A Primer on Roman Catholicism (pt. 9)
In a short primer of this kind, it is impossible to deal with the entire Roman system of doctrine. The new Catholic catechism contains over 700 pages of doctrinal teaching of the Catholic church. But perhaps this little primer has helped Protestants and Catholics alike to think through their beliefs. I shall conclude this brief examination of Roman Catholicism by asking three questions:
- What is the fundamental defect of Roman Catholicism?
- What are the consequent errors?
- What should be our attitude towards the Roman Catholic church?
QUESTION 1. What is the fundamental defect of Roman Catholicism?
ANSWER. The fundamental error of Rome is two-fold. It consists in a denial of the authority of God, on the one hand, and a deification of human authority, on the other. Rome rejects the supremacy of God as He has spoken in the Bible. Rather than subject herself to His Word, she subjects His Word to her. Rather than criticize herself in its light, she construes it in her light. On the other hand, she exalts herself to infallibility and would have all men bow down and blindly worship her upon pain of bodily death in the world (if she has the power to enforce it) and spiritual death in the world to come. Not without reason has the Church of Rome been called the greatest tyrant the world has ever seen.
QUESTION 2. What are the consequent errors?
ANSWER. The consequent errors deriving from this original sin of unbounded arrogance are legion. Most important of all, Rome closes the divine way of salvation. She has taken Christ from us and we know not where she has laid Him. All His promises of being the Savior from our sins, the ransom for our souls, the refuge of our weariness, are gone. The just no longer live by faith. Our freedom is over, we are in bondage again, we are yet in our sins. In the place of His invitation, her sacraments; in the place of His mediation, her Virgin, saints, and endless priests; in the place of Him who was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, her righteousness that leaves us still in our sins. She may warn, threaten, and excommunicate us, but we reply with the inspired words of the Apostle Paul, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be anathema,” Galatians 1:9.
QUESTION 3. But finally, what should be our attitude and policy toward Rome?
May I make a few suggestions? First, our attitude should be one of humility in judging Rome, not because of her arrogance but because of our sin. It must be confessed that Protestantism is greatly divided in organization, and more divided still in testimony. We have lost the salt of the Reformation to such a degree that we are almost good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of Rome. No longer does the Protestant church ring with the great themes of salvation by grace, the authority and genuine inspiration of the Bible, a divine Christ, and a final judgment. We must humbly confess that to a great degree we have been false to our true gospel and that Rome has been true to her false gospel. Let us, therefore, set our own house in order.
Second, Protestants should not intermarry with Romanists. The fact that there are many conscientious and well-meaning Protestants who have done this and appear to live happily ever afterwards does not make the policy right. The Catholic contract is inimical to Protestantism and cannot be signed by a Protestant without violating evangelical principles. For example, the contract requires the persons to be married by a priest with the understanding that such a marriage alone is valid; it requires the Protestant to promise not to endeavor to win his mate to his faith, which is a violation of his duty as a Christian. Again, it requires the Catholic training of the children, which is detrimental, of course, to the Protestant faith and witness; and it precludes the greatest marital bliss which is based on harmony of religious faith and practice.
Third, Rome should be opposed, but only spiritually. We repudiate the externalistic view of religion and should therefore repudiate all carnal opposition and persecution. Without being either complacent about her, or satisfied with her doctrine, we should nevertheless oppose her kindly. We must fight her, but only with spiritual weapons.
Fourth, we should recognize Roman merits. This series lacks mention of them only because we have been dealing exclusively with fundamentals; on these we feel she errs. We do not mean to suggest that there is not much that is commendable about Rome.
Fifth, we should cooperate wherever possible. In worship it is impossible, in joint moral enterprises it is sometimes
possible, and in general social welfare movements it is possible and often imperative.
Sixth, we should bid our Roman Catholic friends to come to the true church. She, in error, invites us. Surely we, in truth, ought to invite her. We bear the Catholics witness that they have a zeal, but not according to knowledge. We pray God that they might all come to an understanding of Christ’s all-sufficient sacrifice and be saved.
Excerpted from Primitive Theology by John H. Gerstner.
Note: This primer is intended to give an overview of the significant theological differences between historic Protestantism and historic Roman Catholicism. In a primer of this size, it is not possible to give a thorough examination of a theology that has been controverted for centuries. For a fuller treatment of the main difference between Catholicism and Protestantism—justification by faith alone—see Justification by Faith Alone or, for Dr. Sproul’s response to “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” see Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together.