A Review of the
“Evangelical – Roman Catholic Common Statement of Faith Saskatoon 2014”
In late 2014 the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada issued a draft “Common Statement of Faith” (CSOF). This CSOF is the result of a three year process sponsored by the Saskatoon Evangelical Ministers’ Fellowship (SEMF) and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. They released the document to sponsoring churches “for study and discernment, with the prayer that this text might be adopted as a sufficient statement for further dialogue and common mission.”1
The dialogue consists of twenty members of both the Roman Catholic and Evangelical (protestant) persuasion. Saskatoon Evangelical churches/ministries represented were: Forest Grove Community Church, Circle Drive Alliance Church, SEMF, Emmanuel Baptist Church, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Women’s Journey of Faith, Horizon College, and Saskatoon Church for Christ. Of course the Catholic members were various individuals representing various parishes and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.
A copy of the draft Statement of Faith can be found here: https://ecumenism.net/archive/docu/2014_erc-saskatoon_common-statement-of-faith.pdf
The following is a review of the draft document as cited above. This is not a detailed, line by line review, but rather I have taken the time to highlight some areas of concern from the non-Roman Catholic point of view. As the draft statement of faith document states, it came about and after a lengthy 3 year process and I recognize the hard work that went into it and do not wish to belittle those efforts. Nothing I say here is meant to be personal in anyway however, I do confess that I disagree with the premise of this type of paper/statement and agreement as long as some crucial differences remain between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. Consider this to be an in house debate with my fellow Evangelicals, and not a personal axe to grind with any of these authors of the Statement of Faith (SOF) under review. I also do not have an axe to grind with the Roman Catholic members and present the following as not an attack on Roman Catholic members as much as it is a Berean (cf. Acts 17:11) review of what they teach and affirm in their doctrine and dogmas.
“… we are bold to confess together our shared faith, to acknowledge our central differences, and to affirm our common mission” – line 15-17
It is clear from this statement that the CSOF promoters believe that we share one faith and mission with Catholics. As with many of these modern ecumenical movements there seems to be a subtle suggestion that the Reformation went too far or even perhaps it was just more of a misunderstanding and didn’t require a schism at all. Although not directly referenced in this SOF, in many similar conversations there is a clear suggestion that Second Vatican Council (1965) was the olive branch that shortened the gap between us drastically. This of course begs the question “Is this true”? We will attempt to answer this question a little later on in this paper.
The concept of a new unity with (and within) the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is not a new concept that has been spear headed by this CSOF. Spend a couple hours reading the religion sections of the secular newspapers or reading current Christian publications and you’ll definitely come away with knowledge of the trend of Evangelicals and Catholics working together. My problem with all of this is that there is never enough emphasis given to the concept of ‘What is the Gospel?’ Sure there is a lot of discussion surrounding the similarities between scripture importance, songs, sermons, mission etc, but no hard discussions or questions surrounding the theological issues that divide us - or should divide us.
Should divide? Yes should. I chose the word purposefully. More on that in a little bit.
Along with the shared faith comments of the CSOF, it is duly noted that there were some central differences acknowledged in the paper (see lines 72 thru 135). A quick summary is below. I have not listed the discussion from the CSOF surrounding each point, however I trust the reader has already read, or is following along within the CSOF on these points.
The Apocryphal books
Did you know? The apocryphal books didn’t exist in the RCC until after the Reformation had begun? Jerome’s original Vulgate (the late fourth-century Latin translation of the Bible that became the Catholic Church's officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible.) does not contain the apocryphal books. In fact those books came into existence in the RCC as a Counter Reformation movement. Within the Apocrypha were found statements to support many of the things the reformers were claiming to be non-biblical. The Catholic response was, 'Ah… see.. there it is… in our Bibles'.
Ecclesiastical Decree (Communal discernment of doctrine by the church)
Did you know? Papal infallibility is a dogma of the Catholic church that states that the Pope is preserved from the possibility of error “"When, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church."2 In connection with this papal infallibility, when the pope speaks ex cathedra (“from the chair”) he speaks for Christ and can define doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church.3
Apostolic Succession, the papacy.
