’t fake anything, but was sincere and still am. So the oddity of what I perceive in their behavior doesn’t give me any reason to worry about my own salvation.”

    The fully-Calvinist position accounts better for the Scriptural and Traditional data than the “Once Saved, Always Saved, my conversion experience means I’ve got my fire insurance” approach. But I suspect that the “Once Saved, Always Saved” crowd does not have the same experience of “never quite knowing if they’re saved or not” that you see with the Reformed folks…at least, the Reformed folks who really understand Calvin and whose experience is entirely informed by their Calvinism.

    So, lacking this experience of uncertainty, the Christians who embrace “Once Saved, Always Saved” are able to project a happy demeanor with relative ease. This may account for its popularity: Happy people are winsome, even if their happiness seems a bit shallow.

    It also accounts for the anti-intellectualism present in many of those churches: The “sad” Christians are the ones who “think too much” and have “over analyzed” their salvation (read: been convinced by the available Scriptural and Traditional evidence towards a different, less assured, view). The “happy” ones are the ones who “live by faith.”

    Of course, the Catholic view accounts for the Scriptural and Traditional data best of all, and leads also to happiness and assurance, albeit of a more-qualified type. But because the Independent Bible Church folks typically have only ever heard a straw-man caricature of the Catholic view, and have been told dark dreary things about the experience of practicing it (“uncertainty of salvation!” “works-based righteousness!” “treadmill of sacramental magic-tricks!”), so they can’t see any reason to investigate it further.

  18. MJ,

    Catholics are concerned about “being saved” every time they consider mortal sin. To examine and search out mortal sin is the same as a struggle with the question of being saved. Objectivity and subjectivity hold hands here. If mortal sin is no concern, then the struggle ends. Produce members who are concerned about mortal sin and you will have members concerned with salvation.

  19. David–

    I’m with Robert on this one. You end up calling certain folks “Christian” for no discernible reason. They do not believe, never have believed, and never will believe. In the parable of the tares and the wheat, the tares have been planted by the enemy. They are indistinguishable from the wheat, so we can assume they have been baptized. But to call them “Christian” is to make a mockery of the word.

    If Nancy Pelosi is a Christian, then I’m a toasted almond.

  20. In Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, he warns Christians not to unite the body of Christ with prostitutes. He assumes that a person engaged in a horrific, immoral act can do so as a member of Christ – not just in some legal sense, but in the deep, mystical sense of identification with Christ in baptism. Paul (and the rest of the New Testament) never distinguish “real” Christians from fake Christians. Instead, Paul warns all Christians to keep in step with the Spirit, lest they be disqualified.

    -David

  21. David,

    In Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, he warns Christians not to unite the body of Christ with prostitutes. He assumes that a person engaged in a horrific, immoral act can do so as a member of Christ – not just in some legal sense, but in the deep, mystical sense of identification with Christ in baptism.

    Yes, Paul assumes that real Christians in a state of grace can commit horrific acts. That’s affirmed by the Reformed tradition.

    Paul (and the rest of the New Testament) never distinguish “real” Christians from fake Christians. Instead, Paul warns all Christians to keep in step with the Spirit, lest they be disqualified.

    Galatians 2:4 has Paul talking about false brothers, so you need to qualify this statement, I think.

  22. David–

    Paul does speak of authentic and inauthentic Jews:

    “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

    Do you really believe this verse cannot apply to so-called “Christians” who are merely outwardly baptized?

  23. Hi Robert,

    In Galatians 2:4, Paul is not discussing the efficacy of baptism but rather the hypocrisy and duplicity of those who pretended to be Paul’s allies only for the purposes of defaming him. He doesn’t say they are fake Christians, or that they have received the sacraments without receiving grace. In fact, the whole book of Galatians militates against that interpretation, insofar as Paul tells the Galatians they have received Christ in baptism, and must not now be led away by the false brothers.

    -David

  24. Erick,

    “Do you really believe this verse cannot apply to so-called “Christians” who are merely outwardly baptized?”

    Yep. Don’t see the concept of “merely outward baptism” anywhere in Scripture. The “real Jews” in this passage are those who have been born again. The outward Jews are those who cling to the Mosaic Law, rather than faith in Christ which brings the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    -David

  25. David–

    Neither do you see the concept of the efficacy of baptismal grace anywhere in Scripture, so it’s a wash.

    You are positing that God, in his infinite wisdom, traded in one ethnocentric, ritualistic people for another of the same ilk…and called this nearly identical covenant “new.” Baptism by your reading need not be a matter of faith or the spirit or the heart…being merely “of the flesh” will do quite nicely, thank you very much.

  26. David,

    In Galatians 2:4, Paul is not discussing the efficacy of baptism but rather the hypocrisy and duplicity of those who pretended to be Paul’s allies only for the purposes of defaming him. He doesn’t say they are fake Christians, or that they have received the sacraments without receiving grace. In fact, the whole book of Galatians militates against that interpretation, insofar as Paul tells the Galatians they have received Christ in baptism, and must not now be led away by the false brothers.

    Yes, Paul is not talking about the efficacy of baptism. That, in Galatians, is at best a side point. He is calling Judaizers, who presumably have been baptized, false brothers. A false brother in Christ is a false Christian.

    The mere act of baptism doesn’t do anything. Does an adult pagan who says he has converted to RCism and is baptized all the while secretly hating Christ in his heart and, unbeknownst to others, is pretending to be RC only because it will help him make some good business contacts in his parish get anything from baptism? Certainly not regeneration.

    So it is entirely possible for there to be such a thing as a false Christian even if one has been baptized.

    Then there are the texts such as 1 John 2 that says the people who left were never truly of the community. They were Christians in name only. And Paul knows of a category of people under the old covenant who were not true Jews even though they had received circumcision. Or is circumcision not effectual because God didn’t care to work ex opere operato back then?

    So try as you might, there is a category for “false Christians.” Your sacramentology is overriding the text.

  27. Robert,

    Yes, Paul is not talking about the efficacy of baptism. That, in Galatians, is at best a side point. He is calling Judaizers, who presumably have been baptized, false brothers. A false brother in Christ is a false Christian.

    This objection equivocates on the meaning of “false.” The article addresses the question of whether or not all the baptized receive grace in the sacrament. The fact that a Christian, after receiving baptismal grace, could later prove “false,” in the sense of being duplicitous or disloyal is not in question.

    The mere act of baptism doesn’t do anything

    That’s a question-begging assertion.

    Then there are the texts such as 1 John 2 that says the people who left were never truly of the community. They were Christians in name only.

    The doctrine of baptismal generation anticipates that some measure of baptized, regenerate Christians are not elect, will lost the faith and the state of grace, and be lost.

    And Paul knows of a category of people under the old covenant who were not true Jews even though they had received circumcision.

    Absolutely. Circumcision does not regenerate. Not efficacious ex opera operato. Paul has a “Baptist” theology of circumcision.

    -David

  28. This objection equivocates on the meaning of “false.” The article addresses the question of whether or not all the baptized receive grace in the sacrament. The fact that a Christian, after receiving baptismal grace, could later prove “false,” in the sense of being duplicitous or disloyal is not in question.

    But if they are duplicitous when receiving baptism and are in fact resisting it, they weren’t regenerated, correct? Or does God regenerate people who hate him all the while they are being regenerated. A murderous, liar who is being baptized but nobody knows about it except for God and the person being baptized is receiving grace? No. At best, God is offering it. The baptized person is knowingly and obstinately refusing to receive it.

    The doctrine of baptismal generation anticipates that some measure of baptized, regenerate Christians are not elect, will lost the faith and the state of grace, and be lost.

    John’s not talking about election. He’s talking about being a full part of the community. If everyone who is baptized is a full part of the community in every sense, then John taught error. He said they were never “of us.”

    And again, is it not true in RC sacramentology that if the person in the sacrament knowingly rejects what the sacrament offers, he does not receive grace, or at least not all the benefits of grace? He certainly doesn’t get regeneration. And if that is the case, how is he meaningfully Christian? He’s just a pagan who is pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.

    Absolutely. Circumcision does not regenerate. Not efficacious ex opera operato. Paul has a “Baptist” theology of circumcision.

    So the benefit of the new covenant is a sacrament that regenerates everyone who gets it except not really because those who knowingly resist the grace don’t actually receive regeneration? What happens to efficacious ex opera operato?

  29. Robert,

    And again, is it not true in RC sacramentology that if the person in the sacrament knowingly rejects what the sacrament offers, he does not receive grace, or at least not all the benefits of grace? He certainly doesn’t get regeneration. And if that is the case, how is he meaningfully Christian?

    The thesis of the article is that valid baptism always conveys grace. According to Catholic doctrine, an adult without faith or repentance or at least the habitual desire to receive baptism is not validly baptized.

    -David

  30. David,

    The thesis of the article is that valid baptism always conveys grace. According to Catholic doctrine, an adult without faith or repentance or at least the habitual desire to receive baptism is not validly baptized.

    So the upshot is that baptism doesn’t really work ex opere operato in every case. There is a condition on the part of the recipient that must be met. Sounds awfully Protestant.

    That introduces the problem that you have no idea who has been validly baptized, which raises issues of how you can determine who is a real Christian. So if I’m reading you right, a baptism doesn’t have to be valid to make you a true Christian. You are a true Christian whether you have regeneration or not at baptism. The washing of the water is enough. Sounds an awful lot like the notion that one is brought into the covenant community by baptism by the performing of the act but not necessarily into a state of salvation. That’s virtually identical to the Reformed paedobaptist position on the baptism of those who never come to faith.

    So the Roman Catholic can say a person has been baptized but they have no idea ever if the person’s baptism was valid.

  31. Robert,

    So the upshot is that baptism doesn’t really work ex opere operato in every case.”

    That is not correct. Valid baptism always works ex opera operato, according to Catholic doctrine.

