What Roman Catholicism means when it speaks of the holiness of the Church is evident from the articles or answers which we quoted from “Radio Replies by the Fathers Rumble and Carty.” The holiness of the Church refers to its holiness in its Founder, Christ Jesus, its teachings, sacramental system of grace, and in its members. Rome, of course, identifies with Protestantism also every sect that has its origin in Protestantism, regardless of the fact that that sect is completely unworthy to be called Protestant. True Protestantism, we understand, maintains the Word of God, the holy Scriptures, and does not corrupt and distort it. We have no sympathy for any modernistic and heretical distortion of the Word of God. Rome distinguishes between ordinary and, shall we say, “special” holiness, Of course, the Word of God knows nothing of this distinction. Where do we read in the Scriptures of an ordinary holiness and of a special holiness? Ordinary holiness, according to Rome, prevails among the vast majority of Roman Catholics, and simply refers to their fidelity to all the Roman Catholic religious duties, their Sunday Mass, the observance of the seven sacraments, etc. And their “special” holiness refers to an almost interminable list of canonical saints who practiced heroic Christian virtues. We may well ask: what heroic Christian virtues? A good Catholic, according to Rome, is also one who fulfills his duties to his fellow men. Outward virtue and department is extolled by Rome and occupies a fundamental Christian virtues! A good Catholic, according to Rome, is also one who fulfills his duties to his fellow men. Outward virtue and deportment is extolled by Rome and occupies a fundamental place in Roman Catholicism. Holiness, according to Rome, is to a very large extent adherence to the Church’s participation in the seven sacraments, blind obedience and submission to the Pope. One reads very little in these Radio Replies of the fundamental character of sin, of the struggle between the “old man” and the “new man,” of the terrible conflict as recorded in Romans 7.
Protestantism stresses the virtue of holiness in the Scriptural sense of the word. Holiness, as we undoubtedly know, is separation from evil and dedication to God. “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” is certainly the teaching of the Word of God. Repeatedly the Church is addressed in the Scriptures as holy. “The Church is called holy,” writes Ursinus in his explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism, “because it is sanctified of God by the blood and Spirit of Christ, that it may be conformable to him, not in perfection, but by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and obedience; and by having the principle of holiness; because the Holy Spirit renews and delivers the church from the dregs of sin by degrees, in order that all who belong to it may commence and practice all the parts of obedience.” The Church of God is holy objectively in Christ. In our Lord Jesus Christ is all the fullness of salvation which God has ordained for His own. And the Church itself is also holy, subjectively and spiritually, now in principle, and presently in heavenly and immortal perfection. This is the Protestant view and conception of the holiness of the church. Our holiness is a spiritual, ethical concept, objectively in Christ, and subjectively and spiritually through the Spirit of regeneration, creating within us a new man, breaking the bands and shackles of sin, delivering us from evil, separating us from the world, and consecrating us unto the living God.
Another attribute of the Church is its catholicity. We believe in an holy, catholic, Christian church. As can readily be understood, the Romish Church prides itself in the fact that it, and it alone, is truly catholic. Catholic, we know, means universal. We insist, however, that we are catholic and not the Romish Church. It is true, as a certain Romish writer contends, that, if you ask a person where the nearest Catholic Church is, you will always be directed to a Roman Catholic church. And it is also undoubtedly true that we ourselves are to blame for this. We never speak of ourselves as Catholics. We always think of the Roman Catholic church as catholic. Yet, this is surely a mistake. The Roman Catholic church is not the catholic church. We believe in the Catholic Church. They may and should be called the Romish or Papal Church, or the Roman Catholic Church, but they should never be called the Catholic Church. We must insist that we are Catholics.