Did you know? While the Roman Catholic teaching maintains apostolic succession from Peter to the current Pope, history reveals that sometimes there was more than one Pope at a time. These Popes would compete, quarrel and ex-communicate each other resulting in a very divided Church during those times.
Justification by Works
Did you know? This division between Evangelicals and Catholics and the process of salvation is a lot bigger than the small paragraph (lines 98 through 106) attests to? Adding works to salvation is Catholic Church doctrine and stands completely contrary to scripture (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9)
Did you know? Although briefly mentioned in the CSOF, no mention is given to the Roman Catholic belief of transubstantiation and the fact that every Mass, every Eucharistic celebration, is a re-sacrificing of Christ for our sin. On the flip side we evangelicals proclaim loudly that Christ said, “It is finished!” and the communion table for us is in remembrance of what Christ did. The RCC believes the priest has the ability to call down the body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist so that at every Mass (in every parish on the planet) Christ can be re-sacrificed over and over. They also emphasize the Eucharist has an essential role in salvation. The theological ramifications of this difference is critical. In some cases the wafer of communion is also worshipped as if Christ was actually there in the room. This process is called Eucharistic Adoration and will be talked about in a little more detail later on.
Devotion to the Saints
Did you know? The issue of Catholics praying to saints is one that is full of confusion. It is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church that Catholics do not pray TO saints or Mary, but rather that Catholics can ask saints or Mary to pray FOR them. The official position is that asking saints for their prayers is no different than asking someone here on earth to pray for us. However, the practice of many Catholics diverges from official Roman Catholic teaching. Many Catholics do in fact pray directly to saints and/or Mary, asking them for help – instead of asking the saints and/or Mary to intercede with God for help. This is what I was taught to do when I was a young boy, and I remember distinctly praying TO saints for help in times of need as I was directed to do. Whatever the case, whether a saint or Mary is being prayed to, or asked to pray for us, neither practice has any biblical basis.
Devotion to Mary the mother of God the Co-mediator
Did you know? That God specifically condemned speaking to the dead and calls it an abomination? (Cf. Deut. 18:10-12) “There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD"
The Bible is absolutely clear that we are to worship God alone and only He is worthy of our worship. And yet we have recent evidence that the Catholic Church commonly offers prayers to Mary. The Bible is also very clear that there is only ONE mediator between men and God - The Christ and not His mother.
On April 17, 2014 when Pope’s John XXIII and John Paul II were canonized (ie: made saints of the Roman Church). Pope Francis concluded his speech with the following words:
“And now we turn in prayer to the Virgin Mary, whom St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II loved like her true sons.” – Pope Francis, Vatican City, April 27, 2014
On March 02, 2014 at his Angelus address Pope Francis states,
“… we invoke the Virgin Mary as Mother of Divine Providence. We entrust our existence to her, the path of the Church and of humanity. In particular we ask for her intercession so that we can all make an effort to live in a simple and sober way, with our eyes open to the needs of our brothers who most require our help most.”
While I applaud the CSOF for acknowledging those differences listed above, regrettably these differences were not given the appropriate exegesis as to their theological meaning (as per the examples I expanded upon). What should also be noted is that many doctrines were not spoken of at all, such as the Roman Catholic claim that the church, by way of priests, can absolve sins and pronounce judgments. Also missing is any discussion on the subject of Eucharistic Adoration as I briefly mentioned above.
The current Pope is also a supporter of what is called, “Eucharistic Adoration”. It is where the priest takes the wafer, (After changing the wafer and wine into the ‘actual body and blood’ of Jesus [transubstantiation]) and places it in a large golden monstrance which is a large golden sun with a window in which the wafer is placed. The monstrance is then placed in an area where people can come and bow down and worship it as Christ was actually there – which is what they truly believe - they can be in Christ's real presence.
Understood simply, Eucharistic Adoration is adoring or honouring the Eucharistic Presence of Christ. In a deeper sense, it involves "the contemplation of the Mystery of Christ truly present before us".
During Eucharistic Adoration, we "watch and wait", we remain "silent" in His Presence and open ourselves to His Graces which flow from the Eucharist ... By worshiping the Eucharistic Jesus, we become what God wants us to be! Like a magnet, The Lord draws us to Himself and gently transforms us.
