Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation/Part 2
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon continue to evaluate the ECT1 statement released in 1994. What did it say? Were those statements true?|
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation—Part 2
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. —1 Corinthians 4:2
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. But having examined some of the biblical doctrines that have divided Protestants and Catholics for 450 years, those who claim to really have reached agreement on these matters must explain:
- 1) Precisely what they agreed to.
- 2) Historically who was right and who was wrong so that agreement could now be reached (or did both sides come to a new historical understanding?).
- 3) How the affirmations agreed to were supported, not opposed by God’s Word (documenting that, in fact, the affirmations did not deny scriptural teaching).
- 4) How the doctrine of justification, which has been the main point of contention, was finally resolved.
In our world today, it must be kept in mind that an agreement could possibly be forged by fringe leaders from both sides who totally ignore Scripture. But such an agreement would not be biblically based and would be rejected by both Protestants and Catholics who love Christ and hold to the authority of Scripture.
But the reason that the 1994 “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement caused a lot of interest was because 40 respected Evangelical and Catholic leaders who hold to the authority of the Bible said they had come to an agreement.
Now it is easy to understand how some Evangelicals and Catholics would wish to put aside as many differences as possible in order to help address the moral crises destroying so many lives everywhere.
But this agreement goes beyond mere concern with social issues as the old Moral Majority did. In other words, this agreement is more than different groups working for social causes. It is based upon different groups uniting together as one spiritual family under the banner of Christianity.
While we can clearly sympathize with the motives of these tenderhearted people, united social action must not be at the expense of truth, and unity should never be allowed to eclipse the most important spiritual truth of all: the gospel.
Our contention is this: In spite of the announced unity, is it a true unity? Is there a true biblical basis for Catholics and Evangelicals to unite spiritually? And can those who announced this unity demonstrate the basis on which this unity was arrived at?
We have already shown why the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the true nature of the gospel are watershed issues that can be of no less importance today than the same issues debated during the Reformation days. We have previously documented biblically why salvation
is by grace through faith alone. Works (even those cooperating with faith and done in the power of Christ) are not in any way contributing factors to obtaining salvation. Having realized this, we are now prepared to examine the “Catholics and Evangelicals Together” statement.
Catholics and Evangelicals Together?
It should be noted that the thrust of this document is cultural cooperation in the face of a culture rapidly disintegrating morally. We do not deny that Catholics and Evangelicals can work together for the betterment of society, or as the report itself correctly points out, to counter the secularism and threats of Islam against the Christian Church. We agree with this. But the task of moral and cultural revitalization is not the key issue here where the gospel is at stake.
Many leaders on both sides have hailed this important document as a historic event—even as the most historic event since the Reformation. What was agreed to by both sides?
Throughout this document a major new assumption was made concerning the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics. The Evangelicals agreed that all Roman Catholics are genuine Christians, and the Roman Catholics agreed that all Evangelicals are genuine Christians.
This new relationship can be seen in the following statements:
- Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.
- We are called [together] and we are therefore resolved to explore patterns of working and witnessing together in order to advance the one mission of Christ.
- We recognize that there is one church of Christ.
- We confidently acknowledge the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
- We are bound together by Christ and his cause.
- We thank God for the discovery of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Together we search for a fuller and clearer understanding of God’s revelation.
In these statements there is no doubt whatever that the signers of this document are declaring that Evangelicals and Catholics are Christians together. Confidently, the Evangelical and Catholic leaders affirmed in many places that:
- As Christ is one, so the Christian mission is one…. The mission that we embrace together is the necessary consequence of the faith that we affirm together.
- This is a time of opportunity—and… responsibility—for Evangelicals and Catholics to be Christians together.
- As Evangelicals and Catholics, we pray that our unity in the love of Christ will become ever more evident as a sign to the world of God’s reconciling power.
- We do know that God who has brought us into communion with himself through Christ intends also that we be in communion with one another.
But if this is really true, why is it that scholars from both sides ever since the Reformation have refused to recognize the other as genuine Christians? On what scriptural or theological basis can it be said that these leaders have resolved the main issues which have divided the two communities for 450 years?
Unfortunately, we are not told. Rather, those who drafted this statement simply proclaim this surprising new unity:
- In this statement we address what we have discovered… about our unity.
- We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples.
- The mission that we embrace together is the necessary consequence of the faith that we affirm together.
(To be continued)
- For your convenience, a copy of the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement accompanies this article. Page numbers in the footnotes here will not match, as the quotes were taken from the statement as issued by Truth Ministries (see footnote 2).
- “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” Truth Ministries, P. O. Box 504M, Bay Shore, NY 11706, vol. 1, no. 10, April 1994, p. 5.
- Ibid., p. 4.
- Ibid., p. 5.
- Ibid., p. 6.
- Ibid., p. 11.
- Ibid., p. 12.
- Ibid., p. 8.
- Ibid., pp. 2, 4.
- Ibid., p. 25.
- Ibid., pp. 7-8.
- Ibid., p. 8.
- Ibid., p. 1.
- Ibid., p. 2.
- Ibid., p. 4.