Throwback Thursday: Is the Reformation Over?

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 5, 2016 and has been revised.

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Is the Reformation Over? An Evangelical Assessment of Contemporary Roman Catholicism
By Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom
Baker Academic, 2008, 272 pp.

The title of this book is strictly rhetorical. For “evangelical,” Mark Noll, the Reformation is not only over, but it’s doubtful, in his opinion, whether it had all that much value. Along with Chuck Colson, Noll was one of the prime architects of the ecumenical initiative – Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) – so he begins this book with the presupposition that, yes, the Reformation is over and that Catholicism is a Christian entity. He argues that, while evangelicals and Catholics still differ on “secondary” doctrinal issues (the papacy, Mary, purgatory, sacerdotalism, sacramentalism, etc.), they now mainly agree on justification, the prime catalyst of the Reformation, and that “salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.”

“If it is true, as once was repeated frequently by Protestants conscious of their anchorage in Martin Luther or John Calvin that iustificatio articulus stantis vel cadentis ecclesiae (justification is the article on which the church stands or falls), then the Reformation is over” (p.232).

But Catholicism has NOT changed its views on justification since the Reformation. While Catholics will cautiously agree to salvation “by grace through faith,”* the vaguery of that term masks the unabashed works-righteousness precepts of their religion, as Noll knows full well and strategically alludes to only briefly in this book. As an integral part of their salvation system, Catholics must “cooperate with grace” and perfectly obey the Ten Commandments (impossible!) and church laws in order to merit Heaven. Catholics object to accusations that theirs is a works-righteousness gospel, claiming that it’s only by the grace administered through their sacraments that they can possibly obey the commandments and church rules so that they can ultimately present themselves without the stain of a single “mortal” sin on their soul at the time of their death in order to merit Heaven. But the Bible says no one can become righteous by obeying the Law. It’s absolutely impossible. The Law only shows us we are sinners in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” – Galatians 2:19-21

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” – Romans 3:20

One day when I stand before a Holy God, I will not have a single plea other than the imputed perfect righteousness of my Savior.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21.

Ecumenical compromisor, Mark Noll

Noll and fellow “evangelical” ecumenists have swept aside the Reformation and judge evangelicalism’s Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone and the post-Vatican II Catholic church’s gospel of sacramental grace AND merit to be “something close to the same thing” (p.232).  He dismisses evangelicals who continue to object to Catholicism’s works-righteousness soteriology as sectarians stuck in the 19th-century.

My soul weeps for “evangelical” ecumenical Judases like Mark Noll who betray the Gospel of grace and bid others to follow. Noll currently teaches at Notre Dame Catholic University** where I’m sure he fits in quite well. I suggest he stop the pretense and join the pseudo-church he clearly loves.

*When Catholics refer to “faith” and “grace” they’re generally referring to faith in their institutional church and sacramental grace.

**Noll left NDU in 2016 after teaching there for ten years.

Ecumenists Ravi Zacharias & J.I. Packer

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
https://carm.org/ravi-zacharias-and-roman-catholicism-texas-am-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)
https://evangelicalfocus.com/vatican-files/7406/why-ji-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
https://bccatholic.ca/voices/paul-schratz-life-in-the-schratz-lane/evangelicals-and-catholics-in-the-trenches

The Ecumenical Hall of Shame

Some evangelical Christians will find this post incredibly offensive. They will ask, “How could anyone besmirch the character of these great men and women of God?” It’s not surprising that the evil one would bring deadly error into the church via popular pastors, theologians, and para-church leaders. We have a Biblical mandate for pointing out those who accommodate and compromise with false gospels.

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A month ago, I presented a series of posts examining the inaptly named, “Christian Hall of Fame” (see here). That series gave me the idea me to compile a list of “evangelicals” who have played prominent roles in the betrayal of the Gospel in the cause of ecumenical unity with Roman Catholicism, with its false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. The confusion and damage caused by these twenty-five men in their embracement of Roman Catholicism as a Christian entity cannot be overstated. While most of these people accomplished some good things, all of them muddied the Gospel of grace.

