Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree? – Program 1

By: Dr. John McArthur, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy; ©1995
Should Evangelicals and Catholics ignore their doctrinal differences and work together toward world evangelism?

Evangelicals and Catholics Together Document Introduction

Today on the John Ankerberg Show. Do Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants now agree? Catholics and Protestants have increasingly found themselves working together. Protesting against abortion, fighting pornography and guarding against the loss of religious freedoms in the courts. And now some of Evangelical Christianities most highly respected leaders have linked hands with Roman Catholics leaders in signing an accord, calling for full identification of Catholics and Evangelicals as brothers and sisters in Christ. And are uniting together in evangelism, mission and indefending the Christian world view. But is all of this possible Biblically?

My guests today who will answer these questions are: Dr. D. James Kennedy senior minister of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian church. Dr. John MacArthur, pastor of the Grace community Church, and Dr. R. C. Sproul, Chairman of Ligonier Ministries and Professor of systematic theology at the Reformed Theological Seminary.

Certain statements in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document have become divisive, and raised genuine concerns over whether it clearly represents what Evangelicals believe. Today you will hear about a private meeting where Evangelicals met together to discuss these issues. At that meeting, our fellow Evangelicals who signed the ECT document were not willing to withdraw their names from it, nor revise it. But they were willing to write a brief statement of clarification. What was clarified? And can it be said the Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants now agree? We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome! Welcome! Welcome to our program. We’re here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the beautiful Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. My guests are Dr. D. James Kennedy, who is the pastor of this wonderful church; and the well-known and popular Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. R. C. Sproul.
Our program today is about a document that is called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” We’re also going to be talking about a new clarifying doctrinal statement that was just written by the Evangelical signees of this document.
The ECT–the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document, as we call it–was written by 20 well-known Evangelical leaders and 20 well-known Roman Catholic leaders. The purpose of this document was stated to be, number one: to provide a statement that would advance Christian fellowship, cooperation and mutual trust between Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. Number two, it was to provide a world view for Protestants and Catholics to unite in defense of the truth here in the North American culture wars. That is, these men saw the benefit of Catholics and Protestants standing and fighting together on the critical moral issues of our day. And third, the document was written to establish some basis for civility and mutual respect between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Latin America and some other countries who, because of rivalry, were in conflict over evangelism.
Now, I want to make it clear that those who wrote this document said it is not an official document binding Roman Catholics and Protestants together; it is not meant to be precise or theologically comprehensive; and the only authority it has stems from the personal credibility of those who signed it. And apparently, its impact has been wide and powerful. For example, it’s been reported to have circulated inside the Vatican and been received there with “great enthusiasm.” One Christian publication said it was “a landmark” document.” “Christianity Today” and “The Christian Coalition” have both referred to it as a “historic document.” “The Wall Street Journal,” of all places, said this document was “the wave of the future.”
Now, the very fact that many people feel this document is uniting Catholics and Protestants in North America to stand together on social issues, and it is helping stop the conflict in Latin America and other countries, it shows how important and influential this document is.
Now, Chuck Colson, who helped draft this document, has acknowledged that it created a lot of controversy and it’s “raised genuine concern” over whether it “clearly represents what Evangelical Christians believe.” And just a few weeks ago, Chuck requested a private meeting with ten Evangelical leaders, including the four of us that are here. He expressed his concern over the document and the confusion that it has caused, as well as its lack of clarity concerning what Evangelicals believe. And he said that he wanted to “resolve and remove any contentious issues, so that there would no longer be any doubt as to where he and the other Protestant signees stood.” To this end, together, we all composed a statement that clarifies and clearly defines our Evangelical beliefs–not all of them, but some primary ones.
And to begin, I’d like to come to you, Dr. R. C. Sproul. When we all got together, we were concerned about the statements in the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document that seemed to give an unwarranted stamp of legitimacy to Roman Catholic doctrine. For example, the ECT document implies that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics should and can be united on the basis of their being able to affirm this statement: “that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.” Now, we all agreed this statement still needed to be clarified. Some may wonder, “What in the world is wrong with that phrase?” All Roman Catholics will say that they accept and believe these words; but we know that if you add the word “alone” to this sentence so that it reads this way: “We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone,” the Roman Catholic friend that you’re saying this to will back away from it and he won’t accept it.
