Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Roman Catholicism’ Category

The following is from the “Suffering Savior” series:

The cup, by the way, is more than a simple reminder. I must confess, I am not totally satisfied with Zwingli’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper. It is the common interpretation that is practiced in evangelical churches. They think that the Lord’s Supper, most of us have been taught this, the Lord’s Supper is a simple memorial of what Jesus Christ did. I think it is a memorial of what Jesus Christ did, but I think it is more than that. I think it must be more than that because in a memorial, the emphasis is upon what we do. And in this sense, that interpretation has the same disadvantages that the Roman Catholic interpretation has. For Catholics, man offers a sacrifice to God in the sacrifice of the mass. For Zwinglians, for evangelicals, for you, man reminds himself of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and gives thanks for it and publicly identifies himself as a Christian, and so it is man centered, this interpretation.

I am inclined to think that we should, in our observance of the Lord’s Supper, lay a great deal more stress upon the fact that the cup, which speaks of the new covenant, is more than a simple reminder. It is a visible token, the absolute guarantee. It is the seal given by God that our sins and iniquities, he will remember no more. And so, when I think of the cup, as given by Jesus Christ to me, it is a kind of guarantee that the covenant which he has made and accomplished in his blood, is going to be carried out for me. And I can rejoice in the salvation that is surely and definitely to be mine. Therefore, I like to put that stress upon the observance of the Lord’s Supper.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

(Reposted from 3/17/2009)

Was St. Patrick a Baptist preacher?  W.A. Criswell thought so.  See here for full page transcript of the sermon.  The first link has the audio.

Former Roman Catholic priest Richard Bennett thinks similarly as well.  Last year Bennett was interviewed on this subject by Chris Arnzen on his program Iron Sharpens Iron.  (The preceding link is directly to the mp3 file.)

Richard Bennett also has similar material on his own site, Berean Beacon. Here is a video that Berean Beacon produced on “The Real St. Patrick.”

“We have strong reasons for regarding St. Patrick as a Baptist missionary, and beyond contradiction his baptism was immersion.”

– The Baptist Encyclopedia: Edited by William Cathcart. (1883) pp. 886-7

Read Full Post »

Your humble correspondent has long feared that some of the well known evangelical signatories to this document have at various times and to varying degrees pursued religion as a way to achieve political ends by other means.  It appears that my worst fears may be realized.

I make that statement not to necessarily call their genuine Christianity into question, but to question their judgment.  In recent decades, when there has been an opportunity for evangelicals to cooperate for some political end with those who confess another gospel, too often the gospel has received the short shrift.  After all, it’s much easier to attract large numbers for the sake of some political cause (however laudable) than it is to attract them with the gospel.

What is particularly ironic is that a number of evangelicals who have promoted the Manhattan Declaration and who are seeking to use their influence to persuade others to sign it have of late been calling for evangelicals to become more “Gospel Centered.”  Yet the Manhattan Declaration is a document that, like Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) of the 1990’s, affirms as Christian those who clearly do not confess the same gospel. It is particularly troubling to see those who have previously criticized such ecumenical initiatives sign on to this one.  Despite the claims of some prominent signatories to the contrary (claims which have been contradicted by at least one of the framers of the Manhattan Declaration, Chuck Colson, who was also one of the principals in ECT) I submit that the Manhattan Declaration is cut from the same cloth as ECT.

No compromise you say?  The Manhattan Declaration and ECT are apples and oranges?  Unfortunately, I cannot agree.  How can the following statements from the declaration (among others that could be cited) be anything but compromise, given that it is a joint declaration by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and evangelicals?

We make this commitment not as partisans of any political group but as followers of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

we are compelled by our Christian faith

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences…

A truly prophetic Christian witness

It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.   May God help us not to fail in that duty.

May God help us indeed.  In what sense could the evangelical signatories to this document be said to have proclaimed the Gospel by this action?  How is this a “truly prophetic Christian witness?”  I submit that it can only be said to be such if what amounts to the Social Gospel is in view.  A conservative Social Gospel will no more save than the liberal one.  God forbid that the Gospel be exchanged for a mess of ecumenical pottage.

John MacArthur, James White, Frank Turk, among others, have posted responses delineating why they cannot sign the document.  I commend their responses to your reading.

All the above being said, the document does have many statements that are unobjectionable.  Furthermore, I have no quarrel with co-belligerence with those of any faith or no faith on issues of mutual concern.  What is at issue is yoking together with non-evangelicals under the banner of Christianity when we are in fundamental disagreement over what a Christian is.

Unfortunately (for the sake of discussion of this topic) the holidays are upon us and I am unable to post at length regarding this issue at this time.  I may unpack things a bit further in the near future.

For the uninitiated, here are articles on ECT by James White and Geoffrey Thomas.

I also recommend reading Erwin Lutzer’s Why The Cross Can Do What Politics Can’t and John MacArthur’s Why Government Can’t Save You.

Read Full Post »

JESUS said:  “Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God.”  (John 3 :3.)  To put this in plain English, our Lord teaches that only converted people should belong to a church.  Baptists stand squarely for this doctrine.  We contend that only those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through intelligent faith in Christ, and who have confessed their faith in word and declared it in baptism, are scripturally qualified for church membership.  We would not claim that every Baptist is converted; for, unfortunately, unconverted persons, those honestly deceived and hypocrites, have been received into our churches; but their number is not large.  Nor do we hold that all members of other communions are not converted.  We greatly rejoice in the many examples of eminent piety outside of our ranks; and we gladly believe that the vast majority of those who profess faith in Christ everywhere are converted.  Our contention is simply this:  Baptist principles strictly applied would exclude from church membership all but the converted; whereas the principles of other denominations strictly applied would include in their respective church memberships some who are not converted.  That is, non-Baptist churches, by admitting the unregenerate into their membership, can not be pure spiritual churches; whereas Baptists, by admitting only the regenerate into their membership, are the only people who even in theory stand for the pure spirituality of the churches.  That is, Baptist doctrine is the only system of truth which will logically, inevitably and ultimately make a church a pure spiritual body of Christ.

