Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree? – Program 2

By: Dr. John McArthur, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy; ©1995
Can Evangelicals and Catholics work together to address issues such as abortion and pornography?

Evangelicals and Catholics Together to Fight Social Wrongs

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 CatholicsTogether 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! We’re here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the beautiful Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church with this wonderful audience tonight. My guests are: Dr. D. James Kennedy who is the pastor of this beautiful church; and the well-known and popular Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. R. C. Sproul.
Now, our program is about a document called the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” We’re also going to be talking about a new clarifying statement that was just written by the Evangelical signees of this document.
You may not know, but the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document was written by Evangelicals and Protestants and signed by 20 well-known leaders in the Evangelical world and 20 well-known Roman Catholic leaders. Now, Chuck Colson who helped to draft this document has acknowledged that it has caused a lot of controversy, and he has admitted that it raised genuine concerns over whether this document clearly represents what Evangelical Christians believe. So just a few weeks ago we met with Chuck at his request. We had ten Evangelical leaders there. The four of us were there. And Chuck expressed his concern over the confusion the document has caused, the lack of clarity concerning what Evangelicals believe. And he wanted to resolve and remove “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 distinctives. Not all of them, but some of the primary ones.
Now, Dr. John MacArthur, when we met together, we agreed that the ECT document–the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document–was attempting to join Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants together as co-belligerents–the word that Francis Schaeffer coined–working at the grassroots level in terms of social issues. And we were going to work together against the many social evils, including secular humanism, the rising tide of Islam, pornography, abortion, and things like that. But we also agreed that this work has been perceived as going too far in proclaiming the kind of unity that exists. I’d like you to define the kind of unity that can exist between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics and the kind of unity that cannot exist until the doctrine of justification by faith alone has been dealt with clearly.
MacArthur: Well, I might be a little bit radical on this, so, but I’ll go ahead. I think the way we can work together on it is for the Catholics to work against those things like they want to work against them and we’ll work against those things like we want to work against them, but we can’t really throw our arms around each other in a common effort, because that confounds the issue of spiritual truth. Look, if the Catholic Church is already a co-belligerent, if they’re already anti-abortion and pornography and homosexuality, they’re going to use all of their energies within the framework of their system to go after that. We’re committed to that and we’re going after that. There’s already a collective movement.
Once you then sort of try to define that as common spiritual mission built on common spiritual unity, you just take doctrine and throw it out the window. And perception is violated, particularly because the Catholic Church claims to be “true Christianity.” And when we reverse 450 years of history and just throw our arms around the Roman system–which I think we have to say, John, in all honesty is not a group of wayward brothers but is an apostate form of Christianity. It is a false religion. It is another religion. When you throw your arms around that, you literally have to undo any doctrinal distinction. And, in fact, ECT doesn’t just do that implicitly, they do it explicitly. In the document, in effect they say we have to accept all baptized Roman Catholics as “brothers and sisters in Christ.”
And then an article that followed that up in “Christianity Today,” J. I. Packer said, “We should acknowledge as brothers and sisters in Christ anyone who lives to the highest ideals of their communion.” My response to that is the opposite. I maybe could fellowship with a bad Roman Catholic, that is, one who rejected the system but was still in the Church and came to know Christ; but one who holds the highest ideals of Roman Catholicism, on what grounds do I have spiritual unity? And when you get spiritual leaders from both churches coming together to sign a common effort, you may say it is to fight a cultural war, but people are going to see it as confusion over doctrine.
Ankerberg: That’s why we put in paragraph 1 in this new doctrinal statement, which, let me read it: “Our para-church cooperation with evangelically committed Roman Catholics for the pursuit of agreed objectives does not imply acceptance of Roman Catholic doctrinal distinctives or endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church system.”
Sproul: And it’s important, John, that Chuck and Dr. Packer and Bill Bright wanted to make that point clear. I just wanted to comment on John’s statement that he prefaced by saying it was “a little bit radical,” you know, like being a little bit pregnant, I think. Because when somebody on national television representing Evangelicalism makes the comment that in their opinion or their judgment the Roman Catholic Church is apostate–it’s not a true Christian community–in this day and age of tolerance and pluralism and relativism and the milieu of irenic, peaceful, gentle coexistence. We live in a world that’s fed up with theological controversy and disputes and divisions and all of that. See, we don’t live back in the sixteenth century where people burned each other at the stake over that. For John MacArthur to make a statement like that about the Roman Catholic Church, which is the largest professing body in the world that claims a Christian position, it’s just plain inflammatory, incendiary, and will provoke a howling outcry of people. You’re going to get a enormous amount of mail for saying it, John. Know that.

