This is a subject that makes us humble when we realize the steady growth of Catholicism in our country, and how comparatively little we have accomplished in the way of contacting or interesting the masses of Roman Catholics. Every year the Catholic Church has a great influx of members taken from the ranks of Protestants. This is not accomplished without an effort an the part of the church and its lay members. At intervals, missions are held in the various churches, and while these services are primarily for the church's own communicants, yet she takes advantage of these occasions to gain converts by devoting special services to non-Catholics.
In these services, artful teachers give instruction on subjects that interest curious Protestants. The seeming piety, and the dignity with which their services are conducted have an enchanting effect upon those who attend. The liturgical objects, the illuminated altar, the expressive gestures of the officiating priest, the air of scholasticism, the mysticism with which the church's doctrines are clothed, are all designed to attract and to charm. Then, too, the Catholic Church is leaving nothing undone in promoting her doctrines before the world through the medium of the radio, the press, outdoor meetings, and the Catholic Youth Movement. Thus she is not only gaining accessions from the Protestant world, but she is steadily growing in prestige.
What has led the Roman church to utilize all the resources at her command? A vision—coupled with a firm belief in the bull issued by Pope Boniface VIII, declaring the Catholic Church to be the only true, holy, and apostolic church, and that outside of her, there is neither salvation nor remission of sins.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have little to attract when it comes to outward display in our form of worship. I shall never forget my impressions when I attended my first Sabbath service in a Seventh-day Adventist church. What a contrast to what I, a former Catholic, had been accustomed ! There was no glittering, golden altar, no adorned shrines, no richly robed minister, no dramatical genuflection, no graceful statuary to attract the eye, no enchanting music to decoy. All this display of outward pomp and ritualism was missing. But the simplicity with which the service was conducted, so free from all external ornamentations, was in itself an evidence of the divine origin of the message.
The religion of the true church needs no imposing ceremonies to make it acceptable to a heart longing for peace. Seventh-day Adventists have the most beautiful and attractive message in the world. We have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to declaring our heaven-born doctrines. Thank the Lord, we do not have to resort to a Boniface, a Gregory, or a Lea for the holy and apostolic truths which we hold ! We have the infallible and inspired Word of the living God.
The Catholic Church contends that outside the pale there is no salvation nor remission of sins, and that it is necessary for every human being to be a subject of the Roman Pontiff. If she can organize her forces, send them out bearing credentials of this character, and gain converts, how much more should we, as members of the true church, invested with the last message, organize our forces and capitalize on every available means to promote our doctrines among these deluded but precious souls !
We talk about the task that confronts us in our foreign work, and keep it before our people constantly. In every church throughout the country our members have the foreign fields upon their hearts. They sacrifice their means ; they offer earnest prayers for the salvation of the poor heathen who in ignorance are bowing down to gods made by human hands. The thrilling stories of conversion among those who turn from their idols to serve the living God move us to tears, and this is the way it should be. But when we think of the millions of poor Roman Catholics in this country, who in ignorance are bowing down to idols, have we no tears to shed ? No one who has experienced the depths of Romanism and been delivered by this glorious message, can witness a Catholic worshiper imploring the various saints for intercession and be unmoved.
The Challenge of a Great Need
I have stood in the Basilica of Saint Peter's in Rome and watched hundreds of men, women, and little children bow before the supposed figure of Peter, reach up and touch his extended toe, and then press their hands to their lips. Could anyone, witnessing such idolatry and knowing this message, be indifferent to the needs of these people ? No! When one witnesses such a travesty upon the religion of Jesus Christ, there wells up a fountain of sorrow for these benighted ones, and a longing to be used of God for liberation from the thralldom of their idolatrous practices. But we do not have to go to old Rome to behold a scene of this kind. I asked a worker one day, when we were passing a Catholic church in the city of Boston, to step into the entrance, where a large crucifix was stationed, and watch the people as they kissed and prostrated themselves before it. This worker had a great desire to go to a foreign field. I remarked that she did not have to go to a heathen land to bear the message, that here was heathenism in its most cruel form. This woman got a vision that day of the greatness of the task committed to us here in the homeland.
Here is a mighty challenge that confronts us, but as yet we have not met the challenge. Were we to put forth the same effort to interest our people in the conversion of the Roman Catholics as we have in getting them to bear a burden for the heathen lands, much would have been accomplished ere this. I have found our people surrounded by Catholic neighbors, and when I asked them if they had spoken to these friends about our message, invariably they would exclaim, "Oh ! I am afraid to accost them on the subject of religion." And thus the poor Catholic is passed by.
