|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2004|
|Can we disagree on important doctrinal points and yet still be united? Have the important issues that sparked the Reformation been resolved?|
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:
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 not.
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.” 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 discarded?
The paper continues, “We need to challenge one another, always speaking the truth in love, and in order to build up the Body.” 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? 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?
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.”
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.
These disagreements just about say it all, even though the report acknowledges, “This account of differences is by no means complete.” 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 between Christians.”
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.” 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 another’s convictions.” 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 stance.