Today marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, when a 33-year-old Augustinian friar, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, in Saxony, Germany on October 31st, 1517. The Holy Spirit would use Luther and the other Reformers in a mighty way to recover the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone that was preached by the New Testament church, but had been buried beneath layers of religious legalism, ritual, tradition, and ceremony created by the institutional church of Rome.
I’m so grateful for the early Reformers. It took great courage and faith for Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and the others to oppose Rome at a time when such opposition should have meant certain death. Over the ages, many believers were persecuted and even martyred for their faith in Christ. I can pick up my Bible and read it any time of the day. I can also gather with other believers and worship the Lord according to His Word without restriction. I’m mindful of the many Christians who gave their lives rather than deny their faith.
I was baptized into the Roman Catholic church as an infant and educated in a Catholic grammar school and high school. In my 27 years as a Roman Catholic, I never heard the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Not once. What I was taught was a complicated religious system that was based on sacramental grace and merit. I’m so grateful for the legacy of the Reformers that’s been handed down for over 500 years and is alive in the mission of believing churches and their members. Jose, Ray, and Mike witnessed to me back in the early 1980s because someone had witnessed to them, because someone had witnessed to them, and back and back.
Lord, I am so grateful You raised up the early Reformers and used them to recover the Gospel of grace. Thank You for the generations of believers who have faithfully spread your Good News! throughout the world and help us to continue this mission. Help us also to defend the Gospel of grace and fight for its purity at a time when many who claim to be Christian compromise and betray the Gospel for the sake of popularity and false unity with those who teach “another gospel.”
This past Sunday, no mention was made at our church of the upcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I’m guessing that was the case in many evangelical churches. So the Reformation continues. Semper reformanda! Always reforming!
Yesterday at church, our pastor brought up the story of Balak and Balaam in his sermon. As you remember from Numbers 22-24, Balak was a king of Moab. Balak and the Moabites (descendants of Lot) feared Moses and the approaching Israelites. Balak called upon Balaam, a prophet from the East, to curse the Israelites. Much to Balak’s frustration, Balaam blessed the Israelites in accordance with God’s will. Three times Balak called upon Balaam to curse the Israelites and three times Balaam blessed them instead. But in Numbers 25:1-9, we learn that some of the Israelite men went on to commit spiritual fornication by consorting with the daughters of Moab and subsequently worshiping their god, the Baal of Peor. The Lord punished Israel by sending a plague, which killed twenty-four thousand. In Revelation 2:14, we learn that it was Balaam who had finally advised a very frustrated Balak to neutralize the Israelites by having the Moabite women entice them into committing fornication and idolatry. The Moabite attack on Israel wasn’t through military aggression, it was through “pleasurable” sensuality and compromise.
Any lessons for us today?
As I listened to the portions of the sermon regarding the “teaching of Balaam,” I thought of a similar circumstance in our own time. In previous generations, evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics squared off as adversaries in the battle for people’s souls. Evangelicals proclaimed the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone while Catholics propagated their false gospel of sacramental grace and merit and “ne’er the twain shall meet.”
But at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65),* popes John XXIII and Paul VI and their allies decided to drop their church’s militant, aggressive approach towards Protestants and try a totally different tack of accommodation and “compromise.” The Catholic hierarchy reached out to Protestants as “separated brethren” with the goal of eventually re-gathering them under Rome’s wings. Protestants have warmly responded to this friendly overture. The appeal of (c)hristian “unity” has increasingly drowned out concerns over vital doctrinal differences.
Just as the Israelites responded to the appealing enticements of the Moabites, many in the evangelical church have succumb to the “teaching of Balaam” and have allowed themselves to drift into spiritual fornication with Rome. They call Rome’s darkness “light” and they call all warnings to stay separate from Rome “darkness.”
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” – Isaiah 5:20
Protestants and evangelicals all over the world will be commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation tomorrow, but the reality is that many who hold to the labels of “Protestant” and “evangelical” have compromised and betrayed the New Testament Gospel of grace recovered by Luther and the other Reformers by embracing Catholicism and its false gospel of sacramental grace and merit in an attempt to establish (c)hristian unity. They have, in a figurative sense, set out “to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1).
“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.” – Revelation 2:14
*See the Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio (“Restoration of unity”), here.
