Religion - Roman Catholic

True and False Catholicism

“Swimming the Tiber” is a popular way of saying that a Protestant has defected to Roman Catholicism (the Tiber River flows through Rome). If you’re paying attention, periodically you hear of someone “swimming the Tiber.” Especially if it’s someone who has been extensively trained in Reformed theology, you might be left wondering if the Reformation actually got it all wrong. You may wonder if perhaps we have misunderstood Roman Catholic doctrine. You might doubt whether the Reformation is something to be celebrated, or whether it should be deplored as having been unnecessary. Should we celebrate the 500th birthday of the Reformation or mourn it?

When those sorts of doubts arise, it’s good to take a careful look at exactly what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. It’s good to compare these teachings with the Word of God. That’s what I’m going to do in this post. I’ll take the modern standard of Roman Catholic doctrine as our guide. The Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in several languages in 1994 and is an excellent compendium of Roman Catholic teaching. If you regularly have contact with Roman Catholics with an eye to evangelism, it would definitely be helpful to have this book in your library. From our side, I’ll refer to the Reformed confessions alongside Scripture. I do this because the Reformed confessions are faithful summaries of what Scripture teaches. Good editions of the confessions have Scripture proof-texts accompanying and you can always look those up should you question whether a particular point is actually taught in the Bible.

The Most Important Issue

Let’s start with the most important issue. In my experiences with educated Roman Catholics, this is where any discussion will lead you. We tend to focus in on hot-button issues: Mary, the Mass, purgatory, and the like. However, when we get into some heavy discussion on these issues, appeals are made to authority. The Reformed person appeals to Scripture. But the Roman Catholic is not persuaded by appeals to Scripture. In their minds, Scripture belongs with tradition and tradition stands on an equal footing with Scripture. The two will never contradict each other. Thus, in any discussion with Roman Catholics, things will always get bogged down over the question of authority.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) maintains that both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture come from the same source: God. There is one common source, but two distinct ways in which God’s revelation comes to the Church:

“Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit…Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit.”

Those statements come from article 81. Then we read the following in article 82:

“As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.’”

Tradition is more tightly defined in the eighty-third article as what has been handed down from the apostles via oral transmission. The apostles, in turn, received the tradition from the Lord Jesus. The Roman Catholic Church also distinguishes between the great Tradition, which is unchangeable, and “various theological, disciplinary, liturgical, or devotional traditions, born in the local churches over time.” The latter “can be retained, modified or even abandoned under the guidance of the Church’s magisterium [body of authoritative teachers].” In short, the Roman Catholic view can be defined as Scripture plus tradition – but both are regarded as having a divine origin and so both are equally authoritative.

Oftentimes, the biblical or Reformed view is defined as “Sola Scriptura,” Latin for “by Scripture alone.” Unfortunately, this often degenerates into what some have called “Solo Scriptura.” “Solo Scriptura” is the caricature of the biblical view and it is maintained by many evangelicals. It is the reason why one writer stated, without hyperbole: “…Evangelicalism has created far more novel doctrines than Roman Catholicism.” [1] With this view of Scripture, the Bible stands with me all by itself. I will come with my private interpretation of the Bible and it is valid and authoritative for me. This “Solo Scriptura” view is not biblical.

The biblical view is that the Bible alone is the most clear and authoritative source of revelation – the only other source being “the creation, preservation and government of the universe” (Belgic Confession, article 2). The Bible alone is where God reveals all we need to know for our salvation. The Bible alone has been “breathed out by God” and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture must therefore be acknowledged as the only ultimate and infallible norm for Christians. However, Scripture must always be interpreted in an ecclesiastical context – after all, it is the Church which has been entrusted with the Scriptures. We may not have an individualistic approach to the Bible. The Bible always has to be understood not only in its own context, but also in the context of the true Church. This is why astute Bible students (including ministers) place great value upon commentaries. Good commentaries (like those of John Calvin) give Bible students an excellent sense of how the Scriptures have been understood by those who have gone before us.

At the same time, it is very clear in our Belgic Confession (article 7) that we cannot consider “any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with the divine Scriptures.” According to the same article, we may not place custom or tradition on the same level as God’s Word either. This is a direct jab against the teaching of the Roman Catholics. The reason given is biblical: “for all men are of themselves liars, and lighter than a breath” (cf. Psalm 62:9). So, the biblical view of the authority of Scripture acknowledges several things: the supreme and ultimate authority of the Bible, the importance of the Church in interpreting the Bible, and the sinfulness of man has an impact on his interpretation and understanding of the Bible.