R. C., why is that one little word sola, the Latin word sola–“alone”–that’s missing in the ECT document, why is this so important to us? And then, please explain why we did place it in the new clarifying doctrinal statement.
Dr. R. C. Sproul: Well, John, as you will certainly remember when we had our private discussions behind closed doors with Chuck and Jim Packer and Bill Bright and the other signatories there, I made the comment at the time that that word alone, which is so conspicuously absent from ECT, has emerged as something of a shibboleth in church history, not in the pejorative sense, in the negative sense, but in the positive sense of a shibboleth that this is a watershed statement that separates people on what they really believe.
Now, to get to the heart of that, let me jump down the funnel to the bottom line of the controversy historically between the Roman Catholic Church and Evangelicals that provoked the Reformation. I try to say this in a way that my mother, God bless her, if she were still alive, would be able to understand it and I hope she understands it now far more clearly than I do in her felicity in Heaven, but in any case, if my mother were here, I would say, “Mom, here’s my problem. God is just; God is righteous; and I’m not. How can I possibly survive a tribunal before a just and holy God, since I know that that God requires and demands perfect righteousness for Him to justify anyone?”
And so the issue in the sixteenth century was not whether God demands righteousness in order for Him to declare somebody just, but the issue was, “Where do we get that righteousness?” The Protestant view was this: that the only righteousness that has the merit necessary to meet the requirements of the holiness of God is that righteousness that was achieved and performed by Jesus Christ and by Jesus Christ alone.” There’s where the word alone comes in, John, because all Protestants have acknowledged historically that the phrase “justification by faith alone” really means–it’s shorthand–for “justification by the righteousness of Christ alone.” That only His righteousness is sufficient to save us. The Roman Catholic Church said that the only way God will ever declare me righteous or you righteous or anybody else righteous is if they have a righteousness that inheres within them, an intrinsic righteousness, a righteousness that really belongs to John Ankerberg. They would say that you can’t be righteous, John, apart from the help of Christ and the grace of Christ and the infusion of His power and so on with which you must assent and cooperate–assentare cooperarae is the language they use–and so you can’t be saved without the help of Christ or without grace or without faith, but added to that faith, added to that grace, added to that Christ must be the contribution of John Ankerberg, without which God will not declare you just. Now, that’s all the difference in the world. And the word alone is trying to draw a line in the sand and say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ says that the only way a person can be saved is by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us by faith.
Ankerberg: Amen. How did we clarify that in our doctrinal statement?
Sproul: In the doctrinal statement we spent most of our discussion time that day focusing on this question: “What is the Gospel?” and “Is the doctrine of sola fide–justification by faith alone–essential to the Gospel and essential to Christianity and to salvation?” Because the problem that I have, and others have had with ECT, is with the statement that, “We are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.” I’ve been saying for ten months that every delegate to the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in the sixteenth century would have happily signed that. The ECT nowhere explicitly mentions the Protestant and Reformation doctrine of sola fide, justification by faith alone. It doesn’t affirm it; it doesn’t deny it; but what I have been concerned to say is that implicitly and inferentially–and I think the necessary inferrence of the document is that sola fide is not necessary to believe in order for one to be a “brother or sister in Christ,” because the Roman Catholic Church certainly does not affirm sola fide.
MacArthur: And just going back, if I can make the point solidly, to borrow the language of the Apostle Paul, any attempt at self-righteousness, no matter how noble the effort, no matter how frequently the “God vocabulary” is used and the divine is brought into it, any attempt at self-righteousness Paul classifies as skubalon in Philippians 3. That word is about as vivid a word as he could possibly use. It could be translated “rubbish.” The most accurate translation is “dung.” When you’re talking about..when you talk about a “works righteousness” system of any kind, the word skubalon–you’re not talking about somebody who is almost there and God is going to say, “Well, you’re close enough, you know. A leaner counts two.” It’s not that way at all. It’s so far from saving that it’s rubbish; it’s garbage. That’s why Paul said, “All my life,” he said, “I have tried to achieve this stuff and I had all this stuff in my gain column.” Remember, in Philippians 3 “And then I saw Christ and a righteousness which came not by the Law but a righteousness that was given to me by faith–the righteousness of God,” and immediately, all that was gained was skubalon.” And what you’ve got is a whole system built on skubalon and you can’t throw your arms around that system! You can’t embrace it and simply say, “Well, they talk about Jesus and they talk about God and they talk about faith and they talk about grace, and we’ve got to embrace them. And if we don’t embrace them, we’re violating the unity of the Body and we’re being ungracious to other disciples.” That is a frightening misrepresentation of the distinctiveness of justification by faith and faith alone.
Ankerberg: Dr. Kennedy, you know Catholicism believes that Evangelical Protestants do not emphasize or put enough significance on the changed life. Okay? They hear us talk about justification by faith alone, and they think nothing has to happen in terms of the life. But they get mixed up–“justification” with “sanctification.” Would you define those and talk about the relationship?
Dr. D. James Kennedy: They state very clearly that “justification encompasses sanctification.” So they confound the two. Justification and sanctification must always be distinguished, but they can never be separated.
