Are The Changes Real?

In RECENT YEARS Protestants have been riding a wave of

optimism regarding Roman Catholics. This optimism is

evident in Protestant literature. Christianity Today

for example, demonstrates this when it editorializes.

"Big changes are occurring in the Church of Rome, and

many of those changes are wholesome, the work of the

Holy Spirit and a source of joy to Protestants." The

emergence of a new Protestant concern for Catholics is

comforting and understandable. Protestants see the

changes in the Roman church following Vatican II as

steps toward evangelical Christianity.

This optimism may be a subject of praise, but there

is the possibility that it may prove to be the result

of pure naivete. One must be careful that this

attitude is not premature. One needs a keen insight

into these changes and the so-called outworking of the

Holy Spirit. To properly interpret these changes and

developments, one must be thoroughly acquainted with

the soul of Catholicism, not just with the external

apparatus but also with the underlying theological

basis of the religious system.

The changes in the Catholic Church

Many Protestants believe the Holy Spirit to be

genuinely at work in the Catholic Church. They are so

convinced by external changes which have taken place

since Vatican II, and mainly by the vigorous form of

life which is taking place in many Catholics. When

they examine individuals experience and testimonies

they suppose the Holy Spirit to be active in them. But

to do so is to look at the Roman Church with

Protestant spectacles, because the Catholic Church is

not primarily "individuals."

What is the Catholic Church? It is first of all a

religious system centered around a hierarchy. The

Church's authority is found in the Pontiff, Bishops,

Councils, and two thousand years of tradition. What

constitutes the Catholic Church-its belief, its

teaching, its dogma, its structure - comes from the

hierarchy which Catholics believe to have been

introduced by Christ Himself.

Individuals are Catholic only as far as they are

connected with, and under the dispensation of the

hierarchy. When a Protestant says the Holy Spirit is

working in the Catholic Church, he must demonstrate

that the Holy Spirit is working in the hierarchy, from

the Pope down to the priests, not the layman only.

The Holy Spirit did work in an individual 450 years

ago, but he did not work in the Church. Luther saw the

complete truth of the Gospel but he was forced to

begin the Protestant movement outside the Church. When

the Holy Spirit works in individuals, it can only

result in these individuals finding themselves outside

the church as did Luther. If these individuals don't,

a paradox becomes evident.

What changes are taking place in the Catholic Church?

The Church's hierarchy has always adapted to changing

attitudes. When Catholics were willing to submit

themselves to Church authority, the Church took

advantage of it. Catholics are now thirsty for more

freedom so the Church gives them more freedom. After

all, it is better to change than to lose members. This

is illustrated in an interview of James Hefley with

Rev. (Fr. ) Romagosa, editor of the Clarion Herald, a

Catholic newspaper in Louisiana. Rev. (Fr.) Romagosa

was asked how he liked saying the Mass in English. He

said, "I was never so pleased with anything in my

life. But at my church we still have one mass for the

people who want it said the old way. Some are so set

in their ways that if we didn't have this, they might

quit. Hefley then asked, "What has happened in the

Catholic Church in recent years?" Rev. (Fr.) Romagosa

answered, "It certainly is a renewal... The Church has

had to adapt to the place and the times. If the

seminaries hadn't relaxed a few years ago, we would

have lost many more candidates for the priesthood than

we did."

Included in adaptations by the Church is also a

change in the Church's attitude. The priest does not

speak of Hell as he used to do. The woman is not urged

to wear a hat in church as in former times. There is a

new accent on love. There is a new accent on social

action. But has the Church altered doctrine? In

Hefley's interview with Rev. (Fr.) Romagosa he answers

this question, "But there has been no change in basic


What then are the changes? For Catholics these

changes may not have the same importance as for

Protestants. April Armstrong, a Catholic woman, in her

book What's Happening to the Catholic Church?,

summarizes the major changes. Catholics are no longer

bound to avoid meat on Friday. The Mass is now said in

the language of the people. Catholics are no longer

bound to attend mass on Sunday. One can satisfy his

religious obligation by attending on Saturday evening.

