I was awakened at 3:00 A.M. from a sound sleep. My mind raced as I reviewed the events that had just transpired. Six hours before I had found myself in a small side room of the Foothill Baptist Church in Moreno Valley, California, facing six confident and hostile Bible Christians. When they accompanied me into that room, they believed they were going to show me how wrong I was in putting my trust in the Church which minutes before had been characterized by Bart Brewer as the “Whore of Babylon.” So far as these men were concerned, I was just another ignorant Romanist, and they were going to show me the errors of my ways.
But I get ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning. A few days before this, I found out that Brewer, the ex-priest and anti-Catholic who heads Mission to Catholics International, was going to be speaking at a church about 50 miles from my home. Hoping to get some Catholic representation, I called several friends and explained what was going to take place. As it turned out, my wife, Jan, three friends, and I were the only ones from our area who could make it. One friend, Dan, was an active Catholic interested in apologetics. This would be an excellent opportunity for him to experience first-hand what a professional anti-Catholic is all about. We brought Bibles, knowing that, by carrying them, the people at the door would never suspect that we were Catholic interlopers. Most Baptists are taught that Catholics never read Scripture and that most don’t even own a Bible, unless it’s to display on a coffee table. We felt secure in our camouflage.
The program was to begin at 5:20 P.M., the service at 6:00. We arrived at 5:15 and hurried to the make-shift church. It consisted of a portable structure behind an old house that was used as the church office. Our little group was greeted by friendly faces that expressed what we took to be sincere joy at seeing new people in their midst. We took our seats, and the pastor opened the program with a prayer. Hymns were sung, and then Brewer was introduced for a question-and-answer session.
Since I had re-read Brewer’s book Pilgrimage from Rome just for this occasion, I had hoped to be able to undermine his credibility with this congregation, but as I listened to Brewer’s wishy-washy answers to the questions (most asked by the few Catholics in attendance), I decided to wait a bit. Besides, the pastor said that questions would be entertained after the service and that we would “stay ’til midnight if necessary, in order to get all the questions answered.” (As it turned out, that night Brewer never did answer any questions directly.) I sat back with notebook and pen in hand.
The service continued with Brewer wasting no time in going for the throat of Catholicism. He spoke for an hour, and most of what he said was a rehash of his autobiography, sprinkled with bits from Loraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism. His presentation was replete with distortions of history and with quotations from a “well-known Catholic author” and “a Catholic book” which were never identified–plus there were numerous untruths.
I was amazed at his gall. He stated that the Holy Eucharist was “invented” in 1215 and that before then there is no record of this belief. He claimed that the Church added the “apocryphal” books to the Bible at the Council of Trent in order to justify its “non-biblical” teachings. He said that celibacy is the prime cause of sin among priests and that 6,000 priests in the Philippines and thousands more in South America have concubines.
(Not surprisingly, he did not put any of this in the context of his own relationships with young women in the Philippines when he wore a Roman collar–relationships that, he admits in his autobiography, got him expelled by the local bishop.)
I noticed two Catholics get up and leave during his presentation. I was tempted to do the same, shaking inwardly with anger at his sarcasm, trying to ret ain my composure. He played the crowd and soon had it mocking and laughing.
After Brewer finished speaking, the pastor returned to the platform and described his own brief experience with Catholicism. He said that he had to attend six pre-marital counseling sessions before he married a Catholic, but that after three of the sessions he was told that he was hopeless and that his return would not be necessary–but, since “money talks,” the priest married them anyway.
He said he was “coerced” into baptizing his first child a Catholic. He didn’t say much about the Church, but what he did say was wrong–for instance, that the Church teaches that if you’re not a Catholic you’re definitely going to hell and that the priest kills Christ over and over again in the Mass. Brewer, who knew better, sat behind him and offered no corrections.
I waited for two hours for the opportunity to identify myself as a Catholic and to make a statement refuting these accusations, but Brewer occupied the last few minutes with a pitch for the anti-Catholic books on the back table. As the service ended, my hand went up. The pastor looked at me and said, “Let’s all go to the back table.” The question-and-answer period was over before it began.
I felt as though I had been conned. The evening had been a one-sided lambasting of everything I hold dear as a Catholic. I had listened patiently for two hours while these men distorted the truth, characterizing the Church as a whore and the pope as a fraud.
A young man came up to me with a wide grin and told me that he thought “Brother Brewer” was a wonderful man. I overreacted and said “Brother Brewer” had just lied through his teeth. He was shocked at my response and suggested that I talk to “Pastor.” That, I told him, I fully intended to do.
As I was leaving the building I stopped to talk with the pastor. I began to tell him that he had incorrectly stated Catholic teachings relating to hell and the Mass, but I was interrupted by the pastor’s hulking bodyguard. He told me that if I wanted to talk to the pastor later that it would be arranged and that at the church door was not the place to discuss these matters.
While I was occupied in this way outside, my friend Dave was inside talking to Brewer about the apostle Paul’s praise of celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7. As people were leaving and saying good-bye to Brewer, Dave stood next to him, also shaking their hands, thanking them for coming. The people assumed that Dave was with Brewer, so he took the opportunity to hand each of them a flyer about an upcoming event with John Thompson, an ex-Baptist minister, now Catholic, who speaks to groups about his conversion. As the crowd dwindled to just a few people, Dave went out to the driveway with two members from the Legion of Mary and began to pass out flyers to people as they were leaving in their cars.
