Posted by: Andrew Webb | June 27, 2008

Are Roman Catholic Baptisms Valid?

In the late 1980s a debate arose within the PCA that has troubled Presbyterians for centuries, namely is Roman Catholic Baptism valid, or should we baptize someone who was sprinkled in a Roman Catholic Church when we admit them to membership in a PCA church? In 1987 the PCA majority report of the Ad Hoc committee appointed to study the validity of certain baptisms determined that Roman Catholic baptism was indeed invalid, and thus no true baptism at all. This report was prepared by Frank M. Barker, Jr., Carl W. Bogue, Jr., George W. Knight, III, Chairman, and Paul G. Settle so it represented a fairly wide diversity of views within the PCA. They noted that the American Presbyterians in their GAs of 1790 and 1835 had determined that the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter RCC) was an apostate organization, and therefore no part of the true church. The almost unanimous opinion of the Old School GA of 1845 was also that being no part of the true church, the RCC could not administer a valid baptism.

If we were to go against the opinion of prior Old School Presbyterians by contending that the baptism of the RCC is valid, most modern Presbyterians would be put in the exceedingly odd position of admitting that they would not receive a member of the RCC into one’s own church by letter of transfer, because they judge them not to be members of a true church, but that they would acknowledge that their baptism, the sign and seal of entrance into the visible church, was valid. In fact, this silly situation would be only heightened by the fact that we specifically do not allow members of the RCC to come to Lord’s Supper because we do not consider them to be members in good standing of an evangelical church. In short in everything we do, we deny the RCC to be a part of the visible church. So to acknowledge their baptism as valid would be impossibly inconsistent – it simply has no possible foundation other than the highly suspect argument, “well the Reformers didn’t repudiate RCC baptism.”

Differences have arisen in the past between American and British Presbyterianism. For instance, most American Presbyterians confessionally uphold the principle of the spirituality of the church, deny Constantinianism, and do not acknowledge that the Civil Magistrate has the power to prosecute for heresy, maintain the order of the church, call synods and so forth. They changed their version of the WCF to reflect that belief. Although I am originally from Britain myself, I happen to believe that this change better reflects the true teaching of the Bible and that the 1648 version of the Westminster Standards reflected not the teaching of the bible regarding the civil magistrate, but the lingering presence of Constantinianism within the church of Christ. So too, I believe that the overwhelming decision of the 1845 Old School GA (which I will include below) better reflects the true teaching of the bible regarding baptism and as such is an improvement. It reflects the reality of the present situation, rather than that which existed during the life of Calvin, a fact the PCA majority report rightly brings to light:

“One of the problems remaining is the fact that John Calvin resisted the urging of the Anabaptists that he, having been baptized by the Roman Catholics, should be (re)baptized (Institutes 4.15.16-18). His response must be understood in terms of the uniqueness of the situation and not wrongly generalized. He, of course, resisted the Anabaptists’ desire to have him repudiate his infant baptism and receive baptism as an adult believer. The effect that this situation had upon him can be seen in his insisting that Paul did not really baptize the disciples of John the Baptist in Ephesus and in his insisting that the baptism of John the Baptist is Christian baptism. This insistence, contrary to the text of the Scriptures, is so that he can assert that those were not “re baptisms” at all in opposition to the Anabaptists. The denomination in which Calvin was baptized was a church in flux, and coming to but not yet beyond the crossroads (cf., Institutes 4.2.11). It is not yet the church of the counter-reformation, the Council of Trent and its anathemas on the doctrine of justification by faith alone (see H. J. Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, “Sixth Session, Decree Covering Justification” and particularly “Canon 9,” “If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification . . . let him be anathema.”) That pre-Reformation church in flux is the church in which Calvin and many of the other Reformation believers had been members. Thus Calvin and the church of today stand at different vantage points in evaluating the Roman Catholic Church, i.e., the church of his infancy, the pre-reformation church, and the Roman Catholic church post-reformation and post Council-of-Trent. The analogy could be drawn between certain congregational churches in New England before and after the transition to Unitarianism.” [PCA, (Majority) REPORT OF THE STUDY COMMITTEE ON QUESTIONS RELATING TO THE VALIDITY OF CERTAIN BAPTISMS]

In any event here is the decision of the 1845 Old School Presbyterian GA which the 1987 report referenced:

“Because, since baptism is an ordinance established by Christ in his Church, (Form of Gov., chap. vii; Matt. xxviii. 19, 20,) and is to be administered only by a minister of Christ, duly called and ordained to be a steward of the mysteries of God, (Directory, chap. viii, sec. 1.) it follows that no rite administered by one who is not himself a duly ordained minister of the true Church of God visible, can be regarded as an ordinance of Christ, whatever be the name by which it is called, whatever the form employed in its administration. The so-called priest of the Romish communion are not ministers of Christ, for they are commissioned as agents of the papal hierarchy, which is not a Church of Christ, but the Man of Sin, apostate from the truth, the enemy of righteousness and of God. She has long lain under the curse of God, who has called his people to come out from her, that they be not partakers of her plagues.