This biblical view can be truly labelled as Catholic in the good sense of the word. This was the view held during the first three centuries of the Church. It was the view that found acceptance by the majority of the Church through most of the Middle Ages. Finally, this was the view that re-emerged during the Great Reformation under men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin.[2] The Roman Catholic view as it stands today actually originates around the twelfth century. As Keith Mathison puts it, “The historical novelty [of this view] is simply not in debate among patristic and medieval scholars.”[3] In other words, the view expressed in CCC may be Roman, but it is certainly not Catholic.

The Doctrine of Man

We spent a lot of time on that question of authority because it is so critically important. It lies at the root of most of the other doctrinal problems in the Roman Catholic Church. We could touch on many other issues, but let’s stay where the fire is hottest. Let’s briefly examine what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about man. The Roman Catholic Church holds to a position called “Semi-Pelagianism.” Pelagius, a fifth-century British monk, taught that man is not conceived and born in sin. Man is born essentially good and he learns evil by imitation. Augustine of Hippo opposed Pelagius and insisted on man’s corruption. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church adamantly maintains that Pelagius was wrong. They maintain a doctrine called “Original Sin” and assert that “original sin is transmitted with human nature by propagation, not by imitation.” (CCC, art.419)

Though the Roman Catholic Church holds to original sin, it is defined in a special way:

“Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of the original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted; it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called ‘concupiscence.’ Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.” (CCC, art.405)

Take note of the view of human nature here: it “has not been totally corrupted,” it is wounded, inclined to sin. This is a more pessimistic view than Pelagius, but more optimistic than the biblical view of man as dead in sins and trespasses (cf. Eph. 2:1). For this reason, we rightly label this doctrine semi-Pelagianism. Under this doctrine, man is given a significant role in his own salvation. He is weakened, but once he is baptized, original sin disappears, though its effects may still be seen. At the end of the day, man retains some good within him. With a little push from God’s grace, man can help to save himself.

The true Catholic view is quite a bit different. In article 15 of the Belgic Confession, the truth of Scripture is summarized like this:

“We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has spread throughout the whole human race. It is a corruption of the entire nature of man and a hereditary evil which infects even infants in their mother’s womb…It is not abolished nor eradicated even by baptism, for sin continually streams forth like water welling up from this woeful source.”

The direction of the Belgic Confession seems clear enough. However, in the seventeenth century, the followers of Jacob Arminius tried to weaken the interpretation of the Belgic Confession. The Synod of Dort in 1618-19 answered with its Canons that make very clear that man is pervasively depraved. The Canons of Dort, following Scripture, state without reservation that all men are not merely wounded, but “dead in sin, and slaves of sin. And without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they neither will nor can return to God, reform their depraved nature, or prepare themselves for its reformation.” (CoD, 3/4.3). This view is the truly Catholic one, for it encapsulates the doctrine of the apostles (cf. Col. 2:13) that has been maintained by true believers around the world (including Augustine, Calvin and others) for centuries. This view alone gives all the glory for man’s salvation to God.

Worship

The teachings of the Roman Catholic Church concerning the place of Mary, the saints, the Mass and other sacraments, and the use of images are especially objectionable to Bible-believing Christians. All of these teachings can be lumped together under the general heading of worship. It has often been noted that worship was one of the central issues in the Great Reformation of the sixteenth century. It only makes sense, then, that we ask what the Roman Catholic Church believes about worship.

We can do this by looking at how the Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with the first and second commandments. The RCC traditionally puts the first and second commandments together and calls them the first commandment. Yet, the Catechism does divide the explanation. What we call the first commandment is explained as forbidding the honor of other gods as well as a prohibition against superstition and irreligion. What we call the second commandment is first explained as prohibiting the “representation of God by the hand of man.” (art. 2129). However, the doors are quickly opened with the following articles:

2130 Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim.

2131 Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified against the iconoclasts the veneration of icons – of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new ‘economy’ of images.

What is striking about the Roman Catholic understanding of the second commandment is that there is no recognition that this commandment originally pertained to the worship of God through graven images. This is exactly where the Roman Catholic Church goes wrong in its understanding of worship. In art. 2132 of CCC, it is stated plainly:

“Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.”

In other words, the Roman Catholic Church worships God through these images. Roman Catholics will say the same about their “veneration” of Mary and the other saints: we are worshipping God through them and thus the “veneration” is no idolatry. This is nothing less than a violation of the second commandment.

