25 Ways to Subvert the Gospel
In my last newsletter, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek analogy “Ecumenical Mathematicians.” These Mathematicians hoped to prove that “one” equals “two.” I based the article on the Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) document: The Gift of Salvation. This ecumenical document made the bold claim that Evangelicalism and Catholicism agree on the gospel. In other words, that “one” equals “two.”
The document sounds so full of evangelical words and arguments – it is a marvelous counterfeit. And for this reason, it is extremely dangerous. As a follow-up, I have decided to review the document to uncover its distortions, deceptions, and outright lies.
You may ask, “Why are you so concerned with a document from 1997?” Well, since this document came out there has been a steady Romeward march. Other ecumenical reports have been released that use similar reasoning. For example, the Lutheran-Catholic Accord (1999), the Anglican Roman Catholics International Commission Accords (ARCIC – 1986 and ongoing), the Manhattan Declaration (2009), and the joint statement on missions between the World Evangelical Alliance, World Council of Churches, and the Papacy (2011). An ecumenical document between the Baptist World Alliance and the Papacy is still in process and has not yet been released. This is a follow-up to the Baptist/Catholic document released in 1990: “Christian Witness in Today’s World”
I have gleaned 25 falsehoods from the document. The passages from The Gift of Salvation are in italics:
1) Evangelicalism and Catholicism are different ways of being Christian.
ECTII: “We give thanks to God that in recent years many Evangelicals and Catholics, ourselves among them… acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
False! Where there is no gospel (or a false one), there is no Christianity. The Roman Catholic religion is not a Christian religion.
2) We both rely on the Bible.
ECT II: “We affirm the binding authority of Holy Scriptures, God’s inspired Word.”
False! Catholicism holds that both Tradition and the infallible teaching office of the Catholic Church (the Magisterium) are additional God-inspired sources of revelation. All Catholics must “receive with docility” the infallible teachings of the Pope and the Bishops. These teachings, not the Scriptures, are the “binding authority” for the Catholic.
Also, Catholicism adds apocryphal books to the Scriptures.
3) We both follow the same creeds.
ECT II: “We acknowledge the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds as faithful witnesses to that Word.”
False! Each group has a different understanding of the meaning of the Creeds. For example, the Apostles’ Creed states: “[I believe] in the forgiveness of sins.” How and when forgiveness occurs is relevant to the gospel. Must our sins be continually confessed to a priest? “[I believe] in the holy Catholic Church.” Do we hold to the same understanding of these words? I think not! And so it goes.
4) The document was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
ECT II: “The Holy Spirit…calls and empowers us to confess together the meaning of the salvation promised….”
False! In discussing the meetings leading to the first ECT document, Chuck Colson writes: “In the course of our conversations, it dawned upon a number of participants, almost simultaneously, as though by the prompting of the Holy Spirit: ‘Here is the Church. Here around this table. Christ is here, his gospel is being spoken, and therefore his Church is here….'”
The Holy Spirit does not deal in lies and wordsmithing. These deceptive ECT documents were not inspired by Him!
5) Our differences are not critical to the gospel.
ECT II: “We have found that, notwithstanding some persistent and serious differences, we can together bear witness to the gift of salvation….”
False! There is only one gospel, as Paul makes clear in Galatians 1:8-9. All other gospels are anathema. The errors of Catholicism are fatal.
6) We both acknowledge the one Mediator.
ECT II: “For he is ‘the one mediator between god and men….'”
False! Catholicism has a multitude of mediators. What about the pope, the priest, Mary and the Saints? According to the Catholic Encyclopedia: “When special friends of God- angels, saints, holy men – plead our cause before God they mediate ‘with Christ’; their mediation is only secondary and is better called intercession.”
Catholics look to other mediators to help “complete” their justification.
7) We agree on redemption.
ECT II: “Always it is clear that the work of redemption has been accomplished by Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…'”
False! Here is the Catholic teaching on the adequacy of our redemption, from the Catholic Encyclopedia: “It is only through, and in the measure of, our co-operation that we appropriate to ourselves the satisfactions and merits of Christ.” Catholics and evangelicals have entirely different means of salvation. Catholics merit eternal life through their works in cooperation with the Catholic Church. Evangelicals receive eternal life through faith alone. We are eternally redeemed by the work of Christ: “but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).
8) We agree that justification is by our faith in Christ.
ECT II: “The New Testament is clear that the gift of justification is received through faith.”
False! In Catholicism, justification is initially received through baptism. Since most Catholics are baptized as infants, it is the faith of the parents and the church that are deemed effective in the waters of baptism. But this “gift” is only temporary. Salvation becomes a process, dependent on the infant Catholic’s future cooperation with the Church.
9) We agree that justification is not earned by our works.
ECT II: “Justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own… [it is] conferred through the Father’s sheer graciousness.”