In its fullest essence ... Eucharistic Adoration is "God and Man reaching out for each other, at the same time!"
The Eucharist is: Jesus truly present - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity!4
If you think this is something that is an offshoot of traditional, or standard practice in the Roman Catholic Church, you are mistaken. A quick look at the Saskatoon Diocese schedule of Eucharistic Adoration puts these questions to rest. As the webpage begins, “Would you be willing to spend an hour to sit quietly and just ‘be’ in the presence of God, waiting for you in silence?”5
Such casual glances (as found in the CSOF) at deeper theological truths and the overlooking of others is very dangerous indeed. This is especially true when our mission, above everything else, is supposed to be the proclamation of The Gospel. Item 2, 4, 5 and 7 from the list above shows glaring differences in the presentation and content of our Gospel messages. I asked this earlier, and ask it again, “What is the Gospel?”
As we answer this question, I believe it is important for us to recognize or to brush up on some history. There is a definite trend of ignorance of Evangelicals of today in regard to the Reformation and what it really meant, and why it happened. With this in mind, I think it most relevant to spend the next few paragraphs looking back at the reasons for The Reformation.
Why a Reformation – History Speaks
The Reformation happened because God raised up men who stood on the foundations of Scripture and not the promises, methods, and traditions of man. The Roman Catholic Church at the dawn of the 16th century was in the practice of selling indulgences, selling salvation, and there were many practices of the RCC that were contrary to Scripture. The following is a list of contentious issues that the new Protestants of the 16th century had with the RCC. I think it is important here to remind the reader that I by no means am suggesting that all these practices below still exist in the Roman Catholic Church today. However, some do in fact remain as documented by both the CSOF document and our discussions herein. The list below identifies the most common contentious issues in the 16th century:6
- Simony: The practice of selling church offices and roles. Named after Simon the sorcerer from Acts 8:9-24.
- Pluralism: An officer or church leader holding more than one office at a time.
- Absenteeism: A church official not participating in the life of his congregation but receiving an income nevertheless.
- Favoritism and Partiality. (especially when it came to heads of state, etc)
- The Sale of Indulgences. (An indulgence is a grant by the pope of remission of the temporal punishment in purgatory still due for sins after absolution.)
- Moral Decline of the Papacy
- History attests to Popes murdering one another (assassinations), anathematizing one another and excommunicating one another, and the immorality and drunkenness and corruption, which is a whole subject on its own.
- Many Popes had many illegitimate children. Ie: Pope Alexander VI had numerous affairs and several children out of wedlock.
- There were brothels in the Vatican at the time.
- 1/5 of all priests in the diocese of Trent kept concubines in the 16th century.
- Some traded sexual favors for the absolution of sins during confession. The way Confession is given and received today (in a box, separated from one another with a partition wall and separate doors) is a direct result of Counter Reformation attempts to clean up this mess.
- There were many other orders of clerics who lived like parasites on society: wandering friars, for example, who lived off what they could steal from honest folk.
- Few priests ever 'taught', or preached instructive sermons; thus very few medieval people actually understood anything about their religion. In the sixteenth century a survey was taken through a thousand German villages and it was found that no-one could name all ten of the commandments and many people had no idea who Jesus was.
- The Church exacted massive taxes from ordinary people. There was the tithe that all had to pay each year (between 10 and 20% of annual income); a mortuary tax (when the head of a household died then the local priest took the second best beast he had owned ... the lord took the first); and dozens of fees such as: if parents wanted to have their baby baptized, then it cost them; if they wanted someone buried, then it cost them; if they wanted to hear mass, then that cost them, too. For a sum, anyone could break Church law, or even buy a deceased loved one's time out of Purgatory. Non-Romans particularly resented the fact that so much of the wealth that the Church collected was siphoned off to Rome rather than being kept in their own country, but all were aware of the corruption and greed evident at all levels of the Church hierarchy.
- All of this was so bad in fact that the reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin for an example, many times declared loudly and repeatedly that the Papacy was the Antichrist. The reason was that the Pope placed himself to be in place of Christ, declared himself to be the ‘Vicar of Christ’, he took the authority of Christ, and he was persecuting the people of the TRUE Christ.