Pastor Robert Jeffress (photo left) of the First Baptist Church of Dallas mixes religion and patriotism so liberally completely, he would make Jerry Falwell blush. And like Falwell, Jeffress was so eager to enlist conservative Catholics in his political efforts, he threw the Gospel under the bus. See my previous post on how Jeffress caved on ecumenism here.
In addition to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this Tuesday, October 31st, we have Guy Fawkes Day coming up on Sunday, November 5th. The BBC is currently airing “Gunpowder,” a series about the Catholic plot to seize the English monarchy and parliament in 1605. Were Jesuit priests directly involved in the Gunpowder Plot? Conspiracy theories abound but we’ll never know the answer to that question for certain.
Is there any job in America that’s harder than being President Trump’s spokesperson? Whoops! I forgot I’m trying to stay out of politics. Sarah Huckabee is one of those ecumenical, doctrine-lite “evangelicals” who respects her husband’s Catholic “faith” (in salvation by sacramental grace and merit) to the degree that she allowed her three children to be baptized as Catholics and attends Catholic church with her husband every Sunday in addition to an “evangelical” service.
Is there anyone out there who still gives money to prosperity gospel shyster, Benny Hinn? Oh, sure, and not just to Hinn. Gullible souls rack up debt on their credit cards by sending “seed money” to all the TBN televangelist hucksters and then wait for the promised windfall.
Catholics and liberal ELCA Lutherans are throwing joint prayer parties all across the USA this month to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation while traditionalist Catholics like Müller stew over their church honoring heretic #1, Martin Luther. Cardinal Müller and his EWTN allies need to wake up and smell the coffee. Glad handing the Protestant “heretics” as “brothers” has proved to be much more productive than hurling anathemas at them.
Ecumenism between Catholics and Protestants is on the fast track and will continue to accelerate. The one-world church with the pope in the driver’s seat wasn’t in sight fifty years ago, but it certainly is today.
I didn’t know dancing was a sin until I joined an independent fundamental Baptist church in the early 80s, but that was no problem for me. Few things are more ridiculous in my view than standing there and shaking your arms and legs to music in public. Yup, me and our ol’ Baptist pastor were on the same page (at first). By the way, while the pastor regularly blasted dancing from the pulpit, beating the pulp out of someone in an MMA brawl was just fine according to him.
Only a few days ago, I had posted a message about a Catholic nun who was thrown into a tizzy by the changes of Vatican II. See here. I see that an independent film is being released today (on a limited basis) that shares a similar theme with, no doubt, a different outcome. “Novitiate” tells the tale of Cathleen (Margaret Qualley), a young Catholic woman who enters the nunnery in 1964. This is during the time of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), when the Catholic church was making drastic changes to its procedural window dressings. The Mother Superior (Melissa Leo) runs the nunnery like a Marine boot camp and tolerates nothing less than absolute submission and obedience. “Faith” for these young nuns is a grueling ladder, with each step hoped to be leading ever higher to “holiness” and merited salvation. Self-mortification is not only encouraged but demanded. As Vatican II eases some of the rigors of religious life, the Mother Superior and other nuns experience a jolting crisis of faith. Their self-identity is totally bound up in their order’s extreme asceticism. The council’s abrupt changes pull the chair completely out from underneath them.
As an ex-Catholic who grew up in the 1960s and attended parochial grammar school, I can attest to the significant changes wrought by Vatican II. The nuns’ garb changed from starched medieval habits to matronly jumper dresses. We had previously been taught that all Protestants were going to hell, which was changed to the teaching that those outside the church would be judged according to “the light they had been given.” Huh? The mass was said in English rather than Latin and guitars and religious folk songs replaced organs and hymns. These changes caused great consternation among the laity, but even more so among the religious. But despite all of these alterations in form, the major Catholic doctrines remained unchanged. Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit remained.
I understand that this film addresses lesbianism in Catholic convents to some degree (which would explain the R-rating). There are those who will find that off-putting, but the reality was that “celibate” convent life did foster sexual deviancy. The many autobiographies of ex-nuns published by Protestant publishing houses in the 19th and early-20th centuries lightly touched upon the sexual deviancy that was rampant in convents, but Catholic spokespersons at the time dismissed all the accounts as pure fiction. After decades of scandalous headlines, few would defend the notion that “chastity” was adhered to in convents, seminaries, and rectories. Those places were clearly hothouses for deviant immorality. I can remember back in 7th and 8th grade how one of our nuns, Sister Maryann, subtly introduced approbation of same-sex relationships into her English literature classes. One not-so-subtle example was the fiction novel she assigned over the summer following 7th grade that dealt with homosexuality. The nun was noticeably on the masculine side and appeared to us students to have an unusually close relationship with one of the other nuns. I was only a kid at the time, but I was no dummy.
