Rev. Bruinsma is Eastern Home Missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Satan wages war against the church of Jesus Christ. He does so by setting up his earthly kingdom of man in an attempt to displace the heavenly kingdom of God and Jesus Christ. The citizens of God’s kingdom are called by Jesus Christ to do battle against the kingdom of unbelieving man. This battle is to be fought not by means of a physical, earthly warfare, but by means of the gospel. The church and her members must go forth wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. She fights her spiritual warfare by means of her mission to the world: “go ye and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The white war horse of the gospel must ride throughout the nations “conquering and to conquer” (Rev. 6:2).
But Satan is shrewd when exerting himself to set up his kingdom of man and unbelief in this world. He is shrewd in that he not only uses pagan nations to build this kingdom, but he also works within the confines of the church itself. Within the realm of Christianity a division occurs—a division that crosses denominational lines. It is that which separates between the false Christian church and the true Christian church. Satan uses the false church to teach a counterfeit Christianity. This fake Christianity joins together with the unbelieving world, and eventually what will emerge is the final manifestation of the kingdom of man in this world in the kingdom of the Antichrist.
The battle that the true Christian church wages, therefore, is not only with those outside of the church, but also with those in the apostate church. This is why we as believers today are called to be witnesses to those who have been taken in by the horrible error of the Roman Catholic Church. The Belgic Confession, Article 28, clearly exposes the Roman Catholic Church as a false church. This church “ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God”; she does not “administer the sacraments as appointed by Christ in His Word”; she uses church discipline to “persecute those who live holily according to the Word of God, and who rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry.” Satan has used this church to set up a counterfeit Christianity in the world, a false Christianity, against which we must apply the sword of the Spirit.
We well understand, of course, why our country speaks of religious toleration. Reformed believers may not try to force from their neighborhoods one who is of a different religion. We may not sign petitions or attempt to pass legislation that will outlaw the existence of those who disagree with the truth of Scripture. That is not the battle the church carries on. We are called as God’s people, as much as within us lies, to live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18). This means that we must show ourselves friendly and approachable to the neighbor who has been “taken captive by him (the devil) at his will” (see II Tim. 2:24-26). Our battle against those who are lost in the bondage of the Romish church is spiritual. The Word of God is the weapon of choice in this battle. Not only must we be set for a defense against the error of this church, but we are also called to speak the gospel to them, “to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me [Christ]” (Acts 26:18). This is why we address the subject of a clear, genuine, Reformed witness to those given over to the error of the Romish church.
Roman Catholic influence
During the Revolutionary War in America there were many who chose to ignore the war that was being waged on American soil. They sat comfortably in their own homes and refused to recognize that the war was real. Then suddenly the battles of this war were being fought in their own fields and backyards. Their houses were destroyed and their families killed or scattered. How many of us as Christians take this same attitude when it comes to the spiritual warfare that we fight. We sit in our comfortable living rooms dealing with the same people day after day. Although television has brought world news into our homes, we watch that news in a detached way. What we see and read is happening “out there somewhere” and really does not affect our own homes and families. We are lulled to sleep by our luxuries and recreation. Life is good! There is no threat to our faith! We are given religious freedom to worship the way that we want. There is no real danger to our spiritual lives! So we close our eyes to the spiritual battle that we are called to fight, in ignorance failing to understand that the population of this world is rapidly becoming pagan or is embracing the error of false Christianity.
Over half of Christianity today belongs to the Roman Catholic Church. No Protestant denomination comes close to rivaling her in membership. Boasting of over half a billion members, this church makes up one sixth of the population of this world. From the year 1300 to 1700 the Roman Catholic Church carried on a massive missionary enterprise. Much of the spread of Roman Catholicism in the world coincides with the imperialism of Spain and Portugal. By the time Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the doors of the chapel in Wittenburg in 1517, the Romish church had already embarked on a systematic spread of her error throughout the world. In 1292 she began her missions in China. In 1493 Portugal was given the right to spread the Roman Catholic religion to Africa and the East Indies, while Spain was given the right to spread the same to the New World. Franciscan missionaries accompanied Vasco da Gama when he discovered the sea route to India, and they began a labor there as early as 1498. By 1549 these same missionaries began a labor in Japan. By 1521 the Augustinians, another Roman Catholic society of missionaries, was laboring in the Philippines.
