A CHURCH ON THE MOVE
The one denomination that more than any other is on the march is the Roman Catholic Church. This is especially true in the United States.
There are several reasons for this. In the first place, the Roman Catholic Church is rapidly making itself more attractive to people without too, many convictions by its efforts towards renewal and reform: This has come about especially through the inlluence of Pope John XXIII and the Vatican Council. Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church gets a lot of publicity that puts it almost continuously in the eyes of the world. The Vatican Council made thousands of headlines; John Kennedy’s brief tenure in office, assassination and funeral (carried over TV) gave extensive mformation of the-catholic Church to millions; its increasing influence in every sphere of life makes reams of propaganda for the Romish Church. Thirdly, to those who have no interest in the truth, the Romish Church has a certain attractiveness. Its religion is an easy one. One can live practically as one pleases, believe almost anything one wants to believe -if he isn’t too noisy about it-do and say anything he chooses to, if only he will come to mass, contribute his money, and enter an occasional confessional. Practically all he has to do is give his soul into the hands of the Church and receive in exchange a reserved place in heaven. Besides, for those who love pageantry and pomp, outward show and beautiful liturgy, the Romish Church has many attractions.
Statistics show how huge the Church has become in America. It is now numbered officially at 44,874,371 members, although there are probably 4,000,000 to 5,000,000 more since many parishes report considerably less members than they have to escape the burden of assessments. It has an estimated 24,000,000 children of school age and under, 1,300,000 which were baptized last year. It has 244 prelates, 57,000 priests, 180,000 sisters. Of the 244 prelates, five are cardinals, 32 are archbishops, and 207 dare bishops. It has 4,594 missions in this country, 1,502 stations, and 12,076 chapels where mass is regularly celebrated. There are 14,370 educational institutions, including 112 diocesan seminaries, 459 religious communities’ seminaries, 295 colleges and universities, 1,557 diocesan and parish high schools, 901 private high schools, 10,452 parish elementary schools, 450 private elementary schools. There are 944 hospitals’ under the church’s control, 255 orphanages and infant asylums, 376 homes for invalids and the aged. 123,986 converts were recorded last year by the Church. It has become far and away the largest and richest church in the nation.
And, as it grows, it becomes a greater threat to the Church of Christ.
It is, however, the rapid renewal and reform of the church that attracts the greatest interest.
Well-known is the fact that by ruling of the Vatican Council, English is soon to be introduced into the mass. Although some parishes will start sooner, the date set is November 29.
Further, the difference in attitude over against Protestants has attracted considerable attention. Formerly all who were not of the Romish Church were apostates bound for hell. Now suddenly they are brethren, although one still should add the adjective “separated.” This change in attitude has led to all kinds of seminars, “dialogues,” “conversations,” contacts and meetings between Catholics and Protestants which have as their hope advances towards unity. Cardinal Gushing, famous for presiding at Kennedy’s funeral, has boasted that he has visited nearly 80 churches of Protestants and Jews, spoken in some, prayed in many.
One of the fastest growing aspects of this so-called renewal is participation of the laity in affairs of the church. There was a time, not so long ago, when the clergy was considered the church and the laity obligated to obey the rulings of the clergy, observe the commands of the Church, and, for the rest, not ask questions. This is changing. The laity are being urged to take an active role in affairs, ask their questions and discuss the issues of the day. The result is, often led by prelates and priests, that active discussions are going on about all sorts of changes the Church should make.
For example, the question of birth control is a discussion now raging in the Church. The ruling has hitherto been that mechanical contraceptives are contrary to natural law and therefore forbidden. The only types of birth control condoned were abstinence and the rhythm method. But there is an increasing clamor for change in these rulings. It is estimated by some Catholics themselves that as many as 50% of married couples violate the law. Others are leaving the Church because they cannot live with this law. So the question has become a burning issue. Pope Paul has recently announced that the authorities in Rome are restudying the entire matter, which seems to indicate that some changes will be made. In the meantime, however, Catholics are urged to maintain the stand of the Church.
Other subjects are being discussed, and many are urging other changes. There are some, including members of the clergy, who want the index of forbidden books to be abolished; More and more members of the Church are condemning the practice of making a Protestant spouse promise when marrying a Catholic to bring up the children as Catholics and not to interfere with the practicing of the Catholic religion by the marriage partner. There is also an increased demand for the laws of celibacy to be relaxed so that at least the lesser clergy, such as deacons (and perhaps even priests), can marry. There was a case recently in Germany of, a man converted to the Catholic religion who, although married, was permitted to enter the priesthood. Some are even pleading for the ordination of women, al although many Catholics protest that this would be no good since it would make confession too difficult. One cardinal is quoted as saying that confessing to a woman priest would be like making confession on television.
Strikingly however, all this talk of reform is limited pretty much to matters of morality and church practices. Doctrine is left out of the picture. Timemagazine, in a recent issue featuring the Romish Church and Cardinal Cushing, says, “This surge of renewal is more concerned with the structure of the church than the substance of doctrine, more with practical questions of morality and Christian living than with abstract theological problems.”