Sproul: Because…
MacArthur: I want to know what the punch line is. What’s the punch line?
Sproul: The punch line is this, John, that the one thing that the spirit of tolerance of our day cannot tolerate is intolerance. Because relationships have become more important than truth. Now, what’s at stake here? If I understand the New Testament where the Apostle Paul writes to the Galatians and says, “If anybody, anybody, if it’s Peter, if it’s Barnabas, if it’s an angel from heaven teaches any other gospel, let him be anathema.” That’s not Sproul; that’s not MacArthur; that’s not Kennedy; that’s not Ankerberg. That is the apostolic position. And Paul wanted to make sure that he made himself clear so he repeated that. And then he goes on to say that he had to resist Peter himself, as Peter started to crack and compromise and negotiate the Gospel.
Now, think about the people in the first century who got that letter. They were horrified. They said, “Oh, the last thing that we can have happen is the breakup of fellowship and unity between Peter and Paul.”
All I’ve listened to for ten months is, “Oh, my goodness! What would happen if we saw a split among people like Colson and Packer and Sproul and MacArthur. We can’t have that happen!” Well, I’m the last person in the world who would want to have that happen; I can’t stand that either. These people are my friends, my comrades and everything.
But, John, what he is saying here, the Catholic Church understood in the sixteenth century at Trent, Rome placed its own ambiguous anathema on the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone and has never in any magisterial sense removed that anathema. The Roman Catholic Church condemns sola fide. Now, if…if–please understand this–if sola fide is the Gospel, then the Roman Catholic Church has condemned the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Now, nobody who went to the Council of Trent as a delegate went there with the intention of condemning the Gospel. Theologians of Rome really believed they were defending the Gospel and that the Protestants had, in fact, committed apostasy. And I admire the church, the Roman communion of the sixteenth century for at least understanding what apparently people don’t understand today, and that’s what’s at stake here! That they understood that somebody is under the anathema of God.
And we can be as nice and as pleasant and as gentle and as loving and as charitable and as tolerance as we possibly can be, but it’s not going to change that, folks. Somebody is preaching a different Gospel. And when Rome condemned the Protestant declaration of justification by faith alone, I believe Rome, when placing the anathema on sola fide, placed the anathema of God upon themselves. And I agree with his assessment, that the institution is apostate.
MacArthur: I don’t want to leave Jim out of this, but I just think it’s so important to know this. In a time like this of tolerance, listen, false teaching will always cry “intolerance.” It’ll always say you’re being divisive, you’re being unloving, you’re being ungracious, because it can only survive when it doesn’t get scrutinized. And so it cries against any intolerance. It cries against any examination, any scrutiny. “Just let’s embrace each other, let’s love each other, let’s put all that behind us.” False doctrine cries the loudest about unity. And listen carefully when you hear the cry for unity because it may be the cover of false doctrine encroaching. And if ever we should follow 1 Thessalonians 5 and “examine everything carefully,” it’s when somebody’s crying “unity, love and acceptance.”
Kennedy: For those laypeople here that are not familiar with it, the Council of Trent spent 18 years examining the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation, and at the end of that time they came out with the many canons of the Council of Trent, and this is the particular one that R. C. was referring to. And I would just like to have you hear the words. This has never been altered or denied by the Catholic Church. Quote: “If anyone says that the faith which justifies is nothing else but trust in the divine mercy which pardons sins because of Christ, or that it is trust alone by which we are justified,” which is what every Evangelical Christian would say, and they end with, “let him be anathema,” which means “let him be accursed.” Every Evangelical Christian in the world stands under the official, never-changed curse of the Roman Church, and we need to be aware of that fact.
Now, I think that the Bible says we are to hold to the truth in love. Now, that’s difficult to do. Only Christ ever did that perfectly. We always tend either to slip into a rigidity or a legalism or to slide down the other side into some sort of wishy-washy compromise of the Gospel.
