[The United Presbyterian, March 20, 1950, p. 10]
Will Rome Win?
By PROF. GORDON H. CLARK
Department of Philosophy, Butler University
[The writer of this article is an ordained minister, member of the Indiana Presbytery, and elder in the First United Presbyterian church, Indianapolis, Ind. Editor]
WHILE the publicity department of the Roman Catholic church may exaggerate the advances that it has made in this country, it can scarcely be denied that the Roman church has gained in numbers and political power during the past decade. Its constant drive (and scattered successes) to obtain tax money for the support of its parochial schools, its diplomatic victory in persuading the President to appoint an ambassador to the Vatican, the well-publicized conversions of conspicuous persons and its justifiable opposition to communism, all conspire to increase its prestige at the expense of Protestantism.
Why Rome Forges Ahead
Near the close of the war The Christian Century published a series of powerful articles describing the advance of Romanism in this country. The question that formed the title, Can Catholicism Win America?Was answered with a Yes. Since that series of articles, various Protestant groups have showed some interest in the matter. Some denominational papers and some independent papers have published material on Romanism; an organization of Protestants and others who favor separation of church and state has take form; and a seminary or two have introduced courses on how to combat Romanism. None of this is too soon or too much.
Opposition to Rome, however, should not be merely negative. It is true that Rome is an enemy of free speech and civil liberty. For example, the papal encyclical Immortale Dei states that “the uncontrolled power of thinking and publicly proclaiming one’s thoughts has no place among the rights of citizens.” A standard textbook, Catholic Principles and Politics, by Ryan and Boland, teaches that to exclude the Roman church from the power of making laws is a fatal error, and that the state should prohibit the public preaching of any but the Roman religion. The present persecution of the Protestants in Spain and other places where Rome is in control shows that the Pope intends to enforce his political principles wherever he can. All these things are sufficient reasons for a negative attitude toward Romanism. The principles of Romanism are principles that we can well be against.
Why Protestantism Lags
And yet opposition to Rome should not be merely negative. It might be well to ask whether any deterioration in Protestantism has contributed to the advancing fortunes of Romanism. Why is it that in the United States certain conspicuous personalities have embraced the Roman faith? If these persons had come to feel the need of some religion, why did they not join a Protestant church? Could it be that the Protestant churches they happened to know did not have much faith to offer?
Man is a sinner, guilty before God; and in times past God has now and then sent plagues, war, and destruction to jolt men out of their complacent worldliness. For while sinners do not like to retain God in their knowledge, they cannot always escape the realization of what God’s judgment is, namely, that they who do such things are worthy of death. In their extremity they begin to call on God and to sense their need of pardon. To this need the Roman church addresses itself directly; and where the contrite sinner finds that the Protestant churches are preaching only a vague political program of socialism and pacifism, where he hears no assurance of salvation from sin, no clear word from God, where Protestantism has nothing but respectability to offer, it is not surprising that the sinner turns to Rome.
Message of “The Prophets” Needed
Until such Protestant churches can recover the message of the prophets and the apostles, their opposition to Rome can be little more than political. The popular program of merging denominations into one ecclesiastical octopus is not a sufficient answer to Romanism. Although many influential religious leaders decry the multiplicity of denominations, the weakness of Protestantism is not so much in its organizational divisions, as in its insipid modern message. Mergers are organizational and quantitative; they cannot generate life, knowledge, or zeal; and a merger of unspiritual organizations will produce only greater unspirituality. Size does not even guarantee efficiency. In the past God’s greatest exploits have not been accomplished by numerical superiority. The trouble with Gideon’s army at the first was not that it was too small, but that it was too large. It is singleness of purpose and purity of message that receive the power of grace and the grace of power.
Word of Truth Will Prevail
To combat Romanism therefore, let us remember that once before we combatted Romanism very effectively. It was done by preaching justification by faith. It was done by explaining the sin of idolatry, by insisting on the priesthood of all believers, by proclaiming the sole mediatorship of Christ, and the full sufficiency of his sacrifice to satisfy divine justice. These are truths that never change they meet the needs of every age. Romanism was shaken to its foundations by putting the open Bible into the hands of the people. What we did before, we can do again—if we want to. The Bible is the sword of the Spirit; it is the only weapon God has given us—but it is enough, quite enough. Let us use it today.