Some readers of my blog dismiss me as having in effect abandoned the faith. They are so committed to certain fundamentalist practices and positions that they refuse to look on me with any grace. I am a hopeless liberal to them, and have abandoned important implications of the Gospel, and rejected Scriptural teaching.
My blog professes to stand “for the Unity of the Faith for the Glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3,13; Rom. 15:5-7″. In fact I strive for that. Much division in the body of Christ is avoidable and harmful. I’ve expressed my concerns over a radical separatism which views anyone who doesn’t self-identify as a fundamentalist with suspicion and distrust — even scorn.
I have found a wider grace in Christ through my experience with Reformed Theology, which rather than making me more narrow-minded has freed me to hope the best in people and let God do His work. This charitable spirit which many have taken time to thank me for, is nevertheless acknowledged by some critics to be just the spirit of this post-modern age. I’m nice and want to be nice. And niceness is all this is about. I don’t have the backbone needed to defend the faith as fundamentalists really should.
So I find it somewhat ironic that I am now being taken to task for my stance on Roman Catholicism by people to the left of me. I guess this is proof positive that I am still a fundamentalist at heart! In my recent review of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill, I added the following caution:
I have but one small reservation with this book. Hill details both a Roman Catholic\’s and Greek Orthodox\’s struggle on this issue with no caution about the deficient theology of those churches. There may be genuine Christians who are RC or Orthodox, but they are the exception not the rule. Perhaps those faiths are more open to the struggle for faithful celibacy and so have something he can identify with. As a Protestant, I fear the gospel can be at stake in so easily recommending Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy with their denial of justification by faith alone.
I am now said to be the harsh judgmental one, who refuses to extend grace to the millions of Catholics and Greek Orthodox Christians around the world. I’m being denounced in no uncertain terms; here, here and here, and especially here. I’m hindering “the unity of the faith”, I’m the one who isn’t nice and is making harsh judgments.
Let me be clear, I still hold that the Bible does lay down guidelines and boundaries to the faith. We are not given the right to just blur those boundaries whenever we want. We don’t find Paul doing that, he names names and contends for the faith (as do the other Apostles). There is “another gospel” which is no gospel. The danger of false teachers looms large all over the New Testament. It behooves those who prize the Gospel, to defend the Gospel. Unity goes up to a point, but ultimately it must be tethered to the Gospel. Where the Gospel is in danger of being lost, unity can not continue.
So that makes me a fundamentalist, I guess. I think some doctrine is so vital to the essence of Christianity, that it must be defended and cannot be denied without serious consequences.
And I am not alone in my assessment of Roman Catholicism. Consider the words of one of the original fundamentalists from the 1920s:
I am aware that, if I undertake, to prove that Romanism is not Christianity, I must expect to be called “bigoted, harsh, uncharitable.” Nevertheless I am not daunted; for I believe that on a right understanding of this subject depends the salvation of millions. [T. W. Medhurst, "Is Romanism Christianity?" in The Fundamentals, edited by R.A. Torrey, online here]
Or consider the eloquent and large-hearted Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
There are, of course, individuals who are both Roman Catholics and Christians. You can be a Christian and yet be a Roman Catholic. My whole object is to try to show that such people are Christians in spite of the system to which they belong, and not because of it. [source]
I must say I haven’t read primary Catholic authors writing after Vatican 2. But in what I’ve heard and read about Vatican 2 it never abrogates the Council of Trent and it doesn’t change church teaching on additional things “necessary unto salvation”. I’m foolish enough to trust the Reformers and evangelical Protestants up through the middle of the 20th Century who have studied these matters and conclude that Roman Catholic doctrine on salvation is confusing at best and damning at worst.
Consider just a few of the statements from The Council of Trent, the reaction that Rome officially gave to the Protestant Reformation:
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
CANON V.-If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.
On the Eucharist
CANON I.-If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.
CANON VI.\”“If any one denieth, either that sacramental confession was instituted, or is necessary to salvation, of divine right; or saith, that the manner of confessing secretly to a priest alone, which the Church hath ever observed from the beginning, and doth observe, is alien from the institution and command of Christ, and is a human invention; let him be anathema.
On the Mass
CANON III.\”“If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.
This is addition to the Gospel and hence it is “another Gospel”. See Galatians 5:2-6 and 1:6-9. That is my understanding and the understanding of the Reformers and most evangelical Protestant churches. I consider the trappings of the religious system which is Catholicism conspire to cloud out the simplicity of the gospel. Veneration of the saints, prayers to Mary, purgatory, the role of priests, the place the Eucharist holds, penance, beads, icons, holy object, the holy pope \”” all of these easily vie for central place.
UPDATE: I forgot to add this bit. The Roman Catholic Church has no problem anathematizing me. The pope has no problem not recognizing my church as valid. Why isn’t that a big deal worth getting upset about?
I freely admit evangelicalism has its problems, and in many places another gospel is preached there too. But I cannot turn a blind eye to Rome’s problems. Call me a kook if you will. There are intelligent and careful responses to Rome’s doctrine available for those who search. Perhaps some of my readers can recommend good resources on this. I do respect and appreciate much that the Roman Catholic Church stands for and has bequeathed to us. But it is dead wrong on salvation and is misleading countless millions of followers around the world.
I realize this won’t win me many awards (except negative ones), and it won’t make me popular. But I aim for faithfulness rather than acceptance by the biblioblogging community.