- Communion (Eucharist) – THe Catholic Church says it is the re-sacrificing of Jesus, but the reformers said it was a memorial service. An action symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ, we did this in remembrance. The mass declares that the priest is sacrificing Christ again with the ‘real’ body and ‘real’ blood, but the book of Hebrews tells us that Christ can never be sacrificed again.
- The Mass was in Latin, the vulgate was the choice for mass. Only clergy were allowed to even touch the Bible - the average laymen were not allowed to read it, or touch it. From the 12th century on the Bible was put on the forbidden book list by the church. It was illegal in the time of Wycliffe for anyone to read, teach, or heaven forbid speak the Bible in public, and especially in any language outside of Latin. Bible translators were burned at the stake if they could get their hands on them. Even in modern times, Roman Catholics from the 12th century until the 2nd Vatican council of 1964 were not allowed to read the Bible. Only since 1965 can a Catholic read the Bible in their own language and in their own home!
- One of the battle cries of the reformers was ‘Solus Christus’ – Christ Alone. This was born out of consideration of the office of the Pope. How could there be a Pope? The Bible doesn’t refer to a pope anywhere, and not only that, but Jesus said call no man on earth father but one heavenly father.7 In fact the term Holy Father is only coined once in the Bible by Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane in John 17 and yet here on earth you have a man who is called Holy Father. Jesus said that no one is good but God, and here then we have someone on earth who declares himself to be Holy, and not only that, but Holy Father! This is blasphemy and so the reformers rejected the idea that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ – or the mouthpiece for Christ on earth. Not only that it was unbiblical, but history could attest to the unbiblical lifestyles of the popes of which we mentioned earlier.
This is not an exhaustive list and we could go on to mention the mountains of superstition and tradition that clouded the true Gospel. The concept of justification by faith was for the most part completely unknown in the early 16th century. There was perhaps still the odd believer here and there, but the whole tendency was massive amount of religion and no relationship with Jesus Christ. The Reformers began to ask questions like, ‘Where was the book of Acts type of Christianity?’, ‘Where was the faith spoken of in the book of Romans?’ Martin Luther’s life was changed as he was reading the book of Romans and read that the “Just shall live by faith alone”. Where does it say anything about purgatory? Indulgences? Praying to saints or to Mary? Where does it talk of Popes and Cardinals and Nuns and Monks and Abbots? Where do we see any evidence of this massive structured religion that claims to represent Christ – but which in no way has scriptural support.
The saddest and most disturbing in all of this was that the biggest question of the day had become, “How can a simple human being, a depraved human being like me, become saved, and right before a Holy God?” The concept was almost completely lost.
Infused or Imputed? That is the Question
Catholicism taught (and still does) that the righteousness of Christ is an infused righteousness. When you first turn to Jesus, you get an injection of Jesus’ righteousness and then you have to do work yourself to stay perfected - hopefully until you die. If you don’t, you go to Purgatory where you must continue there to work off your sins. But the Reformers came along and said, no! The Bible says that when we are saved we are credited or imputed with the righteousness of Jesus. All sins, past present and future are forgiven. All of this happens by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. We don’t go to heaven based upon our own merits, but go to heaven based on the merits of Jesus. These ideas were defined and gave rise to the 5 Solas of the Reformation:
- Sola Fide – by faith alone
- Sola Gatia – grace alone
- Solus Christus – Christ alone (or through Christ alone)
- Sola Scriptura – by Scripture alone
- Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God alone
What the reformers were saying and what all evangelical churches now believe (or should), is that salvation is by the grace of God alone, received by faith alone, Christ is the only mediator between men and God alone, Christ alone is the head of and the only mediator (not shared with Mary) in the church. Scripture alone is the ultimate authority (not councils and Popes) and that everything shall be done for the glory of God alone.
Modern Catholicism and the Gospel
In response to the Reformation, the Council of Trent was convened by the Roman Catholic Church (1545-1563) to address the protestant problem. At this council 128 canons were issued under anathema.
