Catholics and Evangelicals Together in the 21st Century
In 1994, a group of well-known Catholics and Evangelicals sat down together, and prophetically gauged the trajectory of our Western society in the 21st century. They determined that we had entered a post-Christian era, and that going forward, Catholics and Evangelicals would have to work together on social issues for the sake of our very survival. Failure to do so would result in a successful tactic of “divide and conquer” by the post-Christian Modernist Left. You may have noticed this during presidential elections. Whenever a Evangelical Republican candidate is doing well in the polls, like clockwork, you can expect the Leftist mainstream media to pull up a some obscure speech this candidate once gave to an church that holds to some anti-Catholic views, or maybe some church membership that candidate once had, in a denomination that once said some bad things about Catholics. It’s pretty predictable, actually, because there is a meaning to their madness. Their trying to drive a wedge between Catholics and Evangelicals. They’re literally trying to stir up some strife, to break up any political alliance, so as to divide and conquer. Sadly, too many Catholics take the bait.
Before we can even dive into this issue of Catholics and Evangelicals finding a political and social alliance, we need to dispel some mystery. Exactly what are Evangelicals? Not only is that a mystery to a lot of Catholics, but it’s a mystery to a lot of Evangelicals as well, oddly enough.
The word “Evangelical” comes from the root word “Evangel,” which comes from the Latin word evangelium and the Greek word euangelion. It means gospel or good-news, and it’s related to the message of Jesus Christ and his Apostles as found in the first four books (or gospels) of the New Testament. Wikipedia defines Evangelicalism as follows…
Evangelicalism, evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide, transdenominational movement within Protestant Christianity which maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ’s atonement.
Simply put, Evangelicalism is bare-bones, stripped-down, Protestant Christianity. It’s a movement, founded in late 18th-century England, and rapidly spread to North America and throughout the Anglosphere. By the late 20th century, it could no longer be defined as any one Protestant denomination. Basically, what these Protestants did was dispense with their national and denominational identities, or at least relegated them to secondary status, and focused on the most basic aspects of the gospels as a common denominator to unite them into a loose affiliation of like-minded Christians. Their belief system is basically Protestant, but it’s not particular or too terribly militant. Basically, Evangelicals are Protestants who recognize each other’s baptisms, faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. There is no overarching umbrella organization anyone could identify as united them. Their unity is a unity of a common mindset. So who are the Evangelicals? Their numbers include, but are not limited to…
- Churches of Christ
- Plymouth Brethren
- Charismatic Protestant
- Nondenominational Protestant
Evangelicals are not a monolith by any stretch of the imagination. This is where a lot of Catholics err. We often tend to lump Evangelicals into the Fundamental Protestant type. Some are Fundamentalist in their beliefs, others are not. Some regard Catholics as fellow Christians, others do not. Evangelicalism is a spectrum really, with Fundamental Protestants on one side, to easy-going “Born Agains” on the other. Most fall somewhere in-between. A surprisingly large number of them are Catholic-friendly. The last type of Evangelicalism I associated with was the laid-back, “surfs-up,”
friendly, jeans and T-shirt Evangelicals in Southern California. This brand was very suspicious of the institutional Catholic Church, but thought Catholics themselves were “cool” and were “probably saved” in most cases. Stereotyping Evangelicals is nearly impossible, but one thing cannot be denied. Evangelicalism is the ONLY type of Protestantism that is still growing. Every form of mainstream Protestantism is slowly dying off. Why is that? I think there are two answers to that question.
The first reason why Evangelicalism is growing is that Evangelicals cling to the basic teachings of the gospel. If it’s written in one of the gospel books, they take it as literal and historical truth. This is basically the official position of the Catholic Church as well. Now Evangelicals vary on their literal beliefs when it comes to other books of the Bible, particularly some Old Testament stories, and most particularly the creation accounts. The Catholic Church, likewise, holds to a similar position. Some Evangelicals take every word of the Old Testament literally, while others do not. The same could be said of different Catholics. (I know some Traditional Catholics who not only take the creation stories in the Bible literally, but also reject the Copernican Heliocentric Theory because Galileo was excommunicated over it.) The point here is that Evangelicals, like Catholics, cannot be stereotyped, but the willingness of all Evangelicals to at least take the gospels literally is refreshing and unifying in the Protestant world.
The second reason why Evangelicalism is growing is that Evangelicals cling to the idea that every Christian must, at some point in his/her life, have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ by building a relationship with him. Essentially, the Catholic Church teaches the same thing, but we tend to go about it in a very different way that involves the sacraments of the Church. Evangelicals, being Protestants, have only two valid sacraments at their disposal — baptism and matrimony. Since they don’t regard holy communion as a sacrament in the same way Catholics do, and since their consecration of the bread and wine is invalid by Catholic standards anyway, Evangelicals put an emphasis on baptism, and tend to take matrimony very seriously, though they don’t usually view matrimony as a sacrament. (It is one, and valid in most cases by Catholic standards, but they don’t understand it that way.) Baptism is the one and only thing Evangelicals understand in a sacramental way, even though their Protestant theology may be flawed in this area. Because baptism is a one-time event, Evangelicals then put an extreme emphasis on the personal relationship side of things. This can be beneficial to a lot of Protestant Christians, because it gets them to stop thinking of Jesus Christ in some abstract or historical sense, and start thinking of him as a real Person, who is God, and is deeply interested in their lives. For most Protestants, coming out of traditional denominations, this is a game-changer. It does positively affect many lives, and it does make them into better Christians. Speaking from personal experience as a former Evangelical, I can attest that this was true in my own life.
