Despite an expanding dialogue between Roman Catholics and evangelicals on theological issues, conservative activists on both sides are not about to wave a white flag.
At a recent Ex-Catholics for Christ (ECFC) conference at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, about three dozen demonstrators outside waved "Catholics for Christ" signs and distributed "Catholic Answers" tracts, which proclaim Roman Catholicism as Christ's one true church.
Meanwhile inside Grace Community Church, more than 500 former Catholics listened to leaders of ministries that evangelize Catholics. Condemnation of ecumenism between evangelicals and Catholics was a common theme. Speakers included Grace's pastor, John MacArthur; Word of Life's director, Joe Jordan; the Berean Call's Dave Hunt; and Good News for Catholics' Jim McCarthy.
The recent signing of "The Gift of Salvation" (CT, Dec. 8, 1997, p. 34) by Evangelicals and Catholics Together proponents holds little promise for opponents of the original ECT document. That controversial 1994 declaration, conceived by Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson and Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus of the New York-based Religion and Public Life, laid the groundwork for Catholics and evangelicals mutually recognizing each other as "brothers and sisters in Christ." Its purpose was to provide a framework for both sides to work more cooperatively within the pro-family movement.
Neuhaus told CT that Catholics and evangelicals "can agree on the meaning of salvation," and those who target Catholics for evangelism see the ECT project as "a serious threat to their niche market."
Nevertheless, inactive or nominal Catholics should be evangelized, Kent Hill, an ECT signatory and president of Eastern Nazarene College, told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. "Evangelicals ought to evangelize all nominal Christians, whether they are Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Nazarene, or Baptist."
BLURRED THEOLOGY? For former Catholic Jim McCarthy, author of The Gospel According to Rome (Harvest House, 1995), differences in Protestant and Catholic theology remain his central concern. "Our doctrine prevents us from accepting each other as brothers and sisters in Christ," he says.
At the conference, Good News for Catholics (www.gnfc.org) distributed, among other materials, a deck of flash cards, each with a belief commonly held by Catholics as a basic requirement for salvation. The reverse side of the cards give Bible verses, intended to dispute Catholic teaching on such subjects as the sacraments, church attendance, and keeping the Ten Commandments.
Catholic activists have been quick to respond to these doctrinal challenges from evangelicals. Catholic apologist Karl Keating, focusing on McCarthy's controversial video, Catholicism: Crisis of Faith, has accused McCarthy of using deceptive tactics to promote sales.
"It is cunningly packaged to look like a Catholic video for a good reason," Keating wrote in a recent review. "Its producers want to get it into the hands of unsuspecting Catholics."
In a related development, the Eternal Word Television Network, founded by Mother Angelica, has a new show, The Journey Home. The program highlights the stories of Catholic or Protestant backsliders returning to the "Mother Church."
The zeal among some evangelicals and Catholics is a byproduct of the signing of the ECT documents, says Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel (www.pro-gospel.org). Gendron believes that ECT has muddied "the biblical distinctions of the gospel and set the mission of the church back 500 years." He says, "If [ECT] is sustainable, then its endorsers must declare the Reformation was a terrible mistake and the martyrs who died defending the gospel died in vain."
But Neuhaus considers such talk "uncharitable" and "a sin against the living Christ who calls Christians to exercise grace with one another." Indeed, says Neuhaus, the Council of Trent "did not fully understand the intent of the Reformers. We can't go back to the sixteenth century and untangle it. We have discovered that when we encounter one another now, we can say we are in agreement on the meaning of salvation."
Some evangelical leaders who are supporters of ECT remain firmly committed to interaction with Catholics. Recently, Jack Van Impe, author, prophecy teacher, and broadcaster, spent the entire broadcast of Jack Van Impe Presents defending Pope John Paul II as a man of God. He warned that the next pope could be the false prophet of the Book of Revelation. "We've got to stick together as brothers and sisters in Christ," he says.
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