This was recognized during the Reformation. The Heidelberg Catechism states that we may not have images “in order to worship them or to serve God through them” (QA 97). Further, this Reformed Catechism also asserts that the second commandment gives us a basic principle for our worship: we are not “to worship him in any other manner than he has commanded in his Word.” (QA 96) The same principle is found with the Belgic Confession in article 7, “The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in it at length,” and then also in article 32, “Therefore we reject all human inventions and laws introduced into the worship of God which bind and compel the consciences in any way.” This is the application of Sola Scriptura to our worship.

The Roman Catholic Church follows a different route when it comes to worship: we may add to or take away from the worship of God as we please. Thus, the RCC has an elaborate ritual for baptism that obscures the simplicity of the sacrament as found in Scripture: sprinkling or immersion with plain water. Following their unscriptural worship principle, the RCC adds images and countless other innovations. The whole procedure and doctrine of the mass, though it often uses the words of Scripture, not only twists those very words, but also adds or takes away from the teaching of our Lord Jesus.

Other Examples

Numerous books have been written documenting the differences between the teaching of the Papacy and the teaching of Scripture. This article could quickly turn into one of those books! Before we finish off, here are two more examples of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church contrasted with the teaching of Scripture as summarized in our Confessions:

Regarding justification, Rome teaches:

“Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men. Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith.” (art. 1992)

But the Bible teaches:

“Therefore we rightly say with Paul that we are justified by faith apart from observing the law (Rom. 3:28). Meanwhile, strictly speaking, we do not mean that faith as such justifies us, for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ our righteousness; He imputes to us all his merits and as many holy works as he has done for us and in our place.” (Belgic Confession, art.22)

Note the difference between an infused justification (“conferred in Baptism”) and an imputed justification that is by faith alone.

Regarding the extent of Christ’s atonement, Rome teaches:

“The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.” (art.605)

But Scripture teaches us:

“For this was the most free counsel of God the Father, that the life-giving and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect…This means: God willed that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which He confirmed the new covenant) should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and tongue all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and were given to Him by the Father.” (Canons of Dort, chapter 2.8)

Here the difference is between a universal atonement, and an efficacious atonement restricted to God’s elect. Only the latter is the teaching of Jesus, the only head of the church (e.g. John 10:15).

On these and so many other points, the Roman Catholic Church has departed from the teaching of Scripture. We may say without hesitation that the RCC represents the spirit of Antichrist. In fact, the Westminster Confession is not off the mark when it implies that the Roman Catholic Church is a synagogue of Satan (25.5). And certainly we may agree that the Pope is not in any sense the head of the church of Jesus Christ, “but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the church against Christ, and all that is called God.” (25.6).

Through the Apostles’ Creed, we continue to confess that we believe a Catholic Church. Through the course of our brief examination, we have seen that there is a true Catholicism and a false Catholicism. There is a church chosen to everlasting life which experiences the unity of true faith – a true faith built upon submission to God’s Word alone. This is the true Catholic Church. There is also a church that “assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God.” (BC art.29). This is the false Catholic Church – the Roman Catholic Church. We are the true Catholics and we should not be ashamed to say so. Moreover, we should also be eager to bring the true gospel to those enslaved to the many soul-endangering errors of Rome.

[1] The Shape of Sola Scriptura, Keith Mathison, Moscow: Canon Press, 2001, p.280.

[2] Ibid..

[3] Ibid., p.211.

Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania, and blogs at Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com


Never miss an article!

Sign up for our newsletter to get all the week’s posts sent right to your inbox each Saturday.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Vaclav

    March 19, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    You guys make me laugh… The pot calling the kettle black!

    As a Reformed Christian, I always deplore when we call out the so called ‘heresies’ of others, especially other Christian believers. It’s almost like we have an inferiority complex about Roman Catholics. We need to be, at least in our own eyes, better than them. You seem to ignore our own reliance on the Heidelberg Catechism or the Canons of Dort or the form for this-and-that. Have you read the HC or the CoD? It’s the same things you are accusing RC’s of doing!

    Our Reformed denominations are divided by stupid, sometimes, meaningless issues like whether women today should be in office or even have the right to express themselves on a pulpit. Whether we should travel or shop on Sundays, whether visitors can participate in the Lord’s Supper or whether we should ‘fence’ them, whether we should baptize infants, and some of the other idiotic issues that you identified.

    Do you really think that God approves of this “Holier-than-Thou, ” condescending, disrespectful and yes— even hateful condemnation in your article and dare I say in many of the other myopic perspectives I have read on this website?

    Who cares?

    Do you even know the only sin that God cannot forgive? That’s a sin against the Spirit.

    Let the Roman Catholics worship as they wish, that’s no concern of ours. If we are secure in our faith, let’s treat fellow Christians with love and respect. Jesus is the only judge! I’m sure He would have a lot to say about the issues I identified above.

