Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation/Part 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004
A growing movement exists in America today hoping that Roman Catholics and Evangelicals will join forces on the basis of the things they hold in common—but is ambiguous language (which masks some major differences) really a good basis for unity?

Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation—Part 1

We should say at the outset that we accept those individual members within the Roman Catholic Church who truly believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and trust in Him alone for their salvation. We warmly accept these as brothers and sisters in Christ. We hope they will understand that the very reason we do accept them as brothers and sisters in Christ (biblical authority) has been the impetus for our evaluation of the Roman Catholic Church. All traditional Catholics, in fact, do agree that the Bible is the Word of God; there­fore, there should be no objection to a biblical evaluation of the teachings of Rome.

A growing movement exists in America today hoping that Roman Catholics and Evan­gelical Christians will join forces and recognize that the things that unite them outweigh the things that divide them. One example of this is the official declaration, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” released March 29, 1994.[1] This declaration was signed by forty leading Catholics and Evangelical Protestants, many of whom are our good friends.[2]

While this declaration was said to be an unofficial statement that does not speak offi­cially for the Evangelical or Catholic communities, it has nevertheless had wide impact. Indeed, according to World magazine for April 9, 1994, “the paper has been circulated among top Vatican officials” and further, “Unnamed leading Evangelical figures on the world scene have also seen the declaration and have offered encouragement.” World magazine itself called it “a landmark document.”[3]

But not all Evangelicals are agreed. For example, David Howard, immediate past inter­national director of the World Evangelical Fellowship and a former missionary in Latin America, told World magazine that “in the discussion of evangelizing and proselytizing he saw the paper ‘almost leaning’ toward instructing Evangelical missionaries to send their converts to Catholic churches”; he was also left “with a sense of uneasiness and in­completeness…. I was not sure at the beginning or end what they’re driving at.”[4]

Noted theologian R. C. Sproul, in a telephone interview with World, “expressed alarm” over the theological content of the paper: “‘I’m afraid the document trivializes the Reforma­tion,’ he declared, suggesting that the Evangelicals negotiated away justification, ‘what Luther called the article upon which the Church stands or falls.’ He also noted that the ‘absence of the discussion of any forensic character of justification was dramatic.’”[5]

Among our Evangelical brethren who have signed this statement are those whose minis­tries we have only the greatest respect for. However, in light of the contents of this docu­ment, we must disagree with our friends for the reasons we will cite below.

Before we begin our analysis, we would like to preface our comments with a brief scrip­tural study.

Because God is a God of truth (Isa. 65:16), He is concerned that His people honor the truth. Any concordance study on the word “truth” will immediately reveal how important this subject is to the Lord God. Consider the following Scriptures (emphasis added): “Serve him in truth with all your heart” (1 Sam. 12:24). Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24); “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32); “…for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (Jn. 18:37); the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “we spoke all things to you in truth” (2 Cor. 7:14); we are to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); and to understand “the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:6)! Finally, we are to “handle accurately the word of truth” so that the way of truth will not be maligned (2 Tim. 2:15, cf. 2 Pet. 2:2).

Because God places a premium on truth, He warns Christians about those who have gone astray from the truth (2 Tim. 2:18), oppose the truth (2 Tim. 3:8), lie against the truth (Jas. 3:14) and that no lie can be of the truth (1 Jn. 2:21).

When confronted by that which opposes it, truth is by its very nature divisive. Even Jesus said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother,… a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matt. 10:34-36). Truth is divisive for the very reason that it stands against and opposes that which is not true.

Because Scripture places such emphasis upon knowing the truth and avoiding error, it commands us to do all we can to defend the truth. Jude encourages us to “Contend ear­nestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). God Himself tells us, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 Jn. 4). The Apostle Paul and the other Apostles constantly attempted to reason with and persuade both Jews and Greeks as to the truth of the Christian message, e.g., “Every sabbath he [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4; cf. 17:2-4, 17). Paul told Titus to “bold fast the faithful word… both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

As a result, the Apostles had regular controversies over the truth. When the Judaizers came down from Antioch they were teaching Christians that they could not be saved unless they were circumcised according to the custom taught by Moses, i.e., unless they obeyed the Mosaic law. The Apostle Paul had great debate with such men. “This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them” (Acts 15:1-5).

This particular debate was resolved when the Apostle Peter himself emphasized that the Gentiles did not have to keep the Law: “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:10, 11).

However, at a later time, even Peter was led astray. When Paul encountered other Judaizers whom he termed “false brothers” (not believers, but Jewish legalists), he empha­sized, “We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might re­main with you” (Gal. 2:5). On this occasion, even the Apostle Peter temporarily yielded to them—proving that even great men can be led astray and the need for constant diligence. What did the Apostle Paul do? Paul opposed Peter to his face:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong…. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified (Gal. 2:11, 14-15).

It is in light of this biblical mandate—that God commands Christians to defend the truth, especially the truth of the gospel—that we begin our evaluation of the declaration on Catholic and Evangelical cooperation.

(To be continued)


  1. It should be noted that some of the issues raised by this document (ECT1) have been addressed, although not to our satisfaction, in later statements.
  2. Among the Evangelical participants are Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Dr. Os Guinness with Trinity Forum, Dr. Mark Noll of Wheaton College, Dr. James I. Packer with Regent College, The Reverend Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Mr. Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, Dr. Richard Land with the Christian Life Com­mission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Larry Lewis with the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Dr. John White with Geneva College and the National Associa­tion of Evangelicals. Also included was Mr. Keith Fournier, author of Evangelical Catholics with Regent University’s American Center for Law and Justice.
  3. Matthews, “Cooperation Not Communion,” World, April 9, 1994, 10.
  4. Ibid., 12-13.
  5. Ibid., 13.


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