The Alignment of New Evangelicals with Catholicism

In recent times, there has been a great impetus in the movement of New Evangelicals seeking to embrace Catholics as “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  It is necessary, therefore, to address this false ecumenism. Evangelicals throughout the centuries have maintained that by justification by faith, and faith alone, sinful human beings are, in Christ, made right before the all Holy God.  So for example the 39 articles of the Church of England declared in article 11“We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.”[1] Justification itself is a judicial declarative act on the part of God alone.  By it, He declares that only in Christ is a man perfectly just.  His judicial declarative act is not made on the basis of anything within a man, but rather it is made solely and wholly upon the righteous life and sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Our Savior lived a perfect life and paid the just penalty for sins upon the cross.  Historically, Evangelicals have been in agreement with the Apostle Paul, “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.[2]

As we said above not too many years ago, people calling themselves Evangelical were seen as those who professed to be committed to the Gospel of Christ as proclaimed in Scripture.  The true Gospel demands separation from all who teach another Gospel.  As the Apostle declared, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.  As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.”[3]  “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”[4]  Without such separation the name Evangelical signifies nothing.  “New Evangelicalism,” which willingly compromises with and accommodates another Gospel, has gained ground everywhere, beginning in the early 1960s.  Since then, the vast majority of the Evangelical world has changed beyond recognition.[5]  

The first and second National Evangelical Anglican Conferences that met at Keele and Nottingham in the UK in 1967 and 1977, respectively, were primed to launch and further the new policy of Anglican Evangelicals regarding ecumenism.  A desire now existed within New Evangelicals to be united with ritualistic Anglicans who were essentially Roman Catholic in belief and practice[6]; and also to be united with liberals who believed in a fallible Bible.  Leading Evangelicals, such as John Stott and J.I. Packer, endorsed the statements from these conferences.  John Stott, who chaired the first conference at Keele, made it clear in the following statement that the conference was accepting not only Anglo-Catholics and liberals, but Roman Catholics as well, 

“All who confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have a right to be treated as Christians, and it is on this basis that we wish to talk with them.”[7]  

The conference at Nottingham went even further than Keele, giving the compromising proclamation an absolute seal of approval.  Nottingham also endorsed and praised the Charismatic movement and is remembered for David Watson’s reference to the Reformation as “one of the greatest tragedies that ever happened to the church.”[8]

An Exodus from Biblical Faith

The most drastic departure from true Evangelicalism, however, took place in the United States in 1994—some seventeen years after the Nottingham Conference.  At the end of March of that year, a group of twenty leading Evangelicals and twenty leading Roman Catholics produced a document entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” (ECT).  The two main authors of this ecumenical document were Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus—a Lutheran pastor turned Roman Catholic priest.  The specific task was begun in September 1992.  Larry Lewis of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Jesse Miranda of the Assemblies of God, John White of Geneva College and the National Association of Evangelicals; and others, including two Jesuits, Avery Dulles and Juan Diaz-Vilar, joined Colson and Neuhaus in the writing process.  Cardinal Idris Cassidy, the Head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was said by Richard Neuhaus to have given “very active support throughout the process.”  The Evangelical signatories included J. I. Packer, Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, Mark Noll of Wheaton College, and Pat Robertson of The 700 Club.  Roman Catholic signers included such well-known figures as Cardinal John O’Connor, now deceased, Archbishop Sevilla, Archbishop Stafford, and Bishop Francis George, now Archbishop of Chicago. 

The Gospel According to ECT

The signers of ECT readily admit to “differences that cannot be resolved here.”  Nevertheless, motivated by the desire to face important moral issues together, the authors of ECT flatly state that Evangelicals and Catholics are all true Christians joined together as one in Christ.[9]  The gravest error of this lengthy document lies within its declaration on the Gospel.  The signers state what they believe to be definitional of the Gospel of Christ when they declare, “We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.  Living faith is active in love that is nothing less than the love of Christ….”[10]  This subtle statement is less than biblical, however, for it should read, “We affirm together that we are justified by grace ‘alone, through faith ‘alone,’ in Christ ‘alone.’”  The word “alone” signifies that the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus alone is sufficient before the all Holy God to justify unholy sinners.[11]  To so define justification, however, would exclude the Catholic sacraments and the priests who control them, both of which are necessary for the Catholic people.[12]  Thus, excluding what is signified by the word “alone” makes a subtle but purposeful subtraction from the Gospel of Christ.  In a similar manner an ECT addition was made to the Gospel that redefines faith as, “living faith is active in love.”  “Living faith” implies works, and baptism in particular, to the Roman Catholic.  This is documented in present day official teaching of the Church of Rome where it is thought that, “the very root of the Church’s living faith [is] principally by means of Baptism.”[13]  It is the same addition to faith that was proclaimed by the Roman Catholic Church at her Council of Trent in 1547, “For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites one perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of his body….”[14]  The theology of the Church of Rome always comes back to the concept of “living faith” which equates to “works righteousness” as expressed in the practice in her sacraments—described by Rome in her teachings as necessary for salvation.[15]  