Beyond the why, I think it’s important to understand how Evangelicalism is growing. Evangelicalism is strictly a Protestant phenomenon. It’s primary growth in the later half of the 20th century came from migration not missionary work. While ministers, like the Reverend Billy Graham, spent a great deal of time evangelizing the world, most of the growth in Evangelicalism (especially in North America) came from Protestants leaving their mainline denominations to find churches similar to the (Evangelical) “Graham-style” of preaching and understanding. If you look at the demographic charts, what you’ll notice is that Evangelical-style churches grew simultaneously as mainline Protestant denominations shrank, and the trend goes on even today. Protestants are migrating from their traditional denominations (which are doctrinally liberal) into Evangelical-style churches (which are more doctrinally conservative). Some of those churches have a denominational affiliation, others do not, and these Protestant migrants don’t seem to be too particular about that.
One thing peculiar about Billy Graham was his refusal to pull Catholics away from the Catholic Church. When a Catholic responded to an altar call at one of his crusades, Graham instructed his counselors to assist him with rededicating his/her life to Christ, then they were to tell the Catholic to return to his Catholic parish and talk to the priest about his experience. Graham understood that the best way to gain respect among Catholics was to return their sheep to them unaltered and renewed in faith. Granted, other Evangelical groups had a different approach, which included pulling Catholics out of the Church, but as I said above, Evangelicalism is not a monolith. It’s more of a spectrum. Graham was on the Catholic-friendly side, other Evangelicals were not.
The migration of mainline Protestants to Evangelicalism continued to grow until about 1990, at which time many mainline Protestants began to leave the Christian faith entirely. Now, when mainline Protestants leave their denominations, more than half turn to atheism, agnosticism, or some form of “spiritual but not religious” type, often categorized as “none” on religious affiliation surveys. The rest are still turning to Evangelicalism, but that number is starting to taper off. In the decades ahead, the three dominant religions in the United States will be Catholicism, Evangelicalism and “none” as in “no religious affiliation.” Mainline Protestantism will be fading away entirely.
Another thing we need to understand about Evangelicals is that they’re not necessarily anchored to any one particular Evangelical church. They may stay in one denomination for ten years, and then move on to another, transferring denominations three to four times over the course of their lives. What you have to understand is that these people don’t see these transfers as a betrayal, or “leaving one religion for another.” As I pointed about above, Evangelicalism is a transdenominational movement. When one identifies with Evangelical principles, denominational lines tend to blur. Evangelicals seek other Evangelicals, and the name on the church building is of little consequence to them. This is why a particular Evangelical might be a member of a strongly anti-Catholic denomination for a while, then move over to another denomination that is very friendly to Catholics, and the Evangelical sees no inconsistency in this at all. They might view denominational beliefs about Catholics as secondary and unimportant. (This is why some Evangelicals are anti-Catholic, while others are not.) Usually, it’s the denomination’s beliefs about the core gospel books that matters most to them. On a personal level, when I was an Evangelical, I drifted from one denomination that had no problem with Catholics, into another that was very anti-Catholic, and then finally into another that had very little problem with Catholics. As a result, my Evangelical beliefs about Catholicism vacillated from one year to the next. All of this seemed inconsequential to me as an Evangelical, so inconsequential that I eventually had no problem becoming and Anglican for a while (a Protestant denomination similar to Catholic). Then after some time as an Anglican, I decided to become Catholic. This happened when I found that the Catholic Church was much more gospel-oriented than I previously believed. As a former Evangelical, that attracted me. Catholic clergy should take note here. If you want to attract more Evangelicals into the Catholic Church, focus on the gospels like a laser beam, and point out their literal and historical truth. If you preach that way, they will come to hear you, and some of them will become Catholic because of you.
When we understand what Evangelicals actually are, we begin to see that working with them on political, social and community issues isn’t that hard. Now when I say “working with them,” I want to make a few things clear…
- I am not in any way advocating a compromise in Catholic beliefs or practice. If anyone suggests that I am, I’m swatting them down right now. I am neither a liberal nor a modernist. I absolutely reject the notion of religious syncretism. Don’t you dare accuse me of that abomination, and I’ll delete any comment that does. So let me just make that crystal clear before we go any further.
- Catholics should be Catholics — period — and while we can work together with Evangelicals, and may learn a thing or two from them, we cannot compromise our Catholic beliefs and practices. If anything, we should be ready to give a brief but sound explanation for our beliefs and practices when Evangelicals ask, so as to attract them to Catholicism if they can be swayed. HINT: Do you want to attract Evangelicals to the Catholic Church? Here’s how to do it. Talk about Jesus a whole lot, study the four gospels fervently, and demonstrate how your sacramental life as a Catholic brings you closer to Jesus. When it comes to issues concerning Mary, always be quick to point out how beliefs about Mary always point back to Jesus, and that Mary herself always points to Jesus as the Way. Most Evangelicals will be intrigued by this.
