Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree? – Program 4

By: Dr. John McArthur, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy; ©1995
What are the core doctrines that you must believe to be biblically accepted as a Christian?

Core Christian Doctrines

Ankerberg: Welcome! Welcome to our program. We’re here in beautiful Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida where Dr. D. James Kennedy is the pastor. And my guests are Dr. Kennedy and then the popular and well-known Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. R. C. Sproul.
We’re talking about the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document, as well as a new doctrinal statement clarifying the ECT that has just been signed by some of our Evangelical friends and we want to talk about why we clarified some of those things. What the need was.
And Dr. R. C. Sproul, I’m going to come to you with a very controversial area, and that is that when you sit down with two groups that are basically holding to different views, you had 20 Protestant signees, 20 Catholic signees of the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document, and they said that when they sat down and basically were writing this thing, that they were “seeking for common ground of our core beliefs.” “Common ground of our core beliefs.” What’s the bottom line that we can unite on? They said they found it. And it consisted of the following: to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; affirming the Apostles’ Creed; to accept the proposition “we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ”; to affirm to seek more love, less misrepresentation, and misunderstanding. They went on to talk about some other things as well. But those are pretty heavy little things that they have put on the table and yet, when we met to talk together, we said it wasn’t enough. I think a particular sticking point was, “Isn’t it good enough to say all who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ?” Because right after that statement in the ECT document you find, “Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.” That is, anybody that can affirm that first one, fits the second one if you’re a Protestant or Roman Catholic.
We said, “No. It needs to be clarified and did clarify it.” But some of the people in our television audience might say, “What in the world is wrong with that? If you can’t agree on that, if that doesn’t bring unity, what’s the problem?”
Sproul: Well, John, you’ve just quoted the portion of this document–the document is some 25 pages long and most of it does not get into theological matters like that–you’vee just quoted exactly the portion of that document that most distressed me personally. And I have to say, before I try to answer your question, that in my career as a teacher of theology and in my life as a Christian, I cannot think of anything that has come remotely close to distressing me to the depths of my soul as much as this document has distressed me. And what distressed me the most about it is that segment that you just mentioned.
Now, in last week’s discussion, we discussed this business about: Do we assume that everybody in the Evangelical church is a Christian? Of course not. That’s not the issue, and nor do these people ever intend to say that everybody in the Roman Catholic Church is a Christian. The statement: “Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ” does not mean that everybody in the Roman Catholic Church is a Christian or every Evangelical is a Christian. Any sober reading of the document would illustrate that. At the same time, those who have resisted this document have for the most part agreed that, yes, there are believers, true believers here and there, in the Roman Catholic Church and liberal churches and so on. They’re mavericks to their community and I personally believe that those people who truly accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior in the biblical sense and live in the Roman Catholic Church have a moral and spiritual duty to leave that communion immediately! That they are living in sin by continuing to be a visible member of an institution that anathematizes the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I mean, that’s what I would say to that point.
But then you say, “But wait a minute, R. C. Are you one of these theologians who’s insisting on dotting every “i” and you’re in a witchhunt and all that kind of stuff?” Chuck, for example, Colson, is very ___ to say, “R. C., you can’t just read that statement in the naked way that Catholics and Evangelicals are brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s a context.” And that’s right, there is. Because right before that, as you read, it says, that “all who accept Jesus as Savior and Lord are brothers and sisters in Christ,” “Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ,” and the elliptical sense of this is, that those two statements are connected, meaning that only those Catholics, and only those Evangelicals who truly accept Jesus as Savior and Lord are brothers and sisters in Christ. And what Evangelical would quibble over that? Me. For this reason.
Precisely at the heart of the debate in the sixteenth century was not the question: “Is Jesus Lord?” Or, “Is Jesus Savior?” Beloved, the issue that tore apart Christendom in the sixteenth century was this: “What does it mean that Jesus is Savior? How is Jesus the Savior?” You see a Savior in the liberal sense where He’s an existential hero, a symbol of liberation. And I believe that Jesus is my Savior in the sense that He reveals to me authentic existential existence. Do I mean that Jesus is my Savior when I say that Jesus on the cross revealed the seriousness of sin and demonstrated the love of God and so restored a moral influence to the universe and saved me in that way. Or, as the Roman Catholic Church has said repeatedly, “Yes, Jesus is my Savior in that He infuses the necessary grace into my soul by which with my cooperation I can be saved and justified before Almighty God.” When my Roman Catholic friends tell me they believe in Jesus as Savior, do they mean by that statement that they are trusting in the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account forensically by God through faith alone? or do they mean that Jesus is their Savior in the sense that He helps them have the ability to gain the merit necessary for God to declare them just? Do you see that that’s a world of difference in understanding “as his Savior.”