Justification is an act, once and forever, instantaneous, whereby God declares a sinner–an ungodly, unrighteous, sinful man–declares him righteous for the sake of Christ; having imputed to him the righteousness or the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ. And that is “once and for all” done. No Christian is “more or less justified” than another. We are all justified instantaneously; we are all justified totally and completely.
Sanctification is a process which begins at that moment of regeneration, the moment of salvation, and grows all through our lives. It is different in every believer. Sometimes you hear people say that don’t like people that are “holier than thou,” holier than me, but the fact of the matter is, there are Christians that are holier than I am, holier than you are, and holier than everyone here is. And everyone sitting in this room has some different degree of cleansing and growth in the Christian faith. That is completed by “glorification,” which again, is an act which takes place after death–immediately after death–where all of the vestigial remains of sin are removed and we are made absolutely perfect. It is as if the perfect white robe of Christ’s righteousness were placed upon us once and for all; internally we are gradually being cleansed and purified throughout this life; and that glorification after death, inwardly we were made as perfect as outwardly we are accounted, for Christ’s sake, right now.
But they make sanctification a part of justification so that the person must work long and labor hard. I was just reading some of the things which they tell a person they must do in order to receive the grace of justification. Consider these things. They must love and worship God, pray, fasting; they must love one’s neighbor; they must practice self-renunciation; obey the commandments of God; bear witness to the Catholic faith; follow supernatural inspiration in deeds; confess the major doctrines of the Church. And if they do all of these things, they may become worthy of justification. But the Bible says that “God justifies the ungodly” and that we are “justified apart from works.”
In the third chapter of Romans, where Paul gives the fullest statement of the Gospel, he concludes with this concluding statement: “Therefore, we conclude that a man is justified by faith, apart from”–apart from the works of the law.” Now, that is none other than sola fide stated in other words. “Faith alone.” A man is “justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” But they are saying a man is justified by faith based upon his completion of a whole series of years of efforts to keep the law, and finally he is justified by his own merit in the end effect.
Ankerberg: John?
MacArthur: John, I was just going to add, the process of justification–and it is a “process” in the Catholic faith–starts with infant baptism. And they say that justification is initiated as a process at infant baptism. And it progresses through life, based upon what you do with infused grace. That grace is infused into you supernaturally; it’s infused into you through the Mass; it’s infused into you through the Sacraments. And as it’s infused and you cooperate with it, you keep the justifying process going. Now, you can stop that process at any point in time with a mortal sin, but you keep it going. Even when you get to the end of your life, the odds are you haven’t kept it going good enough and you’re going to purgatory. Now, when you get in purgatory, you hang around there for an eon or two doing whatever you can do to keep that process moving, hoping somebody up on top is sending down something from the Treasury of Merit to add to you so that “eventually” justification may “actually” be completed and you’ll get out of that place and into Heaven. Nothing could be a more convoluted view of what is an instantaneous act in the Word of God as he said exactly by which God places the righteousness of Christ on you. And the truth is, I am no more righteous to the satisfaction of God now than before I was declared righteous.
Sproul: That’s not true. That’s not the truth. The truth is, John MacArthur is a changed man; and the truth is, John MacArthur has had some degree of sanctification in his life.
MacArthur: This is true. This is true. But what I said was…what I said was–you’ve got to get my qualifier–I said I am no more righteous in the sense of satisfying a just God. In other words, I cannot achieve a righteousness that satisfies His requirement. Yes, I believe in regeneration. That’s a different issue and that there is a work of God in my life that is a sanctifying work.
Sproul: That’s why I was joshing him there, because we don’t want to give the impression…
MacArthur: No, no. I appreciate it.
Sproul: …that people think that just because we believe we’re justified by faith that nothing happens; that we remain unchanged.
Ankerberg: Take 45 seconds. For the person that tuned in just to this program that would like to have his sins forgiven and have Christ’s righteousness imputed to him, R. C., how does he do it?
Sproul: In 45 seconds, I’d say his only hope of being forgiven and restored to a relationship with God is to confess his sins, acknowledge his sin, and repent of his sins and look to Christ and to Christ alone, who is the only person who is sufficient to give him what he desperately needs to be reconciled to God. That Christ will cover your nakedness. That Christ will supply the righteousness from Himself and grant you all of His righteousness as a robe to put upon your nakedness and if you would receive Him by faith and trust in His righteousness, then you will be received by the Father into the Father’s house and adopted into His family.
Ankerberg: That’s great. And we’re just starting this. Next week I hope that you’ll join us because we’re going to go to step 2 of this, and that is, in the culture wars: abortion, pornography, fighting these evils that we all agree are wrong, how far can legitimate unity be pushed. We’re going to talk about that next week and I hope that you’ll join us.


Read Part 2


  1. […] Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree? – Program 1 By: Dr. John McArthur, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy […]

Leave a Comment