- We not only need to know what we have in common with Evangelicals, but we need to know what the limits are in associating with them. For example; we can most certainly pray and sing with them in public, but we can never receive communion in their churches, nor can they receive communion in ours. Generally, we should avoid visiting their churches entirely, except for weddings and baptisms and such. Both of which the Catholic Church recognizes as valid sacraments among Protestants in general. So yes, in most cases, you can go to an Evangelical church for that, but don’t go there for any kind of regular worship services or Bible studies. Whatever you do, don’t send your kids to their youth groups, unless you plan on losing them to Evangelicalism.
As we move into the 21st century, we can more clearly see what the signers of the 1994 Catholic-Evangelical accord could only see dimly on the horizon. The 21st century is becoming a post-Christian society in the West, and that has some very powerful implications for us. First things first, Protestantism is dying, and we can increasingly see that the only Protestants who remain and have a future of any kind are the Evangelicals. They will survive, but mainstream (liberal) Protestantism will not. In the years ahead, many Evangelicals will go underground in the face of persecution, but some will turn to The Benedict Option as a means of survival, and as I’ve pointed out in previous essays, The Benedict Option is not about running to the hills and living like the Amish. It’s about congregating around traditional and conservative churches, that can provide a support network for living a Christian life in an increasingly anti-Christian world. As part of The Benedict Option, however, we can expect Evangelicals to start adopting some very basic liturgical practices, as well as a deeper understanding of prayer and sacraments. Now, I’m not talking about anything big here. By nature, Evangelicals will keep these modifications small and simple. They’re not much for elaborate rituals, pomp and circumstance. But their direction toward The Benedict Option, if they choose to go that way, will inevitably result in some minor liturgical adoptions. My suspicion is that they’ll try to draw a little from Jewish liturgy, and perhaps a little from Eastern Orthodox liturgy, both in very modest amounts, but this is going to take some time. In that sense, as they years roll by, they may start to have more in common with Catholics. Look, I have my doubts about them being able to pull this off, but I don’t think it’s far-fetched for a few Evangelical communities here and there to be successful. I’m suspecting that these will probably gravitate toward a more “Messianic Jewish” approach when it come to liturgy, but you never know. They might surprise us. Maybe some will adopt the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer.” It’s happened before. It could happen again.
The Catholic Church is dying only insofar as it has embraced Protestantism and/or Modernism. The proof is in the statistics. Wherever Catholic dioceses have embraced watered-down Protestantized liturgy, and theological liberalism, parishes are shrinking, closing and merging. Such parishes are filled with grey heads. Youth is scarcely to be found. In contrast, wherever Catholicism is embraced in its most traditional sense, using older methods of liturgy, and preaching that is conservative and traditional, the parishes explode with youth and growth. The future of Catholicism is traditional. Just as the future of Evangelicalism is liturgical, for those who don’t go underground in the face of persecution. This is the way the 21st century will go, and The Benedict Option is just as much a necessity for Catholics as it is Evangelicals. We must relocate ourselves around stable traditional Catholic parishes (DWM or TLM), and begin to engage the world from there, with a strong traditional Catholic network to support us.
As we face the post-Christian 21st century, we Catholics and Evangelicals will be doing so together, like it or not, we’ll be standing side-by-side on various issues that will affect both of us equally. Some of these battles will be political in nature. Some will be social. Still others will be community-centered, as we stare down anti-Christian bigotry in our own city governments, towns and neighborhoods. We must remember this; those who hate Catholics also hate Evangelicals for the exact same reasons. The same is true vice versa. They see no distinction between us on an ideological level. We are both their enemies, and when they attack one of us, their intention is to attack both of us. They like to pretend they recognize a difference, only to drive a wedge between us, so as to more easily conquer us both — divide and conquer. It’s a ploy. Don’t fall for it.
So now that I’ve explained how I think we Catholics should look at things, let me leave you with the 1994 accord called “Catholics and Evangelicals Together.” I think it’s more relevant today than it was back then. While I don’t agree with every line of this document, and you probably won’t either, that doesn’t mean the whole thing is irrelevant. It’s not a binding document in anyway way, neither on Catholics nor on Evangelicals. So we don’t have to agree with every line of it. We are free to discriminate as we see fit. Still, I think this flawed document (as a whole) represents a basic framework we can build on. We are now entering some very perilous times in the West, and whatever future we have as Christians, it will be a future that involves each other.
Catholics and Evangelicals Together
The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium
Source: First Things
As the Second Millennium draws to a close, the Christian mission in world history faces a moment of daunting opportunity and responsibility. If in the merciful and mysterious ways of God the Second Coming is delayed, we enter upon a Third Millennium that could be, in the words of John Paul II, “a springtime of world missions.” (Redemptoris Missio)
As Christ is one, so the Christian mission is one. That one mission can be and should be advanced in diverse ways. Legitimate diversity, however, should not be confused with existing divisions between Christians that obscure the one Christ and hinder the one mission. There is a necessary connection between the visible unity of Christians and the mission of the one Christ. We together pray for the fulfillment of the prayer of Our Lord: “May they all be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so also may they be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17) We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples.
The one Christ and one mission includes many other Christians, notably the Eastern Orthodox and those Protestants not commonly identified as Evangelical. All Christians are encompassed in the prayer, “May they all be one.” Our present statement attends to the specific problems and opportunities in the relationship between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.