The Spanish pioneers to the New World carried their Romish faith to the islands of the Carribean as well as to Central and South America. Already in 1513 Spanish explorers and settlers in Florida began Roman Catholic worship services. In each of these areas in the New World Roman Catholic missionaries were aggressive in establishing the Romish religion.
We mention these specific dates in order that we might be fully aware that this work of Roman Catholic missions was being carried out before and during the time of the Reformation in Europe. It was not as if the Roman Catholic Church was standing still for a century during all of the religious turmoil in Europe. The Reformation was but a fly in the ointment of the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that its greatest losses took place during the Reformation. But between 1500 and 1700 the Roman Catholic Church won more “converts” in the pagan world than it lost to Protestantism in Europe. The Roman Catholic church is a giant!
The horrible error of the Roman Catholic Church
It is not our intention to elaborate on the multitude of errors found in the Roman Catholic Church. Other articles in this issue deal with several of them. But there are two errors in particular we wish to point out. One can be summarized in one word: slavery. The other can be described best perhaps by the term externalism.
The first horrible error of Rome is her enslavement of her members to the Roman Catholic institute. She makes the bold claim that there is no salvation apart from her. Notice: she does not simply say that there is no salvation outside of her, but she makes the threatening claim to her members that salvation from sin is given by her and therefore cannot be obtained apart from her. In order to be saved a person must be in total submission to the Roman Catholic Church. In order to escape original sin one must be baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. In order to escape mortal sins one must confess these in every detail to a priest in a confessional. In order to escape venial sins a person must pay penance to the church. Members must attend regularly the mass in order that the priest might repeatedly make sacrifice to take away the guilt of their sins. Even after one dies, his soul is in purgatory until proper indulgences are paid to the church and the priest releases that soul to heaven. The Roman Catholic Church owns the souls of her members. For that reason, anyone who leaves this church is doomed to everlasting damnation.
Where does Christ fit in all of this? The Roman Catholic Church speaks piously of Christ and His death on the cross. But where in all of this theology of Rome is there any real need for the cross of Jesus Christ? In all of this the Romish church teaches that salvation in Christ is incomplete. Christ’s death was not sufficient to take away the sins of the world. Perhaps the Romish church is not so bold as to say it, but its practices teach it: a person cannot rely on Christ for salvation, but on the Roman Catholic Church. How in light of Scripture dare this church teach such a horrible doctrine? Because the Bible so clearly refutes this denial of the true gospel, the Romish church disparages the study of Scripture and replaces it with the infallibility of the pope, who declares what is truth for the church.
No wonder members of the Romish church are afraid to break from her! This church has made them slaves to her rather than slaves to the cross of Christ.
These same errors of Rome have led to the externalism found in this denomination. In the Roman Catholic Church, faith is nothing more than adhering more or less faithfully to the outward ceremonies and rituals of the church. Faith is not a matter of the heart. It is not knowing sin and sorrowing over such sin. It is not fleeing in faith to the cross of Christ, where alone is found salvation from sin. It is not living out of a true thankfulness of heart for the salvation freely given.
A devout Roman Catholic must do what the church tells him to do. Follow the prescribed ceremonies, and the guilt and punishment of sin will disappear! I can commit a mortal sin, go to the priest, confess it, and the priest—not God for the sake of Christ, but the priest—will absolve my sin. I need not worry about eternal retribution for the horrible sin I have committed because another man, a mere man, a sinful man like myself has informed me that my sin and its guilt are gone. Just that easy—no true sorrow of heart, no fleeing from sin.
It is true, of course, that the Romish church insists there must be true sorrow of heart when we make such a confession, but is not the admission of my sin to the priest sufficient proof of my sorrow? “Go your way, your sin is forgiven you.” Just make sure that you say so many “Hail Marys” and pay indulgences to the church. Salvation from sin is that easy! What horrible deception!
