"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Friday, November 07, 2008

Are Roman Sacraments Valid?


The Roman Church is considered by Reformed and Lutheran Confessionalists to be a "false church." Exactly what it means to be a false church remains a little cloudy. Indeed, such a designation exists for Paul as a church that does not preach the gospel. But what else does that entail? Most Protestant Churches have still recognized the sacraments of the Roman church as valid sacraments. Why is this if Rome does not preach the gospel? Martin Luther offers an explanation:

"Although the city Rome is worse than Sodom and Gomorra, nevertheless there remains Baptism, Sacraments, the Words of the Gospel, the Holy Scriptures, the Ministry of the Church, the name of Christ and the name of God . . . Therefore, the Roman Church is holy, because she has the holy name of God, the Gospel, the Baptism, etc. If these things exist among a people, the people is called holy. Thus also our city Wittenberg is a holy city, and we are truly holy because we are baptized, have received the Holy Communion and have been taught and called by God. We have the work of God among us, the Word and the Sacraments, and these make us holy."

- Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians 1535, Luther's Works, trans. by Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963), vol. 26, pp.24-25.

2 comments:

Andrew said...

But if the substitutionary atonement, imputed righteousness, and sola fide are all Essentials of Christian belief, then the Papists are not Essentially Christian. That's at least what R.C. Sproul teaches.

I'm glad Luther viewed Rome as having valid sacraments, but I guess it doesn't mean alot if Reformed Protestantism teaches that people are not saved by the sacraments.

So in the end I think the traditional Reformed answer would be that Romanists are neither saved/Christian, or have valid sacraments. But that is just my guess.

Jared Nelson said...

If the Pope, infused grace and merit are all Essentials of Christian belief, then the Protestants are not essentially Christian. Yet, Rome acknowledges Protestant Baptism. I would be interested in seeing an answer to how Rome could invest such polemical power in the argument that ecclesiological structure under the Pope is necessary to have valid sacraments, but acknowledge Protestant/Orthodox baptism. Such is the contradiction of Roman logic.

Over the summer I once attended a very liberal Episcopal church. The liturgy had nonsense about Hindus and Buddists as our brothers. The church openly ordained homosexuals. Yet, In the service we read the Nicene Creed, Romans 10 was read aloud, the Eucharist was celebrated with the ancient liturgy (with angels and archangels...) and, interestingly enough, a sermon was given on the uniqueness of Christ against Buddist ideas. I left with mixed feelings. I felt like in the church I had heard the gospel (in the Reading from Romans 10) and truly celebrated the Eucharist but the structure of the church was adrift.

This, though to a greater degree, is how Reformation Christians see Rome. The structure is adrift since Trent. But in a Roman church the Scriptures are read (so the gospel heard), the creeds affirmed, and the sacraments are performed. The Roman Church may be false, but that does not discount that there are true Christians within the Roman Church. The Catholic Church structure is not Christian, but individual Roman Catholics may be. Sproul is ok to get an introduction to Reformed thought, but in the same way Hahn is a good way to look into Catholicism: they are both popularizers. Herman Bavinck, Charles Hodge, Berkhof, these are all good sources for clear theological distinctions rather than generalities (which are good for introduction, though not thorough understanding).

On the sacraments: honestly all Christians who call baptism and the Eucharist sacraments believe in one sense they save and another they do not. Rome sees them as fill ups of grace along the way, so saving but not ultimately (it's not like Rome is "one baptized always saved"). Reformed see the sacraments as a means of grace for those with faith, not "fill ups" but means of grace accepted in faith. So if there is no faith, the sacraments have no saving effect. If there is faith the sacraments are means of ultimate saving grace, figured in the sacrament, declared in the word and grasped by faith. The sacrament may be given by the Romans with no faith, and yet the sacrament remains a sacrament even if the water pours over the vessel with no opening of faith for the water to run into. If the Roman catholic baptized person grasps the gospel in faith, then the sacrament is said to be effectual.