A committee of the United Church of Canada has recently suggested in a report entitled, “Church Membership, Doctrine and Practice in the United Church of Canada,” that Protestants should return to the Roman Catholic practice of making confession to some man. They suggest either a minister or some trusted Christian friend. They quote Calvin and Luther in support of their contention; although neither wanted the confessional of Romish religion. Especially Calvin merely spoke of the need of confessing to one another our sins when we had offended by them. The committee admitted that the idea of confession of sin had been made into a sacrament of penance and had been abused by “tyranny” and “lay exhibitionism”; but insisted nonetheless that it would be worthwhile for Protestants to adopt this practice.
The Roman Catholic insistence upon confession to a priest is closely bound up with their entire theology. The clergy and not the laity constitute the Church. The clergy intervene between God and man; this intervention takes place in all three aspects of the Christian’s office. The clergy holds alone the office of prophet so that the people cannot understand the Word of God except through the interpretation of the pope and his under ministers. The clergy holds the office of priest so that there is no forgiveness of sins apart from the sacrifice which the priest makes in the mass, or apart from the power that is given to him alone to forgive sins in the name of Christ. The clergy holds the office of king so that the Church polity of the Romish Church is thoroughly hierarchical and dictatorial without the laity having so much as a word to say in the government of the Church.
No doubt this committee report is but another step among many to try to bring Protestants back to Rome and merge all Churches with the Romish Church. It is but another attempt to cross the chasm of the Reformation.
Yet the matter also goes deeper than that. There is something here against which we must be warned, and with which we trust have nothing to do.
Romish religion is very easy. To worship God after the manner of the Romish Church requires no real effort. It is also for this reason that it is a very appealing religion. All the people really have to do is give their souls over to the Church. If they sin, a trip to the confessional wipes their souls clean. If they attend the mass with any amount of regularity they have almost a guarantee of a safe trip to heaven. If the number of their sins requires a brief stay in purgatory, money and masses will buy their way out. The whole matter of the worship of God is patterned for them. All it requires is an external conformity to the code of the Church and absolute reliance upon the institute of the Church. Anything spiritual and of the heart is not, strictly speaking, necessary.
It was against all this that the Reformers, with amazing insight, battled. Luther already saw clearly that all this would never do. He insisted on the Scriptural doctrine of the office of all believers. Believers, who possess the anointing of Christ and the Spirit of Pentecost are all prophets and priests and kings. As prophets they can and do know the Word of God. As priests they pray to God directly through Jesus Christ and confess their sins at the foot of the throne of grace. As kings they are called to fight the battle of faith and to march under the banner of the cross in the armies of the Captain of their salvation.
But all this implies heavy responsibilities. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that a day is coming when men will worship God neither on Mount Zion nor on Mount Gerazim, but “they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:24. It is this worship of God in spirit and in truth which is so intensely difficult. It demands that we study diligently the Word of God to grow in the knowledge of Him Whom to know is life eternal. It demands a broken spirit and a contrite heart when we cry out for forgiveness and mercy. It demands a continuous battle against the world not only, but against our own sinful flesh. It demands that in Church we sing with the heart and not only with the lips; that we pray in spirit and not from habit; that we bow in humility and not simply by falling on our knees; that we listen with believing hearts and submissive wills rather than with curious minds and only undeviating and blind devotion to an ecclesiastical institute. It demands that in all our lives, from the heart, there be a constant doxology of praise and glory to God.
Yet there is a constant cry to retreat from these high callings. One hears over and over again a plea for more elaborate ritual in the Church services and so-called improvements in the liturgy. There are, for example, those who say that the sermon is too long and ought to be abbreviated because people have difficulty concentrating for such long periods of time. There are those who would change the congregational prayers because they cannot keep their minds on what the minister is saying and such long prayer is conducive to sleep. There is a constant clamor for choirs, for responsive readings, for a recital of the Apostolic Confession in unison by the congregation, etc., etc. Usually the reason that is given as a basis for these proposed changes is that the form of worship which we now have tends towards habitual worship and therefore lip service rather than worship from the heart. If only the form of worship would be changed, so it is said, the whole worship service would become more meaningful.
But this is emphatically not the case. It may be, for example, that if the congregation would recite the Apostolic Confession in unison, that it would mean more. But this would last for just a week, and then it would be as habitual as ever. It would once again require as strenuous an effort to worship God in spirit and in truth as it does now. But always the danger is that, once having catered to a trend to make liturgy more elaborate and ritual more extensive, the trend is usually impossible to reverse. It grows, for the clamor continues. And the end is the superficial and meaningless worship of the Romish Church. And we do not want to go back there.
