Those who follow news about the Roman Catholic church have noticed the many stories this month about joint Catholic-Lutheran prayer services being held nationwide in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Here in Rochester, N.Y., a joint service will be held on October 29th at the Catholic diocesan cathedral, presided over by the local Catholic and Lutheran (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – ELCA) bishops. See article below.
As the early Christian church became increasingly institutionalized, error and anti-Biblical traditions were continuously introduced. By the Middle Ages, the church was almost completely apostate. The Holy Spirit raised up Martin Luther and the other 16th-century Reformers to recover the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone that was preached by the apostles and the New Testament church. Rome immediately condemned the Reformation and sought to squelch it by ANY means. Lines were drawn. Protestant believers and Catholics opposed each other for the souls of men and women for 450 years.
At the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, Rome reversed itself and determined that a more conciliatory approach toward the “separated brethren” would reap greater results. Catholicism still preaches the same false gospel of sacramental grace and merit that it did in the 16th century, but now grants that Luther may have had some legitimate grievances regarding the selling of indulgences, etc. Rome proclaims that, like Protestants, it also preaches a gospel of “grace” and “faith,” but how it defines those terms is completely different compared to Biblical Christianity. Many of the old, mainline Protestant denominations (including the ELCA) drifted into liberalism and apostasy long ago and now preach a social gospel. Embracing Catholicism is no big deal for them because they also embrace every sort of religion – from Islam to Buddhism – as legitimate “pathways” to (g)od (just as Catholicism does).
In light of the approaching joint prayer service planned by Rochester’s Catholics and ELCA Lutherans, I’m reminded of an episode from my past, but first, a little background.
I served as an altar boy at our Catholic parish church from 5th through 8th grade (1966-1970). The pastor was a very formal, aloof person who showed no warmth or kindness to us altar boys. In hindsight and in consideration of the church-wide cases of pedophilia at the time that would surface decades later, I’m actually grateful the priest kept his distance. One late afternoon, I entered into the church “sacristy” to prepare to serve at the 5PM mass. The priest was kneeling in prayer as was his habit before mass. As I walked past him, on my way to the room where the altar boys put on their cassocks and prepared for mass, I respectfully said, “Good evening, Father.” The priest annoyingly replied back, “Good AFTERNOON.” Ho, what fun! After that, I made it a point to say “Good evening” to the priest every time I entered the church for 5PM mass, and he always made a point of correcting me with a “Good AFTERNOON.” Loosen up, “father.” Great fun for a young teenage boy!
Anyway, let’s get to my point! One day in late summer of 1968, I entered the sacristy for altar service and for some reason the old priest was more talkative than usual. In fact, it’s the only time we had a conversation in my four years as an altar boy that I can recall. Somehow the subject came up that my family and I had attended my cousin, Beverly’s wedding over the weekend (on August 24th to be precise*). The old priest inquired where the wedding ceremony had taken place and I innocently replied, at Hope Lutheran Church on the other side of town. Well, you would have thought I had slapped the priest across the face with both hands from the look on his face! Prior to Vatican II, Catholics were strictly forbidden from entering a Protestant church, upon pain of mortal sin and eternal damnation. The priest evidently was out of the loop and had not been made aware of the church’s new conciliatory, ecumenical approach, but he soon would be. Maybe a year later, I was sitting in church with my family at mass and one of the hymns on the program was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” written by heretic, Martin Luther. I remember my mother being completely flabbergasted when she heard this Protestant hymn in a Catholic church. My, how things had changed!
Fifty-years later, Rome continues to gather the “separated brethren” unto itself. Some “evangelical” pastors and para-church leaders have unfortunately heeded Rome’s call. Praise the Lord for all those who continue to uphold the Gospel of grace and who reach out to Roman Catholics with the Good News! of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Rochester Catholics, Lutherans note unity with prayer service
Postscript: This ex-Catholic saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone has a “silly” rhetorical question: Prior to Vatican II, Rome had taught that it was a mortal sin for a Catholic to worship at a Protestant church. So what happened to all the Catholics who worshipped at a Protestant church and died and went to hell prior to Vatican II? Did they all receive a “Get out of hell free” card after Vatican II?
*The only reason I know the exact date of my cousin’s wedding is from a newspaper clipping via an internet search. Hope Lutheran Church belonged to the conservative evangelical Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) in 1968, and still does. The church continues to preach the Good News! Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. I attended a funeral service for my aunt a couple of months ago, and the presiding minister was from Hope Lutheran Church and he gave a wonderful, Gospel message. Cousin Bev and her family still worship at the church, fifty years after her wedding there. Unfortunately, some in the LCMS leadership are now also reaching out to Rome.