    -David

  32. David–

    From the pen of Karl Keating:

    “Ex opere operato is a Latin expression meaning “by the work worked.” It refers to the fact that the sacraments confer grace when the sign is validly effected — not as the result of activity on the part of the recipent but by the power and promise of God.

    “Now, to receive the fruits of the sacraments, you should be properly disposed. At least in adults, there must be a predispositional receptivity to receive the grace that is always available in a validly effected sacrament. This means reception of grace via the sacraments is not automatic. But the ex opere operato nature of the sacraments reminds us that, while a proper disposition is necessary to receive grace in the sacraments, it isn’t the cause of that grace.”

    ***********

    Robert’s point was that an INVALID adult baptism does not confer grace…and, since we cannot know whether or not a particular individual has been sincere in his or her repentence and faith, we cannot know whether such a person was actually baptismally regenerated. Therefore, at least with adults, it leaves Catholics in the same boat as Protestants.

  33. The vital difference being that we Catholics are in Peter’s boat, and the Protestants aren’t!

  34. David,

    Erik is right. My point is that the mere act of baptism doesn’t actually work in every case if you are correct. So I find it really hard to square that with any notion of baptism conferring grace simply by the work worked. The Westminsterian view would say that baptism always confers grace to the elect, though not necessarily at the time the baptism is administered. If you are right, and the quote from Karl Keating raises questions about whether you are, then the difference between the Reformed and RCs at this point is that while whether or not grace is conferred in baptism depends on the person and whether or not he ever comes to faith, the RC view has baptism going to non-elect persons who have saving faith. By definition in the Reformed view, a non-elect person never comes to saving faith.

    So what to do with the adult RC who was baptized but unbeknownst to all except him and God, never had faith and was never regenerate. Is he a false Christian? Well, the RCC certainly treats him as a Christian, admitting him to all the privileges of the church. But he is in fact not a Christian and never was except in a visible, outward sense. Hello distinction between false Christians and true Christians.

    Even if you hold to a view of baptismal regeneration, such a view is in fact compatible with the idea that there is a difference between a false Christian and a true Christian. You can’t read the passages that talk about being baptized into Christ as any sort of guarantee that everyone who is baptized is a true Christian. The church can’t ever tell if baptismal regeneration has actually been effected, at least in the case of adults. So while you may hold a view that says a valid baptism always conveys grace to the recipient, that view in itself does not prove there is no such thing as a false Christian or that Paul and the other NT writers have no category of the false Christian in mind. In fact, 1 John 2 indicates that they must. The one who goes out was never of us. Clearly that person never had a valid baptism though he was actually baptized and he was actually treated as a Christian by the church. If he had a valid baptism, there is no such thing as “he was never of us,” for if his baptism was in fact valid, he was by definition at one point part of us.

  35. Erik,

    Therefore, at least with adults, it leaves Catholics in the same boat as Protestants.

    At first glance it might seem that way, but in reality I think you will find that it is not so, at least in the aggregate. The question hinges on “proper disposition” and what exactly that entails. This question must be seen in light of what the Catholic liturgy for the rite of Baptism entails and also when/who do Catholics baptize?

    First, “proper disposition” simply means 2 very straightforward requirements. 1) that you believe / have faith and 2) that you desire to become Christian and to receive the sacrament. And the faith part is not that one’s faith is necessarily great or strong, only that it exists – precisely because we believe the sacrament operates by God’s power not ours. Really, in the case of baptism improper disposition would be defined as one who actually does not believe or who really does not desire baptism. It is a case where the individual by their own will is rejecting God’s grace, not that they are somehow insufficient in their qualification.

    To see what that means it is helpful to recall the rite of baptism:
    There is a Profession of Faith before the baptism:
    “Do you reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises?” I DO

    “Do you believe in God the Father the Almighty the creator of heaven and earth?” I DO

    “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? ” I DO

    … etc….

    Finally, it is and has always been the practice of the Church in ordinary circumstances to not baptize adults without prior preparation (and ordinarily to not baptize infants without good reason to believe they will be raised as Christians.) Outside of specific circumstances of danger of death, candidates for baptism are to be prepared and ‘examined’ prior to baptism.

    What does that all add up to? Well first, in order to NOT be “Properly Disposed” at the time of the sacrament a candidate would have to actually lie multiple times at least in the sense of saying “I do” while holding grave reservations about the faith. Further, ordinarily, that would mean having taken the time and effort to meet with a priest, ask for baptism, and be found by the priest to be properly prepared to receive the sacrament. In recent years this has generally taken the form of Preparation for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults which involves months of inquiry classes and in some areas 2 years of preparation. Before Vatican II it was probably generally even more stringent. In any case there is very good reason to believe that it would be extremely rare for a person to be baptized without proper disposition. One would have to make a deliberate effort or at the very least come to reject the faith in the final hour and yet proceed with baptism anyway, knowingly answering “I Do” to statement of the faith one knows one can not believe.

    Now there are the exceptional cases. In times of danger or illness when baptism may be requested it can be offered, but the statement of faith remains. A lay person may even baptize in an emergency. But, it is precisely because of the question of valid baptism that the Church practices conditional baptism. If a person’s baptism occurred in an irregular manner a priest / pastor will investigate prior to admitting the person to further sacraments. If there is any question at all a full rite of baptism will be performed, conditionally.

    So, Erik, you can see that while the Catholic Church does explicitly recognize the possibility of a defective baptism, it is precisely because of that recognition that the Church takes specific steps to do her best to ensure that baptized faithful are indeed baptized faithful by making “improper disposition” to receive the sacrament rare. And indeed, it is a very low hurdle. Simply, one must not be lying when one approaches the sacrament. That is all.

    In conclusion, while it is possible that there are some people who have indeed attempted false baptism in the Catholic Church those people must necessarily have done so deliberately and the Church continues to make more than reasonable efforts to make sure that such cases are by far the exception.

    Catholics are not in the same boat as Protestants here because 1) we do not have to worry about the efficacy of our own baptism and our reality as Christians unless we know that we were lying; and 2) We have no particular reason to believe that other Catholics, even those baptized as adults were not validly baptized. The fact that there might be some 1 in 1,000,000 who out of some motive lied and posed as a believer to be baptized (and now presumably, continues to pose as a Catholic), is really not significant when considering people around us.

    God Bless and have a blessed Holy Week.

    P.S. – In “Brideshead Revisited” Evelyn Waugh writes about the relationship of Rex with Father Mowbray, the priest providing instruction to Rex Mottram in preparation for baptism. This is illustrative because Waugh includes both the instruction and the actual evaluation of the priest regarding the reality of Rex’s faith. I was reminded of this by the recent kerfluful over Evelyn Waugh’s masculinity in contradiction to Time Magazine and this article in National Review .

  36. David, Robert, and Erik:

    In this discussion, I’m concerned that critical distinctions have been lost through equivocal use of terms.

    “Real Christian” means “someone who’ll go to heaven” in the Southern Baptist “Once Saved, Always Saved” lexicon.

    But in the Catholic lexicon it means merely, “someone who was baptized as a child, or who was baptized as an adult with the proper disposition.” Meanwhile, the set of “persons who’ll go to heaven” is a set which which only partly overlaps with the set of all persons validly baptized.

    Now it seems to me that when an individual is baptized, there are four categories of observer:
    Category 1: God, who is able not only to see the outward sacramental sign but the inward disposition, and who confers (or doesn’t confer) the invisible graces according to that disposition;
    Category 2: the individual being baptized, who participates in the outward sacramental sign and is aware of his own internal disposition, though he can’t observe the invisible graces;
    Category 3: the witnesses to the baptism, who see only the outward sacramental sign, but cannot observe either the internal disposition of the person being baptized, or the invisible graces; and,
    Category 4: persons not present at the baptism, who hear reports about it later, who not only could not observe the invisible graces or interior disposition, but who also have to rely on second-hand or third-hand reports of how the baptism was performed, to have any clues about possible defect of form.

    Now if we, holding the Catholic view on the sacraments, ask the question, “Who is a real Christian?” we immediately find uncertainty: For, usually we are in Category 4 with respect to the individual whose “real Christianity” we are attempting to discern. But how much uncertainty? Not much, in practice.

    It must be admitted that God, in Category 1, always knows the answers to both the questions, “Who is a real Christian?” and “who is going to heaven?” But that’s God. What about the rest of us?

    We must confess that our level of certainty that Person X is a “real Christian” in the Catholic sense — validly baptized, either as a child or as an adult with the proper disposition — cannot be perfect.

    However, it can often be very close to perfect. Those of us in Category 4 can get reasonable evidence that there was no defect of form (Trinitarian formula, water sufficient to run down the head). Then, if they were a child, we need not worry about defective disposition; if they were old enough for a defect of disposition to be possible, we can gather reasonable evidence about their outwardly-evident motives and attitudes at the time. In this way, we can have good confidence that they’re a “real Christian.”

    Persons in Category 3 (direct witnesses of the baptism) are in a position to have even better confidence: Having observed the rite, they can be confident whether there was any defect of form. If the person baptized was a child, they can be perfectly confident there was no defect of disposition, and if an adult, the persons in Category 3 are probably family or friends whose observations of the adult convert will be sufficient to have confidence about their motives.

    An adult in Category 2 (that is, the person being baptized, himself), has direct knowledge of his own disposition. So he has even less uncertainty than the Category 3 witnesses.

    And in all these cases, if there is any lingering doubt, a “conditional baptism” is always an option. For example, adult Catholic converts who were originally “baptized” in one of the flaky liberal churches that likes to take gender-neutral liberties with the baptismal formula can be “conditionally baptized” by a Catholic clergyman.

    So, does all of this give a perfect, formulaic, arithmetic kind of certainty? No: But it gives the kind of certainty that no sane man would wager ten dollars betting against. It is much like the “motives of credibility” in that way: Sure, there’s some tiny chance that Jesus’ disciples stole and hid His body, and then lied about it and went to their deaths gladly to preserve that lie. But no sane man would bet a fiver on such a whopper.