1. It is but just to examine these statements a little more in detail to see if they are in fact true.  In the first place, is it true that Baptist principles strictly applied in practice will limit church membership to the converted exclusively?  We can answer this inquiry only by looking at the customs of our churches.  Baptists demand a public, personal, intelligent profession of faith in Christ before admitting any one into their churches.  We will not receive one individual into membership on the confession of another individual; for we repudiate in theory and in practice the doctrine of proxies in religion; for “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God,” (Rom. 14:12.)  This public profession of faith is the voluntary act of an intelligent moral agent declaring his conversion.  No one is ever admitted into a Baptist church until he professes conversion.  Again, Baptists demand that the convert shall further declare his faith in baptism, a public immersion of the believer in water.  Thus we require two professions of the applicant for church membership; one in the word of confession, the other in the act of baptism.  In the former the convert speaks his faith; in the latter he acts his faith in the solemn symbolism of immersion.  All of this is a genuinely kindly arrangement; for a church would be untrue to the applicant for membership if it did not assist him by simple and severe tests of his true heart condition to ascertain certainly and consciously the fact of his conversion; and a church would be untrue to itself if it did not exercise the utmost care to prevent those who are honestly deceived, or hypocrites, from assuming duties and obligations which they will certainly renounce to the injury of their own souls and the distress of the body of Christ.  Thus Baptist churches in principle and in practice do all that human beings can do to make a church a spiritual body.  If an unconverted man gets into a Baptist church, he must profess conversion, and his presence in the membership is not the fault of the church but of himself.  If after joining a Baptist church, it is discovered that one is not converted, then it is his duty to withdraw, or it becomes the duty of the church to exclude him.  Thus we see that Baptist doctrine will inevitably and ultimately produce a pure spiritual church.

II. In the second place, it is equally just to inquire if the principles and practices of other churches do introduce into their respective memberships some who are not converted.  We can answer this inquiry only by looking at the creeds and customs of these churches.  These can broadly be divided into two groups; that is there are two kinds of practices in non-Baptist churches which may introduce the unconverted into church membership.

1. Those who practice infant baptism do in some sense consider these infants as members of their churches.  In which case they have received into their churches those who can not exercise saving faith in Christ, and hence who are unconverted.  Having thus introduced unregenerate material into their churches, their churches cease to be pure spiritual bodies.  And these churches are themselves responsible for this, for it is the act of the church that brings the unintelligent infant into membership.  These churches are not to be excused as they would be in the case of hypocrites who creep into the membership by assuming conversion, or as in the case of those who are honestly deceived.  This custom might be practically harmless if the infants would remain infants, but they will not.  Often the unregenerate infant grows into the unregenerate man, and these congregations are embarrassed by having un-Christian men in their membership as Christian churches.  However harmless we may consider the practice, the principle is an error, and it will logically and inevitably destroy the pure spirituality of the church.

It is but fair to state that churches which practice infant baptism are of two kinds, viz.:

(1) There are those who claim that the infant is actually regenerated in baptism.  Cardinal Gibbons states the belief of Catholics:  “Water is the appropriate instrument of the new birth.”  “Hence baptism is essential for the infant in order to attain the kingdom of heaven.”  As the infant can not believe, it follows that baptism must do all of the saving.  The Episcopal view of this matter can be found in the formula for the baptism of infants:  “We receive this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock.”  “Seeing now that this child is regenerated and grafted into the body of Christ’s church,” etc., etc.  In both cases we have baptismal regeneration pure and simple.  If baptism regenerates, then unbelieving children would be converted church members.  Laying aside the paradox as to how one incapable of exercising faith can be converted when faith is necessary for conversion, Baptists would contend that baptism does not regenerate, and that this practice of Romanists and Episcopalians opens a wide door for the admission of the unconverted into their churches.  For it is in evidence on all sides that some who received this presumed baptismal regeneration in infancy fail to give any evidence of it in maturity, either in a profession of saving faith in Christ, or in the practice of piety, and yet they remain unchallenged members of the churches which they were baptized into.  Thus these churches assume a grave risk of not being pure spiritual bodies of Christ.

(2) Again, there are those who practice infant baptism who profess not to believe that the baptism saves the infant; and yet these all do in some sense receive these infants into their church memberships.  The position of all such can be fairly stated in the language of the Presbyterian confession of faith, viz.:  “The infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.”  “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church.”  “The visible church consists of all those who make a profession of true religion together with their children.”  “The infant seed of believers are members of the church.”  Let it be noted that this second class in the practice of infant baptism denies a belief in baptismal regeneration, though the writer does not see how they can escape such a belief, or some other fatal error, if the logic of their position is severely pressed to a just conclusion.  For they baptize infants either to save them, or not to save them.  If the baptism is not to save, as they say, then the baptism of the infant must be for a declaration of faith, or for some other purpose.  It can not be a declaration of the infant’s faith, for the infant has not and can not have intelligent faith, nor is the act of baptism the voluntary act of the infant.  If it be a declaration of faith, it declares the faith of some person other than the infant.  But we have no right to baptize one person on another person’s faith Rom. 14:12.  If the baptism of the infant be neither a saving act, nor a declaration of faith, then it is for some other purpose.  But, if they use baptism for any other purpose save as a declaration of faith, they pervert that ordinance from the meaning and mission which Christ gave to it; and besides they construct two baptisms, one for adults with one meaning, and another for infants with another meaning, which is contrary to the scripture which saith:  “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Eph. 4:5.  Therefore as they turn away from baptismal regeneration to escape one error, the logic of their position coerces them either into the practice of proxies in professions of faith, which is an error condemned by Rom. 14:12, or into a perversion of the ordinance, which is contrary to Eph. 4:5.

But turning away from these objections which are fatal to the practice of infant baptism, it is just that we should fairly examine the grounds of those who are in this practice and yet who claim that they do not believe in baptismal regeneration. They allege two reasons for baptizing their unregenerate infants into then church membership. This inquiry is legitimate to this paper because infant baptism leads to infant church membership.

(a) It is argued from the baptism of certain households (Acts 10:47; 16:15; 16:32-34; 1 Cor. 16:15) that there were infants in those homes which were baptized into church membership.  It is enough to say in reply that the burden of proof is upon those who affirm that there were infants in those homes.  The only possible proof is the Scripture record.  But the record contains no mention of infants.  Therefore the assertion is without possibility of proof.  If you will look about you, you will see many homes where there are no babes.  Besides, there are intimations in each account of these household baptisms which deny the assumption that there were babes in these homes.  In the case of Cornelius it is said that “all his house feared God;” Paul and Silas “comforted” those who were baptized in Lydia’s home; Paul distinctly tells the jailer that those who “believe” should be saved; and it is said of the household of Stephanas that they all “have addicted themselves to the ministry.”  None of these terms or conditions could apply to infants, they describe the acts of intelligent believers.  There is no such thing in the New Testament as infant baptism begetting infant church membership.  It is true that Jesus blessed babes but he did not baptize them.  Late in our Lord’s life his disciples quarreled at mothers for bringing their children to Jesus.  (Matt. 19:13).  If infant baptism had been in vogue then these disciples would have welcomed these babes into the church.  The New Testament recognizes as church members none but converted adults.

