UNION WITH ROME
A series of meetings, not at all unusual these days, was recently held in London, England, between Roman Catholics and Protestants. At the last meeting the speaker was Father Gordon Albion, a Roman Catholic historian. Among other things, this Father is quoted as saying,
If Martin Luther returned today he would find to his astonishment a Roman Church which he would never have attacked in her present aspect. Above all he would see that not one of the abuses which were the actual cause of his break with Rome remain in existence.
Is this true?
It certainly seems to be the opinion of many Protestants today. They are eager to return to Rome and stumble over each other in their frantic efforts to gain the favor of the Vatican. It seems that they ale content to agree with this Roman Catholic priest that the Reformation was only a protest against certain abuses in the Church, abuses which since the 16th century have been corrected.
But this is certainly a terrible travesty of the Reformation.
All the Reformers emphatically insisted that the Reformation was not simply a protest against certain abuses in the Romish Church, but was a Reformation in doctrine, a return to the purity of the truth of the Word of God. Not that the abuses were not so flagrant as to demand Reformation. The corruption of the Romish Church was almost beyond belief. A certain historian has said:
The papacy was secularized, and changed into a selfish tyranny whose yoke became more and more unbearable. The scandal of the papal schism had indeed been removed. The papal morals, after a temporary improvement, became worse than ever during the years 1492 to 1521. Alexander VI was a monster of iniquity; Julius II was a politician and warrior rather than a chief shepherd of souls; and Leo X took far more interest in the revival of heathen literature and art than in religion, and is said to have been doubted the truth of the gospel history.
. . . Simony and nepotism were shamefully practiced. Celibacy was a foul foundation of unchastity and uncleanness.
. . . Discipline was nearly ruined. Whole monastic establishments and orders had become nurseries of ignorance and superstition, idleness and dissipation, and were the objects of contempt and ridicule . . . .
Theology was a maze of scholastic subtleties, Aristotelian dialectics and idle speculations, but ignored the great doctrines of the gospel . . . .
The priest’s chief duty was to perform, by his magic words, the miracle of transubstantiation, and to offer the sacrifice of the mass for the living and the dead in a foreign tongue. Many did it mechanically, or with skeptical reservation, especially in Italy. Preaching was neglected, and had reference, mostly, to indulgences, alms, pilgrimages and processions. The churches were overloaded with good and bad pictures, with real and fictitious relics. Saint-worship and image-worship, superstitious rites and ceremonies obstructed the direct worship of God in spirit and in truth.
Piety which should proceed from a living union of the soul with Christ and a consecration of character, was turned outward and reduced to a round of mechanical performances such as the recital of
Paternosters and Avemarias, fasting, alms-giving, confession to the priest, and pilgrimage to a holy shrine. Good works were measured by the quantity rather than the quality, and vitiated by the principle of meritoriousness which appealed to the selfish motive of reward. Remission of sin could be bought with money; a shameful traffic in indulgences was carried on under the Pope’s sanction for filthy lucre as well as for the building of St. Peter’s Dome, and caused that outburst of moral indignation which was the beginning of the Reformation and of the fearful judgment on the Church of Rome.
But to say that the Reformation was limited to the correction of moral abuses is to deny the real significance of the work of God through the Reformers. Above all else, God used the Reformers to bring the Church back to the truth of Scripture.
There was the Pelagian doctrine of salvation by good works that had become part and parcel of Romish dogma, and which our fathers described as being an error brought out of hell. Over against this doctrine Luther developed and maintained the truth of justification by faith. And, later, Calvin emphasized the sovereign grace of God in the entire work of salvation.
There was the evil belief of Rome that Scripture was not the only authority of the truth. The fathers and tradition could speak with equal authority, and the pope could make any doctrine binding upon the Church by his infallible dictum. Luther fought strenuously against this terrible evil and brought the Scriptures back to their proper place—the onlyinfallible rule of doctrine and life.
Rome placed the clergy between the believer and his God, and took away from the believer the anointing of the Spirit of Christ. Luther insisted upon the office of believers and the priesthood of all the saints, and made this a cardinal tenet of the Reformation.
These are doctrinal matters. These evils have not disappeared with the ages, but have rather been re-emphasized and strengthened. The reasons that existed for the 16th Century Reformation exist today. No one can go back to Rome without turning his back upon the entire work of God which He performed through Dr. Martin Luther.
All this was smoothed over by Father Albion. He concluded his speech with the remark, “The (Roman Catholic) Church must be intolerant to the utmost degree over the very last article of Faith.” He added the sly statement that many eminent converts had never had to deny any doctrine they had previously held but had only to add to those in which they already believed.
