The ACT 3 Catholic and Evangelical Forum moved from four opening presentations to serious questions about where we agreed and disagreed about subjects such as salvation and the doctrine of the Church. We also touched on issues like the doctrine of Mary, the sacraments and universal salvation, or salvation for those who do not have explicit faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. The pace was fast and engaging. The context allowed for us to talk in a dignified and courteous way. This was clearly not an old-fashioned “take no prisoners” debate with real winners and losers. Nor was it an evangelistic event, though I would like to think that unbelievers clearly heard enough good news to truly believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior if they were so inclined by the Spirit’s gracious work in them. The gospel was presented and freely and openly discussed. 

Alan Krashesky, our moderator, began the middle section of our dialog (which was about forty minutes) with the following comment: “It seems obvious to me that you are all four comfortable with calling each other Christians. But it’s also obvious that there are differences here tonight that you feel are essential to the faith. Could you help me understand why we can’t just say it’s enough to recognize each other as brothers in Christ?”

We each responded, taking about three minutes on each side, with Alan pressing this question in several different ways. We agree that it was quite right that we receive one another as Christian believers because of our common confession of faith in Christ as our Lord, our Christian baptism in the triune name, and our common belief in the early creeds of Christianity. Further, we believe that we are obligated to respond in this way to one another since God has not called us to judge one another on the matter of who knows the Lord and who does not when you people who are baptized believers and receive the Christ of Holy Scripture and ancient Christian faith.

Paul writes: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master they stand or fall” (Romans 14:4). The Message strikes any interesting note here by saying: “Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome?”

Few Catholics are persuaded, especially since Vatican II, to “cross evangelicals off God’s guest list.” Sadly the opposite is not universally true when it comes to evangelicals and their response to Catholics. Some evangelicals will grudgingly admit that some Catholics are “real” Christians but they will often say that this must always be “in spite of the Catholic Church.” Listening to this for decades I began to wonder, about eight years ago, if the only Catholics who might be real Christians were those ignorant Catholics who do not believe much of anything that their Church actually teaches them. Those who believe the doctrine of the Church cannot be saved, I heard it argued, thus their only hope was to leave and become Protestants, thus proving that they had real faith. I don’t think I am far from the truth in putting the matter this starkly. None of this type of argument was employed by either side in this dialog. There was, to put it simply, enough here to offend anyone who is an anti-Catholic or an anti-evangelical. What we found common to our evening’s discussion was love and respect. Many noticed this and commented about it after the evening ended.

Let me express this as simply as I know how. No side won and no side lost in this dialog, precisely because it was not a debate with winners and losers. It was a candid Christian discussion about things we deeply love and things we profoundly remain divided about as Christians. Alan was right to begin the actual dialog by asking us what still divided us and did this make any real difference?I will address several of these matters in the next blog.