Previous article in this series: April 15, 2019, p. 321.
The recent editorials about Protestants making Rome their ‘home’ have had one primary purpose, and it has not been to show that matters are so serious in much of Protestantism that they are fixing their spiritual GPS on the Romish church. Matters are that serious, as the articles have attempted to demonstrate, but that has not been their chief end. Rather, their primary purpose is to have you ask whether you, who read these editorials and are committed to confessing the Reformed faith, could go to Rome, whether you or I in our generations could find ourselves there.
To be clear, the question is not whether you want to go to Rome, so that “could” in my title means “willing to, or, might consider it….” I consider it very unlikely that any who would read the Standard Bearer for edification would confess that they would be happy, on their deathbed, to see their grandchildren defecting to Roman Catholicism. But the question is whether you could find yourself in your generations on the other side of the Tiber under the judgments of God. And that’s different.
That may be the future for a clan or a church with whom God is displeased. God may judge the church that does not love and confess grace by sending them to a place like Rome. You are probably not surprised to hear said that God’s heavy hand may fall on a church that looks Rome-ward. But I am proposing that God’s heavy hand may send a church or denomination Rome-ward. That is, it’s possible that going to Rome may be God’s judgment. God sent Israel into Babylonian captivity to judge her for her idolatry.
So our attention in this final editorial about Rome is not on those Protestant Evangelicals who are talking with Rome, but on us who are repulsed by the idea, horrified at the possibility, stunned that some of our close spiritual relatives are thinking Romish thoughts. Our hearts’ desire and prayer to God for these relatives is that they might be saved (Rom. 10:1). We grieve over their departure. Now, however, we must examine ourselves. Could you and I go to Rome?
Five areas of concern
There are five areas where every Reformed Christian ought to examine himself and his church humbly, so that he can work honestly and pray (without tempting Him!) that God preserve him and his church in the generations to come. If Reformed people are not careful, they will find themselves saying, “God, I thank thee, that I am not like other men are, self-righteous, social-gospelers, Federal-Visionists, or even as these Roman Catholics….” If matters are very serious, they will not even recognize, when they speak so, with whom they identify. For all these sins and errors that the previous editorials have exposed have their source in our sinful natures. Let us who think we stand, beware.
In the previous editorials we saw that many who in their generations were Reformed and Presbyterian are slouching toward Rome. Praying for grace to examine yourself rather than everyone else, consider the following:
Social gospel orientation
There are two ways in which a church (or family) could be exposed to Rome’s determination to emphasize social and political concerns more than the gospel.
First, there may exist in the church a crass and almost exclusive interest in earthly life and physical well-being. The Old Testament prophets reserved some of their strongest denunciations for the Israelites who were more interested in their wine, ointments, and homes than the worship of God. They built their expensive, many-roomed homes, paneled with cedar and stained with vermilion (Jer. 22:14), while God’s house remained in ruins (Hag. 1:4, 9). Soon, God blew them away (Hag 1:9) and the funeral of the victims of the tornado was no more respectful than the burial of an ass (Jer. 22:19). Would God that our hearts be inclined to spiritual riches!
Or, a church or family may gradually become more interested in social and political matters than in the church because they did not learn the history of the social-gospel error (today called ‘transforming society’ and ‘redeeming creation’), and how every generation faces that ‘first’ temptation to feed the world with bread rather than Bread (Matt. 4:4). The primary calling of the church and the people of God is to seek the “words that proceed out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). At the very same time that we fulfill a diaconal calling to “all men” (Gal. 6:10), let us pray God that we see the difference between this and an attempt to redeem the world. And, pray that we teach our children to seek first the spiritual kingdom of God and His righteousness—both for themselves and for the poor they hope to assist with ‘bread.’
Trusting in orthodoxy rather than Christ
There comes another temptation for Reformed people who see the horror of false doctrine and the monstrosity of denying grace—that they trust in their doctrine rather than in Christ. Determined as they are to protect orthodoxy, they fall into the error of believing that their maintenance of truth saves them rather than the blood of Christ. No Reformed man, of course, would admit this and, in fact, would be indignant at such a warning. Yet if the determinedly Reformed father will not say to his sons, “Boys, trust Jesus, and not your orthodoxy,” it will not take but a generation or two and these boys will have the outside of the cup and platter clean, but inside be full of greed and self-indulgence. Yes, we must have orthodoxy, or we perish. But trusting orthodoxy is the height of pride that God will judge. Trusting orthodoxy rather than Jesus is a denial of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, high treason to God. The Pharisee never becomes extinct.