Writing on the catholicity of the church, Dr. Bavinck writes as follows in his Dogmatics, Vol. IV, pages 306-305 (we translate freely): “The third attribute of the church is Catholicity. According to Rome, the Church bears this name, first of all, because, although constituting one whole and a complete unity, it nevertheless spreads itself over the entire earth, whereas the sects always remain limited to one land or a part of the world. Secondly, the church is catholic inasmuch as it, although formerly existing in a less perfect form, nevertheless has always been upon the earth from the beginning of the world and included all believers from the days of Adam, whereas the sects always come and go. And, in the third place, the Church is called Catholic because it completely partakes of the truth and grace which the Lord has destined to be bestowed upon men, preserves and bestows that truth and grace, and therefore it is for all men the only and necessary institute of salvation, whereas the sects always possess only a part of the truth. While it is true that the catholicity, according to Rome, must be an evident visible mark of the church, it must especially be understood in that sense that the church, wherever it exists, must count a multitude of members among all the peoples of the earth, which is striking to the eye; It is true that this was not the case in the early days of its existence, but the church soon expanded very rapidly and greatly. And now it is the requirement of catholicity that the membership of the true church, although not greater than the number of all living people outside of it, nevertheless must be greater than the membership of every sect in particular and probably also greater than all sects together and combined. Hence, the Romish Christian seeks an essential feature of the true church in external splendor and glory, in outward expansion and strength of numbers. Church Fathers, as Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, had already begun to exaggerate the spreading of Christianity among the peoples of the earth. And even now their example is being followed by many of the Romish (Roomschen), as for example in mission statistics. Nevertheless, one cannot shut his eyes, as formerly, to the fact that there are even now almost one million non-Christians, and hardly five hundred million Christians, that these latter are again divided approximately in 110 million Greek, 264 million Romish and 166 million Protestant Christians, and that the Romish Christians in this century are almost everywhere declining in strength of numbers and are being ‘pushed’ (op zij gestreefd worden) by the Protestant Christians. According to this mark of catholicity, which the Romish Church itself advances, it does not look too well for what Rome believes to be the catholicity of the church. The name, catholic, surely applies less and less to the Romish Church. ‘Roman’ and ‘Catholic’ are also in contradiction with each other; even as in the Old Testament the dispensation of grace had Jerusalem for its center and confined all believers to that place, so in the days of the New Testament the Romish Church makes the salvation of men dependent upon one definite place and one definite person and therefore comes short of the catholicity of Christendom. The name, Romish, or Papal church expresses its essence far better than that of catholic. A catholic church is believed and confessed in the apostolic symbol and at times also in their own confessions by all Protestants. Generally they understood with catholicity the ecclesia universalis (church universal), which embraced all true believers and came to revelation, more or less purely, in the different churches, or they also understood this as referring to the church of the New Testament, which, in distinction from that of the Old Testament, was destined for all peoples and places of the earth. The word, catholic, does not appear in the Scriptures. But the texts, to which the church fathers appealed in support of the catholicity of the church, such as Gen. 12:3,Ps. 2:8, Is. 2:2, Jer. 3:17, Mal. 1:11, Matt. 8:11, 28:19, John 10:16, Rom. 1:8, 10:18, Eph. 2:14, Col. 1:6, Rev. 7:9, etc., prove that its significance lies particularly in this that Christendom is a world-religion, destined and fitting for all peoples and ages, for every rank and file, for every place and time. That church is most catholic, which most clearly expresses in its confession this international and cosmopolitan character of the Christian religion and applies it in practice. The Reformed have had an eye for this when, in the different lands and churches, they confessed the truth in their own, free, independent manner, and invited to the Synod of Dordrecht delegates from the entire Reformed Christendom.”—end of quote from Bavinck.
The Roman Catholic position on the catholicity of the church is also set forth in “Radio Replies” by the Fathers Rumble and Carty, from which we quote the following, Volume I.
497. You claim that your Church has not only the marks of unity and holiness, but also of Catholicity. What does the word Catholic mean?
It is derived from the Greek language, and means universal and complete. And as Christ has told His Apostles to go and teach all nations all His doctrines, the word Catholic is reserved to that Church which alone teaches all Christ’s doctrines to all peoples—the Catholic Church. St. Ignatius of Antioch, about the year 110, first used the word to designate the true Church. He wrote, “Where the Bishop is, there is the Catholic Church.” Donatism broke away from the Church in the 4th century, just as Protestantism in the 16th, and St. Augustine declared that this heresy was cut off from the Catholic Church. In the same 4th century Pacian used the word Catholic as a mark of identification, saying, “Christian is my name, Catholic my surname.” He did not wish to be taken for one of those who protested against the Catholic Church, yet still continued to call themselves Christians.—end of quote, thus far, from these “Radio Replies.”
In connection with the above quotation from “Radio Replies,” we wish to make the following comments. It is true that Ignatius made the remark which is attributed to him in this quotation. It is also true that Cyprian was very strong and outspoken in his expressions of high esteem in which he held the office of Bishop. And Augustine also spoke very highly of the Catholic Church. But, in the first place, we do well to bear in mind that when Ignatius and Cyprian and Augustine spoke of the Catholic Church, they certainly did not mean what the Romish Church means with it, and as it is quoted in the above quotation. In those days there was only one Church, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and this Church was surely catholic, universal. And, secondly, we do not deny that these church fathers spoke very highly of the office of the bishop, identified the bishop with the church. But does this mean that, when they speak of the bishop, they mean the bishop of Rome? Most emphatically not! And also this is something that we must not forget. There is absolutely no proof that the bishop or Pope at Rome is the successor of the apostle Peter. This is a fabrication of the Roman Catholic Church.