    Roman Catholics probably worship in the same hope of salvation based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, at least let’s give them credit for that. So stop dwelling on what traditions are significant in worship, because we have ours too. And most of all stop and pointing the finger at others, because you probably know the rest of that saying… When you point the finger at others, there are 3 fingers pointing back at yourself. So please grow up, I for one, am tired of it!

    You probably won’t publish this, but I would be curious to know what others who have a Reformed perspective think about this obsession of ours!

  2. Reformed Perspective

    March 19, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    It’s always interesting when someone condemns correction and doesn’t feel irony smacking them upside the head. If we’re holier-than-thou for saying that some Roman Catholics doctrines are wrong, then what are you for condemning this article as wrong? If you were to take your own “who cares?” advice, then you would never have written your comment.

    So why did you write? Because you know there is a right and wrong. And you know it matters.

    So the question is not, should we care or not, but how do we figure out what’s right or not. You write that you’re sure that Jesus “would have a lot to say about the issues I identified above.” I’ll agree and do you one better on that – He not only would say a lot, but did say a lot on those issues.

    Let’s begin with what He said about the law: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18). He went on to explain how the law matters more, not less, than we might have thought. Don’t murder means, don’t even hate (Matt. 5:21-22). Don’t commit adultery means don’t even look at a woman with lust (Matt. 5:27).

    You think we’re being overly critical and making much of little? Well, Jesus was so concerned with holiness he told us, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out (Matt. 5:29). So Jesus doesn’t abide with: “Who cares?” He had to die for our sins, so apathy is not an appropriate response to His sacrifice. We should not make light of sin, and presume on this costly grace.

    You’ve called this article “hateful condemnation.” But this isn’t about condemning Catholics. It is about steering them from false hope, towards the real Jesus. You think the Roman Catholics “probably” have the same hope of salvation based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That’s like saying, “I think this parachute will probably work.” Do you know, or not? And if you don’t know, then shouldn’t you find out before you say it all doesn’t matter?

  3. Vaclav

    March 20, 2019 at 9:12 am

    First let me say that I am astounded that you even printed my comment. Thank you for doing that.

    I am going to make 3 points in this response:

    1. Clarify what I really meant by my comment, “Who cares?”

    2. Re-iterate my point that we are quick to judge Roman Catholics however we skim over our own transgressions, as you obviously did in your response. This is consistent with Matthew 7:1-5 and Romans 2:1-3

    3. And finally, I believe we do this to distract from those real serious concerns with our own faith and practices, which incidentally you ignored in your response, in an attempt to discredit, ridicule and scare people into submission by falsely pointing out how mush better we are than those heretics of other faiths. We settle with some very disturbing practices, because approaches practiced by those heathen others are so much worse than ours.

    Point #1. With reference to my “Who Cares?” comment: may I respectfully submit that you are reverting to a seemingly dishonest Presto-Chang-o tactic to distort and deflect the major points of my comment. You use to reductio ad absurdum— a petty mind game, and weak argumentative fallacy to ignore the real meanings in my reply. You take one comment out of context, “who cares?” and build a case to attempt to disprove that one statement by showing that it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion. So if you can discredit that statement, they you feel you discredited the entire response.

    So, let me tell you and make it crystal clear why I said, “who cares?”

    Remember when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. By the way, He healed on the sabbath on several occasions. The Scribes and Pharisees jumped all over him for breaking the law. They probably even quoted the exact verses in Genesis 2:2–3, Exodus 20:1–17 (especially verses 8-11 dealing specifically with the Sabbath), Exodus 31:13-17 (especially verse 14: “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people.”), Leviticus 23:32, Deuteronomy 5:4-21 (especially verses 12-15 dealing specifically with the Sabbath), Nehemiah 13:19. These commands about the Sabbath were written after “God spoke” to all the people the words of the covenant, that is, the “ten commandments” Deuteronomy 4:13, 5:22 He gave them directly to Moses for all time. And please don’t try to weasel out of this by saying, Jesus in the New Testament, changed all this— I remind you what you said in your response— “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” Matt. 5:17-18. In fact, if your website would have been around at the time, I suspect that you would probably have written your “Reformed Perspective” on this incident probably focusing on Jesus’s heresy! You know how Jesus responded to this, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27). In short, Jesus replied with the “Spirit,” of the law and not the letter of the law or traditions. Technically, he may have violated the letter of the law, but in the bigger spiritual perspective, He loved God with all His Heart, and loved (and had compassion on) His neighbour as Himself.” So, he healed in the name of God and God’s immense love for us. And that is what He came here to teach us, and later sent the Holy Spirit to re-in force. While you adopt a myopic perspective focusing on the “weeds,” you miss the big picture, as I pointed out in my response. Again, I say, “Who cares about a myopic focus on the letter of the law and traditions (of Roman Catholics) which is secondary, when what is really important is whether the Spirit of the law is being followed?”

