To my dear Roman Catholic Brethren
I admire the devotion of many simple souls in the Roman Catholic church. Your sacrificial generosity is evident from buildings which, I am sure you have in good faith dedicated to the glory of God. You also hold some correct doctrine: the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, Christ’s atonement for sin – and more.
But I am sorry for you. The teaching of your church leaves you with uncertainties, the prospect of purgatory, and a dependence on God’s word being set aside by unscriptural practices. Indeed, Christ’s true church of which you individually are members, if you have faith in the perfect work of Christ on the cross does not teach – it testifies and worships.
I have produced the following based on a paper by J N Darby entitled Superstition is not Faith; or, The True Character of Romanism. Though written in the 19th Century it is applicable to the 21st.
Forgive my using the word ‘superstition’. Darby uses it. It may have changed its meaning over the years but I am sure you will understand its use over against that of God given ‘faith’.
May you, after prayerful consideration of this, realise that your sins were born by Jesus on the cross. Your standing before Him is secure. No mass is needed, no confession to the priest, no extreme unction and certainly no purgatory is necessary for you to enjoy Christian blessings NOW. And who more tender to speak to directly than your Lord and Saviour, Jesus?
What do we mean by ‘Superstition’?
Superstition is the unwarranted religious subjection of the mind of man.
This may be:
- Man’s rational thinking
- Something of man’s own imagination;
- A real, evil and malignant satanic influence
- Something or some one good, but the object of worship.
There is no warrant for such worship in scripture. Faith, on the contrary, is the reception and belief of God’s testimony to the soul.
Superstitious reverence includes:
- Animals (the Egyptians)
- The earth, sun, moon, planets and stars
- Mythology (fauns, satyrs etc – the Greeks)
- Serpent (evil power) worship (Africa, American Indian)
- Saints and angels.
Even John nearly fell for the latter when he fell down to worship at the feet of the angel. Paul speaks of ‘a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels’ (Col 2:18).
Superstitious reverence acknowledges God, even if it does not know Him. Because it gets between the soul and God, God is hidden and usurped. It is often called faith, but really it is the opposite. Faith brings us into God’s presence – we receive God’s authoritative testimony. Faith is the revelation of a loving God, who has revealed Himself in Christ our Saviour. God gave His own Son who, on the cross, purged our sins, thus freeing us from guilty consciences, and giving us peace and reconciliation with God, so we can walk in newness of life. Hence faith is exactly opposite to superstition.
Superstition hides the true God, giving false notions of Him, attaching the authority of His name to moral degradation. Human conscience revolts against this, as it is contrary to what even an unbeliver would consider God to be. Superstition would tend to exalt man above his own religion, producing infidelity and even atheism (if such a thing exists which Darby doubted). The human will is always atheistical, for it is not subject to God’s will, and will seek to reason against the existence of whatever it does not like. But God has given man a conscience, which the will can never get over. As a result people use religion – that which bears God’s name, as an excuse for throwing off God’s authority.
What is Faith?
Faith must be founded exclusively on the testimony of God, otherwise it is not God who is believed. I must believe when God Himself has spoken, or I do not believe God at all. John says, ‘He that received his [the Lord’s] testimony hath set to his seal that God is true’ (John 3:33). Had God’s testimony been founded solely on the miracles, it would have been without value, since man is unchanged. ‘Many believed in him when they saw the miracles which he did; but Jesus did not commit himself to them, for he knew what was in man’ (John 2:23).
Having received the testimony of the God of love we know the Saviour, are reconciled, and have peace and communion with Him. We know the Father, through the Son, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and we approach God without fear, however poor and guilty we may be. Such is the Christian’s portion.
God has reconciled us to Himself, and we freely enjoy His perfect and gracious love, even in our weakness. Because we are reconciled, we have a direct relationship with God, so anything that is put in the way militates against the entire, perfect putting away of sin by the blessed Saviour. It is a human invention and a denial of Christianity. There is one Mediator between us sinners and God – Christ. Anything else is infidelity.
Why Rome is not based on Faith
Now we will see that the Roman system is not founded on faith. Romanism is in doctrine and practice, really infidel, though of course it would claim otherwise. A sincere person may believe that the liturgical worship of God is right and conform to religious habits. This is not faith. Alternatively, a poor ignorant, but pious, soul might even believe the in system, but be almost overwhelmed by its errors.
Between the Romanist and the Evangelical Christian is vast system of apostate error. Two questions are at issue:
- Are the doctrines that Rome teaches true?
- How can any one be sure of the authority of what is taught?
We shall see that the teaching is false and without authority. For example:
|Roman Catholic Teaching||The Truth|
|An unbloody sacrifice (the Mass) is efficacious for the remission of sins||The blood of Jesus Christ his [God’s] Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7).|
|Purgatory is needed to complete our cleansing (except for some special cases)||We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb 10:10).|
|The Mass is an offering for the sins of the living and the dead.||By one offering Christ has perfected for ever those that are sanctified. (Heb. 10:14.)|
|The saints and the Virgin Mary are more accessible and tender-hearted than Jesus||We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15)|
Christ suffered and shed His blood. His perfect offering was so efficacious, that it never needed to be repeated – He did it only ONCE. The Roman Catholic Mass pretends to offer this sacrifice again and again, therefore denying the efficacy of Christ’s offering of Himself on the cross. God’s word declares that there is no more offering for sin (see Heb 10:18). Furthermore, as the Mass is an unbloody sacrifice, which Rome maintains to be efficacious for the remission of sins. However, scripture says that ‘without shedding of blood there is no remission’ (Heb. 9:22). Consequently the Catholic doctrine contradicts scripture.
