“Broken Bridges” - A Former Roman Catholic’s Reflection
BY WILLIAM T. FOLEY
As a young boy growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I will always remember the clear and emphatic claim of my teachers and contemporaries that ‘salvation is only through the Catholic Church’. Again, ‘there is only one true Catholic and Apostolic Church, and anyone who leaves the Church will be lost forever’. These are familiar words to virtually every Roman Catholic; at least it was so in my day in Southern Ireland. But has the Roman Catholic Church changed? She claims to be semper eadam, always the same. Many prominent Evangelicals, however, seem to believe that she has changed, and that, therefore, unity can be pursued. I beg to differ.
On 4 September 2000, the London Times carried a front page headline which read, “Churches stunned by Pope’s attack on ‘defects’.” Their Religious Affairs Correspondent wrote: “The Church of England and other Protestant churches are not ‘proper’ churches because they suffer from ‘defects’, according to the Roman Catholic Church”.
The statements in question are contained in Declaration Dominus Iesus, written by Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (the Vatican organisation previously known as the Inquisition). The document was approved by the Pope, and therefore claims ‘apostolic authority’. It may be found on the Internet. Again, The Times writes, “The declaration, which has been received with ‘stunned horror’ by bishops and Roman Catholic theologians throughout the world, threatens to undo decades of inter-faith bridge-building”.
Personally, I rejoiced that the Roman Catholic Church issued this statement, since it shows her true colours and warns Evangelicals of her real position. Some Evangelicals will learn but, unfortunately, others will not and will work even harder for reconciliation with Rome.
CAT AND MOUSE
Rome’s declaration on the validity of other churches demonstrates that she is playing ‘cat and mouse’ with the Protestant churches while, behind closed doors, she is developing strategies to undermine them.
Unfortunately, there are indeed ‘defects’ in many churches today, particularly the progressive deterioration in doctrinal preaching and teaching. Apostasy among Protestant theologians and liberal churches deserve valid criticism. However, I do not concede for one moment that all Evangelical churches have ‘defects’ or are not ‘proper’ churches. Moreover, it is not difficult for believers who read their Bible regularly to identify and recognise Rome’s own cardinal errors. We will deal with two key aspects, which are fundamental to a ‘standing or falling church’.
Firstly, Rome’s view of the Bible is ‘defective’. She holds the Bible and the Tradition of the Church in equal regard. Rome suffers from ‘the addition of tradition’. Although in recent decades the Roman Catholic Church has allowed people to read the Bible, yet her trainee priests, particularly in Ireland, will study 75% philosophy and 25% theology. In his devotions, a Catholic priest will use other means more than the Bible. Many Catholic homes have Bibles, but they are seldom read. The Roman Catholic Church is selective in her worship, carefully using the Bible to uphold her doctrines. They hold that ordinary people cannot understand the Bible, and need the Church to interpret it for them. This denies the validity of private judgement and encourages priestcraft.
If the Church of Rome were a true church, it would subject its teaching to the test of Scripture, but it dare not do so. The Holy Scriptures are the sole and sufficient source of revelation from God for our salvation. ‘Scripture alone’ (sola Scriptura) was the clarion cry of the Reformers, and it must be still ours today.
Of course, as Protestants, we value our creeds, confessions of faith and catechisms, because they are based on the Bible. But the Bible itself must be the final court of appeal in faith and practice. We believe in the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, so that the ordinary person may understand it by the help of the Holy Spirit. However, the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:14). A person must be born again to truly understand the Word of God (John 3:3,5,7). Faith comes by heeding the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
The Church of Rome would do well to follow our Lord’s own methodology. On the road to Emmaus Christ ‘opened’ the Scriptures to show Himself to His disciples (Luke 24). He has been doing the same ever since for two thousand years through the faithful ministry of the Word and the Holy Spirit’s work.
If Rome were a ‘proper’ church, she would follow Christ’s example, and open the Scriptures to her people. True Apostolic authority involves subjection to the authority of the New Testament revelation, not the progressive speculations of popes and Councils.
