We come now to a brief consideration of the document entitled, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT). The largest section of the document, under the heading of "We Contend Together," urges cooperation between Romanists and evangelicals on a wide range of social and political issues, dealing with religious freedom, abortion, pornography, parental choice in education, a market economy, and appreciation of Western culture. Collaboration on these issues is obviously what has built support for the document among both Roman Catholics and evangelicals.
Interwoven with the social and political issues, however, the ECT document contains false theological presuppositions and blatant compromises with Romish doctrine. Protestants who sign this document for political purposes will find that they have given away the store.
The introduction of ECT enunciates a basic premise underlying the document: "As Christ is one, so the Christian mission is one. That one mission can be and should be advanced in diverse ways." Later, the authors assert, "We are called and we are therefore resolved to explore patterns of working and witnessing together in order to advance the mission of Christ." Can Protestants have a common mission with Romanists, when they are still disagreed over the content of the gospel? The issue of justification by faith has not been resolved (something acknowledged within the ECT document itself). Moreover, there are a myriad of other issues related to the gospel, such as the nature of faith and divine sovereignty in the conversion of sinners. If these are not spelled out clearly, how can there be any talk of a common effort in fulfilling the great commission? In this case, the allusion to "diverse ways" seems to be a veiled reference to diverse gospels. The attitude is quite different from that of the apostle Paul in Galatians 1.
The document affirms "that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ." The important term that is missing in that sentence is the word alone, as in the historic Protestant affirmation of justification by faith alone. In fact, when the document later provides a lists of unresolved issues between Romanists and evangelicals, the subject of justification is made conspicuous precisely because it is absent from that list.
Speaking of missionary zeal, the document makes one of its rare allusions to scripture, "How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15). In the case of ECT, we are constrained to ask further, "And what will they believe if a Papist is sent?"
The authors state, "All who accept Christ as Lord and Saviour are brothers and sisters in Christ." Wrong! Evangelicals often use such lingo, saying that someone has "accepted Christ as Saviour;" but biblical language is more precise. One suspects that the term accept was employed here precisely because of its widespread currency in evangelical circles; and because it is language acceptable to Papists. The word accept here smacks of Pelagian evangelism, where a man's destiny is thought to rest with his own free will, if he will only "accept Christ." By contrast the scriptures speak of saving faith as trusting in Christ alone as he is offered in the gospel.
Now, having provided a faulty description of faith, the ECT document uses this flawed premise to arrive at its definition of "brothers and sisters in Christ."
ECT says, "As Evangelicals and Catholics, we dare not by needless and loveless conflict between ourselves give aid and comfort to enemies of the cause of Christ." That remark overlooks the fact that Papistry is an enemy to the cause of Christ, and must be opposed. This truth was a fundamental principle of the Reformation, and evangelicals who sign a peace pact with Rome are aiding and abetting the Romish enemy of Christ.
The document expresses dismay over conflicts between evangelicals and Romanists in Latin American and Eastern Europe. What is often the case, however, is that people in these regions are leaving Popery for other church affiliations; and that action might be a positive step, if they are doing so out of an expression of genuine faith and repentance.
The subject of worship finds its way into the document only through the back door. ECT lists differences that are "frequently thought to divide us." The list includes the following points: "Sacraments and ordinances as symbols of grace or as means of grace," "the Lord's Supper as eucharistic sacrifice or memorial meal," "remembrance of Mary and the saints or devotion to Mary and the saints," and "baptism as sacrament of regeneration or testimony to regeneration." Here are clear allusions to Romish sacerdotalism, superstition, and the blasphemy of the Mass. Nevertheless, the presence of idolatry in Romish worship does not prevent the evangelical signatories from owning Rome as a true church, and Romish idolaters as brethren. By contrast, historic Protestants regularly exposed the corruptions and superstition of Romish worship, calling upon the practitioners of such idolatry to repent.
Indeed, in view of the length of the ECT document, the subject of worship receives short shrift. Perhaps that's because evangelicals and Romanists are both attached to numerous man -made forms of worship. Since they share common presuppositions about the lawfulness of human innovations in worship, their dispute is merely over which outward forms of will worship are preferred. In other words, this is one area where the dispute really is a family feud. Historic Protestants find any form of extra-biblical worship unacceptable, regardless of whether it emanates from Rome or from American democratic impulses.
The language of ECT is clear; its signatories regard evangelicals and Roman Catholics as "broth ers and sisters in Christ." They "affirm that opportunity and means for growth in Christian discipleship are available in our several communities."
They go further: "The one Christ and one mission includes many other Christians, notably the Eastern Orthodox and those Protestants not commonly identified as Evangelical." Are they talking about liberal Protestants here? If so, this is about the broadest definition of the church (and Christianity) one could devise. There is no discrimination between true and false churches, just as there is no discrimination between true and false gospels. All who merely profess some breed of nominal Trinitarianism are included in this ecumenical vision.