RELIEF IN SPAIN
Recently in Spain there have been some moves towards a lessening of persecution of the Protestants by the Romish Church. The Spanish Catholic hierarchy has agreed to a bill proposed by the government that would give Protestants certain rights which were previously denied them. They would, under the bill, have the right to their own schools; they would be permitted to distribute Bibles; there would be a general relaxation of the now stringent rules that apply to Protestant marriages. The decision of the Spanish hierarchy however will not be final until the bill also receives the approval of the Vatican.
Although we surely can rejoice that there is one step being made towards lessening of persecution, there is a certain irony in it all. In the first place, the Romish Church has never before admitted that there was any such thing as persecution there. If this was always true, why the bill? In the second place, the bill is a governmental bill, but cannot go into effect without the approval of the Romish hierarchy and the Vatican. This is a strange business. In the third place, the relaxation of rules is still limited. The bill says nothing about the rights of Protestants to meet on the Lord’s Day or any other day for worship. One gets the impression that this is nothing more than a sop thrown towards the Protestants to lessen world criticism and to make the Romish Church look good in these ecumenical days. Another concession of the devil.
In Columbia, South America, persecution goes on. In a recent issue of the Presbyterian Journal a letter is quoted prefaced by several remarks by the editor. We quote the editor’s remarks and the letter in full.
(Editor’s note: Columbia, South America, has received much attention in missionary circles, as missionaries have suffered an unusual amount of persecution in that land . . . at the hand of the Roman Catholic Church. Christians have died, churches have been burned, stonings and beatings have been frequent. The U.S. State Department intervened when U.S. aid funds became involved in the construction of “public” schools dominated by the Roman Church from which Protestant children were barred. Peace Corps members have been used in projects benefiting the Roman Church. In the light of this history and recent promises by Columbian officials that discriminations would cease, the following letter, dated November, 1962 is of interest.)
“Is the anti-Protestant feeling any better in Columbia or are you still persecuted at times?”
This question came last week in a letter from a friend in the U.S., and is typical of many we hear these days, especially in view of the Vatican Council. Recent papal declarations on ecumenicism and unity, plus increased effort for Roman Catholic-Protestant dialogue naturally give rise to such questions.
The very day that I received the above letter, a frightened and disillusioned pastor from a rural church arrived in Cartagena to seek our help. Three weeks previously he had returned to his parish armed with a sheaf of official government documents from top government officials in Cartagena, and municipal officials in the county seat, declaring the right of evangelicals to meet for worship and to build a chapel without being molested for their faith, surrounding him with constitutional guarantees.
However, the local priest had then paid a short visit to that community. The result: that evening the chapel, now under construction, was totally destroyed, and an unruly mob armed with machetes, axes, clubs and rocks attacked the home where the pastor was located, screaming for his blood, while the local police studiously absented themselves from the scene. Miraculously the pastor slipped out through the weeds and escaped into the night, taking a canoe down the river. When the whole event was reported to police headquarters in Cartagena, the commander himself commented that this sounded like a spat between the priest and the Protestants, implying that he had no jurisdiction over such matters and could offer no guarantees or justice.
Present day terminology used by Rome in her dialogue with Protestants call us ‘separated brethren.” Columbia, however, no such terms are heard. The evangelical Protestant is still a “heretic” and therefore an enemy of God. And being in error he has no rights, not even to life itself.
—David M. Howard, Field Director
Latin America Mission
DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLICS
The latest census taken in the Netherlands, according to The Banner, reveals that there are more Roman Catholics in that country than there are members of the Netherlands Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches combined. The Netherlands Reformed Church (Hervormd or State Church) has 3,240,490 members; the Reformed Churches (Gereformeerd) has 1,068,590 members; the Roman Catholic Church has 4,600,000 members. While the Roman Catholic Church itself has claimed to have the majority of the population, this census shows that 40.4% of the population belong to this denomination. This is however, a jump of 1.9% since 1947. In the same period the percentage of the population of the Reformed Churches has dropped.
It always comes as somewhat of a surprise that so many in the Netherlands should become Roman Catholic. Especially is this true when one thinks of the days of bitter persecution that our fathers suffered at the hands of the Romish Church during the 16th Century. Nevertheless, the sad departures from the truth even among that Reformed Churches make this somewhat inevitable. There are few fighting any more the battle for the truth of the Reformation.