    Point #2— How does constantly judging others, especially Roman Catholics glorify God? You say, that there is a right way and wrong way to worship God, again you went and selected some very fine (letter of the law) examples to attempt to prove your point. However, in your cherry-picking of the letter of the law you overlooked several important (spiritual) points. When you said, “He went on to explain how the law matters more, not less, than we might have thought. Don’t murder means, don’t even hate (Matt. 5:21-22). Don’t commit adultery means don’t even look at a woman with lust (Matt. 5:27).” My point exactly! Don’t just focus on a narrow-minded interpretation of the law, look at the law from a broader context!

    You conveniently ignore, Matt. 22-26— 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,” is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. 25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

    There are many reasons why we should not judge others, but we of the Reformed tradition seem to relish in doing just that! I wrote this response because, frankly I am sick of that! When we don’t see that we do exactly the same thing. Now I don’t want to start to debate the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort. Let’s agree that these documents are useful summaries (supposedly based on scripture, but sometimes they fail miserably) written by MEN, not biblically inspires like the scriptures. I have some serious concerns with some of the content of these documents, and I deplore that at times, they seem to take precedence over scripture— exactly what you accuse RCs of doing.

    I apologize about the length of the following list, but scripture distinctly admonishes judgement of others in favour of our own self-reflection… (Here are a few… I found many, many other passages with a Google search of “ What does God say about judging others.”

    I’ll send these passages in another comment because I fear this response may be too long…

    I suspect that you with your vast repository of knowledge will see this as an attack from a poor, puny, feeble-minded and misguided soul. And your hubris will not allow you to see one iota of merit whatsoever in any of my real message, being— Let’s all stop wasting time and effort criticizing others and let’s work on ways to get our own Reformed act together to truly reflect the glory of God! I’m used to that approach, I get it from the pulpit every week!

    There is an interesting example of this in this month’s (March-April 2019) Harvard Business Review. Fortunately it is available on line at: https://hbr.org/2019/03/the-feedback-fallacy They give the example of asking a group of colour-blind people to describe the colour of a rose. Of course, all of these people see various shades of dark brown to grays, but it’s not at all consistent with what a person who has normal vision would see. I feel that this represents a good metaphor of the Reformed faith today. Instead of welcome and debating sincere questions from the rich, and often diverse and conflicting perspectives available to us, to try to find a spiritual solution we are trying to create colour-blind congregations by distorting facts, using fear and scariest of all, maybe even being motivated by some form of political influence.

    Before you say it, Yes! I am guilty of judging your response! But this is an effort to get our act together and solve real issues dividing our Reformed denominations and getting this right because it matters! Not wasting time and focus on admonishing others which makes no spiritual sense and only distracts from what is supposed to be our true purpose. If we want to have any form of credibility with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, we had better get our own house in order first and then adopt a prayerfully considered spiritual approach, not one of dis-respect and condemnation in a colour-blind forum which will not change a thing but only ferment fear, suspicion dis-respect.

    As for the parachute, it’s our responsibility to make sure our own parachute works first, then help others by example not public ridicule on a “colour-blind” web page.

    So, in conclusion, maybe I’ll fall back on scripture to make my final point on how I see this situation, and why I still feel that you flaunt a Holier-than-thou attitude:

    Luke 18:10-14 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

    My apologies for the length of this response… Vaclav

  4. Vaclav

    March 20, 2019 at 9:14 am

    Follow-up to my previous comment (Part 2)

    Matthew 7:1-5 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

    Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven”

    James 4:11-12 “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

    Romans 2:1-3 “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?”

    Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

    Romans 14:1-13 “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. …”

    John 8:7 “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

    Titus 3:2-7 “To speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, …”

    James 1:26 “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

    Luke 6:31 “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

    Matthew 6:14 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

    Luke 6:37-42 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

    Romans 12:16-19 “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

    Galatians 5:14 “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
    John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

    Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. “

    1 Corinthians 13:1-8 “ If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; …

    Romans 14:1 “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.”

    Romans 2:3 “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?”

