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3. Contemporary Issues

Four: Liberation Theology


Latin American liberation theology is a socio-economic, political theology that seeks to bring eternal and temporal concerns into one entity. It attempts to unite “evangelization and the inspiration of the temporal sphere,”160 or church and world. It seeks to identify salvation with human liberation with the aim of creating a new humanity.161 Its origin lies in the long-standing poverty of Latin America.

Underlying liberation theology is a prophetic and comradely commitment to the life, cause, and struggle of these millions of debased and marginalized human beings, a commitment to ending this historical-social iniquity.162

    Theology as Critical Reflection on Praxis

Liberation theology is not theology in the sense of theology as organizing and defending biblical truths. Such theology begins with the text of Scripture and then addresses the world. Liberation theology, instead, begins with a “critical reflection on humankind”163 and on “the presence and activity of the Church in the world.”164

Theological reflection would then necessarily be a criticism of society and the Church...165

The pastoral activity of the church does not flow as a conclusion from theological premises. Theology does not produce pastoral activity; rather it reflects upon it. Theology must be able to find in pastoral activity the presence of the Spirit inspiring the action of the Christian community.166

Instead of using only revelation and tradition as starting points, as classical theology has generally done, it must start with facts and questions derived from the world and from history.167

Traditional theology has, according to liberationists, focused upon systemization and defense of biblical revelation to the extent of neglecting its responsibility to the world. Liberation theology reverses that. To be a liberationist one must be integrated into activities aimed at liberating the oppressed and constructing the new humanity. The emphasis is on orthopraxis as opposed to orthodoxy. Speaking of orthopraxis, Gutierrez explains,

The not to deny the meaning of orthodoxy, understood as a proclamation of and reflection on statements considered to be true. Rather, the goal is to balance and even to reject the primacy and almost exclusiveness which doctrine has enjoyed in Christian life and above all to modify the emphasis, often obsessive, upon the attainment of an orthodoxy which is often nothing more than fidelity to an obsolete tradition or a debatable interpretation. In a more positive vein, the intention is to recognize the work and importance of concrete behavior, of deeds, of action, of praxis in the Christian life.168

Liberation theology, then, stresses action over reflection

Here what is needed is not so much contemplation as effective action for liberation. The crucified needs to be raised to life. We are on the side of the poor only when we struggle alongside them against the poverty that has been unjustly created and forced on them. Service and solidarity with the oppressed also implies an act of love for the suffering Christ, a liturgy pleasing to God.169

    Aid, Development and Dependence

Historically, the developed nations of the world have attempted to resolve the problem of third-world poverty through aid and/or development. Aid is seen by liberationists as only a Band-Aid solution to the impoverishment of many Latin Americans. Feeding the poor doesn’t resolve their impoverishment. Aid programs offer no long-term solutions. Neither does development (or Reformism).

“Reformism” seeks to improve the situation of the poor, but always within existing social relationships and the basic structuring of society, which rules out greater participation by all and diminution in the privileges enjoyed by the ruling classes. Reformism can lead to great feats of development in the poorer nations, but this development is nearly always at the expense of the oppressed poor and very rarely in their favor. For example, in 1964 the Brazilian economy ranked 46th in the world; in 1984 it ranked 8th. The last twenty years have seen undeniable technological and industrial progress, but at the same time there has been a considerable worsening of social conditions for the poor, with exploitation, destitution, and hunger on a scale previously unknown in Brazilian history. This has been the price paid by the poor for this type of elitist, exploitative, and exclusivist development in which, in the words of Pope John Paul II, the rich become even richer at the expense of the poor who become even poorer.170

The failure of developmentalism, according to Gustavo Gutierrez, is its blindness to the dependency of the underdeveloped countries upon the developed ones.

For some time now, another point of view has been gaining ground in Latin America. It has become ever clearer that underdevelopment is the end result of a process. Therefore, it must be studied from a historical perspective, that is, in relationship to the development and expansion of the great capitalist countries. The underdevelopment of the poor countries, as an overall social fact, appears in its true light: as the historical by-product of the development of other countries. The dynamics of the capitalist economy lead to the establishment of a center and a periphery, simultaneously generating progress and growing wealth for the few and social imbalances, political tensions, and poverty for the many.171

Hence, underdevelopment, according to liberation theologians is the by-product of capitalism. The presence of capitalistic economies in the world inherently produces a periphery of underdeveloped, or oppressed, countries. Liberation, then, is greater than economic improvement, it involves social and political aspects.