The New Evangelical signers of ECT have concurred with the Roman Catholic definition of “living faith active in love,” and thus they have formally agreed to an addition to the Gospel that nullifies its message.  

“If anyone shall say that by faith alone the sinner is justified, so as to understand that nothing else is required to cooperate in the attainment of the grace of justification, and that it is in no way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will:  let him be anathema [cursed].”[16]  

To endorse Roman Catholic teaching, therefore, is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture, “But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.”[17]

Disturbing Effects of ECT                  

The effects of this compromise on the evangelization efforts of the true Church in third world Catholic countries of Central and South America, in Africa, as well as in Spain, Portugal, and the Philippines, are clearly seen.  If this anti-evangelic trend continues unchecked it will become ruinous to the spiritual welfare of millions of souls.  But this is exactly the ecumenical idea the ECT signatories promote when they state, “ is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community [church] to proselytize [evangelize] among active adherents of another Christian community.”[18]  Since when has it been theologically illegitimate to preach the Gospel to the unsaved and expose heresy?  

Compounded Endorsement of Rome

On November 12, 1997, a second document entitled, “The Gift of Salvation,” was signed and published by Evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders.  Its expressed intention was to demonstrate the “common faith” of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, and to further “acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”  It was published in the December 8, 1997, issue of Christianity Today.  Explicitly, the Roman Catholic signatories such as Richard John Neuhaus and Avery Dulles, S.J., state in the document that they are “Catholics who are conscientiously faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church.” The Roman Catholic doctrine of conferred justification is taught by Rome as the Gospel.  The New Evangelicals are now joined together in not only giving a clouded Gospel-Justification message, but also in a distinctively erudite manner, endorsing Rome’s doctrine of conferred inner righteousness. 

A Studied Denial of the Gospel

This second ecumenical document states, “Justification is central to the scriptural account of salvation, and its meaning has been much debated between Protestants and Catholics.”  Then it claims that the signers have reached agreement.  Their statement of accord is,

“We agree that justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own; it is entirely God’s gift, conferred through the Father’s sheer graciousness, out of the love that he bears us in his Son, who suffered on our behalf and rose from the dead for our justification.  Jesus was ‘put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification’ (Romans 4:25).  In justification, God, on the basis of Christ’s righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends, and by virtue of his declaration it is so.”[19]

The subject under review is stated clearly in the first sentence, “We agree that justification…is conferred through the Father’s sheer graciousness.”  But it is only by careful reading that one comes to see what the two pivotal sentences state grammatically, “…it [justification] is entirely God’s gift, conferred [rather than imputed]…and by virtue of his [God’s] declaration it [justification conferred] is so.”  This is traditional Roman Catholic doctrine.  To employ the Roman Catholic word “conferred” instead of the biblical word “imputed” is tantamount to putting aside the authority of Scripture on the issue of justification.  Since medieval times, the Roman Catholic Church has clearly distinguished between the concept of imputation and the Thomist concept of God’s grace conferred as a quality of the soul.[20]  Since the Council of Trent she has condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Present day dogma of the Roman Catholic Church not only upholds the teaching of the Council of Trent but also declares that such Councils are infallible.[21]  The Council of Trent proclaims the following curse:

“If anyone shall say that by the said sacraments of the New Law, grace is not conferred from the work which has been worked [ex opere operato] but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices to obtain grace: let him be anathema.”[22]  

