WRF Member Rich Mouw Comments on Getting "Help from our Reformed Past" in Discussing Relations with the Roman Catholic Church
The issues, pro and con, on our relationship as Calvinist believers to present day Catholicism, have been laid out quite clearly in recent blogs. I will not add to the substantive arguments here.
I only want to point us to some examples of three Calvinist voices from the past who, while clearly opposed to the officials teachings of the Roman Church of their day, nonetheless refused simply to condemn Catholicism as such.
First, John Calvin himself. As a Reformation leader, he nonetheless insisted that he could not bring himself to “deprive the papists of those traces of the church which the Lord willed should among them survive the destruction” of biblical thought. Thus, says Calvin, “the Lord wonderfully preserves” within the Catholic church “a remnant of his people, however woefully dispersed and scattered.” This remnant preserves “those marks whose effectiveness neither the devil’s wiles nor human depravity can destroy.” From Institutes, IV, II, 11 and 12.
Second, the great Charles Spurgeon, who regularly preached against Catholic views regarding salvation. Here he describes a recent visit that his wife and he had made to Belgium:
In Brussels, I heard a good sermon in a Romish church. The place was crowded with people, many of them standing, though they might have had a seat for a halfpenny or a farthing; and I stood, too; and the good priest -- for I believe he is a good man, -- preached the Lord Jesus with all his might. He spoke of the love of Christ, so that I, a very poor hand at the French language, could fully understand him, and my heart kept beating within me as he told of the beauties of Christ, and the preciousness of His blood, and of His power to save the chief of sinners. He did not say, 'justification by faith,' but he did say, 'efficacy of the blood,' which comes to very much the same thing. He did not tell us we were saved by grace, and not by our works; but he did say that all the works of men were less than nothing when brought into competition with the blood of Christ, and that the blood of Jesus alone could save. True, there were objectionable sentences, as naturally there must be in a discourse delivered under such circumstances; but I could have gone to the preacher, and have said to him, “Brother, you have spoken the truth;” and if I had been handling the text, I must have treated it in the same way that he did, if I could have done it as well. I was pleased to find my own opinion verified, in his case, that there are, even in the apostate church, some who cleave unto the Lord, -- some sparks of Heavenly fire that flicker amidst the rubbish of old superstition, some lights that are not blown out, even by the strong wind of Popery, but still cast a feeble gleam across the waters sufficient to guide the soul to the rock Christ Jesus.
This testimony by Spurgeon comes from a book assembling alleged evidence of Spurgeon’s departures from biblical orthodoxy: Geese In Their Hoods: Selected Writings on Roman Catholicism by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, compiled & edited by Timothy Kauffman.
Third example, from Herman Bavinck, who upheld Reformed orthodoxy in the 19th century Netherlands.
[W]e must remind ourselves that the Catholic righteousness by good works is vastly preferable to a protestant righteousness by good doctrine. At least righteousness by good works benefits one’s neighbor, whereas righteousness by good doctrine only produces lovelessness and pride. Furthermore, we must not blind ourselves to the tremendous faith, genuine repentance, complete surrender and the fervent love for God and neighbor evident in the lives and work of many Catholic Christians.” Herman Bavinck, The Certainty of Faith.
Those of us who have come to accept so many of our Catholic friends—and many of the leaders of post-Vatican II Catholicism—as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can claim sold support from our Reformed past!
Tags: Rich Mouw John Calvin Charles Spurgeon Herman Bavinck Roman Catholicism Reformed Add new comment Your name Davi Gomes
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