Baptist friend and unity in the body of Christ

I have a friend who is Baptist and he sounds to be pondering disunity in the body of Christ. Here’s what he said.

“Dear Church, its important not to make judge others in church. You may not know what part of the journey they are at. Perhaps them being at your church is the first step in deciding to live a Christ like life. Or perhaps they are brand new in the faith. The thing we can do is welcome them and offer prayers and encouragement.”

I asked him what happened and he responded

“It’s just what I notice in the body of Christ. We are proud humans and often think of ourselves as “better than those guys”. Usually it’s subtle sometimes unnoticeable but in the end it’s the body of Christ picking out stitches that are not ready to be pulled out. Sadly I am guilty of this and believe that all are guilty of this. God has been revealing this to me. As a body there is some unifying that must take place.”

What can I say to him to bring him closer to the catholic understanding of the unity of the body of Christ in a soft and charitable way?

I’m going to try to ask him what specifically hes talking about too as it seems a little vague

You could perhaps bring up the topic of how each Protestant denomination seems to differ in some very important topics, such as Baptism (at infancy, ‘age of accountability’, or adulthood, sprinkling vs immersion vs pouring), what is necessary for salvation (‘easy believism’/‘once saved, always saved’ vs a system similar to our Sacraments), etc. From there, I would emphasize the importance of having a unity of doctrine, which the Catholic Church has because it has been around since the time of Christ, with apostolic succession passing down the same teachings for two millennia.

I hope this is helpful! :slight_smile:

Well, that’s gonna be REALLY hard to do (at least the “soft” part of your goal).

Because the Catholic Church does not consider Baptists (or any other protestants) to be part of the Mystical Body of Christ. I don’t know how to make that fact “soft.”

Pope Pius-7 wrote a whole encyclical on it: MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI, which includes (#14) this teaching:

Hence they err in a matter of divine truth, who imagine the Church to be invisible, intangible, a something merely “pneumatological” as they say, by which many Christian communities, though they differ from each other in their profession of faith, are untied by an invisible bond.

Baptists (and other protestants) need not apply. They are not part of the Mystical Body of Christ, as far as the Catholic Church is concerned.

This whole idea that they are somehow included is a self-serving protestant invention.

To help with the "soft and charitable " part, remind him that according to the Decree on Ecumenism, those “…who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect”. That helped me a lot as a Methodist considering becoming Catholic.

Why? That sounds backwards to me. I would think that would maybe help you feel good about remaining Methodist.

It seems that, if there were no communion whatsoever, it would encourage you to convert even more. The guy who has nothing is drawn to the feast more than someone who has a ham sandwich.

Good points, but at the time I had pretty much decided to become Catholic. I was happy to learn that the Catholic Church considered me as being in partial communion all my life. And even happier to take the final step.

And… The guy with the ham sandwich yearns to join in the whole feast!

Touche! And I also once had that ham sandwich, but yearned for the feast.

How do you reconcile that claim with this paragraph (1271) from the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

“Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: ‘For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church. Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn.’”

There’s a difference between the concept of “membership”–ie being fully incorporated–and other bonds or relationships. Protestants are not rightly called members, but due to baptism they always have a certain bond with the Church. Here’s how Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma explains the distinction:

Although public apostates and heretics, schismatics and excommunicati vitandi are outside the legal organisation of the Church, still their relationship to the Church is essentially different from that of the unbaptised. As the baptismal character which effects incorporation in the Church is indestructible, the baptised person, in spite of his ceasing to be a member of the Church, cannot cut himself off so completely from the Church, that every bond with the Church is dissolved.

This is why we use the term “partial communion” because there is some bond based on (at least) baptism, but they aren’t members.

This is also why we make the distinction between “being the Church” and other relationships with the Church. The Catholic Church alone can be said to be the Church of Christ (this is why Vatican II used the term “subsistit in” and why this term cannot be applied to any other group, as the Church as reaffirmed multiple times since), but other baptized persons have a real relationship or bond with the Church (which, given the proper dispositions, can even be salvific).

