by Augustin B. Vencer, Jr.
Let me share my observations about “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” It is tragic when evangelicals begin to aim their “polemical rifles” at each other rather than the enemy. In this instance, the target is not the persons but the issues.
Let me share my observations about “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” It is tragic when evangelicals begin to aim their “polemical rifles” at each other rather than the enemy. In this instance, the target is not the persons but the issues. The issues raised by the document have produced division and tension among evangelicals in the United States and even beyond. The respected and renowned evangelicals who signed and endorsed the document carried weight and gave a wider coverage than may have been intended. The use of the generic term “evangelicals” presumed a consensus beyond the signatories or their organizations. Since they did not represent the other evangelical denominations, churches, and organizations, the reactions were understandable.
I agree that evangelicals should reengage society. Evangelicals can engage in critical collaboration with other religious faiths to make a common stand on sociopolitical issues, such as religious liberty, injustice and oppression, abortion, women and child abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Isolationism is not an evangelical option. These collaborations are being done by many national evangelical fellowships, whether they be in North America, in the United Kingdom, in Malaysia, or the Philippines. Such united action against evils that undermine Christian values in society, or deny human dignity, is desired, especially in countries where the evan-gelicals are in the minority, are marginalized by their governments, or persecuted by majority groups. Such evangelical collaboration must not in any way compromise doctrines or surrender biblical positions to the rule of the majority in such a coalition. The freedom to dissent must be safeguarded.
The context of the document is too culture-specific, i.e., Roman Catholicism in North America. The assumption that the attitudes and practices of the Catholic participants are also those of most Catholics in the United States or in other parts of the world is certainly unwarranted. Catholic relationships with evangelicals vary from country to country, ranging from cordiality to persecution.
The scope of the document, moreover, went beyond social activism to evangelism. This is where much of the negative criticism came from. This is also the most sensitive issue because reality admits exceptions. But, in general, if culture wars can allow “ecumenism in the trenches,” does this justify evangelicals and Catholics doing evangelism and mission together? The critical issue really is the doctrinal differences between the two that remain unresolved and must not be denied or underplayed. The use of a common religious language does not mean that the meanings are the same. There are reasons to believe that they are not and have not changed since the Reformation. Can the two partner in mission together if they don’t have the same authority and message of salvation? Care must be taken so that the pragmatics of united action in socio-ethical issues do not obscure the theological differences or confuse our constituencies. Let the theologians continue the process of discussions towards a vision of a common doctrinal orthodoxy, if it is possible. Until then, we are constrained by the commission of our Lord (2 Cor. 5:18-20) and by the love of Christ (2 Cor. 5:14) to proclaim the gospel to all people, including Roman Catholics.
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