Catholic Evangelical Unity

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An article at Christianity Today online talks about the state of relations between evangelicals and Roman Catholics. It is a good read just for an update on the important subject of ecumenical ism.

The political correct thought and speech of our modern world has papered over much of the acrimonious division between Protestantism and Catholicism. However, a close look at the practice and teachings of both betray fundamental issues that will continue to divide.

A December 9, 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), "The Wright Stuff",  reveals some disagreement within evangelical ranks on the touchstone subject of justification.  Church of England bishop N.T. Wright has a large audience with his reassessment of the apostle Paul's teaching on the subject. Wright teaches that Paul was not throwing out obedience to law as a measure of faith. The WSJ article states that Wright...

"...contends that the leaders of the Protestant Reformation -- Martin Luther especially -- misread St. Paul on the subject of justification by faith. A self-described Reformed theologian, he proposes nothing less than a reformation of the Reformation, 500 years on -- and he does so by appealing to the Reformers' own motto, sola scriptura, "going back to scripture over against all human tradition."

The articles goes on...

So what is at stake in this theological argument? "The doctrine of justification is the doctrine of the Reformation," says the distinguished Princeton Seminary theologian Bruce McCormack. Justification as it was taught to me and my fellow young Protestants a generation ago amounted to this: Catholics believed in salvation by works -- doing good in your earthly life would help win you a place in heaven -- but we Protestants, following Luther, knew that we were "saved by grace...through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Those words, from Paul's letter to the Ephesian church, expressed the very heart of the gospel, which Luther had recovered. And there was a parallel, we were taught, between the Catholic belief and the works-righteousness of the Pharisees, so uncompromisingly exposed by Jesus as mere outward show, divorced from inner virtue.

But for generations of Protestants, long before Dr. Wright, nagging questions remained. The Reformed emphasis on justification appeared to diminish the meaning of a life lived in obedience to Christ. Didn't James write -- in a letter Luther wanted to drop from the New Testament -- that faith without works is dead? And sure enough, one perennial problem of evangelical culture has been an overwhelming attention to "getting saved," while another has been a rigid legalism (don't dance, don't drink, don't play cards), smuggling works-righteousness in via the back door.

It is an interesting subject.  The movement of unity between faiths was something the late Pope John Paul II spent a good deal of his time promoting. It is yet to be seen how far the new pope, Benedict XVI , will  pursue the matter.  Revelation 13 shows it will take a miracle working  religious leader to bring together various faiths into an end time movement with worldwide impact. Until then the work will still go slow.