On March 29, 1994, leading evangelicals and Catholics signed a joint declaration, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the 3rd. Millennium.” Contained within the document, which attempts to bring ecumenical unity, are some seriously compromising agreements regarding proselytizing and doctrinal distinctions.
The 25-page document, originated by Chuck Colson and Catholic social critic Richard John Neuhaus, was signed by 40 noted evangelical and Catholic leaders including Pat Robertson, heads of the Home Mission Board and Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bill Bright – founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Mark Noll of Wheaton University, Os Guinness, Jesse Miranda (Assemblies of God), Richard Mauw (President , Fuller Seminary), J.I. Packer and Herbert Schlossberg.
It called for Catholic and evangelical cooperation on social and cultural issues where both traditions share common goals, one example being the fight against abortion. The accord also stressed mutual allegiance to the Apostles’ Creed, world evangelism, justification “by grace through faith because of Christ,” and encouraged “civil” discourse over doctrinal differences.
Chuck Colson has been fervently criticized for his part in this accord and in his defense I can only say he has a desire to see Christ’s high priestly prayer (John 17) maintained. He said in his publication, Jubilee, “All true Christians are one in Christ. That has to be. That isn’t just a theological proposition. That is a statment of ultimate reality, because God has created us all, and those He has regenerated and called to Himself all belong to the same, one God. Disunity is a condition that God does not want; it defies what God has done. Therefore it is an affirmative duty on the part of every Christian to work for unity among true believers, never compromising truth, of course, but always to work for unity.
The challenge, as I see it, for Mr. Colson and others working toward true Biblical unity of the church is the dilution of their own faith. While I believe there are most likely “born-again” saved people in the Catholic Church whose faith in Christ transcends the teachings and doctrines of the Church, there is a danger of losing sight of the fact that the Catholic Church promises salvation apart from the finished work of Christ on the cross.
The distinction is not in the common words they use, but in the definitions of those same words. While Catholics and non-Catholics may agree with the Apostles’ Creed, they don’t necessarily share the meaning. While Catholics may say they agree with justification “by grace through faith because of Christ,” their actions sometimes shows otherwise.
While “civil” discourse over doctrinal differences may be good, if that civility reduces the impact of world evangelism and bringing the lost to Christ (including non-saved Catholics), it does nothing to advance Christ’s prayer for unity and hinders the responsibility of believers to spread the gospel throughout the world.
Colson and other signers later agreed to a five-point statement clarifying Protestant distinctives that were not clear in ECT. Critics claimed that the statement blurs doctrinal lines on key issues, including salvation by faith alone. John MacArthur, pastor of the independent Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, told “Christianity Today” magazine his greatest concern was the apparent disregard for “evangelical doctrinal distinctives.”
The new statement says cooperation between evangelicals and “evangelically committed Roman Catholics” on common concerns is no endorsement of the Roman Catholic “church system” or “doctrinal distinctives.” It affirms the Protestant understanding of salvation and legitimate evangelism efforts.
Excerpts of the followup agreement include:
- “We understand the statement that ‘we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ,’ in terms of the substitutionary atonement and imputed righteousness of Christ, leading to full assurance of eternal salvation; we seek to testify in all circumstances and contexts to this, the historic Protestant understanding of salvation by faith alone (sola fide).
- “While we view all who profess to be Christian–Protestant and Catholic and Orthodox–with charity and hope, our confidence that anyone is truly a brother and sister in Christ depends not only on the content of his or her confession but on our perceiving signs of regeneration in his or her life.
- “Though we reject proselytizing as ECT defines it (that is, ‘sheep-stealing’ for denominational aggrandizement), we hold that evangelism and church planting are always legitimate, whatever forms of church life are present already.”
In November ’97, a group of evangelicals and Catholics led by Charles Colson and Father Richard John Neuhaus released a statement, “The Gift of Salvation,” in which they say together, “We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone.” The statement says, “We agree that justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own; it is entirely God’s gift, conferred through the Father’s sheer graciousness, out of the love that He bears us in His Son, who suffered on our behalf and rose from the dead for our justification.”
You can’t believe two contradictory propositions
at the same time!
You can’t believe Christ obtained redemption through His blood and also believe redemption is being accomplished through Catholic liturgy.
You can’t believe salvation is by faith and “not of works” and at the same time believe that good works earn salvation.
Only 35 short years ago Roman Catholicism was included among the “modern Cults” about which Harold Lindsell warned his students in a course by that name at Fuller. Today, in spite of its false gospel of works and ritual which millions of martyrs faithfully opposed to the death, Catholicism is embraced by our most trusted evangelical leaders.
While ECT and later agreements may allow some “convergence and cooperation” between evangelicals and Catholics in many public tasks, there remains some important differences including “the meaning of baptismal regeneration, the Eucharist … diverse understandings of merit, reward, purgatory, and indulgences; Marian devotion and the assistance of the saints in the lives of salvation…”
One often hears the naive expression, especially in justifying the new ecumenical acceptance of Roman Catholics as Christians, “I embrace all those as brethren who ‘love Jesus’ and ‘name the name of Christ.'” Yet many cultists profess to love Jesus and almost all “name the name of Christ.” One must discern what is meant by such words.
The gospel of God’s grace is denied by every cult and false religion, including Roman Catholicism, where infant baptism removes original sin and makes one a child of God, salvation is in the church and its sacraments, redemption is an ongoing process of perpetually offering the body and blood of Christ upon its altars, and good works merit acceptance with God.
Modern Christian Ecumenical Movements
Even a cursory review of what has taken place in the Church during the last 25 years will reveal a fierce undermining of the faith. Precisely as the Bible warns, today’s most effective enemies of Christ are those who claim to be Christians and call mankind not just to any old false religion but to a counterfeit Christianity.
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
Modern Non-Christian Ecumenical Movements
Growing alongside the Christian ecumenical movement are those non-Christian movements with basically the same message: uniting the world into a one world religion that is inclusive of all beliefs.