Now another false doctrine, that of of purgatory, teaches that the blood of Jesus does not purge me completely, even though I have accepted the gospel, and have lived a good religious life. I must suffer in some fire in order to be fit for God’s presence. Even if I have confessed to a priest, received absolution, the last rites and extreme unction (which is supposed to wipe away the remains of sin), and have had masses said for the repose of my soul, I still need to go through purgatory and pay the last farthing. As a result I retain a guilty conscience down here, and sadly the church maintains its power over me.
But scripture says ‘He has by HIMSELF purged our sins’ (Heb 1:3). The doctrine of purgatory is infidelity as to the efficacy of Christ’s blood and God’s word. The blood of Christ has cleansed the true Christian from all sin, so that we might have peace in our souls through His Name.
Jesus, the Mediator
The scripture declares there is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. It teaches us that a divine and gracious person, the Son — one with the Father, who is God over all, blessed for evermore — came down so low in grace, that even the poorest and vilest sinner could find free access to Him. Such grace and tenderness, was in Jesus. Now to us He a merciful High Priest, bearing our infirmities, and sympathising with our sorrows, entering into them as none other could, with a heart such as none other had (Darby’s words) (See Heb 2:17). He was without sin, so we can come boldly to a throne of grace as He intercedes for us.
But how does this tally with the doctrine of Mary? Can I not go to Jesus directly and count upon His tenderness? Is He too high and far off? Has Mary a tenderer heart as being a woman, must I go to Him either through her or the saints? Did Mary, however blessed, come down from heaven to seek me in my sorrow and in my misery? Or has Christ changed, and become hard-hearted, since He ascended up on high? No; the doctrine of many mediators, including the Virgin Mary, is infidelity as to the grace of Christ. It denies His glory as a compassionate High Priest. I trust His kindness more than that of all the Marys and all the saints, however blessed they might be. (Darby’s words)
The Word of God
These are just a few examples of the way in which Rome, on the authority of what is called the church, undermines the truth, taking away all the value of the precious truth of the gospel. It calls you to believe things that are not in scripture, and, in doing so, makes you disbelieve the truth of God. However, because Rome does not deny the expiation for sin made at the cross – or the Trinity , – or the incarnation, or the divinity of Christ, one would not suspect it of infidelity. But because it has denied the actual value and application of these wonderful truths, it has destroyed the them, and taken away the way of peace to the sinner’s soul.
But another point: everything in the above discussion has been based on the premise that the true believer accepts the authority of the inspired word of God. But Rome does not agree. It tells me that I cannot know the Bible, or the word of God, without the authority of the church. If God has written a book, and addressed it to men in general or to those called Christians, He has put them under the responsibility of receiving and submitting the authority of His word. If the teachings of Rome were right, no ordinary Christian could know that it is the word of God, and receive it as such. He must either deny it to be God’s revealed word, or assert that it is not binding on those to whom it is addressed. Otherwise God would have failed in His word: What blasphemous infidelity!
What kind of church it can be that makes itself more competent, and its authority more obligatory, than that God Himself? If I need the church’s authority in order to believe the word, I do not believe God at all. I am not to judge God’s word: it judge me. The Lord said, ‘The words that I have spoken unto you, the same shall judge you in that day’ (John 12:48). Whether it is the church, the pope, or a general church council, it is something besides the word, without which God’s own word is not binding on the conscience. This is high treason against God and His truth.
Accepting God’s Testimony
If Paul wrote an inspired epistle to a certain church, say to Corinth, the Christians there were bound to receive it as God’s word. The church has to receive the apostle’s letter, not pronounce on it. If God gives a testimony of Himself, the church is bound to believe it. If not, it is despises the testimony of God. Woe to it if it refuses the testimony; woe to me if I do too.
Even in creation, God has given a testimony. Man is guilty if he does not see God in it. There may be many things that he cannot explain; but the testimony is sufficient to condemn those who do not believe in God the Creator.
So when the blessed Lord appeared, many infidel hearts refused to accept who He was. But He said, ‘If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins’ (John 8:24). John said that by not believing we make God a liar, and are therefore guilty of infidelity (See 1 John 1:10). So in the word God has given a testimony, and man is bound to believe it. Difficulties may be raised by infidel minds; but God’s testimony is adequate to bind men and women to believe it, and for it to govern the conscience.
True faith is believing God, because he has said it. Faith in God believes in His word without any other authority than His word itself. If you require the church’s sanction of the word, you do not have faith in God. Anything else is human superstition.
Romanism is infidelity as to the most precious and fundamental truths of Christianity: it is infidelity as to the authority of God’s own word.
Based on Superstition is not Faith; or, The True Character of Romanism. By John Nelson Darby (1800-82).
A summary by Sosthenes.
The original is published in Collected Writings of John Nelson Darby Volume 17 (Doctrinal 4). Kingston Bible Trust, Lancing, England. Downloadable from Stem Publishing.
For some further reading I recommend J N Darby’s Familiar Conversations on Romanism:
J. N. Darby.
Conversation 1 Faith is in God and His Word, not in the Church
Conversation 2 The Forgiveness of Sins: Purgatory 1
Conversation 3 The Forgiveness of Sins: Purgatory 2
Conversation 4 The Word of God and the Church 1
Conversation 5 The Word of God and the Church 2
Conversation 6 The Word of God and the Church 3
Conversation 7 Infallibility
Conversation 8 Infallibility
Conversation 9 Holiness
Conversation 10 Apostolicity and Succession 1
Conversation 11 Apostolicity and Succession 2
Conversation 12 Apostolicity and Succession 3
Conversation 13 Apostolicity and Succession 4
Conversation 14 The Mass
Conversation 15 Transubstantiation 1
Conversation 16 Transubstantiation 2