Mr. Cleveland is a member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism, R.C. Sproul. (Reformation Trust Publishing, a division of Ligonier Ministries: Sanford, FL, 2012.) 129 pp. ISBN: 978-1-56769-282-2. [Reviewed by Aaron J. Cleveland.]
The author asks a worthwhile question. Nearly 500 years of history have passed since the great Protestant Reformation. Rome has remained steadfast in maintaining her false doctrines for the past 500 years. In fact, in the centuries since the Reformation she has repeatedly confirmed her false gospel, and by her pronouncements concerning papal infallibility and Mary as both a mediator and intercessor, Rome has developed in her falsehood.
As clearly as Rome expresses herself doctrinally, and as obvious as her developments of the doctrines of papal infallibility and Mariology are, most Protestants seem to think that the time for renewed cooperation and reunion with Rome has come. However, as the author states in the introduction, “I hope to show, often using her own words, that the Roman Catholic Church has not changed from what it believed and taught at the time of the Reformation. That means that the Reformation is not over and we must continue to stand firm in proclaiming the biblical gospel” (9).
Throughout the next six chapters the author clearly sets forth the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church concerning Scripture, justification, the church, the sacraments, the papacy, and Mary. Leaving no doubt as to what the official teachings of Rome are, the author, R.C. Sproul, quotes directly from the decrees of the Council of Trent, various papal encyclicals, Vatican Council I (1869-70), Vatican Council II (1962-65), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995). In stark contrast to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church stand the teachings of the Reformation. Sproul uses the Westminster Confession of Faith to express the position of the Reformers. As a (Protestant) Reformed reader, I could wish that the author made use of the Heidelberg Catechism, especially Lord’s Days 23 and 30, and the Belgic Confession, especially Articles 4, 6, 23, 24, 29, and 35.
For anyone who wants to know for the first time, or to be reminded of what the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are, this is an excellent book to read. Sproul has a well-organized and clear manner of writing. The chapter on justification is of particular interest to the readers of this magazine. As Sproul writes, the Romish view of justification “requires faith plus works, grace plus merit, Christ plus inherent righteousness” (34). Yet in our day, Protestants are tripping over themselves in their run back to Rome and her deadly perversion of justification.
The chapter devoted to the sacraments is also instructive. Part of Rome’s appeal is her liturgy and the sacramental nature of her worship. This aspect of Rome’s worship appeals to apostatizing Protestants who are leaving churches with informal, ever-changing, and contemporary worship. Sproul briefly explains Rome’s seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, matrimony, extreme unction, ordination, penance, and the Mass. In order fully to understand why Rome’s sacramental errors are so serious, one must know that
the Roman Catholic Church believes the sacraments do what they are designed to do ex opera operato, that is, “by the working of the works.” In other words, simply performing the sacrament causes it to operate and perform what it is designed to perform. According to this view, the sacraments automatically convey grace to the recipient (68).
While appreciating and learning from most of the book, I strongly disagree with the author in two areas. The first has to do with his approval of cooperating with Rome on so-called “common-grace issues” (4). He writes about Evangelicals & Catholics Together (ECT, 1994):
This initiative was driven by deep concern among some leading evangelicals and Roman Catholics over so-called “common-grace issues,” such as family values, abortion, and relativism in the culture. Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders wanted to join hands to speak as Christians united against this growing tide of moral decay and relativism. All that was fine. I would march with anyone— Roman Catholics, Mormons, even Muslims—for civil rights for people and unborn babies (4).
Related to his desire to cooperate with Roman Catholics on “common-grace issues,” is his call to the reader to establish friendships with Roman Catholics in order to “earn the right to lovingly critique their views” (121). He briefly describes a “very close friendship” with his Roman Catholic “best friend” at the time of his marriage (52, 53). Further, he contends “when our involvement in social issues brings us into contact and camaraderie with Roman Catholics, we need not draw back” (122). I am reminded of the sad history of Jehoshaphat’s foolish affinity with wicked Ahab in II Chronicles 18. May the consequences of this kind of friendship and cooperation be a warning to us.