Letter to a Roman Catholic Lady

March 17, 2019 | by James M. Harrison

Letter to a Roman Catholic Lady

I was reading through some old correspondence and came across this letter responding to a woman who had attended our Ladies Bible Study for a short time. She ceased to attend after sending a letter expressing offense which she had taken over something I had said in regard to the Roman Catholic Church. This was my response. Obviously, all identifying material has been removed for reasons of confidentiality.

Dear _________,

Thank you for your letter and for your kind words about the Bible Study. I hope you will continue to join us, but that is, of course, your own decision to make. The unwillingness to hear other points of view without taking personal offense is one of the unfortunate characteristics of our age. That being said, allow me to respond to some of the statements contained in your letter.

You say that you were shocked at what you found on the internet regarding negative comments about the Catholic faith. This is no surprise to me at all. You ought not be shocked, and you ought not be shocked for at least two reasons. The first concerns the substance, and the second concerns the form.

First, the Protestant Reformation happened 500 years ago for important and substantial reasons, and those issues still exist. They are important, profound, and worthy of ongoing discussion, and yes, debate.

The second reason you should not be shocked at what you found concerns the form, or perhaps better, the tone. The internet, though a rich resource of all kinds of profitable material, is also a forum for the worst kinds of vitriol concerning every conceivable subject. Anyone can publish anything they wish. Writing a comment on someone’s blog, or creating one’s own website on which to publish one’s writings, says nothing about one’s credibility or intellectual ability. I assure you that the same kind of statements exist, written by Roman Catholics about Protestants. No one has a corner on incivility. But I would no sooner attribute the statements of random Roman Catholics to Catholicism than you should attribute the statements of random Protestants going the other way.

The internet aside, you ask, “Why would they spend the time indulging in an attack on another religion?” Let me rephrase your question so that we can get to the heart of the matter while agreeing to deplore a tone which is no more than an “attack”. The more important issue is this: Why would someone spend their time pointing out the differences in another religion? The answer is very simple. It is because truth matters, and truth matters particularly when issues of the gospel are concerned.

In Acts 17, when the apostle Paul was preaching to the Athenian philosophers, he did not say, “I’m ok. You’re ok. Let’s all just get along.” He said that they worship in ignorance, and he was there to proclaim the truth to them. Likewise, throughout the history of the church, not everyone who called themselves “Christian” was regarded as a Christian. There is such a thing as false teaching, and, yes, heresy.

The fact is, ____________, there are significant differences between Roman Catholicism and what I consider to be Biblical Christianity. You might not like to hear that, but nevertheless, that is the case. The Reformation occurred over real issues, not semantics. I am not talking here about popular mischaracterizations. I’m talking about official dogma, doctrine, and pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church.

As an example, let’s go directly to the most important difference. It is not the Pope, or Mary, or Purgatory. It concerns the gospel itself. I believe that Scripture clearly teaches that one is saved by the grace of God alone, through faith in Christ alone, apart from any kind of works, merit, or righteousness of ours. This is the doctrine of Justification by Faith.

I believe this to be the consistent teaching of Scripture. Here are just a few verses which clearly teach this:

Romans 3:28 – “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law…”

Romans 4:5 – “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned to him as righteousness.”

Romans 11:6 – “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

And yet, ____________, the Roman Catholic Council of Trent, sitting from 1545-1563 declared,

CANON 9: “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 12: “If any one shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy pardoning sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is that confidence alone by which we are justified … let him be accursed”

There are many other Canons that go on in that same vein. You must admit, that is pretty strong language. It is at least equal to anything that you might read or hear from Protestants. The difference between what you found on the internet and what I’ve quoted above, is that these quotes are not from some random guy with an internet account. They are the declarations of an official, authoritative council of the Roman Catholic Church. In these statements, Trent describes very accurately what I believe the Bible to teach, declaring the one who believes this to be “anathema”, or “accursed”.

Yes, I am quite familiar with Scott Hahn and others who have converted to Catholicism. I have read their writings, listened to them speak, and yet, here I am, unmoved. I could provide you with a much more lengthy and impressive list of people who have moved from Catholicism to Protestantism. My church is full of them.

In the end, what this person or that person has done doesn’t matter. As I said before, what matters is truth. What has God said? What does the Word of God, the Bible, teach? I believe that the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church are in conflict at very important points. It is my responsibility, as a minister of Jesus Christ and of God’s word, to both proclaim the truth, and to warn God’s people concerning error. It would be a most unloving act to remain silent for the sake of “niceness” or some kind of superficial unity when the gospel is at stake. I would expect nothing less from the Roman Catholic side.

In fact, in 2007, Benedict issued a document entitled, “Response to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspect of the Doctrine of the Church”, that caused a firestorm of controversy. In that document, Benedict stated that churches born out of the Reformation “cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called ‘Churches’ in the proper sense.” Many took great offense to this. I thought it was great. I will applaud anytime someone stands up and speaks forthrightly about what they believe to be true. At least then we have a basis upon which to discuss and debate the matter. There is far too little of that today. Instead, everyone is afraid to give offense, and people take offense far too quickly and easily.

Well, I’ve gone on far too long, I’m sure. Let me conclude by saying that you are always welcome here at Red Mills. You will, undoubtedly, hear things from time to time with which you will disagree. I’m not sure why that should cause anyone a problem. It should cause us to ask why there is disagreement, and to pursue the truth of the matter. To that end, if you would like to pursue these issues, either face to face, by email, or letter, I would be more than happy to do so.

In any case, I wish God’s best for you, whatever your decision.

In Pursuit of His Glory,

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