Many would categorize all of the individuals on this list as “evangelicals,” but it’s doubtful if several of them were/are redeemed. This is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list, but only a collection of some of the most influential ecumenists that come to mind. Additional suggestions are welcome.

The names below are hyper-linked to their respective Wiki articles.

Bill Bright (1921-2003) – Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ and one of the ten evangelical formal endorsers of the initial “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (1994) ecumenical declaration.

Edward John Carnell (1919-1967) – Theologian, apologist, and former president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Along with Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry, Carnell provided the intellectual “clout” behind Billy Graham’s popular ecumenical outreach.

Chuck Colson (1931-2012) – Founder of Prison Fellowship ministry and The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and co-founder of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) ecumenical initiative.

Kenneth Copeland (1936- ) – Pentecostal televangelist and purveyor of the prosperity gospel. In 2014, Copeland partnered with Tony Palmer in organizing highly publicized meetings of Pentecostal and charismatic leaders with pope Francis.

William Lane Craig (1949- ) – Theologian and philosopher. Disciple of influential ecumenist, Norman Geisler. Outspoken in his acceptance of the RCC as a Christian entity.

Paul Crouch (1934-2013) – Pentecostal founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), which has consistently championed the cause of ecumenism with its programming.

James Dobson (1936- ) – Founder of the nationally popular Focus on the Family radio-book ministry, who undiscerningly enlisted Catholic clergy and laity in his culture battle to “save the family.”

Jerry Falwell, Sr. (1933-2007) – Baptist pastor and founder of the Moral Majority who melded evangelicalism and American nationalism, thereby subordinating Protestant and Catholic theological differences in the interest of conservative political activism.

Norman Geisler (1932-2019) – Theologian and philosopher who steered evangelical pop apologetics (see Craig, McDowell, Strobel, Turek, Zacharias, etc.) toward ecumenism with Rome.

Timothy George (1950 – ) – Theologian who co-authored the ecumenical Manhattan Declaration and was a prolific contributor to Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT).

Billy Graham (1918-2018) – The most famous evangelist of the 20th century. Graham discreetly enlisted the support of local Catholic bishops for his crusades, beginning as far back as the 1950s. His cooperation with the Roman Catholic church became increasingly less cautious in the 1960s. The personal information collected from Catholics who came forward at Graham’s crusades was turned over to Catholic workers, who informed the “seekers” that they had merely rededicated themselves to their baptism and/or confirmation.

Franklin Graham (1952- ) – Continues his father’s ecumenical legacy although with a stronger emphasis on Christian-American nationalism.

Carl F. Henry (1913-2003) – Theologian and first editor of Christianity Today magazine. Henry, in partnership with Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga, founded the “Neo-Evangelical” movement, which distanced itself from separatist fundamentalism and advanced a more accommodating and compromising approach to Roman Catholicism. It was often said that Henry was the “brains” behind the less-academically-inclined Graham.

Richard Land (1946- ) – Prominent Southern Baptist and founder of The Christian Post internet news site, which routinely presents Roman Catholicism as a Christian entity. Land was one of the three evangelical signatories of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), along with Chuck Colson and J.I. Packer.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) – British author, apologist, and high-church Anglican who determinedly paved the way for ecumenism between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Chuck Colson cited Lewis as the inspiration behind Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT).

Walter Martin (1928-1989) – Considered THE evangelical authority on cult religions. His book, “Kingdom of the Cults” (1965), famously did not reference Roman Catholicism. Martin said of pope John XXIII that he believed he was a “sincere Christian.”

Mark Noll (1946- ) – This “evangelical” historian has been at the center of the ecumenical movement with his book, “Is the Reformation Over?” (2005) – Noll definitely thinks it is – and as one of the ten evangelical formal endorsers of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT).

