The most significant event in nearly 500 years of church history was revealed as a fait accompli on March 29, 1994. On that day leading American evangelicals and Catholics signed a joint declaration titled "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the 3rd Millennium." The document, in effect, overturned the Reformation and will unquestionably have far-reaching repercussions throughout the Christian world for years to come.
This startling development was the culmination of careful planning and negotiations over the previous two years. Each step was continuously monitored and approved by the Vatican. The New York Times release making the announcement, which was carried in newspapers across the country on March 30, said in part:
They toiled together in the movements against abortion and pornography, and now leading Catholics and evangelicals are asking their flocks for a remarkable leap of faith: to finally accept each other as Christians. In what's being called a historic declaration, evangelicals including Pat Robertson and Charles Colson [one of the chief originators] joined with conservative Roman Catholic leaders today in upholding the ties of faith that bind the nation's largest and most politically active religious groups. They urged Catholics and evangelicals ... to stop aggressive proselytization of each other's flocks.
John White, president of Geneva College and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said the statement represents a "triumphalistic moment" in American religious life after centuries of distrust....
Other evangelical endorsers include the heads of the Home Mission Board and Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention [who acted in an independent capacity], the nation's largest Protestant denomination, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ.... Mark Noll of Wheaton University ... [Os Guinness, Jesse Miranda (Assemblies of God), Richard Mouw (President, Fuller Theological Seminary), J.I. Packer and Herbert Schlossberg].
Robert Simonds, Southern California chairman of the National Association of Evangelicals, "applauded the declaration" and said he hoped it would bring "increased cooperation between evangelicals and Catholics...." Other evangelical leaders have since signed the declaration, while still others have denounced it as a betrayal of the Reformation.
Ironically, this bold move to "unite Catholics and evangelicals" will divide evangelicals as nothing else could-and as its endorsers must have realized.
The 25-page document acknowledges, without compromise, some key differences between Catholics and evangelicals (such as the significance of baptism and the authority of Scripture).
Unfortunately, the most important difference-what it means to be a Christian-is not mentioned. In fact, that such a difference even exists is denied. This compromise of the gospel lies at the heart of the agreement.
The key element behind this historic joint declaration is the previously unthinkable admission on the part of leading evangelicals that active participation in the Catholic Church makes one a Christian. If that is indeed the case, then the Reformation was a tragic mistake. The millions who were martyred (during a thousand years before the Reformation and since then to the present time) for rejecting Catholicism as a false gospel have all died in vain. If, however, the Reformers were right, then this new agreement between Catholics and evangelicals could well be the cleverest and deadliest blow struck against the gospel in the entire history of the church. Either way, the consequences are staggering. In praising the joint declaration, one leading evangelical declared:
[This document] has the potential to recast all the ecumenical discussions that have gone on through the years.... This is a new day. Our closest friends, as
evangelicals, in the cultural task and in the fundamental theological task, are Roman Catholics.1
The theological differences between Catholics and Protestants were once considered to be so great that millions died as martyrs rather than compromise them, and their Catholic executioners were equally convinced of the importance of such differences. How have these differences been dissolved? What has happened to cause leading evangelicals to declare that Catholicism's gospel, which the Reformers denounced as heretical, is now biblical? That gospel hasn't changed. Has conviction been compromised to create a huge coalition among conservatives for social and political action?
Evangelicals would decry the complacent attitude that everyone actively involved in a Protestant church is a Christian. How then did evangelical leaders consent to the view that all active Catholics are Christians and not to be evangelized? The document explains that both Catholics and evangelicals endorse the Apostles' Creed: that Christ "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried." That creed, however, like the Nicean and other creeds, does not express the gospel that saves (Romans 1:16): that "Christ died for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Mormons affirm the Apostles' Creed, but they aren't biblical Christians. Nor does embracing the Creed make Catholics (or Protestants) Christians. Furthermore, what Catholics mean by Christ dying for their sins is entirely different from an evangelical understanding of this truth, as we shall see in later pages.
Whereas Roman Catholicism was once the official state religion and the practice of all others was prohibited throughout Latin America and most of Europe, that is no longer the case. Therefore Rome uses other strategies. In some countries, such as France, the Catholic Church is pressuring the government to make it illegal to "proselytize"-exactly what the endorsers of this joint pact have agreed upon. In other places the Catholic Church is demanding that evangelicals sign an agreement similar to the one just signed here in the United States. A recent news report declared:
Stunned by the staggering growth of evangelical "sects" in Brazil, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have threatened to launch a "holy war" against Protestants unless they stop leading people from the Catholic fold.... At the 31st
National Conference of the Bishops of Brazil ... Bishop Sinesio Bohn [called] evangelicals a serious threat to the Vatican's influence in his country.
