May 23, 2004 Q & A

Marriage with a Roman Catholic


I am a teenager, and thinking of going into church ministry when I'm older. I am attracted to the OPC, based on its faithfulness to Scripture. I noticed that the OPC holds to a "strict-subscriptionist" interpretation of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. I agree with them on every point, except perhaps one which I would like clarified.

The WCF, Chapter XXIV (Of Marriage and Divorce) reads as follows:

It is lawful for all sorts of people to marry, who are able with judgment to give their consent. 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: neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked, by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life, or maintain damnable heresies.

Now I fully agree that Christians may not, without sinning gravely, marry others who are not Christians. This is clearly Biblical teaching. However, would I be wrong in saying that Roman Catholics can be saved in spite of their Church?

So, my first question is whether you can please provide any Biblical evidence that a marrage between a Protestant and a saved Catholic is inherently and absolutely wrong (aside from the difficult circumstances it entails). My second question is, if I interpreted this article of the Westminster Confession of Faith in the sense that marriage with papists is bad but not absolutely forbidden by Scripture and thus not worthy of formal church discipline, would I be automatically barred from being an OPC minister?

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this!


Thanks for writing a letter that's quite sophisticated for a teenager. I hope the Lord will lead you into the ministry if that is his calling for you.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church can fairly be called a strict-subscriptionist church. But that statement doesn't end the matter. Men who are ordained in our church vow to receive the Westminster Standards "as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures." Some men take that virtually verbatim, while others disagree with a word or phrase in the confessional standards. Still others may, before a presbytery, take exception to something, and their views still be deemed within the "system of doctrine." But that's somewhat rarified theology which doesn't directly address your concerns.

Of course a Roman Catholic can be saved in spite of his church. That's a safe position to hold. A separate issue is marrying a Roman Catholic. And imbedded in this is the criteria for judging who is saved. We all agree that only God knows the heart. With that agreement certain necessary matters have to be observed. That's why, in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church tradition, it is the church session—not an individual like you or me—that makes the judgment that a person makes a credible profession of faith: not an infallible judgment and certainly not a subjective, theoretical opinion of the kind your remarks seem to suggest.

So let's say an Orthodox Presbyterian Church member wants to marry a "saved Roman Catholic." My counsel would be that he/she come before a church session as a candidate for communicant church membership, and be received into the church. That's the best we can do, humanly speaking, to determine whether one is saved, a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

That's the concern of the Westminster Confession of Faith: that we have a believer on our hands, whom a believer may marry with God's approval. The Westminster Confession of Faith's "necessary" qualification for a Christian marriage is to marry "only in the Lord" and not be "unequally yoked" with an unbeliever.

Indeed, the Roman Catholic Church does hold "damnable heresies": the mass, confession and absolution by a priest, purgatory, Mary as "mother of God," "the queen of heaven," and "co-redemptrix," to say nothing of a pope speaking "ex cathedra" on doctrinal matters which members are bound by.

To repeat somewhat, it's not enough for any individual to judge whether a person is "saved." Leave it to the church to determine that question, and also the question of marrying a "saved" Roman Catholic. At the least, such a Roman Catholic should be interviewed by a church session. For such a marriage to take place, approval by a session is a must.

I hope my reply answers at least some of your concerns.



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