The World Evangelical Alliance and the Roman Catholic Church have jointly released a ground-breaking statement—based on six years of dialogue—which, while acknowledging continuing areas of theological divergence, also calls it “imperative” for Evangelicals and Catholics to work together in addressing the spiritual needs of an increasingly secularized and polarized world.
The highly readable, 16,000-word statement grew out of six meetings around the world between an Evangelical delegation led by Rev. Prof. Rolf Hille, formerly the WEA’s Director of Ecumenical Affairs, and a Catholic contingent headed by Msgr Juan Usma Gómez of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU).
Kurt Cardinal Koch, president of the PCPCU, in his letter to the WEA confirming the Vatican’s approval of the text, stated that
“the competent Catholic authorities … considered it a valuable reflection to be offered to the Catholic public for study and discussion.”
Rev. Prof. Thomas K. Johnson, the WEA’s Ambassador to the Vatican, commented, ‘I am tremendously impressed with the quality of this accomplishment. It is a profoundly important document that sets a benchmark for future Evangelical-Catholic interaction, a document that no Christian who is concerned about the other parts of Christendom can afford to ignore.
“The mutual love and respect shown in this document, while stating clearly where the two sides agree and where they disagree, establishes a pattern that we must follow in all Evangelical-Catholic interactions, especially as we seek mutually to find effective ways to respond to the intense persecution of Christians in our time.”
The theological content of the document covers two of the most important areas of historical difference between Evangelicals and Catholics: the relationship between Scripture and tradition, and the role of the Church in salvation. It is ideally structured to foster local-level dialogue and study because—along with outlining areas of theological agreement and encouragement—it reproduces key questions posed by each side to their fellow discussants across the table.
By way of illustration, in the section on “Salvation in the Church”, the first question posed by evangelicals to Catholics is “What practical hope and comfort can you give to those with troubled consciences or those who have fear concerning their eternal destiny?” with a series of Scripture references. Conversely, Catholics ask evangelicals to consider how they deal pastorally with people who do not sense an assurance of salvation, how they deal with apparent believers who then turn away from the faith, and how they interpret the warning in Heb 6:4–6 about those who have “tasted the goodness of the word of God” but then turn away. Altogether, the document contains three dozen paragraphs full of such questions.
With striking frankness, the document acknowledges the “wide range in the quality of local relationships” between Catholics and Evangelicals globally:
“Sometimes relations are characterized by open rivalry and opposition in the missionary field, marred by accusations and counter- accusations of proselytism, persecution, inequality, idolatry, and/or rejection of the recognition of the Christian identity of the other” (paragraph 6).
In place of this mutual distrust, the participants called for collaborative efforts wherever possible so that Christian believers can respond in united fashion to the serious threats posed by secularism, ethical disorientation, religious pluralism and polarization.
“It is our hope that both Evangelicals and Catholics around the world will read this document and use it as a basis for mutual conversation, enabling both groups to move beyond past misunderstandings and hard feelings and encourage each other towards a deeper walk with Christ”, Johnson stated.