A few men had overheard my statements to their pastor and after a few minutes followed me out to the parking lot to defend him. By the time they caught up with me, I was at the end of the driveway talking to my wife and a few of the other Catholics. The bodyguard saw Dave passing out his flyers and became upset, even though minutes before Brewer had encouraged the congregation to sneak into Catholic churches to place anti-Catholic materials in the racks and pews.
I was confronted by the Hulk and four or five other men with Bibles in their hands. The Hulk asked if I thought that everything the Pope wrote was inspired by God. I said no. “Does the Pope sin?” “
It’s my understanding that the Holy Father receives the sacrament of reconciliation weekly.” “
Do you believe in the Bible?” “
Of course,” I said, then cut off this exchange by telling them that everything that they had heard this evening had been false.
Again the bodyguard stepped in. He asked if I would like to talk to the pastor and Brewer about these matters; if so, he would arrange it. I said, “Please do.”
Dave and I were ushered into a room adjacent to the main meeting hall. We found ourselves confronted by the assistant pastor and five other men and were informed that the pastor and Brewer were busy and believed these six could satisfy our concerns.
I realized that these men were the only audience that I was likely to get, so I jumped in with both feet. I said that everything that they had heard this evening was either a distortion of Catholicism or an outright lie. It is one thing to understand the Church’s teaching and to disagree with it, but to purvey a distortion, a caricature of Catholicism, is unconscionable. I told them that I lecture on the differences between Catholicism and Fundamentalism and on the teachings of the Watchtower Society and that I researched the Society, not just by reading books about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, but by studying Watchtower publications. I said that if they were sincerely interested in learning what the Church teaches that they should do likewise and study good Catholic books (which, as a book store owner, I would be happy to recommend) and not the anti-Catholic tripe that Brewer was pushing.
One man asked if I believed that the Bible is God’s Word, inerrant and complete in all things necessary for salvation. I answered that I believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that it is without error, but explained that there is another body of teaching, an oral teaching passed down from the apostles, which we Catholics call Tradition. When the assistant pastor claimed the true position is that of sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”), I asked him to justify his doctrine by using Scripture–alone. While he was searching through his Bible, I fielded other questions.
Eventually, he re-entered the discussion by quoting Revelation 22:18, which says we are not to add to or take away from “this book.” I explained that when that verse was composed the Bible did not exist in the form we now have it and that the verse referred to the book of Revelation alone. He countered by saying that God knew what form the Bible would take. He said that “if you are not to add to or take away from the Bible, then it must be sufficient, and thus the doctrine of sola scriptura is justified.”
In order to get to the heart of the matter I had to explain the history of the Alexandrian and Palestinian canons of Scripture, the canonization of both the Old and New Testaments, Martin Luther’s view of salvation, his acceptance of the Palestinian canon, and finally the fact that the British Bible Society had removed seven books from the Bible in the early nineteenth century. The assistant pastor actually blushed when I told him that it was the Protestants who had “taken away” from Scripture.
I went on for an hour, explaining the Church’s teachings on Scripture and Tradition, baptism, purgatory, the Eucharist, and salvation (including that salvation by works was condemned by the sixth session of the Council of Trent). Usually when I’m in discussions with non-Catholics I try to stick with one or two topics. On this occasion I knew it would be unlikely that I would have an opportunity to explain the truth to these men again, so I tried to get across as much information as possible.
One of the five was especially gracious, well-groomed, and articulate. He listened attentively to my answers to his and the others’ questions. His name was Phil, and he was the only one of the group not openly hostile to me. Phil was an ex-Catholic who had received his education at Catholic institutions. He asked me to explain the statement that “there is no salvation outside the Church.”
I began by stating that it may have been that he had left the Church out of ignorance of the Church’s true teachings; if so, he would not be condemned for his lack of knowledge. I, on the other hand, believe in the Church and all it represents, because I have studied and am a Catholic out of conviction. For me there would be no salvation if I denied the truth of the Catholic faith. I said that if my questioners studied Catholic claims with open minds, they would become Catholics, as so many others have. I sensed that of the five, Phil will not be satisfied until he learns the truth.
I began to wind things down by asking Phil a question. “What was the Lord’s prayer?” He responded by mentioning the “Our Father.” I said no, that’s our prayer to him and taught to us by Jesus. The Lord’s own prayer was said by Jesus in the upper room before his arrest–it was that we would all be one, just as he and the Father are one (John 17:21).
I concluded by saying that Bart Brewer’s actions that evening should be opposed because his intentions were to divide the body of Christ, and I noted that he would have to answer to our Lord for sowing distrust, division, and even hatred among the Lord’s people. Two of the men took my business card, and I told them that I would be happy to meet with any of them at any time.
On my way out of the church, I again met the pastor. This time we were able to exchange a few words. He was a man filled with bitterness and pain, and he was angry that I dared to confront him in the presence of his congregation. He accused me of being a member of a church that believes in salvation by works. When I tried to explain that this idea had been condemned by the Church, he bristled and asked a final question. “If you left the Catholic Church and its salvation by sacraments and turned to Jesus alone, would you still be saved?”
“I am a believing Catholic,” I said “I believe in seven sacraments, which are gifts from God. Through baptism I received sanctifying grace and entered Christ’s Church. If I deny the truth of the sacraments, I would deny Jesus Christ himself, and therefore I I would lose my salvation.” We ended by vowing to pray for one another, but somehow the sound of his voice just didn’t ring true.