“It is the unanimous opinion of all the Reformed churches, that the whole papal body, though once a branch of the visible church, has long since become utterly corrupt, and hopelessly apostate. It was a conviction of this which led to the reformation, and the complete separation of the reformed body from the papal communion. Luther and his coadjutors, being duly ordained presbyters at the time when they left the Romish communion, which then, though fearfully corrupt, was the only visible church in the countries of their abode, were fully authorized by the word of God, to ordain successors in the ministry, and so to extend and perpetuate the Reformed churches as true churches of Christ: while the contumacious adherence of Rome to her corruptions, as shown in the decisions of the Council of Trent, (which she adopts as authoritative,) cuts her off from the visible Church of Christ, as heretical and unsound. This was the opinion of the Reformers, and it is the doctrine of the Reformed churches to this day. In entire accordance to this is the decision of the General Assembly of our Church, passed in 1835, (See Minutes of General Assembly, vol. 8, p. 33) declaring the Church of Rome to be an apostate body.

“The decision by the Assembly of 1835 renders the return of a negative to the inquiry proposed by the Presbytery of Ohio indispensable on the ground of consistency; unless we be prepared to admit, in direct contradiction to the standards of the Presbyterian Church, that baptism is not an ordinance established by Christ in his Church exclusively and that it may be administered by an agent of the Man of Sin, an emissary of the prince of darkness; that it may be administered in sport or in blasphemy, and yet be valid as though administered by a duly commissioned steward of the mysteries of God.

“Nor can it be urged that the papal hierarchy is improving in her character, and gradually approximating to the scriptural standard. She claims to be infallible; her dogmas she promulgates as the doctrines of heaven; and she pronounces her heaviest anathema against any and every man who questions her authority, and refuses to bow to her decisions. She cannot recede from the ground she has assumed. She has adopted as her own, the decisions of the Council of Trent, which degrade the word of God; which claim equal authority for the Apocrypha as for the New Testament; and which declare the sense held and taught by holy mother church, on the authority of tradition and of the Fathers, to be the true and only sense of Scripture. All who deny this position, or who question her authority, she denounces with the bitterest curses.

“She thus perverts the truth of God; she rejects the doctrine of justification by faith; she substitutes human merit for the righteousness of Christ; and self-inflicted punishment for gospel repentance: She proclaims her so-called baptism, to be regeneration, and the reception of the consecrated wafer in the eucharist, to be the receiving of Christ himself, the source and fountain of grace, and with him all the grace he can impart. Is this the truth? Is reliance on this system, true religion? Can, then, the papal body be a Church?

“The Church, (i.e. the church visible,) as defined in our standards, is the whole body of those persons, together with their children, who make profession of the holy religion of Christ, and of submission to his laws. (Form of Gov. chap. ii, sec. 2) As certainly then, as the dogmas and practices of papal Rome are not the holy religion of Christ, must it be conceded, that the papal body is not a Church of Christ at all; and if not, then her agents, be they styled priest, bishops, archbishops, cardinals or pope, are not ministers of Christ in any sense; for they have no connection with his true visible Church; and not being true ministers of Christ, they have no power to administer Christian ordinances, and the rite they call baptism, is not, in any sense, to be regarded as valid Christian Baptism.

“Further, by the perverted meaning they affix, and the superstitious rites they have superadded to the ceremonies they perform under the name of baptism and the eucharist, the symbolical nature and true design of both the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper are lost sight of and utterly destroyed, – so that, could we by any possibility assign to her the name of a church, she would still be a church without the two grand ordinances of the gospel: she neither administers Christian baptism, nor celebrates the supper of our Lord.