An anathema is a formal ecclesiastical curse involving excommunication. As the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) teaches that salvation cannot be obtained outside of it, then an anathema in the simplest sense is essentially damning someone to hell.
It is important to know that the canons of the Council have never been rescinded by the RCC. Even Vatican II proclaimed in the opening session that they accept all of the decrees of all the previous councils.
As much as we may commend the modern Roman Catholic Church for its work in compassion and good service in the world, the fact still remains that she is committed to a false gospel that insists upon good works as a necessary condition of justification. The core doctrinal issues that divided the church in the 16th century remain yet today. These issues that exist today once compelled Rome, at the Council of Trent, to issue her anathema’s against Protestantism.
“If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.” [Canon 9, Council of Trent]
The biggest problem with this Canon is that it is contrary to scripture: Romans 1:17, Romans 3:20-25, Romans 3:28, Romans 4:2-3, Romans 5:1, Gal 2:15, Gal 3:11, Eph 2:8-9 and Titus 3:4-7 for examples.
“If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema.” [Canon 12, Council of Trent]
Our counterpoint is that we believe that good works — works that bring glory to God — are the fruit and proof of justification and not required for it. We deny that they are in any way the cause of justification’s increase and preservation. (Gal 3:1-3, Gal 5:1-3). Because of this belief we are an anathema in the eyes of the RCC.
If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. [Canon 30, Council of Trent]
I definitely believe this whole heartedly and will ‘go to the mat’ for it! “I believe that at the moment of justification the sinner’s guilt and punishment are removed to such an extent that no debt remains to be discharged in this world or in purgatory before he can enter into heaven. (Rom 5:1, Col 2:13-14)”8
If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, and does not rather illustrate the truth of our faith and no less the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema. [Canon 33, Council of Trent]
And here is the key issue. If we disagree with their teaching on what the Gospel is, or disagree with their 'salvation plan', we are an anathema. If there was ever a reason to dialog with Roman Catholics it is this:
They need to hear the gospel – the Biblical Gospel
Tell them of the finishing work of Christ on the cross, and let it be known that purgatory, indulgences and penance are without biblical foundation and are the works of man, and not Christ. This Canon 33 of Trent exposes everything. The RCC doctrine of justification, as laid out by the council and her anathemas, does in fact diminish the glory of God and merits of Christ. By adding to the work of Christ, the RCC has in fact destroyed the precious truth of the Gospel. The true Gospel declares that there is nothing we can do to merit grace. There is no one good but God, and only Christ can save us. The RCC denies justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and documents this idea – our belief – as an anathema. The implications here are clear - Rome teaches a ‘False Gospel’. Regardless then of what any personal feelings we might have towards the Pope, we must likewise declare him a ‘False teacher’. Bold words, perhaps even harsh words by today’s standards, but their own words and canons condemn.
I am fully aware that these words will be offensive to many of those within the RCC, and many of my evangelical brothers and sisters will also perhaps take offense to my boldness. However, I think this point is very important and I would suggest that I'm not alone in thinking that way.
"But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough." - 2 Corithians 11:3-4
The CSOF as presented suggested that one of the aspects of our common mission was:
“Proclaiming the Gospel. We will foster initiative in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and in inviting hearers to a life of faith.”- line 152-153
As you can see from our discussions above, it is apparent that the RCC teaches a gospel very different from our own. And they do so boldy and by their own admission.
What a lot of Evangelicals don't realize is that a major catholic doctrine insists that you cannot be truly saved outside of the Roman Catholic Church. They are willing to partner with us, because they see us as lost and requiring to return to the Roman Church. Here are some example of their doctrine on the matter:
“Outside the Church there is no salvation” (extra ecclesiam nulla salus) is a doctrine of the Catholic Faith that was taught By Jesus Christ to His Apostles, preached by the Fathers, defined by popes and councils and piously believed by the faithful in every age of the Church. Here is how the Popes defined it:
- “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” (Pope Innocent III, Fourth Lateran Council, 1215.)
