Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation/Part 7
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|Does truth matter, or is each person free to choose their own path to God? Four reasons Ankerberg and Weldon believe evangelicals should not have signed the ECT1 document.|
Evangelicals and Catholics Together: An Evaluation—Part 7
Growth in Christian Discipleship?
All parties who signed the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” agreement go on to say, “We as Evangelicals and Catholics affirm that opportunity and means for growth in Christian discipleship are available in our several communities.” But is this really true?
Is it also true that when a person is converted, whether he has been converted in an Evangelical or Catholic context, that it doesn’t matter which church he attends? The authors of the agreement said differences between Evangelicals and Catholics must be presented to that person. Then that person should be left alone to decide which community of believers he will join. They say that they “dare not interfere” with such decisions as:
- … differing beliefs about the relationship between baptism, new birth, and membership in the church [that] should be honestly presented to the Christian who has undergone conversion….
- Those converted—whether understood as having received the new birth for the first time or as having experienced the reawakening of the new birth originally bestowed in the sacrament of baptism—must be given full freedom and respect as they discern and decide the community in which they will live their new life in Christ. In such discernment and decision… we dare not interfere with the exercise of that responsibility.
In essence, what seems to be implied here is that truth doesn’t matter. Also whether or not a new convert joins an Evangelical Church or a Roman Catholic Church makes no difference. Apparently, the only thing that matters is that new converts are given the choice.
We must remind ourselves once again that Paul argued and reasoned and had great dispute and dissension with those who opposed the gospel. He never acted as if it didn’t make any difference whether a person joined a true Christian community or a church of the Judaizers or Gnostics. Again, the Bible teaches, “Contend earnestly for the faith [with the article, the word “faith” refers to the prepositional truths—the doctrines which make up the faith] which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
Why on earth would Evangelicals go against biblical teaching to tell new converts that the Roman Catholic view of the new birth, baptism, salvation, etc., is equally valid with their own when, in fact, it really isn’t?
Further, isn’t the document mistaken when it assumes Evangelicals will agree that a Catholic has legitimately received the new birth via baptism only? Isn’t it true that no Evangelical assumes this since he has been convinced by the Scriptures that this contradicts the gospel?
As Paul said, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17).
In essence, the authors of the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement seem to assert that no matter what an individual believes, as long as he is either a Protestant or a Catholic, he is Christian. All that is needed is to present to new converts that there are different ways of living the Christian life and different beliefs, but that everyone in those two camps is still saved. Where new converts choose to fellowship doesn’t matter since neither side is wrong. What is important is that new converts be allowed to choose.
Is this how the Reformers acted toward the popes? Is this what Paul did with the Judaizers and Gnostics? Can we imagine the apostle Paul telling the Judaizers, “If you convert anyone, you tell them what I think is true, and if I convert anyone, I’ll tell them what you think is true—then on Sunday they can come either to my house or your house and worship the Lord”?
The New Birth
Our final excerpt from the agreement has to do with the new birth:
- We encounter a major difference in our understanding of the relationship between baptism and the new birth in Christ. For Catholics, all who are validly baptized are born again and are truly, however imperfectly, in communion with Christ…. For Catholics, all the baptized are already members of the church, however dormant their faith and life.
This says it all. If we can agree to disagree on something like this and still call Roman Catholics Christian, have we not abandoned the meaning of the words of Scripture?
The above statement also undergirds the Catholic teaching that all members of the Catholic Church, because of baptism, are life-long Catholics—however dormant their faith and life!
A critic of this document has responded:
Do the Scriptures allow for such an idea? Can Christian life be present but dormant in a person who has never manifested evidence of life? Isn’t this a Roman Catholic excuse for giving extreme unction and the blessings of the Church to those who have never evidenced any relationship to Christ?
Would [Evangelicals] offer any hope of salvation to someone who had joined the Church at age three or four, and who had never again shown the slightest interest in the things of God? Of course, they would not. Then why would Evangelicals offer hope of heaven to anyone simply on the basis of their having been baptized as an infant? This does not question the security of the believer or the perseverance of the saints; what it does question is church membership alone as a reliable indicator of salvation!
The question is this, “Have Evangelical scholars been persuaded that all those who are in the Catholic Church, who don’t live the Christian life, really are saved (‘in communion with Christ’)?” If Evangelicals can agree to this, then it is understandable why there is no need for Protestants to attempt to convert Catholics.
But the Bible responds:
- They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him (Titus 1:16).
- The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4).
- Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself (Jas. 2:17).
Four Crucial Reasons
In conclusion, should our Evangelical leaders have signed the document titled “Evangelicals and
Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium”? There are four reasons why we believe they should not have signed it:
- 1) The Evangelical signers were aware of past church history. None of the signers were ignorant of the 450 years of church history and the biblical doctrines that have divided Protestants and Catholics during that time. Evangelical leaders must have realized before they signed their names to this agreement that the Evangelical community would want to know from them exactly where Roman Catholics finally “saw the light” and realized they were wrong.
But nowhere in this document are we told that the Roman Catholics surrendered their beliefs concerning such doctrines as justification by faith plus works or that their basis of authority has changed from Church tradition, the Councils, papal encyclicals, etc., to the Bible alone.
