No matter what a Roman Catholic’s verbal profession is, both the Roman communion and the Reformed church charge Roman Catholics not to partake of the Lord’s Supper in a Protestant church. On that, Rome and Westminster concur! (Code of Canon Law, Can. 844 §1) Accordingly, how can one be regarded as having a credible profession of faith in Christ if he is forbidden in the Lord to commune with professing believers at Christ’s Supper?
Christians may marry only in the Lord. This means that at the very least Christians may not marry faithful Roman Catholics, Muslims or any other unbelieving idolater, all of whom maintain damnable heresies. (1 Corinthians 7:39; WCF 24.3; See also: Exodus 34:16; Deuteronomy 7:3,4; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18)
A question that in more recent times accompanies this clear teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) pertains to true believers within the Roman Catholic communion. Specifically, may Christians marry unfaithful Roman Catholics – those who profess the saving power of the gospel in their lives while remaining formally estranged to the Christian church while comfortably seated in Rome.
What is behind such a question is a misunderstanding of (a) the relevance of the visible church, (b) the impropriety of private judgments in such matters and (c) the undue partitioning of faith and practice. Accordingly, before trying to come up with a consistently Reformed view on interfaith marriage, it might be helpful to develop those three confessionally based principles by which our theology of marriage can be better informed.
Marriage and the visible church:
The WCF is clear that (1) there is no ordinary possibility of salvation outside the visible church. In other words, it is normative but not absolutely necessary that God leads believers into identification with congregations of the universal church that profess the true religion. (WCF 25:2) The Reformed church also teaches (2) that (a) the Pope of Rome is a usurper, (b) Roman Catholicism, with the pope as her head, is an apostate church and as such (c) the Roman Catholic communion, according to her theology, is a synagogue of Satan. (WCF 25:5,6) From those two governing principles we may surmise that it is at least possible that a true believer can be a member of the Roman Catholic communion even though Rome is not a true church.
Private judgment must give way to objective ecclesiastical standing:
Although some Roman Catholics profess faith in Christ in accordance with the true religion of the Protestant Reformation, by identifying with the Roman communion through membership and attendance such professing believers objectively remain outside the visible church of Christ, and no private judgment can remedy that reality. The question is how that objective reality relates to Christians marrying Roman Catholics.
Although professing Roman Catholics can live in contradiction to their communion by professing the true gospel of salvation, by the standard of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) they are not “communicants in good standing in any evangelical church” and, therefore, are barred from the Lord’s Supper until their profession coincides with their church affiliation. Or as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) would have it, a member of the Roman communion is not a “professing communicant member in good standing in a church that professes the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ” and, therefore, is not warmly invited to partake of the body and blood of our Lord.
At the very least, from a Reformed ecclesiastical perspective, fellowship with Rome necessarily keeps one from identifying with the Christian church and receiving the nourishment of Christ with other believers at the Lord’s Supper.
It’s not enough that one merely professes faith in Christ if he also lives in the unrepentant sin of spiritual adultery, which leads us to our third and final principle pertaining to the undue dichotomization of faith and practice.
(As we read on it might be useful to consider whether ecclesiastical precepts drawn from Scripture should override private judgement on one’s salvation, or can private judgements be reconciled with the implications of sound elder-rule ecclesiology.)
Faith and practice:
It’s hardly controversial that a good and faithful Roman Catholic is one who not only trusts in the damning gospel of Rome but also considers the Protestant gospel anathema. (See: The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, Sixth session, January 13, 1547: Chapters 7,8,10, and 16, Canons 12,24,30, and 32) Not surprisingly, a good Roman Catholic’s profession of faith is never credible by confessional Protestant standards. But what about the profession of a bad Roman Catholic – one who professes “Christ alone” while remaining in communion with the pope? How should Protestants regard such as these?
Here again we must respect that it is the elders of the church and not individual maverick-Christians that “bind and loose” in the name of Christ. It is the elders on behalf of Christ that open the kingdom to penitent sinners, declare absolution and admit sinners to the Lord’s Supper. (WCF 30.2)