Throwback Thursday: ECT – Toward a Common Mission of Apostasy

Welcome to this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday.” For today’s installment, we’re revisiting a post that was originally published back on September 19th, 2015 and has been slightly revised.

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Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission
Charles Colson, Richard John Neuhaus, editors
Word Publishing, 1995, 236 pages

1 Star

Before I begin discussing this book, I’d like to provide a little background. In the late 1970s, influential evangelical theologian, Francis Schaeffer, challenged American pastors and para-church leaders to enter the political arena in order to “reclaim America for Jesus!” Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and other popular figures picked up the gauntlet, determined to stem the tide of “secular humanism.” Evangelicals soon found themselves as co-belligerents with conservative Roman Catholics in culture and morality battles. Predictably, political alliances paved the way for religious accommodation and compromise. Irreconcilable doctrinal distinctives were overlooked and some evangelicals began to accept unabashed salvation-by-merit Catholics as “brothers in Christ.”

Bombastic Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority eventually flamed out, but another evangelical would soon carry the ecumenical torch. Chuck Colson had been Special Counsel to President Nixon, but his involvement in the Watergate scandal landed him in prison where he claimed to have had a born-again experience. His 1975 memoir, “Born Again,” was a national bestseller and launched Colson’s new career as a popular para-church leader. Taking his cue from C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” ecumenism became increasingly dear to Colson’s heart.*

In 1994, Colson and Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, began “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT), an ecumenical project calling for evangelicals and Catholics to unite in the battle against secular humanism and to recognize each other as Christians. The organization’s 1994 declaration was signed by a number of influential evangelicals and Catholics. However, a number of other evangelical leaders voiced their strong opposition to the declaration, which embraced works-righteousness Catholicism as a Christian entity and called for an end to evangelizing Catholics.

This book, “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission,” was published in 1995 to explain and defend the controversial ECT declaration. The evangelical contributors were Colson, Mark Noll, and J. I. Packer, and the Roman Catholic contributors were George Weigel and priests Avery Dulles and Neuhaus.

I really don’t care to expend too much energy reviewing the details of this book. In my view it’s a tragedy from the first page to the last. The three evangelicals who participated flagrantly accommodate error and compromise the truth. What is the Gospel? For genuine evangelicals faithful to God’s Word, the Gospel is salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. In contrast, the Catholic gospel is salvation by sacramental grace and merit. The two views are irreconcilable and cannot be bridged. Colson and Noll heard Catholics concede that “salvation is by (sacramental) grace through faith” and eagerly jumped the gun, declaring, “Close enough,” yet also knowing full well that Catholics actually adhere to “cooperation with grace,” aka merit or works, as an essential component in their salvation system. Packer? He correctly writes that if any Catholics are saved, they are saved IN SPITE of their church’s standard theology, but he’s willing to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

“And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” – Romans 11:6

ECT went on to publish several additional declarations over the years (via Neuhaus’ conservative Catholic and ecumenical journal, “First Things”), although it faded from view after the deaths of Neuhaus in 2009 and Colson in 2012. But, regrettably, Colson did accomplish some of what he set out to do. He would be pleased that works-righteousness Catholicism has been embraced as a Christian entity by a large number of Gospel-compromising evangelical pastors and their followers.

*I’m speculating that Chuck Colson’s great desire to unite evangelicals and Catholics was at least partially motivated by his 48-year marriage to Patty Hughes Colson, a “devout” Roman Catholic. Colson regularly attended mass with his Catholic wife. To see more on Colson’s proclivity for Roman error, see here.

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Partners in ecumenism: Chuck Colson, left, and priest, Richard John Neuhaus

31 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: ECT – Toward a Common Mission of Apostasy

  1. Interesting isn’t it? The Romanist teaching on grace and merit essentially throws Augustine under the bus.

    Augustine: When God says, “Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you,” [Zech. i. 3.] one of these clauses—that which invites our return to God—evidently belongs to our will; while the other, which promises His return to us, belongs to His grace. Here, possibly, the Pelagians think they have a justification for their opinion which they so prominently advance, that God’s grace is given according to our merits. Augustine, On Grace and Free Will, NPNF 1, Vol 5. Chapter 10

    Augustine: What was it then that He chose in those who were not good? For they were not chosen because of their goodness, inasmuch as they could not be good without being chosen. Otherwise grace is no more grace, if we maintain the priority of merit. Such, certainly, is the election of grace, whereof the apostle says: “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant saved according to the election of grace.” To which he adds: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” [Rom. xi. 5, 6.] . Augustine, Tractate 86 on the Gospel of John, NPNF1, Vol. 7

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    1. Thanks, SB. The writings of Augustine, like the writings of the other “fathers” were a mixed bag. Here he seems to get salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone correctly, but in other writings he clearly veers into sacramentalism.