If there was real agreement, why weren’t the changes in belief documented? Why weren’t the reasons for the changes given? To claim that Catholics and Evangelicals have agreed spiritually and not give the evidence to support that claim implies there was no real agreement.
- 2) The affirmations in the agreement are ambiguous and not precise. Surely the Catholic and Protestant leaders who signed this document realized in advance that their constituents would want to know exactly what was agreed to if a consensus was reached. What happened? Leaders from both sides said they did reach a consensus, but precise explanations were not given. Instead, such terms as “justification by grace,” “the one mission of Christ,” “the Body of Christ,” “conversion,” and “the Gospel” were placed in ambiguous statements.
The final document placed these important words in contexts which allow them to be interpreted to fit the historical meaning of these words used by either Roman Catholics or Protestants. This can only lead one to conclude that this agreement has the appearance of unity and harmony, but it is really not based on biblical truth. To our way of thinking, if Catholics really had changed their minds on basic doctrines, then it seems they would have been only too happy to have made this clear in what they said. But none of this can be found in this document of agreement.
- 3) Not all the statements made in this document are supported by Scripture. The affirmations stated in this agreement, besides being unclear and vague, are only occasionally supported by Scripture and when they are, sometimes they distort Scripture. Also, this document made many statements that have no scriptural reference because Scripture would contradict them. In many other places in this document the Scripture passages which are quoted are robbed of their meaning because of prior assumptions.
For example, “All who receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are brothers and sisters in Christ.” This is a truism. If a person is in Christ, we agree he is a fellow Christian. But this begs the question, “How does a person get in Christ?” If you apply the Bible to the prior assumption, namely, “How does a Roman Catholic person get in Christ?” the Bible doesn’t support the statement that “all who receive Christ as Savior and Lord are brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Another example would be, “Conversion is… a continuing process so that the whole life of the Christian should be a passage from death to life.” This statement can be true, but it can also be interpreted as a false statement if prior Catholic assumptions are read into it. Prior assumptions not supported by Scripture rob Scripture of its true meaning.
- 4) The main doctrine separating Catholics and Evangelicals—justification by faith—is not dealt with clearly. Here again, both Roman Catholic and Evangelical leaders must have been aware of the prior historical debate. Specifically they have known that their churches have been separated by the doctrine of justification by faith for more than 450 years. In part, they admit, “We do not presume to suggest that we can resolve the deep and long-standing differences between Evangelicals and Catholics.” But if one of the deep and long-standing differences that remains is justification by faith, then there cannot be any agreement.
Was this issue resolved? Who was right? Who was wrong? Since this is the watershed issue upon which the church stands or falls, and since this doctrine is the heart of the gospel (Rom. 1:17), then there can be no excuse for the leaders on both sides not being precise about this doctrine.
In essence, not enough was written, not enough was stated; and what was stated in the document causes us concern because the statements were ambiguous. To declare that there has been an agreement between Catholics and Protestants and then write vague pronouncements that can be interpreted by either side as they have always done in the past is to lead to the conclusion that this coalition came together for reasons other than those based on biblical truth.
Keep the Faith
We cannot judge the motives of another’s heart. We assume that our Evangelical leaders signed this agreement out of good intentions. However, because they did sign it, and because of their stature and who they are, it is our view that they have muddied the waters concerning the nature of the true gospel to many people around the world. This imprecise definition of the gospel can only hurt the cause of Christian missions. This may have the effect of blinding millions of Roman Catholics and further lulling them into thinking they are on their way to heaven simply because they are devout Roman Catholics.
These are fearful things for us to write. But that’s why God’s Word instructs us, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (Jas. 3:1).
Let us say we have been surprised by the wide acceptance of this Catholic and Evangelical agreement. Many have already praised it, and we will explain [in future articles] why so many others have accepted what is really a compromising document.
The words of the apostle Paul may give the reason:
- The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:3-5).
In this same passage (verse 7), the apostle Paul contrasts this spirit of compromise with his own determination: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
Our prayer is for all true believers that they too may indeed “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
- “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” published by Truth Ministries, Bay Shore, NY, April 1994, vol. 1, no. 10, p. 22.
- Ibid., p. 24.
- Ibid., pp. 23-24.
- Larry Holly, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium: A Critique” (Beaumont, TX: Mission and Ministry to Men, Inc., 1994), p. 17.
- “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” p. 5.
- Ibid., p. 21.
- Ibid., p. 9.
- Pascal once said, “We know the truth not only by reason but also by the heart.” Unfortunately, in our world today truth is often compromised—even by the church that should love truth. Compromise, of course, is often necessary in politics and even in life in general. In the words of George Herbert, “A lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit.” But compromise can also be the devil’s best business. Indeed, consider the “devil’s” own definition of “compromise” in Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary (1881): “COMPROMISE, n. Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due.”In On the Road to Christian Unity (1961), Samuel N. Cavert said correctly, “If we really believe that our unity in Christ lies at a deeper level than our differences, we will find more and more ways of manifesting it in common action.”