The Catechism also specifically states that one is made a member of the Body of Christ by baptism (1267). When I read 1267-1271 of the Catechism, I cannot reconcile that with the claim that only Catholics are members of the Body of Christ.

Baptism makes one a member (you can’t be a member without it)–it is the door to the Church–but for membership the orthodox faith and hierarchical communion must come along with it. Otherwise, the Church could not rightly be even called a body, since it would not be a visible society, but be scattered among various societies. The Church of Christ, which is Christ’s Body, is now, has always been, and will always be the Catholic Church alone. As the CDF recently noted in its responses to questions regarding to doctrine on the Church: “In number 8 of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium ‘subsistence’ means this perduring, historical continuity and the permanence of all the elements instituted by Christ in the Catholic Church[8], in which the Church of Christ is concretely found on this earth.”

I think those other elements–profession of the orthodox faith and hierarchical communion–are presumed in 1267 given what is said in subsequent paragraphs, as well as what the Church has consistently taught before. For example, 1269 talks about the need for hierarchical communion as well as other duties that apply to members. More importantly, it speaks of the rights of members, such as receiving the sacraments–the Church does not grant Protestants the right to receive the sacraments, for example. Finally, 1271 does not say separated Christians are made members, but rather that they are "put in some, though imperfect, communion " with the Church.

The Council of Florence stated the same thing that you are looking to: “Holy baptism holds the first place among all the sacraments, for it is the gate of the spiritual life; through it we become members of Christ and of the body of the church.” But then it goes onto to discuss all sorts of baptized persons who were “outside the body of Christ, which is the Church”–in fact, the whole purpose of that Council was to reunite those separated groups to the Body.

Likewise, the very reason Vatican II used the concept of the “People of God” and the concept of communion, which could be spoken of in degrees, is because it wanted to describe separated Christians’s relationship to the Church, but it couldn’t use “membership” to do so. Cardinal Ratzinger explained this in 2001:

[quote=Cardinal Ratzinger, Eccelsiology of Vatican II]If we use the image of a body to describe “belonging” we are limited only to the form of representation as “member”. Either one is or one is not a member, there are no other possibilities. One can then ask if the image of the body was too restrictive, since there manifestly existed in reality intermediate degrees of belonging. The Constitution on the Church found it helpful for this purpose to use the concept of “the People of God”. It could describe the relationship of non-Catholic Christians to the Church as being “in communion” and that of non-Christians as being “ordered” to the Church where in both cases one relies on the idea of the People of God (Lumen Gentium, nn. 15, 16).

The Council therefore used the phrase “full incorporation” as equal to membership and “partial incorporation” or “partial communion” to describe other degrees of relationship.

Taking the one sentence from the CCC, or the one sentence from the Council of Florence, and placing it within the context of other contemporary Church documents, not to mention the broader theological tradition from the Fathers like St. Cyprian to later Doctors like St. Robert Bellarmine who all wrote on this concept, it seems clear that even though Baptism is the thing that actually causes one to a member, those other elements must be present along with it. Otherwise the unity and recognizability of the one Church of Christ we profess in the Creed breaks down.

EDIT: I added some more source below.

Here are some texts on membership, a concept used to identify the Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church (a visible society.)

[quote=Pius XII, Mystici Corporis]22. Actually only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed. “For in one spirit” says the Apostle, “were we all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free.”[17] As therefore in the true Christian community there is only one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, and one Baptism, so there can be only one faith.[18] And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered - so the Lord commands - as a heathen and a publican. [19] It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.


Lumen Gentium, which spent a lot of time discussing other relationships, like partial communion, that separated Christians could have with the Church, distinguishes them from those who are united as members of the Body. As Cardinal Ratzinger noted in my previous post, it spoke of degrees of communion, with “full incorporation” being used as the equivalent of membership.