(b) Again, it is alleged that the infants of believers should be baptized and received into the church for the reason that baptism takes the place of circumcision; that as circumcision inducted the infant into the Old Testament church, so baptism inducts it into the New Testament church.  This is a blind confounding of the Jewish state with the Christian church.  There was no Old Testament church with its rites corresponding to the New Testament church with its ordinances.  The Christian church was for the first time set up in the New Testament.  Circumcision was a racial, not a regenerating act.  It has always been true that men became the true children of Abraham through faith, not through any rite, be it circumcision or baptism.  One could be born a Jew, but all must be re-born to become Christians.  And so circumcised Jews and uncircumcised Gentiles were alike baptized on the common grounds that they believed in Christ.  This is clearly the teaching of Gal. 3 :29:  “If ye be Christ’s, then ye are Abraham’s seed, and his heirs according to the promise.”  To be Christ’s one must believe; infants can not believe, and so they are not entitled to baptism or to membership in a Christian church.  Thus again true scripture teaching blocks the entrance of unregenerate children into Christian churches.

There is no warrant either in scripture doctrine or precedent for the baptism of infants; and those churches which in any sense receive into their membership these baptized unregenerate infants have in that far destroyed the pure spirituality of their churches.  Their very principles unavoidably lead them into receiving the unconverted into their membership.

2. Infant baptism is the most frequent way of bringing the unregenerate into church membership; but we are now to examine other practices of non-Baptist churches which may corrupt the pure spirituality of the body of Christ.  A word before getting to the main point about the danger of receiving members into churches on probation.  In some sense they are members, and yet their conversion is not certain.  The probationer may turn out to be a Christian, or he may not.  As long as he is on probation his conversion can not be affirmed, and the church which receives him is not a pure spiritual body.  If probationers are on its list all the time, then it never is a pure spiritual body.  Nor is this all the harm such a church does itself; this practice will inevitably lead men to believe that there is a saving efficacy in just belonging to a church.  They will come to look to Christ and church membership to save them.  This is a fatal partition of faith.  How very dangerous this is will appear in the next paragraph.

Next to infant baptism the most prolific source of unconverted church members is sacramentarian baptism administered to adults.  There are churches which do not practice infant baptism and yet they attach a saving significance, in part or in whole, to the baptism of adults.  From this perversion of the meaning of baptism arises another danger of an unconverted church membership.  For we are saved by faith in Christ alone (Jo. 3:16; Acts 16:31; Eph. 2:8).  Our Lord did not invent baptism to help him save sinners.  A man who gives part of his faith to Christ and part to baptism has a divided faith.  Paul says that to such a man “Christ is become of no effect,” (Gal. 5:4.)  The apostle is arguing this matter in Galatians.  In the fifth chapter he maintains that to administer circumcision as the ground of salvation, or the condition of justification, is to renounce Christ himself.  It does not take Christ and circumcision to save a soul, and to divide one’s faith between the two results in a renunciation of Christ.  Just so baptism can be no part of salvation without destroying the pure faith principle of redemption, and “Christ is become of no effect.” If “Christ has become of no effect” to such a one, then he can not claim conversion; and, if he comes into the church with this divided faith, he will be an unconverted church member.  This teaching is severe, but Paul emphatically declares that to condition salvation, in part or in whole, on any ordinance or institution is to do away with Christ himself.  If the inquirer in any sense looks to circumcision or to baptism, or to church membership to help in his salvation, then he has destroyed the possibility of his salvation because he is not trusting Christ alone for redemption, for our Lord will not accept a divided heart.  Thus the practice of sacramentarian baptism and of probationary membership may open the door for the unregenerate to enter the churches.

So far as the writer knows Baptists are the only people who are entirely free from infant baptism, on the one hand, and from sacramentarian baptism on the other.  We condition salvation for all alike on simple, personal faith in Christ.  We admit into our churches only those who have, or who profess to have, this saving faith.  Thus Baptist principles strictly applied will admit to church membership only those who are converted, which is the first proposition laid down in the opening paragraph of this paper; whereas, the principles of other denominations strictly applied will include in church membership some who are not converted, which is the second proposition affirmed in this argument.

III. In the third place, it is just to inquire into the correctness of the Baptist position.  Ought we to have only converted persons in our churches?  Should churches be pure spiritual bodies?  We answer these questions in the affirmative.  The proposition submitted is this:  Only the regenerate should be members of a church because of what a church is and does; and we appeal to sound reason and obvious Scripture teaching to support this proposition.

The Greek word for church (ekklesia} means “the called out.”  Only those can be called who can hear and who can come.  This recognizes intelligence and voluntariness as necessary qualifications of the called.  God is calling on men to believe in Christ that he may organize them into churches to whom he will commit his word (1 Tim. 3:15) and his work (Matt. 28:19, 20).  In the nature of the case, only those can answer this call who can understand its conditions, and who will voluntarily comply with its requirements, and who are qualified and competent to discharge the duties imposed.  God does not refuse as coworkers men of humble gifts and children who have reached the years of discretion; but he does require willing loyalty and intelligent obedience.  All who answer the call must be workers, though they are not to be perfect workers.  Capacity then is the necessary qualification in the called rather than competency.  It would be absurd to think that God would lay the duties above mentioned upon those who could not, or upon those who would not, discharge them.  Our Lord would not exhort impotent infants or unwilling unbelievers to go into all the world and preach the gospel.  Hence it follows from the very work required of the churches that their members should all be active, intelligent, spiritual agents.

The New Testament history is in exact accord with this conclusion.  Search the record and you will find no instance of a professedly unconverted man being baptized.  There were doubtless hypocrites like Ananias (Acts 5 13) who came in under pretense of faith; but the one aim of our Lord and his followers was to recruit to their service only regenerate men to whom the work could be committed.  Naturally enough those churches would receive into membership only those who could help in the work; and so baptism was refused to infants and unbelievers.  The writer feels that in justice he must state that no denomination would advocate the admission of professedly unconverted adults into the church; but the practice of infant baptism and sacramentarian baptism will bring unconverted adults into these churches, and this is ample apology for the extended argument above on these two points.

Our Baptist churches in refusing to receive members in either of these ways are in exact line with New Testament precedent; and our practice of requiring an intelligent faith before baptism, and faith and baptism before church membership, is the only sure way of bringing into the churches the same kind of material that came into the Apostolic churches of the New Testament era.

We must look to the Scripture for more explicit instruction.  If we would know the qualifications for church membership, let us read Acts 2:41-47.  Every person which the Lord added to that Jerusalem church was converted. Here is the description of them:  They “received his word,” were “baptized,” and “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship,” etc., etc.  Surely these terms can not apply to infants or to unbelievers; there were none such in that Jerusalem church.  In Acts 11:21 we have a description of the material which was gathered into the church at Antioch:  “A great number believed and turned unto the Lord.”  Under these conditions there could be no infants in the Antioch church.  A duty is required of church members which none but intelligent converts can discharge:  “Give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.”  (1 Pet. 3:15.)  Infants and unbelievers can not do this.  The discourses of Jesus, and the Epistles of Paul. Peter and John are all addressed to intelligent, spiritual agents.  The saints are those who can serve.  The argument from Scripture is cumulative and conclusive that all church members should be converted.  The reason is that God wants in his churches only spiritual workers to do his spiritual work.  Baptist practice is in exact accord with this Scripture principle.

