WE live in remarkable days. In past centuries, notably from the sixteenth century onwards, our fellow-countrymen have, to a very considerable extent, held strong views about religious matters. Tolerance, a tolerance increased by the growth of world-commitments, appears to be a national characteristic of the Englishman, but, even so, in times past he held decided views about such matters as the Lord's Day, Romanism, and education. Hence the contrast between British and Continental Sundays, the 'No Popery' cry which was raised from time to time, and the incorporation of 'religious instruction' in the curriculum of schools maintained or assisted by the State.
Granted that much worldliness has always been evident; granted that certain elements in the population have scarcely held even to a form of godliness, much less to true godliness; yet the nation as a whole has been God-fearing in the broad sense of the term, and has held in the main to what is conveniently known as Protestantism. Not that at every period since the Reformation this has been clearly and obviously the case; the rebound from the strictness of political Puritanism after the Restoration of 1660 was very marked, and the days of the early Georges were unhappily characterised by the growth of Deism and Latitudinarianism. Yet, by and large, we have been for generations a Protestant nation, and from our shores godly evangelists have journeyed with the Word to the uttermost parts of the earth. We have seen Biblical commands and prophesies thus fulfilled to the letter before our wondering eyes.
The mid-twentieth century, alas, has witnessed a tremendous spiritual landslide. It threatened two or three generations ago. First appearing as a cloud little bigger than a man's hand, it spread with startling rapidity until almost the entire sky was black with a new form of infidelity .The renowned C. H. Spurgeon of the Metropolitan Tabernacle set his face resolutely against it- the Downgrade Controversy of the eighteen-eighties is witness to that-but the gathering clouds of his day soon resulted in the disastrous deluge which he had so clearly foreseen. It was as though he was warned of God of things not seen, or hardly seen, as yet. But the 'Christian world' paid little heed. The landmarks of ancient time were eliminated and novel doctrines which our fathers knew not spread apace.
The advent of Modernism and theological Liberalism augured ill for the professed Churches of God. Men sprang up from within the Churches whose aim was to rend accepted doctrine to shreds and to fraternise with the world. The authority and inspiration of Scripture, and much weighty doctrine crystallized in the various Creeds and Confessions, were all but repudiated. Sometimes correct phraseology was retained but given a new and explosive content. In the outcome the nation as well as the church of God was deeply affected. It could not be otherwise. In matters religious, the nation began to live on its saved-up spiritual capital and this was soon expended. Leaders in Church and State alike praised forefathers in the faith but gave little credence to their teachings. Thus John Bunyan received the honour of a stained-glass window in a national shrine, but it would not be easy to prove that the doctrine for which the Bedford tinker stood and served prison sentence received any favour in the pulpit adjacent to the memorial.
Shortly and inevitably, as surely as night follows day, nothing-arianism succeeded latitudinarianism. Men in the mass forsook spiritual beliefs and spiritual religion. Congregations shrank numerically. Chapels and church buildings were increasingly forsaken. In some cases, perhaps in many, the twos and threes who survived felt unable to face the responsibilities of the position and to man the few bastions which remained; in consequence some buildings became derelict, soon to pass into mercantile hands for non-spiritual purposes. Nationally, science, pleasure, sport on an ever-increasing scale, vanity, sordid sin, lust for entertainment, and much else indicative of complete worldliness, became the fashion. Honest labour and its appropriate rewards became matters of endless contention between employers, unions, and workers. Men became aggressively materialistic in outlook and attached less and less value to Bible teachings. The authority of the Word was cast off like an outworn suit of clothes. Evolution drove Creation out of education and the schools. 'Christ was a child of His age', 'That's only what Paul said', were sayings heard time and again as the godly quoted Gospel and Epistle, only to be rebuffed by unbelievers. Scoffers multiplied too as scientists poured out their theories and boasted of their achievements. Old Testament Scripture in particular was jettisoned by the many as an outmoded relic of unenlightened days, fitted to go the way of other outworn philosophies. Possibly, with the idealists, the Sermon on the Mount was here and there acclaimed as the standard of conduct at which men should aim; but belief in divine revelation, resurrection, redemption by 'the precious blood of Christ', atonement by the wondrous unrepeatable work of Calvary, justification by faith as taught by the Reformers, and regeneration by the sole work of the Holy Spirit of God-these and truths like them were scouted as teachings unsuited to modern intellects, useful to the ancients, useless to the moderns. We live in the twentieth century, not in the sixteenth, was an oft-heard saying. The agelessness of Divine truth, and the permanence of God's revelation, were neither recognised nor revered.
The Roman Church, ancient institution as it is, has taken full advantage of this regrettable situation. As Protestantism and religious sanity have decayed, Romanism has advanced its claims and paraded its credentials. Its widespread officers, and indeed its members one and all, have been enlisted as for a crusade. Its progress in recent days is undeniable. This may seem strange in view of the scientific outlook of the age and the mediaeval character of much that is found in Romanism. If Protestantism is outmoded, why does not Romanism shrink and fade also? If science invalidates the Protestant witness, why does it not also put Romanism to flight? The answer is not far to seek. If men repudiate truth, they are in danger of receiving a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie (2 Thess. 2.11: 'the strong working of error that they should believe THE lie'). And furthermore, there is a glamour about Romanism which delights the natural man, and at the same time hoodwinks him. It caters for the natural senses. It provides splashes of colour to please the eye. The ear is entertained with the melodious. There is an appeal to the sense of the aesthetic. The chief representative of Rome claims to fill the most ancient of 'thrones'; he dominates the ecclesiastical world like a colossus. He goes on pilgrimage and the world wonders after him. He greets the Jewish and Moslem and Orthodox communities as one who seeks their highest interests not only in this world but in that which is to come. He continually lifts his hands in supposed blessing. At the same time he claims to exercise a universal kingship conferred on him by high heaven.
