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An InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter can look very different in the fall than it did the previous spring. But the chapter at George Washington University (GWU) in the nation's capital is dealing with change of a more uncomfortable kind than absent graduates and incoming freshmen.

Shortly before students left for summer vacation, the D.C. chapter split when all ten student leaders resigned to form a new campus ministry called University Christian Fellowship. More than half of the chapter's roughly 100 students joined them. At issue was student leaders' worry that the national ministry confuses the gospel by cooperating with Roman Catholics, and has a mission statement that Catholics could sign without violating church teaching on the doctrine of justification—how sinners are declared righteous before God.

Over the past decade, justification has become one of the most hotly debated doctrines at conservative Protestant theology conferences and in the catalogs of highbrow Christian publishers. But it has almost entirely stayed in the academy and a handful of churches and denominations. The GWU clash suggests the debate may divide parachurch ministries and reshape evangelicals' relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

Jolt of Intensity

The long debate over how Protestants should view the Roman Catholic Church has received several jolts of intensity in the past 15 years. The group Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) touted a 1994 statement, "The Gift of Salvation," in which several prominent Roman Catholics affirmed "justification by faith alone." The unofficial statement predated an official agreement between the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, called "The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine ...

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November 2009

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