To admit the unconverted into the churches is to destroy the very nature of the church.  When we speak of a church being a pure spiritual body we mean it has in its membership only those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  We have proved from Scripture that only the regenerate should be admitted to church membership; hence to receive the unregenerate would pervert the very nature of a gospel church.  A church is the body of Christ, 1 Cor. 12 :12-21; it is a big composite body made up of individual believers who belong to it as organs and members.  Each member of this body must be alive, that is he must be converted; he must by the power of the Holy Spirit be competent to discharge the spiritual functions of a member of the spiritual body of a church.  The living Christ dwells in this body; through it he speaks, and in it he walks and works (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16).  Now, if through infant or sacramentarian baptism, or through probationary membership, the unconverted are brought into a church, then Christ’s body has become afflicted with dead members, and the very nature of that church is perverted and its work hindered.

The importance of this doctrine can hardly be overestimated.  There are many who honestly misconceive the nature and mission of the church.  A church is not a nursery for infants, nor an infirmary for the ungodly, nor a refuge for the unbelieving and the indifferent; it is a recruiting station for the soldiers of the cross, every one of whom is commanded to fight the good fight of faith.  To change the figure, “the church is a force not a field.”  The world is the field, and the church is the force to work the field.  The work is spiritual and the force must be spiritual.  It will not do to have in an army those who are not soldiers, or in this force those who are not workers.  Hence we see from its very nature that there is no place in a Christian church for the unconverted.  From an understanding of this doctrine we Baptists limit church membership to those who profess conversion.  We hold that scripture and reason support our position that a church is a pure spiritual body and that none but the regenerate are to be received into its membership.  Relying on this truth, we reject infant and sacramentarian baptism, we refuse probationary membership, and we require an intelligent profession of faith before baptism, and faith and baptism before church membership.  We contend that these requirements are the only true safe-guards for the spirituality of the churches; and being the only people who hold these doctrines in their purity and simplicity, we affirm that Baptist principles are the only tenets which will inevitably bring the churches to the New Testament standard of membership.  Only as churches are pure spiritual forces can they accomplish their true spiritual mission in this world.

This is a proud position which we occupy but we do not hold it proudly.  These doctrines beget humility, sympathy, and mighty dependence on God.  If we hold this high standard of church membership, then we assume a high standard of duty.  If we are all God’s children then we should all “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,” Mi. 6:8. In a peculiar sense we should “do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith,” (Gal. 6:10.)  We should be conspicuous in works of charity and love, and foremost of all in preaching the gospel to the world.  If in fact ours is the best doctrine, then we should be the best people and have the best churches.  And so the claims set forth in this paper do not exalt us, they humble us and fill us with love for all humanity.

Read Full Post »

W.A. Criswell thought so.  See here for full page transcript of the sermon.  The first link has the audio.

Former Roman Catholic priest Richard Bennett thinks similarly as well.  He was interviewed on this subject on by Chris Arnzen on the program Iron Sharpens Iron today.  (The preceding link is directly to the mp3 file.)

Richard Bennett also has similar material on his own site, Berean Beacon. Here is a video that Berean Beacon produced on “The Real St. Patrick.”

Read Full Post »

Baptist Why and Why Not (1900)

Edited by J. M. Frost
The Sunday School Board of
The Southern Baptist Convention

Chapter 3:  Why Baptist and Not Roman Catholic

By Henry McDonald, D.V.
Pastor Second Baptist Church.
Atlanta, Georgia

But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. – Sam. 16:17.

For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. – Matt. 5:20.

God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. – John 4:24.

REASONS FOR LEAVING THE CATHOLICS
AND BECOMING A PROTESTANT AND BAPTIST.*

I HAVE no sympathy with the spirit too often shown by those that abandon a church or reject a religious system.  Many seem to think that their appreciation of a recently accepted truth must be measured by the virulence with which they denounce those from whom they have separated.  If the object be to justify the change to the judgment of others, bitterness shows weakness rather than strength of conviction; if it be to win opponents to the examination of a purer faith, arguments are enfeebled by a rancorous spirit, or unheeded when expressed in intemperate words.  Candor and fairness are never more essential than in the discussion of religious themes.  Their absence works injustice to others and blinds the mind to the perception of truth.  The spirit of the gladiator is far different from that which we should bring to the investigation and the statement of truth.

Unhappily for the interest of the truth, religious controversy has been too often conducted so as neither to gain adherents for its support nor even secure the respect of those that dissent from it.  Especially is this true in the long-continued and sadly embittered controversy between Roman Catholics and Protestants.

While we condemn and deplore this prevalent spirit, we must be careful to reject, as alike alien to truth, the indifference which refuses to investigate, or the cowardice which fails to state kindly but earnestly “the reason for the hope that is in us.”

Prompted by the desire to do good and encouraged by the judgment of judicious brethren I write this record of my religious experience-an experience which differs mainly from that of other Christians in that I was led from an inherited faith in the Roman Catholic church to a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

If it shall, in any measure, strengthen the faith and love of a single Christian for the truth as it is in Jesus, I therein will rejoice.  If it shall in the providence of God, fall into the hands of Roman Catholics, “judge ye what I say.”  And now, Spirit of light and love, guide these thoughts and words to the glory of Him who is the head over all things to the church.

I shall give only the reasons which influenced my own mind, and led to my conversion, and shall not, therefore, cover as Wide a field of discussion as would be expected in a controversial treatise.

References to authorities shall be few, as I hope to state doctrines so fairly that an opponent would be compelled to admit the truth of a statement though he reject the conclusion.  In doing this, I naturally shrink from the recital of what is so intensely personal, and ask the indulgence of the reader of what is unavoidable in the narrative-the presentation of personal views and feelings.

Born in the county of Antrim, in the north of Ireland, of Roman Catholic parents, with an ancestry of the same faith, as was the supposed duty of my honored parents, I was in due time, whereof my memory runneth not to the contrary, placed in the Catholic fold by Baptism.  I learned in lisping childhood the “Our Father,” and “Hail Mary,” from my mother’s lips.  The earliest memories of my life are when she took my hand and led me to the church to kneel with her before the altar of her cherished faith.  How vividly do I remember the reverence and awe with which I stood in boyhood before the mitred bishop for confirmation, and the still greater awe as I knelt in the confessional or received the communion from priestly hands.  The presence of a large Protestant population in the north of Ireland provoked in an unwonted degree the spirit of religious controversy; so that from my early years, it was my delight to study such works as most thoroughly maintained my faith in the sharp conflicts which were so prevalent in such a community.  In no class was this controversy more rife than among fellow students of different religious beliefs.

