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"Evangelicals and Catholics Together"

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"Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT):

The roots of the ECT movement date back to a meeting in 1985 of Christian leaders. Charles Colson of the Prison Fellowship Ministries organized the meeting. Rev. Richard Neuhaus of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, and Carl Henry, editor and founder of Christianity Today addressed the group. "There was a common acceptance the Christian culture was no longer an influence on modern society, that envy, greed and hatred rules people's lives and that crime without conscience has caused violence to increase to alarming proportions. To add to this, religion had become an irrelevancy to the majority of people." Many at the meeting felt that a cooperative effort by the two largest and most conservative wings of Christianity in North America -- Roman Catholicism and Evangelical Christianity -- was needed. 8

A group of leading American Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants joined together in 1992-SEP to seek unity between their two groups. They decided this step as "essential for continued missionary expansion into the third millennium." They acknowledged that past conflicts were seen as crippling the progress of the Gospel. "Involving, as it did, both evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders, it was truly a monumental was an ecumenical document of supreme importance since it represented a combined effort by leading spokesmen to 'bury the hatchet'...and work together as 'teammates' instead of antagonists...It laments the division between them and proposes a moratorium on Catholic / evangelical conflict." 1

There were 21 Evangelicals and 20 Roman Catholic participants. The group included:
bullet Mr. Charles Colson Prison Fellowship;
bullet Fr. Juan Diaz-Vilar S.J. Catholic Hispanic Ministries;
bullet Fr. Avery Dulles S.J. Fordham University;
bullet Bishop Francis George OMI Diocese of Yakima, Washington;
bullet Dr. Kent Hill Eastern Nazarene College;
bullet Dr. Richard Land Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention;
bullet Dr. Larry Lewis Home Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention;
bullet Dr. Jesse Miranda Assemblies of God;
bullet Msgr. William Murphy Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Boston;
bullet Fr. Richard John Neuhaus Institute on Religion and Public Life;
bullet Mr. Brian O’Connell World Evangelical Fellowship;
bullet Mr. Herbert Schlossberg Fieldstead Foundation;
bullet Archbishop Francis Stafford Archdiocese of Denver;
bullet Mr. George Wiegel Ethics and Public Policy Center;
bullet Dr. John White Geneva College and the National Association of Evangelicals

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First ECT document: 1994:

