Can We Disagree and Still Be United?
In the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" report, the authors
recognize there are differences between them, but they maintain this
does not seem to hinder their unity:
In this search to understand the truth more fully and clearly, we
need one another. We are both informed and limited by the histories of
our communities and by our own experiences. Across the divides of
communities and experiences, we need to challenge one another, always
speaking the truth in love, and in order to build up the Body
We do not presume to suggest that we can resolve the deep and long
standing differences between Evangelicals and Catholics. Indeed these
differences may never be resolved short of the Kingdom Come.
Nonetheless, we are not permitted simply to resign ourselves to
differences that divide us from one another.1
But stop and think for a moment. Can you imagine Luther and Calvin
saying to the medieval popes and Catholic hierarchy, "We really need one
another to understand the doctrine of justification by faith"? Of course
How does this document refer to the past, to our spiritual
heritage—both Protestant and Catholic? It says: "We are both informed
and limited by the histories of our communities."2
What does this mean? If we are both limited by the histories of our
communities, for Catholics does this refer to the Council of Trent and
Vatican 1 and II? Should these histories be discarded? For Evangelicals,
does this statement refer to the Reformation? If the Reformation were
really a limiting factor in the Evangelical community, should it not be
The paper continues, "We need to challenge one another, always
speaking the truth in love, and in order to build up the Body."3
But which Evangelical pastor would find it acceptable to allow Roman
Catholics to challenge the members of his own church with "the truth" of
the Catholic view of salvation?4
Or on the other hand, what Catholic priest would allow an Evangelical
Protestant to teach his congregation salvation is by Christ alone,
through grace alone, by faith alone?
The apostle Paul asked the Galatians who were being led astray by
those who offered a false gospel (see Galatians 5:4-12), "Have I
therefore become your enemy by telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:16
nasb). What was the truth he spoke of?5
You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be
justified by law; you have fallen from grace. For we through the
Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.... You
were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This
persuasion did not come from Him who calls you (Galatians 5:4,5,7,8
The signers of the declaration are frank in listing some of the
differences and disagreements that divide the two communities. They say
these "must be addressed more fully and candidly in order to strengthen
between us a relationship of trust and obedience to truth."6
Among the disagreements listed are the nature of the Church, the
authority of Scripture versus tradition, biblical interpretation (by
individual Christian or magisterium), the authority of the pope versus
the priesthood of all believers, the nature of the sacraments, the role
of Mary and the saints, and the nature of baptism as a sacrament of
regeneration or as a testimony to regeneration.7
These disagreements just about say it all, even though the report
acknowledges, "This account of differences is by no means complete."8
This is true.
As noted, the study neglects to mention the nature of justification
by faith alone—a small omission, to be sure. As if to regather
its senses, the report concedes that, at least in some instances, the
doctrinal beliefs of the authors of this document "reflect authentic
disagreements... which comprise present barriers to full communion
But if these present barriers are granted by those who signed the
report, does the Bible allow us to disagree on them and still be bound
together as a spiritual family? Until these issues are resolved, is
biblical unity possible? Can we really ignore the issue of justification
by faith and admit anyone into the fellowship of the Christian family?
In this age of relativism, no one wants to offend anyone. But on
these issues either Catholics are right and Evangelicals are wrong, or
Evangelicals are right and Catholics are wrong, or both are wrong. But
both cannot be right.
The authors of this agreement let slip the crux of the matter when
they write, "Evangelicals hold that the Catholic Church has gone beyond
Scripture, adding teachings and practices that detract from or
compromise the Gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ."10
This is true. But then how can there be an agreement and spiritual unity
between those who hold to the gospel and those who compromise it?
Undaunted by the above list of disagreements, the report encourages
study, discussion, and prayer "for a better understanding of one
But that’s the problem: one another’s convictions. We
do understand Roman Catholic convictions—convictions concerning
Scripture and hermeneutics, the pope, sacraments, tradition, Mary,
salvation, regeneration, justification, etc.
The more we understand them, the more we remember why there was a
Reformation. Biblically it will be impossible for Evangelicals or
Catholics to reach agreement until one side radically changes its
1 "Evangelicals and Catholics
Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium," published by
Truth Ministries, p. 9.
4 See John Ankerberg, John
Weldon, Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree? (Eugene,
OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), chapters 2-10.
5 See Luther’s commentary on
Galatians for a classic exposition of this book.
6 "Evangelicals and Catholics
Together," p. 9.
7 See John Ankerberg, John
Weldon, Protestants and Catholics, Do They Now Agree? (Chattanooga,
TN: Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, 1994), chapters 9-10 for
information on Mary and the Pope.
8 "Evangelicals and Catholics
Together," p. 10.
10 Ibid., pp. 10-11.
11 Ibid., p. 11.