Whenever I hear about an evangelical pastor, theologian, apologist, or para-church leader that I’m not familiar with, the first thing I want to know about them is where they stand on ecumenism with Roman Catholicism. If they view the Roman Catholic church as a Christian entity and the pope and Catholic prelates as “brothers in Christ,” then I’m really not interested in their views on anything else. Harsh? If it was you that had been saved out of a false gospel, pseudo-Christian institution, such as LDS, Watchtower, or Christian Science, only to witness certain evangelical leaders declaring that your former “church” was fine, you would not be pleased either.
Two very well-known evangelicals died recently. Apologist, Ravi Zacharias (b. 1946, photo left), passed away on May 19th and theologian, J.I. Packer (b. 1926, photo right), died on July 17th. Both were highly-regarded by many evangelicals.
There is no doubt that both men accomplished some incredibly good things. Indian-born Zacharias began his career as an evangelist in 1971 at the age of twenty-five. He impacted many in his 49 years of ministry. English-born J.I. Packer was ordained an Anglican minister in 1953 and had a large influence within evangelicalism as the writer of “’Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God” (1958), a defense of Biblical inerrancy and infallibility, and the popular, “Knowing God” (1973). Packer also served as general editor of the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible translation.
Regrettably, both men also promoted ecumenism with Roman Catholicism. Zacharias signed the Manhattan Declaration (2009), which affirmed the Roman Catholic church as a Christian entity. In his lectures, he often made it a point to cite Roman Catholics as exemplary Christians, including G.K. Chesterton, Malcolm Muggeridge, Mother Teresa, St. Francis, and Henri Nouwen. In addition, Zacharias was a featured speaker at the Together 2016 ecumenical gathering, which also featured a video address by pope Francis. Zacharias’ evasiveness regarding the legitimacy of Roman Catholicism in comparison to genuine Gospel Christianity was more than troubling (see the article far below).
J.I. Packer was even more outspoken in his support of ecumenism with Rome. Packer began his accommodation with error in 1970 when he privately and publicly broke with Martyn Lloyd-Jones over the question of cooperation with unbelievers/modernists in the Anglican church. Packer would go on to be one of the principal leaders of the ecumenical “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) initiative, from 1994 until 2012. Like Zacharias, he also signed the Manhattan Declaration.
Yes, Zacharias and Packer both did some good things, but they also muddied the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone by insinuating that Rome’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit was the same thing or “close enough.” They misled unwitting evangelicals and they did a tremendously grave disservice to Roman Catholics who needed and still need to hear the genuine Gospel.
We evangelicals may have differing views on secondary and tertiary doctrines such as predestination and dispensationalism, but embracing a false church, which unabashedly proclaims a false gospel of sacramental grace and merit is inexcusable.
In the following article, evangelical apologist, Matt Slick, critically examines Ravi Zacharias’ deferential approach to Roman Catholicism.
Ravi Zacharias and Roman Catholicism at Texas A&M, Veritas Forum
Below, evangelical Vatican-watcher, Leonardo De Chirico, examines Jim Packer’s regrettable reasoning for supporting ECT. De Chirico is respectful to a fault.
Why J.I. Packer signed “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (and why he was inconsistent)
The article below is a glowing tribute to Jim Packer from a Catholic source. It’s not a testimony that any Gospel-honoring “evangelical Protestant” would desire as their legacy.
J.I. Packer and Evangelicals and Catholics in the Trenches