As we near the Third Millennium, there are approximately 1.7 billion Christians in the world. About a billion of these are Catholics and more than 300 million are Evangelical Protestants. The century now drawing to a close has been the greatest century of missionary expansion in Christian history. We pray and we believe that this expansion has prepared the way for yet greater missionary endeavor in the first century of the Third Millennium.
The two communities in world Christianity that are most evangelistically assertive and most rapidly growing are Evangelicals and Catholics. In many parts of the world, the relationship between these communities is marked more by conflict than by cooperation, more by animosity than by love, more by suspicion than by trust, more by propaganda and ignorance than by respect for the truth. This is alarmingly the case in Latin America, increasingly the case in Eastern Europe, and too often the case in our own country.
Without ignoring conflicts between and within other Christian communities, we address ourselves to the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics, who constitute the growing edge of missionary expansion at present and, most likely, in the century ahead. In doing so, we hope that what we have discovered and resolved may be of help in other situations of conflict, such as that among Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Catholics in Eastern Europe. While we are gratefully aware of ongoing efforts to address tensions among these communities, the shameful reality is that, in many places around the world, the scandal of conflict between Christians obscures the scandal of the cross, thus crippling the one mission of the one Christ.
As in times past, so also today and in the future, the Christian mission, which is directed to the entire human community, must be advanced against formidable opposition. In some cultures, that mission encounters resurgent spiritualities and religions that are explicitly hostile to the claims of the Christ. Islam, which in many instances denies the freedom to witness to the Gospel, must be of increasing concern to those who care about religious freedom and the Christian mission. Mutually respectful conversation between Muslims and Christians should be encouraged in the hope that more of the world will, in the oft-repeated words of John Paul II, “open the door to Christ.” At the same time, in our so-called developed societies, a widespread secularization increasingly descends into a moral, intellectual, and spiritual nihilism that denies not only the One who is the Truth but the very idea of truth itself.
We enter the twenty-first century without illusions. With Paul and the Christians of the first century, we know that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6) As Evangelicals and Catholics, we dare not by needless and loveless conflict between ourselves give aid and comfort to the enemies of the cause of Christ.
The love of Christ compels us and we are therefore resolved to avoid such conflict between our communities and, where such conflict exists, to do what we can to reduce and eliminate it. Beyond that, we are called and we are therefore resolved to explore patterns of working and witnessing together in order to advance the one mission of Christ. Our common resolve is not based merely on a desire for harmony. We reject any appearance of harmony that is purchased at the price of truth. Our common resolve is made imperative by obedience to the truth of God revealed in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, and by trust in the promise of the Holy Spirit’s guidance until Our Lord returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The mission that we embrace together is the necessary consequence of the faith that we affirm together.
We Affirm Together
Jesus Christ is Lord. That is the first and final affirmation that Christians make about all of reality. He is the One sent by God to be Lord and Savior of all: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4) Christians are people ahead of time, those who proclaim now what will one day be acknowledged by all, that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2)
We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ. Living faith is active in love that is nothing less than the love of Christ, for we together say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2)
All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have not chosen one another, just as we have not chosen Christ. He has chosen us, and he has chosen us to be his together. (John 15) However imperfect our communion with one another, however deep our disagreements with one another, we recognize that there is but one church of Christ. There is one church because there is one Christ and the church is his body. However difficult the way, 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)
We affirm together that Christians are to teach and live in obedience to the divinely inspired Scriptures, which are the infallible Word of God. We further affirm together that Christ has promised to his church the gift of the Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth in discerning and declaring the teaching of Scripture. (John 16) We recognize together that the Holy Spirit has so guided his church in the past. In, for instance, the formation of the canon of the Scriptures, and in the orthodox response to the great Christological and Trinitarian controversies of the early centuries, we confidently acknowledge the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In faithful response to the Spirit’s leading, the church formulated the Apostles Creed, which we can and hereby do affirm together as an accurate statement of scriptural truth:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
We Hope Together
We hope together that all people will come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This hope makes necessary the church’s missionary zeal. “But how are they to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10) The church is by nature, in all places and at all times, in mission. Our missionary hope is inspired by the revealed desire of God that “all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2)
The church lives by and for the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28)
Unity and love among Christians is an integral part of our missionary witness to the Lord whom we serve. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13) If we do not love one another, we disobey his command and contradict the Gospel we declare.
As Evangelicals and Catholics, we pray that our unity in the love of Christ will become ever more evident as a sign to the world of God’s reconciling power. Our communal and ecclesial separations are deep and long standing. We acknowledge that we do not know the schedule nor do we know the way to the greater visible unity for which we hope. We do know that existing patterns of distrustful polemic and conflict are not the way. We do know that God who has brought us into communion with himself through Christ intends that we also be in communion with one another. We do know that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14) and as we are drawn closer to him-walking in that way, obeying that truth, living that life-we are drawn closer to one another.
Whatever may be the future form of the relationship between our communities, we can, we must, and we will begin now the work required to remedy what we know to be wrong in that relationship. Such work requires trust and understanding, and trust and understanding require an assiduous attention to truth. We do not deny but clearly assert that there are disagreements between us. Misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and caricatures of one another, however, are not disagreements. These distortions must be cleared away if we are to search through our honest differences in a manner consistent with what we affirm and hope together on the basis of God’s Word.
