In Purchasing an automobile one may have a definite preference for one particular make, but he also knows that there are basic similarities about all makes that bring about general dependability and usefulness.

There are also similarities between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. But we live in a time when Protestants should learn to know those distinctives of their faith that have made it a blessing to countless millions since the days of the Reformation, distinctives that can be surrendered or blurred only at great cost.

There are historical, doctrinal, and political differences between Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church that are of vital importance, and there is no indication that councils, present or future, will remove those differences. If out of these consultations there can emerge a deeper appreciation of the Protestant position, good can be done and tensions eased; but this happy eventuality should in no way diminish the essential Protestant witness to the world.

Protestantism was born by faith, founded on convictions, sustained in adversity, nurtured in Christian doctrine, and propagated by Spirit-inspired courage. Its distinctives are so clear that they themselves erect a wall between those spiritually free and those ecclesiastically bound.

The distinctives of Protestantism have been so clear and their effect on the world so great that any tendency to ignore their validity or question their worth must be viewed with the gravest misgivings. Any answering spirit of tolerance or indifference that is evoked by the apparently new tolerance on the part of Rome must be guarded in order to maintain positions that must not be conceded.

Basic to these distinctives is the authority of the Holy Scriptures above that of men and ecclesiastical organizations. This distinctive motivated Martin Luther when alone before the Diet of Worms he said, “Here I stand.” This was not a dramatic appeal to the gallery but an affirmation of his faith in the full and final authority of the Bible.

Confronted by the organization, scholarship, and power of Rome and ordered to recant, he said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by an evident reason (ratione evidente)—for I confide neither in the pope nor in a council alone since it is certain that they have often erred and contradicted themselves—I am held fast by the Scriptures adduced by me, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s Word, and I neither can nor will revoke anything, seeing that it is not safe or right to act against the conscience. God help me.”

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This stand is equally imperative today. Otherwise we who call ourselves Protestants are in gravest danger of forfeiting the liberty that has been ours—a liberty that rests deep in the written Word of God, a liberty for which men crossed seas and for which they were willing to die, because without it life would not be worth living.

This final authority of the Bible as over the final authority of the Church is a distinctive many Protestant leaders are themselves forgetting in our time, for whenever the Church imposes her will and power over the conscience of the individual she is assuming a Romish stance and not that of her own historical setting.

The Church has the duty to instruct, but when she claims infallibility in interpreting God’s Word she has too often shown her own fallibility. Historically Protestantism has shunned such claims. For the Protestant his conscience is free to receive and act on the leading of the Holy Spirit as God speaks through his Word. Not so in the church of Rome, where there is interposed between man and his God an organization that claims for itself, independent of the Scriptures, a divine authority and power over the minds, consciences, and wills of men.

Another distinctive of Protestantism is the separation of church and state. Whereas Rome regards the state as the temporal arm of the church and therefore, per se, an agency of the church, Protestantism has historically kept the church clear of political entanglements, exercising only the right of humble petition in the name of the church and leaving to Christian citizens the responsibility for putting into practice the Christian ethic.

The increasing involvement of contemporary Protestantism in political, social, economic, and other governmental matters in the name of the Church is a reversal to tactics of Rome that have proven disastrous to her essential spiritual mission and that will involve Protestantism in ultimate disaster.

The distinctiveness of Protestantism is nowhere more in evidence than in her doctrine of justification by faith alone—a doctrine firmly rooted in the Scriptures that is a source of freedom and comfort to all who rest therein.

This doctrine must not be surrendered, for it is the basis of man’s hope of salvation. Add to this any doctrine of works, and the full and complete work of Christ is made conditional on something man does for himself. Protestantism has never demanded conformity to an interpretation of the Church, nor has she imposed interpretations and disciplines that in themselves negate the glorious fact that “the just shall live by his faith.” This Rome does.

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Again, Protestantism has stood firm in its affirmation of the sole mediatorship of Christ. It is in him that we believe, to him that we turn, in his name that we pray, his merit that we claim, his cleansing that we receive, and his blood that atones; and between us and him there is no intermediary—ecclesiastical or personal.

When Protestantism emerged with the Reformation, men began to enjoy freedom of soul and liberty in matters of their faith. There came the unshackling of body, mind, and spirit which is a part of the liberty that is in Christ.

History has shown Protestantism far more capable of Christian tolerance than Rome, for, while maintaining her distinctives, she has always claimed as Christian brothers all who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Saviour from sin, knowing that within the Roman Catholic Church also there are millions who so believe. But Rome has not accorded Protestants a like status; and if welcome changes may now be in the making, they nevertheless do not overcome the basic assumptions of that faith.

Within the ecumenical movement there are trends having to do with doctrine, polity, and organization, all suggesting varying degrees of accommodation to Rome. These are ominous, for the distinctive witness of Protestantism is involved.

The Church is always in danger where her ecclesiastical structure takes precedence over her message. That danger exists today. A monolithic organization may be outwardly impressive, but it is the message that brings life.

Obviously Rome would gladly welcome us back on her terms. But the distinctives are such, and have been so richly blessed of God, that they cannot be relinquished.

Should this happen, God will raise up others to carry the banner.

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