Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation/Part 4
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|Are all people who accept Jesus as “savior” and “Lord” brothers and sisters in Christ? Do Protestants and Catholics agree on what constitutes Scripture? Are Protestants and Catholics united in one common mission? The authors critique these statements.|
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation—Part 4
The following information is a classic example of how those who crafted the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document made statements which can be understood in two different ways:
- Jesus Christ is Lord…. He is the One sent by God to be Lord and Savior of all, “and there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4)…. We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.
Some of the Evangelical leaders who signed this agreement have written us and pointed to this paragraph as proof that they did not compromise the gospel and did affirm justification by faith. So why do we think this statement is ambiguous?
At first glance this statement certainly sounds good. But in light of:
- 1) 450 years of disagreement;
- 2) knowing that the men who wrote this agreement were aware of past history;
- 3) both Catholics and Protestants using the same words but defining them differently;
- 4) the fact that no explanation is given as to which set of definitions are used —then we cannot possibly know the proper meaning of these words.
So is it the Catholic or Protestant position that is being presented here? What did the Roman Catholic men mean who signed this statement and used these words? Catholics historically have given different meanings to the terms “grace,” “Justification,” and “faith.”
So our question is, “Why did the framers of this agreement—knowing that the doctrine of justification by faith has been and continues to be the watershed issue between Catholics and Protestants—not take the time to define terms precisely?” Why did they leave us guessing?
We also find it very interesting that there is the absence of the word “alone” in the above statement about justification. Catholics argue adamantly that it is not by grace through faith alone that a person is saved. Rather, they argue it is by faith and one’s cooperation in the power of Christ with additional requirements given by the Church. If the Catholic signers of this document really did agree with Evangelicals that justification was by faith alone, then why didn’t they just say that and place into this document the crucial, historic phrase that we are justified by grace through faith alone?
How Deep Are Our Disagreements?
Possibly the most eye-opening statement in this document is given when the authors set forth the following:
- However imperfect our commune with one another, however deep our disagreements with one another, we recognize that there is but one church of Christ…. However difficult the way, we recognize that we are called by God to a fuller realization of our unity in the Body of Christ.
Is it really true that no matter how “imperfect our commune, however deep our disagreements, however difficult the way,” we are still united? Apparently they thought there is no issue that currently exists which is deep enough to keep us from calling each other Christians.
In the document we are told, “All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.” To see the weakness of this statement, one only need change the wording slightly to read something like this: ‘All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are our brothers and sisters in Christ.” But are they?
Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses both claim to accept Jesus Christ as “Lord and Savior,” but this does not mean they agree with us on the meaning of the words “Lord” and “Savior.” Therefore, this does not automatically make them Christian.
Most people realize that when Evangelicals and Catholics say that they accept Jesus Christ as Savior, that yes, for both Jesus is the Savior. But how a person receives Jesus’ salvation is not agreed upon by the Catholics and Evangelicals. Knowing this, why didn’t the authors of the agreement tell us what they meant?
In other words, if the Catholic Church teaches that salvation is by faith-works, and therefore denies the free gift of salvation Jesus offers by faith alone, biblically how can Jesus actually be the Savior of those in the Catholic Church? And if He is not their Savior, how can He be their Lord? If He can be, then don’t Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons also have a legitimate claim to say that Christ is their Lord and Savior? And if they can do that, isn’t the meaning of Scripture being twisted to suit anyone’s private interpretation?
Is Christ really the Lord and Savior of all groups who claim Him, in spite of the fact that they proclaim different ways a man can receive salvation?
Jesus Himself says no:
- Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21).
- He who believes in Him [Christ] is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18 NASB).
Agreement on Scripture?
Another puzzling statement made in this agreement has to do with the historic dispute over what constitutes the canon. The report merely declares: “We recognize together that the Holy Spirit has so guided His Church in… the formation of the canon of the Scriptures.”
Here are more ambiguous words. What do they mean? Scholars on both sides realize that Roman Catholicism accepts the Apocrypha as Scripture. Protestantism does not. Are Protestants now ready to concede that the Holy Spirit did guide the Catholic Church to bring the Apocrypha into the canon when it had already been rejected as false by Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the church for 15 centuries? Or is a denial of the Apocrypha as Spirit-inspired Scripture something Roman Catholics now agree to? Who knows? The agreement doesn’t tell us. It just makes another vague statement.
United on the Christian Mission?
Further problems can be seen in the section that has to do with evangelization and missions. The authors of the document argue:
- We do know that we must affirm and hope and search and contend and witness together.
- We are called and we are therefore resolved to explore patterns of working and witnessing together in order to advance the one mission of Christ.
To any knowledgeable participant in either community, these comments raise such questions as:
- How can we witness together if we are proclaiming different gospels?
- What exactly have the signers of this agreement concluded is the one mission of Christ?
- How do Protestants answer those who ask about the anathemas against Protestant views of salvation found in the documents of the Council of Trent, Vatican I and II?
Sadly, the authors do not explain. They simply admit:
- Our communal and ecclesial separations are deep and long standing. We acknowledge that we do not know the schedule nor do we know the way to the greater visible unity for which we hope. We do know that existing patterns of distrustful polemic and conflict are not the way.
It is not surprising that these Evangelicals and Catholics seeking to be united spiritually do not “know the way” to the visible unity for which they hope. After all, they admit they do not agree on the different authorities they accept. Among points of difference are:
- The sole authority of Scripture (sola scriptura) or Scripture as authoritatively interpreted only by the Catholic Church.
- The sole freedom of the individual to interpret the Bible or the sole authority of the magisterium (teaching office) of the Church.
In brief, the two communities are following different “maps” on the way to unity. So is it surprising they do not know the way to the unity which they seek?
Protestants have held to the concept of sola scriptura (Scripture as the only final spiritual authority) because God Himself teaches that all Scripture is inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof and correction (2 Timothy 3:16), This means that true unity comes only in Christ and only on the basis of what the Bible teaches about salvation. Until the participants can agree on these things, how can they proclaim they are united in “one mission”?
- “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Thrid Millennium,” published by Truth Ministries, P. O. Box 504M, Bay Shore, NY 11706, vol. 1, no. 10, April 1995, p. 5.
- Ibid., p. 6
- Ibid., p. 25.
- Ibid., p. 4.
- Ibid., p. 8.
- Ibid., p. 10.