"We will declare a holy war; don't doubt it," he announced. "The Catholic Church has a ponderous structure, but when we move, we'll smash anyone beneath us." ... According to Bohn, an all-out holy war can't be avoided unless the 13 largest Protestant churches and denominations sign a treaty ... [that] would require Protestants to stop all evangelism efforts in Brazil. In exchange, he said, Catholics would agree to stop all persecution directed toward Protestants.2
The bishop admits that persecution of Protestants is still official policy. The extent of that persecution throughout history (which we will document) would greatly surprise both Catholics and Protestants. It is important to note that the concern at the bishops' conference was not the truth of the gospel or the salvation of souls, but maintaining the influence of the Vatican and keeping people in the Catholic Church.
Note too that the very treaty which Bishop Bohn demands under threat in Brazil has been granted in the United States by Colson, Packer, Bright, Robertson, et al! That Bohn's threats influenced American evangelical leaders is evident from Colson's statement in an interview that he and the other signatories to the document had become "distressed by the clashes arising from the growth of evangelical Protestantism in traditionally Catholic Latin America.... "3
While evangelicals sign a truce, Rome is stepping up its evangelization of Protestants into the Catholic Church. Rome's "Evangelization 2000" has six evangelism training conferences scheduled just for 1994 across America involving such groups as "Paulist Evangelization Training Institutes" (in Washington D.C. during June 26-30 and July 24-28) and "The Association of Coordinators of Catholic Schools of Evangelization" (during August 3-6, also in Washington). These are serious training sessions for leaders in what they specify as "Catholic evangelism." Charles Colson was a featured speaker at the "John Paul II and the New Evangelization: Implementing the Vision" conference in Ypsilanti, Michigan, held during May 11-14. He shared the podium with Catholic leaders such as Fr. Tom Forrest, who heads "Evangelization 2000" out of the Vatican.4
The evangelical leaders who signed the joint declaration apparently imagined a spiritual partnership with Catholics to win the world to Christ. "Evangelism" for evangelicals means leading people to Christ. For Catholics, however, it means bringing people into the Roman Catholic Church-something which the joint agreement neglected to state. Consider the following explanation of "Catholic evangelism" by Fr. Tom Forrest to a group of Catholic charismatics:
Our job is to make people as richly and as fully Christian as we can make them by bringing them into the Catholic Church. So evangelization is never fully successful, it's only partial, until the convert is made a member of Christ's body by being led into the [Catholic] Church.
Now listen again to the words of [Pope] Paul VI. Now this is a document every one of you should have in your homes ... called "On Evangelization in the Modern World." This is what the Pope says: "The commitment of someone newly evangelized cannot remain abstract ('Oh, I'm a Christian,' now that's too abstract) ... it must be given concrete and visible form through entry ... into the [Catholic] Church our visible sacrament of salvation."
I like saying those words; I'm going to say them again: "Our visible sacrament of salvation!" That's what the Church is, and if that is what the Church is, we have to be evangelizing into the Church! ...
No, you don't just invite someone to become a Christian, you invite them to become Catholics ... Why would this be so important? First of all, there are seven sacraments, and the Catholic Church has all seven.... On our altars we have the body of Christ; we drink the blood of Christ. Jesus is alive on our altars, as offering.... We become one with Christ in the Eucharist....
As Catholics we have Mary, and that Mom of ours, Queen of Paradise, is praying for us till she sees us in glory.
As Catholics we have the papacy, a history of popes from Peter to John Paul II ... we have the rock upon which Christ did build His Church.
As Catholics-now I love this one-we have purgatory. Thank God! I'm one of those people who would never get to the Beatific Vision without it. It's the only way to go....
So as Catholics ... our job is to use this remaining decade evangelizing everyone we can into the Catholic Church, into the body of Christ and into the third millennium of Catholic history.5
Yet in spite of such clear explanations of Roman Catholic "evangelism," evangelicals are participating with Catholics in joint evangelistic efforts. For the Catholic, salvation does not come through personally receiving Christ as Savior but is a lengthy process that begins with baptism and thereafter depends upon one's continued relationship to the Church. Salvation comes through participation in the sacraments, penance, good works, suffering for one's sins and the sins of others here and/or in purgatory, indulgences to reduce time in purgatory, and almost endless masses and Rosaries said on one's behalf even after one's death. Catholic "evangelism" is by works, the very antithesis of "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
Nevertheless, many Catholics, when they hear the true biblical gospel of God's grace, are receiving Christ as personal Savior. Such Catholic Christians eventually struggle with the conflict between Roman Catholicism and what they now realize the Bible teaches-a conflict so marked that the vast majority find it impossible to remain in the Catholic Church. Many Protestants are equally in doubt over the question of what their relationship to Catholics ought to be.
Confusion now surrounds the issues which were involved at the Reformation. The purpose of this book is to present vital, factual information which throws essential light upon the whole question of Catholic/Protestant relationships. The vast majority of both Catholics and Protestants are ignorant of the pertinent facts. It is our hope and prayer that the following pages will help to clarify the issues and dispel the confusion.