    In considering this “quest for certainty,” I’m inclined to ask: Why are we bothering trying to achieve certainty that So-And-So is a “real Christian,” anyway? In the Catholic view, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to heaven. So, given that we can usually have a very high level of confidence, why bother about the small amount of uncertainty which remains?

    It would be different, if we held the “Once Saved, Always Saved” view.

    In that view, being a “real Christian” means being someone who will go to Heaven; not being a “real Christian” means someone who will go to hell.

    But, also in that view, everyone who’s had a sincere conversion experience is going to Heaven, baptized or not. There is, in this view, a very high certainty that a very large number of people, including a very large number of unrepentant sinners, heretics, and apostates, are going to Heaven. If confidence is what you’re after, “Once Saved, Always Saved” is absolutely the way to go. Its only flaw is, sadly, a pretty big flaw: Scripture seems to contradict it, right and left, and the kinds of interpretative liberties used as workarounds by its proponents are in serious conflict with how the relevant passages were interpreted by, oh, 90% of all Christians from the Ascension to the present. Like I said: Great for having confidence in one’s own salvation…but if warranted, well-grounded confidence is what you’re after, then…not so much.

    And what about the Calvinist view (which is not the Southern Baptist, Independent Bible Church, Dallas Theological Seminary view, but something focused on evidence of election)?

    There, I defer to Dr. Anders, who has the benefit of having studied the Puritans and other Calvinist groups throughout history. I have only the anecdotal evidence of a few personal contacts. Amongst these, there have been a few for whom their uncertainty provoked scrupulosity; there have been others for whom it didn’t. Personality types, rather than objective criteria, seem to determine the kind of experience one has.

    But that’s anecdotal, to be sure. And “data” is not the plural of anecdote.

    All of the above is to say:

    1. There is a kind of certainty that can be had by the Catholic, regarding the validity of his baptism or that of his family members. It is not 100% certain, but it allows for practical confidence.

    2. There is also a similar practical confidence about whether, if one were to die now, he would go to Heaven. An objective inventory may be taken: “Have I sinned willfully and seriously since my last visit to the confessional? No? Well, then, not because I can trust my own heart, but because I can put trust in the promises of God, I can have a reasonable, practical confidence as regards the present state of my soul.”

    3. We need not obsess about our slight uncertainty on the “real Christian” question, unless we hold a non-Catholic view of baptism and of election. But if we do hold one of the many non-Catholic views of these things our experience will vary according to (a.) which of the non-Catholic views we hold, and (b.) our own personality type.

    A Final Note About Truth And Emotional Responses:
    It’s one thing to hold a true understanding of a complex topic; it’s another thing for one’s emotions to entirely accord with one’s understanding.

    As Christians we’re called to subject every part of our persons to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In our intellect, that means accepting the truth because it is true, not because it makes us feel a certain way. But in our emotions, that means feeling the way we ought to feel about the things that are true. And this is very difficult! But we are no less morally obligated to train our emotions to “fittingness,” than we are to train our intellect towards that which is true.

    So the man who knows that such-and-such a woman is someone he shouldn’t get romantically involved with — because he is married, or because she is engaged to his best friend, or because, in spite of being hot-looking, she’s a bit of a loon and would make a very bad mother for children — is obligated not only to keep his mind fixed on that truth, but to control his passions, and not be ruled by them, and recognize that they are currently disordered and not to be trusted.

    I think Martin Luther must have been in a similar situation regarding his own salvation. There is no particular need for scrupulous anxiety, in the Catholic soteriology: Such passions are simply disordered: They don’t match the doctrine. Luther was constantly sweating the wrath of God, with apparently no trust in God’s love. In so far as it is possible for emotions to be heretical, Luther was an emotional heretic: His passions were in a state of discord with Catholic doctrine.

    So Luther changed the doctrine, in order to feel relief from his disordered passions. This is getting things completely the opposite of the way they should be: We should grasp truth, no matter how it upsets us emotionally; and then, we should, by cooperating with God’s grace, re-train our passions until they become helpful at reminding us of what is true, rather than distracting us from it.

    I raise this, because even if it were true that the Catholic sacramentology made one’s “real Christian” status deeply uncertain, that would be no reason for believing a different sacramentology. And, even though Catholic sacramentology does allow a high degree of certainty about whether a man is “really a Christian,” that, in-and-of-itself, is no reason to embrace it.

    It ought to be embraced because it is true, full stop.

    And afterwards, we ought to train ourselves feel about it in such a way that our emotions assist us, rather than hindering us, in our service of the Truth. That’s what emotions are for. It is like C.S. Lewis says in The Abolition of Man: The head rules the hands “through the chest.”

  37. Eric/Robert,

    Keating is right that the grace conferred by the sacraments is not mechanistic. I would assume that someone like the person Robert described would be validly baptized (and therefore not repeated if he wished to repent) but would not get as Keating pointed out “the fruits of the sacraments.” I could be wrong on that though and I’m open to correction but I think that’s it. It is an interesting question but my guess is that you can make a sacrilege of baptism as well as the Eucharist. IRS a scary thought but God allows humanity to freely reject him even at the moments He designed to save us (give us sanctifying grace). I believe he does this so we can just as freely accept him with a good/proper disposition in those moments (which are prompted by actual grace).

    As far as who is aware of what, I suppose you’re right that I wouldn’t know if the person sitting next to me in the pew was rejecting Jesus in their heart while being baptized but I know I didn’t. I was baptized in infancy which makes the question moot for many Catholics. And for adults, I think they would know if they are rejecting the Catholic Church when they decide to enter it (as in the scenario Robert describes). This is also why we have RCIA which is supposed to get people ready for the faith. If said people are not willing to agree and abide by all the Church’s teachings to the best of their ability, they shouldn’t be getting baptized IMO. But the sacrament would still be valid.

    May God be with you.

    Matthew

  38. At Robert:

    “So the benefit of the new covenant is a sacrament that regenerates everyone who gets it except not really because those who knowingly resist the grace don’t actually receive regeneration? What happens to efficacious ex opera operato?”

    For what I know the doctrine of ex opera operato makes reference to the state of grace of the person who is baptising, not the person who is being baptised. So even if the person who baptises is in mortal sin, the person being baptised (assuming good disposition here) is baptised.

  39. Gentlemen,

    Calvin was explicit that the efficacy of baptism was dependent upon predestination. Normally, for Calvin, one could presume that baptism occasions regeneration (but does not cause it), but one could not know for sure until/unless the baptized exhibited a living faith. Hence the Puritan drive to discern the marks of election in one’s soul. On the flip side, Calvin admitted that there were baptized people with nominal faith who never had been regenerate. The theological rationale for this position, I believe, was grounded in his concern for assurance and perseverance. If you could know you were really elect (by discerning the marks of faith & election), you could have an infallible assurance of salvation, based on God’s promise never to abandon the elect.

    This is markedly different from the Augustinian/Thomist/Tridentine (and, I would argue, Biblical) view. Namely, regeneration and election are not coextensive. There are people regenerated – who really receive sanctifying grace in their souls – who will later lose that grace through mortal sin and be damned. Thus, no experience of grace – however genuine – in the present is an infallible guarantor of eternal salvation. St. Thomas says – it is not because of grace previously received, but because of trust and hope in God’s mercy and will to save, that the Christian lives confidently in God. Also, Catholic faith teaches we cannot merit the gift of final perseverance. We can only pray trustingly for that gift.

    This is all relates to baptism and the sacraments from the psychological point of view. The Catholic is not directed to self-contemplation (“Can I know I really received grace?”), but to the objective promise of grace in the sacraments. Christ is truly promised in baptism, in the Eucharist, in the confessional. Christ’s presence there is not dependent on anything within me nor does it depend upon my predestination. Subjectively, the sacraments may be more or less efficacious in bringing me to holiness (and thus to salvation) because of my subjective disposition. But this necessity does not create in me any kind of “magic moment” spirituality in which I seek for some absolute proof of my predestination that is forever unshakeable. Crudely, the “magic moment” Spirituality of Reformed Protestantism devolved into D.L. Moody-type “sinner’s prayer” conversions, echoed in 4-spiritual laws or Billy Graham crusades. “Come to Christ at the altar, and know for sure you’re going to heaven.” That kind of thing was absent in Calvin, and even in 17th century Puritanism – but it is intimately related to Calvin’s doctrine and a natural outgrowth (as I explain in the article “Have you been born again? Catholic Reflections on a Protestant Dogma.”)

    As far as the efficacy of baptism is concerned, it just isn’t true that Catholics run around wondering about the efficacy of their baptism. The vast majority of Catholics were baptized as infants. The minority that received adult baptism received it intentionally, and that means validly. I have never met a Catholic in my life who said that he had received baptism under a pretense. There are cases in Catholic life where validity is questioned, but always pertaining to form. There was a case in Australia years ago when people were being baptized in the name of creator, redeemer, & sanctifier. The Church found out, and went back and baptized those people validly. Sometimes today people are still baptized conditionally if there is doubt. So the psychological equivalence some allege just isn’t there.

    I would admit the following analogy:

    The Reformed Protestant “knows for sure he is going to heaven,” but also knows that his faith might be spurious, so he strives to make his calling and election sure. He “knows” his baptism “Worked,” but only because God chose to make it work in his particular case.

    The Catholic knows for sure that his baptism worked, because it always works. He doesn’t yearn and strive to know whether he was truly born again. But he doesn’t know that he’s elect, and doesn’t know whether he will be in that state of grace tomorrow (nor is he even infallibly certain about today). So, he also strives to make his calling and election sure. He does this, in large measure, by staying close to the sacraments of the Church where grace is always, infallibly, and objectively present. “Whoever eats my flesh abides in me.”