They issued a their first joint statement, "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium," on 1994-MAR-29. 2,11 It included the following main points. [We have added some comments of our own between brackets]:
bullet Christianity includes a large number of faith groups, including Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, mainline Protestants and liberal Protestants. [This is a significant development, because conservative Protestants often do not recognize faith groups different from themselves as real Christians.]
bullet Their eventual goal is a reuniting all of Christianity. However, their immediate effort targets only cooperation among those communities which are the "most evangelistically assertive:" Evangelicals and Roman Catholics.
bullet They believe that salvation is possible only within Christianity, and that the entire population of the world will eventually be converted to Christianity. " The raging of the principalities and powers may increase as the End Time nears, but the outcome of the contest is assured." [This would seem to imply that non-Christians who have died in the past or will die in the future before the world is created to Christianity will spend eternity being tortured in Hell.]
bullet Catholic and Evangelicals agreed on a common statement, that individuals are "justified by grace through faith." However, they are liable to interpret this statement in different ways: "For the Catholic,...salvation by grace refers to that divine grace which is mediated through the Roman Catholic sacraments administered by a duly ordained priest of Rome. The evangelical...concept of grace is that it is unmerited favor which is received by faith alone. There is a vast difference between the two concepts." 1
bullet They recognize that their divisions are deep, long standing, and may not be resolved "short of the Kingdom Come."
bullet The church has a "responsibility for the right ordering of civil society...politics, law, and culture must be secured by moral truth...only a virtuous people can be free and just, and that virtue is secured by religion...securing civil virtue is a benefit of religion." [This statement is somewhat ambiguous. It might be interpreting as implying that absolute moral truth exists, that it can only be determined unilaterally by Christians, and that persons who are not Christians cannot be virtuous. On the other hand, it might imply that people of all religions may be led to virtue through their various faiths.]
bullet They are strongly committed to religious freedom and to the principle of separation of church and state. But they see religion as an integral part of public life - something that should not be excluded from the public square.
bullet An unborn child is a human being and has a right of protection. [They do not precisely define when human personhood begins. Their statement could be interpreted that this transition occurs at the instant of conception.]
bullet The public's acceptance of abortion will lead to physician assisted suicide, and eventually to involuntary euthanasia -- the murder of the infirm against their will.
bullet Education must include the role that religion has played in history. "We reject the claim that, in any or all of these areas, 'tolerance' requires the promotion of moral equivalence between the normative and the deviant." [It is unclear what they mean by "normative" and "deviant" beliefs are. This is a worrisome statement, because many conservative Christians consider liberal Christian beliefs to be "deviant." They may mean that liberal beliefs are not to be tolerated. Their use of terms is distressing -- what one person regards as "normative," another might regard as "deviant." And vice-versa. One person's orthodoxy is another's heresy.]
bullet Parents should be free to choose the type of schooling that they wish for their children. [This might refer to government subsidies for religious schools. It might refer to parents having the right to deny their children access to information in such areas as contraception, STD prevention, homosexuality, etc.]
bullet They oppose the portrayal of pornography, violence, sexual depravity and antireligious bigotry in the media. [It is unclear what they mean by sexual depravity. They may include, for example, sexual activity within a committed, same-sex relationship. They may advocate censorship of religious criticism.]
bullet They promote acceptance and understanding  "across lines of religion, race, ethnicity, sex, and class." [Acceptance and understanding of persons with a minority sexual orientation is notably absence.]
bullet They support a free economy.
bullet They support multiculturalism in the sense of "respectful attention to human differences...[not] "affirming all cultures but our own."
bullet Laws and social policies should support the family. [They do not define the term "family"; however, they presumably refer to units headed by opposite-sex couples only.]
bullet "U.S. foreign policy should reflect a concern for the defense of democracy and, wherever prudent and possible, the protection and advancement of human rights, including religious freedom."
bullet Attempts by Evangelicals and Catholics to win converts from each other's membership weakens the Christian mission. They differentiate between evangelizing and proselytizing. The former seeks converts from among non-Christians, and is to be encouraged. The latter is often referred to as "sheep stealing" - raiding of members from other Christian denominations, and is "neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources..."
bullet There should continue to be diversity "of worship, piety and catechisis" within Christianity. Unity does not require homogeneity.
bullet "...physical, psychological, legal, economic" coercion has no place within evangelizing efforts.
bullet "...bearing false witness against other persons and communities, or casting unjust and uncharitable suspicions upon them, is incompatible with the Gospel."

Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times wrote: "The document shook the evangelical world. 'Friendships and institutions were blown apart,' Father Neuhaus recalled in an interview. One hundred evangelical leaders signed a statement denouncing it. Mr. Colson said his organization, Prison Fellowship Ministries, lost about a million dollars in contributions. He received more than a dozen letters a week from angry evangelicals."

Some indication of the firestorm of negative responses from Evangelicals can be seen :
bulletAuthor Kevin Reed, 3 commented:
bullet "...the ect document represents a colossal compromise with Rome..."
bullet ECT "...demonstrates that most evangelicals have departed from the doctrines and practices of the Protestant Reformation."
bullet Reed criticized those active in ECT for their beliefs on salvation, worship methods, etc.
bullet "...the ECT document contains false theological presuppositions and blatant compromises..." with Roman Catholic belief:
bullet "To any evangelicals who have signed or supported the ECT accord, we have but one thing to say: Repent!"
bulletThe administration of the Dallas Theological Seminary - one of the most influential Fundamentalist Protestant educational institutions in the United States, commented: 4
bullet "Our society is under assault by the forces of secularism, humanism, and false religions." [It is unclear whether the false religions that they are referring to are other world religions, new emerging faith groups, or Christian groups which deviate from historical traditions.]
bullet Evangelicals and Roman Catholics share many social policies and can cooperate in the areas of "political, moral, and social action."
bullet Theological differences between the two groups remain, and "must not be minimized."
bullet The Seminary cannot endorse the ECT statement
bullet The statement represents the views of a handful of individuals; it did not speak on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church or Evangelical communities.
bulletEvangelical Christian leaders John Ankerberg, James Kennedy, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul later took part in a roundtable discussion on the ECT document. John Ankerberg was the host. 5
bullet R.C. Sproul criticized the ECT's statement "That we are justified by grace, through faith, because of Christ." Protestants have traditionally asserted that justification is through faith alone; i.e. without any human contribution. Roman Catholics believe that faith is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for salvation; baptism, avoidance of sin, confession, attendance at mass, participation in church sacraments, etc. are also needed.
bullet John MacArthur commented on the statement that "We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity, that Christ intends for all His disciples." His objection is that Catholics should not be counted among Christ's disciples. He recommends that Evangelicals and Catholics work independently of each other, and avoid common effort.
bullet They criticized the assumption in the ECT document that members of Eastern Orthodox, Mainline and Liberal Christian churches should also be considered as Christians.
bullet They also disagreed with the prohibition against "sheep stealing." John MacArthur said that "the Catholic the single most fertile ground for evangelism that exists in this community in which I minister."