Harold Ockenga (1905-1985) – Pastor and theologian, who, along with Billy Graham and Carl Henry, pioneered the “Neo-Evangelical” movement, which advanced conciliatory rapprochement with Roman Catholicism.

J.I. Packer (1926- ) – The influential theologian lent his considerable reputation to the ecumenical movement as one of the three evangelical signatories, along with Chuck Colson and Richard Land, of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT).

Tony Palmer (1966-2014) – South African Anglican who brokered the landmark 2014 ecumenical meetings between pope Francis and Pentecostal and charismatic leaders.

Pat Robertson (1930- ) – Charismatic (theology not personality) founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and host of The 700 Club. Along with Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, Robertson was a leader of the Christian nationalist movement of the 80s and 90s and was one of the ten evangelical formal endorsers of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). Robertson has consistently identified the Roman church as a Christian entity.

John Stott (1921-2011) – Influential English-Anglican priest and theologian who steered English (and American) evangelicals towards rapprochement with Rome.

Billy Sunday (1862-1935) – Prominent evangelist of four generations ago who set the stage for Billy Graham by sending the personal information collected from Catholics who came forward at his evangelistic services back to Catholic workers for follow-up.

Rick Warren (1954- ) – Influential leader of the seeker-friendly, church-growth movement. Often referred to as “America’s Pastor.” Warren has close connections with the U.S. Roman Catholic hierarchy and has often spoken at Catholic institutions.

Ravi Zacharias (1946-2020) – Pop apologist and disciple of Norman Geisler, who routinely referred to prominent Roman Catholic clergy, laity, and “saints” as Christians in his talks.

Dishonorable mention: Jerry Falwell, Jr. (following in his father’s footsteps of propagating ecumenical Christian nationalism), Richard Foster (popularized Catholic mysticism, contemplative prayer, and Ignatian spiritual formation among evangelicals), Nick Hall (Pulse founder and organizer of ecumenical “Together” events), Robert Jeffress (Baptist pastor and Christian nationalist), David Jeremiah (pastor, contributed to the Catholic-controlled “A.D.” project), Greg Laurie (charismatic pastor and evangelist fully embraces the RCC as a Christian entity), Bill McCartney (founder of the ecumenical Promise Keepers), Eric Metaxas (author and radio host, regularly refers to Roman Catholics as Christians in his messages), Beth Moore (popular writer and speaker fully embraces the RCC as Christian), Stephen J. Nichols (Reformed theologian and author of a children’s book listing Jesuit co-founder, Francis Xavier, as a “hero of the faith”), Nancy Pearcey (theologian, co-wrote the pro-ecumenical, “How Now Shall We Live?,” with Chuck Colson), David Robertson (Reformed pastor and theologian), Lee Strobel (pop apologist and disciple of Norman Geisler and Rick Warren who propagates ecumenism with Roman Catholicism in all of his materials), Carl Trueman (Reformed theologian and featured writer for Catholic ecumenical journal, “First Things”), Frank Turek (apologist, Geisler disciple), Dallas Willard (along with Richard Foster popularized Catholic mysticism, contemplative prayer, and Ignatian spiritual formation among evangelicals). This list is admittedly limited, but the folks mentioned above are some of the more notable offenders I’ve come across in my 5-years of blogging.

Throwback Thursday: Trying to force a square peg (Catholicism) through a round hole (the Gospel)

Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on December 9, 2015 and has been revised.

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Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences
By Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie
Baker Academic, 1995, 538 pp.

1 Star

This is a strange book. I mean, REALLY strange. On the one hand, evangelical scholar, Norman Geisler, cites many areas in which Roman Catholicism is not in accord with the New Testament Gospel: justification by works, Mariolatry, sacerdotalism, purgatory, etc. On the other hand, Geisler insinuates that Catholicism is a Christian entity; e.g., “(the Jesuits’) original mission concerned preaching Christ to the unconverted in the world. They became great missionaries, winning many to Christ in Africa, Asia, and the New World. Many were martyred for their faith” – p.444. Really, Professor Geisler? Did the Jesuits preach Christ or did they preach a works-based religion masquerading as “Christianity”? How exactly is teaching people they must merit their salvation “winning” souls to Christ?

