The ACT 3 Catholic and Evangelical Forum provided a wonderful opportunity for four of us, representing two different Christian approaches to faith and life, to have an honest dialog that was gracious and winsome. The tone seemed right, at least to most of us, and the subject matter, though weighty in many cases, was handled in ways that allowed non-theologians to grasp some of our agreements and disagreements. I will address some of these in forthcoming blogs.
P. Andrew Sandlin gave the opening word from our side of the dialog about the good news. He stressed the evangelical Protestant concern that it is the gospel that defines and creates the Church. He asked: “What is the bad news?” His point was to help us understand that the really good news is not good until we have understood the bad news about our sin and God’s broken law. He called our sin both a moral rebellion and a disease. “Sin sets man not just against his fellow man and against his environment, but also against himself. Man is at war with himself because of his sin (James 4:1-4).” Even worse than this is the fact that sin sets us against God himself. We are alienated from our Creator. The penalty is death, both spiritually and, ultimately, physically. But “The good news is that the bad news is not the last news.”
The good news is that a righteous God is also a loving God and he provides a way for sinners to come home to him. In Christ God redeems. Christ saves those who come to God through his death, burial and resurrection. This good news carries with it a universal dimension. Jesus died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). But all men are not saved, only those who trust in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Christ’s death is efficient only for those who believe (John 3:16-18). (We developed this point a little later in the evening as I will share later in this series of reports.)
The all important factor in this matter, with regard to us, is faith. True faith rests on the promises of God but true faith is also active—it hangs on the promises of Jesus and though it alone saves us, it is never alone since “faith without works is dead” (James 2:14-26). Sandlin made it very clear that the faith which saves carries with it repentance . . . and submits to Jesus as Lord and Master (Matthew 16:24-27). Sandlin concluded, “Salvation is entirely by God’s grace, appropriated by an energetic, obedience faith in Jesus alone.”
Sandlin’s presentation followed that of Father Robert Barron, who gave an eloquent appeal that we look to the East for help in reconsidering the nature of grace and its relationship to our salvation. He suggested, as I previously noted, that deification might provide a way forward for us in the West. While we found much to agree on in this proposal the evangelical emphasis was clearly presented by Dr. Sandlin in his allotted eight minutes. This presentation, by both Barron and Sandlin, led the moderator to begin the first segment of the questioning period with the comment: “There is much that you have already agreed upon this evening but there are some pretty clear differences regarding the nature of our salvation that exist between you as well. Can we talk about these?” We did.
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The question I would ask ecumenists is whether the christian God is literally multi-headed – one for Catholics and the other for Protestants. Can a faithful Catholic affirm a Protestant in his protestantism? Today is Sunday and the Church tells us that Sunday worship is an obligation owed to God. In this Sunday worship, the essential prayer is the Mass – Eucharistic celebration. The Church further tells us that this Mass is the source and summit of christian worship. Protestants essentially say no to each of the above. Can a Catholic ecumenist exempt Protestants from the requirements of Sunday obligation which entails participation in a Catholic Mass? Do ecumenists suppose that they are worshipers of the same God who is equally pleased with everyone?
I hope someone can educate me on what ecumenists suppose going in and what they wish to accomplish coming out.