Ten theses for Evangelical/Catholic dialogue

1. We affirm that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics commonly confess the faith of the ecumenical creeds. We deny that this catholic consensus is sufficient for recognizing the Roman church as a true visible expression of Christ’s body.

2. We affirm that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone is “the article by which the church stands or falls,” and distinguishes a true from a false church. While clearly affirming the indissolvable bond between justification and sanctification, this doctrine insists that the righteousness that God requires for justification is neither attained by humans nor infused or worked internally by God into the human soul, but that it is a forensic declaration based on the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The Council of Trent declared apostate those who embrace this doctrine. All subsequent magisterial dedlarations, including those of the Second Vatican Council, continue to bind Roman Catholics to the conviction that the Gospel of free justification by faith alone, apart from works, is not consonant with Roman Catholic teaching. We deny that there can be any fellowship with those who openly oppose that Gospel.

3. We affirm that there is sufficient agreement on other matters to warrant cooperation where there is genuine consensus. Therefore, where fundamental catholic issues are at stake, we should indeed make common cause, and where there are fundamental moral and cultural issues involved, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals have every reason to join minds, hearts, and hands. We deny that such cooperation is sufficient to declare that both communions are engaged in a common mission, part of a common church, and witness to a common gospel.

4. We affirm that the great cultural and moral crises of our age must be confronted with intellectual depth and prayerful resolve, particularly by those who have been redeemed and are being conformed to the image of Christ. Nevertheless, we deny that this is the mission of the church, for it exists for the unique purpose of Word and sacrament, fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ. Therefore, we also deny the priority of cultural, moral, political, and social concerns in determining, the relationship of ecclesial communions and the setting of their respective agenda.

5. We affirm that Christ’s prayer for unity requires vigilance, patience, and diligence as we seek a greater visible unity. We deny that this prayer has reference merely to the spiritual or invisible church.

6. We affirm that the unity we seek is determined by the Word of God, comprising the Law and the Gospel. To this Word, the church must submit and correct its understandings. We deny that unity can be achieved in the absence of a common confession of the Gospel in its essential features.

7. We affirm that individual Roman Catholics, who for various reasons do not self-consciously give their assent to the precise definitions of the Roman Magisterium regarding justification, the sole mediation of Christ, the monergistic character of the new birth, and similar evangelical issues, are our brothers and sisters despite Rome’s official position. We deny that this allows for joint communion or similar expressions of visible ecclesial union.

8. We affirm that the Commission of our Lord requires every Christian to be engaged in witness to the person and work of Christ and that this is not merely concerned with conversion, but with the catechesis and discipline of converts. Therefore, we deny that it is advisable for a convert to the evangel to remain in any communion or local expression of a communion in which the Word is not rightly preached and the sacraments are not rightly administered.

9. We affirm that the Roman Catholic Church contains many true believers, but we deny that in its present confession it is a true visible congregation, much less that it is the mother of all the faithful to whom all believers must be related.

10. We affirm that the issues which divide us are of abiding and deep significance. We deny that they are issues secondary to a common cultural engagement. The Gospel remains the jewel of the Church and secularism is, at the root, a spiritual and theological crisis that finally can only be confronted by the Word and Spirit.

From "Modern Reformation," Sept/Oct 2005


A Positive Vision

The photo that I show here is taken from my wedding day, June 1, 1987. My wife of nearly 20 years, who sees what I read, who knows what I brood about better than any human being alive, has asked me two pointed sets of questions.

1. On the occasion of the election and installation of Pope Benedict XVI, who was universally acclaimed as a brilliant theologian, she asked, "What do you know that he doesn't know?" Meaning, "why is he, as brilliant as he is, still a Catholic, whereas you have left Catholicism?"

2. Given all the dangers in our world today (especially the "wars and rumors of wars" surrounding the countries of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, but also given all the other ills in the world), she asks, "why do you insist on focusing your efforts on pointing out what's wrong with the Catholic Church?" At a discussion board where Reformed theology is discussed, the comment was made that I "risk falling into error" by focusing as I do on Catholicism. In a world where things like Islam are a great threat, and aberrations such as Mormonism and even some branches of Pentecostalism, why do you focus on Catholicism?

