Larry Lewis (to the editor): I respond to the article entitled, “The Gospel Betrayed,” by Dave Hunt in the May 1994 issue. The article critiques the document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” Unfortunately, the article is replete with error and misstatement of fact. Allow me to note and correct a few of these.
In the first paragraph Mr. Hunt states, “The document overturns the Reformation and does incalculable damage to the cause of Christ.” No, the document does not “overturn” the Reformation but is, in fact, the fruition of the Reformation. At last, Catholics are admitting that Evangelicals and other Protestants are legitimate, bona fide religious groups and not perverted schisms to be treated as sects and cults.
In the second paragraph he states, “Evangelicals working beside Catholics, Mormons, Moonies, etc. for common social and political aims...will not witness to their ‘partners in action’ for fear of offending them.” No, this is not true either. For years I have worked beside Catholics and others in the pro-life movement and often witnessed to them and have had the joy of seeing a number of them pray to receive Jesus as their Savior. It’s a reckless charge that he cannot substantiate.
In the third paragraph he states, “I believe the document represents the most devastating blow against the gospel in at least 1,000 years.” Pure nonsense! Has he even read the document? The major theme espoused throughout the document is evangelism and world missions. More space is given to these two subjects than anything else.
In the fourth paragraph he states, “What it means to be saved is not mentioned and, in fact, is directly denied.” Not so. Let me cite a few instances to the contrary: “We hope together that all people will come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” (p 7). “Our missionary hope is inspired by the revealed desire of God and ‘all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’” (p 7). Or, “The cause of Christ is the cause and mission of the church, which is, first of all, to proclaim the Good News that ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (p 11). Or, “Authentic conversion is—in its beginning, in its end, and all along the way—conversion to God in Christ by the power of the Spirit” (p 21). Or, “All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ” (p 5). Isn’t “accepting Christ as Lord and Savior” what it means to be saved? (Jn:1:12)
In paragraph 5 Mr. Hunt states, “Amazingly the document claims that all Catholics are Christians, hold the same faith as Evangelicals....” No, the document says,“All who receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” are brothers and sisters in Christ. Catholics who have received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are brothers and sisters in Christ and Evangelicals who have not received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are not brothers and sisters in Christ.
Again, in paragraph 5 he states, “If so, then the Reformation was a tragic mistake which we must all denounce.” No, he said that, not the document. Nowhere does the document say, suggest, or imply that the Reformation was a mistake.
In paragraph 6, he calls our attention to the thousands that have been “slaughtered” by the Roman Catholic Church, a tragic fact of history that no one can deny. Unfortunately, the Lutherans also participated in the slaughter of many during the peasants’ rebellion, Calvin consented to the death of dissenters, the Puritans left Europe to escape the persecution of the Anglicans, and Baptists split over the slavery issue. Perhaps the one greatest contribution of this document is its strong emphasis on religious liberty—the right of every denomination and every person to share their faith freely, unfettered by either church or state. In essence, it is the agreement of both Catholics and Evangelicals to allow complete religious freedom to all people everywhere. That’s why many are calling it the most significant document since the Reformation.
In paragraph 7 Mr. Hunt notes our noble heritage of “salvation by grace through faith” and that this “is the heritage of today’s evangelicals which this document now rejects.” Total nonsense! The document clearly states that Evangelicals and Catholics do not agree in theology and doctrine and delineates clearly those points of disagreement. In fact, it clearly states, “We do not deny but clearly assert that there are disagreements between us” (p 8) and “we do not presume to suggest that we can resolve the deep and long standing difference between Evangelicals and Catholics. Indeed these differences may never be resolved short of Kingdom come” (p 9). Although we do agree on some important basics (e.g., divinity of Jesus, blood atonement, bodily resurrection, inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, second coming), Evangelicals totally reject the sacerdotalism, the Mariolatry, the sacramentalism, the magisterial authority, the idea of purgatory, etc. The purpose of the document was not to reconcile our theological differences but rather to affirm religious liberty, the right of all Christians to share their faith boldly without restraint.
Again he states in paragraph 8, “Colson, Robertson, Bright, etc. have revised both history and doctrine.” Not so. Pure poppycock!