- “We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” (Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)
- “The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.” (Pope Eugene IV, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441.)9
This is further reiterated here by Pope John Paul I, in a general audience on September 13, 1978:
It is difficult to accept some truths, because the truths of faith are of two kinds: some pleasant, others unpalatable to our spirit. For example, it is pleasant to hear that God has so much tenderness for us, even more tenderness than a mother for her children. Other truths, on the contrary, are hard to accept. God must punish if I resist. That is not agreeable, but it is clear that Jesus and the Church are the same thing: indissoluble, inseparable. Christ and the Church are only one thing. It is not possible to say: ‘I believe in Jesus, I accept Jesus, but I do not accept the Church.’ When the poor Pope, when the bishops, the priests, propose the doctrine, they are merely helping Christ. It is not our doctrine; it is Christ’s: we must merely guard it and present it.10
We saw above a declaration of Pope Boniface VIII that "...it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subjec to the Roman Pontiff" and here also in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas are similar claims that salvation is subject to Papal submission.
It is shown also that it is necessary for salvation to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.11
This is an issue that Evangelicals should not overlook. In sincerity they are trying to proselytize us and bring us back into the fold. If our Catholic friends truly beleive in the doctrine of their Church, then they must try to get us to become Catholic in the end. They feel our eternity and salvation truly rests on that point. On all honesty and desperate earnesty it is we evangelicals that should be witnessing to them! Not that we believe them necessarily unsaved (for I do believe you can find salvation in the Catholic Church - despite the church), but that they need to hear the once delivered Gospel of the book of Acts again.
But What About Vatican II?
Many Evangelicals believe that the Roman Catholic Church underwent drastic changes at and since the great Vatican II Council. It is widely believed that sweeping changes took place in both doctrine and practice among Catholics and that we now have very little differences between us anymore. It is repeatedly suggested that the keypoints on what divides (or divided) us are now much less significant then they once were thanks to Vatican II. I mentioned in the opening paragraphs of this paper the sense that the Second Vatican Council was the olive branch that shortened this gap and I asked the question, "Is this true?"
The Need for Vatican II
It was in the 1960's when it was recognized by the Vatican that the Church was in need of a facelift. In a modern world, many of its policies and practices seemed out of place and most of its forms of worship were stiff and outdated. There was a general sense among the clergy that the Church needed to evolve with the times. If the Church was to become more widely accepted and influential in the modern era, she was going to have to give herself a more appealing appearance. There was also criticism from within her own ranks that some historical doctrines needed to be clarified and/or restated in a more simple and less dogmatic tone than previous councils had done.
In October 1958, Italian cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was elected pope. He was 77 years old at the time and ascending to the papacy at such an old age he was expected to simply bridge the short gap to the next ecclesiastical head. However, less than three months into office in January of 1959, the now Pope John XXIII surprised many by calling for the convening of an ecumenical council. Over two years of formal preparations went into launching the meetings which began on October 11, 1962. It was the first council to be called in almost a century (Vatican I ended in 1870), and only the third since the Reformation (the Council of Trent spanned 1545 to 1563). Summoning and launching this council proved to be Pope John XXIII's most significant work, however he died midway through the council on June 3, 1963. The next Pope, Pope Paul VI, continued the council until 1965 when it ended.
The end result of Vatican II was the issuanced of The Documents of Vatican II, each on different aspects of church teaching and doctrine. The spirit and attitude of these documents were remarkably different from any the Roman Church had ever produced previously. They were full of scriptural references, and did not include any blatant curses(anathema) on those who did not agree (as previous councils had done).
The Documents of Vatican II were revolutionary in freeing individual parish priests to conduct Masses in the way they best could reach the local culture and community. It now was to be conducted in the language of the people, and participation was encouraged in new ways, with new possibilities granted for music and singing, and women allowed into upfront roles as readers, lectors, and Eucharistic ministers, as well as altar servers in some places (though some bishops and priests still discourage it). This, as well as changes in church administration and religious freedom were the main results of the Council. According to Catholic Author Greg Tobin, this was,
... one of the most important theological and global breakthroughs, in terms of what came out of Vatican II. The church radically changed its position on the teaching about Jews, and really opened up to dialogue with the Jewish community; and encouraged — and demanded — that Catholics not consider the Jews as “other” or enemy but in fact, as brothers and sisters under the same God. And it was a monumental shift in the position of the church, and in the teachings of the church. So it was a sea change, in terms of the Catholic Church.
