"WHAT IS A BAPTIST?"
Rev. William B. Lipphard
American Baptist Convention
New York City
Sir:---Your What Is a Baptist? reprinted from LOOK magazine, is so far off the line of intellectual and historical soundness, that it causes one who reasons rightly to stand aghast.
One of your basic misconceptions is the Protestant assumption that "the Bible is the sole authority" in matters of Christian import; that it is "infallible." Pray, tell me, by what feat of intellectual legerdemain do you, and your fellow-Baptist ministers, find warrant for such a conclusion? If you were to ask me, or any other Catholic layman acquainted with the principles and history of Christianity, regarding religious authority, the answer would be that the Bible, though of basic import, is second in standing to the Church to which Christ delegated His authority; the Church that gave the New Testament Bible to the world.
Surely you must agree that the basic principle of Christian judgment must be the same today as it was during the first few centuries of the Christian era. That being so, pray tell me, how could the early Christians have been guided by your Protestant rule of faith, when they did not have a New Testament Bible? This is historically substantiated by the indisputable fact that no New Testament Bible existed until the Bishops of the Catholic Church, in Council assembled by authority of the Pope, collected, selected, and formulated the Canon of New Testament Scripture, that the Catholic Church called "The Bible." This did not take place until the year 397 A. D. If the Bible is "the sole rule of faith," how was it possible for the early Christians, individually or collectively, to abide by it, considering that there were no printed Bibles until the 15th century, after Guttenburg produced a Catholic Bible from movable type?
Of course, I know fully well that you will question the above declarations, as acceptance of them "knocks the stuffins" out of the Baptist guiding principle. Yet the historic fact remains that the Church Our Lord established, the Catholic Church, the Church Christ commanded to be heard, was the Christian rule of faith prior to the existence of the Bible; and has remained the primary rule of faith ever since.
"Infallibility," the exemption of liability to err, is as I understand it, a supernatural prerogative conferred, through the Holy Ghost indwelling in the Catholic Church, and not in the Bible.
Yet the faith and morals in the Bible, which are devoid of error, have an infallible status when defined by the Catholic Church.
The Church that you, My Dear Sir, and I, and all other persons who claim to be Christians are morally obligated to obey, is the Church established during the first century, and not the 17th century Baptist church, which owes its existence primarily to John Smyth. The Church we are obligated to obey is, as Christ said it would be, a visible "kingdom," with delegated power to bind men to its teachings (St. Matt. 18-18): It was to be, and is as Christ said it would be, a visible theocracy, to take the place of the Jewish theocracy (St. Matt. 21:43): It was to be Catholic, that is Universal (St. Matt. 28:19-20): Its duration was to be until time is no more (St. Matt. 28:20), as the gates of Hell would never succeed in prevailing against it (St. Matt. 16:18-19).
That Church was to be, and still is, an indestructible self-perpetuating Spiritual Corporation, made up in the beginning of the Twelve Apostles, with Apostle Peter as Ambassador Plenipotentiary of Christ. This was recognized and proclaimed by the foremost Christian authorities. For instance, St. Clement, the fourth occupant of the Chair of St. Peter, instituted by Christ, who reigned during the first Christian century, said:---"Christ was sent by God, the Apostles by Christ. They appointed bishops and deacons, and they made orders that when (the bishops and deacons) died other men of tried virtue would succeed to the ministry" (Adv. Haer. Book 3, c. 3).
Catholics believe, as you say Baptists do, that "religion is a personal relation between the human soul and God. BUT, and it is a big BUT, it must be a relation according to the will of Christ, the Son of God. Hence to declare, as you do for the Baptists, that an "ecclesiastical system," a "sacrament," "any preacher or priest" is an "intrusion"; that it is a repudiation of Christ as set forth in the New Testament Bible, is a denial of the declaration of St. Clement, and others as well who rank high in Christian history. With such a negative, unbiblical standard, is it any wonder that "a substantial minority of Baptists do not accept the doctrine of the Virgin Birth," as you say; which Virgin Birth was foretold by Isaiah (7:14), and proclaimed to have taken place by St. Matthew in the Bible that your sect claims to be the sole norm of Christian Judgment.
Interpretation of law, be it in the Bible or on our Statute Books, is dependent upon authority for judgment, for reliability. Without such authority how can Baptists know, for instance, the spiritual effects of Baptism with certainty? Or the real nature of other Divine truths? The Socialist doctrinaires hold to your anti-authoritarian principle, though they apply it to the civil sphere. Frederich Engels, co-author with Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto, said:---"All Socialists are agreed that the State, and with it political authority, will vanish as a result of the future revolution."
If the teachings of Christ, proclaimed through the Catholic Church and the Bible, do not awaken in you the consciousness of the falsity of the principles proclaimed in your What Is a Baptist? then ought the separativeness of Baptists into Regular Baptists, Primative Baptists, United Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Separate Baptists, Duck River Baptists, Two Seed-in-the-Spirit Baptists, Independent Baptists, Seventh Day Baptists, and a half dozen other Baptist sects, bring you to the realization of the anti-Christian result of your Protestant standard, first proclaimed by ex-priest Martin Luther, which was furthered by John Smyth and other Baptist leaders.
May the blessedness of right Christian understanding be yours.