    Speaking from experience, I can tell you that becoming Catholic effected a major shift in the orientation of my interior life towards the reception of the sacraments and in a more fearful recognition of the dangers of sin. I don’t claim that being Catholic made me instantly sin less. But it did change the way I viewed sin and, I think, changed the way I thought about other people. I no longer cared so much whether someone else was “born again,” and it made me more willing to see spiritual life along a continuum. The important thing wasn’t whether someone had prayed the sinner’s prayer, but how they progressed along the road to holiness. And, since my own life of holiness was lacking, I think, hope, and pray that it made me more patient with other’s failings.

    There is an evangelical children’s song that goes, “One door and only one, and yet its sides are two. I’m on the inside, on which side are you?” That characterized my attitude as a Protestant. I was “on the inside.” I was one of the illuminati. I was elect. Now, as a Catholic, I can’t think that way. The Church itself is a mystery, present in fullness in communion with the Pope, sacraments, and creed, but extended throughout the world in a way into other communities. God’s grace works in an unseen way, I cannot say who does or does not have grace. My hope is to live the faith generously and point people to Christ. But I have to leave the judgment of souls up to God.

    I’m not particularly interested in addressing this topic polemically, but in dialogue. I hope I’ve made my point that Catholics, in general, experience the objectivity of grace in a way that is different from Protestants. If you, as a Protestant, think this is wrong, or that Protestants really don’t see things the way I’ve said, or that I’ve misrepresented my own experience as a Catholic, that’s fine. If you feel about the sacraments as a Protestant the way I feel as a Catholic, then wonderful! That’s something we share.

    Calvin, for his part, was pretty adamant that the Catholic doctrine of baptism was wrong. He felt very strongly about it. Trent agreed. Calvin’s doctrine of baptism was not Catholic. That fact alone mystifies me as to why any Reformed protestant would argue that Catholics and Protestants are really in the same boat psychologically. Calvin certainly didn’t think so.

    Anyway, thanks for taking an interest in the article.

    -David

  40. GNW–

    Saying that one has faith and having faith are two entirely different matters. My guess is that it is not HAVING faith which would render a baptism invalid, something no priest anywhere could possibly ascertain with any degree of certainty. Many convert to Catholicism, for example, before getting married to a Catholic. Their profession of faith may merely mean that they wish no impediments to that marriage to remain outstanding. A genuine profession of faith must include adherence to the tenets of that faith. The clear resistance of so many Catholics to church teaching on abortion, contraception, divorce, homosexuality, transubstantiation, purgatory, etc. displays either duplicity on their part or incoherence.

  41. Eric,

    According to Catholic doctrine, neither orthodox belief nor moral worthiness is necessary for validity. For an adult, merely the intention of receiving the sacrament suffices. Moral worthiness is necessary for the fruitful reception of the sacrament, but not the valid reception. The sacraments revive (become fruitful) after removal of the moral indisposition. Thus, an immoral heretic who intends to be baptized is truly baptized and becomes a member of Christ, though the sanctifying effects of baptism become effective only when he believes and repents.

    -David

  42. David,

    But no one can know if the person has the intent to receive the sacrament. And yet the church treats everyone who has received the sacrament as a Christian even if they never intended to receive the sacrament. But if the intent was not there, then the sacrament was invalid, according to what you are saying.

    So the fact remains that even in a highly sacerdotal system, there is a category for true and false Christians. The person who was baptized without ever intending to receive the sacrament but who is treated as a Christian is a false Christian regardless of what position one takes on the efficacy of baptism itself.

    As hard as we might try, we can’t escape a distinction between the visible and invisible church, unless we posit that every single person who was ever baptized had the intent to receive it validly. But I don’t see where you or Rome are prepared to do that. And while membership in the invisible church normally overlaps with the visible church, as it pertains to the salvation of the individual, membership in the invisible church is more important and decisive. Post-V2 Roman Catholic theology assumes this by extending the benefits of membership in the invisible church to many people who never and can never join the visible church by baptism. I don’t agree with the inclusivism of Rome, but it does point to the final superiority of the invisible church, and if that is the case, there must be a category for the true/false Christian.

  43. Robert,

    And yet the church treats everyone who has received the sacrament as a Christian even if they never intended to receive the sacrament.

    Bingo! You are right on target.

    But if the intent was not there, then the sacrament was invalid.

    Correct.

    So the fact remains that even in a highly sacerdotal system, there is a category for true and false Christians.

    Nope. As you pointed out, the Church presumes that if you say, “I want to be baptized” that this means, “I want to be baptized.” That’s pretty much what intent means.

    The person who was baptized without ever intending to receive the sacrament but who is treated as a Christian is a false Christian regardless of what position one takes on the efficacy of baptism itself.

    Who are these masses of people being baptized who say they want to be baptized who really don’t want to be baptized? Keep in mind, an immoral heretic who just gets baptized so his Italian in-laws don’t go ape still has valid intent, as far as the Church is concerned.

    As hard as we might try, we can’t escape a distinction between the visible and invisible church.

    The mystical dimension of the Church is something Catholics affirm.

    while membership in the invisible church normally overlaps with the visible church, as it pertains to the salvation of the individual, membership in the invisible church is more important and decisive. Post-V2 Roman Catholic theology assumes this by extending the benefits of membership in the invisible church to many people who never and can never join the visible church by baptism.

    Scripture and Catholic tradition don’t know anything about this invisible Church. Rather, we might speak of someone who is a member of the one Church – which subsiss in the Catholic Church – but in a less visible manner.

    I don’t agree with the inclusivism of Rome, but it does point to the final superiority of the invisible church, and if that is the case, there must be a category for the true/false Christian.

    Non-sequitur. The possibility of God saving someone outside of the Catholic Church does not mean that any validly baptized Catholic is not a Christian. Rather, it means that some non-Christians are saved.

    -David

  44. David—

    Thanks for the explanation. It confirmed that I probably am accurately comprehending you. Clearly, we have very different definitions of what it means to be a bona fide Christian. You use it how we would use “church member in good standing.” Membership gives you neither rights nor benefits nor responsibilities (at least within Presbyterianism). It’s mostly just a title. It has no discernible value other than streamlining the administration of the local church. That and a buck fifty will get you a 20-ounce bottle of Coke. Any old body right off the street has access to all the preaching and teaching and programs of the church.

    A “church member in good standing” may be (theologically) fairly openly heretical and may be (morally) a serial adulterer or church treasury embezzler or kiddie porn distributor on the sly. God knows, but the pastoral staff may have no clue. It sounds like a very similar circumstance to your notion of the “validity” but unfruitfulness of some Catholic baptisms.

    Going back to an earlier exchange, you claim that becoming Catholic produced in you “a more fearful recognition of the dangers of sin,” this after complaining that we Calvinists put ourselves in too fearful a recognition of the dangers of sin (in that we might find out by our complacency toward wrongdoing that we actually have not been mystically united to Christ). You also said that the important thing was not some “magic moment” or some mountaintop emotional experience—it wasn’t whether we had prayed some formulaic “sinner’s prayer”—the important thing was how we had progressed along the road to holiness. That makes it sound like you used to be a Dispensationalist but that you saw the light and became Reformed! (David Platt, right there in your lovely city of Birmingham, who is a Calvinistic Southern Baptist, stirred a good deal of controversy by pointing out the inherent inadequacies of the unquestioned and ubiquitous use of the “Sinner’s Prayer.”)

  45. David–

    I wrote a short rejoinder to R.C. yesterday that didn’t go through. The CAPTCHA mechanism has been malfunctioning at least on my end. After numerous unsuccessful attempts on my part, it came back declaring that I had sent duplicate content.

    Here is my reply to him if you can post it for me:

    R.C.–

    Luther had problems with scrupulosity before becoming a Protestant, and then clearly BECAUSE of Catholic soteriology. He simply did not feel adequate for his salvation even partly to rely on his works. (He, by the way, consistently pointed to his baptism as the objective sign, as the guarantor of his redemption, whenever he experienced doubt.)

    Catholics discuss scrupulosity all the time due to the reaction of certain obsessive personality types to the confessional. The Reformed basically NEVER discuss scrupulosity. I have personally never known an overly scrupulous Calvinist. The principal responses to understanding the Doctrines of Grace are humility and thanksgiving, not inadequacy. Neither have I ever experienced anything remotely resembling “fruit inspection.” (The Puritans are not an across-the-board standard for all things Calvinist!)

  46. Hi Eric,

    Your category of “church member in good standing” is not the equivalent of what I mean by Christian. A Christian, in Catholic doctrine, is someone who has been made a priest (baptismal) in the Catholic Church, received an indelible mark on the soul, been made a member of Christ, and had the stain of original sin removed. All of that is presumed for every baptized person. I understand that these things are not presumed for every baptized Presbyterian. So that is a major difference. Another significant differences is that a Christian (as I have defined it) can still go to hell. In the Calvinist system, someone who has been truly made a member of Christ could never go to hell. Hence, the importance of the “real” vs. “nominal” distinction within Protestantism – to distinguish baptized who are truly members of Christ (and thus infallibly guaranteed heaven) from those who have not yet been truly incorporated by faith, regeneration, and justification.

    -David

  47. Eric (#44)

    Membership gives you neither rights nor benefits nor responsibilities (at least within Presbyterianism). It’s mostly just a title. It has no discernible value other than streamlining the administration of the local church.

    By no means. Membership by baptism gives you the supernatural life of God living in you. That is an unspeakable privilege. If you kill it – possibly instantly – by mortal sin, you now have a great responsibility, to repent – greater than the responsibility of the unbaptized.

    jj

  48. David,

    Who are these masses of people being baptized who say they want to be baptized who really don’t want to be baptized?

    There doesn’t have to be “masses of people.” There just has to be one.