The “gospel” preached by the Catholic church claims salvation is attained through its clergy-administered sacraments and by obedience to the Ten Commandments. Yet Geisler argues, even quite adamantly, for the true Gospel message of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. So which is it, Professor Geisler? Grace or works? It cannot be both.

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

Geisler, a passionate devotee of Catholic priest and theologian, Thomas Aquinas, struggles schizophrenically to cut Catholicism as much slack as possible while also upholding the Gospel of the Reformers. When it comes to the Roman church, Catholic-friendly evangelicals like Geisler, Billy Graham, Chuck Colson, Richard Land, Bill Bright, Os Guinness, Mark Noll, J. I. Packer, Harold O. J. Brown, Max Lucado, and Timothy George are all simply delusional (Note: Geisler, Graham, Colson, Bright, and Brown are now deceased).

How is it that Catholic apologists are never shy about proclaiming theirs is the “one true church” with the “fullness of the gospel” while accommodating and compromising evangelical apologists and pastors meekly tiptoe around the all-important justification “issue” that irreconcilably separates Catholicism from the genuine Gospel of grace?

Addendum: My original posting of this book review on Amazon.com back in 2014 led to the infamous “Willis Weatherford Caper.” See here.

Pope Tells “Christians” to NEVER Try to Convert Unbelievers

The Roman Catholic church has always taught, contrary to the Bible, that salvation is attained via sacramental grace and merit. Back in time, the Catholic clergy taught that only baptized Catholics could possibly merit Heaven, but in the modern era, that stance has softened, and the RCC now grants that all “good” and sincere religionists – Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. – can also possibly merit Heaven. Pope Francis has said on several occasions that even “moral” atheists can merit Heaven.

Last month, Francis met with a group of Italian high school students and advised the (c)hristians among them to NOT to try to convert* those of other faiths. Below are some quotes from Francis’ remarks:

  • [Speaking of having Jewish and Muslim friends]: “We are all the same, all children of God.”
  • “It didn’t occur to me, and it doesn’t have to be like, saying to a boy or a girl: ‘You are Jewish, you are Muslim: come, be converted!'”
  • “We are not in the times of the crusades.”
  • “In front of an unbeliever the last thing I have to do is try to convince him. Never.”
  • “But listen: Never, never bring the gospel by proselytizing.”
  • “If someone says they are a disciple of Jesus and comes to you with proselytism, they are not a disciple of Jesus.”
  • “The Church does not grow by proselytism.”

None of the above is surprising in light of Catholicism’s wide-is-the-way teaching that EVERYONE is a child of God. Contrary to what the pope claims, God’s Word declares that only those who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone and are born again spiritually in Christ become God’s children:

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” – John 1:12

Should we believe the pope or God’s Word?

Let’s see what evangelist, Ray Comfort, has to say about the pope’s un-Biblicalness in the 15-minute video below:

For more information, see the news article here.

*Please, no angry letters. I readily agree that it’s the Holy Spirit Who converts, not Christians, who merely sow the Gospel seed. I’m only conveying the pope’s words.

Christian unity? But at what cost?