The natural man is undeniably attracted by so marvellous a phenomenon. The antiquity of the Church centred on the ancient Tiber leads him to equate the timelessness of Bible truth with the travesty of that truth for which Rome stands. Here, he supposes, as he looks around for stability in a chaotic world, is an institution which has stood the test of twenty centuries and which stands like the rock of ages in this surging world of change. Surely, he thinks to himself, here is the church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail, the holy temple unto God which has the marks of eternity upon it. Are not its priests ubiquitous? Do not all the continents echo its solemn chants? Have not many and great kings of old time worshipped before its altars, and bowed their necks to its yoke? Have they not assisted its embassies to reach out to the ends of the habitable earth, so that men of all races might be caused to render obedience to the 'Vicar of Christ'?
Secular newspapers take up the Roman cause and succumb to papal blandishments. One of no mean repute, hitherto supposedly nonconformist in sympathy rather than Anglican or Romanist, strangely suggests the revival of the habit of pilgrimage to holy places. Another almost openly advocates the reunion of Christendom, which would virtually mean (and who would or could deny it?) the exaltation of the Pope to world leadership in the religious sphere, the position he undeniably claims and to which, as a thoroughly practical issue, he undoubtedly aspires.
Local ministerial fraternals and church councils all too frequently follow the national and fashionable line. The priests of Rome, in their various local charges, are instructed by their superiors that the time is ripe for action, and that shortly the various Protestant Churches, with few exceptions, will fall into the lap of the Vatican like so many ripe plums. Let the priests, therefore, accept membership of the fraternals, an act hitherto forbidden them, and invite Protestants to their ceremonials. Let them invite and encourage Protestants, in the name of unity, to attend Mass, to see for themselves how delightful it is for long- divided brethren to dwell together in a Roman unity. Such is the specious plea which reaches professed ministers of the Gospel, and many, alas, heed the voice of the charmer. To refuse the 4 overtures of friendship is esteemed by the majority to be an affront to an ancient and highly respected world-church. Is not Rome changing? Do not high officers of the Protestant Churches visit and exchange presents with her Pontiff? Have not her words of umbrage and bitter sorrow been replaced by the most friendly of greetings, and the ancient 'heretics' assumed a new character as 'separated brethren'? Have not winds of change blown through St. Peter's itself, and made a wondrous difference to the atmosphere of that ancient shrine? Is it not rumoured in Rome and Canterbury alike that the altars of the two Churches are closely akin?
Rome doubtless smiles to herself as she sees the naivety with which so many of the 'separated brethren' fall for her claims. Until now it has been high church dignitaries who have sponsored the approaches to the Vatican, though the leaven of Romanism has been working powerfully at parish church level. It is now abundantly evident that the rot has reached the rank and file of such as retain church and chapel connections. Only here and there do faithful souls and congregations bear witness to the truth of the Word and stand out uncompromisingly against the specious error.
By means of the Bible Christian Unity Fellowship we desire to strengthen the hands of the true people of 'the only true God'. We wish to let them know what Rome stands for; she hides many of her teachings from Protestant view at the present time. If she addresses Protestants by the radio or other means she does not speak of purgatory, of penance, of the worship of Mary, of transubstantiation, of indulgences, of papal infallibility .She normally holds these and similar teachings in the background and brings into prominence teachings which seem to the Protestant to be marvellously akin to what he has already known. Thus is he enticed. Like the enchantress in the Book of Proverbs she prevails: "With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him. He goeth after her suddenly as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks".
The second part of this article is intended to fulfil the purpose of showing what Rome's official teachings really are. It states them concisely and simply, and without any elaborate attempt to show how they are inconsistent with, and indeed highly hostile to, Scripture truth. The clear statement of them should be sufficient to warn true believers against them. Who, with the Scripture in his hands, cannot but see the vast difference between Romanism and truth? The people of the Lord should not be ignorant of Satan and his devices. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, or it should be. Certainly we need the whole armour of God. So subtle is the foe-and Rome's subtlety is proverbial-that, if any part of our armour is lacking, he will press his attack precisely at that point. The enemy knows how to plan a campaign, and how to launch his attacks where defences are weakest. Let us be resolved to war a good warfare, seeking as good soldiers of Jesus Christ to fight the good fight of faith and so lay hold on eternal life. Let us not forget that the national and 'ecclesiastical' position of the generations of the future hinges, under God, on the stand we make.
Christ alone is our Captain. Captains by the thousand may fill the hostile camp, but if we fight on the side of Christ, one is capable of overthrowing a thousand and two of putting ten thousand to flight. We make our boast in the Lord and not in ourselves. Of strength to fight we have none of our own. It is He who nerves our arm for the war. Courage and skill and ability to stand, alike come to us from Him. But fight we must if we would prevail. Shame upon us if we have no witness to bear for the Lord or if we prefer slothful ease! How dare we patch up 'an inglorious peace'?
"The foe is stem and eager,
The fight is fierce and long;
But Thou hast made us mighty,
And stronger than the strong".
LOOK OUT FOR PART TWO : THE DOCTRINAL ERRORS OF ROMANISM