    Keep in mind, an immoral heretic who just gets baptized so his Italian in-laws don’t go ape still has valid intent, as far as the Church is concerned.

    So even though the immoral heretic doesn’t want regeneration, his intent is still valid in the eyes of God and the baptism makes him a Christian? That’s some odd theology. How about the Muslim who doesn’t want to worship the Trinity but really likes the aesthetics of Romanism and the symbolism of baptism, so he asks for baptism?

    Unless you are saying that regeneration does not make you a Christian, in which case there’s a question as to why baptism would even be necessary in the first place, let alone regeneration.

    Scripture and Catholic tradition don’t know anything about this invisible Church. Rather, we might speak of someone who is a member of the one Church – which subsiss in the Catholic Church – but in a less visible manner.

    You just affirmed a mystical dimension to the church.

    Non-sequitur. The possibility of God saving someone outside of the Catholic Church does not mean that any validly baptized Catholic is not a Christian. Rather, it means that some non-Christians are saved.

    My point is that if non-Christians can be saved, and that through Christ and incorporation into His church, the only way that can happen is by incorporation into the invisible church. Unless of course you want to affirm that the RCC can subsist in a mosque or synagogue that denies Christ.

  49. Hi Robert,

    Catholic theology and practice does not allow for us to pass judgment in a definitive way on a man’s interior life or on whether or not he has grace. Rather, we emphasize the objective and visibly identifiable medium of grace (the Church and sacraments), the objective demands of Christian morality, and the objective content of the faith we profess. Any validly baptized Catholic may be in or out of grace (we don’t know), but that is not the same thing as being in our out of the Reformers’ “invisible Church.” A man can be in mortal sin (according to Catholic doctrine), and still be in a supernatural state through unformed faith, and still be part of the body of Christ through baptism, and thus entitled to the Church’s ministrations. So, the Catholic doesn’t look at his neighbor or himself and say, “I’m not really a Christian” but rather, “I am a Christian, and therefore I’d better get busy living like it.”

    And, of course I affirm a mystical dimension to the Church. Here is how Lumen Gentium describes the visible and the mystical in the Church:

    “the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element.”

  50. David,

    Catholic theology and practice does not allow for us to pass judgment in a definitive way on a man’s interior life or on whether or not he has grace.

    To be sure the church is not omniscient, but I don’t see where this is correct. Excommunication, particularly in the case of apostasy, would be a pronouncement that said person is, as far as the church can tell, not in a state of grace.

    Rather, we emphasize the objective and visibly identifiable medium of grace (the Church and sacraments), the objective demands of Christian morality, and the objective content of the faith we profess.

    OK

    Any validly baptized Catholic may be in or out of grace (we don’t know), but that is not the same thing as being in our out of the Reformers’ “invisible Church.”

    But if a person is out of grace, then he is not in state of salvation. So while you may not use the terminology, there nevertheless remains a distinction between who are saved (the invisible church since you don’t know who they are) and the body that consists of both baptized people in a state of grace and baptized people not in such a state (visible because you can only see the outer state of the person). The only alternative is to affirm that every baptized person is in grace.

    A man can be in mortal sin (according to Catholic doctrine), and still be in a supernatural state through unformed faith, and still be part of the body of Christ through baptism, and thus entitled to the Church’s ministrations.

    Is he united to Christ in such a state? If so, what’s so bad about dying in mortal sin?

    So, the Catholic doesn’t look at his neighbor or himself and say, “I’m not really a Christian” but rather, “I am a Christian, and therefore I’d better get busy living like it.”

    The Roman Catholic who actually cares, you mean. The person who was baptized while secretly hating Christ in his heart can’t say this. He is simply a member of the church and treated as a Christian, though he isn’t actually a Christian, right? The baptism certainly didn’t regenerate him. His name was never inscribed in the book of life in heaven. It just made it onto the rolls of the RCC parish. The guy put up a good show for his own reasons. He was part of the church visibly, but never participated in they mystical body. How could he if he wasn’t regenerated and mystically united to Christ?

  51. David–

    We also do not presume to pass judgment in a definitive way on a man’s interior life or whether or not he has received grace. The seemingly unconverted may in point of fact be converted; the man without apparent works may have plenty of spiritual fruit “coram deo.” (I’m guessing, however, that when it comes to the spiritual formation of a would-be priest, the RC church does indeed pass judgment on his interior life and his state of grace to the extent they are discernible. We do the same with our clergy.)

    The invisible church is invisible precisely because no man knows who is in or out: God and God alone knows. As for me, I fail to see the difference between someone who says,”Though I am lost in unbelief and immorality, still I AM a Christian, and therefore I’d better get busy living like it” and one who says,” I am NOT a Christian, but I’d better get busy living like one, thinking like one, believing like one.”

    The words of Lumen Gentium are beautiful but appear to leave out that Christ was an amalgamation, if we can call it that, of the divine and PERFECTED human flesh. The church should never aspire to be a coalescing of the spiritual together with CORRUPTED flesh. That’s what it looks like you’re championing. The true church, the pure church, should be a hypostasis (or a wedding, if you will) of the Spirit of Christ with the elect: the invisible body of the newly created.

  52. Robert,

    Excommunication, particularly in the case of apostasy, would be a pronouncement that said person is, as far as the church can tell, not in a state of grace.

    That’s not at all true in Catholic theology. A person can be lawfully excommunicated and still in the state of grace. This may have been the case (may) in the excommunication of Savanarola. Joan of Arc was erroneously burned for heresy. I could go on.

    But if a person is out of grace, then he is not in state of salvation.

    If you mean, he goes to hell if he dies, then I agree.

    So while you may not use the terminology, there nevertheless remains a distinction between who are saved (the invisible church since you don’t know who they are) and the body that consists of both baptized people in a state of grace and baptized people not in such a state (visible because you can only see the outer state of the person). The only alternative is to affirm that every baptized person is in grace.

    Ah, but not every baptized person in a state of grace will be saved. And many baptized people not in a state of grace will be reconciled to God before they die. The distinction I admit is between the elect and the reprobate, not between visible and invisible Church. There are people not in the state of grace who are yet invisibly (i.e., in a spiritual manner) united to the body of Christ by faith. They may or may not be saved when they die.

    A man can be in mortal sin (according to Catholic doctrine), and still be in a supernatural state through unformed faith, and still be part of the body of Christ through baptism, and thus entitled to the Church’s ministrations.

    Is he united to Christ in such a state? If so, what’s so bad about dying in mortal sin?

    Because he will go to hell.

    The Roman Catholic who actually cares, you mean.

    Of course.

    The person who was baptized while secretly hating Christ in his heart can’t say this. He is simply a member of the church and treated as a Christian, though he isn’t actually a Christian, right? The baptism certainly didn’t regenerate him. His name was never inscribed in the book of life in heaven. It just made it onto the rolls of the RCC parish. The guy put up a good show for his own reasons. He was part of the church visibly, but never participated in they mystical body. How could he if he wasn’t regenerated and mystically united to Christ?

    Here is the key distinction I am at pains to emphasize. In the Reformed tradition, especially after Calvin, men are urged to consider that their baptism may not have “taken,” so to speak. They must look for evidences (or elicit evidences) that, once received, can give them infallible certainty of their election. (So says Westminster). This is true whether they were baptized as infants (the vast majority) or adults. The Catholic has no expectation that he will every have infallible certainty of his election, and does not look for such. But the catholic baptized either as an infant or as intentionally as an adult has objective certainty that he is in a supernatural state through faith and the sacrament and that if he cooperates with that grace, he can be saved.

    If, per impossibile, someone hates Christ and submits to baptism under a pretense and with no faith and with no intention to do what the Church intends, then he is not validly baptized and has no assurance that he is in a supernatural state and on the way to salvation. But, as this article is written for intentional Catholics who are validly baptized and care about whether or not they are in Christ, I am not overly concerned with this hateful fellow.

    You seem very eager to insist that they could be some Catholic somewhere about whom the validity of the sacraments are in doubt. I never denied it. The Church deals with such cases from time to time. But doubt about the validity of one’s baptism is not how Catholics frame their law or spirituality. It is, however, a major point in Calvin. Perhaps you think Catholics are mistaken not to take this possibility more seriously? Perhaps you think we should all be afraid that our sacraments were invalid? All I can say in response is that is one reason I left Presbyterianism. Subjectively and psychologically, I am not in the same boat now that I was then, nor are the other converts I know, and the objective teaching of the Church is the reason – whatever you may urge to the contrary.

    Thanks again,

    David

  53. Eric,

    You’re put your finger right on it:

    As for me, I fail to see the difference between someone who says,”Though I am lost in unbelief and immorality, still I AM a Christian, and therefore I’d better get busy living like it” and one who says,” I am NOT a Christian, but I’d better get busy living like one, thinking like one, believing like one.”

    Here is the difference. A Christian in mortal sin knows that he is united to Christ by faith, knows that the sacraments have been apportioned to him, knows where grace is to be found, knows what is required of him and how to achieve it, knows that Christ and the Church are eager to reconcile him, knows that the communion of saints is interceding for him, and knows that the sacrifice of the mass is being offered for his salvation. The actual graces at work in his life to bring him back into a state of grace are substantial and place him at a great subjective advantage over the pagan.

    By contrast, the Calvinist who discerns grievous sins in his soul is in one of two conditions: 1) He has already experienced that “infallible assurance” such that these sins pose no threat whatsoever to his eternal salvation (presumption), or 2) he calls into question that assurance (no matter how strongly felt) and assumes that the grace previously received was likely spurious. He has no guarantee either of salvation or even of having been truly united to the Church through faith. Furthermore, he has no objective criterion to distinguish any future putative assurance from the now-viewed-as-spurious past assurance. He can only hope that he “won’t be fooled again.”

    -David

  54. David—

    May the risen Christ bless you on this most holy day and always!