Most of the rest of his article simply deals with the perverted doctrines of the Catholic Church, especially sacerdotalism, sacramentalism, the magisterial authority, etc. Admittedly, these are doctrinal perversions that I renounce and most Evangelicals would agree. However, Catholics are not alone in some of these perversions. Any denomination that teaches one can be saved by being baptized or that grace [is] somehow bestowed through receiving sacraments, or that one can either be saved by their good works, or after having been saved, can be lost by their bad works is also guilty of doctrinal perversion, from my perspective. Any group that teaches baptism can be administered to any- one other than a believer by any other method than by immersion is teaching a doctrinal perversion, from my perspective. At least Catholics still affirm the Virgin Birth, the blood atonement, the bodily resurrection of our Lord, His physical ascension—basic doctrines that many mainline denominations deny and repudiate.
Again, this document is not about theology—it’ s about religious liberty—the right of every Christian to share their faith unfettered by church or state.
In paragraph 17, he states, “It is outrageous that leading evangelicals have placed nearly 25 percent of the world’s population off limits for evangelization! Missionaries must now leave Catholic countries such as Spain, Italy, and those in Latin America.” Again, not so! As Charles Colson said in a letter to Dr. Ed Young, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, “I have been told there is some concern that this would be a limitation on foreign missionaries which is pure nonsense. There is nothing in this document that restricts our evangelizing any unsaved people, anywhere, anytime.”
In paragraph 17, he commends the ministries of Wesley, Whitfield, Spurgeon, Moody, C. T. Studd, Hudson Taylor and David Livingstone, and then states, “We are now being told however that such men and women who gave their lives to bring the gospel to the lost wasted their time if they preached to Catholics.” Ridiculous! Where in the world did he get that idea? Evangelism and world missions is the primary thrust of the document. A theme reiterated on nearly every page. Note this citation on page 12, “To proclaim this Gospel and to sustain the community of faith, worship, and discipleship that is gathered by this Gospel is the first and chief responsibility of the church. All other tasks and responsibilities of the church are derived and directed toward the mission of the Gospel.”
In paragraph 20 he states, “The most tragic result of this historic development will be to prevent the gospel from being presented to lost millions.” No, just the opposite is true. We will now have the long hoped for and prayed for freedom to share the gospel with all people and with all nations without being inhibited and restrained, and even persecuted by church or state. I don’t expect this to happen overnight but I do believe in time we will see our freedoms enhanced and our witness more fruitful.
During the years I was pastor, I won and baptized literally hundreds of people of Catholic background to Christ, probably far more than most pastors do. I assure you, reaching Catholics for Christ is not done by Catholic bashing! The clear presentation of the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, not anti-Catholic bigotry. I am happy to have added my signature along with those of Charles Colson, Pat Robertson, Bill Bright, J. I. Packer, John White, and some thirty of the most outstanding evangelical scholars and leaders in America in endorsing this historic document.
Dave Hunt: The editor of The Berean Call has passed your letter on to me for response inasmuch as I wrote the article to which you take such strong exception. You questioned whether I had “even read the document.” Yes, I have, and very carefully.
You contend that the document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” is “in fact, the fruition of the Reformation.” Do you really believe that the Reformers’ aim was to cooperate with Rome in evangelizing the world together? Wasn’t the Reformation caused by the Reformers’ belief that Roman Catholicism was a false religious system with a counterfeit gospel that was damning those who followed it? Do you really believe that the hundreds of thousands who were burned at the stake for rejecting Roman Catholicism’ s false gospel would sign this document and rejoice at the opportunity of becoming partners with Rome in the “Christian Mission”?!
You exult that “At last, Catholics are admitting that Evangelicals and other Protestants are legitimate, bona fide religious groups...and not sects and cults.” Vatican II acknowledges the “separated brethren” as legitimate and urges them to come back to the one true Church. The document you signed is nothing new in that respect. Vatican II acknowledges all religions as legitimate, even idol worshipers are going to make it, through somehow coming under the umbrella of Holy Mother Church. John Paul II gathered at Assisi 160 leaders of the world’ s 12 major worshipers, spiritists, animists, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, et al., and the Pope said, “We are all praying to the same God.” And you rejoice in recognition from that source? He told vast Hindu audiences in Calcutta and New Delhi that their “spiritual vision of man” was valid and that the world needed to “give heed to it.” He told Sri Chinmoy, a leading Hindu guru, “The Hindu life and the Christian life shall go together. Your message and my message are the same.” And you are pleased to sign a document that says that the evangelical message and the Catholic message are the same? If they aren’t, then how can you unite with Catholics in “The Christian Mission” of evangelizing the world?
