Ten Theses for Roman Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue

MR Editors
Thursday, May 3rd 2007
Sep/Oct 2005

1. We affirm that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics commonly confess the faith of the ecumenical creeds. We deny that this catholic consensus is sufficient for recognizing the Roman church as a true visible expression of Christ's body.

2. We affirm that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone is "the article by which the church stands or falls," and distinguishes a true from a false church. While clearly affirming the indissolvable bond between justification and sanctification, this doctrine insists that the righteousness that God requires for justification is neither attained by humans nor infused or worked internally by God into the human soul, but that it is a forensic declaration based on the imputation of Christ's righteousness. The Council of Trent declared apostate those who embrace this doctrine. All subsequent magisterial declarations, including those of the Second Vatican Council, continue to bind Roman Catholics to the conviction that the Gospel of free justification by faith alone, apart from works, is not consonant with Roman Catholic teaching. We deny that there can be any fellowship with those who openly oppose that Gospel.

3. We affirm that there is sufficient agreement on other matters to warrant cooperation where there is genuine consensus. Therefore, where fundamental catholic issues are at stake, we should indeed make common cause. And where there are fundamental moral and cultural issues involved, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals have every reason to join minds, hearts, and hands. We deny that such cooperation is sufficient to declare that both communions are engaged in a common mission, part of a common church, and witnesses to a common Gospel.

4. We affirm that the great cultural and moral crises of our age must be confronted with intellectual depth and prayerful resolve, particularly by those who have been redeemed and are being conformed to the image of Christ. Nevertheless, we deny that this is the mission of the church, for it exists for the unique purpose of Word and sacrament, fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ. Therefore, we also deny the priority of cultural, moral, political, and social concerns in determining the relationship of ecclesial communions and the setting of their respective agenda.

5. We affirm that Christ's prayer for unity requires vigilance, patience, and diligence as we seek a greater visible unity. We deny that this prayer has reference merely to the spiritual or invisible church.

6. We affirm that the unity we seek is determined by the Word of God, comprising the Law and the Gospel. To this Word, the church must submit and correct its understandings. We deny that unity can be achieved in the absence of a common confession of the Gospel in its essential features.

7. We affirm that individual Roman Catholics, who for various reasons do not self-consciously give their assent to the precise definitions of the Roman Magisterium regarding justification, the sole mediation of Christ, the monergistic character of the new birth, and similar evangelical issues, are our brothers and sisters despite Rome's official position. We deny that this allows for joint communion or similar expressions of visible ecclesial union.

8. We affirm that the Commission of our Lord requires every Christian to be engaged in witness to the person and work of Christ and that this is not merely concerned with conversion, but with the catechesis and discipline of converts. Therefore, we deny that it is advisable for a convert to the evangel to remain in any communion or local expression of a communion in which the Word is not rightly preached and the sacraments are not rightly administered.

9. We affirm that the Roman Catholic Church contains many true believers, but we deny that in its present confession it is a true visible congregation, much less that it is the mother of all the faithful to whom all believers must be related.

10. We affirm that the issues that divide us are of abiding and deep significance. We deny that they are issues secondary to a common cultural engagement. The Gospel remains the jewel of the Church and secularism is, at the root, a spiritual and theological crisis that finally can only be confronted by the Word and Spirit.

Thursday, May 3rd 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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