In answer to the first question, I'm not sure that I know anything he doesn't know. Benedict (the former Cardinal Ratzinger) must certainly be aware of the work of Peter Lampe and the other Catholic historical scholarship which I've cited below. And in fact, he must be far more familiar than I am with the scholarship into the history and meaning of the papacy. (This is not to say that such scholarship exists as would undermine what Lampe and Schatz and Duffy and the others have said, as I've quoted them before. Rather, I would be certain that further Catholic scholarship that we don't know about merely upholds what I've cited. But I will certainly look at what others want to say about this.)

I pray for the man. I pray that he exercise his office in the true Spirit of Jesus, who said, "I am ... the Truth" and who prefaced his teaching with the words "Verily verily," "Truly truly," "Amen amen." I pray that he is truthful with it.

In answer to the second group of questions, I focus on Catholicism because of Jesus's prayer of unity for his disciples. Christians have got to get their act together before they begin to face the world. Especially a world as dangerous as this one. I am not advocating the kind of mushy visible unity that says we need to acquiese to Rome, or at least to Catholicism, to let bygones be bygones, and to show some form of visible unity as we resist the forces of evil in the culture wars. Father J.R. Neuhaus, as vocal an apologist for Rome as exists today, said in his book "Catholic Matters," that
The inclination entailed in the vow of obedience is to put the best possible interpretation on the teaching in question [and he is talking about those teaching which he believes come "close" to "offending against the deposit of faith], to put the best possible interpretation on the teaching in question, to give the benefit of the doubt, to accent as best one can, within the bounds of reason and honesty, the continuities rather than the discontinuities.

I insist this is faux. Jesus himself was not unclear in his teaching. He prefaced large amounts of his teaching with, "Verily verily I say unto you..." Other translators say "Amen Amen," or "Truly Truly." Jesus says, "I am speaking the Truth to you." That is why his teaching was said by his hearers to be full of authority. If a thing is true, it speaks for itself. If a thing is not true, no amount of wishful thinking (or theological explication) will make it true. I am speaking about the true history of the papacy, as I've described it here and below. If what the Church taught about the papacy for centuries was not even true, how could it be infallible? The same kind of thing can be said of a number of "infallible" Catholic doctrines.

Yet Catholicism not only portrays itself as Christian, it clearly states that the Catholic Church of today, and its authority structure, are where the totality "subsists" of the church that Christ founded, and that Protestant churches, including, and probably especially Reformed and evangelical churches, are "ecclesial entities that are institutionally separate from the one Church,” “a deficiency that calls for healing.”

This is said in spite of the fact that Reformed and Evangelical churches possess probably the greatest understanding of the true Gospel. This is an extraordinarily objectionable understanding on the part of the Catholic Church. If Catholicism is in any way a part of the church that Christ founded, it is at the fringes, and certainly not the weight at the center. Neuhaus correctly repeats the Catholic understanding when he says that "the Catholic Church is the most fully and rightly ordered" reflection of Christianity over time. The case can and should be made, strongly, that quite the opposite is true.

No less of a Reformed theologian than Charles Hodge considered the Catholic Church to still be part of the one true church. The gospel was still preached there, even though it was obscured by superstition and sacerdotalism (I intend to provide this exact quote some time in the near future). And even among those who believe the Roman Catholic Church to be completely apostate, it is still conceded that there are many true Christians within that body, who are members of Christ in spite of Catholic teaching (certainly not because of it).

The bottom line is that God is a God of healing:

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;

say to those with fearful hearts,
"Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you."

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.

In the desert prepare
the way for the LORD;
make straight in the wilderness
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

(from Isaiah 35 and 40)

The "one true church" is badly disfigured in this world. It continue to require quite an effort to "strengthen the weak joints" so that the world will see true Christianity in the church of Christ.