What About Evangelical Catholics?-Part 1
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005|
|There are many voices attempting to bring Evangelicals and Catholics together as common brethren of a common faith. Thousands of Evangelicals see Catholics as regener¬ated Christians. And many Catholics who call themselves Evan¬gelical are seeking to bring these Christians into the Catholic fold. In this article, the authors focus on one of the more prominent examples of this: Keith Fournier’s Evangelical Catholics.|
We have seen that there are many voices attempting to bring Evangelicals and Catholics together as common brethren of a common faith. Thousands of Evangelicals see Catholics as regenerated Christians. And many Catholics who call themselves Evangelical are seeking to bring these Christians into the Catholic fold. One of the more prominent examples of this is Keith Fournier’s Evangelical Catholics. This contains an endorsing foreword by leading Evangelical Charles Colson who says:
- But at root, those who are called of God, whether Catholic or Protestant, are part of the same Body. What they share is a belief in the basics: the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, His bodily resurrection, His imminent return, and the authority of His infallible word. They also share the same mission: presenting Christ as Savior and Lord to a needy world. Those who hold to these truths and act on this commission are Evangelical Christians….
- It’s high time that all of us who are Christians come together regardless of the difference of our confessions and our traditions and make common cause to bring Christian values to bear in our society. When the [secular] barbarians are scaling the walls, there is no time for petty quarreling in the camp.
- Keith Fournier stands in the breech—truly orthodox in his adherence to Catholic doctrine and fully Evangelical in his relationship to Christ and His creation. Keith’s ministry is one of healing. Without compromising or diluting his faith, without any false ecumenicism, he calls all of us as Christians to our common heritage and mission. He is building alliances against our mutual enemy. This book is going to make an immense contribution to that cause.
Catholics and Evangelicals may indeed work together in support of promoting Christian values in the larger society. What bothers us about Fournier’s book is that it is mostly an encouragement for Evangelicals to return to Rome, the one true Church.
Fournier may claim to be Evangelical but, in fact, he is a Roman Catholic attempting to be committed to both Rome and Scripture—which in the end has caused him to reject Scripture alone as the authority. He earnestly desires those who are not Roman Catholic to see that there is only one true Church and thus, in many ways, his book is a form of “pre-evangelism” to liberal, Evangelical and charismatic Protestants seeking their conversion to Rome. Despite good motives, Fournier’s placing of unity above truth ends ultimately in a betrayal of truth.
First, Fournier claims that Catholicism does not teach salvation by works: “Many Christians misunderstand the Catholic theology of salvation as one of salvation by good works…. They believe that Catholics have rejected the true gospel of salvation by faith alone and accepted the false gospel of salvation by faith plus good works…. this view does not represent Catholic theology.” But Fournier never establishes this claim.
Second, in harmony with Rome, he provides a false definition of the doctrine of justification: “The point at which I accept this free gift of grace is the point of my justification. I am rescued from the penalty of sin, which is everlasting separation from God, and I am changed in the very center of my being [regeneration]…. I will use justification to refer to a part of a fuller understanding of God’s grace at work within us in the whole process of salvation [sanctification].” Again, we see that justification is confused with regeneration and sanctification.
Third, in harmony with Catholic teaching, he believes that it is not possible to have assurance of salvation in this life: “But the race belongs to those who persevere to the end, not to those who never start, nor to those who begin but never finish…. Catholics say that “I hope to be saved.” We must persevere in our faith in God, love for God, and obedience to his will, until the end of our lives…. We need to be careful of presumption.”
Fourth, he believes that unity in Christianity is more important than doctrinal truth:
- But in relationship to maintaining our unity and love as members of the Family of families, these issues [e.g., right doctrine] pale in significance. We
must maintain a focus on our family relationship. After all, it is the heartthrob of Jesus for us all…. Catholics and Protestants oppose one another… and the devil laughs…. We have cooperated with him well.