Seventy-years ago, following the ravages of the Second World War, people across the world were scandalized by the divisions within “Christianity.” They saw the thousands of denominations as defiance of the prayer of Jesus Christ in John 17:20-23 that all believers be united. To that end, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was created in 1948 and the National Council of Churches (NCC) was founded here in the U.S. in 1950. In 1964, at its Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic church reversed its former militant approach and issued the document, “Unitatis Redintegratio” (Restoration of Unity), which called for the unity of all Christians. In the decades that followed, nominal Protestant denominations have increasingly joined together and with Rome in an effort to unite all “Christians”

What are Gospel Christians to think about these ecumenical efforts? The mainline Protestant denominations that comprise the NCC and WCC drifted into liberalism/modernism generations ago. They no longer hold to the Bible as the Word of God and they no longer teach the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. As for the Roman Catholic church, it teaches a false gospel of sacramental grace and merit. And while it pleads for unity, the “unity” that it refers to equates to eventual submission to the Roman pontiff:

“…when the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion have been gradually overcome, all Christians will at last, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, be gathered into the one and only Church in that unity which Christ bestowed on His Church from the beginning. We believe that this unity subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time.” – Unitatis Redintegratio, Section 4.

Gospel Christians may differ on various secondary beliefs, but WE ARE UNITED in the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. God’s Word warns us not to join with false teachers and pseudo-Christians who propagate false gospels.

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” – Matthew 7:15

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting.” – 2 John 10

Christians should NEVER join together with religious unbelievers who call themselves “Christians,” but who propagate false gospels. We need to evangelize these lost souls, not embrace them as fellow believers.

Preacher, writer, and teacher, Will Graham (photo above), recently contributed the five excellent short articles below to Evangelical Focus magazine that summarize the guiding principles to Christian unity. When it comes to uniting with others who profess to be Christians, we must never, never, never accommodate false gospels or compromise Biblical truth.

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A Manifesto of Church Unity – Introduction: Part One of Five
http://evangelicalfocus.com/magazine/4766/_A_Manifesto_of_Church_Unity

Church Unity is Unity in the Truth – Part Two of Five
http://evangelicalfocus.com/magazine/4800/Church_Unity_is_Unity_in_the_Truth

Church Unity is Unity in the Light – Part Three of Five
http://evangelicalfocus.com/magazine/4817/Church_Unity_is_Unity_in_the_Light

Church Unity is Unity in the Spirit – Part Four of Five
http://evangelicalfocus.com/magazine/4834/Church_unity_is_unity_in_the_Spirit

A Manifesto of Church Unity – Conclusion: Part Five of Five
http://evangelicalfocus.com/magazine/4847/A_Manifesto_of_Church_Unity_Conclusion

Throwback Thursday: Popular and influential evangelical, Joni Eareckson Tada, endorses ecumenical “First Things”

Welcome to this week’s edition of “Throwback Thursday.” For today’s installment, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on October 8th, 2015 and has been revised.

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I used to have a 25-minute drive to work each morning back when I was employed and while I was in my car I really enjoyed listening to a local Christian radio station. Oh, it was a blessing to hear about the Lord at the start of every day! One of the scheduled messages broadcast each morning was a 5-minute clip from Joni Eareckson Tada. I’m sure many of you have heard of her. Joni, a quadriplegic, provides daily messages of hope and encouragement for Christians who are struggling with challenges of all kinds.

However, one morning, my ears perked up when Joni cited “First Things” monthly journal as an excellent publication and strongly encouraged her listeners to check it out. Well, “First Things” was started by influential Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, in 1990. It describes itself as an “inter-denominational, inter-religious, ecumenical” journal featuring the writings of a broad spectrum of “Christians” (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) and Jews. All of the declarations issued by Chuck Colson’s and Neuhaus’s ecumenical “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” project were initially published in “First Things.”

The ecumenical spirit of “First Things” mirrors the teaching of Roman Catholicism, which says all can be saved if they “seek the truth and do the will of God.”

“Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery. Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1260.

The Catholic hierarchy once taught that only Catholics could be saved, but, because they believe in salvation-by-merit, it was entirely predictable that they would eventually recognize all other works-righteousness religious systems – Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. – as legitimate pathways to God. Making the already-broad path even wider, Pope Francis has said EVEN ATHEISTS will be saved if they follow their conscience and pursue “righteousness.”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” – Mark 10:18

But genuine believers are well aware that God’s Word clearly proclaims that salvation is ONLY by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. There is NO other way. Bible verses which state that salvation is only by accepting Jesus Christ as Savior can be found here.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing in common with the works-righteousness false gospel of Roman Catholicism and the ecumenism of “First Things.”

