Evangelicals and Catholics Together?

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.
John 7:3–5

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.