We Search Together
Together we search for a fuller and clearer understanding of God’s revelation in Christ and his will for his disciples. Because of the limitations of human reason and language, which limitations are compounded by sin, we cannot understand completely the transcendent reality of God and his ways. Only in the End Time will we see face to face and know as we are known. (1 Corinthians 13) We now search together in confident reliance upon God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, the sure testimony of Holy Scripture, and the promise of the Spirit to his church. 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 building up the Body. (Ephesians 4)
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. Not all differences are authentic disagreements, nor need all disagreements divide. Differences and disagreements must be tested in disciplined and sustained conversation. In this connection we warmly commend and encourage the formal theological dialogues of recent years between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals.
We note some of the differences and disagreements that must be addressed more fully and candidly in order to strengthen between us a relationship of trust in obedience to truth. Among points of difference in doctrine, worship, practice, and piety that are frequently thought to divide us are these:
- The church as an integral part of the Gospel or the church as a communal consequence of the Gospel.
- The church as visible communion or invisible fellowship of true believers.
- The sole authority of Scripture ( sola scriptura ) or Scripture as authoritatively interpreted in the church.
- The “soul freedom” of the individual Christian or the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the community.
- The church as local congregation or universal communion.
- Ministry ordered in apostolic succession or the priesthood of all believers.
- Sacraments and ordinances as symbols of grace or means of grace.
- The Lord’s Supper as eucharistic sacrifice or memorial meal.
- Remembrance of Mary and the saints or devotion to Mary and the saints.
- Baptism as sacrament of regeneration or testimony to regeneration.
This account of differences is by no means complete. Nor is the disparity between positions always so sharp as to warrant the “or” in the above formulations. Moreover, among those recognized as Evangelical Protestants there are significant differences between, for example, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Calvinists on these questions. But the differences mentioned above reflect disputes that are deep and long standing. In at least some instances, they reflect authentic disagreements that have been in the past and are at present barriers to full communion between Christians.
On these questions, and other questions implied by them, 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. Catholics, in turn, hold that such teachings and practices are grounded in Scripture and belong to the fullness of God’s revelation. Their rejection, Catholics say, results in a truncated and reduced understanding of the Christian reality.
Again, we cannot resolve these disputes here. We can and do affirm together that the entirety of Christian faith, life, and mission finds its source, center, and end in the crucified and risen Lord. We can and do pledge that we will continue to search together-through study, discussion, and prayer-for a better understanding of one another’s convictions and a more adequate comprehension of the truth of God in Christ. We can testify now that in our searching together we have discovered what we can affirm together and what we can hope together and, therefore, how we can contend together.
We Contend Together
As we are bound together by Christ and his cause, so we are bound together in contending against all that opposes Christ and his cause. We are emboldened not by illusions of easy triumph but by faith in his certain triumph. Our Lord wept over Jerusalem, and he now weeps over a world that does not know the time of its visitation. The raging of the principalities and powers may increase as the End Time nears, but the outcome of the contest is assured.
The cause of Christ is the cause and mission of the church, which is, first of all, to proclaim the Good News that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5) To proclaim this Gospel and to sustain the community of faith, worship, and discipleship that is gathered by this Gospel is the first and chief responsibility of the church. All other tasks and responsibilities of the church are derived from and directed toward the mission of the Gospel.
Christians individually and the church corporately also have a responsibility for the right ordering of civil society. We embrace this task soberly; knowing the consequences of human sinfulness, we resist the utopian conceit that it is within our powers to build the Kingdom of God on earth. We embrace this task hopefully; knowing that God has called us to love our neighbor, we seek to secure for all a greater measure of civil righteousness and justice, confident that he will crown our efforts when he rightly orders all things in the coming of his Kingdom.
In the exercise of these public responsibilities there has been in recent years a growing convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics. We thank God for the discovery of one another in contending for a common cause. Much more important, we thank God for the discovery of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our cooperation as citizens is animated by our convergence as Christians. We promise one another that we will work to deepen, build upon, and expand this pattern of convergence and cooperation.
Together we contend for the truth that politics, law, and culture must be secured by moral truth. With the Founders of the American experiment, we declare, “We hold these truths.” With them, we hold that this constitutional order is composed not just of rules and procedures but is most essentially a moral experiment. With them, we hold that only a virtuous people can be free and just, and that virtue is secured by religion. To propose that securing civil virtue is the purpose of religion is blasphemous. To deny that securing civil virtue is a benefit of religion is blindness.
Americans are drifting away from, are often explicitly defying, the constituting truths of this experiment in ordered liberty. Influential sectors of the culture are laid waste by relativism, anti-intellectualism, and nihilism that deny the very idea of truth. Against such influences in both the elite and popular culture, we appeal to reason and religion in contending for the foundational truths of our constitutional order.
More specifically, we contend together for religious freedom. We do so for the sake of religion, but also because religious freedom is the first freedom, the source and shield of all human freedoms. In their relationship to God, persons have a dignity and responsibility that transcends, and thereby limits, the authority of the state and of every other merely human institution.
Religious freedom is itself grounded in and is a product of religious faith, as is evident in the history of Baptists and others in this country. Today we rejoice together that the Roman Catholic Church-as affirmed by the Second Vatican Council and boldly exemplified in the ministry of John Paul II-is strongly committed to religious freedom and, consequently, to the defense of all human rights. Where Evangelicals and Catholics are in severe and sometimes violent conflict, such as parts of Latin America, we urge Christians to embrace and act upon the imperative of religious freedom. Religious freedom will not be respected by the state if it is not respected by Christians or, even worse, if Christians attempt to recruit the state in repressing religious freedom.