I read with special interest Milner’s End of Religious Controversy, and the debates of the celebrated Father torn Maguire, the champion of the church in many a well-fought field.  From these, youthful disputants would equip themselves with the weapons which had been wielded by older hands and in more renowned arenas.  I held to the antiquity, unity and apostolicity of the church, the power and purity of her priesthood, the grace and efficacy of her sacraments.  With the joy of conscious triumph would the question be asked, Where was your church before the days of Luther, Calvin and Henry the Eighth?  From whom did your ministers receive ordination whence the efficacy of your sacraments?  These and similar questions were considered sufficient answers to all the advocates of these base-born systems which dared to wage horrid war against the Lord and His Anointed.  I mention these things that some just estimate may be formed of the struggle in after years-a struggle no longer waged in boyhood’s wordy war, but in the solitude and anguish of my own soul.

I was prosecuting my studies in Dublin in 1848, one of the many memorable years in which the plans of ill-judging but honest patriotism were doomed to ignominious failure.  The men who sought to arouse the people with the hope of throwing off the hated yoke of England were scattered; some fled to other lands, and some, through forms of law, were transported to penal colonies.  The attempt appears to me now as weakness wooing destruction.  My enthusiasm for the popular cause was not the less because of my youth.  My despair at failure was only equaled by the ardor of my desire for success.  My grief for the disappointed and law-hunted leaders was most sincere and poignant.  Probably with more of youthful fervor than judgment, I resolved to embark for the United States, choosing rather to live in a strange land under any conditions than in my native land under an alien’s dominion.  Confessing to the priest and receiving the communion, I was ready for the sad and bitter departure.

As I looked through the night at the receding shore, the despairing words came to my lips:

With thee, my bark, I’ll swiftly go,
Athwart the foaming brine,
Nor care what land thou bear’st me to,
So not again to mine.
Welcome, Welcome, ye dark blue waves,
And when ye fail my sight,
Welcome ye deserts and ye caves,
My native land-good night.

These feelings may seem jejune and extravagant, but the ties of home and kindred can not be broken without pain.  The bitterness of that hour haunts me even now as an unforgotten wail for the dead.  But enough.  It is past.  God was in it, though I knew it not.

After a tedious voyage, New Orleans was reached in the spring of 1849, and Kentucky in the course of a few weeks became my home.  The religious sentiments and life of the people were as new and as fresh to me as the natural scenery of my adopted country.

I remember the surprise akin to horror which I felt when I found people which were not members in any church.

Accustomed to see every person from infancy a member of some church, I was amazed at the difference which was seen on every side in American life.

Was there no provision for church life?  Did neglect of all religions universally prevail ?

These were the first questions which presented themselves to my mind.

On further observation I found for the first time churches distinct from the world, and character, not birth the condition of their fellowship.

Men and women professed to love and serve God, the spirit and tenor of whose lives seemed to be pure, yet they were adjudged heretics by every principle which had been instilled into my mind.  I had ample opportunity, by close and intimate association, for observing and estimating their religious life and character.  Their lives were independent of the church.  Her divinely appointed priests and sacraments had nothing to do in the formation of their character.  Nay, their character was formed not only in the absence of the true church, but in the avowed disbelief and rejection of her teachings.

Frankly do I now say that it was this quiet and unlocked for testimony outside of the Roman Catholic church which awakened my mind to thought on this subject.

Are these people heretics?  Does heresy bear such fruit?

These inquiries arose in my mind as the first streaks of the morning faintly touch the darkness of the night.

In the presence of this new phase of life, the questions slowly arose in my mind:  Am I right?  How did I become a Catholic?

As soon as I found myself, I found myself a Catholic.  Loving hearts and hands had made me one; but previous examination, conviction, personal faith had not.  The indestructible sense of individual accountability was mine. Accountability gave the right and enforced the duty of thought.  The right to examine not only my own decisions, but the judgments and decisions of others, was felt to be inalienable.  The allegiance of mind and heart was due to God.  In a few years, I knew not how few, I must appear before God for myself.  In view of such responsibility, I was afraid to leave the whole subject of my relationship to God in this world and that which is to come, to be determined by others, however wise or loving they might be.  I had, or ought to have, more interest in it than in any other human being. Environed by ancestral beliefs, I fled to this last retreat, the right to think.  This necessarily involved the liberty of approving or rejecting what was presented to my mind.  Separated from the church and sacraments, the conviction was forced upon me that my religious life was wholly dependent upon the priesthood of the church.  The clearly announced faith of the Catholic church is that the grace of salvation is from God through the church by its constituted agents administering the sacraments which are ordained unto eternal life.

I have said that I was separated in distance from the communion with the church.  If sin troubled my conscience, there was no confessional; if death came there was no priest as the only authorized dispenser of his mercy and the almoner of his grace.

If so, I thought that it was at least illy adapted to meet the exigencies of my spiritual condition, as no priest lived within any convenient distance.

These questionings, begotten by the circumstances of my life, broke like ripples upon the hitherto calm assurance of my soul.  Yet, while all this passed within, and doubts were gathering darkly around me, pride sealed my lips.  I spoke no doubt to human ear.

In the quiet of retirement, I ventured to kneel before God, and often in troubled words breathed the doubter’s prayer:

If I am right, thy grace impart
Still in the right to stay;
If I am wrong, O teach my heart
To find the better way!

I felt if, on examination, the teachings of the church are true, I shall hold them by a double tenure; if they are untrue, then I ought not to hold them, however learned or by whomsoever taught.

The old confidence and assurance were so displaced by doubt and fear as that examination was felt to be not only a right but a duty.

The circumstances of my life made me painfully realize my dependence upon the sacraments of the church, and naturally led me to consider the power of the priesthood as the divinely appointed medium through which God bestows the grace of eternal life. I do not remember that I read any Protestant books on the Catholic controversy. My conviction was the result of thought upon the well known and accepted doctrines of the church, as they came before my mind in the following order:

a. The power of the priest is plainly asserted in baptism.

I had asked myself the question, How had I become a Catholic?  I was made so in baptism and taught to believe, as I repeated the catechism, that, “therein I was washed from original sin, made a child of God and an heir of the kingdom of heaven.”  The unbaptized child because unbaptized, was doomed never to enter the heaven of the baptized child.  In view of this dread penalty, the church, in cases of necessity, permits others than the priests to baptize; but in the established order, the priest is the official administrator.

It is clearly held that God has committed to the priest the power of administering an ordinance which is recognized as indispensable to salvation.  I well remembered the anxiety of Roman Catholic parents for an unbaptized child and with what eager haste, when sickness threatened the infant, the priest was sent for to bestow regenerating grace in order to its salvation.  That the act of the priest should determine the salvation of an unconscious infant startled me in two ways -first, that infants should be so imperiled; and, secondly, that priests should be so empowered.

b. The sacrament of confirmation ascribed to the priesthood.

It is a sacrament by which, through the imposition of the bishop’s hands, unction and prayer, baptized persons receive the Holy Ghost.  So that grace, in its first and every subsequent bestowment, is wholly dependent upon priestly act and will.

c. The priests, and the priests alone, are the divinely authorized agents by which the forgiveness of sin is secured.