“Moreover, since, by the 11th canon of the Council of Trent, she declares the efficacy of her ordinances to depend upon the intention of the administrator, no man can know with certainty that her form of administration in any ordinance is not a mere mockery: no consistent papist can be certain that he has been duly baptized, or that he has received the veritable eucharist: he cannot know, that the priest who officiates at his altar is a true priest, nor that there is actually any one true priest, or any one prelate rightly consecrated in the whole papal communion. The papal hierarchy has by her own solemn act shrouded all her doings in uncertainty, and enveloped all her rites in hopeless obscurity. Even on this ground alone, the validity of her baptism might safely be denied.

“Nor is the fact that instances now and then occur of apparent piety in the members of her communion, and of intelligence, zeal, and conscientiousness in some of her priests, any ground of objection against the position here taken by this Assembly. The virtues of individuals do not purify the body of which they are members. We are to judge of the character of a body claiming to be a church of Christ, – not by the opinions or practices of its individual members, but by its standards and its allowed practices. Bound as he is by the authority of his church, – and that on pain of her heaviest malediction, – to understand the Scriptures only in the sense in which his church understands and explains them, a consistent papist cannot receive or hold the true religion, or the doctrines of grace. If he does, he must either renounce the papacy, or hypocritically conceal his true sentiments, or he must prepare to brave the thunders of her wrath. True religion and an intelligent adherence to papal Rome are utterly incompatible and impossible. The Church and the papacy are the repelling poles of the moral system.

“Difficulties may possibly arise in individual cases. It may not be easy at all times to say whether an applicant for admission into the Church of Christ has, or has not been baptized: whether he has been christened by a popish pastor or not. In all such doubtful cases the session of a church must act according to the light before them. But it is safer and more conducive to peace and edification, to embrace a well established principle for our guidance, and act upon it firmly in the fear of God, leaving all consequences with him than to suffer ourselves, without any fixed principles, to be at the mercy of circumstances.

“While some other churches may hesitate to carry out fully the principles of the Reformation, in wholly repudiating popish baptism, as well as the popish mass, we, as Presbyterians, feel bound to act on the principle laid down by our Assembly, so long ago as 1790, (see Digest, pp. 94, 95,) that, so long as a body is by us recognized as a true church, are her ordinances to be deemed valid, and no longer.

“In 1835 the Assembly declared the papacy to be apostate from Christ, and no true church. As we do not recognize her as a portion of the visible Church of Christ, we cannot, consistently, view her priesthood as other than usurpers of the sacred functions of the ministry, her ordinances as unscriptural, and her baptism as totally invalid.”

Please click on the link below for an in-depth examination of this subject by GPTS seminary professor Dr. C.N. Willborn:

What is a Valid Baptism?

Dr. C. N. Willborn • Signs of Redemption Conference
Matthew 28:16-20

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Responses

  1. Good post.

    I always like the thought about the validity of baptism:

    Baptism must be intrinsically connected with the covenant promises, otherwise it is not a valid baptism, rather it is just an outward act.

  2. Andy,

    The reasoning in the majority position seems to be largely based on the notion that the Catholic Church has not preserved the gospel. But does this mean, in your opinion, that baptisms by Protestant Arminians are also invalid? If not, why not?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  3. Hello Bryan,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    The reason for the rejection of Roman Baptism is not simply that she does not preach the gospel but that she is not part of the visible church. As the 1845 Old School GA concluded:

    “She thus perverts the truth of God; she rejects the doctrine of justification by faith; she substitutes human merit for the righteousness of Christ; and self-inflicted punishment for gospel repentance: She proclaims her so-called baptism, to be regeneration, and the reception of the consecrated wafer in the eucharist, to be the receiving of Christ himself, the source and fountain of grace, and with him all the grace he can impart. Is this the truth? Is reliance on this system, true religion? Can, then, the papal body be a Church?”

    Their conclusion, which follows is that an institution that is no part of the Visible Church can confer the sacrament that marks the solemn admission of someone into the visible church (WCF 21.1)

    In denying that Rome is a true church, they are following the reasoning of the Reformed Confessions such as the Belgic which identified Rome as a false church –

    “The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself. … As for the false Church, it ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit itself to the yoke of Christ. Neither does it administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word, but adds to and takes from them, as it thinks proper; it relies more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God and rebuke it for its errors, covetousness, and idolatry.”

    Now, as to Arminian Protestants, they may make some serious errors in their soteriology, yet they have not denied and anathematized the Solas or altered the Sacraments.

