Articles and Outlines - World Religions - Evangelicals and Catholics


Evangelicals and Catholics

Author: Christian Information Ministries
Date: 6/6/2003 11:04:16 AM


CIM Outline #47

I. Introduction

A. Question: Should Evangelicals and Catholics be more
united in their fellowship and mission?

B. Background: In the Eleventh Century, Christendom was
split into the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic
Churches. Subsequently, throughout the Middle Ages the
Roman Catholic Church drifted toward Pelagianism (away
from doctrines of grace) contrary to the warnings of
some of its theologians. Early in the Sixteenth
Century, the monk, Martin Luther, led a Reformation
against the corrupt theology of Rome. These reformers
became known as Protestants. In the years 1545-63 the
Roman Catholic Council of Trent condemned the doctrinal
distinctives the Protestants stood for. The rift
widened. For more than the next four hundred years
Catholicism was largely a monolithic religious
organization. In the years 1962-65 the Catholic council
known at Vatican II brought about some monumental
changes. Among the changes was the recognition of
Protestants as "separated brethren" rather than
apostates. Some have referred to Vatican II as the
Catholic Reformation. Today the Roman Catholic Church
claims nearly one billion members world-wide.

C. Current Situation:

1. In the late 60's the charismatic movement swept
through the Catholic church. Many of these
instantly found a new camaraderie with charismatic
protestants.

2. Over the last several decades the mainline
Protestant Churches became so liberal evangelicals
found more in common with traditional Catholics.
This has led to sharing in the area of scholarly
endeavors, social and ethical issues, and political
coalitions.

3. In Eastern Europe, Catholics and Protestants became
allies against the common enemy of communism. Most
credit this alliance as one of the most important
catalysts in the fall of communist Eastern Europe.

4. Currently, there are a growing number of
protestants, including evangelicals, who are
converting to the Catholic church. NATIONAL AND
INTERNATIONAL RELIGION REPORT cites an organization
of over 100 ministers in ohio who are "closet
Catholics" (Oct. 3, 1994). (Note: There is also a
growing number of protestants, i.e. evangelicals,
converting to the Eastern Orthodox Church.) It is
not within the scope of this briefing paper to
discuss the reasons why this is happening. Among
the reasons given are: renewed interest in liturgy,
a disinterest in biblical doctrine, disgust with the
disunity in protestantism, and the authority of
church history, et al.

5. Billy Graham, for many years has included Catholic
churches (and their leaders) in the organization of
his city-wide campaigns. Catholics who come forward
to make decisions to follow Christ are not counseled
to attend Bible-believing Protestant churches.
According to recent polls (4/94) 18% of Catholics
polled described themselves as "born again."

6. On March 29, 1994, a group of 30 renown Evangelical
and Catholic leaders made history by signing a
document entitled: "Evangelicals and Catholics
Together: THE CHRISTIAN MISSION IN THE THIRD
MILLENNIUM. Prominent evangelical signers were:
Bill Bright, Os Guiness, Nathan Hatch, Richard Mouw,
Mark Noll, James I. Packer, Pat Robertson, Chuck
Colson. Richard Land, John White, and Herbert
Schlossberg. Others quickly endorsed it. However,
quite a few openly criticized it as a repudiation of
the Reformation. The controversy that has ensued is
the subject of the rest of this outline. Going back
to the original question: To what extent should
Evangelicals and Catholics cooperate?

II. The Accord: EVANGELICALS AND CATHOLICS TOGETHER: The
Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.

A. About the document
The idea for the Accord was jointly conceived in 1992
by Charles Colson, of Prison Fellowship, and Richard
John Neuhaus, President of the Institute of Religion
and Public Life. Kent Hill, President of Eastern
Nazarene College, and George Weigel, president of the
Ethics and Public Policy Center, also were consulted,
and met with Colson and Neuhaus. The 25 page document,
though initially signed by 23 individuals, was not
officially sanctioned by any ecclesiastical
organization, neither protestant or Catholic. (Though
we understand the Vatican was kept informed of its
development.)

B. Stated Reasons for the Accord

1. In General: "To deepen cooperation and lessen
conflict."

2. More specifically: to bring about more unity with a
view to advancing the church's mission; for more
cooperation on moral, social, cultural, and
political issues; to promote discussion in areas of
disagreement.

3. In our own words: "In the light of the decadence
of Western Culture, the growing antichristian bias,
the boycott of Christian ideas in public
discussion, and the positive changes in the
Catholic church, why should Evangelicals and
Catholics not present a united front against the
forces of secularism?" In the words of Charles
Colson: "When the Barbarians are scaling the walls
there's not time for petty quarreling in the camp."
CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 1994.

C. Outline of the Accord: Introduction, I. We Affirm
Together, II. We Hope Together, III. We Search
Together, IV. We Contend Together, V. We Witness
Together, Conclusion.

D. Brief Analysis: On the whole, the document is well-
written; there is much in the Accord with which all
Bible-believing Christians can readily agree. There
are also some troubling elements which we will mention
in Part III. It certainly seems fair to conclude that
the strongest motivation for the document is to see The
Church (Christendom: Catholics and Evangelicals, et
al.) united in the cultural wars. "Sure there are
major doctrinal differences," they seem to be saying,
"but we agree on most of the social and cultural
issues. Why not be co-belligerents against the forces
that are eroding the foundations of western
civilization?"

III. Problems with the Document

The problems with this document warrant close scrutiny.