Catholics are allowed to have dialogue and prayer with

the Protestants. A new emphasis is placed on the Bible

and there is more encouragement of lay participation

in the Church.

For Protestants, the important change is the new

emphasis on the Bible. "The Spirit of God is at work

in the Roman Catholic Church today, and the Word of

God is His tool," says Robert Coote in Eternity (Nov.


Some Protestants are so impressed to see Catholics

with a Bible in their hands that when they see one,

they are ready to hug him as a "Brother in Christ."

Does the Bible make a person a Christian? If so, what

about the Jehovah Witnesses, the Mormons? What about

the Scribes and Pharisees at the time of Jesus; The

Bible is meaningful as long as its teaching is not

altered by the Creeds of a hierarchy. Catholics may

have a new access to the Bible, but unless this access

is accompanied by major changes in the Church

doctrines, this access may prove to be meaningless.



What is it that remains unchanged? Let us look at only

a few things re-endorsed by Vatican II. Progressive

Catholics refer to Vatican II for support of their

attitudes. Vatican has become their authority. James

Gallagher, a former president of Tombrock Catholic

Women's College, is quoted by Coote in Eternity (Nov.

1971) as an example: "In his writing and speaking he

(Gallagher) no longer feels bound to quote St. Thomas

Aquinas and the Patristic Fathers. Now, his

authorities are Vatican II and the New Testament. But

when Vatican II1 is an authority, what is the

remaining authority of the New Testament? Vatican II

has done nothing but reaffirm the Church's position as

established at the Council of Trent (1545- 1563).

Another Paradox!

Vatican II reaffirmed the Supremacy of the Catholic

Church in matters of Salvation. "... Are saved those

who are fully incorporated into the Church... Who

accept the Church's entire system and all the means of

salvation given to her." It also states Protestants

can be called "Christian" because of their ignorance

of the Catholic Church as the necessary institution

made by God for the salvation of souls.

Baptism still carries the magical power of life. "By

Baptism one becomes truly incorporated into Christ and

he is re-born to a sharing of the divine life. " The

infant is born again at his baptism. He will never

need that experience again.

The sacrament of Penance remains, "Confession of sins

to the priest in order to obtain pardon from the mercy

of God for his offenses against God and the Church."

The sacrament of the Eucharist (Transubstantiation)

has not changed. Christ is still worshipped and eaten

in the substances which by the magical words of the

priest are transformed into the literal flesh and

blood of Christ. Therefore the Eucharist is of extreme

importance in the Church's life. "The Eucharist shows

itself to be the source and the apex of the whole work

of preaching the gospel."

The Mass remains the renewal of Christ's sacrifice

for the forgiveness of sins. Mary is still Advocate,

Auxiliatrix, Adjutrix, and Mediatrix. She is the

primary channel through which all graces flow. She

continues to win for man gifts of eternal salvation.

Finally, Scriptural interpretation remains subject to

the final judgment of the Church's hierarchy. But,

according to Vatican II, where does Christ fit into

the plan of salvation? "By the preaching of the Word

(Word was defined as: Tradition and Scripture) and by

the Celebration of the Sacraments, whose center and

summit is the most Holy Eucharist."

After having seen that the fundamental position of

the Church has not been modified, can we expect real

changes in the future? An editorial in Christianity

Today answers: "But amid these many changes one must

recognize that the Church of Rome had not changed and

will not change in its essential theological




How is the term "evangelical" as claimed by Catholics

reconciled with these unchanged doctrines: Is it

possible that many Catholics have discovered the

religious jargon of evangelical Protestants: Are they

using the same language with a different connotation?

How can a Catholic be evangelical and still give

allegiance to these doctrines? Here is the paradox.