But getting to your question, and that was one of the reasons for ECT, that we live, as Chuck told me on the phone when he called me, we live in a time when the very concept of truth is under attack; when the values and morals that Christians hold in common are under enormous assault, that we must stand together or we are going to fall together. But the question is, If, in the process–and I believe in co-belligerency. I think that we should endeavor to work together to fight the evils of our time. And I believe that I–I’m supposed to love everybody and I love people whether they are Roman Catholic or Presbyterian. And I’ve known some Presbyterians that were a lot harder to love than some Roman Catholics. You’re married to him, huh?
But, the problem with this document is it goes beyond just simply saying we need to fight on these social issues together and it gives the appearance of compromising the basic doctrine of the Gospel of the Bible, which is the Gospel. And this is the heart of all Christianity and this is why we had this meeting right here in my office to try to work these things out so there would not be a schism among Evangelicals and happily got all of these gentlemen to sign a statement that they do affirm the basic reformational truth. I still would have difficulty having my name on that document–which it is not, because I think of the ambiguity of it, the lack of clarity, and the way it opens the door for people to think there is no difference of any significance pertaining to the Gospel of Salvation between Protestants and Catholics.
Ankerberg: I think it’s very important right now for the people that are tuning in because they want to know: “Where do we stand right now? What does this doctrinal statement mean in terms of where are we at?”
Sproul: That was what I was going to address, John, so that we have understanding of this. The purpose of this meeting here for the clarification was, as Chuck Colson has passionate concern to communicate, he said, “Can’t we come together and agree to disagree as brothers in Christ?” Because the controversy had escalated to such a point that the issue became now, not what is the relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals, but what will the relationship now be between Evangelicals who endorsed this position and those who didn’t? Are we facing a serious and permanent breach within the Evangelical ranks? I mean, was it necessary…I mean, are we going to break fellowship over our disagreement over ECT? That was what provoked this.
And at that meeting, everybody expressed their concerns in a candid way and Chuck, of course, said, you know, the whole thing was provoked in the first place because of their deep concern over what was happening in Latin America and they didn’t want to see another Belfast erupt and trying to come to a united front against an increasingly hostile secularism.
And we all said, “Hey, we share that concern. We don’t want to see Latin America become a Belfast and we recognize the hostility of secularism.”
Our concern was, as I stated in that meeting, as clearly as I knew how, that as far as I could see, ECT in my judgment betrayed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also went on to say, and I’ve said this as loudly as I can every time I discuss this, I don’t for one minute think that Bill Bright, Jim Packer, Charles Colson at all ever in their wildest dreams ever intended any such thing! By the same token, neither did the signers of the Council of Trent. This was not a personal thing with me. I was saying, the document in what it says and proclaims, because it goes beyond this standing together as co-belligerents, it declares a unity of faith, John, where there is not a unity of faith. And that’s what deeply, deeply concerns me.
So what the concern of the men was at this meeting was to say, “Hey, look, let’s say to the world, ‘We do believe in sola fide.'”
And Chuck Colson said, “I believe in justification by faith alone” and he wanted to put it on paper, his statement, that this is central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Because he realizes people were interpreting the document the way I was interpreting it, and he believed that that’s a misinterpretation. Packer thinks that it’s a misinterpretation. I think it’s the one that the document screams. But we still disagree on that, and Chuck is still committed to ECT. My fondest hope was that these men would remove their names from it “a.,” and if they couldn’t do that, if they couldn’t formally recant of it, “b.” that they would at least revise the document itself and we couldn’t get them to do that. At least, please give a clarification that we can print separately of what you meant!
Ankerberg: Next week we are going to continue our conversation. And we are going to look at: Are there any people that are “off-limits” in terms of evangelism? “Sheep-stealing,” “proselytization” between Catholics and Protestants. And we’re going to look at this very controversial area next week and I hope that you’ll join us.

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