    Any true believer, Catholic or confessional Protestant, who finds himself in grievous and willful sin, is still united to Christ, knows that the sacraments as means of grace have been provided him, knows that contrite acknowledgement of that sin and repentance thereof are required of him, knows that Christ and his church are willing and eager to reconcile him, knows that Christ is mediating on his behalf and that the communion of saints are interceding for him, and knows that the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of Christ on Calvary has been offered up for his salvation.

    The evangelized pagan, likewise, understands that these graces have been made available to him. If he is truly convicted of his sin and intends to live in newness of life, all he need do is reach out and they are his.

    As for the Calvinist, to believe that sins repented of shall indeed be forgiven is not illicit presumption, but noble faith, standing on the sure promises of Christ. Only unrepentant sin poses a threat to the salvation of either the Reformed or the Catholic. If we find ourselves apathetic or antipathetic toward the things of God, if we no longer wish to repent our sins but instead, carelessly revel in them, we certainly may need to reconsider our previously-held assurance of salvation. But most often, such a person does no such thing. They’re off on a new love. They may no longer even hold that there is any such thing as salvation to be assured of. Believers who are aware of their sin and sorry for their sin, yet somehow still doubt their assurance, have merely been poorly catechized.

    By the way, the “Perseverance of the Saints” is neither antinomian in nature nor is it some sort of easy-believism. The guarantee we are proffered is ultimate success, not the absence of difficulty along the way. We must strive with all our efforts, with blood, sweat, and tears. We must pray in dead earnest and hold on for dear life! Though one may receive the strongest of assurances, no presumption is abided. Presumption enervates. Presumption kills.

  55. Hi Eric,

    I appreciate that the devout Calvinist in practice may cultivate a hatred of sin, true contrition, a not-presumptuous faith in God’s mercy, and a hopeful expectation that the sacraments will communicate to him the grace of forgiveness and holiness. I also understand that Calvinist perseverance is not necessarily antinomian. (It certainly wasn’t antinomian in Puritan perfectionism.) It is not for nothing that Calvin is considered to be the most “catholic” of the Reformers. Nevertheless, these observations are perfectly compatible with the distinctions I drew between Catholic and Reformed faith.

    Westminster teaches unambiguously that the truly regenerate cannot fall away from the state of grace even if they commit grievous sins. (WCF XVII) Assurance, moreover, can be infallible, since it is not grounded in our free will or merits, but in the inward experience of adoption, the testimony of God’s spirit that we are children of God. (XVIII). It is thus possible, in the Reformed system, to be reconciled to God by faith with an infallible assurance of salvation while being inwardly at enmity with God in our wills through deadly sin. As I am sure you know, Westminster carefully worded its doctrine of assurance in order to exclude the Catholic doctrine. (Not “bare conjecture or probable persuasion” as they said.)

    This makes a significant difference in the pastoral practice, ecclesiology, and psychology in Reformed Protestantism when compared to Catholics. The Puritan emphasis on making sure you are in the state of grace and election through inward evidences and the eventual “once-for-all” view understanding of conversion and assurance that emerged in Evangelicalism have led to the practical and theoretical division between “real Christians” and the “Christians in name only.” Because Catholics do not believe in infallible assurance, because we believe those united to Christ by faith can remain in Christ by faith while falling away from sanctifying grace, and because we believe that valid sacraments are always efficacious (though not always to the same degree) it is not meaningless or mere legal verbiage to describe an unrepentant sinner as a Christian.

    To the Reformed, an unrepentant sinner is not united to Christ by faith. He is merely in the “visible” Church, but not yet united to the invisible. The Proper pastoral response to such a one is to urge him to become a real Christian, to receive Christ, to be born again. For a Catholic, an unrepentant but validly baptized Christian with at least intellectual assent to the creed is united to the Church both mystically (invisibly) through faith and visibly to the Catholic community. So, the proper pastoral response to such a sinner is not to urge him “to become a Christian,” but to repent of his sins and to live the truth he confesses. Furthermore, the Catholic recognizes no condition under which we can be relieved of our very rational fear of hell. For the Reformed, a real (not spurious) experience of assurance guarantees his place in heaven no matter what sins may intrude between that experience of assurance and death.

    These are some of the real differences I see between the two traditions.

    -David

  56. I don’t want to argue religion today. Most people here are some sort of Christian, so let’s just celebrate Our Lord defeating death. Christ is risen, he is truly risen.

  57. Adam,

    Thanks for the note.

    Most people here are some sort of Christian, so let’s just celebrate Our Lord.

    A very good point, and one in keeping with the spirit of the article. All of us who share baptism are “Christians of some sort.”

    -David

  58. Absolutely Dr. Anders. When I talk to none-Catholics, I start with what we have in common. I actually have some Eastern Christian prayer books that have approval from both a bishop from the Romanian Catholic Church (Sui Iuris in communion with Rome) and a bishop from the Ukrainian Catholic Orthodox bishop. Look how much Catholics and Orthodox have in common! We Catholics may be further from Protestants than Orthodox, but there is still much we have in common. I was actually talking religion with a Muslim today and discussing the Seventh Ecumenical council (which is, again, something Catholics and Orthodox have in common). I was explaining to him how the prohibition on certain images was not absolute, and he told me the Muslim view. Now he knows I am always going to be Christian, and because he is from an Islamic theocracy I do not see him changing religion. Now, I am privileged to live somewhere that I can regularly worship somewhere with Melkite Greek Catholics, I.e., Arab Christians. It is nice to get their perspective about what is going on around the world. Today though, I think we need to remember, Christ is Risen. God bless y’all.

  59. David–

    Yes, but, in general, the truly regenerate do not commit a whole lot of willful, grievous sins (in the Catholic sense), and when they do, they repent. Assurance can be infallible, but I think you misunderstand the WCF on this point. The WCF is a fallible document exhorting fallible believers that they may aspire to attain an “infallible” assurance. We’re not talking presumption here. Presumption says, “I have ‘arrived’ (spiritual marvel that I am) and may therefore ‘rest on my laurels.’” What we are talking here is the notion that a steadily maturing faith edges us closer and closer to fully comprehending and fully trusting that Christ is utterly faithful to his own. We remain plenty fallible but can become more and more confident in him. Does he not inspire confidence in you? Do you not find him totally trustworthy? We see God as a father helping his small children up the ladder in order that they might slide down the slide. He not only assures them that he will not push them off the ladder (Catholic assurance) but that he will see them safely to the top (confessional Protestant assurance).

    You do indeed HAVE this kind of assurance in Catholicism. Saints are sometimes granted personal revelation as to their receiving the gift of final perseverance. No one admonishes these blessed ones concerning their “sin of presumption”…because it isn’t presumption. Well, the WCF is speaking of something similar for some Reformed who become mature in the faith: the Holy Spirit may give them an infallible assurance. (We simply have more putative saints than you do, perhaps!) But these “saints,” so to speak, are far from having anything even approaching “enmity with God.”

    Another way to think of presumption is in terms of sin. It is what the OT calls “sinning with a high hand” or what Paul calls “sinning that grace may abound. When we sin, grace DOES abound…unless we go into sin conniving to “have our cake and eat it, too.” The man who divorces his wife feeling he can marry his paramour and THEN seek forgiveness. The woman who aborts an unwanted child knowing ahead of time that she will seek forgiveness afterwards…when the child is no longer around to burden her. The WCF is quite clear that proper assurance NEVER leads to loose living. Holiness is pursued all the more, not less and less.

    The “Puritan” emphasis on making our calling and election sure is simply a biblical imperative. Sounds to me as if Scripture actually would have us believe that such a thing is possible. Nevertheless, I would guess that the huge majority of Calvinists do not have anything resembling an infallible assurance. And we certainly aren’t vouchsafed infallible judgment as to the status of others. A few are clearly “real Christians” in almost anyone’s book. A few look decidedly suspect of not being in the faith at all. But most fellow believers we worship with on an ongoing basis are merely given the benefit of the doubt. We trust their testimony until given a reason not to trust. Many, no doubt, “remain in Christ” while exhibiting little or no evidence thereof. Their lives may show forth few if any Christian distinctives…just like someone who is not a Christian. So we may very well describe someone as a “Christian” in spite of unrepentant sin. We speak of “real Christians” and “Christians in name only” almost always in the abstract. We don’t point fingers. Now, those who experience dramatic personal conversions may describe the event as “becoming a Christian.” But they happen to know what they did and did not believe previously.

    I have heard voices on your side of the fence speaking of “flower Catholics”: those who attend Mass when there are flowers (Christmas, Easter, weddings, and funerals). So you have your own vocabulary for “Catholics in name only.” The catechism clearly exhorts the already-baptized to conversion. I realize it is usually ongoing rather than a singular event, but surely you don’t discount St. Paul and St. Augustine. Catholicism has had its share of dramatic conversion stories. Perhaps some priests might even make use of this information pastorally.

    By the way, the manner in which one “becomes a Christian” is to repent of one’s sins, and then to confess and live the truth of the Gospel. So your pastoral distinctives aren’t particularly distinctive!

  60. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the remarks. I think, if I am not mistaken, that we have come full circle and that we agree on at least one substantive issue: that a subset of modern, Reformed Christians distinguish “becoming a Christian” from the sacrament of baptism. You said:

    the manner in which one “becomes a Christian” is to repent of one’s sins

    and

    those who experience dramatic personal conversions may describe the event as “becoming a Christian

    That is exactly correct. If you also understand my point that Catholics do not conceive of Christian initiation in this way, then I have expressed myself clearly.

    Thanks again,

    David

  61. David–

    Well, sure…though I’m not certain that even needed to be stated. Also, you share your view with those Protestants who hang onto baptismal “regeneration”: Lutherans and many Anglicans. Plus, if you ask me, quite a few Calvinists are fairly anti-conversionary: the Old Light folks and the Federal Vision both downplay pietism.

