In inviting Roman Catholic leaders to speak at its autumn seminars commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Union Theological College of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) raises a number of serious historical, doctrinal, confessional and spiritual issues.
Rome excommunicated the Reformers, slew the martyrs and repeatedly anathematised (ie, cursed) the blessed Reformation gospel of Jesus Christ at its Council of Trent (1545-1563).
In the last five centuries, Rome has continued to promulgate the same false doctrines — without reforming any of them! — that Martin Luther in Germany, and others throughout Europe and the British Isles, faithfully exposed: its money-grubbing indulgences; its sacramental system, which dispenses well-nigh automatic grace to all partakers and adds unscriptural sacraments; its soul-destroying heresy of justification before God by man’s own will and works; its idolatry, including praying to angels and saints; its Christ-dishonouring papacy; etc.
Rome has even increased its heresies since the Reformation through its unbiblical claim that Mary was conceived without original sin (1854) and its pretence that the pope is infallible (1870).
Moreover, modern Rome is filled with higher criticism of Holy Scripture, liberal theology, evolutionism and political correctness.
Its scandalous failure in church discipline regarding priests who sexually abused children, particularly boys, in countries all around the world for decades is well known.
If the PCI is really interested in the Reformation, it should imitate Luther and the other Reformers by courageously setting forth in pulpit and print the truth of the Bible, and refuting the lie (including Rome), without any compromise.
The power of God’s authoritative Word must be elevated far above man’s vain words, and the liberating fear of God must drive out the crippling fear of man.
The PCI, like Luther, must teach the truth of original sin, including man’s radical inward sinfulness, lust and pride; the bondage of man’s will and its freedom by sovereign grace alone; the non-imputation of sins and the reckoning of those ungodly in themselves as righteousness before God, based only upon Christ’s substitutionary sufferings and perfect obedience, and received by faith alone; God’s eternal, unconditional predestination; etc.
The PCI must follow Luther’s insistence on thorough instruction of the children of the church so that they know the Holy Scriptures, and memorise the catechism and know what it means. The Reformation honoured God’s infallible Word and was creedal, so it called parents to keep their baptismal vows to train their children in the Christian faith.
Also church discipline should be exercised upon all in the PCI who remain impenitent in their sins, including false ecumenists with Rome; female ministers, elders and deacons; modernists; theistic evolutionists; etc. Holy Scripture, as summed in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, must be its standard not only for church discipline but also for doctrine, worship, sacraments, church unity, seminary training, etc.
Martin Luther, who wrote the 95 Theses which began the Reformation, was a hard working, highly gifted professor of the theological faculty at the University of Wittenberg.
As such, he laboured to bring biblical reform not only to theology, preaching, catechising, the church, marriage, the home, etc., but also to the university.
The Reformation was of the same spirit as Professor Luther, who declared in his Heidelberg Disputation (1518), “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is” (Thesis 21).
In academia, at university and before students for the ministry too!
So why does Union Theological College give a platform to Roman Catholic speakers at its seminars on the Reformation? Is it merely window dressing? And/or a matter of academic respectability? And/or an exercise in political correctness? And/or to satisfy the PCI’s false ecumenists?
Is one to suppose that presentations by the subjects of the pope will promote the biblical doctrines of Martin Luther or encourage a thorough-going, scriptural reformation of the PCI?
Will this really serve to rally people to the truth of the Reformation or will it simply further the fudge and deformation of the denomination, and confuse Presbyterians? “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Cor. 14:8).
Furthermore, what does this say about the biblical and Reformed gospel to those in Roman Catholicism? Will they not conclude that, if the PCI’s Union Theological College invites speakers who reject the Reformation, the theological and spiritual differences between Rome and Protestantism cannot be very many or very serious?
The crucial issue is the same now as it was half a millennium ago.
Fatally, Rome encourages and requires its people to trust in themselves, their own works, Mary, the saints, the Roman church and its sacraments for salvation, rather than the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ alone — the incarnate, crucified and risen Son of God!
Thus it presents a deceptive substitute for the God-given, all-sufficient Redeemer, making salvation and its comforting assurance impossible, and opening wide the gates of hell.
Rev Angus Stewart, Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, Ballymena