of Evangelicals and Catholics Together
ten years have passed since a joint committee of Romans Catholics
and Evangelicals issued a statement entitled Evangelicals and
Catholics Together: the Christian Mission in the Third Millennium
(ECT). During this time three additional documents have been
promulgated dealing with the themes of justification, the Scriptures
and the communion of saints. The following begins with the history
of the committee. Subsequent articles will review the documents
as a whole, and then give some strictures and reflections on their
content. It is our desire that every Evangelical Christian be familiar
with their contents and equipped to discuss them in an intelligible
here to read Part 2 on the "ECT
and the Doctrine of Justification." Part
3 addresses ECT's statement titled "The Gift of Salvation."
HISTORY OF THE COMMITTEE
to the papers are members of both Evangelical and Roman Catholic
churches. They stress clearly that their productions should not
be considered as official documents of their communities but that
they speak from their communities and to their communities.
for this disclaimer is not hard to decipher because Roman Catholics
as individuals are not permitted to speak authoritatively for the
Church. Official pronouncements or teachings must come from the
Papal Chair or the Magisterium, the official teaching office
of the Church. On the other hand, any Evangelical or Protestant
is permitted to state what he or she believes is the truth of God's
Word. Thus, many people believe that Evangelicals and Catholics
Together is an official document of the Evangelical community.
When one considers the influence of the Evangelicals who have signed
these documents, this impression is strengthened.
the initial impetus for these meetings is somewhat obscure, it appears
there were two and possibly three, reasons, for their formation.
The meetings may have originated with Father Richard Neuhaus who
converted to Roman Catholicism from the Lutheran church. Father
Neuhaus is presently the editor of First Things, a periodical
that has received critical acclaim for its quality of writing and
subject matter. To convince Evangelicals that the differences between
the Evangelical and Catholic churches are not insurmountable and
incapable of resolution, Father Neuhaus may have initiated the discussions.
Without doubt, he has been a major player in the proceedings, affixing
his name to each of the four statements.
On the Protestant
side, we find the name of Charles Colson, former aide to President
Richard Nixon. Following his conviction for obstruction of justice,
Colson spent time in prison. After his release, he established Prison
Fellowship, a noted ministry to prisoners. Colson is also a prolific
speaker and author who has written numerous books combining teaching
and practical application on such topics as the church and ethics.
While a brilliant author, Colson has not pursued formal theological
impetus to the formation of the committee was the co-operation on
a practical level between Catholics and Evangelicals. The last decades
of the twentieth century were marked by joint actions of Evangelicals
and Catholics to combat abortion and, to a lesser extent, other
societal injustices. Taking their opposition to the streets, Evangelicals
and Catholics worked together to educate people on abortion, conducted
boycotts of abortion clinics, and other activities. Such joint endeavors
have been called the ecumenism of the trenches.
contributing factor to the Evangelical and Catholic dialogue has
been the tension and, at times, violence between Evangelicals and
Catholics in Latin America. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church
enjoyed a near monopoly in that area of the world. However, during
the latter decades of the twentieth century, Evangelicals have made
unprecedented gains among the Spanish and Portuguese speaking people
of the region. Frequently this conflict took on the nature of class
warfare as the landowners fought to maintain their control over
their workers. Whether or not the basic conflict was one of class
struggle or religious freedom, it rose to the level where there
was the necessity of a truce between the combatants. For that reason
the first paper issued from the committee had the subtitle of The
Christian Mission in the Third Millennium and sought to clarify
the mission of the Church.
taken together, caused the principal individuals to reflect on the
possibility that a doctrinal, as well as a practical, unity could
be achieved between Catholics and Evangelicals. This quest for unity
between Evangelicals and Catholics is part of the larger attempt
to achieve unity among all Christians. The Second Vatican Council,
under the direction of Pope John XXIII and known as Vatican II,
took the position that those who remained outside the communion
of Rome were separated brethren rather than active opponents.
As a result, non-Roman Catholics were not considered as unbelievers
but members of incomplete churches because they failed
to acknowledge the Petrine origin of the church and the role of
the Bishop of Rome as the head of all Christendom. The Roman Catholic
Church has been eager to seek reconciliation with these separated
brethren and has held formal talks with Lutherans and Anglicans
to explore the possibility of a reunion with Rome.
As a result,
the dialogue between Evangelicals and Catholics began from a practical
basis of cooperation against abortion and effort to halt the violence
in Latin America and not from a shared doctrinal basis. In the 1960s,
the Roman Catholic Church found a shared basis of fellowship with
the Charismatic movement. The evidence of this fellowship was the
common experience of speaking in tongues. This method to achieve
unity, that begins from the practical or experiential and works
toward the doctrinal, is the one being employed by Evangelicals
and Catholics Together.
It is at
this point that we must pause to reflect on this method of approach.
There is no question that the Word of God speaks about the unity
of Christians. Genuine believers in the Lord Jesus are to demonstrate
the unity prayed for by the Lord in John 17.
in His prayer the Lord also prayed for the sanctification or growth
in holiness of His people. This sanctification is the fruit resulting
from the teaching of God's Word. Therefore, the unity for which
the Lord prayed in John 17 must be unity that is based on the truth.
is reinforced in Ephesians 4, where Paul speaks of a two-fold unity:
the unity that already exists among Christians and a unity toward
which we are to strive. The first is the unity of the Holy Spirit,
e.g. the unity that results from the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration
in the individual's heart and can only be accomplished by the supernatural
work of the Spirit of God Himself.
of the Holy Spirit is based on the unity of the Godhead in the work
of redemption and the unity of the salvation possessed by all true
Christians. This must be the place from which we start to achieve
the unity of maturity among those who are true Christians. The goal
or standard toward which we are to strive is the likeness to the
Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
demonstrates the means by which this unity is to be achieved. God
has gifted His church with individuals who equip the saints toward
maturity. This unity of maturity does not come about automatically;
it comes as a result of the person's growth and learning in the
understanding and knowledge of Christ Himself.
It is here,
at the beginning of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together,
that we must express our concern. The major premise of the two parties
assumes that, because we are like-minded on social issues, a unity
of spiritual fellowship must be a present reality between Evangelicals
In our next
article we will seek to determine whether or not Evangelicals
and Catholics do indeed share a common spiritual fellowship. If
such indeed is the case, then a strong argument can be made that
there is really no major differences between the two expressions
of the Christian faith. However, if there are differences that call
into question whether or not Evangelicals and Catholics share the
common faith, then the entire basis of the agreements between the
parties can be called into question.
It is the
opinion of the writer that this is one of the most pressing issues
in the Christian community today. What is at stake is not just a
polemical argument where one side seeks to triumph. This is a matter
that deals with the spiritual state of professing Christians. There
can be no joy or elation in determining that another's teaching
comes short of what God has declared in His Word. That same Word
demands that all teachings be tried by the same infallible standard
to determine what God has stated.