    In truth, your beef is mostly with Baptists and Pentecostals…though we few, we pietistic Calvinists, might fit in there, as well.

    I’m not at all sure that your take is as monolithic in Catholic circles as you make it out to be. Many Charismatic Catholics speak openly about being “born again” or having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” and the like. They walk and talk and even sing like Evangelicals! Sometimes when I go to Mass, I feel right at home….

  62. David–

    I should add that from your remarks you seem to have missed the essence of one of my points.

    You wrote: So, the proper pastoral response to such a sinner is not to urge him “to become a Christian,” but to repent of his sins and to live the truth he confesses.

    I wrote back: By the way, the manner in which one “becomes a Christian” is to repent of one’s sins, and then to confess and live the truth of the Gospel. So your pastoral distinctives aren’t particularly distinctive!

    In other words, Catholic and Protestant pastoral responses are virtually identical in spite of your protestations to the contrary.

  63. Hi Eric,

    I agree that the conversion-makes-real-christians doctrine is not monolithically Protestant. It is peculiar to the Evangelical tradition, though its development arose from Calvin’s sacramental theology.

    As to whether the Catholic position is monolithic, I’m not terribly concerned. Catholic faith is defined instead by magisterial teaching.

    Consider the code of canon Law

    Can. 849 Baptism, the gateway to the sacraments and necessary for salvation by actual reception or at least by desire, is validly conferred only by a washing of true water with the proper form of words. Through baptism men and women are freed from sin, are reborn as children of God, and, configured to Christ by an indelible character, are incorporated into the Church.

    The pastoral differences between the traditions come in with respect to the aforementioned discussion of assurance, grace, sin, and sacramental efficacy.

    -Thanks,

    David

  64. Hi Eric,

    By the way, the manner in which one “becomes a Christian” is to repent of one’s sins, and then to confess and live the truth of the Gospel. So your pastoral distinctives aren’t particularly distinctive!

    Except that’s not how one becomes a Christian, according to Catholic tradition. So, pastorally, a Catholic wouldn’t tell a baptized person to consider that they might not be a Christian.

    -David

  65. David–

    In other words, according to you, an adult convert to Catholicism “becomes a Christian” through baptism alone, without confession of faith or repentance of sins?

    Why then did St. Monica rejoice so ecstatically over her son’s conversion (before he had a chance to be baptized)?

    Here’s Augustine’s conversion. Sounds to me like he “became a Christian” at this point:

    “For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in while the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, Go and sell that you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me. And by such oracle was he immediately converted unto You. So quickly I returned to the place where Alypius was sitting; for there had I put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell—Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended—by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart—all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”

  66. *I humbly submit this, and ask for correction if anything i write is wrong.*
    I like to think that grace is communicated to us in baptism, in the same way grace is communicated in giving someone a cold glass of water who is thirsty, but doesn’t deserve our kindness. In the case of the person who is thirsty, but undeserving of our kindness, the effect of our gracious act is the quenching of their thirst – and hopefully turning their negative disposition toward us around, to one of a graciousness offered back to us in return. In the Sacrament of baptism, The Lord’s kindness and graciousness is communicated to all who pass through those waters (in the Trinitarian Name), washing away the original sin of Adam (the Old Creation order) by joining us (graciously) to the 2nd Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ (the New Creation order). Grace is communicated every time a person passes through those waters (Just as all Israel passed through the waters of the Red Sea, but weren’t worthy.) If a person passes through the baptismal waters with a hatred in their hearts toward God, they are still objectively made a *Christian* through the authorized, performative action of the Catholic Church, and should be deferred to and treated as a brother in the Lord. [Because only the Lord can *see* the hearts of all men.] Grace is still communicated (like the grace of a cold glass of water given to an enemy) *For example,When our Lord washed Judas’s feet, he communicated grace to him, even though Judas despised this grace in the end.*
    A person is either *In Christ* or not. to be *In Christ* is to be joined to Him in baptism. [i.e. a *Christian*] In the end, you will either be a faithful Christian or an unfaithful Christian. A faithful Christian (not in the clutches of unconfessed, mortal sin) will inherit eternal life. An unfaithful Christian (who dies in unconfessed, mortal sin) will be cast outside of the gate – (where their will be *weeping and gnashing of teeth*)

    I like to think of this in the same way that we who are baptized *in Christ* have a *portion IN the Son of David, and an inheritance,* just as Israel and Judah had a *portion IN David* [2 Samuel 20:1]

  67. Michael–

    If baptism is but a ladle of water to a thirsty soul, then what of faith and repentance? How do they fit in? What exactly does the baptized sinful unbeliever receive? The momentary quenching of spiritual thirst? Will they not be just as thirsty again tomorrow?

    If, as you say, having received grace from God, they are now “in” Christ, who has NOT received grace from God? Is not the very breath of life an example of grace? Does anyone at all DESERVE this gift? Is everyone in existence, therefore, “in” Christ–at least in some sense–and thus our brethren? Does the baptized-but-uncommitted-to-the-faith receive access to any resource which the evangelized-but-unbaptized pagan, newly convicted of his sin by the Holy Spirit, does not receive? (After all, the latter has access to baptism itself!)

    It’s as if your saying that the toddler who has a cookie on his plate is in a far better position to taste that cookie than one who can have one handed to him by his parent just for the asking (though no cookie presently lies in front of him). See, I’d say it’s a wash. And my toddlers would agree with me.

    I simply think it makes more sense to call actual cookie eaters “Christians,” rather than those who merely have access to these tasty treats. It hardly matters whether the cookies reside directly in front of someone or can be had at the snap of a finger.

  68. Hi Eric,

    Ad adult convert to the Christian faith becomes a Christian by baptism, presupposing faith and repentance. Faith and repentance are necessary but not sufficient.

    St. Augustine explains in his sermon to catechumens:

    When you have been baptized, hold fast a good life in the commandments of God, that you may guard your Baptism even unto the end. I do not tell you that you will live here without sin; but they are venial, without which this life is not. For the sake of all sins was Baptism provided; for the sake of light sins, without which we cannot be, was prayer provided. What has the Prayer? Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Once for all we have washing in Baptism, every day we have washing in prayer. Only, do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated from Christ’s body: which be far from you! For those whom you have seen doing penance, have committed heinous things, either adulteries or some enormous crimes: for these they do penance. Because if theirs had been light sins, to blot out these daily prayer would suffice.

    16. In three ways then are sins remitted in the Church; by Baptism, by prayer, by the greater humility of penance;

      yet God does not remit sins but to the baptized

    .

  69. David–

    If genuine faith and repentance are necessary, then one is not a “real” Christian without them. I’d think you’d have little trouble with this concept. Not only do you do not preach “justification by baptism alone” but also castigate us for preaching “justification by faith alone,” citing James 2. Sure, an “initial justification” comes through Catholic baptism, but it must be followed up by a living, trusting faith, as well as spirit-wrought works of love. One cannot be justified without charity, right?

    Confessing Protestants affirm the necessity of baptism, along with genuine faith and repentance, in “becoming a [real] Christian.” We give those who testify as to their faith the benefit of the doubt. Nobody requires some sort of “magic moment” dramatic conversion (other than perhaps some extreme fundamentalist sects). We don’t even stand in judgment of Christmas-and-Easter Christians, though we may (appropriately and lovingly) voice our concerns…even, as I would imagine, you would do.

    It just doesn’t feel “honest” to me to call someone a sailor because he or she joins a yacht club or rents a slip down at the local marina. Until one has felt the salt spray on one’s face or tacked into the wind, one should not claim fellowship with those who ply the sea. You all have no compunction discussing the Parable of the Wheat and Tares: tares look like wheat, smell like wheat, eat, walk, and talk like wheat, even get baptized like wheat, but are decidedly NOT wheat. (You all even speak of a “mixed” church–visible and invisible. Why would you do that if every single baptized Catholic is a real Christian, without qualification?)

    My guess is that an unvoiced complaint here is that while Catholics call us Protestants “brethren” due to our Trinitarian baptisms, we often fail to return the favor, dismissing you all as “legalistic” or as “idolators.” Personally, I’m still split. I can actually see light at the end of the tunnel in terms of our uniting around a sincerely-held Sola Gratia, but I am doubled down and hardening when it comes to believing Catholic “talking points” concerning the veneration of saints and Mary. I am not convinced–not convinced at all–that you guys merely ask the saints to intercede for you. The way your prayers are written, the way your prayers are spoken, do not sustain such an explanation. (And your own vendetta against Pietism makes me wonder about you yourself. Why so visceral a reaction? Did something bad happen to you during your Evangelical days? No “magic moment,” no “spiritual birthday” for you? Yeah, me neither.)

  70. Hi Eric,

    I just would like to say that your analogy between Christians and ‘Sailors doesn’t hold much water. Being a Christian is not some sort of a profession nor something like you join a club.

    By being baptized one is changed into a new creature; that is he/she becomes a “child of God”. If a son/daughter is delinquent or rebellious he/she still be a son/daughter of the father, remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

    Your point seems to be problematic because you seems to lessen the love of God even to sinners. Your point tells that the All Loving Father disowns His children when they sin. You also seem to say that grace is as good as a clothing, that it does not permeates the being of the person when he/she receives it in baptism.

    With regard to your other issues with Catholicism. I encourage you to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church to understand our point and other books to help you. I shall also pray for you.

    God bless you.

  71. Hi Eric,

    You ask some very good questions. Again, i open myself to correction in what i write, in case i miss the mark in my pontifications here.

