By Bob Mcevoy, Belfast, Ireland
Roman Catholicism today has gained for itself a surprising level of acceptability among Evangelicals. This has been achieved, since the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) by a series of moves by the Roman Catholic Church to dupe the 'separated brethren' into renewed fellowship with Rome and eventual union within a single church under the headship of the Pope. These moves have included the Catholic Charismatic movement, where the lowest common denominator for fellowship is an apparent manifestation of so-called spiritual gifts.
The extent of the seduction perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church is staggering. Members of the house-church movement of the seventies claimed to have Roman Catholic priests as their 'shepherds'. The 'March for Jesus' movement sucked evangelicals into a dream of Christians mobilising on the streets to march together in a great witness for Christ, only to find when they arrived at the venue that Roman Catholic representation was heavy at each venue. One Dublin march began with a banner exhorting people to pray to 'Our Lady of Medjogorjje'. There is regular ecumenical contact between members of mainstream Protestant churches and local Roman Catholic churches. This is not simply working together for community issues, but meetings for joint worship.
The culmination of this deception surely came when well-known evangelicals such as J.I.Packer signed a joint declaration in 1994 along with forty other 'Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics' pledging themselves to, "Work together in evangelism as brothers and sisters in Christ, .....called by God to a fuller realisation of our unity in the body of Christ"
The issue of whether we can involve ourselves in joint acts of worship with Roman Catholics must centre on the question of whether we regard the Roman Catholic Church as a Christian church, or as the embodiment of such a distortion of Christian truth that it should properly be regarded as a cult. This is the issue to which we must address our thoughts.
The Roman Catholic doctrinal system is widely divergent from Scripture and from evangelical belief.
We know that the Roman Catholic Church has many beliefs in common with Biblical Christianity, and that in mainland Britain their moral stance on many ethical issues has won admiration and attracted adherents from the more liberal English churches. Yet in the basic doctrines of the faith, the Roman Catholic Church is vastly different from Biblical Christianity. For example, all evangelicals would surely agree that the doctrine of Salvation is so essential to an understanding of how man is reconciled with God that it must be a first consideration in any assessment of whether an organisation is a church or a cult. In the Roman Catholic Church Salvation is obtained by works, and grace is imparted, not through God's gift of Faith in His elect, but through the sacraments. This very difference alone renders impossible any form of common worship between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Yet there are many more serious differences in belief, involving Purgatory, Transubstantiation, the Mass, the Sacraments, etc.
The Roman Catholic Church worships and prays differently from the evangelical practice of worship.
At the time of the Reformation, one of the actions of the Reformers was to rid the churches of the trappings of Roman Catholic worship. The Roman Catholic Church has not changed. Roman Catholic worship still involves holy water, veneration of the saints, penance, stations of the cross, etc. Mariolatry is not only the official practice of the Roman Catholic Church, but is the focus of the personal crusade of [the former] pope. Roman Catholics will say that they do not worship Mary, but that they do consider her to be blessed among women. Nevertheless, Roman Catholic dogma insists that Mary is the MEDIATRIX, the one who will stand before God the Father, and urge Him to answer our prayers! This is blatantly usurping the work of Christ, our Great High Priest. (Hebrews 7-10)
So the 'mechanics' of Roman Catholic prayer, i.e. the way that prayer 'works' is again totally different from our Biblical understanding of prayer and Christ's intercessory work. It must be obvious, even from these scant examples, that Roman Catholic worship is totally incompatible with the simple Biblical worship of the Protestant believer. Some people will argue, "But don't we all worship the same God?" The same thing might have been said of the Jews of Jesus' day, yet when confronted by the most religious of them, Jesus said, "Ye are of your father the devil". (John 8:44) In fact none of us are the children of God, nor can we worship God until we are born again of God's Holy Spirit.
However, there are still more (practical) reasons why Evangelicals should desist from meeting in worship with Roman Catholics.
We cannot hope to see our Roman Catholic neighbours won for Christ, if it appears that we are condoning the religious system in which they are presently entrapped.
Our objective as evangelicals is to win our neighbours for the Lord. Would we encourage Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses to be saved if we joined with them in worship, or marched through the streets with them in 'joint witness'? After all, both of these groups claim to be Christian Churches. Why should we treat Roman Catholics any differently than any other aberration of 'Christianity'? Would we not be better to point out to our Roman Catholic friends, in love, and concern for their souls, the inadequacy of their church to save, and point them to Christ.
We ought to encourage Born Again Roman Catholics to seek evangelical fellowship, in a church where the Gospel of free grace is preached.
In the interest of continuing Christian Growth in a newly saved Roman Catholic person, we should encourage that person to seek fellowship in a Bible believing, evangelical church. This means for them, a complete break with Rome, and we should do nothing that would hinder them in that difficult decision.
To worship with unbelievers is to deny the requirement of Holiness among God's people.
There is a requirement upon God's people to 'Be holy, as I am Holy'. Holiness implies separation, although not necessarily physical separation. Contact is always needed for evangelism, and Jesus often went to places where sinners were, to bring them the message of New Life. We should befriend our Roman Catholic neighbours and live out our Christian lives before them as a testimony to God's saving grace. But we should certainly practice spiritual separation from corrupt practices of worship and we should seriously consider whether we can remain within organisations which promote joint worship with non-evangelical churches. (2Cor 6:17)
To pray with Roman Catholics is to recognise their church's claim to be a true Christian denomination.
At a recent ecumenical prayer breakfast at Armagh, attended by such a notable figure as Rev. Martyn Smith, Grand Master of the Orange Order, participants were invited on the basis of their being 'Christian Leaders'. To attend such an event and to worship together with Roman Catholic leaders is to implicitly recognise that their church is a fully acceptable Christian church. It is not.
To meet in prayer meetings with Roman Catholics will simply compromise our evangelical faith, for the Roman Catholic Church will not change.
In all its ecumenical dialogue, the Roman Catholic Church has never changed. Thirty years after Vatican 2, there is still no change in official Roman Catholic belief. To do so, even in the area of salvation, would be to admit that the church has been in error for many years, and such an admission is unlikely, as it would directly challenge the 'infallibility' of the pope. Therefore in every dialogue with Rome, evangelicals will make concessions, and the real issues of belief will be fudged or avoided.
A word of caution.
It is obvious that the evangelical credentials of any Born Again Christian who knowingly worships with Roman Catholics are seriously compromised. Yet the key is the word knowingly. There are many people who will find themselves at a civic ceremony, or a funeral service (although a thoughtful Christian will never agree to be present at a mass) or some other occasion where Roman Catholics are present, and where prayer is offered. At such an occasion, the true believer will occupy himself with his own thoughts, and maintain a dignified attitude of reverence.
Those evangelicals who willingly and knowingly go along to places where ecumenical services involving Roman Catholics are being convened, fully intending to accept the Roman church as a Christian Church, and to pray and worship with them as equals do disservice to their faith, violate the Holiness of the believer and leave converted Roman Catholics who have done the right thing and departed from the evil system, feeling betrayed and confused. We would do well to remember the words of Christ, (Matthew 18:6) "...But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. "
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