(December 1994 – Volume 1, Issue 2)
Was the Reformation a mistake, or do fundamental points of doctrine still separate the Roman Catholic Church from us?
Perhaps no one has been more productive for the cause of ecumenicalism in recent years than Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship. Colson, in particular, has defended the concept of the evangelical Catholic. That the teachings of the Catholic Church is “another gospel,” does not seem to be of concern to Colson. As a matter of fact, Colson is constantly offended by believers who would challenge the salvation of his wife (a practicing Catholic) or Mother Teresa (one of his favorite “heroes of the faith”). In His book, The Body, Catholic leaders throughout the world serve as his examples of truly born again, dedicated Christians. So, anyone familiar with Colson’s work should not be overly shocked by his recent publication of “Evangelical and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” This is a statement hammered out by Colson and Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus of NYC. It has been signed by both leading Catholics and evangelicals including: Bill Bright, Os Guinness, J.I. Packer, and Pat Robertson. This document, among other things, calls for Catholics and Protestants to cease “proselytizing” one another’s people. In other words, if a Catholic is a believer (which would be possible only if that believer denies the official teachings of the RCC) then we must allow those believers to remain within the Catholic church.We must stop stealing Catholic sheep, instead we must unite in our efforts against the common enemy: the humanistic world. To accept this concept would completely reverse the Reformation and bring to a halt evangelistic efforts all over the world. For, according to this document, Catholics are believers every bit as much as evangelicals are. To be sure “dialogue” between the two sides needs to be continued, but our differences are not so fundamental as to call for separation. Luther was apparently mistaken. And so was Paul who pronounced an anathema upon any who would dare preach “another gospel” (Gal 1:6-10). Rather than unite with those who teach false doctrine Paul told Titus that the elders of the local church must, “[Hold] fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Ecumenicalism is running rampant in the church today. Many, who should know better, are choosing to close their eyes to fundamental differences of faith and practice for the sake of unity. What has brought the evangelical church to this point? Although many things could be identified let us suggest three steps that have led us to the present condition:
1) Ecumenical evangelism. For decades many believers have been willing to compromise essential doctrines for the sake of winning the lost. Ultimately, of course, such compromise always leads to the watering down of certain Biblical teachings in order to avoid offending certain groups.
2) Ecumenical social involvement: It has become increasing popular to unite with moral conservatives of all stripes in order to change society. Thus, we are becoming comfortable working with those who cling to some of our values, even while they deny our Lord.
3) The minimizing of the importance of doctrine. Experience rather than truth is the battle cry of the church today. People want life, not doctrine, having forgotten that it is TRUTH that sets us free (Jh 8:32). With this view of the Christian life, God’s people are set up to be blown about by any and every wind of doctrine. David Wells has written on excellent book that powerfully deals with the third step above. It is entitled, No Place for Truth, and carefully examines the trend in our churches toward programs, entertainment, great music and productions in place of sound Biblical teaching. For example Wells says, “Within the church, strong winds are blowing from a range of religious consumers who look to the churches and ministers to meet their needs — and who quickly look elsewhere if they feel those needs are not being met. Basically, these consumers are looking for the sort of thing the self movement is offering; they just want it in evangelical dress. A genuinely biblical and and God-centered ministry is almost certain to collide head-on with the self-absorption and anthropocentric focus that are now normative in so many evangelical churches” (p256). The church in Brazil may as yet not face this exact problem — but it is coming. Solid teaching now is imperative.