False! Catholicism teaches that initial justification (the first plank) is conferred through baptism. Since baptism is passively received, the Catholic may claim it is not a work. Baptism begins the process of meriting salvation: “no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and charity, we can then merit for ourselves and others the graces needed… for the attainment of eternal life.” (CCC 2010 – italics in original).
Final justification (the second plank) must indeed be merited. How can a person merit a gift? Catholicism attempts to solve this riddle by defining two kinds of merit: condign and congruent. One cannot strictly deserve grace. But having been initially “graced,” we can merit further grace that is congruent with our efforts. It is equitable for God to reward these efforts. This is philosophical gobbledy gook.
10) We agree that by faith in Jesus our salvation is effective.
ECT II: “By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins, and freely adhere to the Gospel, the good news of God’s saving work for us in Christ.”
False! Evangelicals believe that the ground of our justification is Christ’s righteousness imputed to our account at the moment of belief; we are clothed “in Christ.” Catholics adhere to their “Gospel” by receiving infused graces (a lifelong process) via the sacraments. Catholics merit salvation by cooperating with the Church of Rome. Evangelicals have “repented and trusted Christ.” Catholics must continually “do penance, and trust the Church.”
11) We agree that justification is sola fide.
ECT II: “We understand that what we affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).”
False! The reformers would not recognize these wordsmithed descriptions of justification. No forthright, intelligent evangelical would declare that Rome agrees to sola fide. The writers of ECT II are not forthright. They are deceptive.
The Reformation teaching on justification was declared anathema at the Council of Trent. These anathemas are in effect today.
12) Surely no one is ever saved by merely knowing the doctrine of sola fide!
ECT II: “God’s gift is never dependent upon our human experience or our ways of expressing that experience.”
False! J. I. Packer has defended ECT by stating: “What brings salvation, after all, is not any theory about faith in Christ, justification, and the church, but faith itself in Christ himself.” R. C. Sproul calls this a red herring. “Who has ever maintained that doctrinal theory ever saved anyone?… The issue is not, Does doctrine save or Christ save? The issue is, What is the gospel that must be the basis of any shared mission of faith?”
God’s gift is entirely dependent on the means He has determined. He has determined that justification is by faith alone. Sadly, Catholics are not trusting in Christ for their salvation. They instead entrust their souls to the Catholic Church. The means of justification for the Catholic are baptism and obedience to the Church.
13) We agree on the doctrine of baptism.
ECT II: “By baptism we are visibly incorporated into the community of faith and committed to a life of discipleship.”
False! The statement is deceptive. Some evangelicals would agree that baptism is a public (visible) affirmation of faith in Christ. Others would see “life of discipleship” and agree that infant baptism brings children into the covenant. But for Catholics, baptism imparts sanctifying grace, regenerating the recipient of the sacrament. This grace is lost if one commits a mortal sin – they have effectively been “unincorporated.” They may become “reincorporated” through the Sacrament of Penance. Evangelicalism and Catholicism have two radically different systems of theology concerning baptism.
The ECT II statement on baptism begs the question: “Which community of faith?” When Presbyterians receive baptism, are they incorporated into the Catholic Church?
14) We agree on sanctification.
ECT II: “Sanctification is not fully accomplished at the beginning of our life in Christ….”
False! For evangelicals, sanctification is distinct from, and follows, justification. Sanctification is guaranteed by virtue of justification (Rom. 8:30). For Catholics there is no guarantee, for one must be sanctified before they are fully justified. Catholics are not declared righteous based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. They must become fully holy before they are fully justified. They become holy through sacramental infusions of grace, from Baptism to “Last Rites.”
15) We agree on forgiveness.
ECT II: “When we fail, we can still turn to God in humble repentance and confidently ask for, and receive, his forgiveness.”
False! In Rome’s system, forgiveness is dependent on participation in the sacraments, especially Penance. Sins must be confessed to the priest. No serious sins may be withheld and left unconfessed – otherwise none of the person’s sins are forgiven. Making an improper confession is itself a serious sin. Plus, the punishment for sins remains, even after pardon is received. Punishment is remitted by performing satisfaction, obtaining indulgences, and undergoing purification in purgatory.
16) Assurance of salvation is available for both Evangelicals and Catholics.
ECT II: “We may therefore have assured hope for the eternal life promised to us in Christ.”
False! There is no assurance of salvation for Catholics, since they are not justified until after death. Assurance of salvation was anathematized at the Council of Trent. It is the sin of presumption. Catholic “hope” is based on participation in the sacraments, persevering to the end in order to merit salvation. For evangelicals, assurance is a fruit of their justification. We are assured because we belong to Christ and have received his righteousness, the righteousness that comes through faith (Rom. 10:3).
17) We agree on the purpose of suffering.
ECT II: “As we have shared in his sufferings, we will share in his final glory.”