A second area where the Church of Rome is ‘defective’ is in its understanding and teaching of the Gospel of God. The very heart of the gospel is justification by faith in Christ and His substitutionary work on the cross. Paul writes of the Gospel: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
The word ‘therein’ is crucial. Paul is saying that in the Gospel the righteousness of God is both revealed and made accessible to faith. He concludes that being justified by faith we have peace with God (Romans 5:1). The New Testament teaches that justification is by grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone. This, however, is the stumbling block to Roman Catholic theology, which insists that the Church and its priesthood are necessary to mediate salvation to sinners.
IS FAITH SUFFICIENT?
Much effort and discussion has taken place in recent times to remove the theological barriers erected by the Reformers against the Church of Rome’s theology. Words have been crafted and redefined to overcome the differences. But remember; Rome hates the word ‘alone’. This little word makes all the difference, for it deals a fatal blow to human pride and salvation by works. The Roman Catholic Church teaches ‘justification by faith’. But, according to Roman dogma, faith is not sufficient. Protestants have a ‘defect’ in this regard, they claim. Rome’s position is that you have to be ‘just’, before God can ‘justify’ you.
According to Rome, baptism infuses righteousness into a person, even an infant, and makes them holy. However, when that person commits sins this initial merit is removed. If a person commits mortal sin, righteousness is diminished. This triggers the unscriptural sacrament of ‘penance’. This involves contrition and confession of sins before a priest, who will then grant ‘absolution’ to restore the lost righteousness. One minute you have righteousness and the next minute it is gone.
This conjuring trick robs the Gospel of its power, for the New Testament teaches that the believer’s righteousness consists of a once-for-all imputation of the righteousness of Christ. This righteousness is unmerited (being bestowed by the free grace of God) and is acquired by faith (which is itself the gift of God; Ephesians 2:8).
Living as a Roman Catholic means that you never really know when you are in a state of ‘venial sin’ or ‘mortal sin’. This creates depression and doubt concerning one’s eternal salvation, because salvation is thought to depend on being ‘just’ in one’s efforts to please God. Scripture, on the other hand, states that God justifies the ‘ungodly’ (Romans 4:5). Rome will not accept this teaching, and has re-affirmed this time and time again since the Council of Trent. This Council (1545-1563) was Rome’s response to the Reformation, and the Second Vatican Council upheld its doctrines.
Furthermore, Rome adds the Mass (the eucharistic mystery of transubstantiation) to the Gospel, which strikes at the centrality of the work of Christ on Calvary. Rome encourages devotion to Mary under the titles of ‘Benefactress’ and ‘Mediatrix’, and the current pope has done more to foster devotion to Mary than any other. Rome believes in unscriptural dogmas such as the infallibility of the pope and the ‘Immaculate Conception’ of the Virgin Mary and her ‘Bodily Assumption’ into heaven. She has created purgatory because she does not understand that Christ purged our sins in His own body on the tree.
In short, the Roman Church has created a system of religion that is contrary to Scripture and must, therefore, be rejected by all Bible-believing Christians. Rome’s gospel is a counterfeit gospel, lying under the anathema of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 1:6-9).
The Roman Catholic Church and true Evangelicals cannot, therefore, be reconciled. Rome’s works-based religion strikes at the heart of the true gospel, and is therefore ‘defective’ in doctrine and practice. The Church of Rome cannot be a true expression of the church of Christ on earth.
Finally, remember that dialogue with Rome will only result in increasing darkness within Protestantism. There will be a false ‘super-church’ in the last days, and Rome is certainly heading up a world-wide ecumenical movement. Eventually other world-religions will be involved, despite what Rome may be saying publicly at present.
Rome is not moving towards Protestants, but they are drifting, slowly but surely, into her way of thinking. Now is the time to sound a warning and proclaim with unrelenting clarity the gospel of salvation through grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone.
In what points the true ornaments of the Church or Temple of God do consist and stand, hath been declared in the two last Homilies, entreating of the right use of the Temple or house of God, and of the due reverence that all true Christian people are bound to give unto the same.