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Sponsored link:

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ECT meeting 1996:

They met in the fall of 1996, and decided that future progress depended upon the two groups reaching a consensus on two matters: the meaning of salvation and the doctrine of justification.

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Second ECT statement 1997:

Their 1997 statement, titled "The Gift of Salvation," noted a number of beliefs on which they had reached a consensus:

bullet The Trinity
bullet The authority of the Bible
bullet The inspiration of the Bible
bullet The Apostles' and Nicene creeds are faithful to God's Word.
bullet Sin made us powerless to overcome the gulf between humanity and God.
bullet Salvation is only possible through Jesus Christ.
bullet The atonement.
bullet "In justification, God, on the basis of Christ's righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends..."
bullet The process of sanctification progressively refines a Christian to be more Christ-like.
bullet Christians are to "evangelize everyone everywhere."
bullet The defense of religious freedom.

They also listed many differences of belief:

bullet The meaning of baptismal regeneration.
bullet The Eucharist.
bullet Sacramental grace.
bullet "...The historic uses of the language of justification as it relates to imputed and transformative righteousness; the normative status of justification in relation to all Christian doctrine; the assertion that while justification is by faith alone, the faith that receives salvation is never alone..."
bullet "....Diverse understandings of merit, reward, purgatory, and indulgences."
bullet Devotion to the Virgin Mary.
bullet Role of the saints in one's religious life
bullet Whether any of those persons who have not been evangelized are saved.

They commit themselves to future effort to resolve their differences. 7

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ECT meeting: 2001-OCT-2

"Pilgrims on the Sawdust Trail: Evangelical Conversations" was a two day meeting held at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. Included were sessions "devoted to conversations among evangelicals and fundamentalists, Pentecostals and mainline Protestants."

Some highlights:

bullet Richard John Neuhaus, president of The Institute on Religion and Public Life, commented: "Our Lord intended that there should be one everyday reality: Christ and his church. The scandal is that we aren't one. We are brothers and sisters, and we do not live as one." He said that an important part of the 1994 statement was that conservative Protestants and Roman Catholics recognized each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Neuhaus said "Many evangelicals had not been raised to think of Catholics in that way." He maintained that Christian unity is necessary, "because we are one. From the Catholic point of view, the goal of Christian unity is the full communion of all Christians...ECT has no great plan for reorganizing any of the major religious institutions, but seeks to recognize the unity that is ours as brothers and sisters in Christ."
bullet Timothy George, dean of Samford's Beeson Divinity School -- the sponsors of the event -- said that evangelical Christians have often been defined by their "contrarian impulse...We've not been as well known for what we are for, as for what we are against...Evangelicalism is a renewal movement in historic Christian orthodoxy. Evangelicals accept the apostolic witness of the early church, as well as the great themes of the Protestant Reformation, and the many movements of awakening from the Methodist revival to Pentecostalism. All who truly believe in Jesus Christ are brothers and sisters in the Lord, regardless of denominational differences." He concluded that Evangelicals and Catholics can have a common witness that they cannot have with Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and many other sectarian groups. 13

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Third ECT document (2002):

The third major ECT statement, titled "Your Word is Truth," described some progress on "the relation between Scripture and tradition." 12 The document was published in a book by the same name which was written by Charles Colson and Richard John Newhaus. 13 The statement acknowledges that both Evangelicals and Catholics affirm the unity of Christianity, but "...define the Church and its attributes in distinctive ways.
bullet Evangelicals define the Church as being composed of all people who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior over the past two millennia. "Everyone who is personally united to Christ, having been justified by faith alone through his atoning death, belongs to his body and by the Spirit is united with every other true believer in Jesus."
bullet Catholics believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church: a body governed by the bishops in communion with the pope in Rome. "Christ...endowed the Church with a permanent apostolic structure and an infallible teaching office that will remain until the Kingdom is fully consummated."

