Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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The PCI's Strange Reformation Commemoration

Rev. Angus Stewart

(published in the Belfast News Letter, 29 September, 2017)


In inviting Roman Catholic leaders to speak at its autumn seminars commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Union Theological College of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) raises a number of serious historical, doctrinal, confessional and spiritual issues.

Rome excommunicated the Reformers, slew the martyrs and repeatedly anathematized (i.e., cursed) the blessed Reformation gospel of Jesus Christ at its Council of Trent (1545-1563). In the last five centuries, Rome has continued to promulgate the same false doctrines—without reforming any of them!—that Martin Luther in Germany, and others throughout Europe and the British Isles, faithfully exposed: its money-grubbing indulgences; its sacramental system, which dispenses well-nigh automatic grace to all partakers and adds unscriptural sacraments; its soul-destroying heresy of justification before God by man's own will and works; its idolatry, including praying to angels and saints; its Christ-dishonouring papacy; etc.

Rome has even increased its heresies since the Reformation through its unbiblical claim that Mary was conceived without original sin (1854) and its pretence that the pope is infallible (1870). Moreover, modern Rome is filled with higher criticism of Holy Scripture, liberal theology, evolutionism and political correctness. Its scandalous failure in church discipline regarding priests who sexually abused children, particularly boys, in countries all around the world for decades is well-known.

If the PCI is really interested in the Reformation, it should imitate Luther and the other Reformers by courageously setting forth in pulpit and print the truth of the Bible, and refuting the lie (including Rome), without any compromise. The power of God's authoritative Word must be elevated far above man's vain words, and the liberating fear of God must drive out the crippling fear of man. The PCI, like Luther, must teach the truth of original sin, including man's radical inward sinfulness, lust and pride; the bondage of man's will and its freedom by sovereign grace alone; the non-imputation of sins and the reckoning of those ungodly in themselves as righteous before God, based only upon Christ's substitutionary sufferings and perfect obedience, and received by faith alone; God's eternal, unconditional predestination; etc.

The PCI must follow Luther's insistence on thorough instruction of the children of the church so that they know the Holy Scriptures, and memorize the catechism and know what it means. The Reformation honoured God's infallible Word and was creedal, so it called parents to keep their baptismal vows to train their children in the Christian faith.

Also church discipline should be exercised upon all in the PCI who remain impenitent in their sins, including false ecumenists with Rome; female ministers, elders and deacons; modernists; theistic evolutionists; etc. Holy Scripture, as summed in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, must be its standard not only for church discipline but also for doctrine, worship, sacraments, church unity, seminary training, etc.

Martin Luther, who wrote the 95 Theses which began the Reformation, was a hard-working, highly gifted professor of the theological faculty at the University of Wittenberg. As such, he laboured to bring biblical reform not only to theology, preaching, catechizing, the church, marriage, the home, etc., but also to the university.

The Reformation was of the same spirit as Professor Luther, who declared in his Heidelberg Disputation (1518), “A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is” (Thesis 21). In academia, at university and before students for the ministry too!

So why does Union Theological College give a platform to Roman Catholic speakers at its seminars on the Reformation? Is it merely window dressing? And/or a matter of academic respectability? And/or an exercise in political correctness? And/or to satisfy the PCI's false ecumenists? Is one to suppose that presentations by the subjects of the pope will promote the biblical doctrines of Martin Luther or encourage a thorough-going, scriptural reformation of the PCI? Will this really serve to rally people to the truth of the Reformation or will it simply further the fudge and deformation of the denomination, and confuse Presbyterians? “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (I Cor. 14:8).

Furthermore, what does this say about the biblical and Reformed gospel to those in Roman Catholicism? Will they not conclude that, if the PCI's Union Theological College invites speakers who reject the Reformation, the theological and spiritual differences between Rome and Protestantism cannot be very many or very serious?

The crucial issue is the same now as it was half a millennium ago. Fatally, Rome encourages and requires its people to trust in themselves, their own works, Mary, the saints, the Roman church and its sacraments for salvation, rather than the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ alone—the incarnate, crucified and risen Son of God! Thus it presents a deceptive substitute for the God-given, all-sufficient Redeemer, making salvation and its comforting assurance impossible, and opening wide the gates of hell.

Compromise and Fudge in Irish Presbyterians

(published in the Belfast News Letter, 12 October, 2017)


When Leo X's papal bull of excommunication (1520) listed 41 “errors” of Martin Luther and classified them as “either heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against [Roman] Catholic truth,” the Reformer explained and boldly affirmed all of these articles, and asked the pope to specify into which category each of these 41 statements fell. He received no answer.

