Not All Evangelicals and Catholics Together
"The gaping divide between evangelicals and Catholics is ecclesiology and authority, not justification and salvation, as important as that debate remains," George said. "There is enough commonality that evangelicals and Catholics with a living faith can recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ with a common Lord and common grace that brought them together. The hard issues are questions related to the church, such as the Petrine office [the papacy] and the Eucharist. Those discussions will occupy us for the next 100 years."
They have already occupied us for several hundred years. During the English Reformation, the Puritans were united in their disagreement with Roman Catholic teaching. Yet some viewed Rome as a true church in error, while others treated it as a false church. John Owen took fellow Puritan leader Richard Baxter to task over a view of justification that resembles Wright's. During the 1800s, American Presbyterians disagreed over whether to recognize Roman Catholic baptisms as valid. More recently, conflict over ECT has strained some long-term friendships between prominent theologians with opposing views on how to regard Catholics.
And even ECT is changing. Its October statement on Mary was the first to include, after an initial statement on areas of agreement, sections where each side attempted to correct the other's views.
Basis of Doctrine
Until recent years, debates over justification were handled mainly by theologians and select pastors. But the release of Wright's and Piper's books have led more church leaders to choose sides and act on their convictions. Several of the GWU students who left InterVarsity are members of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, whose associate pastor, Michael Lawrence, formerly served on InterVarsity staff. "Whether or not you agree with the students, they are not impulsive firebrands," Lawrence said.
Concern among GWU student leaders began when they noticed promotional material on InterVarsity's website and during the organization's Urbana conference that conveyed a willingness to cooperate with Catholics. Then, during a spring mission trip, InterVarsity staff took students to a Mass. Finally, local staff pushed back when the student-led executive team unanimously declined to select a student for a leadership position because she was a Catholic.
The GWU executive team then examined the InterVarsity Doctrinal Basis, adopted in 2000, and concluded that Catholics could sign the InterVarsity statement because it does not specify that grace comes through "faith alone" in Jesus Christ.
"We believe that the Roman Catholic Church does not agree with the gospel that we emphasize, meaning that it would not be good to hold up someone as a leader who has associated with them," said Tristan Stiles, a 2009 GWU graduate and former member of the executive team.
InterVarsity president Alec Hill responded in a letter, telling the students, "I can unequivocally assure you that InterVarsity holds to the position of justification by faith alone." Hill observed that InterVarsity is corporately federated under the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), whose statement of faith lists "the justification of the sinner by the grace of God through faith alone" as a central Christian truth. All InterVarsity staff must reaffirm their commitment to the Doctrinal Basis and the IFES statement each year.