Yet, it is little wonder that a man does not wish to leave this kind of religion. It enslaves a person to the church, but it is also so convenient, since faith is not a matter of the heart but consists only in externals. A recent convert from Roman Catholicism explained to me his position when still lost under the error of the Romish church. “I stubbornly insisted,” he said, “I was born a Roman Catholic and I would die a Roman Catholic.”
Our Reformed Witness to the Roman Catholic
When we address the subject of our witness to the Roman Catholic we are not referring to the witness of the church as a whole. That witness is heard in the preaching. That witness is explicitly given in our Reformed confessions. Guido de BrÃ©s wrote the Belgic Confession as a personal witness to the Roman Catholic king, Philip II of Spain. Our witness as churches is read here in this very issue of the Standard Bearer. What we refer to, however, is the personal witness of the Reformed believer to that Roman Catholic who asks us of the hope that dwells within us. It refers to our personal witness to those whom we meet in life, those who in the way they live and in their very way of thinking assume the errors of Roman Catholicism that have become so much a part of our society and culture.
Our witness to the Roman Catholic (to the sincere Roman Catholic, and to the Roman Catholic in name only) is this: the only way into God’s presence and favor, the only way into heaven, is through the cross of Jesus alone. Christ’s death is all-sufficient to take away the sins of those for whom He has died. Roman Catholics think alike. They sincerely believe that performing good works: acts of charity, being a good neighbor, following more or less faithfully the prescriptions of the church, will earn for them a place in heaven. If they live a “good” life in this world, God accepts them on the basis of their good life. If they commit something that smites their conscience, then they can go to the priest and he will make it right. Whether devoutly Roman Catholic or nominally so, this is the thought process of the Roman Catholic.
The only way to witness to a Roman Catholic is to challenge the way he thinks. Sin is not found in the mere outward action, but it is a matter of the heart. Sin is in us. Sin is inherited. No amount of good deeds can pay the price of one sin we commit. The only payment for sin is Christ. Only His death and resurrection can pay for our sin. We are justified before God on the grounds of Christ’s meritorious work.
We are likewise justified by faith. The priest may not impart to us forgiveness of sins simply because we go to him. The guilt of sin is not taken away by the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Sin cannot be paid for by performing any number of good works. Salvation is a matter of the heart! We must believe in Jesus Christ. We must embrace Him, love Him, depend on Him for all things. There is no other way into God’s favor or into heaven. Christ is our Lord and Master. No church, no man, not even the pope may take His place in our lives. We are slaves to Christ and not to the Romish church.
The witness we bring to a Roman Catholic ought not to be a forced or superficial witness. We do not simply walk up to a person on the street whom we do not know, then, finding out he is Roman Catholic, proceed to act as if we are genuinely concerned about his lost state and now are attempting to persuade him of what his true need is. Such witness is not genuine. It does not take long for a Roman Catholic to see through what we are trying to do.
Rather, we witness to those whom God has placed in our path. Remember, half of Christianity today is Roman Catholic. Even Reformed believers who live for the most part within their own “little” community of Reformed people (that community is minuscule in comparison to the world of Roman Catholicism) are more than likely going to become acquainted with Roman Catholics. When they get to know us and our life they will (or ought to) see that we are different in the way we talk and live. That will give rise to discussions. Then we give witness.
What is a proper and genuine witness? A proper witness is not to engage the Roman Catholic in an argument and try to win the argument. A proper witness is to reveal in our discussion with him or her the marvelous working of God’s grace in our own lives. It is to speak of our own knowledge of sin and of our own need for the cross of Christ. It is to speak of our own salvation and the joy it gives us as we confront life and its difficulties. We are not arguing “religion.” We are talking about salvation! Oh yes, questions will arise and arguments may be raised. But these can be dealt with calmly and in a manner befitting the child of God (remember II Tim. 2:24-26). And if, in the end, we are not able to make that Roman Catholic see or understand what God has done for us in our salvation, then we leave it in the hands of God. After all, as Reformed believers we confess that only God can change the heart. Who knows but that God will use our witness later on in the life of that same person.
This is the way we wage our battle against Satan and his influence on this world by means of the Roman Catholic Church. As churches we stand strong in our defense against the horrible error of Rome. As saints we are willing to share what God has done for us, in order to persuade others to share in the freedom that is ours through the precious Son of our heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ.