Conservative Ohio Protestant Group Decries Catholics' 'False Gospel'


Columbus Dispatch, Friday, July 7, 2000
By Dennis M. Mahoney

But while their conservative doctrines -- such as a recent proclamation that the Roman Catholic Church is heretical -- may be too much for some, members insist they don't hate anyone.

"Because we believe the Bible to be true, and the standards and morals of the Scripture become our standards and our morals, as our country changes we find ourselves many times politically and socially incorrect," said the Rev. Peter Foxx.

"But it really is motivated out of deep love for God and a deep love of people," said the pastor of Calvary Bible Church in Clintonville.

Timothy O'Brien, a member of Westerville Bible Church for the past two years, agreed that fellowship congregations should be trying to help Catholics, as well as members of other denominations, to find biblical truth "in a loving way."

"We don't hate Catholics," O'Brien said. "But we hate the system that was begun in the first century and has continued and gained strength, which we think is very misleading. It's not according to Scripture."

The fellowship, founded in 1968, is a collection of 15 churches around Ohio, with a total membership of about 1,500. It includes four churches in central Ohio: Calvary, Westerville, Greencastle Community Bible Church in Carroll in Fairfield County and Troy Chapel Community Church in Delaware.

Fellowship conferences are held several times a year. Among the business conducted is consideration of resolutions.

Delegates at this spring's conference passed a resolution that commits fellowship churches to "stand against the false gospel of the Roman Catholic Church and warn others of its errors."

It says that "the pope is an anti-Christ and that the Roman Catholic Church is a cult which teaches heresy."

Foxx pointed out that the resolution refers to the pope as "an" anti-Christ, not necessarily equating him with Satan.

But Pope John Paul II "heads a church that in our view is leading millions of people right into hell through false doctrine," he said.

The Catholic Diocese of Columbus had no comment on the resolution, said a spokeswoman.

The resolution was passed, in part, to show support for officials at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, who earlier this year were attacked over their beliefs, which some consider to be anti-Catholic.

The issue came into public view when Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush spoke at the school, an act that many said left the impression that he supported its beliefs.

The fellowship's chief disagreement with the Catholic Church is over the means of salvation. The same dispute was central to the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s.

The issue is whether a person is saved by faith alone, which the fellowship says is the scripturally correct view, or a combination of faith, good works and the sacraments, a view maintained by the Catholic Church.

Foxx, a graduate of Bob Jones, contends that the fellowship's view is true to the Reformation spirit.

"All of these churches that would be hollering and screaming at us, the Presbyterian church, the Lutheran church, the Methodist churches, their forefathers came out of the Reformation," he said.

But the Rev. Don Huber, professor of American church history at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Bexley, disagreed, and said mainline churches are guilty of betraying the Reformation "only if you understand the Reformation as unchanging and unchangeable tradition."

"If you understand it that way, in other words if you're a literalist about that epoch in history as well as a literalist about the Bible, then you can never change anything," he said.

Huber said referring to the pope as anti-Christ was common during the Reformation's battles, in which Martin Luther played a key role.

"My own take on it, of course, is that what Luther and others said was said in the heat of battle," he said.

Over time, Huber said, most Protestants have backed off that language.

But even in some mainline Protestant denominations, such as the smaller Wisconsin and Missouri synods of Lutheranism, the papacy is still seen today as anti-Christ, based on Scripture.

The Rev. John Ashbrook, fellowship president, said the fellowship may agree with Catholics on some issues, such as opposing abortion, but the biblical command not to associate with unbelievers keeps them from acting in concert.

"On many things like that there may be a common position taken," said Ashbrook, pastor emeritus of Bible Community Church in Mentor. "But we don't take it together. I don't have to join a Right to Life march to be against abortion."

He said the fellowship's positions are "based on biblical truth, not on the basis of political correctness."

The fellowship developed roots under Ashbrook's father, William, a former Presbyterian minister who founded Calvary Bible Church.

The elder Ashbrook helped start a national organization, the Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America, in the 1930s. Later, Ohio pastors grew unhappy with the organization's direction and broke away to form the fellowship.

Like Ashbrook, Foxx said the fellowship is being faithful to what it believes.

"If we're going to be loyal to Christ, loyal to his word, we could not more change these things than a genuine Roman Catholic could change things to fit into society, or the Jews would change what they would change to fit into society," he said.

Foxx said some conservative denominations have turned to politics to promote social change. He said the fellowship has not gone that route because close identification with a political group could hinder its preaching.

"I want to be known as a preacher of the gospel, not as a right-wing politician," he said.

O'Brien, who grew up in Columbus attending an independent Baptist church and now works for an engineering firm in Clintonville, admitted that proclaiming to have the truth can rub some the wrong way.

"It does sound arrogant to say, 'We're right, you're wrong,' " he said. "But all we can say is all religions are a matter of faith. Our faith is based on God's word.

"I just believe that from God's grace, we do have the truth, that we're not nuts. God has just been very good to us in revealing the truth to us."


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