From all over the world flow reports about priests,

nuns and laymen who claim to have had the kind of

religious experience Protestants claim. Robert Evans,

director of the Greater Europe Mission, meets with

several priests for Bible study and flatly states: "I

can detect no difference between their testimony of

new birth in Christ and my own." It is true that many

claim to have accepted Christ as Savior, they hold

Bible studies, they even meet with Protestants... But

what about the unchanged theological position in which

they still believe?

Where are the evangelical Catholics who answer the

paradox? In the Catholic and Protestant literature

available, no instances are found where evangelical

Catholics explain their allegiance to church doctrine.

This should cause the optimistic evangelical

Protestant to pause before sticking an evangelical

label on a faithful Catholic believer.

The evangelical Protestant can forget a about the

paradox and resort to rationalization. He may do like

James Hefley did with his Catholic neighbors. "I

couldn't argue with their lives. They were the best

neighbors we had ever known. My prejudice slipped a

notch and I admitted to my wife, 'I don't know about

other Catholics, but Joe and Jean are Christians.' "

From here Hefley began to rationalize: "I began to

think that He (God) might actually be working in the

Catholic Church. Surely Satan would not be promoting

Bible reading, prayer and works of charity in Christ's


But such rationalization is only superficial and does

not solve the problem at all. Look at Hefley's

conclusion in his book, A Prejudiced Protestant Looks

at the Changing Catholic Church: "The Catholic Church

has changed in style and attitude, though basic

doctrines have not been altered." Hefley lost his

prejudice but he did not find an answer to the

Catholic-Evangelical paradox. The problem cannot be

solved emotionally or rationally; it must be faced


The Charismatic Movement in the Catholic Church

If one believes there are evangelicals in the

Catholic Church today, he must certainly expect to

find them in the charismatic movement which is

spreading rapidly throughout the United States and

Canada. If there are evangelical Catholics who really

resolve the paradox, they would be found in that

group. The movement consists mostly of young people,

eager for freedom, freshness and life. They are less

formal and indoctrinated than older Catholics and they

might certainly have found an answer to their Catholic


What do we find? Look at the language they speak.

Anne Sandberg a "Steward" in a Catholic Pentecostal

prayer group, reports in Christian Life, testimonies

of Charismatic Catholics; John's wife told her mother,

who also found Christ:" He fell to his knees received

Christ and arose a new man;" "He acknowledged Jesus

Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. " This is the

language of evangelical Christians!

However, these people in receiving Christ, do not do

it under the Holy Spirit's conviction of their lost

state, but in order to become better Catholics. It is

not a question of repentance, conversion and new

birth, but a mere renewal of what they already

possessed since infant baptism. Anne Sandberg explains

the paradox in this way:

Catholics are not attempting to reconcile these

(Charismatic experiences) with their centuries-old

doctrines. Stephen Clark, in a pamphlet writes,

"Baptism (infant) is the entrance into the church and

involves the forgiveness of sins. In baptism a person

begins to be a Christian. "

Since a Catholic who has been baptized in the Spirit

believes he had already become a Christian at the time

of infant baptism, through his sponsors, then his

subsequent acceptance of Christ is called a renewal of

his baptism.

Likewise, Catholic charismatics believe they have

already received the Spirit at confirmation. Kevin

Ranaghan in Catholic Pentecostals explains: "The

church already received the Spirit on the day of

Pentecost... What this new Pentecostal Movement seeks

to do is... to ask the Lord to actualize in a concrete

living way, what the Christian people have already


Other Catholic writers say that this Holy Spirit

baptism, said to have been received at confirmation,

is renewed at the time of the actual infilling of the


Anne Sandberg is not alone in this explanation. She

only reflects the theology of all the others involved.

Father O'Connor, professor of Theology at Notre Dame

University and the recognized Theologian of the

Catholic Charismatic movement speaks the same

language. In The Pentecostal Movement in the Catholic

Church, he gives two examples of things which would be

incompatible with Catholic allegiance.