    BTW – Bryan, I note from your bio that you studied at CTS were PCA, then Anglican, and now Roman Catholic. I’m curious as to who you would say from your time at CTS and in the PCA were the most influential people in moving you in an Anglo-Catholic and eventually RC direction?

  4. One of the qualifiers you cite in order to be part of the visible Church is “…if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein…”

    What wouuld that be? Specifically speaking?

  5. Andy,

    Thanks for your reply. If I’m understanding you correctly, you are saying that a particular Church ceases to be part of the visible church if it denies the Solas or alters the Sacraments. Since the Arminians do not deny the Solas or alter the Sacraments, therefore they remain part of the visible church. But because the Catholic Church has denied the Solas and altered the Sacraments, therefore she is no longer part of the visible church.

    I don’t quite understand how that fits with what you said here, where you said:

    [BOQ] Obviously, if a denomination were actually to definitely lose any of the three marks of the True Church; the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ, and the biblical administration of church discipline that denomination would cease to be a true church of Jesus Christ, and all true Christians would be obliged to separate themselves from her communion and join themselves to a true congregation.[EOQ]

    I’m guessing that you think that many Protestant denominations (e.g. the PCUSA) are not “true churches of Jesus Christ”. So do you think that denominations like the PCUSA are also not part of the visible church, and therefore do not have valid baptisms? Or do you think that there is a middle position where a denomination is not a “true church of Jesus Christ”, because it is not preserved at least one of the three marks, but it is still part of the visible church because it has not denied the Solas or changed the Sacraments? I’m not seeing the principled difference between failing to preserve the marks, and denying the Solas and altering the Sacraments.

    As for my movement from the PCA to the Catholic Church, nobody in the PCA moved me in that direction. Much of it had to do with reading the Church fathers. At Covenant we mostly read secondary sources when dealing with the Church fathers and medieval church history. When I read the primary sources myself (after seminary), I found them to be much more Catholic.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Hello Bryan,

    The issue is not the actions of individual congregations in a denomination, or the faithfulness and intent of the minister, one assesses the denomination by her creeds and confessions.

    Consequently, we do not accept as true churches those which formally deny and even anathematize critical aspects of the gospel. This would include the Mormons, the United Pentecostals (Oneness Pentecostals), the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unitarians, and of course the Roman Catholics.

    Now if and when the PCUSA changes her creedal statements to affirm universalism, deny the Trinity, and the deity of Christ and so on (rather than simply having individual instances of that being preached) , then we will regretfully cease to recognize her baptisms as valid.

    SO if the Wesleyans had anathematized the Gospel as the RCC did at Trent and had all sorts of elements to Baptism, then we’d have ceased to recognize their baptism.

    Incidentally, most Reformed would affirm that there are organizations that do not qualify as true churches because they lack one of the true marks , and yet do not fit the definition of a false church. These are “sects” they would for instance include groups like the Salvation Army or various house churches.

    Regarding the lack of influences that led you to Catholicism, that makes you one of the very, very, few who have gone without any prompting or following of an existing theological trajectory. For instance, did you attend an Anglican or a PCA church at covenant and how high church was the liturgy?

  7. I could be mistaken but the Catholic Church’s creeds are the same as the PCA’s Creeds…That being the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.

    Neither do Catholic embrace Universalism or deny the Trinity, deny the deity of Christ or deny the Incarnation.

    In a prior thread you called the PCUSA “apostate.” So, apostate churches can have valid baptisms but not Catholics who meet none of the criteria you’ve listed?

  8. Hi Guys,

    I must admit that I never expected this blog to attract Roman Catholics and am surprised that you care about what is after all a debate amongst Reformed Protestants. Which brings me to the next two points:

    First this is not a Catholic vs. Protestant apologetics blog, secondly the majority of the issues that have been brought up so far are addressed in the original post itself. Read the declarations of the Old School GA of 1845 and while you may not be happy with the answers you have them.

    Sean, while you will no doubt not agree, we regard Justification by Faith Alone to be a fundamental part of the gospel, obviously Roman Catholics do not. we also affirm that ordinarily “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” not baptism.

    Randy, the confessions of the PCA and the RCC are not the same. While we both affirm most of the early ecumenical creeds, the PCA obviously does not affirm Trent, the Papal Bulls, Vatican 1, Vatican 2, the Catholic Catechism, etc. neither does the RCC affirm the Westminster Standards, but rather explicitly denies much of their content. We would affirm the Solas as a critical part of “True Religion.” The Reformers wouldn’t have left the RCC if they didn’t believe that.