“Novitiate” is being released today on a limited basis. It’s scheduled to open at Rochester’s home of artsy films, The Little Theater, on November 24th.
This post is not an endorsement of the film, because I obviously have not seen it yet. But I’m posting this as a heads-up for those who are curious about the doggedly militant brand of Catholicism that I grew up in the first ten years of my life. The attached trailer is not sensationalistic. This was the Catholicism I knew as a young boy.
In the film’s trailer, the distraught Mother Superior asks a poignant question:
“The church gave me my work, my community, even my identity, and now the church is trying to invalidate all that, saying none of it matters. So my question is, what is it that really does still matter?”
Ah, great question, Mother Superior! Excellent question! And sometimes in real life the Lord does have to pull the carpet out from under us in order to get our attention. Friends, religious legalism and ceremonial ritualism don’t matter, not even one small bit. None of us are good. None of us can merit Heaven. But Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Do you qualify? Repent of your sins and reach out to Him in prayer. Accept Him as your Savior by faith alone then ask the Lord to lead you to an evangelical church in your area that teaches God’s Word without compromise.
Ecumenism with religious error is rampant throughout the evangelical church these days. Over the last sixty years, the percentage of evangelical pastors, theologians, and para-church leaders who embrace Roman Catholicism with its false gospel of sacramental grace and merit as a Christian entity has steadily risen. One of the few remaining bastions of non-compromise with Rome was the conservative Reformed movement. I admired men like D. James Kennedy, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and John Piper for their unyielding defense of the Gospel of grace in the face of compromise and betrayal that surrounds them. But accommodation and compromise with Rome is now in the camp of even the conservative Reformed.
A brother and trusted friend in the Lord recently posted a brief review of a children’s book, titled, “The Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith,” (photo middle). My thoughts below in no way reflect on this brother who initially posted the review completely unaware of the facts I will present.
The author of the book, Stephen J. Nichols (photo left), is a very prominent figure in the conservative Reformed movement. He serves as the president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries, both founded by R.C. Sproul. Nichols is also strongly connected to the ministry of John MacArther and has presented at multiple Shepherd’s Conferences hosted by Grace Community Church.
Being the nerd that I am, I was curious to see who Nichols included in his collection of 26 “heroes of the faith.” I did a little digging and had my answer (see here). I was somewhat familiar with 18 of the 26 individuals on the list and one of them really stood out: Francis Xavier (photo right). What? I had to do a double take. Francis Xavier? Are you kidding me? As an ex-Catholic, I am very much aware of Xavier. He’s one of Catholicism’s most prominent and revered “saints” and his name adorns many Catholic churches and institutions. Xavier was a close friend and associate of Ignatius of Loyola. Together, with a few others, they founded the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in 1534 (the official formation was in 1540). That’s right, the Jesuits! The order of the Jesuits was created specifically to counteract the work of the Reformation in spreading the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Ignatius and Xavier patterned the Jesuits according to a military model (Ignatius was a former soldier). The order would be the pope’s personal “army.” Jesuit priests pledged absolute loyalty to the pontiff and would use whatever means necessary to neutralize and defeat the spread of the Gospel. Much of their counter-Reformation work was done via the establishment of schools and expeditions to remote areas to spread Rome’s false gospel. Xavier was very active in India and the Far East. In 1546, he requested that the Portuguese king send the Inquisition to Goa, the center of Portuguese colonialism in India. The infamous Goa Inquisition (see here) imprisoned, tortured, and executed “heretics” until its abolition in 1820. Xavier died in 1552.
So, given all of the above, I have a few questions. How can one of the “bright young stars” of the conservative Reformed movement possibly cite Francis Xavier as a “hero of the faith”? Which faith? Certainly not the “sola fide, solus Christus,” faith alone, in Christ alone that I know and that Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin preached. Xavier was bitterly opposed to the Reformation and to the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Xavier worked tirelessly to spread Rome’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit throughout Asia. He was absolutely no friend of the Gospel or of the Reformers. How exactly does Nichols square all of that in his head? What is he thinking? How in the world can he see clear to calling darkness light? And how can faithful shepherds of the church swallow what Nichols is dishing out? What does R.C. Sproul say about Nichols’ presentation of Jesuit Xavier as a “hero of the faith”? What does John MacArthur say about Nichols holding up the co-founder of the Jesuits as an exemplary Christian?