    A Catholic understands that the Church *Is* the Body of Christ. That our union with Christ – whether from our infancy or through adult conversion – is a union with the Church, His Bride. Because Christ is the 2nd Adam, and His work is the Cosmic renewal of all creation, all who pass through the new creation waters are joined into union with His Church, which means union with Him. If we ask the question: *what about people who enter into His Church who’s intentions are all wrong? i.e. a person who becomes a Catholic only for some kind of advantage in business or something.
    Doesn’t this mean that they are not *real* Christians?
    No, it only means that they are unfaithful,duplicitous Christians who are risking eternal damnation – because to *be* a Christian is to be joined into union with His Church. In the reception of the Sacraments we *maintain* our Covenant standing (for lack of a better word) by receiving the sanctifying graces of our Lord through the hands of His New Creation Bride. If we *see* a brother or sister in Church, living like hell outside of the Church, we need to warn them and explain to them that they are grieving the Holy Spirit of promise – into which they were sealed by their baptism. They can either cuss us out, or repent. But, it doesn’t change their status in this life. *in the next,well, that’s a different story.

    i like Dr. Anders quote from St. Augustine – speaking to baptized Christians: “Only do not commit those things for which you must needs be separated *from Christ’s Body*”
    [*i.e. committing unrepentant mortal sins]

  72. Red,

    By being baptized one is changed into a new creature; that is he/she becomes a “child of God”. If a son/daughter is delinquent or rebellious he/she still be a son/daughter of the father, remember the Parable of the Prodigal Son?

    Yes but the prodigal Son comes back. What about those who refuse and don’t come back. What change has baptism has wrought in that case? Or is God allowing His true children to suffer in hell?

    Your point seems to be problematic because you seems to lessen the love of God even to sinners. Your point tells that the All Loving Father disowns His children when they sin.

    Actually, this is the RC position on mortal sin. Either that, or God doesn’t disown His children but is happy to send some of his children to hell. Doesn’t sound much like a loving father. If those in hell were never his children to begin with, however, you don’t have that problem.

    You also seem to say that grace is as good as a clothing, that it does not permeates the being of the person when he/she receives it in baptism.

    But what good has baptism done for the one who ends up in hell. How thoroughly have they been transformed? Apparently not enough.

  73. Red—

    Of course, we Reformed see it the other way around. It is you all who depict the Father as abandoning his children for certain sins. It is you all who describe the new creation as not necessarily making us new. It’s not even skin deep, just an indelible marking. Tares and wheat are decidedly different genetically. They just look alike superficially, but tares are bad “to the bone.”

    You say you don’t like my analogy. Can you propose a better one? If we become a son or a daughter, does that transformation change absolutely nothing concerning our character or our behavior? Can we remain the same as when we were strangers? (Analogies, by the way, depict PARTIAL similarities. If the entities being compared were identical, no comparison would be necessary. Being a Christian need not be a profession or a club membership, it need only possess distinct, identifying (i.e., typical) behaviors.)

    I read the CCC all the time. It’s a wonderful document and tremendously helpful in pinning down what Catholics (officially/idealistically) believe.

    For example:

    **************
    1695 “Justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God,” “sanctified . . . and called to be saints,” Christians have become the temple of the Holy Spirit. This “Spirit of the Son” teaches them to pray to the Father and, having become their life, prompts them to act so as to bear “the fruit of the Spirit” by charity in action. Healing the wounds of sin, the Holy Spirit renews us interiorly through a spiritual transformation. He enlightens and strengthens us to live as “children of light” through “all that is good and right and true.”

    ***************

    This states that bona fide Christians are healed of sin, interiorly renewed, spiritually transformed, enlightened, and strengthened. How in the world can this describe someone who goes through the motions of baptism to get married or to improve his business prospects? How does one intelligently speak of an Adolph Hitler being, in some sense, a “real” Christian because he was baptized a Catholic (and never officially ex-communicated) while someone of strong faith (though unbaptized) who preached like Billy Graham and ministered like Mother Theresa would be considered—what? Non-Christian? It beggars description and makes you all appear foolish in the extreme. Not only that, but you guys often speak of good and bad Catholics. You enthusiastically welcome returning cradle Catholics “back home” and slap Protestant converts on the back as they drippingly finish their swim of the Tiber. That’s very much a “real” vs. “unreal” reaction. A Catholic Christian smells “good.” A Protestant Christian…hold your nose.

    And you used to say this in no uncertain terms. This from the explanatory section of the Baltimore Catechism, explaining that few if any Protestants have a reasonable expectation of salvation:

    “I said I gave you an example that can scarcely be found, namely, of a person not a Catholic, who really never doubted the truth of his religion, and who, moreover, never committed during his whole life a mortal sin. There are so few such persons that we can practically say for all those who are not visibly members of the Catholic Church, believing its doctrines, receiving its Sacraments, and being governed by its visible head, our Holy Father, the Pope, salvation is an extremely difficult matter.”

  74. Michael–

    Yeah, I understand Catholic doctrine on this. I just think it’s a silly way of speaking. It equates Cinderella and her ugly step-sisters because they’re both in the same “family.”

    Yes, they do share a kinship of sorts. So what?

    (And I don’t have time to check it out right now, but that Augustine quote comes from 395 AD…about the time of his so-called “revolution of 396” when he transitioned to his mature period theologically.)

  75. I am a Protestant, Christian Independant/Non-Denomination, considering coming into the Catholic church. I have a question regarding how the Catholic Church views whether I am married or not, and whether I would be able to convert to the Catholic faith.

    I was married to my ex-husband in two ceremonies. First was a civil ceremony, and the second was a full Christian ceremony, including vows and communion. My ex-husband was a Catholic who had been previously married in the Catholic church, and was divorced from his first wife without an annulment. I was unaware of the fact that an annulment was required for him to remarry, and only discovered 3 years after our divorce that they never had an annulment.

    Was my marriage a valid Christian marriage and does the Catholic Church recognize it as being valid? At the time of my marriage, I thought a civil divorce was all that was required, and I was completely unaware that he was still considered married by the Catholic Church. I was completely in the dark. What does this mean for me in regards to my entering and marrying in the Catholic Church? It is so confusing, and I am also lost as to what it means for me overall.

    Thank you for your feedback.

  76. Beth (#75):
    You may not see this because – for what reason, I don’t know – the e-mail subscription of the comments that I subscribe to only today sent me your comment, though I see you made it nearly a month ago.

    If you do see it, e-mail me (j dot jensen at auckland dot ac dot nz). I may be able at least to point you in the right direction. I myself am a convert from Protestantism – and was married and divorced. My first marriage was judged null. In your case, it would seem on the surface of it that your marriage was not valid because your husband was a Catholic who was also divorced and his situation was never sorted. But you would definitely have to go to your local bishop to find out (I think with Pope Francis’s new rules it doesn’t have to be a tribunal and is free – but I don’t really know).

    Anyway, if you think it would help, e-mail me and I’ll tell you what I know.

    jj

  77. Re: #75. Beth, I offer these thoughts to continue the conversation, and hopefully spur one of the Cat panel here to respond to your fair question, My (I’m a Prot) understanding is that, officially, no, the Catholic Church would not recognize you as having been married, notwithstanding that probably most local priests do not care. If you are now single, you probably can enter into the Catholic church, however, as they’d be forgiving of your prior ignorance.

    Perhaps more interesting would be the situation if you re-married again, and whether they’d view that situation as living in adulterous mortal sin, and thus, be a disqualifier from you entering the Cat church.

  78. Hi Beth,

    I’m excited for you! Jesus wants all people in The Church because, there is only one church and it’s His and he loves us( you!).
    Please don’t be frightened by negative comments from people who are not Catholic and don’t be discouraged! Jesus is the one calling you and he will make a way.
    If you need a friend who is also a convert please email me.
    classicaled.aegis@yahoo.com
    You are in my prayers!

  79. Beth,

    I have been through this process. You said one of your marriage ceremonies was “Christian” — was it specifically Catholic, performed by a Catholic Priest? If it was not, and if your husband at that time did not receive a dispensation to marry outside the Catholic Church, that marriage will be judged null – period. But you must settle these things through official channels. I did, and because the case was clear cut, it took less than two months and cost very little $75 administration fee at the Chancery (the offices of the Diocese, where these things are examined). My motivation was that my then Presbyterian wife wanted to enter the Church and we wanted out marriage to be recognized by the Church so that we would not be living in sin. During the annulment process we lived as brother and sister.

    Bite the bullet – talk to a Priest to get the ball rolling. Someone here might be able to recommend a Priest if you were willing to share your location.

    Pax Christi,
    Frank

  80. Robert –

    There is no question in the perfect Fatherhood of God who is ready to bestow graces to His children. IT is man’s cooperation that is needed. Like what I’ve said the family is a much better analogy for Christians than just club membership (which you have made on your last post).

    That is why I pointed out the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

    Question: Is the father to blame out of the younger son’s sufferings in the other country? NO, he freely chose it for himself. Did he cease to be the son of his father at any moment in the story? No, by virtue of the same blood running through their veins he is still the son and also the father showed it when the story showed that the father longed for his son to come back.

    The key is to take note of the difference between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of Justification and Sanctification. Read CCC 1987 – 2016

    What changes does baptism do to a person?
    Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,”69 member of Christ and co-heir with him,70 and a temple of the Holy Spirit. – CCC 1265

    But to further understand, let’s check the par. Before:

    Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. – CCC 1264

    See what im talking about?

    Is God allowing his children suffer in hell?

    Uhm, NO.
    God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end. – CCC 1037 ( and again prodigal son analogy)

    “Actually, this is the RC position on mortal sin.”
    Huh? Where is that in the Catechism? As I have said, no problem on God’s part. He does not disown. It is us who leaves. It is the result of our freedom to choose anything else but God (CCC1861).

    “If those in hell were never his children to begin with, however, you don’t have that problem.”

    Wow, what could be more loving than a Creator creating someone only to damn them eternally? Is God a psycho? I mean, we can’t understand His infinite wisdom, but at least we know that sanity/rationality comes from Him.

    “But what good has baptism done for the one who ends up in hell.”

    He gives them the ability not to go there in the first place. He gives them the gift of sonship, of living in His house but it is them who leaved.

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