    As for the rest, as I said read the declarations in the original.

  9. I am no Roman Catholic…just trying to understand why you would reject a Catholic baptism and accept an “apostate” PCUSA baptism.

    If the Five Solas is a “critical” part of the True Religion than why can’t we find Sola Scriptura or Sola Fide (as those seem to be the biggest sticking points that a Catholic would disagree), in the early Church? Does that mean that before the Reformation the “True Religion” did not exist?

    Augustine, largely considered to be the forbearing of Reformation soteriology, clearly didn’t espouse Sola Scriptura. Does this mean that he did not posses the “true religion?” Does that mean that those whom he baptized did not receive a valid baptism?

    Randy Tolliver…historical minded Presbyterian (PCUSA)

  10. Andy,

    Norman Geisler writes:

    [BOQ] [O]ne can be saved without believing that imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) is an essential part of the true gospel. Otherwise, few people were saved between the time of the apostle Paul and the Reformation, since scarcely anyone taught imputed righteousness (or forensic justification) during that period! … [EOQ]

    If you think that any ‘denomination’ that denies any of the Solas does not have valid baptisms, then you will have denied valid baptisms to the first 1500 years of Christianity. The Church fathers (and the Church up to the sixteenth century) were explicitly opposed to the notion that we are justified by “faith alone”, or “faith and not works” or “faith apart from works”.

    I find it hard to believe that Catholic baptisms were invalid for 1500 years. Is it your view that Catholic baptisms became invalid at the Council of Trent? Trent merely formalized what Augustine and the Council of Orange had taught against Pelagius. Warfield rejects the Council of Orange as “semi-semi-Pelagian”. So why aren’t baptisms after the Council of Orange invalid?

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  11. Randy,

    First, in the article you are referring to “When Should Old Schoolers” leave their denomination, it was the PCUS (the Southern Presbyterian Church) that was referred to as apostate, and that was the opinion (which I concur with) of the men who left the PCUS to form the PCA, they made that explicit in their letter to the churches.

    Second, Catholic baptism has been rejected by most Old School American Presbyterians for over 200 years, this is not a new revelation, and it certainly is not me standing alone. Some orthodox British and modern American Presbyterians accept Roman Catholic Baptism as valid, but curiously do not accept their gospel, their discipline, their ordination, or the validity of the Mass (the Westminster Confession calls it “most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of his elect” and ” the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries.” WCF 21.2,6), nor do they accept the transfer of members from the RCC into their communion. Thus creating a situation where about the only thing that they believe Rome can do correctly is baptize and that despite the fact that they state that the sacraments may not be dispensed by “a minister of the Word lawfully ordained” which they deny the Priests of Rome are.

    If you are a historically minded member of the PCUSA, I would suggest you read J.A. Wylie’s four volume “History of Protestantism” in it Wylie spells out and proves the point that most Protestants have made that while the apostolic faith “once for all delivered to the saints” gradually became more obscure and darkened as men abandoned the teaching of scripture in favor of syncretism and their own traditions, yet God preserved a remnant. We see that in bishops who for many years rejected transubstantiation, in the Waldenses, and the Lollards. The Reformation, like the rediscovery of the Law in the time of Josiah, was a rediscovery of the truth of the scriptures after a long period of their being buried by the accumulated filth of human inventions and fabrications.

    We find Sola Gratia in Augustine, incidentally, in a way that is explicitly repudiated by Trent. Did Augustine have everything right? No, but he was far, far, closer to the truth – that is the witness of scripture – than the scholastics 1100 years later.

    As Calvin said drawing the sharp distinction between what Augustine wrote and the declarations of Trent:

    Is this the doctrine delivered by Augustine, when he says, “Men labour to find in our will some good thing of our own not given us of God; what they can find I know not”? . . . Indeed, as he elsewhere says, “Were man left to his own will to remain under the help of God if he chooses, while God does not make him willing, among temptations so numerous and so great, the will would succumb from its own weakness. Succour, therefore, has been brought to the weakness of the human will by divine grace acting irresistibly and inseparably, that thus the will however weak might not fail.” [John Calvin, Acts of the Council of Trent With the Antidote]

    So we judge modern Rome by her confessional standards and comparing them to scripture, find that she is no true church. The decline and fall of Rome into gross error did not occur overnight, so we still find the good and the bad in the church fathers, and various good and bad decisions of the church in her formative years. Hence Westminster’s declaration: “All synods or councils, since the Apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both.”