Rest assured that Stephen J. Nichols pondered very long and hard as to who he would present in his list of 26 “heroes.” Including such a controversial figure as the co-founder of the Jesuits in this collection was no mistake. It’s clear Nichols has an ecumenical agenda and he’s obviously not afraid to push it. Will Sproul and MacArthur call him on it or will they let it go? After all, it’s only a children’s book, right? What will we see next, the leaders of the conservative Reformed movement writing biographies praising the various popes of Rome?
My heart grieves and my stomach turns. I can only pray for Stephen Nichols.
Directed by Elia Kazan and featuring Stathis Giallelis, Lou Antonio, John Marley, Paul Mann, and Linda Marsh
Warner Bros., 1963, 168 minutes
After directing fifteen films based on the ideas and scripts of others, Kazan worked up the nerve to write the screenplay of “America America” by himself. The movie loosely chronicles the immigration of Kazan’s uncle to America.
With the Armenian and Greek minorities facing increasing intolerance and persecution in 1890’s Turkey, the Greek Topouzoglou family sends their eldest son, Stavros (Giallelis), from their small village to Constantinople in the hope that he can establish the family in the relatively safer environs of the city. But Stavros secretly dreams of immigrating to the mythical America, with its promises of security and prosperity. Along the journey to the city, the naive and trusting Stavros is robbed of his family’s cherished possessions by a comical Turkish rascal (Antonio) and arrives at his cousin’s rug store with only the clothes on his back. Stavros balks at his cousin’s scheme to marry a wealthy merchant’s unattractive daughter and begins working as a lowly hamal (porter) to buy passage to America. After months of back-breaking toil, he is robbed of his savings by a prostitute. Stavros associates with a group of anarchists and is nearly killed in a government ambush. He returns half-dead to his cousin and disingenuously agrees to marry the daughter of merchant Aleko Sinnikoglou (Mann). Stavros has feelings for the plain Thomna (Marsh) and is tempted by the comforts of domesticity, but won’t be swayed from his goal. The middle-aged wife of one Sinnikoglou’s wealthy customers takes a shine to young Stavros and arranges for his ocean passage to America as her traveling “companion.” When her husband learns he’s been betrayed, he tries to have the young Greek returned to Turkey, but Stavros takes the identity of a deathly-sick Armenian friend (Gregory Rozakis), who voluntarily jumps overboard so that Stavros may realize his dream. Stavros arrives at Ellis Island and kneels down to kiss American soil. He shines shoes in New York City with a passion, saving his hard-earned coins in order to eventually bring his family to America.
Kazan based his novel, “America America” (1962), and the subsequent film adaptation on the journey of his uncle, Joe Kazan, who had a cameo in one of Kazan’s early films; “Boomerang.” Kazan moved the filming to Greece because of Turkish censorship. The breathtaking black and white cinematography was done by the legendary Haskell Wexler. Newcomer Giallelis’ performance at times borders on the amateurish and his broken English is occasionally undecipherable, but his facial expressions are wonderfully dramatic. The 22-year-old Greek actor had to learn English for this role. Kazan employed a large number of weathered native non-actor extras who sharply contrast with the professionals of Kazan’s Actor’s Studio. Linda Marsh breaks your heart as the rejected bride-to-be and deserved an Oscar nomination. Paul Mann is outstanding as the domineering but big-hearted future-father-in-law. The film won an Oscar for Best Art Direction and was also nominated for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.
“America America” was Kazan’s favorite film. It’s extremely long at almost three hours, but I would have a hard time deciding which scenes to cut. This is a wonderful movie, an epic testament to the courage and determination of our immigrant ancestors who sought the freedoms of America. They pined for an America where they heard the streets were literally paved with gold and where they would be “redeemed” and washed clean (of the injustices of the old homeland), as Stavros says in the film. However, after they arrived in America, many immigrants found the conditions in the late 19th and early 20th-century urban sweat shops and tenements to be as oppressive as conditions in the “old country.”