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      1. That isn’t our problem. You see, I don’t try to make them out to be a bunch of proto-Protestants. We can let that fathers be who they are. They contradict each other, even contradict themselves, but that’s because they are fallible. That’s why the only infallible authority is scripture.

        One thing is for sure, they weren’t a bunch of Romanists like how apologists of the Roman Church like to make them out to be. That’s why contradictions (by the fathers) present a bigger problem for Romanists than us.

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      2. By the way Tom, I thought you might be interested in this stuff (apart from David Anders) here .

        I read this occasionally and I really wonder how many souls these Roman street “evangelists” manage to ensnare.

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      3. Thanks, SB. Yeah, I hear Anders and others mention Saint Paul Street Evangelism occasionally. I imagine they do attract a few lapsed Catholics back to the RCC, but they currently have so much really bad PR to overcome.

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      4. Re: attract a few lapsed catholics

        I would not assume that. I’ve read stories where they manage to fool some naive evangelicals and they seem very happy about it.

        Take a look at the tracts that they hand out here . Dave Armstrong edited a lot of those. It is full of deceit and sophistry.

        This was from a few years ago. I found this account on someone else’s blog. There were some recent ones I saw as well on the street evangelist blog.

        “Julie August 30, 2013 at 9:50 AM

        I am sharing here a Facebook post by St. Paul Street Evangelization:
        St. Paul Street Evangelization
        A Southern Baptist was stunned to learn the true reason why Protestant bibles are missing 7 books while Catholic Bibles have all 73 books. Jeff asked this Protestant: “So why do you think Martin Luther removed those books?” Surprisingly, after thinking about it, the Baptist said: “I bet they had things in them that disagreed with Luther’s theology and teachings.” With much enthusiasm, Jeff replied, “BINGO!” Jeff then briefly explained the history of the Bible, specifically how the Catholic Church was responsible for collecting these 73 inspired writings and preserving them. The early Christians knew that only the Popes and Councils had the authority to settle questions about the Bible, such as what books belonged in it, and that individual Christians were never allowed to just throw out books they personally didn’t like.
        Jeff then shared some of the doctrines taught in these books that Protestants reject. Surprisingly, the Baptist concluded: “I guess I need to seriously study this. It sounds like the Catholic Church holds the authority of scripture. I guess I don’t know if my church is even teaching the right things without those missing books… I’m going to have to do a lot of praying and research.”
        The team gave him plenty of materials and an invitation to call or email with further questions. Jeff wants other Catholics to know: “More often than we realize, the Holy Spirit will present us with opportunities to greatly impact someone. It could be one word, one action. In this case, I realized that this man was open and searching.”

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      5. Thanks for the interesting info. There certainly are many naive “protestants” out there. I’m curious how much of SPSE’s follow-up is devoted to reverts vs. new converts but of course that’s unknowable.

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    1. Thanks, sister. Yup, ECT was so bad. Re-editing this old post was valuable in putting an outline together in my head regarding the last portion of the 60-year sweep of ecumenism. There’s a couple of videos on YouTube that record a portion of a very spirited conference chaired by John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, and D. James Kennedy in reaction to the first ECT declaration in 1994. The entire church should have been outraged.

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  2. Nice throwback Thursday! Going to meet with one of our special need brother to go over the Bible using a comic book Bible; something different since I’m trying to share the Word with the guy despite his learning disability for the sake of the Gospel. Reading this between pastoral visitations later on today, yeah?

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      1. I hope it gets done next week; it’s a lot of days in between the work since I have different morning obligations each day…need to start using sun screen, haven’t used it since 2001…

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      2. RE: sunscreen

        I didn’t use it much when I was younger so every couple of years the dermatologist is freezing off or slicing off some pre-cancerous or cancerous areas.

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    1. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Packer were good friends back in the day but they parted company over Packer’s support of ecumenism. Packer’s comments in the book were similar to William Lane Craig’s equivocation on stage with the Catholic bishop. Packer was like, “I would never attend a Catholic mass because it’s so anti-Biblical on so many levels, but I believe some Catholics are genuinely saved so I’m not going to condemn the entire institution.” He actually had harsher words for ex-Catholic evangelicals like myself who “have an ax to grind.” I wrote a post back in October 2015 about Packer’s defense of his ECT signing and I’ll queue it up for an upcoming Throwback Thursday.

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      1. Me too! I was shocked and saddened by Packer’s attack on those like me who left Catholicism, were saved by Jesus Christ, and were warning others about the Roman church. I don’t want to be melodramatic, but when I read Packer’s words, I felt betrayed.

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