I would like to propose my sentiment on the recent ecumenical movement (which by “recent” I mean the last 50 years) of the desire for an increased “dialogue” between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. This “dialogue” much like the emerging “conversation” is used in preference to ecumenism. Is this movement warranted? Should evangelicals and catholics really “dialogue” together? With names like Bill Bright, J.I. Packer, and Richard Mouw signing this document, it is worth a look to see exactly what they see as positive in this movement. Here is a quotation from “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium”.
We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples. The one Christ and one mission includes many other Christians, notably the Eastern Orthodox and those Protestants not commonly identified as Evangelical. All Christians are encompassed in the prayer, “May they all be one.” Our present statement attends to the specific problems and opportunities in the relationship between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants. As we near the Third Millennium, there are approximately 1.7 billion Christians in the world. About a billion of these are Catholics and more than 300 million are Evangelical Protestants. The century now drawing to a close has been the greatest century of missionary expansion in Christian history. We pray and we believe that this expansion has prepared the way for yet greater missionary endeavor in the first century of the Third Millennium.
Are we really to be one? Are we really the same? The confession lists doctrinal differences such as the Eucharist, status of the church, and sacraments as a means of grace; but they put it aside because both sides affirm the Apostle’s Creed. So, is the Apostle’s Creed enough for us all to join hands over?
The position I will take is a hearty ‘no.’ I would like at the outset to recognize something. I do have one friend: Janiece Brown who I am convinced is a regenerate believer but still attends mass. But, and this is a big “but,” she affirms almost all of the crucial evangelical doctrines such as sola scriptura, justification by faith, protestant canon, and denying the infallibility of the pope. So, I would like to point out a few of the doctrinal reasons why evangelicals and catholics cannot “join together,” because they are completely different religions. I will highlight the Roman Catholic dogma and contrast that to evangelical theology to illustrate the incredible differences.
Justification by faith and works. This is a cornerstone to the debate between the two sides. This issue (with imputation) were the cornerstones to the Reformation. The Roman Catholics say you must have faith, but works are necessary through particularly the seven sacraments (Eucharist, holy orders, etc.) because they are the means in which grace is infused. To understand this, we must look at this right away.
The infusion of righteousness through the sacraments. Roman Catholics believe that the atonement served to provide the Catholic church with a quantity of righteousness for them to hand out to whoever they will. This was important for the Catholic church, because they wanted to establish that they are the only means for grace and relationship to Christ (i.e. you must go through the Catholic church). On the other hand, evangelicals believe that we are “imputed” with the righteousness of Christ. This means that we are given it once and for all during justification. In other words, after we are justified, there is no needs for works to complete justification (of course, works are “fruits” of our salvation, but they do not justify us in any way). A lack of understanding of this doctrine is one of the greatest tragedies in evangelical theology. Even Campus Crusade for Christ, to which Bill Bright started says the following in their statement of faith:
The salvation of man is wholly a work of God’s free grace and is not the work, in whole or in part, of human works or goodness or religious ceremony. God imputes His righteousness to those who put their faith in Christ alone for their salvation, and thereby justified them in His sight.
How could one possibly believe that and sign a document for a group that is completely antithetical to every point in those two sentences to be together?
The re-sacrifice of Christ (Eucharist). This is by far one of the most repugnant of doctrines from the Catholic church. It is the believe that Christ is “re-sacrificed” each time that the Catholic church is to hand out the Eucharist (communion). So, the little cracker turns into the physical body of Christ and the wine turns into the physical blood of Christ while retaining it’s outward properties. Evangelicalism believes that it is solely memorial. The Westminster Confession of Faith makes a strong stance against the Catholic Eucharist:
That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries.
The Westminster Confession of Faith: Of the Lord’s Supper (VI)
Apostolic succession and the infallibility of the Pope. When Christ said “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church” (Mat 16:18) was He talking about Peter being the first Pope over His church? No. Christ is the head of the church (Eph 5:23). There was never any plan anywhere in the New Testament for there to be apostolic succession. Of course, the Catholic church reasons that the apostles were gifted of the Spirit, thereby able to write Scripture and be infallible, so if the “apostolic successor” which means the pope makes a proclamation it is infallible and on the same level of Scripture. Evangelicals proclaim that there is no apostolic succession. The apostles were gifted for a specific reason and a specific time never to be brought back.
The veneration of Mary. Mary is a highly regarded symbol in Catholicism to the point to where they want to keep Mary as a perpetual virgin. In fact, John Paul II wrote:
The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth “did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.” And so the liturgy of the Church celebrates Mary as Aeiparthenos, the “Ever-virgin.”
This is interesting considering the abundance of Scriptures used to verify the fact that Mary was not a perpetual virgin. The texts even prove that Jesus had siblings (Mat 12:46-47, 13:54-56; Mark 3:31-32). While Catholics claim the Greek word can mean “cousin,” it would be hard to look at this text in any other way besides “sibling.”
Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. “For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers were believing in Him.
Catholics also use the phrase “immaculate conception” but it doesn’t refer to the virgin birth of Christ but the virgin birth of Mary. They do this to avoid the fact that Mary would have been born with original sin. Despite the fact that original sin is not passed through the mother but through the father (likening to Adam our federal representative).
Variance on other doctrines. I could go on and on about other doctrines. Big ones include the fact that Mary plays an intercessory role in our redemption, the Apocrypha, and Semi-Pelagianism (Synergistic soteriology) but I’ll cease. The point I’m trying to make is that we are not the same. In fact, we are wholly different. In reality, the only “dialogue” we should have with Roman Catholics is sharing the Biblical Gospel with them.