Rome’s reason for such a curse on those who hold to “justification by faith alone” and to “justification imputed” is internally consistent because of what she refuses to concede.  For her, justification is not an immediate one-time act of God received by faith alone.  Rather, Rome teaches that grace is conferred continually through her sacraments.  Thus she is able to position herself as the necessary means through which inner righteousness is given.  She teaches this in her Catechism,

Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith.  It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy.”[23]  Because this “conferred” inner righteousness is said to be located in the person and not in Christ, it can be lost and may need to be conferred again and again.  Thus Rome officially states, “…the sacrament of Penance offers a new possibility to convert and to recover the grace of justification.  The Fathers of the Church present this sacrament as ‘the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which is the loss of grace.’”[24]

The teaching of “conferred justification” is necessary for Rome because she equates the work of her sacraments with the work of the Holy Spirit.  Thus she states, “‘Sacramental grace’ is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament.”[25]  Identification of “sacramental grace” with the “grace of the Holy Spirit” is a pretentious blasphemy against the all-holy God.  No church ritual of man can be put on equal footing with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of God is absolutely sovereign in all His operations. He may or may not act when either Baptism or the Lord’s Table are biblically administered, but His power is not synonymous with any Church rite.  The Roman Catholic Church persistently uses the word “conferred” in an attempt to substitute her sacraments for the sovereign grace of the Holy Spirit.  The concept that the sacraments automatically[26] convey the grace of the Holy Spirit to people is pivotal to Papal Rome.  However, what is proclaimed in Scripture is that the Holy Spirit is infinite, supreme, omnipotent, and all sufficient in convicting of sin, and in bringing a person to new life in Christ Jesus.[27]  Nevertheless, Rome will not repudiate the concept of “conferred righteousness” because for her the sacraments are “necessary for salvation.”[28] Without her seven sacraments, she has no function as a Church in the lives of people.

Defense of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” 

The most serious apologetic for the document entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium”(ECT) is in the book of a similar title, Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission.[29]  The architects of ECT were very much aware of the crucial Gospel-related distinctions separating Catholics and Evangelicals, but they chose to gloss over them.  J.I. Packer writes in Common Mission,

“Neither evangelicals nor Roman Catholics can stipulate that things they believe, which the other side does not believe, be made foundational to partnership at this point; so ECT lets go Protestant precision on the doctrine of justification and the correlation between conversion and new birth.…”[30]  

That such compromise is unbiblical is seen from his rather inconsistent statements earlier in the same article when he said, 

“…Roman teaching obscures the Gospel and indeed distorts it in a tragically anti-spiritual and unpastoral manner…”[31] and “Rome’s official doctrinal disorders, particularly on justification, merit, and the Mass-sacrifice, so obscure the Gospel that were I, as a gesture of unity, invited to mass—which of course as a Protestant I am not, nor shall be—I would not feel free to accept the invitation.”[32]  

Towards the end of the article, Packer speaks of the evils of “humanism, materialism, hedonism, and nihilism.”  To rebuild a Christian consensus, he proposes that “…domestic differences about salvationand the Church should not hinder us from joint action in seeking to re-Christianize the North American milieu…”[33]  These are amazing words from the author of Knowing God. The orthodox Evangelical J. I. Packer of old spoke of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, sola fide, as “like Atlas, it bears a world on its shoulders, the entire evangelical knowledge of saving grace”!  Now the same saving faith is downgraded to the “domestic differences about salvation.”  In a 1994 article, “Why I Signed It,” he refers to sola fide (faith alone) as “small print.”  

Most Serious and Bizarre Defense

J.I. Packer, who leads the New “Reformed” Evangelicals, has struggled to explain his position.  In a 1996 article he asks,  

“Can conservative Protestants, Eastern Orthodox and mainstream Roman Catholics join together in bearing witness to all that I have spoken of?  I urge that we can, despite our known and continuing differences about the specifics of the salvation process and the place of the church in that process…To be sure fundamentalists within our three traditions are unlikely to join us in this, for it is the way of fundamentalists to follow the path of contentious orthodoxy, as if the mercy of God in Christ automatically rests on persons who are notionally correct and is just as automatically withheld from those who fall short of notional correctness on any point of substance.  But this concept of, in effect, justification, not of works, but of words¾words, that is, of notional soundness and precision¾is near to being a cultic heresy in its own right and need not detain us further now, however much we may regret the fact that some in all our traditions are bogged down in it.”[34]