Warner Bros. finally released this film on DVD in 2011. Film historian, Foster Hirsch, provides an informative and infectiously enthusiastic commentary. Kazan would go on to complete the trilogy of Stavros’ epic tale with the novels, “The Anatolian” (1982), and “Beyond the Agean” (1994). Spoiler alert: In his later years, Stavros becomes disillusioned with America and yearns for the old homeland.
See one of the trailers for “America America” here.
Additional thoughts from a believer
Kazan directed “America America” when he was 54 years old. Once the celebrated “golden boy” of Hollywood and Broadway, the despised, friendly-witness of the 1952 House Un-American Activities Committee would direct only three more films. Like “America America,” they would all be commercial failures. Kazan always felt uncomfortable as a Greek immigrant outsider in Hollywood’s illusory world of homogenized glamour. With this movie, Kazan embraced his ethnic roots and, in a certain sense, tried to come to terms with his strained relationship with his deceased father.
Everyone who doesn’t know the Lord has a spiritual void they seek to fill. When I walked away from the Lord for many years, I tried to fill the vacuum by reading many books about my ethnic heritage. It became an obsession. Millions of Americans log into Ancestry.com every day to try to determine exactly who they are in this rootless society. In the end, it doesn’t satisfy. The only Rock and sure foundation is the Lord, Jesus Christ. If He is not your personal Savior, you don’t have anything.
Sister of Mercy: From Serving God to Knowing Him
By Wilma Sullivan
Emerald House Group, 1997, 80 pages
In this short book, former nun, Wilma Sullivan, testifies of her journey from being a Roman Catholic nun to salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Sullivan was born into a Catholic family and educated by the Sisters of Mercy at St. Agnes Catholic Grammar School in Towanda, Pennsylvania up until the sixth grade. The dedication of the nuns made a huge impression on her. Being an athletic girl, she chose to attend public schools from seventh through twelfth grades because of their superior sports programs and facilities, but continued with her CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) religious classes for Catholic children attending public schools. Sullivan desired to become a nun following high school, but fulfilled her father’s wish that she first go to college.
After graduating from a two-year college, Sullivan entered a Sisters of Mercy convent in 1967. Shortly afterwards, she was assigned to teach a second-grade class at a Catholic grammar school. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) brought many changes into the church including changes in religious orders. Nuns were given greater independence. Sullivan was disillusioned with what she saw as the disintegration of community life in her religious order and left the convent in 1971. But she remained faithful to the Catholic religion and volunteered for various assignments at two Catholic parishes.
During a hospital stay, Sullivan struck up a friendship with another patient, a born-again Christian. The two discussed spiritual matters often. Sullivan bought a Bible (her first) and attended weekly services at both the Catholic and the Baptist church of her friend. She eventually understood that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone and accepted Christ as her Savior. After several months, Sullivan found that she could no longer continue to attend the Catholic church services because so many of the beliefs and practices were contrary to God’s Word, including the false gospel of sacramental grace and merit.
For many years, Sullivan traveled across the country speaking to women’s groups about her journey from legalistic, institutional religion to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
I enjoyed this short book quite a bit and read through it in only a couple of sittings. I was also taught by the Sisters of Mercy in Catholic grammar school. I praise the Lord that Sullivan accepted Christ as Savior and came out of Catholic legalism. Faithful Catholics and ecumenical evangelical Judases don’t know what to do with a testimony like Wilma Sullivan’s. If she is right, they are wrong and that just won’t do according to their way of thinking.
Order the Kindle edition of “Sister of Mercy” here.
Read a shorter version of Sullivan’s testimony here.
Back in the Jerusalem of 40 A.D., if one of the officers of the Roman military occupation force was asked to differentiate between the Jews who followed the “officially sanctioned” Pharisees and rabbis, and the Jews who had accepted Christ as Messiah and Savior, he probably would not have been aware or even cared. To him, they would have all been just Jews, although, from our vantage point, we know the theological differences between the two groups were vitally important.
Similarly, we in the West tend to categorize all the followers of various Eastern religions with the same broad brush although there are many sects of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, with distinctive beliefs that are very important to their devotees.
Yesterday, I listened to a sermon in which the pastor described the current persecution of Christians around the world and especially in the Middle East. It’s understandable that the forces of Al-Qaeda and ISIS would not bother to distinguish between Roman Catholics, followers of Eastern Orthodoxy, and Bible Christians. To them, a Christian is a Christian is a Christian, but genuine followers of Christ cannot be so undiscerning.