    1 Peter 4:8-9 “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

    Isaiah 11:3 “And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear,”

    1 Corinthians 5:12-13 “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

    1 Corinthians 6:1-6 “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, …

    Matthew 12:36-37 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    1 Peter 3:8-12 “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

    Romans 2:1 “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

    Galatians 6:1-6 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. …”

    2 Timothy 2:24-26 “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

    Matthew 7:12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

    Galatians 5:22-6:5 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. …”

    Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”

    James 4:11 “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

    Colossians 3:12-15 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”

    James 1:19 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore. put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

    1 Samuel 16:7 “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

    Finally Point #3: What about the “real” issues that the Reformed Churches are split over—like whether our genitals alone give us the right to preach and interpret the word of God at the pulpit, whether we keeping the sabbath command should preclude travel or shopping on Sundays, whether visitors, even believers from other Reformed denominations are welcome to participate in the Lord’s Supper or whether we should ‘fence’ them out, whether we should baptize infants, or wait until they understand this sacrament. Why don’t you argue the reformed perspective here instead of allowing these matters to fester and rot so people like me may consider possibly swimming the Tiber, the Euphrates, or the Ganges?

    Well here, as I said before, we use a tactic of distraction used by many prominent politicians today. First, we attempt to show how much more depraved and un-biblical the practices of other faiths and denominations are. And secondly and most insidious, we ignore the real issues, and distort sincere questions meant for reflection and turn them into absurdity. Trying to flaunt your superior understanding by using the tactics of ridicule of sincere questions and avoidance that you did in your response.

    Scripture talks about this:

    Matthew 7:15-23 15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

    James 3:17 “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”

    • Reformed Perspective

      March 20, 2019 at 10:34 am

      You’ve written a lot, and I will try to hit your main points.

      First, let’s get back to the general point you’re making against judging, even as you make an exception for yourself. You wrote:

      “Before you say it, Yes! I am guilty of judging your response! But this is an effort to get our act together and solve real issues dividing our Reformed denominations and getting this right because it matters!”

      So why do you get to judge this article even as you argue we need to stop judging? Because you think in this case, it matters. That is indeed a good reason to judge. It is consistent to what Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-5 and Romans 2:1-3, both of which condemn, not judgement in general, but hypocritical judgment specifically – judging others by a standard we would not be happy to submit to ourselves.

      But do you suppose the article writer would disagree with your position: that it is silly to judge others when it is trivial but important to do so when it matters? He didn’t spend the hours and maybe days involved in crafting this article because he thought it was unimportant. So that, then, is not where your and his difference lies.

      You give, by way of example of judging trivially, our approach to the Sabbath, and conclude that we might well have taken Jesus to task for healing on the Sabbath.

      “In fact, if your website would have been around at the time, I suspect that you would probably have written your “Reformed Perspective” on this incident probably focusing on Jesus’s heresy!”

      And denouncing Jesus for heresy would be wrong, you remind us, because as Jesus noted, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” Good point. It’s one I made in my article on the topic of how we misunderstand that Sabbath as an imposition on us, and not a blessing for us.

      So you don’t seem to have a problem with us, so much as a problem with the caricature you’ve created of us.

      You’ve said we are taking the easy way out and looking at others sins to avoid looking at our own. But is that really so? We have maybe a half dozen articles on Roman Catholicism, but we have hundreds of articles addressing problems in our Reformed churches. My Sabbath article makes that point, and here is a list of just the most recent that do so as well:

      – Birth control use in our churches
      – Using our gifts in retirement
      – Being motivated elders and deacons
      – Educating our children
      – Judging Rap rightly
      – Our social media use

      We are not avoiding inward reflection. And we are not judging hypocritically – we assess our own actions and beliefs by the same standard – God’s Word – that we apply to others as well.

      Finally, you suggest that we should spend less time on Roman Catholics and more time on the issues that divide the Reformed Church like male headship, Sunday shopping, open vs. closed Lord’s Supper tables, and the baptism of infants. Well, we’ve tackled some of those too, recently presenting a debate on baptism, and regularly featuring articles on the Sabbath.

      But you know what else we need to do? Every now and again we also need to warn our readership of the dangers underlying the Roman Catholic church. That’s worth doing too.

  5. Vaclav

    March 20, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Well I wish you the best of luck in your echo chamber!

    Maybe you could do an article on why so many people are leaving our Reformed churches.

    • Reformed Perspective

      March 20, 2019 at 6:07 pm

      Which of one of us is unwilling to hear and interact with a differing opinion?

      You seem to think it’s me. But there’s no echo chamber here. I’ve heard what you’ve had to say. And I’ve replied to your points and explained why I think you are wrong. Instead of replying, either to show my errors or admit your own, you’re just leaving with a parting shot.