So why would a high-profile evangelical Christian, like Joni Eareckson Tada, irresponsibly recommend “First Things” and its ecumenical message to her unwary and trusting listeners? What goes through her head? Does she believe the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone or not? Respected Reformed theologian, Carl Trueman, also inexplicably lends his support to the wide-is-the-way mission of “First Things” as one of the journal’s regular contributors. The postmodern heresies of pluralism and relative truth continue to spread like cancer and more and more evangelicals ignore Biblical doctrine and succumb to accommodation, cooperation, and compromise.

Brother Lawrence our example? Really?

I’ll begin by saying it’s grievous to have to write this…

One day last week, as I was preparing to do some work on our powder room, I set up my iPhone to play that day’s radio message from evangelical pastor, Alistair Begg (photo left), via the Truth for Life website. I used to listen to pastor Begg regularly, but I remember being put-off by some of the people he referenced in his sermons, C. S. Lewis being one of his oft-mentioned favorites. But I had recently taken to listening to pastor Begg again. During the course of this new sermon (“True Friendship,” broadcast 9/30/19), pastor Begg said something that was upsetting to hear.

But before I get into the meat of this post, let me start with an observation. We evangelicals live in a bubble. We tend to think we’re the only people who pray and the only people who write passionately and lovingly about our faith. I hate to break it to you my friends, but committed Hindus and Muslims write passionately about their religion as well. Likewise, members of pseudo-Christian cults, like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are passionate about their religion. They too have devotional materials filled with lofty prose meant to motivate their membership to worship and praise their nonexistent faux deity. Writing pious words about Jesus does not make the writer a Christian. That being said, let’s return to pastor Begg.

As I was listening to the sermon, pastor Begg expounded on our Savior, Lord, and Friend, Jesus Christ. We thrill at being Jesus’s friend, but, as Begg points out, friendship with Christ is not just a doctrinal truth of objective, forensic position, but also experiential. Begg quotes John 15:14:

“You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

Begg then refers to several authors who wrote about obeying Jesus. The first writer Begg mentions is Brother Lawrence (photo right). At the 18:20 mark, Begg says:

“If you read the writing, for example, of Brother Lawrence in “The Practice of the Presence of God,” and you say, now this is an inkling of what’s involved here.”

So what’s the problem? Well, Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) aka Nicolas Herman was an unordained lay brother of the Roman Catholic Discalced Carmelite religious order who resided at a monastery in Paris. Brother Lawrence lived his entire life as a faithful Roman Catholic and fully adhered to his church’s false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit.

Since Brother Lawrence adhered to Rome’s false gospel of sacramental grace and merit, I’m curious why a popular evangelical pastor like Alistair Begg would hold up such a person as a Christian example? Does he believe Brother Lawrence was a genuine Christian because of his pious religious prose? But what of Lawrence’s legalistic and anti-Gospel beliefs and religious practices that were not mentioned in “The Practice of the Presence of God”? Has Begg forgotten the cause and necessity of the Reformation, which began only 97 years before Brother Lawrence was born? What was going through Begg’s mind as he was writing this sermon and decided to extol the writings of a committed Roman Catholic to his audience as an exemplary resource on Christian obedience? Does Begg not consider the effect of recommending a Roman Catholic writer to his evangelical audience or is he well past that point? Can we also expect pastor Begg to recommend the eloquent devotional writings of other false gospel, works-religionists such as Charles Taze Russell, Joseph Smith, Jr., or Mary Baker Eddy? Can anyone imagine a Charles Spurgeon or a Martyn Lloyd-Jones recommending from the pulpit a book written by a committed Roman Catholic to their congregations?

