Paradigm. The word became extremely popular in business circles in the 1990s. It can mean how a person or group views or understands or conceptualizes a particular situation or set of circumstances. A paradigm may be accurate or inaccurate. It may remain stable over time or change.
It occurs to me that a dramatic paradigm shift involving eternal consequences took place in evangelical churches in America and throughout the world over the last sixty years.
I believe it would be accurate to say that back in the early 1960s, close to all evangelical and fundamentalist pastors agreed that the gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit taught in all Roman Catholic churches was NOT the Biblical Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Bible Christians agreed across denominational lines that Roman Catholics, like all other works-religionists, were a mission field. This widely-shared viewpoint WAS an accurate “paradigm” of the circumstances.
But several powerful influences began to change this paradigm:
*Billy Graham and his like-minded allies within evangelicalism (e.g., Carl Henry, Edward Carnell, Harold Ockenga, Bernard Ramm, etc.) began embracing Roman Catholicism as a Christian entity despite Catholicism’s own admission that its salvation system was based on sacramental grace and meritorious works. Graham never addressed in print or by interview how he was able to reconcile in his mind the two opposing gospels.
*Roman Catholicism’s Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) dramatically reversed the church’s stance regarding Protestants from that of militant opposition to ecumenical cooperation. Rome openly admitted at the time that the purpose of its switch to ecumenism was to eventually recover Protestants back to the fold. Rome’s new approach was hailed by many (naive) evangelicals.
*In February 1967, about 25 college students from Duquesne Catholic University attended a retreat in which they claimed they received the Pentecostal/charismatic gifts of the spirit. The Catholic charismatic renewal movement has since grown to 160 million members including tens of thousands of priests. Charismatics and Pentecostals were in a compromising pickle; although Catholics believed in a different gospel, they demonstrated the requisite gifts of the spirit. Pope Francis has praised Catholic charismatics as a vanguard for evangelical-Catholic ecumenism.
*By the early 1970s, influential theologians, most notably, Francis Schaeffer, began to warn of the “spiritual and moral” decline of the West, and called on evangelical Christians to actively engage in the political realm. Leaders such as Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson accepted Schaeffer’s challenge and encouraged pastors to organize and to mix faith and politics from the pulpit. In battles with advancing secularism, politically-minded evangelicals were not opposed to teaming with conservative Roman Catholics against the common foe. Once-important doctrinal differences took a back seat to the immediate cultural and political shared concerns. It wasn’t long before doctrinal differences were ignored altogether. Charles Colson attempted to formalize this alliance of expediency with his Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) movement beginning in 1994.
*In the 1970s and 1980s, tracts, comic books, and books from Chick Publications, which strongly attacked Roman Catholicism, became popular among some Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. Much of the information was sensationalistic and based upon unverifiable conspiracy theories (e.g., the Catholic church created Islam, Marxism, Mormonism, the Jehovah Witnesses, etc.). Chick’s irresponsible extremism weakened the efforts of credible, Gospel-focused outreach to Catholics.
*In addition to the ecumenical push by Graham and Co., Catholicism’s softened stance toward Protestants, Moral Majority’s ecumenism in the trenches, shared charismatic experientialism, and irresponsible conspiracy theorists, society entered into the post-modern era in which all truth is supposedly relative, and “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” are the buzzwords. Post-modernism has also impacted the evangelical church. Criticism of a religious group, even if they propagate a false gospel, is perceived by many evangelicals as negative, divisive, and completely distasteful.
As a result of all of the above influences, the evangelical church’s paradigm of Roman Catholicism has radically shifted over the past 60 years. Roman Catholics, who still believe in the same false gospel of sacramental grace and merit that was taught by their church back in 1960, are no longer viewed by many evangelicals as a mission field, but as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ! While Catholics perish without hearing the Gospel of grace, evangelical organizers invite Catholic priests to speak at their events. Books by Catholic authors such as G.K. Chesterton, Henri Nouwen, Peter Kreeft, and Thomas Merton are widely disseminated within evangelical circles and even recommended from pulpits. The widely-shared viewpoint that Catholicism teaches the Biblical Gospel is NOT an accurate “paradigm” of the actual circumstances. But in evangelicalism today, those who criticize Rome and its false gospel are increasingly looked upon as the loony fundamentalist fringe and anti-Catholic bigots.
This embracement of Catholicism by evangelicals over the last 60 years is an absolutely stunning 180-degree change in perception. Satan himself could not have designed it more perfectly. The bottom line in all of this: Catholics don’t hear the genuine Gospel and evangelicals are moving closer to Rome.