Do Protestants & Catholics Agree?
By: Dr. John Weldon
|By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2002|
|Despite recent reports to the contrary, there are still some very important issues that separate Catholic teachings from Protestant teachings. This month Drs. Ankerberg and Weldon begin an extended look at some of those differences that must be resolved for true unity to take place.|
Do Protestants & Catholics Agree?
On March 29, 1994, wire services around the world broadcast the conclusions of an unofficial declaration by 40 leading evangelicals and Roman Catholics titled, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” This report began by stating, “We are Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics who have been led through prayer, study, and discussion to common convictions about Christian faith and mission.” 
It also made the following declaration:
- All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ…. We recognize that we are called by God to a fuller realization of our unity in the body of Christ. The only unity to which we would give expression is unity in the truth, and the truth is this: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4)
Among the other declarations were the following two statements:
- In this search to understand the truth more fully and clearly, we need one another. And
- … we are bound together in contending against all that opposes Christ and his cause. 
Finally, it observed that “we as Evangelicals and Catholics affirm that opportunity and means for growth in Christian discipleship are available in our several communities.” 
This landmark document has not only been circulated “among top Vatican officials,” it has also received the apparent blessing of “leading evangelical figures on the world scene” in addition to those who signed the document itself. 
Through the wire services, millions of people have read the essence of the above conclusions. But are we truly entering into a new era wherein Catholics and Evangelicals can agree that they share a common faith? Are the barriers of the past now torn down so that Catholics and Protestants can freely worship together in the same churches, no longer questioning one another’s faith?
Perhaps as a Catholic you are encouraged to see this new openness toward other Christian churches; perhaps as an Evangelical you now wonder about what you have been taught and whether or not, all along, your eyes should have been a bit more focused toward Rome?
In light of several recent declarations similar to the one just issued, perhaps there are millions of both Catholics and Protestants who want to know what all this means. Are Protestants really part of the Body of Christ and heirs of full salvation apart from Rome? Are Catholics really brothers and sisters in Christ whom Protestants have neglected far too long?
We hope to answer these questions by examining what the Bible declares is true. Since both conservative Catholics and Protestants believe the Bible to be the Word of God, both can welcome an investigation into what the Bible says about their respective beliefs. If Roman Catholicism and Evangelical faith are both biblical, then fine; we can both worship together in each other’s churches without fear of violating our conscience or scriptural standards. But if the Bible reveals that either Protestantism or Catholicism is wrong, then one or the other should conform itself to biblical standards.
Of course, even the most liberal Evangelical would agree that there are significant aspects of Protestantism as a whole that are unbiblical and oppose the teachings of Christ. And even the most traditional Catholic would agree that there are powerful elements within Modern Catholicism that do the same.
So how do we know the truth and where do we find the answers? We will examine both Modern Catholicism and Protestantism in the light of God’s Word, the Bible.
As far as Roman Catholicism is concerned, the purpose of this these articles is twofold: 1) to help non-Catholic Christians better understand what Roman Catholicism believes and practices and 2) to help Roman Catholics evaluate their own Church on the basis of biblical teaching. This is necessary since, as Catholic apologist Karl Keating correctly points out in What Catholics Really Believe—Setting the Record Straight, “Catholics are required to hold and believe all the declared doctrines of the Church.” 
All sincere Christians have a desire to honor God in their lives as much as possible. It is the hope of the authors that the information will be useful to Catholics and non-Catholics as a means to evaluate what is or is not biblical, as well as an encouragement to greater commitment to God and His word.
No one can deny that substantial changes have occurred in the Roman Catholic Church since Vatican II, the major Roman Catholic council which was intended “to usher in the beginning of a new era in Roman Catholic history.” 
| Vatican Council, Second 21st ecumenical council of
the Roman Catholic church, announced by Pope
John XXIII. It has come to symbolize the church’s
readiness to acknowledge the circumstances of the
modern world. Among the most notable of the 16
documents enacted were the “Dogmatic Constitution
on the Church,” which treats church hierarchy and
provides for greater involvement of laypeople in the
church; the “Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Revelation,”
which maintains an open attitude toward scholarly
study of the Bible; the “Constitution on the Sacred
Liturgy,” which provides for the use of vernacular
languages in the mass in place of Latin; and the
“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of
Today,” which acknowledges the profound changes
humanity has experienced in the modern world and
attempts to relate the church to contemporary culture.