In commenting on the recent Vatican Council, a contributing editor of Christianity Today deplores, sometimes with bitter sarcasm, the eagerness with which many Protestants bask in the sunshine of Rome’s favor. He writes,
How long ago was it that Protestants believed that Rome was the “whore of Babylon” and the “antichrist”? Has something happened to Rome or to us since those awful terms were used? It seems to me the words arose when men were having their heads chopped off because they opposed Rome. Have we changed or has Rome changed, in Colombia or Spain, for example? (Where Roman Catholic persecution of Protestants continues today—H.H.) There is a monument of repentance in Geneva because Calvin should not have had a hand in the burning of Servetus. That sort of thing we are ashamed of and the-monument says so. Where is the monument which tells us about Rome repenting for the Inquisition?
In connection with unity with Rome this editor writes:
We-cannot and, must not think about ecumenical movements which “blur the differences.” John Calvin . . . engaged in many colloquies shortly after the Reformation began in efforts toward union with Rome. So did Melanchthon and Bucer, and Calvin reports on them in one of his letters: “Philip and Bucer have drawn up ambiguous and varnished formulas . . . to try whether they could satisfy the opposite party by giving them nothing. I cannot agree to this device . . . for they hope that in a short time they would begin to see clearly if the matter of doctrine be left open; therefore they rather wish to skip over it, and do not dread that equivocation than which nothing can be more hurtful.
The editor points out that Radio Vatican has said that there is only one road to unity and that is the road back to Rome. He concludes:
There will be no equivocation in Rome; don’t look for it and don’t build your hopes on it. The Vatican Council affects so many people in so many ways; in me it arouses cynicism and a certain sadness as I watch all those goings-on and think of the Man of Galilee.
The devil is behind all these movements towards unity—and especially the movement towards unity with dome. And the devil never budges one inch. To him union always means destruction of the truth.
MIXED MARRIAGES AND ROME
The Vatican Council intends at some time in its future sessions to discuss the subject of mixed marriages. The Roman Catholic Church takes a very strong stand on this point. No marriage is, in the eyes of the Church really a marriage unless it is performed in the Church and by a priest. If a Roman Catholic marries a Protestant the Protestant must promise to refrain from attempting to convert the Catholic mate to Protestantism and to give up all children to the baptism and instruction of the Catholic Church.
There are many in the Romish Church who favor a relaxation of these rigid rules in order to soften the harsh and exclusive impression that Roman Catholicism leaves with Protestants. But other Romish theologians, especially those from Italy, deplore this. They insist that a change in this position would involve broad changes in the whole structure of Roman Catholic thought. To change this position would mean that marriage would have to be discarded as a sacrament. They point out that it would involve a denial of the position of the Church that it alone is the true church outside of which there is no salvation—a doctrine long cherished and still maintained officially today. They claim that this would really ultimately place the stamp of approval on the Reformation, condoning the right of Protestants to leave the mother church and go their separate ways. An article in the Roman Catholic press pointed out that “With the low level of faith today the average mixed marriage constitutes a menace to the Christian faith.”
With this latter statement we heartily concur. Without agreeing with Rome’s elevation of marriage to the position of sacrament, it surely is true that mixed marriages continue to be a problem—not so much for Rome, but for the Church of Christ. In these days of doctrinal decline and loose morals, it is important that covenant parents warn their children repeatedly against the dangers of mixed marriages—not only between Protestants and Rome, but also between our Churches and other Protestant and even Reformed bodies.
WHAT TO CALL THE MINISTER
Ministers do not want to be called “Reverend” any more.
They are trying to find all kinds of substitutes as “Mister,” “Preacher,” “Brother,” “Pastor” or “Father.” Some even prefer to be called by their first names: “Harry” or “Joe.” A Presbyterian presbytery in New Mexico passed a resolution “that all members, friends and enemies of the Presbytery of the Rio Grande are hereby dissuaded and/or discouraged from using ‘reverend’ henceforth as a form of address to anyone.” The resolution added that it is “blasphemous and idolatrous” to use the term as a title for any clergyman. An Episcopalian who is chaplain at the University of Michigan’s Medical Center composed the ditty,
Call me Mister, call me friend
A loving ear to all I lend
But do not my soul with anguish rend,
PLEASE stop calling me Reverend.
The argument is that “reverend” is an adjective which means “worthy of reverence, revered”; and is not therefore applicable to a minister. (It is worthy of note however, that the new Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary lists “reverend” as a noun also.)
While it is true that the term “reverend” is not ideal as a title for a minister, it is difficult to find a substitute. Perhaps “pastor” would be preferable, except that today it carries with it the connotation (among various churches) of an unordained clergyman. It is however, Scriptural. The danger is that, as is so commonly true in our day, all respect for the office which a minister holds is lost. Ministers show this same disrespect for their own office when they suggest that they would prefer to be called “Mister” or “Joe.” After all, the minister carries in his office the authority of Christ Himself the true Shepherd and Bishop of His people. This authority and this respect for it is lost only at grave cost to the wellbeing of the Church.