No true Evangelical has ever maintained that anyone has ever been saved by “notional soundness and precision,” that is, doctrinal theory.  Rather, orthodox Evangelicals have always held to Romans 10:10, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”  Here it appears that Packer is conducting a little casuistry of his own in his attempt to preempt his critics by raising an anti-biblical dichotomy between head and heart.  This is an old liberal tactic that is usually followed by an implication that any party who refuses to acknowledge it must be unspiritual and opposed to Christian love.  None of the historic Evangelical confessions of faith hold out that mere doctrinal “soundness” saves anyone.  This is an absurd caricature.  On the contrary, true Evangelicals today, even as they did in the days of the Apostle Paul and at the Reformation, declare that it is the righteousness of Christ Jesus alone that saves a person!  Moreover doctrinal soundness for the believer is commanded in the scriptures, “study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”[35]

Packer is thoroughly in tune with the practice of the Church of Rome in setting aside justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone—the crux of the issue. For Sola Fide (faith alone) is the issue for which the Apostle Paul contended against the Judaisers and for which the Reformers contended against the Roman Catholics of their day.  It was the burning, foundational issue for the sake of which so many thousands of Evangelicals gave their lives at the stake—John Huss, William Tyndale, John Rogers, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, Anne Askew, John Bradford, and John Philpot, to name but a few.  The ardent desire of true Evangelicals to “be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith,”[36] was and is the heart of the Gospel, not “contentious orthodoxy” or “cultic heresy.”  Christ Jesus’ righteousness is the crown jewel of orthodoxy, the pivotal doctrine of truth revealed again by God in its rediscovery, which began the Reformation. 

J.I. Packer has chosen to deny the very doctrine that once stood crucial for him and, like Atlas, bore a world on its shoulders.  What Packer has done is to deny the importance of the Scriptures on the precise point of Sola Fide.  He also denies the history of Reformed Evangelicals in years past who, under the Roman Catholic Inquisition, gave their lives for their faith in Christ Jesus alone.  

“Separation for the Sake of the Gospel is Not Necessary”

In the same book, Richard Neuhaus stated emphatically, “If, at the end of the twentieth century, separation for the sake of the gospel is not necessary, it is not justified.”[37]  What Neuhaus was effectively saying is that the Gospel is no longer relevant to Christian unity.  This seems to be the same message as that of the 1994 ECT document and also the 1997 “The Gift of Salvation” document.  If true Evangelicals do not combat this heinous attack on the Gospel, then Neuhaus’ anti-scriptural “separation for the sake of the gospel is not necessary or justified” statement might well become reality and fall on them and their children after them.  If the lie is swallowed that separation for the sake of the Gospel is not justified, then the logical conclusion is that churches should cave in and submit to the Church of Rome.  As verified in her own documents, this has always been the avowed goal of the Roman Catholic Church.

Neuhaus argues that “to declare it [justification by faith alone] to be the article by which the Church stands or falls in a manner that excludes other ways of saying the gospel is to turn it into a sectarian doctrine.”[38]  It is justification by faith alone, the foundational principle of the true Gospel of grace, which has been deemed not only unnecessary, but “sectarian” by Neuhaus. This statement by Neuhaus reveals the intent of Catholics who have planned and fostered the whole deceitful compromise with Evangelicals.  Their purpose is to make the true Gospel of grace through faith in Christ alone to be irrelevant and even harmful, while at the same time promoting the Catholic “salvation by works-gospel” as the true Christian gospel. This false gospel will be widely accepted because of the sinfulness of natural man. 

C. H. Spurgeon’s timely words apply now even more than in his own day, “Since he was cursed who rebuilt Jericho, much more the man who labors to restore Popery among us.  In our fathers’ days the gigantic walls of Popery fell by the power of their faith, the perseverance of their efforts, and the blast of their gospel trumpets.”[39]  The Gospel trumpet sounding out the message of eternal hope to God’s unsaved elect through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, is the very issue at stake, for the Roman Catholic and Evangelical signers of ECT I & II first give credence to the false message of Rome, then uphold baptismal regeneration.  Then in defense of what they have written, they declare that the Gospel of Christ is a “domestic matter” or even “a sectarian doctrine.” 