The poor can break out of their situation of oppression only by working out a strategy better able to change social conditions: the strategy of liberation. In liberation, the oppressed come together, come to understand their situation through the process of conscientization172, discover the causes of their oppression, organize themselves into movements, and act in a coordinated fashion. First, they claim everything that the existing system can give: better wages, working conditions, health care, education, housing, and so forth; then they work toward the transformation of present society in the direction of a new society characterized by widespread participation, a better and more just balance among social classes and more worthy ways of life.173

    Liberation Defined on Three Levels

Liberation involves more than simply the elimination of poverty, as has already been seen. Gutierrez sees three levels of meaning of the concept of liberation. The three are interdependent and refer to a single, complex process.174

In the first place, liberation expresses the aspirations of oppressed peoples and social classes, emphasizing the conflictual aspect of the economic, social, and political process which puts them at odds with wealthy nations and oppressive classes.

At a deeper level, liberation can be applied to an understanding of history. Humankind is seen as assuming conscious responsibility for its own destiny. This understanding provides a dynamic context and broadens the horizons of the desired social changes. In this perspective the unfolding of all the dimensions of humanness is demanded--persons who make themselves throughout their life and throughout history. The gradual conquest of true freedom leads to the creation of a new humankind and a qualitatively different society.

Finally...the word liberation allows for another approach leading to the biblical sources which inspire the presence and action of humankind in history. In the Bible, Christ is presented as the one who brings us liberation. Christ the Savior liberates from sin, which is the ultimate root of all disruption of friendship and of all injustice and oppression.175

As can be seen from this, liberation is aimed at developing a just society in which humanness is fully realized. Liberation from sin, provided by Christ, is the motivating force and inspiration for pursuing the liberation of society and humankind, producing the new humanity.

    Marxist Socialism

Liberationists reject capitalism for Marxist socialism. They believe capitalism is the culprit of Latin America’s social ills. Marxism, on the other hand, contains useful concepts for building the new humanity.

...groups and individuals who have raised the banner of Latin American liberation are most frequently of socialist inspiration; socialism, moreover, represents the most fruitful and far-reaching approach.176

For some, participation in this process of liberation means not allowing themselves to be intimidated by the accusation of being “communist.” On the positive side it can even mean taking the path of socialism. A group of Colombian priests affirmed, “We forthrightly denounce neocolonial capitalism, since it is incapable of solving the acute problems that confront our people. We are led to direct our efforts and actions toward the building of a Socialist type of society that would allow us to eliminate all forms of man’s exploitation of his fellow man, and that fits in with the historical tendencies of our time and the distinctive character of Colombians.”177

    Sin, Redemption and Social Progress

As stated initially, liberation theology identifies salvation and human liberation.

...salvation embraces all persons and the whole person; the liberating action of Christ--made human in this history and not in a history marginal to real human life--is at the heart of the historical current of humanity; the struggle for a just society is in its own right very much a part of salvation history.178

Liberationists “consider temporal progress as a continuation of the work of creation.”179 Since the world is affected by sin, salvation has become an essential element of creation, or re-creation. Hence, temporal progress is contingent on redemption. Or stated otherwise, redemption produces temporal progress.

Sin, according to liberationists, refers not so much to individual fallenness as to social inhumanity. Sin is viewed primarily in its collective dimensions, that is, on the level of social evil. the liberation approach sin is not considered as an individual, private, or merely interior reality--asserted just enough to necessitate “spiritual” redemption which does not challenge the order in which we live. Sin is regarded as a social, historical fact...180

Sin is evident in oppressive structures, in the exploitation of humans by humans, in the domination and slavery of peoples, races, and social classes.181

This understanding of sin, according to Gutierrez, “...demands a radical liberation, which in turn necessarily implies political liberation.”182

This radical liberation is the gift which Christ offers us. By his death and resurrection he redeems us from sin and all its consequences, as has been well said in the text we quote again: “It is the same God who, in the fullness of time, sends his Son in the flesh, so that he might come to liberate all men from all slavery to which sin has subjected them: hunger, misery, oppression, and ignorance, in a word, that injustice and hatred which have their origin in human selfishness.”183

    Humanity as the Agent of Its Own Destiny

As was seen in the discussion on development and in the tri-level definition of liberation, liberationists expect humans both to liberate themselves and to become a people who have the opportunity and capability to control their own destiny. Humans, especially oppressed people groups, are seen as the responsible agents of their own liberation and redevelopment of society.

The liberation of our continent means more than overcoming economic, social, and political dependence. It means, in a deeper sense, to see the becoming of humankind as a process of human emancipation in history. It is to see humanity in search of a qualitatively different society in which it will be free from all servitude, in which it will be the artisan of its own destiny. It is to seek the building up of a new humanity.184

This vision is what in the last instance sustains the liberation efforts of Latin Americans. But in order for this liberation to be authentic and complete, it has to be undertaken by the oppressed themselves and so must stem from the values proper to them. Only in this context can a true cultural revolution come about.185

...we will have an authentic theology of liberation only when the oppressed themselves can freely raise their voice and express themselves directly and creatively in society and in the heart of the People of God, when they themselves “account for the hope,” which they bear, when they are the protagonists of their own liberation.186

    Humanity as the Temple of God

According to liberationists, God is encountered in humanity and in human history (Hence, the starting point of theology being orthopraxis). Liberation theology is explicitly universal.