This neglect is largely due to a complex that most Protestants have when it comes to dealing with the doctrines of Catholicism. This situation could be changed if our people were instructed from the Bible on how to deal with the various dogmas of this church. There is a confidence and an assurance that comes with knowledge that one does not have in its absence. This lack of confidence has kept many a lay member from studying with his Catholic neighbor. Perhaps for this very same reason we, as workers, have failed in our duty.
During an evangelistic campaign, certain subjects on Catholic doctrines should be dealt with—subjects that would attract and interest the average Catholic. However, care and study should be given in advertising such topics, so as not to give offense, and greater care should be taken in presenting them. The manner in which the doctrine under question is approached from the Bible, as well as the tone of the voice, will have a telling effect upon the hearers. It is true that the average Protestant knows little about the doctrines of the Roman church, and Catholics are well aware of this fact. Seventh-day Adventist workers should not be in this category. When a Catholic finds a worker who is conversant with his doctrines and able to refute them from the Bible, confidence is established, and thus the way is opened for further instruction.
The Catholics with whom I have studied have been most appreciative of the course of instruction covering the seven sacraments and other subjects which deal directly with their beliefs. It may be that we have erred on the side of being too careful in avoiding such important subjects as the Seven Sacraments, the Invocation of Saints—Their Beatification and Canonization, Mariolatry, Peter and the Keys, Peter and the Rock, etc. If these and like subjects could be presented, giving the history of their inception into the church and appealing to the Bible for what it teaches on them, it would make a mighty appeal and would establish those who are seeking for light. Not only would such subjects be attractive and helpful to Catholics, but they would accomplish the same for non-Catholics.
Since Protestantism has been resting on its oars and allowing Catholics to go their way, this has led the Roman church to rest in carnal security, and has emboldened her until we can see her ascendancy today to that lofty place which the prophets have foretold. How thankful we should be that amidst all this superior power and influence, a voice is heard bidding, "Come out of her My people." During the days of the Reformation, little would have been accomplished if the leaders had been intimidated by the fear of offending the ruling, inexorable church of Rome.
Do's and Don'ts of Procedure
Every evangelist, pastor, and Bible worker should bear upon his heart the unfinished task of reaching the Catholics of his community. Prayerful consideration should be given to ways and means by which the work can be accomplished with the greatest skill. If a course of studies were developed covering each major doctrine held and believed by the Catholic Church, and how to deal with each from the Bible, I believe it would greatly enhance our efficiency in laboring for these souls. A suggestive list of "Do's" and "Don'ts" might well be incorporated in such a course, as follows :
Do not ask a prospective student if he believes that the priest is "another Christ," or if he accepts the theory that the priest can give absolution, or how he stands on the question of the pope's infallibility.
Do not pray either in a standing or a sitting position, but always in a kneeling posture.
Do not remark about the supposed holy pictures and images which may be very much in evidence in the room. When the psychological moment arrives, Catholics can be spoken to on this most delicate point. However, a study from the Bible on image worship should precede any approach to asking a Catholic to renounce all veneration for these objects.
Do not refer to the Bible you are using as the King James Version. When referring to the Bible, call it the Holy Scriptures, and-when mentioning the names of the apostles, speak of them as Saint James, Saint Peter, etc.
Do not manifest any vindictiveness when meeting with opposition.
Never should a Catholic's belief be held up to ridicule. Regardless of how absurd his cherished points of faith may seem, we must be careful not to make remarks that would engender laughter.
A Catholic has great respect for piety ; therefore be very reverent while in the attitude of prayer and throughout the study. When mentioning the name of Jesus, do it with great reverence. Show them from the Bible why you offer your prayers through the name of Jesus. If possible, get a copy of the Protestant version into the hands of your readers.
To briefly summarize the points herein covered: We should pray for a clearer vision of the unfinished task, and for a greater burden for the unwarned Catholics in our midst. We should learn how to deal with the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and work for our Catholic friends and neighbors. Our evangelists and pastors should give study to devoting some time during their evangelistic campaign to subjects that will attract and inform Catholics. Our Bible workers should be instructed on the various doctrines of Catholicism, and how to give an intelligent study from the Holy Scriptures that will refute the positions held by Catholics.