Baptist pastors in my neck of the woods will sometimes preach warning sermons on the errors of “Roman Catholicism.” The pastor will stand up and repeat the silly talk he heard in seminary about how Catholics worship Mary, the saints, statues, and pretty much everybody and everything but God. He will thunder against the nonexistent Catholic belief that a second chance at salvation, called “purgatory,” is extended to people after they die. He will rail against that supposed Catholic doctrine of “works righteousness.” And he will then sometimes point to certain members of the congregation who, by the grace of God, have escaped the “false Roman system” and have been born again. The pastor himself, in some cases, may be one of those people.
This kind of testimony, the “I was a member of the false, perverted cult known as Roman Catholicism” story, is generally given a great deal of credence in Evangelical circles. After all, why should we not believe someone who actually bought into those false doctrines before they got saved?
I know a woman who was raised in a predominantly Methodist family. In her youth she was indifferent to religious issues, but as she reached middle age she experienced a profound conversion. Her devotion to God grew by leaps and bounds when she discovered the charismatic movement. She was fond of telling people that Methodists had no concept of the Holy Spirit. Thank God she had found the truth in the charismatic assemblies she attended! If only Methodists knew about God the Holy Spirit – what a difference this would make to their theology!
That woman was a relative of mine, and she was very sincere in her belief that the Methodist church was completely ignorant when it came to the third Person of the Trinity. Of course, any Methodist with some theological background could have set her straight on that – John Wesley’s “The Witness of the Spirit,” “The First Fruits of the Spirit,” “The More Excellent Way,” and “Scriptural Christianity” come to mind. But by that point she no longer consorted with theologically knowledgeable Methodists. All her friends were now charismatics, most of whom also spoke disdainfully (and generally not too terribly knowledgeably) about the denominations they had left behind. It is not the Methodist denomination that has a deficient theological understanding of the Holy Spirit; it was my relative who had a deficient understanding of the Holy Spirit when she was a Methodist.
This needs to be borne in mind when one considers the number of former Catholics ready to swear on a stack of Bibles that they never heard the Gospel in the Catholic Church. I would be willing to grant them that – they never HEARD the Gospel in the Catholic Church. But I guarantee you, the Gospel was being preached. It is impossible for a Catholic parish not to preach the Gospel, as long as that parish sticks to the liturgy, for the liturgy contains all the elements of the Gospel. A youth minister at a Baptist church my daughter was visiting made the remark that, as a former Catholic, he had never been exposed to Bible stories when he was growing up. The loud snort issuing forth from my daughter’s nose caused several worshippers around her to nearly drop their King James Bibles. She had just come from Mass and had sat through several rather longish readings including the story of Moses striking the rock, a Psalm, a reading from St. Paul, and then the Gospel story of the woman at the well – pretty typical readings for a normal Catholic Mass. When she got home, she asked me, “What exactly was that guy doing when he attended Mass???” Not listening, that’s for sure.
The Internet appears to be full of stories by former priests and nuns who would have us believe that they were never exposed to a word of Holy Scripture till they became “Bible-believing Christians.” This, despite the fact that Catholics priests as well as members of male and female religious orders are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours (click on the tabs at the top of the page which say “Invitatory Prayer,” Office of Readings,” “Morning Prayer,” “Daytime Prayer,” “Evening Prayer” and “Night Prayer” to see how much Scripture is involved). One would assume that these folks might attend Mass with some regularity as well. Between the two, it’s pretty obvious that they would be exposed to a considerable chunk of Scripture on a daily basis. What accounts for the discrepancy? I don’t care to speculate, but as they say, you do the math. There’s simply no way that they were never exposed to the Bible….
So, take these “I escaped the horrors of the false Romanist system” stories with a grain of salt. If you really want to know what the Catholic Church teaches, get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – it’s all right there in black-and-white. If you want to know how much Scripture is actually read at Mass, visit the nearest Catholic parish some Sunday morning. It never hurts to check things out for yourself!
On the memorial of St. Peter Claver
Deo omnis gloria!