This concept is made painfully apparent by the inclusion of the Apostles' Creed as the only confessional formulation broad enough to encompass everyone they have invited to the ecumenical party. It is true that during the Reformation both Protestants and Romanists affirmed their acceptance of the Apostles' Creed. Yet, writers on both sides contended over the proper meaning of the creed (for example, the expression "the holy catholic church"), just as they did so many other issues. To include this creed, with no further explanation, is to render its use virtually meaningless. Thirty years ago this kind of broad-church ecumenism would have been cried down among evangelicals as gross liberalism.
The ecumenical refrain builds as the document says, "Existing patterns of distrustful polemic and conflict are not the way [to unity]. We do know that God who has brought us into communion with himself through Christ intends that we also be in communion with one another." Well, of course it follows that if Papists are in communion with God, and ought to be in communion with Protestants, there is an inescapable conclusion: why bother to evangelize Roman Catholics? Wouldn't that be a waste of time? Of course it would: "it is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community to proselytize among active adherents of another Christian community."
Extending this line of thinking, the document espouses a doctrine of individual sovereignty which serves as a further barrier against legitimate evangelism. "Those converted whether understood as having received the new birth for the first time or as having experienced the reawakening of the new birth originally bestowed in the sacrament of baptism must be given full freedom and respect as they discern and decide the community in which they will live their new life in Christ. In such discernment and decision, they are ultimately responsible to God and we dare not interfere with the exercise of that responsibility." From the viewpoint of the ECT signatories, calling a Romanist to repentance would have to be considered undue interfer ence.
After quoting from 2 Corinthians 5:19, the document asserts: "To proclaim this Gospel and to sustain the community of the faith, worship, and discipleship that is gathered by this Gospel is the first and chief responsibility of the church." But this assertion begs the question: Which gospel will be preached? Which community of faith? Which means of worship?
The document lists among the unresolved differences between evangelicals and Roman Catholics, "the church as visible communion or invisible fellowship of true believers." This is an interesting dilemma. The Reformers spoke of the church both in terms of a body not always visible to the eyes of men (i.e., the elect), as well as the true visible church; they made necessary distinctions when describing the relationships between these two perspectives. But in the ECT document we are given a choice of one or the other. Of course, Papists have often held that the identity of the church is equivalent to the institutional church of Rome; and perhaps some evangelicals (out of Anabaptist roots) see the church only in terms of an invisible spiritual body. But we stand firm with the formulations of the Protestant creeds and confessions (which mirror scriptures), sometimes speaking of the church as obscure to the eyes of men (the body of the elect), but at other times referring to the church in its institutional sense as an outward community of those professing the true religion (and their children).
Among the list of unresolved differences between evangelicals and Romanists is "the sole authority of Scripture (sola scriptura) or Scripture as authoritatively interpreted in the church." This disagreement is the most fundamental issue of authority. Without agreement on this principle, all the talk of evangelistic zeal for the Christian mission is hollow.
ECT speaks of the obligation to contend "against all that opposes Christ and his cause." Shouldn't that duty include contending against Roman Catholicism, since Rome promulgates a false gospel and idolatry? If "earnestly contending for the faith" means anything (cf. Jude 3), surely it means that true believers must oppose those who corrupt the gospel and worship.
Nowhere in the document is the term evangelical defined. We are told, however, that "the two communities in world Christianity that are most evangelistically assertive and most rapidly growing are Evangelicals and Catholics." Apparently it's the assertiveness that's the essence of the evangelical spirit in view because, here again, we are not told which evangel is being promulgated. Indeed, it doesn't seem to matter which gospel is preached, as long as it is done earnestly.
The apostle Paul has warned us that there is "a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2). Based on the ECT document, one may easily perceive that there are both evangelicals and Roman Catholics who possess this unholy zeal.
Notes for Chapter 6
1. This document has been reproduced in numerous places. In our quotations from ECT, refer ences to the document include the section title, followed by sequential numbering of paragraphs within the section.
2. Evangelicals are right to denounce abortion as murder and to call abortionists to repentance. Since pro-life evangelicals oppose those who murder the body, why do they not equally abhor those who seek to murder the soul (such as the exponents of popish religion)?
3. "Introduction," 3rd and 10th paragraphs.