In this country, too, freedom of religion cannot be taken for granted but requires constant attention. We strongly affirm the separation of church and state, and just as strongly protest the distortion of that principle to mean the separation of religion from public life. We are deeply concerned by the courts’ narrowing of the protections provided by the “free exercise” provision of the First Amendment and by an obsession with “no establishment” that stifles the necessary role of religion in American life. As a consequence of such distortions, it is increasingly the case that wherever government goes religion must retreat, and government increasingly goes almost everywhere. Religion, which was privileged and foundational in our legal order, has in recent years been penalized and made marginal. We contend together for a renewal of the constituting vision of the place of religion in the American experiment.
Religion and religiously grounded moral conviction is not an alien or threatening force in our public life. For the great majority of Americans, morality is derived, however variously and confusedly, from religion. The argument, increasingly voiced in sectors of our political culture, that religion should be excluded from the public square must be recognized as an assault upon the most elementary principles of democratic governance. That argument needs to be exposed and countered by leaders, religious and other, who care about the integrity of our constitutional order.
The pattern of convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics is, in large part, a result of common effort to protect human life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable among us. With the Founders, we hold that all human beings are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The statement that the unborn child is a human life that-barring natural misfortune or lethal intervention-will become what everyone recognizes as a human baby is not a religious assertion. It is a statement of simple biological fact. That the unborn child has a right to protection, including the protection of law, is a moral statement supported by moral reason and biblical truth.
We, therefore, will persist in contending-we will not be discouraged but will multiply every effort-in order to secure the legal protection of the unborn. Our goals are: to secure due process of law for the unborn, to enact the most protective laws and public policies that are politically possible, and to reduce dramatically the incidence of abortion. We warmly commend those who have established thousands of crisis pregnancy and postnatal care centers across the country, and urge that such efforts be multiplied. As the unborn must be protected, so also must women be protected from their current rampant exploitation by the abortion industry and by fathers who refuse to accept responsibility for mothers and children. Abortion on demand, which is the current rule in America, must be recognized as a massive attack on the dignity, rights, and needs of women.
Abortion is the leading edge of an encroaching culture of death. The helpless old, the radically handicapped, and others who cannot effectively assert their rights are increasingly treated as though they have no rights. These are the powerless who are exposed to the will and whim of those who have power over them. We will do all in our power to resist proposals for euthanasia, eugenics, and population control that exploit the vulnerable, corrupt the integrity of medicine, deprave our culture, and betray the moral truths of our constitutional order.
In public education, we contend together for schools that transmit to coming generations our cultural heritage, which is inseparable from the formative influence of religion, especially Judaism and Christianity. Education for responsible citizenship and social behavior is inescapably moral education. Every effort must be made to cultivate the morality of honesty, law observance, work, caring, chastity, mutual respect between the sexes, and readiness for marriage, parenthood, and family. We reject the claim that, in any or all of these areas, “tolerance” requires the promotion of moral equivalence between the normative and the deviant. In a democratic society that recognizes that parents have the primary responsibility for the formation of their children, schools are to assist and support, not oppose and undermine, parents in the exercise of their responsibility.
We contend together for a comprehensive policy of parental choice in education. This is a moral question of simple justice. Parents are the primary educators of their children; the state and other institutions should be supportive of their exercise of that responsibility. We affirm policies that enable parents to effectively exercise their right and responsibility to choose the schooling that they consider best for their children.
We contend together against the widespread pornography in our society, along with the celebration of violence, sexual depravity, and antireligious bigotry in the entertainment media. In resisting such cultural and moral debasement, we recognize the legitimacy of boycotts and other consumer actions, and urge the enforcement of existing laws against obscenity. We reject the self-serving claim of the peddlers of depravity that this constitutes illegitimate censorship. We reject the assertion of the unimaginative that artistic creativity is to be measured by the capacity to shock or outrage. A people incapable of defending decency invites the rule of viciousness, both public and personal.
We contend for a renewed spirit of acceptance, understanding, and cooperation across lines of religion, race, ethnicity, sex, and class. We are all created in the image of God and are accountable to him. That truth is the basis of individual responsibility and equality before the law. The abandonment of that truth has resulted in a society at war with itself, pitting citizens against one another in bitter conflicts of group grievances and claims to entitlement. Justice and social amity require a redirection of public attitudes and policies so that rights are joined to duties and people are rewarded according to their character and competence.
We contend for a free society, including a vibrant market economy. A free society requires a careful balancing between economics, politics, and culture. Christianity is not an ideology and therefore does not prescribe precisely how that balance is to be achieved in every circumstance. We affirm the importance of a free economy not only because it is more efficient but because it accords with a Christian understanding of human freedom. Economic freedom, while subject to grave abuse, makes possible the patterns of creativity, cooperation, and accountability that contribute to the common good.
We contend together for a renewed appreciation of Western culture. In its history and missionary reach, Christianity engages all cultures while being captive to none. We are keenly aware of, and grateful for, the role of Christianity in shaping and sustaining the Western culture of which we are part. As with all of history, that culture is marred by human sinfulness. Alone among world cultures, however, the West has cultivated an attitude of self-criticism and of eagerness to learn from other cultures. What is called multiculturalism can mean respectful attention to human differences. More commonly today, however, multiculturalism means affirming all cultures but our own. Welcoming the contributions of other cultures and being ever alert to the limitations of our own, we receive Western culture as our legacy and embrace it as our task in order to transmit it as a gift to future generations.