Notwithstanding the alleged grace conferred in baptism and confirmation, the child has grown up a sinner and needs forgiveness.  How is this to be obtained?  The font and the chrism of confirmation are followed by the confessional.  If it be said that the priest merely declares forgiveness upon evidence of penitence, then, I thought, why does not the penitence, which God sees and knows, secure forgiveness without the priest?  The truth is that this “tremendous power” of forgiving sin, as it is styled by Archbishop Gibbons, is exercised wholly and only by the priests.  This prerogative is entirely theirs.  So far as the ordinary and divinely appointed method of forgiveness is concerned, God has limited his mercy to the act of the priest.  Well may it be called a “tremendous power” which invests men-no matter whether good or bad-with the authority of blotting out the dark records of a sinful life and cleansing the conscience from guilt.  I knew that such power was claimed by the priest in the confessional, and had often sought its exercise. The power of the confessional does not consist in the spiritual advice and consolation supposed to be imparted by it, but in the belief that sins therein are really forgiven.

I shall allow myself the privilege of showing that I was not mistaken in my earlier opinions upon this subject by quoting from “The Faith of our Father,” by Archbishop Gibbons, of Baltimore:

“I have seen the man whose conscience was weighed down by the accumulated sins of twenty winters; upon whose face were branded guilt and shame, remorse and confusion. There he stood by the confessional with a downcast countenance, ashamed like the publican to look up to heaven.

And he glided into the little mercy seat

But during the few moments spent in the confessional a resurrection occurred, more miraculous than the raising of Lazarus from the tomb-it was the resurrection of a soul, that had lain wormeaten, from the grave of sin. And when he came out there was quickness in his step, and joy on his countenance, and a new light in his eye. And had you asked him why, he would have answered, because I was lost and am found; having been dead, I am come to life again.”

d. The same power is claimed in the sacrament and sacrifice of the mass.

The church doctrine is that the mass is not only a sacrament but a sacrifice; that Christ is really present in this ordinance, and that the bread and wine are changed by the mighty power of God, through the priest, into real body and blood and soul and divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  That as Christ changed the water into wine at the feast in Cana of Galilee, so the bread and wine become by the consecration as completely and identically the sacrifice of Christ as when he offered himself to God on the cross.  The pious Catholic is as sincere and profound in his worship of the bread and wine-to him no longer bread and wine as he is of Christ on the throne of his glory.  Without question, none but a priest can perform the service of mass.  It seemed to me that it invested the priest with the power to work miracles more marvelous than any performed by Christ or his apostles, and more remarkable even than the incarnation itself.

e. The power of the priest is asserted over souls in the next world.

Life soon ends.  The child whose lips were trained to say “I am an heir of the kingdom of heaven,” is an old man now, and waits for the rending of the veil to enter the unseen world.  And there bending over him is the priest, to receive his confession and prepare him, by extreme unction, for eternity.  If God has given help or hope to his soul in life or death, it has been only through the priest.  But when the eye is closed and the heart’s last throb is over, surely his minority is passed and he is enfranchised by the act of God.  More valued now than health or wealth, than home or friends, is the presence and help of the priest.  From the cradle to the coffin he has followed the priest and been followed by him.  The priestly power claims even more than its wonted sway over the disembodied spirit.  Purgatory, as if in mockery of the grace conferred in life, kindles its fires and adds a fresh and fearful glory to the power of the priest.  Masses are said and abundant prayers are offered to aid in preparing the departed soul to escape the purifying and punitive fires.  Is it any longer a wonder that the hard earnings of poverty and the wealth of the rich are freely poured into the church’s treasury to remunerate, if not to secure, such aid?  The soul at last, through the good offices of the church, has reached heaven.  Strange as it may appear to those unacquainted with the claims of the church, the same power asserts itself over the ransomed and rejoicing soul in the very home and presence of God.  The church by a formal act at Rome claims to elevate, even in heaven, those whom she judges worthy to places of superior influence, making and declaring them to be saints, and henceforth enrolled in the calendar of her intercessors for the faithful. This is canonization.

The announcement of such an event is made by the booming of cannon, calling upon the people to rejoice that another intercessor has been added to the number of those whose prayers and superabundant merits avail with God, on behalf of those for whom they are offered.  But has God, indeed, clothed men with such sovereign power?  If so, we must submit; but have we not a right to expect that the title to such authority shall be plain and unequivocal?

f. The right to read and interpret the word of God is withheld from the laity and is the prerogative of the priests as its authorised expositors.

The church acknowledges a divine revelation in the written form of the Bible and in the unwritten traditions of the church.  May I be permitted to read this revelation which clothes the church with such “tremendous power?”  The church replies, “I am the custodian and the interpreter of this revelation.  In compassion to the weakness of understandings, darkened by ignorance and sin, the right to read and interpret the word of God has not been given to men; but only to official organs of the church.”  I knew that the church resents as untrue the charge that she withholds the Scriptures from the laity.  But what does she mean by this?  Simply that she allows the right to read, but positively forbids any interpretation other than that she has given.  She gives that right to read, but withholds the right to decide on the meaning of what has been read.  This is to seal the book of God.  Few men will dare to read with a sword of more dreadful doom than that of Damocles suspended over their soul.  This restriction closes the record as to any examination of the claims of the church, save only as we receive the interpretations of the very men who claim to be endowed with supernatural power.  They are the only judges of their own authority.

Books have been written and freely circulated in support of the claims of the Roman Catholic church.  The faithful and the unbelieving, Catholics as well as Protestants, are alike urged to read these books.  Why, I asked, are we encouraged to read them, while yet a practical interdict is placed upon the book of God?  It is alleged that in this there are some things hard to be understood, which the unlearned wrest to their destruction; but are their books plain and easily understood?  Is the book of God darkness and their’s light?  It is claimed that tradition precedes the written word, and being of prior authority, is its interpreter.  If so, why has God given the written word ? Why disturb the unbroken current of traditional revelation by a book which is of no special value either in the production of faith or the guidance of our lives?

Without revelation we are ignorant of the truths most important for us to know. God has graciously met this necessity by a revelation of the truth we so much need.  Have I the right to know what is taught therein?  Is it the peoples’ right or the priest’s prerogative to study its teaching?

A well remembered incident may fairly illustrate the two answers to this question.  I had not heard from my early home for three years.  Many sad thoughts and forebodings filled the mind.  Do my father and mother still live?  One day as I called at the post office, a letter was handed me, and I saw at a glance that it was from home.  The familiar name of the office from which it was mailed, and the well remembered subscription told of news from those most dearly loved.  In the ecstasy of the moment, I pressed it to my lips, and with tears of joy broke the seal.  I shall never forget how eagerly every word was read.  Suppose some clerk in the office had told me, “There is a letter for you from across the sea, but you may not-be able to understand it, or there may be portions not intended for you to read.  I claim the right to hold it and interpret it for you.  It shall remain under my control.”  Ought I not to have indignantly resented such official impertinence and intermeddling?  Have I not the right to hear the voice of God and with my own eyes to trace the grace of his heart in every word to his wandering, and sinful yet still loved child?