There was and has been a sense that the whole Church seemed to be loosening up. And ecumenical leaders the world over started to see the light at the end of the church-unity tunnel.
However, many have wondered (this writer included), despite all the notable changes since Vatican II, whether this hasn't proven to be anything more than a rearranging of church pews and not quite the renovation it was lauded to be.
What Vatican II didn't ChangeI think we need to be very cautious in not assuming that Vatican II changed more than it did. Shortly after the release of the Vatican II documents, reformed theologian Loraine Boettner, who lived through Vatican II and watched it with a careful eye, provided his perspective on the council's effects (or lack thereof) in the preface of his book Roman Catholicism. Of Vatican II he said,
[Vatican II] repeated the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, although it did recognize that other churches contain some elements of truth. . . . Pope John XXIII, who called the first session, and Pope Paul VI, who presided over the later sessions (as well as several prominent cardinals and theologians), took care to emphasize that no changes would be made in the doctrinal structure of the Church. However, Pope Paul did promulgate one new doctrine, which asserts that “Mary is the Mother of the Church.” The primary purpose of the Council was to update the liturgy and administrative practices and so to make the Church more efficient and more acceptable to the 20th century world.
It is important to note here that doctrine is a very important part of how any church denomination operates. These are the guidelines of what her people believe and in turn do. Within the Vatican II documents is the official "The Constitution on the Church". This document, officially approved, reaffirms basic Catholic doctrine pricesly as it stood before they met. While many aspects of Vatican II seemed to become more encompassing, several other statements muddied the waters by appearing just as steadfast as ever in the Roman Church's controversial beliefs and teachings.
Boettner concluded that Vatican II,
makes it abundantly clear that Rome has no intention of revising any of her basic doctrine, but only of updating her methods and techniques for more efficient administration and to present a more attractive appearance. This is designed to make it easier for the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches to return to her fold. There is no indication that she has any intentions of entering into genuine give-and-take church unity negotiations. Her purpose is not union, but absorption. Church union with Rome is strictly a one-way street. The age-old danger that Protestantism has faced from the Roman Church has not diminished; in fact, it may well have increased. For through this less offensive posture and this superficial ecumenicism, Rome is much better situated to carry out her program of eliminating opposition and moving into a position of world dominance. An infallible church simply cannot repent.13
On April 30th, 2015 I attended a seminar held at the Holy Family Cathedral in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, where a presentation was given on, "What Evangelicals can learn from Catholic Christians"14. The presentation was delivered by Dr. Gordon T. Smith, the President of Ambrose University College (an Evangelical Seminary). During the question and answer period Dr. Smith replied to my query on the canons of the Council of Trent and how they've never been recinded, with a very similar statement to Loraine Boetner's last sentence above. Dr. Smith indicated that the Catholic Church would never recind a previous canon or declaration of a council. "Get over it, they're not going to, it's just built in their DNA". None of the Catholics in the room commented or objected so I am inclined to assume they agreed.
With overarching statements like that, obviously recognized by Evangelicals and Catholics alike, I am forced to question motives of this ecumenical movement. While I can believe that the evangelicals feel that we can all come together and love in one all inclusive catholic (with a little 'c') church, the Roman Catholic Church maintains the position in doctrinal stances that we can have unity in the Catholic (with a capital 'C') Church.
The Holy Family Cathedral I was at on that April night is truly a beautiful building. Most noted by me was the lack of typical Catholic icons and imagery within the church. No icons, no statues of saints or Mary are evident. Outside the main sanctuary door stands three simple crosses, not crucifixes. Even the cross in the main sanctuary is a simple cross and not a Crucifix. If I dare say so, this Catholic Church looks very Evangelical. It certainly feels, in that place at least, that it isn't all that different from Evangelical churches I have been in.
But if we are so much the same, as we are being told, then why must we unite? Evangelical churches work together on common mission and dialog over many, many things, and yet we stay independant in practice and doctrine in our own denominations. I just can't shake the feeling that in ecumenical unions between Evangelical and Roman Catholics, there is more going on behind the scenes then what we think. Perhaps we are even being naive.