Rev. Mark Wilson (30 September) stated that he does not believe that some of the scriptural and Reformed doctrines (e.g., the supremacy of God's Word, original sin, the bondage of the will, justification in Christ alone by faith alone, imputation, sovereign grace, predestination?) confessed in my letter (above) are “essential,” and that he does not think some of the unbiblical dogmas of Rome that I mentioned (e.g., its higher criticism of Holy Scripture, evolutionism, indulgences, sacramental system, prayers to saints, papal infallibility?) are “reprehensible.”

Could Rev. Wilson identify all of the items that belong to each category and indicate how he attempts to harmonize his views with Presbyterianism's Westminster Standards? Since he brought up this crucial issue, surely Rev. Wilson should tell the readers of the News Letter, and especially all Presbyterians, where he stands or does not stand.

Rev. Wilson emphasized the “long list” of Rome's “reprehensible” teaching and the “long list” of Protestant doctrines that were included in my printed letter of some 600 words only.

As a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) who subscribes to the Westminster Standards, he should know that the Westminster Confession contains 33 chapters of up to 10 articles each, the Westminster Shorter Catechism consists of 107 questions and answers, and the Westminster Larger Catechism comprises 196 much longer questions and answers. Rev. Wilson's 3 confessional documents (with their scriptural proof texts) come to some 300 pages in my edition.

If this PCI minister objects to a Reformed evaluation of true doctrines and heresies in a letter of a mere 600 words, one wonders how much he disagrees with the much longer, 300-page Westminster Standards to which he has subscribed! What about the other ministers and office-bearers in Rev. Wilson's denomination?

Is this not exactly the sort of compromise and fudge in Irish Presbyterianism, by a minister and adjunct professor of church history at Union Theological College, that leads to and supports bizarre invitations to Roman Catholic leaders who reject the Reformation to speak at the PCI's autumn seminars as part of a “thanksgiving for the Reformation” on its 500th anniversary?

Where is the Reformation's earnest contending for the faith (Jude 3) in the PCI?

Rev. Angus Stewart
Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, Ballymena

Unapologetically Asserting Reformation Truth


In his famous book, The Bondage of the Will (1525), Martin Luther declared, “one must delight in assertions to be a Christian at all … by 'assertion' I mean staunchly holding your ground, stating your position, confessing it, defending it and persevering in it unvanquished … I am talking about the assertion of what has been delivered to us from above in the Sacred Scriptures … Take the Apostle Paul—how often does he call for that 'full assurance' which is, simply, an assertion of conscience, of the highest degree of certainty and conviction … Take away assertions, and you take away Christianity. Why, the Holy Spirit is given to Christians from heaven in order that He may glorify Christ and in them confess Him even unto death—and is this not assertion, to die for what you confess and assert?”

Minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) and adjunct member of its faculty at Union Theological College (UTC) teaching church history, Rev. Mark Wilson is of a very different mind from the great German, whose work launched the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago this very month.

After his obfuscations and vague generalities (13 October), under which a whole range of heresies could find shelter, readers still do not know what Rev. Wilson believes concerning God's infallible Word and wherein he disagrees with the Westminster Standards, the definitive, lengthy, detailed and antithetical creeds of Presbyterianism. Perhaps this was his purpose?

Paul proclaims, “We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written [in Psalm 116:10], I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (II Corinthians 4:13). Where in the PCI are the faith, boldness, clarity and forthrightness of the psalmist, the apostle and the Reformation?

The Reformation glories in the only God who graciously declares those who are ungodly in themselves to be righteous, through the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone received by faith alone (Romans 4:5). We trust in the “God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were” (v. 17). It is biblical and Reformation teaching that “Whoever wishes to be righteous before God through his ethical achievement assumes the place of the creator. Creating righteousness, destroying sin, and giving life—these are all the work of the creator alone” (Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther, p. 125).

Thus Martin Luther identified the Roman papacy as “the synagogue of Satan,” “the dregs of all abominable heresies,” “Antichrist” and “the Devil's church.” He called people to flee from this Babylon because there is no communion between Christ and Belial. He denounced all who tried to make him and the pope agree or who sought to undo or compromise or tone down the Reformation.

Yet UTC invites opponents of the Reformation to speak at a purported “thanksgiving for the Reformation” and Rev. Wilson bizarrely invites me to attend! “A double minded man [or denomination or theological seminary] is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).

Our church is hosting a single-hearted Reformation conference this Saturday (21 October) and unapologetic Reformation lectures on the following two Fridays (27 October and 3 November) by an American theological professor. I wholeheartedly recommend these meetings to Rev. Wilson and cordially invite him and all others.

Rev. Angus Stewart
Covenant Protestant Reformed Church, Ballymena