- We are family. We have the same Head, the same Savior, the same Elder Brother, and the same Bridegroom—Our common enemy, Satan, is subtle and dangerous. He wants us divorced. He knows that as long as we are separated, our effectiveness as witnesses for Christ suffers.
But, Fournier also confesses, “I know full well that our bedrock differences in doctrine and practice are serious and must be discussed and worked through.”
Yet it would appear that he is also willing to accept the truth of Catholic doctrine over unity with Protestants—and therefore, rejects partaking in communion with non-Roman Catholics. Thus, Catholic doctrine is paramount:
- As a Catholic Christian, I embrace the warning of the Second Vatican Council document on ecumenism: “Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and certain meaning.
- I embrace my church’s position that I cannot participate in the Eucharist with Christians of other traditions. We are not one [i.e., we are not all Roman Catholic]. We must long to be one, and it should grieve our hearts that we cannot go to a common table.
Fifth, Fournier wrongly claims that Evangelicals and Catholics share “a common book, a common history, a common creed, a common savior, and a common mission.”
In essence, despite his claim to be Evangelical, Fournier’s commitment is fully to Rome: “I am a Roman Catholic, not by accident or mistake but by heartfelt conviction.” “I have submitted myself to the teaching-office of the Church and its leadership.” “[I have] rooted myself in a sacramental and incarnational Catholic/ Christian world view.”Ibid., p. 47.</ref>
And this is the problem. Fournier’s “Evangelical/Catholic” faith is merely a Roman Catholicism that he has falsely claimed as Evangelical faith. Thus, when he refers to Evangelicals and Catholics cooperating in evangelism, his goal in evangelism is to lead converts into the Catholic Church. Thus:
- The challenge I have as a Catholic Christian is… to bring people to Jesus Christ…. But… that is only the beginning. That salvation must be sustained, nourished, and deepened… through implantation into Christ’s Body, the Church [i.e., Roman Catholic].Ibid., p. 18.</ref>
And, “…to belong to Christ I must be a part of His people, not just in theory and theology, but in fact.”Ibid., p. 47.</ref>
And, “…the Catholic Church is… at least in my opinion, the Mother Church.”Ibid., p. 165.</ref>
- I believe the Bible is the Book of the Church, not that the Church is the Church of the Book…. I believe it would be ingenuine for believers who do not agree on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist to join this sacrament of unity…. I am a sacramentalist.Ibid., p. 17.</ref>
All this is why E. Calvin Beisner says the following in a review of Fournier’s book:
- The equivocation at the heart of Fournier’s book… is clear from theinconsistency in his use of the key terms…. The truth is that there is much more to the terms Evangelical and (Roman) Catholic than Fournier really deals with in his book…. The distinctions between Catholicism and Protestantism are real, and they are important. Despite Fournier’s good intentions in attempting to bypass them for the outward unity of the body of Christ, he really will do both Catholics and Evangelicals only a disservice if he successfully persuades them that one can be Evangelical and Catholic in the proper sense of those words.
All this is certainly not to say that the Catholic Church is devoid of genuine Christians—there are many of them. Catholics may indeed have experienced true regenerating faith. But the real question is one of commitment to biblical truth and the importance of spiritual growth based on it. The issue then becomes, “Can Christians remain in the Catholic Church without compromising their faith and/or their spiritual growth?” We will address this question in Part 2.
- Keith A. Fournier, Evangelical Catholics (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1990), p. vi.
- Ibid., p. 96, cf., pp. 96-107.
- Ibid., p. 100.
- Ibid., pp. 106-107.
- Ibid., p. 147.
- Ibid., p. 167.
- Ibid., p. 191.
- Ibid., p. 157.
- Ibid., p. 161, emphasis added.
- Ibid., pp. 211-214.
- Ibid., p. 168.
- Ibid., p. 18.
- E. Calvin Beisner, “A Summary Critique: Evangelical Catholics,” Christian Research Journal, Summer, 1991, p. 37.