While the Second Vatican council brought important change to methods, it seems that ecuminical unity was the new method of combating the anti-catholicism that was once called protestant reform. No longer calling evangelicals heretics for what they believed, the Catholic Church renamed us "seperated bretheren", but still 'seperated' none the less. Great allowances were given to us as far as the possiblity of our salvation outside the church, but only true, authentic Christianity could be found within the Church. The Catholic Church is and could now be home for all those who call themselves Christian. It seems like Vatican II set the stage to woo evangelicals into ecumenical unity and encourages us to come home to Rome.
I've been told they will never recant those statements from their past that condemn me as an unsaved heretic, but yet here I am asked to extend my hand in unity and acceptance. I as a non-Catholic am not allowed at their communion table (not that I would), but yet they are at ours. If I'm being honest, I believe the Catholic Church needs to make far more reformation within, before I can accept what I'm being told in ecumenical circles. I will extent my hand to them in friendship and love like anyone else, but I will not agree to their doctrines, teachings, and soteriology which is counter to everything I have ever believed and learned from the Scriptures. I am not at war with the Catholic Church, but I will continue to witness to those I know within because I believe what they teach is false.
Where do we Go from Here?
There are some things we can certainly partner with any group over (even the secular world): Feeding the poor, prolife support, helping the community, supporting the family, marriages etc. The biggest tragedy however, would be to have someone believe that the RCC proclaims the same Gospel of Christ that we do. Paul warns of the consequences to those who change the Gospel message.
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” - Galatians 1:8
The Gospel Paul preached was a gospel by grace alone, through faith alone, through Christ alone, as proclaimed by scripture alone, all for the glory of God alone. To our Catholic friends we should plead with them to repent and believe. For ‘It is Finished!” and none of the traditions of the Roman Church can save them, or help them obtain what is already freely yours if you are Christ’s.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1
I think what the Roman Catholic Church really needs is not acceptance of what they do and teach. It truly requires caring protestants to tell them of the Protestant Gospel; the Biblical Gospel of Grace. The one without bondage to works where salvation is through faith alone. That is my heart toward Catholics - to make sure they are saved. Is this not the same heart cry we are to have toward all men? Too many times however I have seen Evangelicals work alongside Catholics and never once share The Gospel because we assume they know it. They really don't. I have many ex-Catholic friends who proclaim over and over that there is a spiritual blindness in the RCC and they need desperately to hear the truth.
So I must ask the question. Are you a truth bearer?
“And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:15
Serving the King,
- Joint Statement of Faith for Evangelicals and Catholics in Saskatoon, Nicholas Jesson, Sept. 18, 2014, https://ecumenism.net/2014/09/joint-statement-of-faith-for-evangelicals-and-catholics-in-saskatoon.htm
- First Vatican Council, First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, chapter 4, 9
- What is Eucharistic Adoration?, http://www.catholic-church.org/kuwait/eucharistic_adoration.htm
- Eucharistic Adoration Schedule for Humboldt and Saskatoon, http://saskatoonrcdiocese.com/adoration
- Matthew 23:9
- Drive by Church History audio series, Quoted from Dr. Peter Hammond, Burning Bush Communications, 2012.
- Anti-Catholic or Pro-Gospel?, Tim Challies, May 6,2014, http://www.challies.com/articles/anti-catholic-or-pro-gospel
- Outside of the Church There is No Salvation, Catholicism.org, http://catholicism.org/category/outside-the-church-there-is-no-salvation
- General Audience, September 13, 1978; Quoted in The Message of John Paul I, Daughters of St. Paul, Boston, 1978, pp. 106,107.
- Opuscula Theologica , Vol. I, Part 2, Chap. 36, Edited by Fr. Raymond A. Verardo, O.P., Marietta, Turin, 1954, p. 344.
- Documents of the II Vatican Council, 1965, http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/index.htm
- Roman Catholicism, Loraine Boettner, P&R Publishing, 1966
- What Can Evangelicals Learn from Catholic Christians? An Evangelical Response”, Dr. Gordon T. Smith, https://ecumenism.net/2015/05/gordon-smith-what-can-evangelicals-learn-from-catholics.htm , 2015