/ reformed / Nathan Eshelman

Reformed or Forged Catholicity?

A Reformed Catholic was written by William Perkins in 1597, showing the the “places where the reformed religion agrees with and differs from the Roman religion.” Perkins sought to give a "declaration showing how near we may come to the present Church of Rome in sundry points of religion, and wherein we must forever depart from them, with and advertisement to all favorers of the Roman religion, showing that the said religion is against the catholic principles..."

Reformed catholicity is a worthy endeavor, although idealistic and largely unattainable. Even Perkins understood that, for the reformed faith, there were decisions made in, what are called, the Ecumenical Councils that were unable to stand against the Scriptures. Reformed catholicity, according to Perkins, stood on Scripture first. We do come—and need to come—close to historic Catholicism on “sundry points,” but we need to come with Bibles open. I think there’s a sola in there to be elevated, right?

Sola Scriptura. A reformed catholic comes with Bibles open.

The problem with the venture into reformed catholicity was not lost on Perkins. Students of Scripture become students of the Church Fathers. Students of the Church Fathers then become students of Aristotle. This becomes problematic.

There is nothing wrong with being a student of the Church Fathers—or Aristotle even—but the problem occurs when the Bible is put down because the left hand is filled with the Fathers and the right hand is filled with Aristotle. The right place of the Scriptures is set aside. The church, as a ground and pillar of the truth, is to hold up the Word of God for all to see. The Scriptures are our light—and our guide in reformed catholicity.

Perkins understood this pull away from the Scriptures as young men begin to drink from the cisterns of the Church Fathers. As a Cambridge Fellow working with divinity students and the pastor of the local university church (St. Andrew the Great), Perkins was surrounded by young men seeking to walk the line of being a reformed catholic while not falling back into the Tiber. Pastorally, he would speak to this need.

In 1599 (widely published in 1604), Perkins wrote The Problem of Forged Catholicism as a help to those students who wanted to understand the Church Fathers in the light of the Scriptures. The book was subtitled, “An introduction to young students in the reading of the Fathers.” Forged Catholicism proved that the Tridentine (post Council of Trent) faith of Rome was not the religion of the apostles, nor the religion of the Church Fathers. It was a forgery and Perkins would prove it. Perkins said, "No apostle, nor holy father, nor sound catholic, for 1200 years after Christ, did ever hold or profess the doctrine of all the principles and grounds of religion, that is now taught by the Church of Rome, and authorized by the Council of Trent.”

The quest for reformed catholicity is an ideal endeavor, but be mindful of the dangers of the rose colored glasses—or should I say Rome colored glasses. Perkins understood the necessity of being rooted in the Scriptures with feet deeply planted in a historical church. That was not to be found in Rome, but in a tradition that elevated the Scriptures first and foremost.

If you are on the quest for being a reformed catholic, I would suggest that you read William Perkins’s 1597 work of the same title. Know where Rome differs from the scriptural doctrines. But don’t stop with his 1597 work. Also pick up his student guide to the Church Fathers and see that the belief in “one holy apostolic church” is not found in Roman Catholic doctrine—that idea has been forged. It is a cheap counterfeit of the real thing. Perkins would have you, for a time, put down the Church Fathers and put down Aristotle and listen closely to the Word of God. The Scriptures are the only clear guide for the endeavor towards reformed catholicity. Don't settle for the forgery because you've lost sight of God's Word where the real thing is to be found. Listen to the Scriptures.

And what are the Scriptures saying? “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4


For a short lecture that I gave on A Reformed Catholic, click here.
For a copy of both of these books by William Perkins, click here.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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