Rome’s spiritual demise was the ignorance of the people. The people were destroyed for lack of knowledge. God forgot them in their generations because they forgot Him and His Word, like Israel in Hosea’s day (4:6). This can happen to any generation, in any denomination, and has happened time after time. Why would it not happen in your denomination? What makes anyone suppose that it could not?
So let’s ask ourselves how interested we are in reading, and how determined we are to lead our children, by our own example, to read. What have we done to swim against the powerful, almost irresistible, tide of distraction that comes from the Internet, television, and sport? What new habits have we adopted, at the expense of learning, growing in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ? Fathers, what decisions have you made regarding the screens in your home? About regular family worship? About your reading choices?
If one does not face these questions, and act, he exposes himself and his churches to the judgments of God.
A word is in order to consistories as well. Ministers must have time to make good sermons, that is, instructive sermons, and not be distracted by anything that makes this impossible. As to catechism, we thank God for what we have, and pray that we maintain what we have, even consider restoring the nine-month season and hour-long classes, in spite of the many pressures to go the other direction. And let us all be men who read—Scripture first and foremost.
A new popery
I mentioned in the previous articles a disturbing trend that is hard to miss. Men—good men—are trusting in what other men say rather than what Scripture says. How many people appeal to a man’s writings as “the end of all strife” (to borrow from the apostle)? Protestants have been accused of making their creeds a “paper pope.” We deny that charge, vehemently. But does the sin of having a new ‘papacy’ appear in a bolder way than anyone would ever have expected it? People in every area of the church—call them conservative or liberal, strict or loose—express the wish that “If only we could find what so-and-so thought about this; matters would be different then.” Or, “I sure wish Rev. So-and-so, or Professor So-and-so would weigh in this argument; then matters would be settled.” But “should not a people seek unto their God?” Go “to the law and to the testimony”! (Isa. 8:18–19). Of course, “every heretic has his text,” so we’re not proposing ‘proof- texting.’ But the creeds guard against that, and we must be a people of the Word and creeds, not followers of men to whom we give a pope-like authority.
Failure to love truth
Finally, and most importantly, examine yourself whether you (and I) truly love the truth. Second Thessalonians 2 teaches that God deals very severely with those churches or families who have His truth but do not love His truth.
….they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. (vv. 11–12).
God’s severe judgment is to send strong delusion to those who do not love His truth, so that the people believe the lie—perhaps the Romish lie. Notice, the people or church are offensive to God before they believe the lie. That is, it was not their embrace of the lie that made them displeasing to God, it was their lack of love for truth. For that, God may judge with a Romish delusion.
How does this apply to us? What must a church learn who believes that she is faithful? It is time for serious self-examination. It is one thing to write about truth, preach about the truth, defend truth; but that is not the same as loving the truth. There are likely thousands who taught truth but did not love it, preached truth but did not preach it because they loved it, even defended it at great cost to themselves without loving it. And no one knew except for God who judges the heart.
Is the Lord’s heavy hand judging? Is it for these sins, of which we are so often guilty? Let us examine ourselves, and not everyone else whom we believe may be at fault. And if our self-examination results in God revealing (“Search me, O God!”) that we love self above truth, as we all do by nature, let us repent with genuine, fervent sorrow for sin and learn to pray what we have prayed in all our generations to the great Master of the Vineyard:
Thy vineyard no longer Thy tender care knows,
Defenseless, the victim and spoil of her foes;
O turn, we beseech Thee, all glory is Thine,
Look down in Thy mercy and visit Thy vine.
The branch of Thy planting is burned and cut down,
Brought nigh to destruction because of Thy frown;
The man of Thy right hand with wisdom endue,
The son of man strengthen Thy pleasure to do.
When Thou shalt revive us Thy Name we will praise,
And nevermore, turning, depart from Thy ways;
O Lord God almighty, in mercy restore,
And we shall be saved when Thy face shines once more.
Psalter # 220:4–6