Practical Evaluation

The alignment of new Evangelicals is frustrating making it difficult for anyone seeking for the truth within Roman Catholicism.  The questions that one must ask are these: Do I know the truth about myself as Scripture reveals it to be?  Do I believe that I am a sinner?  Is my only hope in Christ Jesus?  

The Lord Jesus Christ saves His people from their sins.  He sends His Holy Spirit into their hearts, so that they are radically changed from what they were previously.  The Holy Spirit sends forth the love of God in the hearts of those whom He regenerates.  That love is manifested by a deep desire and honest resolve to please the Lord and to serve Him.  When Christ Jesus saves a soul, He also delivers that soul from the power of sin.  It is true that the Lord has not yet completed His work in believers, and sin still resides within them that need to be eradicated, but any person that He has truly saved is delivered from the “dominion of sin.”  We thank God for those who are saved that do not live in sin.  Can you say that this is true for you?  In the difficult age of compromise in which we live, do you act under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?  Do you make the Word of God your measure of truth and the grace of God your assurance of life?  If you can honestly say yes to these questions you will understand that you are not under the condemnation of law, but your faith is in Christ Jesus and His righteousness alone!  You can then proclaim joyously, in harmony with the Apostle Paul, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”[40] ¨


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[1] Also maintained in The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646; The Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689; The Philadelphia Confession of Faith, Adopted by The Baptist Association, 1742; and others.

[2] Romans 4:5

[3] Galatians 1:8-9  

[4] Ephesians 5:11

[5] This is fully documented in Iain Murray’s book, Evangelicalism Divided (Banner of Truth, 2000).

[6] The background for this development is thoroughly laid out by Walter Walsh in The Secret History of the Oxford Movement (London:  Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Inc., 1898)

[7] Quoted in Michael de Semlyen’s The Foundations Under Attack: The Roots of Apostasy, (Herts, WD3 5SJ:  Dorchester House Publications, 1998) p.6

[8] Ibid. pp. 7, 8; also John Capon, Evangelicals Tomorrow (Glasgow:  Scotland).  

[9] ECT, § I “We Affirm Together”

[10] Ibid.

[11] Romans 4:5-8, II Corinthians 5:19-21, Romans 3:22-28, Titus 3:5-7, Ephesians 1:7, Jeremiah 23:6, 

I Corinthians 1:30-31, Romans 5:17-19, and elsewhere.

[12] Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), Para. 987

[13] Catechism, Para. 249

[14] Denzinger, #800

[15] Catechism, Para 1129

[16] Denzinger, Para. 819.  Emphasis added

[17] Titus 3:4-5

[18] ECT, §V, “We Witness Together”

[19] Christianity Today, Dec. 8, 1997  Emphasis added

[20] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 2 vols., Great Books of the Western World, Tr. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Chicago:  Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952) Part I of the Second Part, Question 110, Article 1, Obj. 3 and Article 2, Reply Obj. 1.

[21] Catechism, Para. 891.

[22]  Denzinger,  Para. 851, Can. 8  (Emphasis is not in original)

[23] Catechism, Para. 1992

[24] Catechism, Para. 1446  (Emphasis is not in original)

[25] Catechism, Para. 1129  (Emphasis is not in original)

[26] The technical Latin phrase that Rome uses is, ‘ex opere operato’, that is the sacraments function irrespective of the spiritual condition of the Priest giving them or the layperson receiving them.  In a word, they work automatically.  

[27] “He [The Holy Spirit] will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8,  

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  See also John 3:6, John 3:8, Romans 8:2, Ephesians 2:1, I John 5:11

[28] Catechism Para 1129, “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.” (Italics in the original Emphasis added)

[29] Evangelicals & Catholics Together:  Toward a Common Mission, Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, editors (Dallas, TX:  Word Publishing, 1995).  Hereafter referred to as Common Mission.

[30] Common Mission, p 167

[31] Ibid., p. 153

[32] Ibid., pp 162,163

[33] Common Mission, p. 172.  Emphasis is not in original.

[34] J. I. Packer, “On from Orr”, The J. I. Packer Collection, Selected and Introduced by Alister McGrath (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1999) p. 264

[35] II Timothy 2:15

[36] Philippians 3:9

[37] Richard John Neuhaus, “The Catholic Difference”, Common Mission, p. 199 (Emphasis is in the original document)

[38] Common Mission, p. 207

[39] Morning and Evening, on Joshua 6:26

[40] Romans 8:1, 14