Observers from other Christian churches were invited
to the council in a gesture of ecumenism. (The
Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has increasingly encouraged its members to read the Bible and apply it to their lives. Also, it is no longer a serious sin to attend non-Catholic churches. Perhaps the most important change in Rome is its allowance of a new freedom for the biblical gospel itself.
Modern Roman Catholicism is commendable in other areas.
For example, socially, the Church has consistently maintained a high view of the sanctity of life and of marriage. Biblically, it has continued to defend the inerrancy of Scripture, at least as an official doctrine of the Church. Theologically, it generally accepts the orthodox view of the Trinity, Christ’s deity, and His atonement. Spiritually, it has a good understanding of the seriousness of sin and, apart from salvation, its consequences in eternal judgment.
Nevertheless, all this does not mean that the Church is without problems. Perhaps one of the most serious issues in modern Roman Catholicism is its unwillingness to accept biblical authority alone as the final means of determining doctrine and practice. For example, by accepting Catholic Tradition as a means of divine revelation, even biblically correct teachings in the Church become hedged about with unbiblical trimmings which, in turn, tend to either revise, neutralize or nullify these truths.
We agree with Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones that in many ways the problem “is not so much a matter of ‘denial’ of the truth, but rather such an addition to the truth that eventually it becomes a departure from it.” 
This unfortunate situation illustrates a principle Jesus Himself taught—that even heartfelt religious traditions could actually become a means of leading people away from God’s best purpose for their lives. On one occasion Jesus told even the devoutly religious leaders of His day, “You have let go the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men” (Mark 7:8).
Regardless, no one can argue with the statement that “…the Roman Church has been one of the most powerful influences in the history of all civilization….” 
Thus, because Roman Catholicism is a major world religion having some 800 million adherents, and because its influence in the world is sizeable, a biblical evaluation of the teachings of the Church is vital.
Some of the subjects we will examine in future articles are: What do Roman Catholics believe? Is the Church of Rome the one true Church established by Jesus Christ? Are there different categories of Roman Catholics and why does this matter? Does the “average” Roman Catholic understand Catholicism as it really is? What is the infallible source of authority for Catholicism today? What about those who are called “evangelical” or “charismatic” Catholics? Does more common ground exist between Evangelicals and Catholics than commonly assumed?
Some people maintain that because of its unique doctrines and practices, the Roman Catholic Church cannot logically be considered a Christian religion, at least according to biblical standards. Are their arguments credible? In other words, do unique Catholic doctrines work together to define Roman Catholicism as a non-Christian religion—or not? (These doctrines include the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the saints, the Catholic concept of justification, Catholic tradition as the “word of God,” faith in the Apocrypha as the word of God, belief in purgatory, the Pope as the Vicar of Christ, the infusing grace of the seven Catholic sacraments, the Catholic approach to forgiveness of sins, the priesthood, the Host and Mass).
What about the hundreds of recent appearances throughout the world of miraculous apparitions of the alleged Virgin Mary? What is she teaching Catholics and why is this important? Does Roman Catholicism see other religions, such as Hinduism and Islam, as acceptable paths to God? What about the prayers for the dead and to the saints? Was Peter truly the first Pope, and have Catholic Popes actually been infallible in matters of doctrine and practice? Is the Catholic papacy valid biblically?
These and other subjects will be discussed later. We hope they will better enable the reader, Catholic and non-Catholic, to accurately understand and evaluate contemporary Roman Catholicism.
- “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” released March 29, 1994. Available from B.A.S.I.C., Truth Ministries, P.O. Box 504M, Bay Shore, NY 11706.
- Ibid., 5-6.
- Ibid., 9.
- Ibid., 11.
- Ibid., 22.
- Arthur H. Matthews, “Cooperation Not Communion,” World, April 9, 1994, 10.
- Karl Keating, What Catholics Really Believe—Setting the Record Straight (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant, 1992), 112.
- Robert C. Broderick, ed., The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1987), 597.
- In Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” By “Bible Christians” (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1988), 150.
- 10. Emmett McLoughlin, Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church (NY: Lyle Stuart, 1964), 19.