Are We One in the Lord?

Various Pastors
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Sep/Oct 2005

As Darryl Hart points out in his article, "Does Protestantism Have What Evangelicals are Looking For?", American attitudes toward Roman Catholics have changed dramatically in the past half-century. Whereas before 1950 it would have been unlikely for Protestants and Catholics to socialize together, much less intermarry, faithful Christians today are confused about what is appropriate behavior and what is not. The question, "are we one in the Lord?" is very apt for evangelicals who see natural partnerships and alliances with Catholics on a number of issues, but still wonder if there is a line that should not be crossed. What follows are the sorts of questions people ask of their pastors. We've asked several of our contributing authors whose full-time job is pastoral ministry to respond to them as if they were talking to a member of their own church.

My coworker's daughter is getting married next month at the local Catholic church. Should I attend?

Unless attending a service in a Roman Catholic Church would cause you undue physical or emotional distress or pangs of conscience ("Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin"), you should feel free to attend the wedding of your co-worker's daughter. The purpose of attending a wedding is to bear witness to the couples' vows, to pray for them as they begin their lives together as husband and wife, and to bless them in their public commitment to live together in the order of holy marriage. Your presence shows your approval and support of what they are doing.

Since marriage is part of the created order, given to all in the creation of Man and Woman (Genesis 2:24), it is not a peculiarly Catholic or even Christian institution. Marriage and its benefits pertain to this life and the present created order, for "in the resurrection, they are neither married nor given in marriage." Of course, as a non-Catholic guest, you would not participate in Holy Communion, assuming it is a wedding Mass, since the Roman Catholic Church forbids non-Catholics from receiving Communion [see the papal encyclical of John Paul II Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003)]. Besides, you likely don't agree with all that the Catholic Church has to say about the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and your participation would imply your assent to their teaching. With respect to any hymns or prayers, your participation should be guided by your understanding and confession of the Christian faith. Where you can say your unequivocal "Amen" to a prayer or sing a hymn, do so. Where you cannot, do not. This requires careful and discerning hearing on your part, which but should be the norm regardless of where you are worshipping.

William Cwirla, pastor Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Hacienda Heights, California

Many of us are familiar with the awkward feeling that accompanies an invitation like this. A friend or relative invites us to share in one of life's most important events, but our Protestant convictions seem to be at odds with our emotions. We struggle to find some way to enjoy the occasion while maintaining a clear conscience. But in order to avoid compromise, we must approach a situation like this theologically, rather than sentimentally. There are at least a couple of things we should understand:

First, we must keep in mind that marriage is a creational institution. Like the institution of human vocation, marriage is rooted in the order of creation, not redemption. That means it is for all people, irrespective of their theology. While only the Christian can, by faith, understand and truly appreciate the profound illustration in marriage that demonstrates Christ's love for his bride (the church), a person's theology does not make a marriage legitimate. Even marriages performed for or by pagans are valid marriages, provided it is in accordance with natural law (i.e. one man marrying one woman). The theology and/or the spiritual state of the persons being married or conducting the ceremony neither validates nor invalidates a marriage.

This is important for us to understand because it means that we can feel free to accept the invitation inasmuch as we affirm the legitimacy of marriage. We can rejoice with them as fellow human beings and citizens in the kingdom of man, the sphere to which marriage belongs.

But there is, of course, a second thing to consider. What if the ceremony itself contains religious acts or pagan ritual that clearly denies the gospel and the historic Christian faith? For example, Roman Catholic weddings often include the Mass. As Protestants, we believe that the Mass, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, "is at bottom nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and passion of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry" (Q.80). Perhaps not all Protestants would be comfortable with such forthright language, but no true Protestant should be comfortable with what the Mass teaches and implies.

The same could be said of many other practices often found at Roman Catholic weddings (all of which are in connection to Rome's belief that marriage is a sacrament). Although we share common ground with our Roman Catholic friend in the order of creation and readily affirm his valid marriage, we do not share common ground on many theological essentials. As Protestants, we simply cannot, in good conscience, participate in any religious acts that deny our beliefs. This must be the caveat to our attendance of and/or participation in the wedding. We go to affirm what God has instituted in creation. We go to rejoice with our loved ones. But in all areas of religious practice, we go as an observer, not as a participant.

Michael Brown, pastor Christ Reformed Church Santee, California

Our church has been asked to participate with other Christian congregations in a Pro-Life march. The local Catholic church has taken a lead in organizing the march and the parish priest will be speaking. Should our church participate?

As a Lutheran minister, I am always leery of organized activities in the public square on the part of congregations. The issue here is not so much who is taking the organizational lead or who will speak, but the official participation of a Christian congregation as a whole. The Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms comes into view here. Certainly the Pro-Life cause is just and right. As Christians we acknowledge the sanctity of human life in all its stages, and we deplore the slaughter of the innocents on the altar of abortion, the trampling of the rights of the poor, and our callous disregard for the infirm and dying. However, individual Christians will differ regarding the best approach for public policy in matters of human life. Some may take a more activist role, and engage in public protests and marches. Others may work quietly behind the scenes to persuade those in government to protect the sanctity of human life. Still others may work within the sphere of their own influence and vocation, giving shelter to pregnant girls, adopting or foster parenting unwanted children, etc.