There appears to be no way to resolve this fundamental difference.

Both Evangelicals and Roman Catholics agree that the Bible is the Word of God in written form. However, they cannot reach a consensus on which books constitute the official canon.

They agree that God has inspired Christians during the two millennia since Jesus' ministry "both to counter error and to make explicit what is implicit in the written Word of God." They "...affirm that Scripture is the divinely inspired and uniquely authoritative written revelation of God; as such it is normative for the teaching and life of the Church."

They differ on the matter of interpreting scripture:

bullet Evangelicals believe that the responsibility to interpret the Bible rests in the congregation of believers or in "a wider synodical or episcopal connection," with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
bullet Catholics see the responsibility as in vested in the church Magisterium: the pope and bishops of the Catholic church.

Each considers the other group to be in serious error in many areas of belief. "The theological disagreements that still separate us are serious and require prayerful reflection and sustained mutual engagement. But in the face of a society marked by unbelieving ideologies and the culture of death, we deem it all the more important to affirm together those foundational truths of historic Christian orthodoxy that we do hold in common."

Their work continues.

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Opposition to the ECT among Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Protestants:

Many conservative Protestant para-church organizations have gone on record as criticizing the goals of the ECT movement. See essays at the following para-church web sites:

bullet Alpha & Omega Ministries, at:
bullet John at: and "The more we understand them, the more we remember why there was a Reformation. Biblically it will be impossible for Evangelicals or Catholics to reach agreement until one side radically changes its stance."
bullet Berean Beacon at:
bullet Dallas Theological Seminary at:
bullet Proclaiming the Gospel at:

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The future?

There remain major theological and social conflicts within the ECT alliance:

bullet Theological conflicts are massive, and apparently irresolvable. They involve topics like sacraments, salvation, justification, baptism, church authority, biblical interpretation, etc.
bullet Capital punishment: The Vatican opposes; most Evangelicals support it.
bullet Political party support: Most Catholics have historically voted Democrat; Evangelicals - Republican.
bullet Contraception: The Catholic hierarchy, although not the membership opposes birth control; Evangelicals regard it as a private matter.

However, they share many social goals, particularly those topics related to human sexuality: reducing access to abortion, reducing rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, prohibiting same-sex marriage, etc.

The greatest accomplishment of the ECT movement may be to get Evangelicals and Roman Catholics talking to each other comfortably , so that they can more easily join forces on social programs.

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  1. E.D. Pickering, "Hold Hands with the Pope," at:
  2. K.A. Fournier, W.D. Watkins, "A House United," Navpress, Colorado Springs CO (1994), P. 337-349. This book is out of print but might be obtained through The text is available online at the second half of:
  3. Kevin Reed, "Making Shipwreck of the Faith: Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Together," Heritage Press, Dallas TX, (1995). Text is available on-line at:
  4. "Dallas Theological Seminary's Response to the Discussion of Evangelical/Roman Catholic Cooperation," Dallas Connection, 1995-Fall. Text is available online at:
  5. "Irreconcilable Differences: Catholics, Evangelicals, and the New Quest for Unity," transcription of a television broadcast, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, (1995) . See:
  6. Mary Wimberley, "Evangelicals & Catholics session features Neuhaus, Gros, George," Baptist Press News, at:
  7. "The Gift of Salvation," First Things, 1998-JAN, Pages 20-23. Online at:
  8. Brian Green, "History of the ECT," European Institute of Protestant Studies, 1998-JAN-01, at:
  9. Lurie Goodstein, "The Nation: The 'Hypermodern' Foe; How the Evangelicals and Catholics Joined Forces," New York Times, 2004-MAY-30, Section 4, Page 4, at:
  10. "Evangelicals and Catholics on the Protection of Marriage," Prison Fellowship Ministry, at:
  11. "Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium," First Things, 1994-MAY, Pages 15 to 22, at:
  12. "Your Word is Truth," First Things, 2002-AUG/SEP, Pages 38 - 42.
  13. Charles Colson & Richard John Neuhaus, "Your Word Is Truth: A Project of Evangelicals and Catholics Together," Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, (2002). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Copyright 1998 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-5
Latest update: 2016-SEP-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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