What is new about this document is not the presumed legitimacy you imagine the Catholics have given evangelicals (without budging one inch from their heresies!), but the fact that leading evangelicals have recognized the Catholic gospel as legitimate, a gospel which the Reformers died at the stake rather than accept! Yes, the document admits there are doctrinal differences between Catholics and evangelicals, but not of such a nature as to affect the gospel. Otherwise, how could you acknowledge Catholics as Christians and join in Christian mission with them?
You say, “The purpose of the document was not to reconcile our theological differences but rather to affirm religious liberty, the right of all Christians to share their faith boldly without restraint.” You cite: “To proclaim this Gospel and to sustain the community of faith, worship, and discipleship that is gathered by this Gospel is the first and chief responsibility of the church. All other tasks and responsibility of the church are derived and directed toward the mission of the gospel.”
Let me ask you which gospel is meant by “this Gospel” and “the Gospel”? The gospel of evangelicals and the gospel of Catholicism are divided by a gulf as vast as the distance between heaven and hell. Y et the very title of the document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” assumes that Catholics are just as much Christians as evangelicals, that they share the same mission and proclaim the same gospel—and therefore need not be evangelized.
You admit, “The major theme espoused throughout the document is evangelism and world missions.” Trent contains more than 100 anathemas against anyone who believes the gospel evangelicals proclaim. Vatican II reconfirms Trent and, after explaining that the Catholic faithful always “have carried their crosses to make expiation for their own sins and the sins of others” and that “From the most ancient times in the Church good works were also offered to God for the salvation of sinners” and that indulgences are meritorious helps for salvation, it “condemns with anathema those who say that indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them.” The false gospel of Rome against which the Reformers protested has not changed, yet you say it saves, and you embrace Catholics as Christians?
I said that this document places 25 percent of the world’s population out of bounds for evangelism because it accepts as Christians Catholics who desperately need to hear the gospel. You vehemently deny that and say the document opens the door to the presentation of the gospel. Yet on page 24 it clearly states that “it is neither theologically legitimate [!] nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community [evangelicals] to proselytize among active adherents of another Christian community [Catholics].” Is that not saying that all active Catholics are Christians and are not to be evangelized?
The document masterfully employs phrases which Catholics take one way and evangelicals another. “The gospel” is one example for which evangelicals and Catholics have two entirely different meanings, which is not admitted and the “unity” achieved is thus a fraud. It says, “We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.” You know that what Catholics mean by that statement is entirely different from what Protestants mean. I remind you again that the Reformers found the Catholic meaning to be destructive of souls—yet you call this a fruit of the Reformation! It calls conversion to Christ “a continuing process” and says, “we recognize our own continuing need to be fully converted.” Again, you well know that the Catholics take this to be speaking of salvation and the evangelicals to be about sanctification. It is folly if not dishonest to sign a document, pretending unity, when the parties thereto have widely different understandings of its meaning!
The document says, “we warmly commend and encourage the formal theological dialogues of recent years between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals.” It neglects to say that after years of such dialogue the Lutherans abandoned the process because they could not agree with Catholics on salvation. Do you?
The document does indeed say, as you quote in your letter, “All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ.” But again, the Catholics have one understanding of that statement and the evangelicals another. The next sentence concludes that “Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ.” Luther and Calvin were already saved and didn’t know it? The Reformation was a semantic misunderstanding? Tell that to the tens of millions who have been saved out of Roman Catholicism. I challenge you to take a representative poll of Catholics, at random, coming out of Catholic churches after Mass across this country. If you can find even 1 percent who know the gospel and are trusting Christ without the works and rituals of Roman Catholicism, I will publicly apologize. But if the poll turns out as you know it will, then I challenge you to renounce this betrayal of the Reformation and the true gospel!
Finally, I am shocked at the way you pass over the millions slaughtered by Rome by saying that Protestants killed people, too. Yes, but in infinitesimally smaller numbers and during a very brief period of history. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, has had a policy reaffirmed century after century by the popes and councils of killing all who did not embrace her teachings. These dogmas are still part of official Catholic policy, which can never change inasmuch as the Church is irreformable and “infallible.” The Catholic Church has yet to admit that the torture and murder of countless millions was wrong, or to repent and apologize. That you would embrace as your partner in evangelism members of a Church which has consistently persecuted evangelicals is staggering! Your argument is not with me but with the martyrs and our Lord!