False! Our suffering contributes nothing to our justification. For Catholics, suffering is part and parcel of justification. One is justified through “redemptive suffering.”
18) We agree that God saves justified sinners.
ECT II: “Thus it is that as justified sinners we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved.”
False! For evangelicals, God justifies the ungodly. For Catholics, God does not ultimately justify sinners. One must be inherently righteous (after death) in order to be declared righteous. Catholic “justification” can come and go like the tides, as Catholics are buffeted by their sin.
19) Evangelicals and Catholics are both able to share the gospel.
ECT II: “As believers we are… commissioned to be bearers of the good news.”
False! Evangelicals have the gospel. Catholics have a false hope which is not a gospel. This statement employs the fallacy of “begging the question.” It assumes what it sets out to prove. The two “gospels” are contradictory.
20) It is important for Catholics to evangelize evangelicals.
ECT II: “We must share the fullness of God’s saving truth…Catholics to evangelicals… so that “we all reach unity in the faith.”
False! The document supposes that Catholicism is able to bring “fullness” of salvation to evangelicals. Is unity between Catholics and evangelicals critical to the gospel? Catholicism claims that the “separated brethren” should return to the mother church to receive the full gospel. Unfortunately, some evangelicals are seduced by Rome’s false claims.
21) If we keep talking, we can eventually work it out.
ECT II: “While we rejoice in the unity we have discovered… we recognize that there are necessarily interrelated questions that require further and urgent exploration.”
False! Rome will never change concerning the gospel. How could she, and remain infallible? All movement toward unity has been (and will be) from the Protestant camp. Whether from a desire to defend our Judeo-Christian ethics, to evangelize Muslims, or to befriend unwary Catholics with the true gospel, all reasons for rapprochement with Rome are wrong.
NO UNITY HAS BEEN DISCOVERED! Stop your rejoicing.
22) We will strive to answer the difficult questions that remain.
ECT II: “We are committed to examining these questions further in our continuing conversations.”
False! It is IMPOSSIBLE to reconcile these contrary beliefs. There is no possible “synthesis” when it comes to the gospel. The ECT’ers have generated seven documents to date. None has clarified any of the issues raised concerning the meaning of regeneration or diverse understandings of merit and reward, or purgatory, or indulgences, or Marian devotion, or the intercession of the saints, etc.
23) We can witness better as a team.
ECT II: “All who truly believe in Jesus are brothers and sisters in the Lord and must not allow their differences, however important, to undermine this great truth, or deflect them from bearing witness together…”
False! It is not those who truly believe that are saved. Rather, it is those who believe the truth. It is claimed by certain evangelicals that there are many Catholics who are “truly saved” and don’t know it. If you truly love Catholics, you must truly reject this truly untrue premise. Don’t tell them they already have the gospel. Share the gospel with them! Contrary to popular belief, the Protestant Reformation was not a tragedy that split asunder the Church. The gospel was recovered from the darkness of Roman captivity. We must not become yoked with Rome. The gospel, the power of God unto salvation, is at stake.
24) As conservative people of conviction, we both profess the gospel.
ECT II: “As evangelicals who thank God for the heritage of the Reformation and affirm with conviction its classic confessions, as Catholics who are conscientiously faithful to the teaching of the Catholic Church… we affirm our unity in the Gospel that we have here professed.”
False! The only unity that this document promotes is a deceptive ecumenical unity that compromises the truth of the gospel. These folks are promoting a “third gospel.” There is the true gospel. There is the so-called Catholic “gospel.” The ECT’ers are promoting the false “gospel” of ecumenism.
At least the Council of Trent was straightforward in condemning the gospel. These evangelical ecumenicists are not the noble enemy. They are deceptive troublers within the camp.
25) We are men of integrity.
ECT II: “We seek no unity other than unity in the truth. Only unity in the truth can be pleasing to the Lord….”
False! This document abounds in undefined terms, wordsmithing, convergeance ecumenism, minimization of critical truths, and outright deception. It violates multiple rules of logic and argumentation.
It is indeed troubling that notable evangelicals could be so blind to their lack of integrity.
There is more in this document that could be condemned. But to conclude, ecumenical documents such as The Gift of Salvation cause much confusion. They promote what John MacArthur calls a “Reckless Faith” that feeds upon a lack of discernment. My fear is that many will be led astray to the false church of Rome; that many evangelicals will become unequally yoked with Roman Catholics; and that the light of the Gospel will be hidden to future generations. Far from promoting unity, these ecumenical documents only cause further division among evangelicals.
Let us stand firm, together proclaiming the only true gospel. For a detailed discussion of ECT II: The Gift of Salvation, and the ecumenical movement in general, I highly recommend the book “On the Edge of Apostasy – The Evangelical Romance with Rome” by Rob Zins.