Question: I recently saw a news release put out by Charles Colson’s office titled “Evangelical Leaders Resolve Differences on Evangelical-Catholic Paper.” It said that in January, Colson, J. I. Packer and Bill Bright (signatories to Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium”) had met with John Ankerberg, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul and several other nonsigners and are now in agreement. This distressed me! What do you know about this meeting? Is there a compromise?
Response: It is my understanding that Ankerberg, MacArthur, Sproul and several others of like concern (hereafter referred to as “anti-ECT group”) met with Colson, Packer and Bright in an attempt to persuade these brethren to repent of having signed ECT and to renounce that document. Instead, Colson, Packer and Bright (hereafter referred to as “ECT signers”) signed a “Doctrinal Statement” which affirms “the historic Protestant understanding of salvation by faith alone (sola fide).” There was no “agreement” or document signed by the anti-ECT group.
Unfortunately, a false impression was given by the news release, especially by its heading (“Evangelical Leaders Resolve Differences on Evangelical-Catholic paper”), which Colson supplied on his own and which shocked the anti-ECT group when they saw it. I was shocked that the anti-ECT group would agree to the news release at all, even without the misleading title. It seems that to prevent a split among evangelicals, the anti-ECT group agreed under pressure to something which they never intended. They remain as opposed as before to ECT. In his March newsletter, John Ankerberg says, “We wish that Chuck Colson, J. I. Packer, Bill Bright and all of our other Protestant friends who signed the ECT document would delete their names from it and discard it.” Sadly, the news release gives a far different impression.
Let me explain briefly. The news release says, “Out of this meeting has come the following statement,” which makes it seem that all present were in accord. But what was settled, and what agreement was reached? Really nothing! The “Doctrinal Statement” which the ECT signers signed changed nothing. They claimed that belief before they signed ECT, and they still express no regret for having signed it. Nor is ECT changed by this statement.
Furthermore, the “Doctrinal Statement” includes much more. It begins by justifying the signing of ECT: “We Protestants, who signed ECT, took this action to advance Christian fellowship, cooperation, and mutual trust among true Christians....” Thus is perpetuated ECT’s implication that all active Catholics believe the gospel and are thus “true Christians.” Nothing could be further from the truth, as we have already documented!
While the statement says that the ECT signers do not accept “Roman Catholic doctrinal distinctives or endorse the Roman Catholic Church system,” it embraces “cooperation with evangelically committed Roman Catholics” and leaves intact ECT’s horrendous statement: “[I]t is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community [evangelicals] to proselytize [a Catholic term for evangelize] active adherents of another Christian community [Catholics].” What is the average person to conclude? Obviously, that all active Catholics are true Christians and “evangelically committed.” And whatever Catholic beliefs and practices are not accepted by evangelicals don’t affect salvation, just as there are such differences among Protestant denominations. Again, far from true!
Regrettably, the meeting and news release were a triumph for all (Catholics included) who signed ECT. The evangelical ECT signers are declared to hold to the true gospel; they are justified for having signed ECT; that document is approved as signed, including the implication that all active Catholics are true Christians and not to be evangelized; and the anti-ECT group has dropped any objections they had to that document. That is not what Ankerberg, MacArthur, Sproul, et al. intended, but, unfortunately, that is the impression given. I urge the anti-ECT group to clarify their position.