A. There is a fuzziness as to just exactly what is the
mission of the church. The document reiterates that
the Church's mission is one and that the two parties
are in agreement. Historically the mission of the
Church was defined in spiritual terms, i.e. to minister
to believers and to prepare them for their ministry in
the world. The underlying assumption of the document
seems to be that the Church's role is one of social
gospel. Nine pages (out of 25) of the Accord are
devoted to becoming a strong political bloc to effect
social change.

B. There is fuzziness on the doctrine of Justification.
This is the doctrine that caused the rift in the 16th
Century! The document does not deny justification by
faith, nor does it clearly affirm it. What it does do
is leave out the very crucial word "alone" that Martin
Luther would have insisted on.

C. Richard John Neuhaus has commented that "By far, the
document's most important single statement...is the
affirmation that Evangelicals and Catholics are
brothers and sisters in Christ." To this we would
agree, but with the added comment that not all who
attend Evangelical or Catholic churches are believers.
There are "tares" in both! We would mildly object to
the broadness of the statement. Another troubling
line in the introduction "The one Christ and one
mission" includes many other Christians, notably the
Eastern Orthodox and those Protestants not commonly
identified as Evangelical." Who are the latter? Are
they those of the liberal persuasion who have long
since departed from the cardinal doctrines of
Christianity?

D. The promise not to proselytize each other is likewise
disturbing. Are we not to bear witness to the Gospel
regardless of a person's affiliation? They do,
however, acknowledge the full religious freedom of an
individual to do so.

E. In Section III, "We Search Together," an attempt is
made to list the major points of disagreement between
Catholics and Evangelicals. Probably the most glaring
error in the document is the total omission of the
differences over the doctrine of justification by
faith. Officially at least, the Catholic church
condemned the teaching of Justification by faith alone
through Christ alone, and it has never been rescinded.
For Bible-believing protestants this is the doctrine on
which the Church rises or falls.

IV. Where Evangelicals and Catholics Agree

A. Worldview. Evangelicals and Catholics share essentially
the same worldview. See CIM Briefing Paper #35.
"Developing a Christian Mind."

B. Moral theology. There is essential agreement on moral
issues. The alliance of Catholics and Evangelicals on
pro-life issues has been on-going.
C. Some historical figures. Catholics and Evangelicals
have a common heritage of early church history (the
first five centuries). Both groups can claim such
great theologians as Augustine, Anslem, and Aquinas.

D. Political goals can be shared if there is agreement on
moral issues.

E. Scholarship. Either side is the poorer if it ignores
the scholars that both sides have produced, both in the
past and at the present. How could evangelical
scholars ignore such cogent writers as Peter Kreeft,
Richard John Neuhaus, Michael Novak, John C. Murray,
William F. Buckley, Jr., Russell Kirk, and many
others. There are rich lodes to mine on both sides.

V. Where Evangelicals and Catholics Differ

A. Soteriology. Without a doubt the widest chasm exists
here. Evangelicals insist on the Biblical teaching of
justification as an imputed act of God whereby the
sinner is declared righteous. A sinner is saved by
grace through faith alone through Christ alone.
Catholics teach a system whereby righteousness is
infused in the sinner. It is a system of grace plus
works. Little distinction is made between justification
and sanctification in Catholic theology. A case can
also be made for a Catholic teaching of universalism
(all will eventually be saved). With the non-biblical
teaching of purgatory there is always a second chance.

B. Communion. Catholics see communion as an actual
reenactment of the sacrifice of Christ. While all
protestants do not agree, most see Christ as present at
communion and the partaking of the elements as a
memorial of His historical sacrifice on the Cross. The
partaking of the elements is never seen as a means of
Grace as in Catholic teaching.

C. The priesthood of every believer is perhaps the second
most important difference demarcated by the reformation.
Every believer has access to the Father, and through the
Holy Spirit can interpret the Scriptures. The Catholic
church teaches apostolic succession and the church as
the only authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

D. The doctrine of Revelation. Catholics not only accept
the Apocryphal books in the canon, they also elevate the
traditions of the church to the level of sacred
scripture. Protestants object to Papal infallibility.

E. Protestants maintain that Catholics hold to an
unbiblical view of Mary. In Catholic teaching Mary was
free of original sin, a perpetual virgin and was bodily
translated into heaven and now reigns with her son. All
of the preceding did not originate from a study of the
Biblical text but rather arose only in the last few
hundred years.

VI. Conclusion

We can and should applaud the irenic spirit of this Accord.
However, we must resist the temptation to put physical unity
ahead of Biblical doctrine. We should never withhold
fellowship from another professing Christian who maintains
that his salvation is due solely to the grace of God and who
acknowledges Christ alone as Lord. All professing
Christians should be encouraged to attend local churches
that celebrate the Lord's table in a Biblical manner and
where worship is based on sound Biblical teaching.

We say yes to being united together for cultural goals, but
caution that political clout cannot accomplish spiritual
goals. We must not put the cart before the horse. Reform
is the natural result of revival in the church.

P.S. The Reformation was not a mistake!

For Further Reading:

Ankerberg, John, and Weldon, John. PROTESTANTS & CATHOLICS: DO
THEY AGREE?
Armstrong, John. ed. ROMAN CATHOLICISM: EVANGELICAL PROTESTANTS
ANALYSE WHAT UNITES & WHAT DIVIDES US.
Fournier, Keith A. EVANGELICAL CATHOLICS.
Fournier, Keith A. HOUSE UNITED? EVANGELICALS AND CATHOLICS
TOGETHER.
Hardon, John A. THE CATHOLIC CATECHISM.



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