But suppose that men of perverse wills refuse to admit these ghostly claims and array themselves against the church, with what power is she to enforce her demands?

g. The church exercises her disciplinary powers in the suppression and punishment of heretics.

I do not mean to say that the members of the Catholic hierarchy are cruel.  Many of them have been fair and noble minded men.  I do not say that the masses of Roman Catholic communicants, especially in the United States believe that their church system has any germs that could possibly grow into religious persecution.  I have nothing but condemnation for persecutions waged at any time or in any country by Protestants against Catholics.  I will not plead either in justification or mitigation that their mother trained them in the cruel art.  There is truth in the charges which Protestants and Catholics make against each other in this respect.  The Catholic offsets the cruelties of Queen Mary by the intolerance of Elizabeth, the fires of Smithfield by the atrocities at Tyburn, the burning of Huss by that of Servetus. True Christianity condemns both parties.  The moment the magistrate prescribes or enforces religion, that moment the spirit of the religion of Christ is disregarded.  Equally violated is the principle of soul-liberty, when the civil power executes spiritual decrees and ecclesiastical censures.

The advocates of the church of Rome indignantly deny that, as a church, she has ever persecuted.  The defense is that she only arraigns the heretic and pronounces him guilty, trying to win him to a better mind.  If he is incorrigible, the church withdraws in sorrow and lets the civil law do its work in carrying out the sentences.  But, by all her divinely invested power, she enjoins kings to do her bidding under penalties which threaten the sceptre and peace of their kingdom as well as the safety of their own souls.  The spirit of the church guided cabinets, dictated to sovereigns, and framed the statutes against heresy which are found in the records of every Catholic country in the world.  The power she claims secures unlimited submission from all who recognize her authority and demands universal obedience from the world.  Her voice is the voice of God.  Dissent from her views is the deadliest sin.  Heresy is treason against the divine government.  Therefore, in mercy, not in wrath, the church is to secure the overthrow and destruction of any person or power which opposes her influence or lessens her opportunity in dispensing God’s grace to the world.

Thus, step by step, did I advance in the examination of the claims of the power of the priesthood. At each succeeding step the conviction was increased that sovereignty over the conscience was regarded as theirs by divine gift.  It avails not to say as Catholics do say, that this power is not inherent in priests, as men, but that God has invested them with supreme and divine functions.  It was this very assertion of official power which awakened my fears and confirmed my doubts.

That my construction of the power of the priesthood was not the immature conclusion of youthful judgment, is abundantly sustained by the Catholic writers of the highest authority. The present Archbishop of Baltimore says: “The apostles were clothed with the power of Jesus Christ.  The priest, as the successor of the apostles, is clothed with their power. This fact reveals to us the eminent dignity of the priestly character.  To the carnal eye the priest looks like other men, but to the eye of faith he is exalted above the angels, because he exercises power not given to the angels.  As far as heaven is above the earth, as eternity is above time, and the soul is above the body, so are the prerogatives vested in God’s ministers higher than those of an earthly potentate.  An earthly prince can cast into prison or release therefrom.  But his power is over the body.  But the minister of God can release the soul from the prison of sin and restore it to the liberty of a child of God.”

This is not a figurative description, but the literal statement of the claim of priestly power.  This is the corner stone of the Roman Catholic church.  This is the secret of her power over the consciences and lives of men.  If these doctrines are true, the parish priest is the beginner and finisher of salvation.  Man without the priest is without God in this world and in that which is to come.  There is no access to the sinful or sorrowing heart but through him.  In every period of the soul’s life there is the bondage of an ever lengthening chain.  It binds in heaven even as on earth; a chain, always held by priestly hands.  Such an assumption of power seemed to me to be incompatible with my intuitive, direct accountability to God, destructive of liberty of thought, and inconsistent with human freedom.  Salvation was not only independent of my will but equally independent of the will of God, save only as it is expressed by the will of the priest.  The whole system exalts the priest, but dishonors God; magnifies the sacraments but lowers Christ; multiplies its outward anointments, but rejects the work of the Holy Spirit; commends the rosary, but closes the Bible.  It promises salvation upon every new act of priestly power, only to hold the soul in an everlasting suspense, which demands fresh grace from the priests. It thus makes provision for the perpetuity of their office.

I have not attempted to reproduce the discussion of these and allied doctrines, as they were severally examined by me.  I have imperfectly sketched what is the life and spirit of them all the absolute and ceaseless power of the priest over the soul, not only in this world, but in that which is to come. I began the examination in doubt, but the doubt fled.  I did rebel in every faculty of my being against such sacerdotal power.  Whatever else might take its place, the old faith was gone.  Need I say that the struggle was a painful one?  Bitter as was my departure from my native land, it did not fill my heart with anguish as did the death throes of my early faith.  It was my mother’s faith.  The form of her, from whose lips I learned it, seemed to be at my side and cast on me reproachful looks of wounded love.  I shall carry these sad memories to the grave.  But I was free. Living or dying I shall never cease to thank God that the thrall of this priestly power was broken – broken forever.

Having rejected the distinctive doctrines of the church in which I had been trained, what was left?  My faith in God and the Bible as His revelation was unshaken.  I am grateful to Him that I was not driven into the abysmal depths of infidelity, as is often the case with those who are swept away from the moorings of an ancestral faith.  It was not enough to abandon the Catholic church; such a revolt was not regeneration.  I was conscious of the sinfulness of my nature and felt the need of pardon, purity and peace.  My faith in the church was gone.  Sacramentalism was dead; I dared not trust the merits of saints in their fancied intercession.  The question of my salvation was far more important than any other.  The antiquity of the church, the primacy of the Roman See, and apostolic succession, once so full of interest to me, gave way before an honest conviction for sin and an earnest desire to escape its penalty and power.  After much doubt and perplexity, I was led by the Holy Spirit to commit myself to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Well do I remember such gracious, helpful words as these:  “God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life;” “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give thee rest.”  As a guilty, undeserving sinner, I sought and, I trust obtained reconciliation with God through him who is the way, the truth and the life.”  These truths were specially impressive at the time of my conversion: the all-sufficiency and willingness of Christ to save all who come to God by him. His all sufficiency was now seen as never before.  His work, as his person, was perfect.  His sacrifice needed not to be continually made, as if to bring sin to remembrance rather than to pat it away.  His priesthood superseded every other and rendered the introduction of any other not only useless, but antagonistic.  His work needs not men, nor saints, nor angels to add to its efficacy or fullness; these but obscure its glory and hide its grace from a needy and sinful world. His willingness was as conspicuous as his all-sufficiency.  For myself I can safely say that the intervention of priests and the invocation of saints made the impression that God reluctantly bestowed salvation.  The favorite illustration of Catholic writers, that the more friends a man has at court the better, certainly strengthens this impression.  Catholic art embodies this dishonoring idea in the representation of Christ with the avenging thunderbolts poised in his hand for the world’s doom, stayed by the interposition of Mary, the Queen of Heaven.