All of the above questions are obviously rhetorical. Ecumenical accommodation and compromise are rampant in the Body of Christ. There’s more than ignorance and carelessness at work here.

Leonard Feeney opposed Catholicism’s drift into Universalism

One of the fundamental doctrines of Roman Catholicism is baptismal regeneration. The Roman church teaches that water administered in conjunction with the recitation of the trinitarian baptism formula actually cleanses a soul (in Catholicism, usually an infant) of all original sin and by which a person is alleged to be “born again.”

“Holy Baptism is the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit and the door which gives access to the other sacraments. Through Baptism we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1213

The Roman church teaches that baptism is absolutely essential for salvation. However, accommodations were made for two distinct cases:

  1. In the case of individuals who had been martyred, but had not yet been baptized, the Roman church made an exception and declared that those individuals had experienced a “baptism of blood,” that their bloody death had served as a legitimate baptism.
  2. Then there was the case of individuals who had been studying/preparing to be baptized and enter the church, but died before they could be baptized. The church declared that such persons were covered by “baptism of desire” (baptismus flaminis).

For 1500 years, the Catholic church taught that only people who were physically baptized as well as those two exceptions – unbaptized people who died as Catholic martyrs or people who died while desiring Catholic baptism – could possibly merit Heaven. But as modernism entered into the Catholic church in the 20th-century, the second accommodation began to be understood much more broadly among Catholic theologians and prelates. The notion that baptized Protestants could also merit Heaven was increasingly accepted by Catholic leadership and along with that accommodation came the belief that Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and those of other religions could also merit Heaven. The argument was that “good-hearted” people of those religions would desire Catholic baptism if they understood its importance, so, theoretically, they would also be covered by “baptism of desire.” These further accommodations were made official at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) via the declarations, “Unitatis redintegratio” and “Nostra aetate.” Pope Francis has since stated, although without a formal declaration to this point, that even “good” and “moral” atheists are covered by “baptism of desire.” Catholicism now upholds an impossible dichotomy; that a person MUST be baptized to possibly attain Heaven, and that a person needn’t be baptized to possibly attain Heaven if they don’t understand baptism’s significance.

Not all Catholics accepted this new, modernist-universalist understanding. Jesuit priest, Leonard E. Feeney (1897-1978), had been a very popular author and apologist for Roman Catholicism in the United States for twenty-years. However, he ran afoul of modern-leaning prelates, especially archbishop, Richard James Cushing of Boston where Feeney lived, when, in the 1940s, he began to publicly oppose this evolving new interpretation of “baptism of desire.” Feeney strongly defended the traditional, literal Catholic teaching of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation). Interestingly, it was Robert F. Kennedy, a young, Harvard undergraduate at the time, who led the campaign to censure Feeney. For his very public obstinacy, Feeney was formally excommunicated from the church in 1953, but was reinstated in 1972 in his old age and declining health.

The new Vatican II accommodations to Protestants and other religionists took many years to spread through the church and become accepted. I can vividly remember a specific incident while attending Bishop Kearney Catholic High School in Rochester in the early 1970s. Irish Christian Brother, John “Cookie” Gilchrist, was teaching our religion class and reiterated the traditional Catholic teaching that only baptized Catholics had a chance of meriting Heaven. One of my classmates, Dennis Kennelly, strongly challenged Gilchrist, stating that a Protestant friend of his was a “good person” and had as much of a chance at Heaven as anyone else. Gilchrist’s face turned scarlet as he struggled to control his anger. He insisted that the church taught that only baptized Catholics could possibly merit Heaven. Amazingly, the Catholic religious instructor was not aware of the Vatican II ecumenical reforms ten years after the fact!!!

Many conservative and traditionalist Catholics believe, as Jesuit Feeney did, that the RCC deviated into error at Vatican II by declaring that non-Catholics could also merit Heaven. However, neither the traditional Catholic teaching on baptism or the modern one are the genuine Gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.

