Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Can Protestants and Romanists Marry?

Andrew Sandlin discusses marriages between Romanists and Protestants. He concludes,

I conducted an intra-faith, inter-sector wedding. In short, I conducted a Christian wedding. As a catholic Protestant, I perceive Rome as occupying a different sector of Christendom than Protestantism. It is not a different Faith (as, for example, Islam or Judaism are), but a different sector of the Faith. We Protestants join with Rome in affirming the great truths of the early ecumenical creeds and thereby the structure of orthodox Christianity. In this sense, both Rome and Protestantism constitute orthodox Christianity.

In this new found understanding of the ‘one, holy, and apostolic church’ Rev. Sandlin is not alone.

He goes on to admit that this position is contrary to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Protestant creeds in general, and both Romanist and Protestant position through all history. Of course, Rev. Sandlin believes these statements by both Protestants and Romanists to be wrong. For Rev. Sandlin, both Rome and Geneva affirm the structure of Christianity, ie. the early creeds of Nicaea, Apostle’s, and Chalcedon. The other differences between the two parties do not place them outside the realm of Christianity, and therefore, do not place them outside the realm of inter-marrying.

Allow me to defend the historic positions of both Rome and Geneva for a moment. While I do believe that Rome violates those early ecumenical creeds in practice, and thus, their profession of them is worthless, I do not believe that is the only reason Romanists and Protestants are an inter-faith wedding. Traditionally it takes more than just a believing affirmation of who Jesus is and who God is for a person to be considered orthodox or even a Christian at all. Protestants have traditional stated that if you do not believe you are saved by faith alone, then you are not a Christian. Rome has said, since Trent at least, if you do not believe in salvation by faith and works then you are not a Christian. Thus, the difference between Rev. Sandlin and both historic Protestants and Romanists is whether or not how salvation is obtained and applied part of the structure of Christianity.

The Bible seems to concentrate an awful long time on the importance of justification by faith alone. Romans 3:21-25, 4:4-5, Galatians 2:16, Philippians 3:9, and Ephesians 2:8-10 are just a few of the examples that seem to show the importance of Justification by faith alone, a doctrine which the Roman church curses. Yet, perhaps none show the difference as clearly and straight forward as Galatians 5:4. "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." Here the application of salvation, whether it be by law/works or faith, is linked to Christ. Those who get it wrong, do not have Christ at all. Then a marriage between one who has Christ, and one who does not have Christ is by definition an inter-faith marriage. I have to respectfully dissent from Rev. Sandlin concerning the status of Roman Catholics with regards to the Christian faith.


Mark said...

So then, as far as you're concerned Lee, it is all or nothing? Either Roman Catholics can be Christians and there is no objection to a Protestan marrying one or else they are "without Christ at all" and therefore not to be considered as potential marriage partners to Protestant believers?

Am I missing something?

Lee said...

I don't think you are missing anything. If you have some middle ground to propose, I am all ears.

Anonymous said...

Let me suggest some middle ground. Here is your description of the Protestant position: "if you do not believe you are saved by faith alone, then you are not a Christian." Isn't that too strict? It seems to me that Paul would say, if you do not believe you are saved by faith alone, you're wrong as a matter of doctrine. But if you have faith in Jesus as Christ and resurrected Lord, you will be saved, even though your understanding of how you're saved may be mixed-up. Galatians 5:4 seems to say that if you think you're justified by the law alone, Christ is of no effect. That doesn't preclude the salvation of people who have the requisite faith, but erroneously think their own works are also a factor. So on that view, an individual Roman Catholic could be a Christian. You just wouldn't want to adopt their view of justification.

Lee said...


I do not have a problem with your definition, nor do I have a problem with taking every Roman Catholic individually. After all some may not believe their church’s teaching about faith and works. The problem I have is that those who have the requisite faith in Christ will not be trusting their own works for part of all of justification, as the Roman doctrine teaches. I do believe that is what Paul is saying in Galatians. Those who believe what was begun by the Spirit is completed by the flesh are not just mistaken, but they are foolish, bewitched and in danger of losing all. They make Christ of no effect, and if Christ is of no effect then there is no salvation. Thus, I think anyone who truly holds to the Roman doctrine has placed himself outside the pale.

Justin Donathan said...

"Traditionally it takes more than just a believing affirmation of who Jesus is and who God is for a person to be considered orthodox or even a Christian at all."

So are you saying that the ancient creeds actually weren't drawn up as something for people to profess to mark them out as Christians? The creeds do more than affirm who Jesus and God are; "I believe in" has historically been understood to mean an acceptance of, or a having faith in. In fact the purpose of the "ecumenical" creeds was just that, to be an ecumenical statement that all Christians could agree on. If a person can recite the creeds and claim that they believe what they are saying, and you still aren't satisfied that they are a Christian then I would have to say that you have gone beyond the traditional requirements for what it takes to be a Christian.

Lee said...


Allow me to clarify the quotation about taking more than a believing affirmation of who Jesus is and who God is.
I am saying that the creeds contained more than simple statements about the divinity of Jesus, and required belief about forgiveness and salvation. Thus, justification is a disqualifying matter. Take the Apostles Creed for example. The vast majority is about the life of Jesus, but it does say "I believe in . . . the forgiveness of sins," among other things. The Romanist and the Protestant do not agree on "the forgiveness of sins." Thus, they cannot agree on even the Apostles Creed.
I would also want to disagree with your statement, "the purpose of the "ecumenical" creeds was just that, to be an ecumenical statement that all Christians could agree on."
This is not the case. The Ecumenical Creed of Nicaea was not made so all could agree, it was made to define the boundaries. The same goes for Chalcedon, Ephesus, and the others. The primary purpose was to exclude, not include.
I hope that clears up my thinking. Thanks for your thoughts.

Andrew McIntyre said...

The discussion of the inclusion of the Romanists within the Christian pale and the discussion of a Romanist/Protestant marriage are, I think, two very different issues. The Reformed religous practice and the Romanist religious practice are very, very different. The peace, tranquility, and unity of the home are threatened in a mixed marriage. The Romanists understand this quite well and will not condone such a union. For instance, should the children say the "Hail Mary" before they slumber? Should the family bow before the host? Should the children genuflect before an icon? The only possible answer in a mixed home, in order to keep peace, will be a cynical and relativistic "Who cares?" Obviously a true Romanist and a true Protestant will be at odds on such issues. I can socially fellowship with a Catholic friend. I may even consider him or her a brother or sister in Christ. But, that is very different from having a Catholic for a wife, with children who will be very confused as to the ways of religious practice. Such marriages should be discouraged for the sake of the institution of marriage, and the spiritual health of the children, if nothing else. I do not think a responsible pastor should encourage such a union.