This is correct. The heretical doctrines stand unchanged. And, indeed, the church could only change them at its peril. Still standing (and bound to stand till the world ends) are the heresies of papal infallibility, the immaculate conception of Mary, her assumption into heaven without death, the authority of tradition besides Scripture, justification by works, the Church’s right to slaughter the saints of the Reformation, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the apostolic succession of the clergy, etc. It stands to reason that these doctrines must remain. If they are seriously altered or abandoned, the doctrine of papal infallibility will also have to be abandoned, for they were established by papal dictum. And if the papacy loses its claim to infallibility, it loses its very reason for existence. There will then be no pope. And without a pope there will be no Roman Catholic Church. Pope Paul, in a recent encyclical, spoke of this: “In reflecting on this subject (of papal primacy), it distresses us to see how” the Pope is regarded by many non-Roman Catholic Christians as being a stumbling block to unity. “Without the Pope, the Catholic Church would no longer be Catholic.”
In other words, there is to be no compromise of doctrine. Perhaps, for the sake of unity, these doctrines may be circumscribed somewhat (the church is very adept at maintaining a doctrine while leaving the impression that. it is altering it); they may be shoved into the background where hardly anyone notices them; they may be de-emphasized to quiet the fears of the “separated brethren”; but they will continue to stand.
Therefore, even though the Church grows ever larger and wealthier; even though a certain unity with Protestants may be attained; one who seeks fellowship with the Romish Church only by paying the price of the heritage of the Reformation and imperiling one’s soul.
To many of today’s Protestants this does not seem to be an obstacle.
RELIGION IN SCHOOL
Several different times we have talked about the most recent experiments, in alleviating the burdens of those who support private or parochial schools; i.e., the so-called “shared time plan.” To refresh your memories, the shared time plan proposes to send private and parochial school pupils to public schools for instruction in certain subjects where religion can supposedly be eliminated. These subjects are such as science courses, gym classes, home economics, etc. The advantage is supposed to be two-sided. For those who support private and parochial schools, tremendous savings in money are made, for the private or parochial schools no longer need equip their schools with elaborate gymnasiums and expensive laboratories for science courses. Besides, parents of private and parochial schools have every right to send their children to public schools inasmuch as they support public schools with their tax dollars. For the public school system the advantage is lower costs because they are not obligated to educate floods of private school pupils whose tax dollars they nevertheless receive.
The idea has shred rapidly so that now 350 school districts in 36 states have some sort of shared time program.
Recently however, a school board in Maywood, New Jersey attracted the notice of the public by refusing a Roman Catholic school the use of its facilities for several courses. The Roman Catholic parochial school, which has 144 students, asked the use of the public school gymnasium and science laboratory. The school board refused on the grounds that this would entail the hiring of an additional science teacher, and the necessary expense would be wholly unjustified. The parochial school involved is now suggesting that it close its doors completely and send all 144 pupils to the public school on a full time basis. This would make it necessary for the local board to hire many more teachers, expand its plant and. greatly increase its expenditures. It could not refuse to take the children because, as a matter of fact, if the parochial school closed, the pupils would be obligated by law to attend the public school.
There are some critics of the shared time plan. Some criticize it as being unconstitutional; others are opposed to it because it helps the parochial school system. The Romish Church is fervently in favor of it to help them relieve their financial obligations.
I cannot see why, if we can send our children part time to the public school, we need our own schools at all. Obviously anyone who establishes a private or parochial school does so because he is not satisfied with the public school system and is determined to have his child taught according to his own convictions and religious beliefs. But then to send them to the public school after all seems to be a flat contradiction.
Of course the argument is that the public school is neutral in religious matters. Evidently this is supposed to mean that the public school refuses to take a stand on any religious question; and on the question of the existence of God. They do not say there is a God; they do not say there is no God. Besides the argument for shared time rests on the assumption that there are also neutral subjects. And again, this is presumably to mean that there are subjects taught in the school where God can safely be ignored because He is irrelevant.
The argument is fallacious all down the line. It is not possible to be neutral anywhere in life, including the public school system. One cannot ignore God without denying Him. If the subject of religion is studiously avoided in the classroom, God is avoided, and, consequently, denied. For, “He that is not for me is against me.” And there is no neutral ground. This is why the public school system is becoming a mighty engine for the propagation of atheism.
Besides, there is no neutral subject where God is irrelevant. For every subject taught in a school is part of the revelation of God. This includes even science which is the study of God’s world. Once again, to ignore Him is to deny Him.
Further, if there is one subject that is neutral, why are they not all in the same class? If science is neutral why not geography? And if geography, why not history? So why not send the pupils to a public school for all their courses except a few courses in Bible? But you don’t need a school for that; a catechism class will do.
It appears as if the public school will presently take over all the education of all the children in America. But when that day comes, you will see the public school as a tool of the state become the mightiest and most efficient machine for the training of atheistic slaves of an atheistic state this world has ever seen.
How urgent to maintain our own schools at all costs in the face of this terrible threat.
There is one brief development in the “religion-in-public-schools” issue that is worth noting.
Evidently some school boards were a little bit too hasty in banning every form of religious exercise in the school when the Supreme Court struck down devotions. In a recent ruling the Supreme Court said in effect: “No, not all religious exercises have to be abandoned; just devotions.” Baccalaureate services and religious tests for teachers were the issue. The ruling came on an appeal from the Florida Supreme Court which had judged that all this was unconstitutional. But evidently this is not so.
Why is difficult to see. If devotions are unconstitutional because they introduce religion into the school, why is not this also true of baccalaureate services. These are just as religious as devotions.
Is the Supreme Court afraid of its own ruling on devotions? afraid the matter will go too far and get out of hand? Is it afraid of the public outcry that was made that the Court was encouraging an atheistic state? It is no longer a question of law, but of practical politics.