However, when a congregation acts officially as a body, this implies that participation on the part of its members is mandatory. A Pro-Life march is not a church pot-luck. This publicly associates the congregation with a particular cause, in this case the Pro-Life movement, quite apart from the cause of the proclamation of the saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. It also potentially creates the false impression that the various congregations are united in doctrine simply because they are united on this one point.

A Christian congregation gathers for one purpose: To worship the triune God in spirit and in truth, that is, to hear the saving message of the salvation of the sinner in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, and to receive His gifts of salvation in the preached, Word of forgiveness, Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood, to confess this faith in Creed and Hymn, and to pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to his or her need. Out of that liturgical gathering, the congregation is sent and scattered into the world as Christ's priestly people to serve their neighbor in the love of Christ and to proclaim to all that Jesus is Lord, Christ, and Savior.

If your question is "Should I, as a non-Catholic Christian, participate in a Pro-Life march organized by the local Catholic church?" my answer would be, "If you are so inclined, you are certainly free to do so as a Christian citizen who feels that this march would aid the sanctity of life in our society."

I realize that not all Christians will agree with this analysis, but hey, I'm a Lutheran. Deal with it. Your mileage may vary.

William Cwirla, pastor Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Hacienda Heights, California

Christians ought to speak up about abortion according to their calling, capacity and conscience, and participating in a Pro-Life march is one way to do this. Yet there is a great difference between what individual Christians may do (Rom 14), and what the corporate church, as the church, may require its members to do (Gal 4:10,11; Col 2:16,17). As an individual Christian I may join the military, choose to drink wine or eat meat (in moderation of course), and vote for this or that political candidate. But the church, in her corporate capacity, may not raise a militia, may not require or prohibit people to drink wine or eat meat, and may not stipulate which political candidate church members should support. The wisdom in this distinction is obvious: Respecting individual Christians freedom of conscience is important and is the mandate of love. Restraining the church to bind herself to the task of the Great Commission (discipleship) is vital. But it is also crucial for the church not to overstep her lawful power and boundaries. The church is obligated to remind us of our important societal and civil responsibilities, but the church should not stipulate how we fulfill them. Individual Christians and Christian families are right to work, as co-belligerents, in concert with other concerned citizens who also desire to transform culture and the civil government in order to overcome evil. Nevertheless, we should never think that our actions as individuals-governed by the Word of God-are beyond the arm and discipline of the church.

Secondly, the church cannot separate the acting out her faith from her faith. How can church leaders promote church-wide participation in an activity that is not distinctively Christian or that is contrary to a clear and faithful witness to the Gospel? Can the church tell church members to do something that is not a faithful Christian ministry? All that the church does is for the name of Christ, his glory, and the expansion of his visible kingdom in the church. The precious truth of the gospel cannot be severed from this. Doctrines like God's sufficient grace, justification by faith alone, and Christ's exclusive intercession cannot be sacrificed on the altar of noble concerns like cultural transformation. In all that the church, as the church, does or endorses, she must always be able to plant the flag of the Gospel of Jesus Christ upon it without fear or compromise. How can we be salt and light in this unsavory and dark world if it is not done for Christ and carried out faithfully to his Gospel?

As individual Christians, we may indeed participate with fellow concerned citizens for political and social reforms. But, if it is not for Christ, we may not be fighting ultimately for the same goal or cause in the end. The United States had many co-belligerent allies in World War II, and thankfully, together they overcame the axis forces. But as soon as the war was over, each ally claimed territory for itself and placed its own colors on it. We need to be careful. Under what flag are we fighting?

A. Craig Troxel, pastor Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church Glenside, Pennsylvania

My in-laws say the Rosary as part of the meal-time prayer. What should I do when we are guests in their home?

See this for what it is, an opportunity. In the 2003 movie "Luther," Martin Luther challenges the Protestant princes who had been invited to present their Creed before Charles V, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, by saying, "Satan invites us to preach in hell. Is that a trap, or our greatest opportunity?" Not that the home of your in-laws is hell (!), but here you have a chance to stand for the Gospel by speaking "the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) as well as by your action of not participating at least in some aspects of the Rosary.

One of the most liberating truths of the historic Protestant Faith is that it is catholic. We affirm with the church in all times and places several elements in the Rosary: Jesus' words of the institution of baptism (Matt. 28:19), the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Gloria Patri. I've found in conversations with Roman Catholic family and friends that starting here is effective, as it breaks down walls of resistance to what many Roman Catholics see as novel, ahistorical Protestant religion. Here is your chance to demonstrate that the Reformation did not start a new church, but reformed the existing Church.