I intend to continue studying the Feeney controversy. To see the interesting Wiki article on Leonard Feeney, click here.

Ecumenicity, Evangelicals, and Rome

Ecumenicity, Evangelicals, and Rome
By John Warwick Montgomery, Ph.D.
Zondervan, 1969, 113 pp.

2 Stars

While reading a booklet on the errors of Catholicism, “What’s Happening in the Roman Church?: A Report from Rome” by William C. Standridge (see my review here), I took note of the author’s favorable reference to what looked to be an interesting book, “Ecumenicity, Evangelicals, and Rome” and immediately ordered a copy from an Amazon third-party used book seller.

At the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the Catholic church changed its stance regarding Protestants from confrontational militancy to conciliatory cooperation. Protestant theologians were quite surprised by the dramatic change and many were eager to enter into ecumenical dialogue with the RCC.

In this book, published in 1969, John Warwick Montgomery (1931-, photo right), a theologian affiliated with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), takes a look at the rising tide of Protestant ecumenism with Rome.

Friends, I’m a Theology 101 type of guy and this book was written for Theology 401 types. The academese is so thick that the lay reader must use a fork and knife to labor through it. Difficulties aside, what I catch from the grandiloquent prose is that Montgomery definitely favors dialogue with Rome. However, he doesn’t view ecumenical discussions as accommodation and compromise, but supposedly as opportunities to witness on behalf of the genuine Gospel of grace to Roman Catholic theologians with their false gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit (p. 42). What Montgomery and other overly-optimistic and naive evangelical theologians failed to consider was that ecumenical dialogue is a two-way street and Roman Catholic theologians also relished opportunities to advance their false gospel.

Below are the chapters of the book with some comments from myself:

  • Evangelical Unity and Contemporary Ecumenicity

The author notes the change to the RCC’s approach to Protestants and argues for the value of ecumenical dialogue as a chance to witness for the Gospel. Montgomery strangely devotes several pages to complimenting Eastern Orthodoxy for its emphasis on subjective mysticism, but he ultimately rejects it in favor of the absolute authority of God’s Word.

  • Sixtus of Siena and Roman Catholic Scholarship in the Reformation Period

Montgomery is highly complimentary of Catholic theologian, Sixtus of Siena (1520-1569), and his encyclopedic overview of the Bible in his “Bibliotheca Sancta” (1566), but finally renounces the scholarship of Sixtus for his intellectual approach to Scripture rather than embracing the spiritual message of the Gospel therein.

  • The Approach of New Shape Roman Catholicism to Scriptural Inerrancy: A Case Study for Evangelicals

Montgomery notes the rise of “New Shape” theologians within the Catholic church by which higher-criticism/modernism was introduced into the RCC in the 20th century. As a result, Catholic theologians (and also, prelates and priests) increasingly viewed the Bible as myth and allegory rather than God’s literal Word.

  • Rome and the “Death of God”

Modernist RCC theologians of the “New Shape” argued that the church was “progressively unfolding” and was not anchored to “ancient manuscripts” (i.e., the Bible). The RCC’s untethering from Scripture has always allowed it to place its magisterium and its evolving “sacred traditions” above God’s Word.

  • Three Reviews: Hans Kung, Alonzo Schokel, Nathan Soderblom

Montgomery cites three books that were influential in promoting ecumenism and points out their particular faults.

This is a VERY strange book. Montgomery welcomes ecumenical dialogue while simultaneously warning against Rome’s heterodoxies. Via the efforts of theologians like Montgomery, ecumenism gained a foothold within evangelicalism and eventually reached a point where the author’s cautions and objections back in 1969 were no longer voiced or even considered (see William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Lee Strobel, etc.). Ecumenism with Rome always, always, always results in accommodation, compromise, and betrayal of the Gospel. What looked to be an interesting book turned out to be a big disappointment.