Confusion in the PCA over "Papists"

January 2005

The following story is from the online edition of "By Faith" (not "By Faith Alone," please note), the denominational magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Editor’s note: Presbyteries have begun voting on overtures to be considered by the 33rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. The General Assembly will meet in the Convention Center in Chattanooga, Tenn., June 14-17, 2005. Overture 1 is printed below along with the Committee(s) to which it has been assigned for consideration and recommendation to the General Assembly.

Overture: #1
From: Iowa Presbytery
To: Bills and Overtures

Title: “Define Term ‘Papists’ in WCF XXIV.3”

Whereas, The current language of Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) XXIV.3, “… yet it is the duty of Christians to marry only in the Lord. And therefore such as profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, Papists, or other idolaters: …” is ambiguous as to the definition of “papist”; and

Whereas, It seems that the context of the aforementioned passage infers that the central issue being addressed is the matter of one’s soteriology; and

Whereas, Iowa Presbytery, in seeking a clarification of the word “papist” as it applies to the PCA’s constitution, was denied such a definition by the Committee on Constitutional Business in April 2003, leaving the presbytery to decide how best to interpret the word;

Therefore be it resolved the Presbyterian Church in America shall annotate the word “Papists” when it appears in the Westminster Confession of Faith with the following explanatory footnote:

“Papists” shall be defined as those who hold to an historic Roman Catholic soteriology, not all those who are members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Adopted by Iowa Presbytery at the stated meeting on 13 November 2004.
Attested by: /s/ Tom Bingham, Stated Clerk

Comment: Apparently the Iowa Presbytery sees nothing wrong with Christians marrying Roman Catholics, so long as they do not "hold to an historic Roman Catholic soteriology," that is, so long as they are Liberal Catholics. Question: Don't they still fall into the categories of "infidels" or "idolaters"? The PCA will have to redefine those terms as well in order to approve marriage to Roman Catholics.

One wonders if this redefinition of "papists" works the other way as well: Would the redefined word "papist" now imply that Christians should not marry those who are not members of the Roman Catholic Church but nevertheless "hold to an historic Roman Catholic soteriology"? That might mean that some PCA members might not be able to marry other PCA members.

Finally, we doubt that anyone who does not know the meaning of the relatively simple term "papist" knows the meaning of more complex "historic Roman Catholic soteriology."

Why doesn't the PCA, or at least the Iowa Presbytery, just admit that it doesn't believe the Westminster Confession, instead of redefining it?

John Robbins
The Trinity Foundation
January 26, 2005

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