In many families, people believe they can’t attend events at churches
other than their own denominations. The Roman Catholic Church formalized
this idea a number of times over the years, including in the
St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism, which was first published in 1885.
The Catholics were not the first to put together a catechism. The lack
of religious instruction that both the clergy and laity had dismayed
Martin Luther, and he published Luther’s Large Catechism in 1529.
The Roman Catholic Church was slow to respond to Luther. After the
Council of Trent, however, there was a renewed emphasis on education,
particularly for the clergy. While early Catholic catechisms going back
to the seventeenth century were for the clergy to read, not the laity, the
Baltimore Catechism had an edition just for students.
My first Baltimore Catechism was probably a condensed version for
elementary students. I remember it was green, and I kept it in my desk at
school. It was likely an updated version of the original, but it still seemed
old even back in the 1960s. The Baltimore Catechism consisted of lessons,
a few prayers to memorize, and a number of questions.
The original catechism is now in the public domain, so I was able to
find a couple of the questions and answers that dealt with this issue of
visiting other churches, including joining a Cub Scout pack.
Q 205. How does a Catholic sin against faith?
A. A Catholic sins against faith by apostasy, heresy, indifferentism,
and by taking part in non-Catholic worship.
Q 206. Why does a Catholic sin against faith by taking
part in non-Catholic worship?
A. A Catholic sins against faith by taking part in non-
Catholic worship when he intends to identify himself
with a religion he knows is defective.
For hundreds of years, both Catholics and Protestants have taught
that it is sinful, harmful, and dangerous to get too close to each other.
This is so unfortunate, as there is so much we can learn from each other.
The Bible clearly tells us there is only one church, with Jesus as the head.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus prayed for unity. He was praying for His disciples,
but He included all of us:
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which
shall believe on me through their word; That they all may
be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they
also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you
have sent me. And the glory, which you gave me, I have
given them; that they may be one, even as we are one.
(John 17:20–21, NASB)
Many can relate to this struggle between Catholics and Protestants.
Religious persecution is no laughing matter, as the Thirty Years’ War
(1618–1648) devastated much of Europe, and Germany lost literally one
half of all of its young men in battles and the resulting pestilence and
disease. This was not a war against barbarian pagans but with Christians
drawing swords against other Christians. These were nations and kingdoms
and cities led by kings who believed in God, understood the Trinity,
embraced the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for their sins as an
historical fact, yet found it appropriate to wage war against others who
believed the same.