4. In a schizophrenic moment, the authors say, "The achievement of good will and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics must not be at the price of the urgency and clarity of the Christian witness to the gospel" ("We Witness Together," paragraph 1). Keep in mind that the authors previously provided a list of unresolved differences between Romanists and Evangelicals, and the list touched some very significant issues: differences pertaining to sola scriptura, the nature of the church, worship, and baptismal regeneration. In spite of these unresolved differences, they press on with the assertion that their alliance to "witness together" must not come at the price of the "urgency and clarity of the Christian witness to the gospel." Such reckless statements are mind boggling (or mind numbing) when one begins to reflect on their ramifications. Apparently the authors do not believe that such issues as scriptural authority, worship, and regeneration form the essence of the unalterable gospel of Christ.
5. "We Affirm Together," 2nd paragraph.
6. "We Affirm Together," 3rd paragraph.
7. The language also provides comfort for nominal church-goers, who consider historic faith sufficient unto salvation.
8. See chapter 1 above.
9. "We Affirm Together," 3rd paragraph; "We Contend Together," 4th paragraph.
10. "Introduction," 9th paragraph.
11. "Introduction," 6th paragraph.
12. With this kind of language, perhaps the authors really believe that the Reformation was simply one giant misunderstanding. After all, are the issues enunciated really substantive? Are they issues that actually do divide, or are they simply issues merely thought to divide? Perhaps the Reformers were mistaken when they thought Papists were corrupting the gospel and resorting to idolatry, etc.
13. "We Search Together," 3rd paragraph.
14. See chapter 3 above.
15. "We Affirm Together," 3rd paragraph; "We Contend Together," 4th paragraph; "We Witness Together, 5th paragraph.
16. "Introduction," 4th paragraph.
17. "We Affirm Together," 4th paragraph.
18. For example, Calvin follows the order of the Apostles' Creed in the Institutes; and the Confession of the English congregation at Geneva is structured upon the articles of the creed. Both Calvin and the Confession explain the creed, as a means of exposing Rome's departure from the ancient faith of the church.
19. William Cunningham illustrates the inadequacy of the Apostles' Creed to serve as a sufficient guard against heresy; see Historical Theology (1862; rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1979), vol. 1, pp. 79-93.The ECT document is not itself a creed (or confession), in the classic sense of the term. A creed is an expression of doctrinal propositions, generally used to bear testimony to the truth, while excluding contrary doctrines and heretics from the community of the faithful. Creeds are founded upon the exposition of scripture. The ECT document studiously avoids making overt doctrinal statements, and does not even attempt any kind of systematic exposition of scripture from which to derive doctrinal propositions. After all, expounding the Bible might prove too divisive for their ecumenical efforts. There are a few scattered citations from scripture, along with the reference to the Apostles' Creed and quotations from the pope. While quotations by the pope may suffice for Romanists, it hardly commends the document to Protestants. Regarding ECT's use of the scriptures and the Apostles' Creed, perhaps ECT signatories hope to use them as a kind of incantation, which, if merely recited (without explanation), will mystically produce a grand reunion.
20. "We Hope Together," 4th paragraph.
21. Did our Protestant forefathers really waste a lot of time and effort and some spill their blood trying to reach Europe for Christ? The ECT document condemns the practice of proselytizing, or "sheep-stealing," which is defined as "recruiting people from another community for purposes of denominational or institutional aggrandizement" ("We Witness Together," 4th paragraph). It doesn't seem to occur to the authors that sectarian bias is not the only motivation for trying to persuade people to sever their ecclesiastical ties. It is a Christian duty to call men to repentance, exhorting them, for the sake of the gospel, to leave corrupt ecclesiastical communions.
22. A few lines later, the document adds: "Also to be rejected is the practice of comparing the strengths and ideals of one community with the weaknesses and failures of another" ("We Witness Together," 5th and 6th paragraphs).
In a related vein, the document says, "The decision of the committed Christian with respect to his communal allegiance and participation must be assiduously respected"("We Witness Together, 5th paragraph).
23. "We Witness Together," 8th paragraph.
24. Earlier the document states, "the decision of the committed Christian with respect to his communal allegiance must be assiduously respected." "Any form of coercion physical, psychological, legal, economic corrupts Christian witness and is to be unqualifiedly rejected" ("We Witness Together," 5th and 6th paragraphs). This is an interesting statement, since the Roman Catholic church has historically utilized the physical and legal persecution of Protestants, a trend which continues to this day in countries dominated by Popery. We are also curious: Would it be considered inappropriate to speak of hell, when exhorting a Romanist to repent or would that fall under the prohibition against psychological manipulation?
25. "We Contend Together," 2nd paragraph.
26. "We Search Together," 3rd paragraph.
27. "We Search Together," 3rd paragraph. The ECT affirmation of the inspiration and infallibility of the scriptures is disingenuous, since Romanists and evangelicals do not hold to the same canon of scripture ("We Affirm together, 4th paragraph).
28. "We Contend Together," 1st paragraph.
29. "Introduction," 6th paragraph.
Copyright ©1995 by Kevin Reed