We contend for public policies that demonstrate renewed respect for the irreplaceable role of mediating structures in society-notably the family, churches, and myriad voluntary associations. The state is not the society, and many of the most important functions of society are best addressed in independence from the state. The role of churches in responding to a wide variety of human needs, especially among the poor and marginal, needs to be protected and strengthened. Moreover, society is not the aggregate of isolated individuals bearing rights but is composed of communities that inculcate responsibility, sustain shared memory, provide mutual aid, and nurture the habits that contribute to both personal well-being and the common good. Most basic among such communities is the community of the family. Laws and social policies should be designed with particular care for the stability and flourishing of families. While the crisis of the family in America is by no means limited to the poor or to the underclass, heightened attention must be paid those who have become, as a result of well-intended but misguided statist policies, virtual wards of the government.
Finally, we contend for a realistic and responsible understanding of America’s part in world affairs. Realism and responsibility require that we avoid both the illusions of unlimited power and righteousness, on the one hand, and the timidity and selfishness of isolationism, on the other. U.S. foreign policy should reflect a concern for the defense of democracy and, wherever prudent and possible, the protection and advancement of human rights, including religious freedom.
The above is a partial list of public responsibilities on which we believe there is a pattern of convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics. We reject the notion that this constitutes a partisan “religious agenda” in American politics. Rather, this is a set of directions oriented to the common good and discussable on the basis of public reason. While our sense of civic responsibility is informed and motivated by Christian faith, our intention is to elevate the level of political and moral discourse in a manner that excludes no one and invites the participation of all people of good will. To that end, Evangelicals and Catholics have made an inestimable contribution in the past and, it is our hope, will contribute even more effectively in the future.
We are profoundly aware that the American experiment has been, all in all, a blessing to the world and a blessing to us as Evangelical and Catholic Christians. We are determined to assume our full share of responsibility for this “one nation under God,” believing it to be a nation under the judgment, mercy, and providential care of the Lord of the nations to whom alone we render unqualified allegiance.
We Witness Together
The question of Christian witness unavoidably returns us to points of serious tension between Evangelicals and Catholics. Bearing witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ and his will for our lives is an integral part of Christian discipleship. The achievement of good will and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics must not be at the price of the urgency and clarity of Christian witness to the Gospel. At the same time, and as noted earlier, Our Lord has made clear that the evidence of love among his disciples is an integral part of that Christian witness.
Today, in this country and elsewhere, Evangelicals and Catholics attempt to win “converts” from one another’s folds. In some ways, this is perfectly understandable and perhaps inevitable. In many instances, however, such efforts at recruitment undermine the Christian mission by which we are bound by God’s Word and to which we have recommitted ourselves in this statement. It should be clearly understood between Catholics and Evangelicals that Christian witness is of necessity aimed at conversion. Authentic conversion is-in its beginning, in its end, and all along the way-conversion to God in Christ by the power of the Spirit. In this connection, we embrace as our own the explanation of the Baptist-Roman Catholic International Conversation (1988):
Conversion is turning away from all that is opposed to God, contrary to Christ’s teaching, and turning to God, to Christ, the Son, through the work of the Holy Spirit. It entails a turning from the self-centeredness of sin to faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Conversion is a passing from one way of life to another new one, marked with the newness of Christ. It is a continuing process so that the whole life of a Christian should be a passage from death to life, from error to truth, from sin to grace. Our life in Christ demands continual growth in God’s grace. Conversion is personal but not private. Individuals respond in faith to God’s call but faith comes from hearing the proclamation of the word of God and is to be expressed in the life together in Christ that is the Church.
By preaching, teaching, and life example, Christians witness to Christians and non-Christians alike. We seek and pray for the conversion of others, even as we recognize our own continuing need to be fully converted. As we strive to make Christian faith and life-our own and that of others-ever more intentional rather than nominal, ever more committed rather than apathetic, we also recognize the different forms that authentic discipleship can take. As is evident in the two thousand year history of the church, and in our contemporary experience, there are different ways of being Christian, and some of these ways are distinctively marked by communal patterns of worship, piety, and catechesis. That we are all to be one does not mean that we are all to be identical in our way of following the one Christ. Such distinctive patterns of discipleship, it should be noted, are amply evident within the communion of the Catholic Church as well as within the many worlds of Evangelical Protestantism.
It is understandable that Christians who bear witness to the Gospel try to persuade others that their communities and traditions are more fully in accord with the Gospel. There is a necessary distinction between evangelizing and what is today commonly called proselytizing or “sheep stealing.” We condemn the practice of recruiting people from another community for purposes of denominational or institutional aggrandizement. At the same time, our commitment to full religious freedom compels us to defend the legal freedom to proselytize even as we call upon Christians to refrain from such activity.
Three observations are in order in connection with proselytizing. First, as much as we might believe one community is more fully in accord with the Gospel than another, we as Evangelicals and Catholics affirm that opportunity and means for growth in Christian discipleship are available in our several communities. Second, the decision of the committed Christian with respect to his communal allegiance and participation must be assiduously respected. Third, in view of the large number of non-Christians in the world and the enormous challenge of our common evangelistic task, it is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community to proselytize among active adherents of another Christian community.