With that said, this is also an opportunity to express the apostolicity of historic Protestantism. We belong to apostolic churches, not in a genealogical sense, tracing our bishops back to Peter, but in a theological sense, tracing our faith to the "foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Eph. 2:20). There serious doctrinal errors included in the Rosary which you must point out as one "prepared to make a defense" (1 Peter 3:15). While you could express the biblical dissatisfaction with repetitious prayers (Matt. 6) or the need for some physical "crutch" while praying (a la John 4), the thing to focus on as a Protestant is the opportunity to express the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

The reason for this opportunity is the so-called Salve Regina prayer at the end of the Rosary, in which Mary is invoked as the "Mother of Mercy," "our life," "our hope," and "most gracious advocate."

Point out that prayer is to be offered to "our Father" (Matt. 6:9), only through his Son Jesus Christ, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:18; Heb. 10:19-22). Why? Because Jesus Christ alone is the basis of our relationship with God. He is our only merciful (Heb. 2:17) Mediator and Advocate (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1), our life (John 14:6), and hope (Col. 1:27). For although Mary was a vessel of the Lord's salvation, "the mother of [the] Lord (Luke 1:43) and "the Mother (or, Bearer) of God" (Definition of Chalcedon, 451 A.D.), yet she is not co-mediator in any sense.

Showing that Christ alone is the only foundation of a relationship with God, you can then speak of the means we experience that relationship – faith alone (Rom. 3:21ff), not works, whether ours, those of saints, or of Mary.

Daniel Hyde, pastor Oceanside United Reformed Church Oceanside, California

Come a half hour late for dinner. Just kidding. You might want to eat a light snack beforehand, however, since the Rosary can go on for a long time. The Rosary is a Catholic prayer discipline that many non-Catholics find repetitive. The prayers to Mary are also deeply troubling to non-Catholics, since there is but one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. My advice is the same here as for those attending a service in a Roman Catholic Church. Participate as you are able. Part of the Rosary includes the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer. No Christian would have a problem with either of these, at least one time through. For much of the rest of the time, you will probably have to sit in respectful, contemplative silence. Silence is good for Protestants. Consider it a spiritual discipline. Your silence together with your selective participation might serve as a confession and conversation point. Be prepared to make a defense of your actions, with all gentle humility. Perhaps your lack of participation along with your obvious discomfort might persuade your in-laws to reconsider their meal-time devotions when non-Catholics are at the table. You might suggest a simple reading from the Scriptures, the 10 Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Our Father as a suitable substitute – kind of a "Protestant Rosary."

William Cwirla, pastor Holy Trinity Lutheran Church Hacienda Heights, California

I've been witnessing to my Roman Catholic neighbor who is coming to church with me this Sunday. Can she partake of the Lord's Supper? If not, what do I tell her?

This is a question of "table manners," except for the fact that the table we are referring to is the "table of the Lord" (1 Cor. 10:21). All too often we approach situations like this subjectively ("This is my neighbor") and overly influenced by the tolerant spirit of the age ("It doesn't matter what church she goes to because she believes in Jesus").

The Lord's Supper is the sacrament of spiritual nourishment for the pilgrim people of God (cf. John 6; 1 Cor. 10, 11; Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 65-67, 75-80). It is also called "the Lord's supper" (1 Cor. 11:20). "So all my neighbor has to do is believe in the Lord Jesus, right?" Yes, she must believe in Jesus, but the way the church recognizes who belongs to the Lord is by whether or not they are members of true churches. Very simply, Christ's sheep are found in the sheep pen.

As Reformed churches, we have always affirmed that there are three marks that distinguish a true from a false church: the pure preaching of the gospel; the pure administration of the sacraments; and the exercising of church discipline (Belgic Confession, art. 29). Because of this we have historically affirmed that the Church of Rome is a/the false church. In speaking of the first two marks, Rome does not preach the pure gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone nor does it administer the sacraments purely as instituted by Christ because it has added to their number as well as with its unbiblical ceremonies. And so we have always said that the Lord's Supper is for those who do believe in Christ and have been baptized in the name of the Triune God, and who are communicant members in good standing of a true, visible church (whether it be Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Congregational, or Lutheran, historically speaking).

As with all family and friends, prepare her for the Lord's Day service by explaining what we do in worship and why.

Second, explain what communion is in a Reformed church. Use the Catechism questions mentioned above, as well as the Belgic Confession, articles 33 and 35.

Third, explain that we welcome to the table those mentioned above, who believe in Christ, have been baptized, and who are members of a church with the three marks.

Fourth, sensitively say that this is not meant to look down on her personal faith or to judge whether she is regenerate, but to guard the purity of the Lord's table. If your neighbor is in any way an informed Roman Catholic, she knows that you cannot receive the Eucharist in a local parish either. Not that this is a tit for tat, but your neighbor should be a little more understanding than your average non-denominational Christian neighbor.

Fifth, use this as a continued opportunity to share the pure gospel with her and call her to investigate the Reformed Faith in more detail in our inquirers class. Lord willing, after much prayer and discussion, she will hear the shepherd's voice: "Come out of her my people" (Rev. 18:4).

Daniel Hyde, pastor Oceanside United Reformed Church Oceanside, California

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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