"Rebaptism" is unacceptable because at baptism

(predominantly infant) one is re-born and made a

member of the Church. "Rebaptism" is an anathema for

the Catholic. To undergo believer's baptism is

heretical or, at the least, a scandal.

Concerning salvation, O'Connor feels no one, even

through an experience of faith in Jesus Christ, can

receive the knowledge that he is saved. "No one can

have certitude about his ultimate salvation. This is

unscriptural and in contradiction with a firm and

unanimous Catholic tradition, and with the formal

teaching of the Council of Trent."

The most evangelical wing in the Roman Church has

obviously not changed its doctrine. The paradox


What is the result of the Charismatic Catholic's

encounter with Christ: What is the effect in their

religious life:

An important article by Killion McDonnell in Dialogue

is revealing. McDonnell claims to write his article

with scholarly perspective and bases it on

observations accumulated during four years of research

in Catholic Pentecostalism. He concludes: "Catholic

Pentecostals tend to go back and cultivate all the

avenues of contact with God that they had abandoned:

Rosary, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, (The

Eucharist exposed on the altar for worship), devotion

to Mary... frequent confession, daily Mass and


The same conclusion was reached in the Report of the

Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of

Catholic Bishops. The report reads: "They seem to grow

in their attachment to certain established devotional

patterns such as devotion@on to the real presence

(Eucharist) and rosary." The report found the movement

theologically sound, with a good Biblical basis.

All the information available is unanimous. In

general, Catholics experience with Christ makes them

better Catholics within the structure of their former

belief. What about the paradox? It remains unanswered.

Many Evangelicals have seen the paradox and have

asked for an answer. James Hills in Eternity says: "It

is especially disturbing to Protestant evangelicals to

find Mary honored at times as Mediatrix, and to hear

of cases where tongues are interpreted as a 'Hail


Edward Plowman in Christianity Today (June 23, 1972)

asks evangelical Catholics: "What about church

teachings on Mary, papal infallibility, absolution,

the Mass and Sacraments, and other doctrines that are

impalatable to evangelicals? These things unexplained

bother non-Catholics.

Is there an answer? Either we face a true paradox or

something is not genuine. The evangelical Catholic is

either a genuine Biblical Christian or a genuine

faithful Catholic, but he cannot be both. If he is a

genuine Evangelical then of necessity he cannot

profess Catholic doctrine. If he is a genuine

Catholic, then he cannot be,an evangelical Christian.

The Evangelical Protestants Attitude

The Evangelical Protestants attitude should be

reservation and moderation. Christians have a mission

in the word. They are called to reach the lost for

Christ. The Christian must always be conscious of the

times and be able to relate to his world without being


Evangelical Christians have a responsibility toward

Catholics. One of their responsibilities is to present

to Catholics the Word of God in a language that is

understandable. We need to meet them on their wave

length and relate to them in a manner that leaves no

room for such a paradox as we now face in many


Evangelicals want to see Catholics being saved. This

is normal an worthy of praise. But what about the

paradox? It should not be a matter of blind hope that

Catholics are at last coming to Christ within the

Church, but a matter of reality. Are they or not? We

are dealing with souls of people. It is a matter of

life and death. It is necessary that we ask our

catholic friends for an answer to the paradox. If the

answer is Biblically acceptable, then praise God. But

if not, it is our responsibility to help them. How can

we help a self-deceived Catholic if we take for

granted that he is an evangelical?

May the Lord our Master make us wise in these last

days of religious subjectivity and irrationality and

above all give us a responsible love for our Catholic


The Evangelical Catholic is either a genuine Biblical

Christian or a genuine, faithful Catholic, but he

cannot be both. If he is a genuine evangelical, then

of necessity, he cannot profess Catholic doctrine. If

he is a genuine Catholic, then he cannot be an

evangelical Christian. How is the term "Evangelical",

as claimed by Catholics, reconciled with unchanged

doctrines? How can a Catholic be evangelical and still

give allegiance to these doctrines?

Here is the paradox.


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