[quote=Vatican II, Lumen Gentium]They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a “bodily” manner and not “in his heart.”(12*)

The Decree on Ecumenism makes the same distinction between full incorporation/membership and other modes of communion and partial incorporation and belonging, noting that those baptized, but lacking certain elements, need to be fully incorporated:

[quote=Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio]It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.

The same decree notes that the separated brethren “are not blessed with that unity” that we believe “subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose.”

Again this distinction is made in the Catechism in paragraphs 836-838. After quoting the passage from Lumen Gentium I quoted above, the CCC mentions those who lack some of the elements of membership described by Pius XII and Lumen Gentium (ie they do not profess the Catholic faith or have not preserved hierarchical communion under Peter)–they are instead in an imperfect communion:

[quote=CCC]838 "The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter."322 Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church."323 With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist."324

Technically, he’s right - based on an understanding of the Church that he finds to be relevant. It’s a result of Sola Fide. What you need to explain to him, is that it’s not faith alone that makes one a member of the Body of Christ. It’s a matter of how you live your life, not what you believe during your life. The vine-dresser prunes the bad branches, regardless of what a branch believes or not. Those branches that give much fruit, however, the vine-dresser will covet and guard sincerely, keeping them well-fed and established until the day on which they return unto dust. It works the same way with the Body of Christ - it’s a union of men in communion with God as much as it is men who are a part of God. In other words - if we don’t treat our fellow man as mercifully and plentifully as God himself would, we can’t rightly call ourselves the Body of Christ.

Obviously, loving like that is an impossibility - it’s simply not possible for us, in our defiled and wretched state, to do so. However, we can strive to do so - that’s part of the whole reason why Catholics venerate Saints. They were the good branches that bore much fruit, and God has gifted us the intelligence to be able to learn from them in order to better imitate them. Because, in the end, it’s the Saints who compose Christ’s body - the Church Militant, Church Suffering and Church Victorious, these are all advanced theological terms for something one and the same - the holy communion of Saints, that were born not of heaven, but of women, and endured the evils of this world and battled them head-on with full confidence in the
righteousness of their God and faith.

Of course, this does not negate the importance of faith in the struggle for salvation. But the source of salvation is faith manifested in much fruit, not faith without a branch to begin with at all.

It’s really very simple.

Protestants (mostly) have valid Christian Baptism. If a Baptized protestant dies without committing a mortal sin, s/he will be assured of salvation, just like any Catholic.

That does NOT mean that protestants are part of the Mystical Body of Christ. St. Paul used this analogy to stress the importance of UNITY. The Mystical Body of Christ is not divided.

The Catholic Church has made clear that Baptized protestants who die in a State of Grace are saved, but the Church has ALSO made it clear that they ARE NOT part of the Mystical Body of Christ, and they never were.

The two are not the same thing. Equating salvation with membership in the Mystical Body of Christ is a self-serving protestant invention (hey, me too!) which has been clearly repudiated by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church (as I have cited).

All who are baptized are incorporated into Christ. We are made “members of Christ.” How can one be a “member of Christ” and not be part of the Body of Christ?

What you have cited shows the error of the idea that the Church is not visible, but is merely united by some sort of invisible bond. I do not see how it demonstrates that Protestants are not members of the Body of Christ, particularly in light of Church teaching that Protestants are in fact, by virtue of baptism, in communion with the Catholic Church, albeit imperfectly.

From Ecclesiam Suam, Encyclical of Blessed Pope Paul VI:

“Those who are baptized and by this means incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body, His Church, must attach the greatest importance to this event. They must be acutely aware of being raised to a higher status, of being reborn to a supernatural life, there to experience the happiness of being God’s adopted sons, the special dignity of being Christ’s brothers, the blessedness, the grace and the joy of the indwelling Holy Spirit.”

Here, it seems to me, that he is clearly stating that by baptism, one is made a member of Christ’s Mystical Body.

From Unitatis Redintegratio, Second Vatican Council:

“For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church - whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church - do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.”

This is a rather explicit declaration that all who have been baptized are members of the Body of Christ.

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