Persecution is a tragedy for any group. Masses of people throughout history have suffered due to allegiance to their particular religion. But just because people have suffered terror, pain, and death, does not mean we should embrace error as truth. Jehovah’s Witnesses have endured persecution for one-hundred years in many countries. But, in addition to their heretical Christology, the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach a false gospel of baptismal regeneration and works and I cannot embrace them as Christians. The Mormons have also faced persecution in many countries. I am sorry they have suffered but that does not mean I should disregard our differences. Their heretical Christology and false gospel of baptismal regeneration and works prevents me from embracing them as fellow Christians.
In the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere, groups that claim to be Christian are being targeted by Al-Qaeda and ISIS, including Roman Catholics and adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy. It’s a tragedy that any religious group is targeted for violence. My heart goes out to the children, women, and men who have suffered persecution, torture, and death. But Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy teach a false gospel of sacramental grace and merit. They do not teach the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. According to God’s Word, faithful followers of these churches’ teachings are not Christians, just as the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians.
Some say that in the face of persecution, it’s uncharitable to check denominational dog tags. That was the underlying message of the sermon I heard yesterday and that is the regular message of The Voice of the Martyrs para-church organization. Pope Francis has cited Islamic terrorism as a catalyst for (c)hristian unification:
“Let us see this (communion of [c]hristian martyrs) as a call to persevere on our ecumenical journey toward full and visible communion, growing more and more in love and mutual understanding,” the pope challenged an audience back in 2015 (see here).
I’m sorry so many people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. I’m heartbroken that fellow believers have suffered and died for their faith in Christ. But I know those believers would not want their suffering and death to be used as a means to water down the Gospel of grace. Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox need to accept Christ as Savior as much as the bloodthirsty Muslim terrorists.
Postscript: Both Catholics and Protestants have been guilty of religious persecution in centuries gone by, although it could be successfully argued that the Catholic persecution of Protestants was of a MUCH greater magnitude. State-sanctioned persecution of Protestants continued in Catholic-controlled countries in Europe and Latin America well into the 20th-century (e.g., Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Mussolini’s Italy, inter-war Poland, Vichy France, Pavelic’s Croatia, Dollfuss’ Austria, and Rexist Belgium. Vatican concordats with Latin American countries ensured Protestants in the region were persecuted to some degree).
This restored 17th-century painting (see photo) displayed at Yale University depicts leaders of the Reformation with an open Bible, defiantly opposing caricatures of a cardinal, a bull (symbolizing papal bulls or edicts), a pope, and a monk. The Catholic figures were no doubt painted over at some later date as a concession to ecumenical correctness. The Catholic priests who are invited to guest lecture at apostate Yale Divinity School will get quite a chuckle over the restored painting.
Of all the old mainline Protestant denominations, with the obvious exception of the Anglicans/Episcoplians, Methodists were closest in belief to Roman Catholics. Founder, John Wesley, “taught that in baptism a(n) (infant) child was cleansed of the guilt of original sin, initiated into the covenant with God, admitted into the church, made an heir of the divine kingdom, and spiritually born anew.” Methodists also believed in the “real presence” of Christ in the eucharist, that a believer could achieve a state of sinless “holiness,” and that salvation could be lost. All of these were vestiges of Roman error. The Methodist church drifted into liberal apostasy many decades ago and now teaches a social gospel. The denomination became the “United Methodists” when it merged with the Evangelical United Brethren in 1968.
I definitely won’t be reading Dan “da Vinci Code” Brown’s new novel, which features the ultra-traditionalist Palmarian Catholic sect that views the last several popes of Rome as heretics. I’m too busy trying to follow the growing conservative movement within the regular Roman church that views Francis as a heretic. As far as the creepiness factor goes, it’s debatable whether the offshoot is any more creepy than its parent.
I always wondered who supplies Catholic priests with all of their elaborate vestments. How did the the example of the humble fishermen who followed Christ and proclaimed the simple Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone devolve into an authoritarian hierarchy whose ornate robes and vestments mimicked the pompous finery of the high priests of Roman paganism?
As opposed to Catholicism, God’s Word says no one is truly “good.” I can’t be a good person, which is why I trusted in Christ to save me. The Pew survey that’s cited also reports that among whites who claim to be “evangelical Protestants,” 32 percent say belief in God is not necessary to have good values and be a moral person. But I can understand how some genuine Christians would have difficulty answering the question because it’s based on a premise that true Christians don’t believe.