    But when we get to Trent, we see a repudiation of the Reformation, a decisive refusal to accept the light of scripture and a tenacious decision to put the will of men over the word of God. It is at that point that Rome decisively severs herself from the Visible Church.

  12. Bryan,

    Please see my answer to Randy, if you honestly want to read more on why the Old School Presbys reject RC baptism, then I’d suggest you read Thornwell on the subject which you can find here:
    Sacramental Sorcery

    I’m honestly sorry that you joined men like Scot Hahn in walking away from the the Christian faith, and also that you weren’t in a congregation that warned and taught against the errors of Rome while you were in the PCA. In that I suspect we failed you badly, and for that I apologize.

    I used to engage in debates with Roman Catholics internet apologists in the 1990s. I don’t do that anymore, it consumes huge amounts of time and is largely fruitless. The decision to swear of it for me came when an apologist I was debating with explained that he was debating with me because he believed it was a good work that contributed to his salvation. To say that I was saddened and sickened by such a caricature of true heart religion would be a minor understatement.

    Anyway, I’m honestly sorry, but my RC internet apologetics days are over. if you really want to debate a Reformed protestant on whether Rome is part of the visible church, I’d suggest you contact James White over at aomin.org, he’s much better at this sort of thing than I am and honestly seems to enjoy it.

    This blog, on the other hand, is for the promotion of Old School Presbyterian Church Planting and Building, and the article was posted to explain the historic Old School Presbyterian position on the validity of Roman Baptisms. Obviously as a Roman Catholic who has never embraced Old School Presbyterianism you don’t agree with it. I would imagine countless Unitarians, Mormons, Oneness Pentecostals would also not agree with Old School Presbies calling their baptisms invalid as well, but I don’t have the time to go over old ground again and again with them either. Thankfully, there are men like James White to engage them as well. ;-)

  13. Andy,

    I believe that your determining the validity of a baptism solely on the basis of formal creeds (through the intermediary step of formal confessions determining whether a church is really a part of Christ’s Church) is extremely problematic. At least in the OPC, we consider the three marks of an Apostolic Church to be (1). The right teaching and preaching of the word of God; (2). The right administration of the sacraments; and (3). The right exercise of Church discipline. Please note that we do not consider a church to be a true Biblical church simply because it hasn’t formally changed the confessional statements that it is ignoring.

    By such a standard, we could hardly consider the United Methodists or the Protestant Episcopal Church to be a true church of Jesus Christ. In many ways it is far easier to except Roman Catholic Baptism as valid than it is to accept as valid a baptism done in the Protestant Episcopal Church.

    I grant that the question of sacramental validity is extremely difficult given the fragmented nature of the Church in the Twenty-first century. Yet, it seems odd to select Roman Catholic baptism as being outside the pale while accepting all Protestant baptisms as being somehow acceptable.

    Perhaps it is helpful to distinguish “valid” from “well ordered”. As an Orthodox Presbyterian I would try to dissuade someone from being baptized in the RCC, the Protestant Episcopal Church, or the United Methodist Church; but so long as all three were Trinitarian baptisms conducted by a Minister of Word and Sacrament – I would consider the baptism to be valid.

    I recognize that this position is full of difficulties, but it is difficult to see how the alternative doesn’t turn the validity of baptism into a subjective mess.

  14. Andy,

    Just as a follow up, you write: “But when we get to Trent, we see a repudiation of the Reformation, a decisive refusal to accept the light of scripture and a tenacious decision to put the will of men over the word of God. It is at that point that Rome decisively severs herself from the Visible Church.”

    Does every denomination that repudiates the Reformation and put the will of men over the word of God become disqualified in terms of the validity of their baptism? If so, the list of such “churches” may be far longer than you are letting on. What do you do with congregations where Calvinism is described as the most damaging heresy in history? That sounds like a pretty clear rejection of the Reformation to me. You might say that you are speaking of denominations not congregations, but many protestant churches are congregational. Do we need to assess the confessional orthodoxy of every congregational church (many of whom totally lack meaningful written confessions) before accepting the validity of their baptism?

