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!