Almighty GOD, to the intent his most holy Name should be had in honour, and evermore be magnified of the people, commandeth that no man should take his Name vainly in his mouth, threatening punishment unto him that irreverently abuseth it by swearing, forswearing, andblasphemy. To the intent therefore that this commandment may be the better known and kept, it shall bee declared unto you, both how it is lawful for Christian people to swear, and also what peril and danger it is vainly to swear, or to be forsworn.
Unto a Christian man, there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable, than the knowledge of Holy Scripture; forasmuch as in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth his glory, and also man’s duty. And there is no truth nor doctrine, necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is, or may be, drawn out of that fountain and well of truth. Therefore, as many as be desirous to enter into the right and perfect way unto God, must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture; without the which, they can neither sufficiently known God and his will, neither their office and duty. And as drink is pleasant to them that be dry, and meat to them that be hungry; so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture, to them that be desirous to know God, or themselves, and to do his will. And their stomachs only do loathe and abhor the heavenly knowledge and food of God’s word, that be so drowned in worldly vanities, that they neither saviour God, nor any godliness: for that is the cause why they desire such vanities, rather than the true knowledge of God. As they that are sick of an ague, whatsoever they eat and drink, though it be never so pleasant, yet it is as bitter to them as wormwood; not for the bitterness of the meat, but for the corrupt and bitter humour that is in their own tongue and mouth; even is the sweetness of God’s word bitter, not of itself, but only unto them that have their minds corrupted with long custom of sin and love of this world.
Of all things that be good to be taught unto Christian people, there is nothing more necessary to be spoken of, and daily called upon, then charity: as well for that all manner of works of righteousness be contained in it, as also that the decay thereof is the ruin or fall of the world, the banishment of virtue, and the cause of all vice. And for so much as almost every man, maketh and frameth to himself charity after his own appetite, and how detestable soever his life be, both unto God and man, yet he persuadeth himself still that he hath charity: therefore you shall hear now a true and plain description or setting forth of charity, not of men’s imagination, but of the very words and example of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In which description or setting forth, every man (as it were in a glass) may consider himself, and see plainly without error, whether he be in the true charity, or not.
Among all the creatures that God made in the beginning of the world most excellent and wonderful in their kind, there was none (as the Scripture beareth witness) to be compared almost in any point unto man, who as well in body and soul exceeded all other no less, then the Sun in brightness and light exceedeth every small and little star in the firmament. He was made according to the image and similitude of God, he was endued with all kind of heavenly gifts, he had no spot of uncleanness in him, he was found and perfect in all parts, both outwardly and inwardly, his reason was incorrupt, his understanding was pure and good, his will was obedient and godly, he was made altogether like unto God, in righteousness, in holiness, in wisdom, in truth, to be short in all kind of perfection.
In the last Sermon was declared unto you, what the lively and true faith of a Christian man is, that it causeth not a man to be idle, but to be occupied in bringing forth good works, as occasion serveth.
Of our going from God, the wise man saith, that pride was the first beginning: for by it mans heart was turned from God his maker. For pride (saith he) is the fountain of all sin: he that hath it, shall be full of cursings, and at the end it shall overthrow him. (Ecclus 10) And as by pride and sin we go from God, so shall God and all goodness with him go from us. And the Prophet Hosea doth plainly affirm (Hos 5), that they which go a way still from God by vicious living, and yet would go about to pacify him otherwise by sacrifice, and entertain him thereby, they labour in vain. For, notwithstanding all their sacrifice, yet he goeth still away from them. For so much (saith the Prophet) as they do not apply their minds to return to God, although they go about with whole flocks and herds to seek the Lord, yet they shall not find him: for he is gone away from them.
A Sermon of the Misery of all Mankind and of his Condemnation to Death Everlasting, by his own Sin.
Because all men be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds (seem they never so good) be justified, and made righteous before God: but every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the forgiveness of his sins and trespasses, in such things as he hath offended. And this justification or righteousness, which we so receive of God’s mercy and Christ’s merits. embraced by faith, is taken, accepted and allowed of God, for our perfect and full justification.
The first coming unto God (good Christian people) is through Faith, whereby (as it is declared in the last Sermon) we be justified before God. And lest any man should be deceived, for lack of right understanding thereof, it is diligently to be noted, that Faith is taken in the Scripture two manner of ways.