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Catholics and Evangelicals
Events such as World Youth Day have allowed evangelicals to better understand Roman Catholics and their beliefs


Barry Farndon is proof that evangelicals and Catholics are getting along better in Canada. Farndon, a staff sergeant with the Ontario Provincial Police, was seconded to the World Youth Day security task force during the Pope's visit to Canada in July. "God wanted me here for a reason," says Farndon. He and his wife Cathy attend an Evangelical Missionary church in Markham, just north of Toronto.

"The World Youth Day is a positive reality. Many aspects of the program feel like an evangelical youth event," Farndon said. "I don't agree with all Catholic teachings, but I don't focus on the differences." He put in long hours to ensure the safety of John Paul II and the massive crowds at the Catholic festival. He said he would not volunteer to provide security for a cult group. He regards many Catholics as fellow Christians.

Damian MacPherson, director for ecumenical and interfaith affairs for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, remembers more suspicious times. MacPherson, born in 1943, was raised in Cape Breton, N.S. He does not remember any hate between Catholics and Protestants, but does remember a clear dividing line. "There was no ecumenicity. We were forbidden to go into Protestant churches of any kind. It was us versus them. Thankfully, things have changed."

At 20 MacPherson became a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, an order that focuses on improving relations with other Christians. "Catholics share with evangelicals a strong moral opposition to abortion. We have the same moral objections to the practice of homosexuality. We also stand together on the Scripture's teaching about the classic doctrines of the gospel."

The softening of tensions between Protestants and Rome is a result of increased openness on both sides.

MacPherson understands evangelical concerns about certain Catholic doctrines that cause distance. "However, as Christians we have no choice but to take seriously Jesus' call for unity among His followers. It is irresponsible if we do not seek to obey the Lord. The only way forward is through prayer, dialogue and participation together in common causes in mission and social justice."

The softening of tensions between Protestants and Rome is a result of increased openness on both sides. Here are three examples from Canada: When Billy Graham held his evangelistic campaign in Ottawa in 1998 the percentage of Catholic churches among sponsoring congregations was the highest in Graham's history. Catholic groups regularly join with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada in making submissions to the Supreme Court of Canada on issues related to family life, homosexuality, abortion, and bioethics. The famous Alpha outreach program, pioneered by a charismatic Anglican congregation in Britain, is used by 27 of the Catholic churches in the Vancouver Archdiocese.

On an international level, the best illustration of this new openness is the signing of a Common Statement on Justification between Vatican officials and the Lutheran World Federation. The historic ceremony took place in Augsburg, Germany on Oct. 31, 1999. The Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran groups shared this verdict: "Justification takes place by grace alone; by faith alone, the person is justified apart from works."

… the realization that we are family, and thus belong to each other and need each other, motivates us to talk together …

George Vandervelde of Toronto is co-chair of the World Evangelical Alliance-Roman Catholic International Consultation. "As we interact," he says, "we realize that, despite all the highly significant differences, we are family, we are brothers and sisters. We are living with the results of a painful feud; the wounds are deep, and for those living in predominantly Catholic countries, the wounds may be quite fresh. Yet, we are family. That's why the pain is deep. And talking together doesn't make the pain go away, doesn't mean pretending nothing happened, doesn't mean simply being nice to each other. But the realization that we are family, and thus belong to each other and need each other, motivates us to talk together."

Reduced hostilities may be traced directly to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The Catholic Church exhibited an open spirit towards Protestants. It was shown in particular when Pope John XXIII invited leading Protestant scholars and church leaders to witness the Council proceedings.

In Canada the charismatic movement has also bridged the Evangelical-Catholic divide. David Mainse and his television show 100 Huntley Street have had a singular influence by opening the program to born-again Catholics. The famous and controversial "Toronto Blessing" has brought Catholics and evangelicals together. TACF pastor John Arnott said one night that videos of the Toronto meetings have been taken to the Vatican.

J. I. Packer, a staunchly evangelical Anglican theologian at Regent College, has brought his years of evangelical orthodoxy to bear on strengthening ties with orthodox Catholics. Along with Charles Colson and Catholic thinker Richard John Neuhaus, Packer was influential in the formulation of three major statements with Catholic thinkers: "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (1994), "The Gift of Salvation" (1997), and "Your Word is Truth" (2002).

John Paul II has also helped to soften evangelical hearts by his life and thought. Many evangelicals see the Pope's forgiving spirit in 1981 towards his would-be assassin, his battle against Communism, and his endurance in ministry as proof of his commitment to the gospel, in spite of doctrinal differences. His best-selling devotional Crossing the Threshold of Hope contains many sections that are completely biblical in tone and substance.

Evangelical openness has also occurred because of the impact of other Catholics. The most influential is Mother Teresa (1910-1997), known worldwide for her work in the slums of Calcutta. What can be said against her Missionaries of Charity who feed half a million families and treat 90,000 lepers every year? Evangelicals have also been influenced in positive ways by contemporary Catholics thinkers like Peter Kreeft, Tom Howard and Henri Nouwen, the famous spiritual writer. Before his death Nouwen developed a closeness with many evangelicals across Canada.

Toronto's famous Jarvis Street Baptist Church offered a series of lectures against Catholicism during World Youth Day …

Many evangelicals remain very sceptical of Rome. Barry Farndon said that people in his home church are praying for the Pope but that some would be thinking of his salvation as he visits Toronto and comes to the end of his pontificate. Toronto's famous Jarvis Street Baptist Church offered a series of lectures against Catholicism during World Youth Day and invited its delegates to attend.