These Catholic traditionalists have a point. The American Catholic church touts that it’s now in union with the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), so that must mean that female bishops are acceptable?
The Catholic church periodically bestows “sainthood” on those who allegedly reached such a high level of holiness/sanctification during their lifetime that there is no doubt they merited Heaven and are now able to act as mediators between people and God. In contrast, God’s Word names as saints all those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior. The Bible also declares that Christ is the only Mediator between God and man. Nowhere in the entire Bible does a believer pray to someone other than God. As I’ve mentioned before, obscure candidates for “sainthood” often have to wait multiple centuries for canonization while popular, high-profile religious celebrities (e.g., mother Teresa, pope John Paul II, Padre Pio, the Fatima children) are put on the fast track for their public relation$ appeal.
I’ve noticed in the news the growing popularity among conservative Catholics of rosary vigils at various events. Catholic rosaries consist of 59 beads that are used to say 53 rote “Hail Mary” prayers to Mary and 6 rote “Our Father” prayers to God. But God’s Word says it’s idolatry to pray to anyone other than God and also forbids rote prayer. Prayer beads were used throughout pagan antiquity.
Long Before Luther
By Nathan Busenitz
Moody Publishers, 2017, 243 pages
There are some people who are attracted to Roman Catholicism because of its long history (often NOT complimentary) and its impressive infrastructure (physical and organizational), ceremonies, and rituals. In worldly terms, evangelicalism in contrast appears to be austere and rootless. Catholic apologists often attempt to exploit this view. This is a real problem at evangelical megachurches where hipster pastors give great attention to their skinny jeans and swag hair cuts and no attention to church and Reformation history. Some evangelical scholars are now attempting to address this charge of evangelical “newfangledness,” like Nathan Busenitz in “Long Before Luther.”
I was looking forward to reading this new book, which advertises that it “(Traces) the Heart of the Gospel from Christ to the Reformation.” I had assumed the author would be examining the pre-Reformers such as Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus. Instead, “Long Before Luther” focuses exclusively on the selected writings of the church “fathers” and medieval Catholic clergymen that seem to support the Reformed doctrines of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, the forensic nature of justification, and the imputed righteousness of Christ. Some of the more frequently cited clerics are John Chrysostom, Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, and Bernard of Clairvaux. Busenitz is careful to mention that other writings from the same men do not always support the Gospel of grace. Catholic apologists often turn to the writings of these very same clerics to support their false gospel of sacramental grace and merit. So the overall argument of this book is that the Reformers hadn’t invented any new doctrines in the 16th century, but had only recovered what had been buried beneath man-made teachings and traditions and that the Gospel witness had never been entirely extinguished by the institutional Roman church. William Webster took the same approach in his book, “The Church of Rome at the Bar of History,” which I briefly reviewed here.
My opinion? It’s impossible to “prove” evangelical doctrine from the church “fathers” or medieval theologians. Their writings were often contradictory and probably, as a whole, supported the Catholic notion of salvation by sacramental grace and merit as much if not more than the Reformers’ teaching of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Believers shouldn’t be alarmed by that. Apostle Paul repeatedly warned in his letters that false shepherds and salvation-by-works Judaizers were already infiltrating the church. I’m grateful that the golden thread of the Gospel can be found throughout church history, but our authority must always be the Word of God and not the “fathers.” Of course, we also know the early Reformers did not immediately remove all Catholic traditions (Luther taught consubstantiation, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and infant baptism) and it would take succeeding generations of Reformers (resulting in denominational multiplication) to remove vestiges of Roman tradition. So, while there is good material in the writings of the “fathers” and especially in the writings of the early Reformers, our standard and rule of faith must always be God’s Word. All that aside, we praise the Lord for raising up the early Reformers who broke from Roman works-righteousness and recovered the New Testament Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
I just noticed the publication of another book which also seeks to address the concern over the rootlessness of evangelicalism: “In Search of Ancient Roots: The Christian Past and the Evangelical Identity Crisis” by Kenneth J. Stewart (IVP Academic, 2017, 304 pages). See a review here. Don’t let the fact that this review was published in semi-apostate Christianity Today stop you. Reviewer, theologian Gregg Allison is pretty solid when it comes to orthodox Christianity and criticism of Catholicism.