      God warns us against being that kind of stubborn (Prov. 12:1). Now calling you stubborn might sound harsh so I want to be clear that this is not an accidental insult. I’m not just venting. I am calling you out. If you can’t defend your position, but you still hold to it, that’s sheer cussedness, and there is nothing admirable about it.

  6. Vaclav

    March 21, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Talk about a parting shot! I never called you stupid, or stubborn and thanks for introducing me to the word, “cussedness.” I confess that I had to look that one up.

    Again, I am not your enemy here. I, too have a Reformed Perspective and I constantly work on trying to get it right. The way I learn is to educate myself, read different perspectives and question my practices and beliefs and make sure that they are consistent with the Spirit of the Word.

    Unlike you who says, “I’ve replied to your points and explained why I think you are wrong,” I read your responses always with a view on considering if you might actually be right. And based on my experiences and understanding, I crafted my responses. They may have been blunt at times, but I hope not disrespectful. So, let me elaborate a bit in response to your challenge about defending my position…

    As a Christian, I’m sure that you get challenged all the time. I have found that 4 out of 5 challenges are by scoffers who want to ridicule us, but 1 out of 5 may be from people really searching for the truth.

    I have come to a few conclusions over the years. I may be wrong, but over the years I have concluded that the Bible was written by fallible men who wanted to reveal an infallible truth revealed to them by the Spirit of God. They communicated that truth with the best knowledge and technology available to them at the time. Sometimes it was in the form of a story. So, it’s important to focus on the message behind the story and not entirely on the specific details. I deplore those vain attempts by some Christians to discredit scientific research like carbon dating, biochemistry, genetics and physiology and force-fit a pseudo-scientific approach that only arouses ridicule from the other side— I’m sure you know about those angry atheists like Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and the like. I personally believe Daniel Dennett is the most effective of these in debunking Christian pseudo-science. So based on these attacks, I personally have come to the conclusion that the Bible is not a science book. I have concluded that the message is important, not the mechanisms or details.

    So, having said that, I ponder but don’t spend too much time worrying whether the universe was created in six 24 hour days, or whether you can sell your daughter into slavery or (Exodus 21:7-11), whether a bat is a bird (Leviticus 11:13-19 and Deuteronomy 14:11-17) or whether it is even possible to survive 3 days after being swallowed by a fish. Do these things really negate the truths by which we are saved or the glory of God? I think not!

    Getting back to our discussion, this is not the first time I’ve brought this topic up about this Reformed obsession with criticizing Roman Catholics— quite a few ministers over the years have also had to suffer my opinion on this criticism of other denominations or religions whether it was RC’s (which is the favourite target), Baptists, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses or Muslims.

    A lot of what you say is true. We most definitely need to examine these things and evaluate whether these practices are consistent with (or can even enhance) our view of what it really means to worship God with a view of glorifying Him and live our lives according to His word and most importantly our hope of salvation in Jesus’s blood. But what are we really accomplishing with this approach of attacking RCs behind their back and preaching to the converted?

    I guess my perspective and disdain of this approach all stems back to an incident that happened decades ago. I invited a close RC friend of mine to an evening service. He and I discussed many topics generally politics, but religion as well. I asked a lot of questions about the pope’s authority, praying to Mary and other saints and their elaborate decorations and statues and he was always willing to share his point of view and question mine in return, all in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Anyhow, at this one particular service I recall the minister saying something to the effect of, “We’re not like the Roman Catholics who recite litany until they’re numb in the head, without even knowing what they’re saying.” I was mortified. Then, ironically, we did the very same thing. But we didn’t call it litany, we called it a “Responsive Reading.” You can guess that my friend had plenty to say about this. “Why the attack on RC’s? Why the hypocrisy? Why attack fellow-believers behind their backs? Why not ask a RC face-to–face and give them an opportunity to reply? Why such a cowardly way of turning Christian against Christian? This approach resolves nothing but only incites animosity and ridicule?” Frankly, he made some good points and I was kind of embarrassed and not prepared to deal with this.

    I apologized and granted that “maybe” that was not the best or most appropriate way to deal with such a question.

    Then a few days later, he said to me that he had a theory about why this obsession with Roman Catholics. He said something like— Since RC’s are the biggest Christian group, and attendance is slipping in all Christian churches, there might be some RCs who are uncomfortable with unpopular stances like birth-control, papal authority, pomp and pageantry, praying to Mary and the saints, pedophile priests, purgatory and past sins like buying your way into heaven and long for a much simpler and direct walk with God. Why not target an all-out offensive and recruit some of these doubters for membership and grow our paying customer base, especially since there is a huge potential market in the many new immigrants and their growing numbers of western-educated kids who are RCs.