Extreme views about Rome still circulate. Some fundamentalist churches in Canada circulate Rebecca Brown's He Came to Set the Captives Free, which tells the fraudulent story of Elaine, a former witch, who married Satan in a Texas church and then flew with Satan in his private jet to meet with the Pope at the Vatican. Brown's work is thoroughly demolished in an investigative report from Personal Freedom Outreach, a research ministry in Saint Louis.

Christ is the Answer Publishers in Canada circulate material by Alberto Rivera. Rivera claims to be a former Jesuit, who at one time was high up in the Vatican. He claims that he was ordered to infiltrate charismatic churches. Nuns were sent to seduce the pastors to blackmail them into endorsing ecumenism and being critical of the King James Version. Rivera's work is featured on many of the 151 sites on the "Bible Challenge for Catholics" web ring.

Some evangelical scholars have written strong but measured critiques of the current Catholic-evangelical openness. R.C. Sproul (a Reformed theologian) and John Warwick Montgomery (a Lutheran historian) have both expressed serious reservations about the new evangelical attitude. J. I. Packer has been accused of betraying his Anglican roots. One writer said that he was "appalled at Packer's condescending attitude to those who don't buy his Catholic love affair."

At the beginning of World Youth Day in 2000 in Rome, Pope John Paul II said the following: "Whom have you come here to find? There can be only one answer to that: you have come in search of Jesus Christ! But Jesus Christ has first gone in search of you." It is hard to miss the evangelical message there, just as it is difficult not to see the significance of the cross that was carried to Toronto from around the world for WYD 2002. For evangelicals and Catholics there is only one cross.

Myths and Facts

Myth: Catholicism teaches that the Pope is sinless.

Fact: Catholicism teaches that popes are sinful and are to go to confession like all Catholics. Some of the popes, such as Alexander VI, led notoriously wicked lives, as Catholic historians admit.

Myth: Catholicism teaches that salvation is caused by human effort.

Fact: The Council of Trent condemned any who teach that salvation is by works. Salvation by grace alone has been affirmed at the Second Vatican Council, in the recent Catechism of the Catholic Church, and in the official declarations on justification.

Myth: Catholics leave Christ on the cross.

Fact: Catholic use of the crucifix is not meant to suggest that Jesus remained on the Cross any more than Protestant pictures of Jesus in the manger proves that Protestants have left Jesus in Bethlehem. Contrary to some Protestant speculation, the Catholic Church affirms the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Myth: Priests can forgive sins even if Catholics do not repent.

Fact: Through the gospel of Jesus the priest can proclaim the good news of forgiveness but only to those who repent of their sin.

Myth: Catholicism is the revival of ancient Babylonian paganism.

Fact: Catholic faith and doctrine are a result of gradual development, based on the thought of Cyprian, Athanasius, Augustine, Pope Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Aquinas, and Saint Francis, among many others. Catholicism is not linked to Babylon, contrary to the flawed theories of Alexander Hislop's popular book The Two Babylons, published in 1858.

Common Questions

What is the best evangelical book about Roman Catholicism?

Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995).

How does one find out what is official Catholic teaching?

Read the documents from the Council of Trent, Vatican I and II, plus official documents released by John Paul II. All are available in book form at www.vatican.va

Who are the best critics of Vatican policy and thought?

I recommend two Catholic thinkers, though I do not agree with them on every issue. First, Hans Küng, the famous Swiss scholar, has written powerful critiques of papal infallibility and Catholic dogmatism in various books. Likewise, Gary Wills, an American historian, has written Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit.

How do we know what really goes on in Rome?

The first thing to do is avoid wild anti-Catholic rhetoric that contends the Vatican is the fount of all world evil and a secret horror chamber. The Vatican is one of the most well covered spots on earth in terms of journalism. For responsible insight I recommend Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996).

What are the best reference works on Catholicism?

I recommend the Catholic scholar Richard McBrien's Lives of the Popes and his edited work The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism.

Agreements

-There is only one God

-God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit

-Jesus Christ is the only saviour

-Jesus is the one unique mediator between God and humanity

-Humanity is fallen and under the condemnation of sin

-Salvation is achieved by grace and not by works

-The Bible is the infallible word of God

-Laity are to read and obey the Bible

-Christians should evangelize the world

-Mary is subordinate to Jesus

-The Devil is real

-Heaven and hell are the two ultimate destinies

-Christians are to live deep moral and spiritual lives

-Secularism and materialism threaten our world

-Radical liberal theology undermines the gospel

Disagreements

-The Roman Catholic Church is the mother church

-The Pope is infallible when he teaches on faith and morals

-Sacred tradition and Scripture should receive equal reverence

-Scripture contains the Apocrypha

-Baptism (in fact or intent) is necessary for salvation

-Transubstantiation is the true view of the eucharist

-The priesthood is for males only

-Celibacy is the normal requirement for priests

-It is right to pray to the saints

-It is right to pray for the dead

-Purgatory awaits most Christians at death

-Mary was born without original sin

-Mary was a perpetual virgin

-Mary was assumed into heaven

-Mary is "pre-eminent, wholly unique" among Christians

James A. Beverley is professor of theology and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.

Faith Today, Sep/Oct 2002 EvangelicalFellowship.ca

 

 
 
 
 

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