Now, when Chuck Colson says, “All who believe in Christ as Savior,” he’s filling that with the content of his own Evangelical heritage. Because if you ask Chuck Colson what he means by “accepting Jesus as his Savior,” if you ask J. I. Packer what he means by “accepting Jesus as his Savior,” they’ll give you the unvarnished, orthodox, Protestant faith.
But the question is, Is that true for the Roman Catholic Church? Now, they will be quick to say, “But we didn’t…we are just talking about those 40 guys. These are just a group of individuals talking from their communion to their communion,” and they have insisted on that over and over again–that this is not an official document. And it isn’t an official document. But I’ve said to Chuck and to J. I., I said, “Look, that may be true, but you’re speaking about these communions, and as soon as you speak about the two communions, you’ve gone way beyond 40 people.” You’re making a blanket statement about Evangelicals and Catholics who profess to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior–that they are brothers and sisters in Christ. Now, if they do accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in the biblical sense, they are brothers and sisters in Christ and I have no dispute. But the doctrine of justification upon which we’re united is far more than that statement that we’ve looked at already that, “We are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.”
Ankerberg: People that are listening might say, “Boy, are you narrow-minded!”
Sproul: I hope so. That when it comes…John, let me explain that comment. I don’t mean to be flippant about that because I think one of the most difficult things in the Christian life is to know when to be tolerant and when to be narrow. The same Apostle Paul who tells us that we are not to be contentious and divisive and argumentative and belligerent, that same apostle who teaches us that the fruit of the Spirit, of the Holy Spirit, is the fruit of gentleness and kindness and long-suffering and meekness and goodness and so on, that same apostle who tells us that we’re to judge each other always with the judgment of charity and not harshly, with a love that covers a multitude of sins. That’s the same apostle who said, “When it comes to the Gospel, you can’t negotiate it! Ever! For any reason!”
That’s why when Luther said that this was the article upon which the Church stands or falls–and I agree with Luther’s assessment there–I mean, I don’t think we should fight over every doctrine and over every pedantic point of theology. But, John, this isn’t a pedantic point. This is not what J. I. Packer infelicitously called “the small print.” This is the article upon which the Church stands or falls–the Gospel itself.
Ankerberg: John, do you think that the Gospel is at stake in what we’re talking about?
MacArthur: Oh, absolutely. That is what is at stake, and I think…I was just going to mention a parallel.
Ankerberg: Right.
MacArthur: The Apostle Paul in Romans 10, obviously we know his heart and his passion for Israel. He actually said he could almost wish himself accursed for their salvation. Nobody would question that Israel was devoted to God; that they had a zeal for God; that they tried their best to follow the law and all the prescriptions. And it’s a very close parallel to the same kind of situation. And he says in Romans 10, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” I mean, it was clear that they had missed the whole point of the gracious salvation, a salvation that came from God and God alone apart from any works.
He said, “I bear them witness”–this I’ll grant them–“they have a zeal for God but it’s not according to knowledge, because they do not understand God’s righteousness and they seek to establish their own.” That is exactly what you have going on in the Roman Catholic Church. And so “they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” In other words, they didn’t understand the righteousness of God; they went to seek their own righteousness, therefore they missed the righteousness of God and he says in the next verse, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Christ is the righteousness and Israel missed it, and Paul confronted it; Jesus confronted it, I mean, He blistered the Jewish leaders for their defection.
I hate to say that if I had been in a meeting with 20 Roman Catholics, I think I would have been a troubled person and I think that trouble would have spilled out all over that meeting. I don’t think we would have come out with any document which we all agreed on because I would have had to confront the fact that “they have a zeal for God but it is apart from understanding the righteousness of God” which is the only means by which salvation can occur. Yes, it’s absolutely the definitive issue.
Ankerberg: Dr. Kennedy, all through the years that I’ve known you, you’ve had the reputation among Evangelical leaders of being the stateman, the one that constantly wants to bring us together; you don’t want any splits, and even in this situation we met in your office. But, what’s at stake is that the cry for tolerance today and love between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants is very, very strong. And when we make some of these statements, people say, “Don’t you have any love for Roman Catholics? Are you guys so harsh?” Talk about love and tolerance and the priority that truth has over that. And that when we stand for the truth, that does not necessarily mean that we don’t love people; in fact, when we stand for the truth, it means that we actually love them more.
Kennedy: Absolutely, John. If we believe, as Christians, the truth of the Scripture, if we believe what Christ said: that He is “the way, the truth, and the life”; if we believe, as Peter said, “There is none other name under heaven given unto men whereby they must be saved”; if there is no other way than through justification by faith in Christ alone; if we are willing for the sake of some temporal, earthly peace and tolerance to ignore proclaiming that truth to people, then we are not demonstrating to them love. We are actually demonstrating hate because we are allowing those people to go to the judgment of God without ever telling them the one way by which they can be justified in the eyes of a just and holy God. And that is a false love. True love confronts. And it should do it with grace and with kindness but, nevertheless, firmly. I’ve always felt that we need to have a velvet glove, but as I was saying to R. C. in my office this afternoon, that I’ve always felt there should be a velvet glove but inside that velvet glove there is to be a steel fist. And we can never become wishy-washy and spongy when it comes to the essential truth upon which the eternal weil or woe of human beings rests: and that is the Gospel. We can’t compromise on this truth. We can agree to disagree on a lot of the non-essentials, as Paschal said; but when it comes to the heart of the Gospel, we have to insist there is only one way and Christ is that way. And to ignore that is a false love; it is a personal apostatizing on our own part from what Christ called us to be.
