Evangelicals and Catholics Together
Reprinted from Evangelical Times, June 1994
Evangelicals and Catholics together: the Christian mission in the third millennium is the title of the twenty-five-page document which has been brought out and signed by a group of Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians in the USA. The evangelical signatories include Bill Bright of Campus Crusade, Os Guinness of the Trinity Forum, Richard Mouw of Fuller Theological Seminary, Mark Noll of Wheaton College, James I Packer of Regent University, Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship, Larry Lewis of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Richard Land of the Christian Life Commission, Jesse Miranda of the Assemblies of God, and John White of Geneva College.
Like the English document Growing into union, of twenty-five years ago, there is an almost girlish delight in their `discovery’ of one another and a commitment on the part of both evangelicals and Roman Catholics to the affirmations of this statement. It says such things as: `All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have not chosen one another, just as we have not chosen Christ . . . . However imperfect our communion with one another, we recognize that there is one church of Christ . . . . As evangelicals and Catholics we pray that our unity in the love of Christ will become ever more evident as a sign to the world of God’s reconciling power . . . . We thank God for the discovery of one another in contending for a common cause. Much more important, we thank God for the discovery of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ . . . . We promise one another that we will work to deepen, build upon, and expand this pattern of convergence and co-operation.
“Today, in this country and elsewhere, evangelicals and Catholics attempt to win `converts’ from one another’s folds. In some ways, this is perfectly understandable and perhaps inevitable. In many instances, however, such efforts at recruitment undermine the Christian mission by which we are bound by God’s Word and to which we have recommitted ourselves in this statement . . . . In considering the many corruptions of Christian witness, we, evangelicals and Catholics, confess that we have sinned against one another and against God. We most earnestly ask the forgiveness of God and one another, and pray for the grace to amend our own lives and that of our communities.”
Let it be affirmed that this document was not needed to affirm that evangelicals and Roman Catholics can live together in peace and harmony. Even in Northern Ireland this happens all the time, we are friends, we respect each other, and we have many of the same opinions and goals. But our understanding of the gospel of Christ and the way of salvation are poles apart.
One example of this is the institution of papacy. This document has these two slim references to the pope: (1) “Mutually respectful conversation between Muslims and Christians should be encouraged in the hope that more of the world will, in the oft-repeated words of John Paul II, `open the door to Christ.'” And (2) “We rejoice together that the Roman Catholic Church–as affirmed by the Second Vatican Council and boldly exemplified in the ministry of John Paul II–is strongly committed to religious freedom.”
Yet Rome without the papacy is like a wheel without a hub. Imagine an old Polish bachelor beginning to attend your Baptist church. You learn that his name is Mr. Wjotyla. He has a fine noble face. He tells you that Jesus Christ is his Savior and the Son of God. He abhors abortion and even birth control. He has no time for women priests. In time Mr. Wjotyla applies for membership and the elders are impressed with this cultured kindly man and his love of Jesus. “Anything else you want to tell us?” you ask him. “Well, just this,” he says, “I am the head of the church and Christ’s special representative and spokesman in this world. There are certain occasions when I speak on his behalf–not very often–and then you’ve got to believe what I say, because the message comes directly from Jesus.”
You smile embarrassingly at this joke, not in very good taste. He does not. You ask him what he means, and you discover he means exactly what he says. This old Pole thinks that he is the head of the church worldwide, believing that he has been given that authority by Christ himself, and, warming to his conviction, he pronounces an anathema on any of the elders who dare to disagree.
He says, “If anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not he full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church, not only in matters that pertain to faith and morals, but also to matters that pertain to the discipline and government of the church throughout the whole world; or if anyone says he has only a more important part and not the complete fullness of the supreme power; or if anyone says that this power is not ordinary or immediate over each and every faithful shepherd or member, let him be anathema.”
You try again, “You say you are trusting in the merits of Christ’s mercy. How do those merits come to sinners?” The old man says, “I believe that the church communicates Christ’s mercy to sinners through the mass and the sacraments, and all the prayers and good works of the faithful. It is the church that reconciles sinners to God. The sacraments are necessary for salvation.”
You say to him, “If you came to our Lord’s Supper how would you understand it? Do you believe in the finished work of Christ?” He quotes easily from the Catechism of the Council of Trent: “The holy sacrifice of the mass is not a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving only, or a mere commemoration of the sacrifice of the cross, but also a truly propitiatory sacrifice, by which God is appeased and rendered propitious to us.”
You look with horror at his blazing certainty as he repeats those words, and you know that there is no way that he, holding such delusions, can become a member of your church or come to the Lord’s Table. He is terribly confused: he may even be mad; if he seeks to persuade other Christians to believe these things about himself he must be opposed. You fear for his own spiritual condition. What must it be like for any Christian to wake up in the morning with the realization, “I am the special representative of Jesus Christ in the world and speak on his behalf?” You put him under discipline and forbid him to share his notions about himself with anyone in or out of the church. That is the end of union between yourselves and Mr. Wjotyla, and who is to blame?
About this joint document Evangelicals and Catholics together, the charismatic leader and U.S. presidential candidate Pat Robertson says, “The time has come when we must lay aside minor points of doctrinal differences and focus on the centralization of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Minor doctrinal differences?” We have picked out a few doctrines–concerning who is the head of the church and the finished work of Christ. There are many others. These evangelical men, some of whom we esteem so highly, are trifling with the very word God has revealed to us to take to the world, a message which has been utterly distorted by the Roman Church. This document will be no help to us at all, certainly not to evangelicals, nor to our Catholic friends.