I have mentioned previously that we had some significant points of divergence in the Catholic and evangelical dialog. I have addressed a few of these matters. I will now mention several areas of convergence that we found fruitful for further conversation and learning between us. The differences require us to keep praying and working for unity, without compromise, while the convergences allow us to see God at work in ways that often surprise us and bring about peace and a new missional opportunity for the entire Church. All of this must be placed precisely where the creeds, and the Catholic Catechism, place it; under the section on the work of the Holy Spirit. It is this fact, I believe, that is forgotten by those with strong reactions on both sides of this discussion. The Spirit is sovereign and thus He is still at work drawing believers closer together because they love the same Lord Jesus Christ.

We saw a good deal of agreement regarding the unity of faith and works. Father Barron teaches Luther to his seminarians and felt that Luther taught "faith alone" as a faith that justifies without any consequential or necessary fruitfulness in good works. We could discuss what Luther said, and meant, for hours. I am not a Luther scholar but I am pretty sure this is not the whole story of Luther on this subject. Luther study has been done by good scholars for over 450 years now. The point here is that when we talk about the teaching of James, Paul and Jesus we are not as far apart as most would think. Our ways of saying this still need clarity but a great deal of good has come over the past twenty years through this area of biblical study.

We also shared a great deal of agreement about the dangers of emphasizing a judicial only way of talking about salvation while the transformational way is not adequately stressed. This will be at the heart of our forthcoming ACT 3 Biblical Forum, November 1-3. If you are interested you can still register at our Web site.

We further agreed that Christian tradition does have a very important role in the development of doctrine and in the life of the Christian Church. This also means that we share agreement that we should treat one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, not as enemies. If Christ is confessed as Lord, Christian baptism has taken place, and the person is seeking to follow Christ in active faith then we are all four willing to receive that person as a real Christian. God is the judge of the heart, not you or me and not the Church.

I think the most fundamental agreement that we had, and this is no small matter if it is weighed carefully, is that we agreed wholeheartedly that the gospel is grounded in the great redemptive events of the life of Jesus. By this we mean the good news is rooted in his birth, life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. We differ about redemption applied, but fundamentally we agree about what accomplishes redemption.

Many will say that we are still very far apart. This amounts to the way you see the glass, half-empty or half-full. I think it is the latter in this case, though I freely admit there is a long way to go in some areas. But the only way you can climb a mountain is to begin. Fear keeps many of us from ever starting this journey. I have started the climb. I have no idea what God will do in the decades to come. I am excited about what I read in Scripture and I anticipate that the Holy Spirit will truly surprise us in the coming days as he brings his people closer to Jesus and then to one another. This may not call for one visible Church, at least in the ways we have tried and failed with in the last one hundred years, but it surely calls for every effort to seek the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace; i.e., the unity that we see Jesus pray for in John 17.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Comments

  1. Nick Morgan October 11, 2007 at 12:10 am

    John, I am really enjoying these posts on the Catholic-Evangelical dialogue. I can’t wait to get the DVD! Since this subject is so near and dear to my heart I hope all of your readers read these posts with an open mind and a heart open to the work of the Holy Spirit here. As a “reverted Roman Catholic” I too am amazed and awed by what I sense the Holy Spirit doing in the whole Church to begin healing Her divisions in our own generation. For your readers who still have many doubts about the importance and fruitfulness of these kinds of dialogues, or those who reject the Roman Catholic Church outright, I would ask them to carefully read through either the official “Catechism of the Catholic Church” or at least the new “Adult Catechism for American Catholics” (I think that’s the correct title) and discover what the RCC truly teaches and does not teach, rather than reading a book or listening to a sermon by Dr. “So and so” who often grossly misrepresents the teaching and practice of the RCC. “Contempt prior to investigation” and caricaturizing the beliefs of fellow Christians is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ who is “full of Grace and Truth”. I was saddened to notice a statement in an article in the Apologetics Resource Center “Worldviews” newsletter which linked the RCC in the same categories as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses as “cults and false religions”. This reveals a gross lack of understanding of Church history. Keep up the great posts John and I praise God for how He is using Act 3 in our day!

  2. Chris Criminger November 10, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Hi John,
    I just watched the DVD and loved it. What an important and great conversation. I could not help but think how some of us have moved away from certain triumphalistic traditions or ones that feel they must put others down to make one’s own side look good. There was none of that in this great discussion.
    I will say the two points I swallowed hard on was (1) The Vatican 2 remarks of people in other religions are saved and possibly some atheists; and (2) communion is closed even to like-minded Protestants.
    Dialogue is great but until there is real Eucharist fellowship between the three Great Traditions, talk will not mean much without action.
    Keep up the great work – Chris Criminger

  3. Rick Schnetz November 11, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Hi John,
    In the previous post, Chris mentioned watching the DVD. I am also anxious to watch it, but could find no mention of it on the Act-3 site. Is it available yet?
    Thank you,
    _Rick Schnetz

  4. John H. Armstrong November 11, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Yes, it is now available. It should be listed on our home page next week but you can order it for $20.00, plus $3.50 for shipping, by email to: skifer@act3online.com or by calling (630) 221-1817 during business hours, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST. It should be in our store on the Web next week. I hope you like it. We have received a lot of positive responses like that of Chris in this post.

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