Christian witness must always be made in a spirit of love and humility. It must not deny but must readily accord to everyone the full freedom to discern and decide what is God’s will for his life. Witness that is in service to the truth is in service to such freedom. Any form of coercion-physical, psychological, legal, economic-corrupts Christian witness and is to be unqualifiedly rejected. Similarly, bearing false witness against other persons and communities, or casting unjust and uncharitable suspicions upon them, is incompatible with the Gospel. Also to be rejected is the practice of comparing the strengths and ideals of one community with the weaknesses and failures of another. In describing the teaching and practices of other Christians, we must strive to do so in a way that they would recognize as fair and accurate.
In considering the many corruptions of Christian witness, we, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess that we have sinned against one another and against God. We most earnestly ask the forgiveness of God and one another, and pray for the grace to amend our own lives and that of our communities.
Repentance and amendment of life do not dissolve remaining differences between us. In the context of evangelization and “reevangelization,” we encounter a major difference in our understanding of the relationship between baptism and the new birth in Christ. For Catholics, all who are validly baptized are born again and are truly, however imperfectly, in communion with Christ. That baptismal grace is to be continuingly reawakened and revivified through conversion. For most Evangelicals, but not all, the experience of conversion is to be followed by baptism as a sign of new birth. For Catholics, all the baptized are already members of the church, however dormant their faith and life; for many Evangelicals, the new birth requires baptismal initiation into the community of the born again. These differing beliefs about the relationship between baptism, new birth, and membership in the church should be honestly presented to the Christian who has undergone conversion. But again, his decision regarding communal allegiance and participation must be assiduously respected.
There are, then, differences between us that cannot be resolved here. But on this we are resolved: All authentic witness must be aimed at conversion to God in Christ by the power of the Spirit. Those converted-whether understood as having received the new birth for the first time or as having experienced the reawakening of the new birth originally bestowed in the sacrament of baptism-must be given full freedom and respect as they discern and decide the community in which they will live their new life in Christ. In such discernment and decision, they are ultimately responsible to God, and we dare not interfere with the exercise of that responsibility. Also in our differences and disagreements, we Evangelicals and Catholics commend one another to God “who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3)
In this discussion of witnessing together we have touched on difficult and long-standing problems. The difficulties must not be permitted to overshadow the truths on which we are, by the grace of God, in firm agreement. As we grow in mutual understanding and trust, it is our hope that our efforts to evangelize will not jeopardize but will reinforce our devotion to the common tasks to which we have pledged ourselves in this statement.
Nearly two thousand years after it began, and nearly five hundred years after the divisions of the Reformation era, the Christian mission to the world is vibrantly alive and assertive. We do not know, we cannot know, what the Lord of history has in store for the Third Millennium. It may be the springtime of world missions and great Christian expansion. It may be the way of the cross marked by persecution and apparent marginalization. In different places and times, it will likely be both. Or it may be that Our Lord will return tomorrow.
We do know that his promise is sure, that we are enlisted for the duration, and that we are in this together. We do know that we must affirm and hope and search and contend and witness together, for we belong not to ourselves but to him who has purchased us by the blood of the cross. We do know that this is a time of opportunity-and, if of opportunity, then of responsibility-for Evangelicals and Catholics to be Christians together in a way that helps prepare the world for the coming of him to whom belongs the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Mr. Charles Colson
Fr. Juan Diaz-Vilar, S.J.
Catholic Hispanic Ministries
Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J.
Bishop Francis George, OMI
Diocese of Yakima (Washington)
Dr. Kent Hill
College Dr. Richard Land
Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
Dr. Larry Lewis
Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention
Dr. Jesse Miranda
Assemblies of God
Msgr. William Murphy
Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus
Institute on Religion and Public Life
Mr. Brian O’Connell
World Evangelical Fellowship
Mr. Herbert Schlossberg
Archbishop Francis Stafford
Archdiocese of Denver
Mr. George Weigel
Ethics and Public Policy Center
Dr. John White
Geneva College and the National Association of Evangelicals
Dr. William Abraham
Perkins School of Theology
Dr. Elizabeth Achtemeier
Union Theological Seminary (Virginia)
Mr. William Bentley Ball
Dr. Bill Bright
Campus Crusade for Christ
Professor Robert Destro
Catholic University of America
Fr. Augustine DiNoia, O.P.
Dominican House of Studies
Fr. Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, S.J.
Mr. Keith Fournier
American Center for Law and Justice
Bishop William Frey
Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry
Professor Mary Ann Glendon
Harvard Law School
Dr. Os Guinness
Dr. Nathan Hatch
University of Notre Dame
Dr. James Hitchcock
St. Louis University
Professor Peter Kreeft
Fr. Matthew Lamb
Mr. Ralph Martin
Dr. Richard Mouw
Fuller Theological Seminary
Dr. Mark Noll
Mr. Michael Novak
American Enterprise Institute
John Cardinal O’Connor
Archdiocese of New York
Dr. Thomas Oden
Dr. James J. I. Packer
Regent College (British Columbia)
The Rev. Pat Robertson
Dr. John Rodgers
Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry
Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla, S.J .
Archiocese of San Francisco