And I, you know, I commend these men and I commended R. C. in that meeting that we mentioned. Somebody called it “Vatican III.” That he made it very clear to these men what was at stake here and what was at stake, ultimately, was whether or not we could maintain fellowship if they were going to leave a confused idea as to whether or not they accepted the distinctives of the reformational theology. And happily, they made it clear that they do not reject those; they do clearly accept them and in that we do rejoice, though we all would have been happier if they had taken their names off the document altogether.
Ankerberg: R. C., summarize where we’re all at. I think it’s very important for the people that are listening. They want to know, Well, where are we at here with Chuck and our own fellows? Where do we stand?
Sproul: I’m not sure. I received a wonderful letter from Chuck just this week. See, John, this is so hard. Because like Chuck writes in a scrawl at the bottom, “I’m so glad we had this meeting because this has been torturing my soul.” And he’s been in tears; I’ve been in tears in terms of our personal friendship, that it’s for so long and so deep. J. I. Packer, man, I haven’t had…few people in my life have I had a deeper comradery with, standing shoulder to shoulder proclaiming the Reformed faith to our generation–these are the last people in the world I wanted to break fellowship with! And that’s certainly Chuck’s heart and that’s why we got together here.
Now, how I feel personally about these guys, after that meeting, is I feel a lot more comfortable about it knowing what their concerns were and they’re perfectly willing to stand and say to the world, “We believe in justification by faith alone” and that that is “central to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” I want them to say that from the ____. Where are we? I’m delighted in that. And as I said before, it’s a halfway covenant here. I mean, that was the bare minimum that I could hope for that we could be able to achieve to avert a theological war. And I think we have, at least for the time-being, dodged a bullet here. I’m not sure. I mean, the truce is tenuous and I hope that we’re going to be able to get more clarification because we didn’t have the time to look at all the issues here and we all recognized that there was a lot more to be done, and so part of that clarification statement that you have in front of you, John….
Ankerberg: Point number five.
Sproul: Point number five makes a commitment for those people involved there to continue this discussion because the discussions aren’t over. And there’s kind of a moratorium here on let’s put down the guns in the meantime and not be shooting each other in the back and still try to get further resolution of this problem. I, again, with Jim, I just wish they’d just unsign the document and we could all go home and be happy. But in the meantime we’re trying to have as much accommodation as we possibly can without compromising the Gospel.
Ankerberg: Dr. John MacArthur, close us off from this session. Why is it so important to be so precise and so clear in the statements that we are making about what we believe? What’s at stake?
MacArthur: Because the eternal soul of every person is at stake. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. And coming to Christ on God’s terms and His terms alone is the path of salvation. Everything is at stake, absolutely everything. If I can just add one thing to what R. C. said, we’re glad to agree on the doctrine of salvation, sola fide, what we don’t agree on is the implications of that. We’re saying that has massive implications in terms of our cooperation. They don’t seem to see those implications. Therein lies the difficulty. It’s implications that concern me, because the implication of taking the right doctrine of salvation is, you preach the truth and people can come to salvation. Confusing that is a damning doctrine.
Ankerberg: Dr. Kennedy, close us off again. How can a person who is listening come into that wonderful relationship that we’ve been talking about? Maybe they’ve been listening to all of this and their curiosity is peaked. You’re saying some things that are bringing joy: is it really true? Explain it.
Kennedy: Essentially, there are only two religions in the whole world: one of them is “I.” “I live a good life. I keep the commandments. I pray. I go to church. I follow the Golden Rule. I love my neighbor. I do the best I can. I don’t do this bad thing; I don’t do the other.” That’s called autosoterism[ck] of self-salvation, where I become my own salvation–glory be to me. I’m in competition with Jesus Christ who claims to be the Savior of the world.
The only other religion is the cross, symbolized and standing right behind me. There are over 30,000 religions in the world but when you take off the ribbon and the wrapping and open the box, you’ll either find the “I” or the cross essentially. And everyone is going to either be saving himself and be his own savior, or he’s going to trust in Christ. And in Christ alone.
And I would say to anyone that wants to know the free salvation of God, to get out of the savior business, declare spiritual bankruptcy, turn to Christ and trust in Him alone for your salvation, and He will freely give you the gift of everlasting life. He will come into your heart and enable you to trust Him and to repent of your sins and change your life and give you new meaning and new direction and new power to live a godly life. And He will take you to be with Him in Paradise forever and ever.
Ankerberg: That’s great. Next week, I hope that you’ll join us because we’re going to have questions from our audience and I’m sure that maybe you’ve got a question and probably they’ll ask it next week. We’re going to start off that question and answer time with a very controversial statement in the ECT document: “Are there two ways of salvation, namely, the new birth, or the sacrament of baptism?” Now, the drafters of ECT said they are not saying that, but a lot of people have assumed that they are and we’ll tell you why and then answer the question. I hope that you’ll join us.


Read Part 5


Leave a Comment