    Of course, I scoffed at this seemingly, far-fetched “conspiracy theory.” But the damage was done. To this day, he continually throws that in my face, ” Are you sure you want the opinion of a numb-in-the-head Roman Catholic?”

    If you think that attacking RCs and pointing out their heresies is your bailey-wick, then knock yourself out! I simply tried to point out a few things that we may want to reflect on:

    – I this really the most effective use of our time?
    – Do we lack credibility because we do some of the very things that we accuse RCs (and others) of?
    – Is this judgemental approach really an approach that glorifies God? (Hence all the bible verses I sent you about judging others)
    – Does this approach really show that the church of God is really one body? (Unity in Christ)
    – Are we justified in using a judgemental approach that does not allow the other to speak, or should we instead, if we desire to truly address these concerns, open up a dialogue that is based on mutual respect?
    – What is the outcome or perceptions (the damage that we may be inadvertently doing to our cause) that we are creating in the minds of readers with this one-sided presentation of the facts as we see them? Perhaps Scorn, ridicule, disrespect, superiority?
    – Is our approach narrow-minded and legalistic and not spiritual? As presented with the example I gave about Jesus healing on the Sabbath?
    – What is this approach, that we have been using for over 500 years, actually accomplishing? Maybe it did create Protestantism, but why are we protestants, and yes even Reformers still so divided in our beliefs and practices?
    – What desired results are we even hoping to achieve by preaching to the converted and not raising these questions to those concerned?
    – Are we hoping they will get the message in some form of indirect way?

    Maybe you have asked yourself these very same questions and have come to terms with them. Maybe I didn’t reach the same conclusions that you did. Maybe you are led to take a different role in the dissemination of the word.

    But if you feel that you are led by your faith to continue this assault on the heresies of RCs, then more power to you!

    But, I for one, respectfully submit that I am not comfortable with this approach based on what I have said above, and the other reasons that I have given you in my lengthy (sorry about that!) responses that were made in good faith. You have responded in a mostly eloquent manner, but you have not sufficiently convinced me that this is a worthwhile endeavour, at least for me to emulate. So, let us agree to disagree in a respectful manner.

    In the end, we are not judged as a collective. We will one day have to stand before God and answer for our actions face-to-face, one-on-one with Him, with Jesus as our hope. Yes, we are justified by our faith! But isn’t our faith the reference point for our actions? Isn’t faith, that set of beliefs that we each individually hold to be supremely true in our lives and act as an unshakeable foundation and a guide by which we base all our actions/works? Works, as James said, are a reflection of our faith— that which we believe. My faith leads me to abhor this this type of attack on RCs. Your faith may propel you, like Martin Luther, Calvin and many other church fathers to be more assertive, direct and aggressive in your approach. Then by all means knock yourself out!

    You and I have reached a different conclusion here so we are implementing a different course of action.

    So, in response to your last message calling me out— I didn’t mean to kiss you off, ridicule you or dismiss your views. I have carefully considered your positions, and don’t believe that you have sufficiently proven me wrong or convinced me that your approach bears any spiritual fruit. Your approach is not for me and I deplore that strategy. We can continue to lob Biblical passages, and hurl insults at one another (which I have tried to avoid). I believe that I have never attacked your intelligence, or sincerity as a person, only your tactics.

    So, we have reached an impasse which we both feel very strongly about, and even if it is diametrically opposed, we must act according to how we feel that God is leading us. The way I see it is we’re on the same side, We don’t win a war, by everyone using the same tactic or strategy. Mine, I feel, is a strategy of love, compassion, and respect— yours, and I may be wrong, may be the strategy of raising concerns, alarm or caution. I’m not going to continue to flog a “dead horse,” when you are both adamant and perhaps even feel correct in your views. I never wanted to convince you that your position is wrong, only to question whether it is Biblical, consistent with our faith and effective in producing any form of desired result? In fact, I may even venture to say that I learned a few things in our discussion.

    I ask only one thing of you, I hope that you will give me the credit for responding to your challenge of defending my position, as you requested.

    I can to lead you to my pond, and hope you will drink of it, but if you refuse to see any merit in my perspective, then may we part ways in the hope that we are both serving God and Glorifying Him in different but effective ways.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

Our mission is "To promote a Biblically Reformed perspective in all spheres of life by equipping and encouraging Christians to think, speak, and act in a manner consistent with their confession."

Sign up for the weekly RP Roundup

Get the week's posts delivered to your email inbox each Saturday. Sign up, and if you don't get a quick confirmation, check your spam folder.
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!

Follow Us

Copyright © 2018 Reformed Perspective Magazine

To Top