Document on Interfaith Cooperation Causes Rift : Dispute: Unofficial paper drawn up between evangelicals and Catholics draws criticism from Protestants who say it undermines basic tenets.
A document whose aim was to foster greater cooperation between Protestant evangelicals and Roman Catholics is instead causing friction among evangelicals, some of whom think the declaration undermines their basic Protestant beliefs.
“Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” issued as an unofficial document almost a year ago, called on evangelicals and Catholics to recognize each other as Christians and work together on issues on which they tend to agree, such as abortion and pornography.
It was signed by such prominent evangelical leaders as Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright.
But Colson and Bright came under fire from other evangelical leaders who felt that the declaration glossed over their theological differences with Catholics.
In January, declaration signers met with other Protestant leaders in a tense seven-hour session that generated an amendment to the document but failed to mollify the concerns of many evangelicals.
“We still think it has a lot of problems,” said the Rev. John Ankerberg, host of a Christian TV show based in Chattanooga, Tenn., that debates spiritual issues. “We wish they would discard it.”
The meeting resulted in a five-point statement clarifying the stances of the evangelical signers and highlighting longstanding theological differences between the two groups.
The amendment declares that “cooperation with evangelically committed Roman Catholics . . . does not imply acceptance of Roman Catholic doctrinal distinctives or endorsement of the Roman Catholic Church system.”
It also affirms “the historic Protestant understanding of salvation by faith alone,” a theological distinction that was the crux of the Protestant Reformation. Those who disagreed with the original document thought it was of paramount importance that this doctrinal statement be reaffirmed.
The amendment to the original document was signed by Bright, Colson, J.I. Packer, professor of systematic theology at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, and Kent Hill, president of Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass.
Ankerberg said the meeting was important. “It heals the breach,” said Ankerberg, author of the recent book, “Protestants and Catholics: Do They Now Agree?”.
“It keeps us from having a split in the evangelical community.”
Keith Fournier, a Catholic signer of the original document, said he did not think the Protestants’ additional statement was necessary. But Fournier said it may reduce misunderstandings among evangelicals.
“I think what’s really important is for people to realize that the signatories . . . do not support a false ecumenism, where we pretend that there aren’t differences between us,” said Fournier, author of “A House United? Evangelicals and Catholics Together.”
Catholic signers of the original document included Father Richard John Neuhaus, director of the Institute on Religion and Public Life in New York, and theologian Michael Novak, a winner of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
Beginning Sunday, Ankerberg will spend six weekly programs discussing the document with evangelical leaders.