Oh! strange blindness to the love and grace of him who laid down his life for the guilty and who now watches and waits for the return of sinners!  Surely darkness still rests on Gethsemane and Calvary, or their glories could not be so concealed.  Various feelings have entered into the experiences of sinners as they have found Christ.  There have been the raptures of pardon as a clear faith received him; again there is the quiet peace that steals into the soul, as the shining light, while many a saved sinner begins to bear the cross in doubts and fears.  The dominant feeling with me was the sense of a large freedom.  It was the joy of a Red Sea deliverance.  My soul had escaped as a bird from the snare of a fowler; the snare was broken and I was released.  I shall never forget the joy which came with the truth that I could go to Christ by myself and for myself.  Nobody between me and Christ.  This was the Gospel.  This brought peace and freedom.  Many a soul-trouble has been endured since that time, but my heart treasures as its sweetest memory in life, the liberty wherewith Christ made me free.

The leading truths which I found in the teachings of our Lord and His apostles in the New Testament, and which controlled my church membership.

Recognizing the supreme authority of God’s word, I readily and earnestly determined to be guided by its teachings.  Sincerely desiring to know what it required, and humbly resolved to obey its precepts, I sought the help of God in understanding His will.  The following truths seem to be clearly taught in His word:

Salvation is by the grace of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

This was seen to be a cardinal doctrine of the New Testament, never more clearly and emphatically taught than by our Lord himself.

It forms the substance of the apostolic ministry.  Its perversion or corruption has done more to conceal the truth of the Gospel than any other cause.  In the Roman Catholic church, salvation is promised to the unconscious infant in baptism.  In many of the Reformed churches the scriptural teaching of personal repentance and faith has been obscured by theories which promise spiritual blessings, not through faith in Christ, but through natural fleshly descent.  This theory has filled the churches of Europe with the unconverted.  It was this practice in the Protestant, as well as in the Catholic church, which made the religious life of America seem so strange to me.  That religion is personal, that repentance and faith are essential to salvation, should be as prominent and fundamental in the organization of churches as they are distinctly taught by Christ and his apostles.  An avowed faith in Jesus Christ was indispensable to church fellowship.  It was the organific principle of church life as faith itself was the condition and medium of spiritual life.

The New Testament churches were spiritual congregations, composed of confessed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I had been accustomed to see everybody, whether Catholic or Protestant in some church.  Birth, not regeneration, was the condition of church membership.  Of course there was no church distinct from the world.  I remember the vividness and force of the thought when I found the New Testament idea of a church to be a congregation of believers in Christ, “which were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” An examination of the churches of Jerusalem, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and of the whole New Testament period, assured me that there was not a trace of any other law of membership.  The disregard of this prime feature in the apostolic churches laid the foundation of the Papal power, as its continual disregard is its chief support.  A burnt child dreads the fire.

I am unwilling that any soul should be placed in a similar bondage to that from which I have been delivered.

The ordinances appointed are obligatory on believers only.

I had been told that I was baptized in infancy in the Roman Catholic church.  By the grace of God I was led to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to the salvation of my soul.  Was it my duty now as a believer to be baptized in obedience to the command of Christ?  The law of baptism seemed to require faith as a condition for its right observance.  The practice, uniform and unbroken, of the apostles and their fellow laborers, confirmed this interpretation.  Repentance and faith were exercises of the soul.  A man could not repent or believe for another.  Was not baptism a commandment of Christ, demanding also personal obedience?  Unquestionably do the Scriptures teach its obligation upon every disciple.  The substitution of another order than Christ’s, putting baptism before and without faith, is utterly unwarranted by anything, either of precept or example, in the teachings of Christ and his apostles.  Rejecting most earnestly Rome’s reason for the practice to secure salvation of infants there was nothing left to do with it but to let it die.  So far as I was concerned, it was plainly my duty to be baptized with the baptism of Christ.  Taking the records of the New Testament, it was not only clearly proper, but safe, to follow the example of him who was baptized of John in Jordan.

The ordinance of the Lord’s supper follows baptism in order, and strengthens our faith in Him who gave himself for our sins and was raised for our justification.

The policy of the New Testament churches was clearly that of fraternal equality.

The whole machinery of an elaborate ecclesiasticism is as foreign to the New Testament churches as can well be conceived.  The whole array of a clerical hierarchy is in strange contrast with the simple gathering of believers for the worship of Christ and the exercise of discipline.  These churches were local, independent, and self-governing bodies, wisely adapted by their Head for the exigencies of his people in their checkered and long-suffering career.  The domination of clergy and the arrogance of ecclesiastical tribunals and courts are not found in the New Testament.

These views, learned from the word of God, guided me in my union with the church of Christ.  It is hardly necessary to say that I found these doctrines in Baptist churches with a distinctness and completeness which can be found nowhere else.

Humbled and grateful, I can say: “By the grace of God, I am what I am.”  As I have reviewed and recorded the facts leading to my conversion from Catholicism to Christ, many memories have been stirred afresh.  I am deeply sensible of the gracious providence which has thus far led me, and if, through the riches of His grace, I shall reach His heavenly home, no redeemed soul can have a larger debt of gratitude than I shall have.

CONCLUDING REFLECTIONS

My whole experience has impressed me with the power of kindness to members of the Roman Catholic church.  They readily imagine that Protestants hate them, when they only oppose their system.  Let us be the more careful when we represent their views that our statements shall be so fair and just that no intelligent Catholic can have any true ground of offense.  Harsh epithets and testy words do not dispose the mind to a calm listening.  Roman Catholics are what they are, in belief and practice, by circumstances not altogether under their control.  For myself, I must cherish through life an unutterable sympathy and compassion for the masses of them.

As this tract may reach the hands of a Roman Catholic, may I have a kind word with you.  Soon you and I must meet God in judgment.  What we need now is to have a good hope of meeting him there in peace.  I pray, ask yourself seriously what is the foundation of your hope; is it the church or Christ?  Have you examined the grounds of your faith?  Have you looked on both sides?  Is it too much to ask that you review the whole question?  Your soul’s life and peace may depend upon it.

I think I am as free from prejudice on this subject as one well can be.  I stood once where you now stand.  I thought and felt as you now do.  I have not written a word which, if it gave unnecessary offense, I would not blot out with a tear.  My prayer is that you may be led to the Lord Jesus Christ, the only name under heaven given among men whereby we may be saved.  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”

I commend all to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them that are sanctified.


*A personal experience told in an address before the Southern Baptist Convention at Nashville, Tennessee-1878, and requested by that body for publication in tract form.  That request having failed it appeared in the Religious Herald, Richmond, Va.

Read Full Post »