  15. David et al,

    A few points in reply:

    1) Once again, this is not a decision that I (or even our session) reached in a theological vacuum. To reiterate quoting from the PCA Report:

    “with one exception the General Assemblies of American Presbyterian churches where making a judgment on the matter have taken the position of non-validity for Roman Catholic baptism. This was done in 1845 by the Old School Assembly and the reasons given in the report have prevailed until today. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church took the same position in 1876. The United Presbyterian Church in North America, in various actions from 1869 to 1871, took the same position. The Presbyterian Church, U.S., commonly referred to as the Southern Presbyterian Church, had consistently taken the same position of the non-validity of Romish baptism. The Southern Church referred to the action of the General Assembly, Old School, of 1845, but took a full action of its own in 1871. The Assembly of 1884 reaffirmed the action of 1871 and the Assembly of 1914 declined to rescind its action of 1884. The one exception is the action of the 1981 Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, espousing and reiterating the objections of Charles Hodge to the decision of the 1845 General Assembly. “

    Historically, that RC Baptism is invalid has been the majority position in American Presbyterianism.

    2) It isn’t just the confessional position of the Roman Catholics that invalidates their baptism. The repudiation has rested historically on three points, again quoting from the PCA report –

    (1) The Romish communion is not a true church and therefore its sacraments cannot be true and valid sacraments.
    (2) The Romish priests are not ministers of Christ and therefore the rites administered by them cannot be regarded as the ordinances of Christ.
    (3) The doctrine or meaning of the sacrament of baptism is so corrupted by the Romish communion that it invalidates the sacrament of baptism.

    Regarding point three, not only are a number of superstitious rituals added to the rite, the water itself is added to with other elements, and the very aim and intent of baptism in Roman churches (to regenerate the recipient and wash away sin merely by the application of the sacrament ex opere operato) is different from the biblical institution.

    While other communions may err in their application of the sacraments in some sense (which the PCA report concedes) few have lost all the marks of the true church AND fail on points 1,2,&3 above.

    While it may become necessary to examine the baptism of other communions in the future to determine whether they are valid, the validity or invalidity of Episcopal baptism doesn’t affect the invalidity of Roman baptism. It’s been examined and found to fail on three critical marks.

    Now, if someone thinks Rome is a true church, they do have true ministers, and their additions to baptism and different intention in administering it don’t invalidate it, they should also be willing to accept their version of the Lord’s Supper as valid as well and repudiate the conclusion of the Westminster Confession. After all, it uses the right elements, and as they see it, is administered in a true church by true ministers, and just because they add to it do it with an entirely different aim cannot invalidate it.

  16. Hi All,

    Apparently this post has been linked to on at least two Roman Catholic blogs, and consequently I’m getting a lot of angry responses from Roman Catholics. Most of them include the standard “we are the one true church you are the apostates” line that hasn’t changed since the Reformation (funny, I hear the same argument from the Eastern Orthodox all the time) and many appear not to have read the original post. We’ve also gotten a few from liberal protestants who view the RCs as simply another Christian denomination or who see their own denomination as merely a schismatic offshoot of mother Rome.

    I’m willing to enter into further discussion with Reformed observers, but will not be posting further comments from RC observers or non-Reformed protestants. I say this because I don’t want people to waste time replying without their responses being posted.

    Again to repeat, this is a blog explaining and advocating Old School Presbyterian Church planting.

    To make an analogy, I wouldn’t be posting complaints on a Baptist Church Planting blog explaining why they rebaptize people who join the church even though they were baptized as infants or adults in another denomination, neither would I be complaining on a Roman Catholic blog about the fact that Rome doesn’t view my own ordination as valid.

  17. Thank you for standing up for the truth Andrew. The Romish priests have no valid ordinations thus their Papist baptisms are invalid.

    Another reason to hold on to our Old School Presbyterian roots.

    Sola Deo GLORIA!

  18. [...] Are Roman Catholic Baptisms Valid?, 2008/07/03 at 5:12 [...]

  19. [...] about the Donatist controversy, you could start here, and if that’s not enough, try here. Here’s another link you may find [...]

  20. [...] [...]

  21. [...] this is not the position of the mainstream of orthodoxy. Here is a good article on this issue: http://biblebased.wordpress.com/2008…aptisms-valid/ TE Andrew Barnes (PCA) Christ Presbyterian Church (Kansas City, MO) 1 member(s) found this [...]

  22. [...] [...]

  23. […] called Building Old School Churches called, funnily enough, Are Roman Catholic Baptisms Valid? Are Roman Catholic Baptisms Valid? | Building Old School Churches Its written in the response column by Pastor Andrew Webb, of Providence Presbyterian Church PCA […]


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