God is manifested visibly in the humanity of Christ, the God-Man, irreversibly committed to human history.187

Christ is the temple of God. This explains Paul’s insistence that the Christian community is a temple of living stones, and that each Christian, a member of this community, is a temple of the Holy Spirit... The Spirit sent by the Father and the Son to carry the work of salvation to its fulfillment dwells in every human being--in persons who form part of a very specific fabric of human relationships, in persons who are in concrete historical situations.188

Furthermore, not only is the Christian a temple of God; every human being is.189

Since the Incarnation, humanity, every human being, history, is the living temple of God. The “pro-fane,” that which is located outside the temple, no longer exists.190

    To Know God Is to Do Justice

Since every human is the temple of God, as is history itself, then God is encountered as one involves himself with humans, and with the “process of humankind.”191 Loving God is, therefore, defined in terms of bringing justice to the poor and oppressed.

To despise ones neighbor (Prov. 14:21), to exploit the humble and poor worker, and to delay the payment of wages, is to offend God...192

Inversely, to know, that is to say, to love Yahweh is to do justice to the poor and oppressed.193

To know Yahweh, which in Biblical language is equivalent to saying to love Yahweh, is to establish just relationships among persons, it is to recognize the rights of the poor. The God of Biblical revelation is known through interhuman justice. When justice does not exist, God is not known; God is absent.194

Our encounter with the Lord occurs in our encounter with others, especially in the encounter with those whose human features have been disfigured by oppression, despoliation, and alienation and who have “no beauty, no majesty” but are the things “from which men turn away their eyes” (Isa. 53:2-3). These are the marginal groups, who have fashioned a true culture for themselves and whose values one must understand if one wishes to reach them. The salvation of humanity passes through them; they are the bearers of the meaning of history and “inherit the kingdom” (James 2:5). Our attitude towards them, or rather our commitment to them, will indicate whether or not we are directing our existence in conformity with the will of the Father.195


The term utopia (literally meaning “no place”), taken from Thomas More’s book entitled Utopia (1516), refers to “a qualitatively different society” and expresses “the aspiration to establish new social relations among human beings.”196 The ideal utopian society is a viable eschatological motivation for liberationists and for liberation activity. Utopia is thought to be “the driving force of history,” and is “subversive of the existing order.”197

Utopia necessarily means a denunciation of the existing order. Its deficiencies are to a large extent the reason for the emergence of a utopia. The repudiation of a dehumanizing situation is an unavoidable aspect of utopia. It is a matter of a complete rejection which attempts to strike at the roots of the evil. This is why utopia is revolutionary and not reformist.198

But utopia is also an annunciation, an annunciation of what is not yet, but will be; it is the forecast of a different order of things, a new society. It is the field of creative imagination which proposes the alternate values to those rejected.199

...denunciation and annunciation can be achieved only in praxis.200

If utopia does not lead to action in the present, it is an evasion of reality.201

The concept of utopia enables liberationists to bring faith and political action together.

Faith and political action will not enter into a correct and fruitful relationship except through the effort to create a new type of person in a different society, that is, except through utopia... This plan provides the basis for the struggle for better living conditions. Political liberation appears as a path toward the utopia of a freer, more human humankind, the protagonist of its own history.202

Finally, Gutierrez states that utopia is a human attainment:

The Gospel does not provide a utopia for us; this is a human work.203

For Discussion:

    1. What authority do the Scriptures have in liberation theology? What is the authority in liberation theology?

    2. What is your understanding of theology as a “critical reflection on praxis?”

    3. What might “facts and questions derived from the world and from history” encompass?

    4. Based on the content included above, define the term orthopraxis?

    5. Do you agree with liberation theology’s assessment of developmentalism and dependency? Why or why not?

    6. What role does God have in liberation theology? What position does liberation theology give to man?

    7. What is the Gospel according to liberation theology?

    8. What are the positive contributions that liberation theology makes to evangelical thinking?

    9. What are the weaknesses of liberation theology?

Evangelicals and Catholics Together204

The document reproduced below is the product of a group of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics who envision unity between themselves. This unity, according to the authors, is essential for continued missionary expansion into the third millennium. The conflict that exists between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals around the world is seen as crippling to the progress of the Gospel. The consultation that produced this document sought to discover and resolve issues that continue to prevent cooperation in mission.

    The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium

The following statement is the product of consultation, beginning in September 1992, between Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians. Appended to the text is a list of participants in the consultation and of others who have given their support to this declaration.

(1) We are Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics who have been led through prayer, study, and discussion to common convictions about Christian faith and mission. This statement cannot speak officially for our communities. It does intend to speak responsibly from our communities and to our communities. In this statement we address what we have discovered both about our unity and about our differences. We are aware that our experience reflects the distinctive circumstances and opportunities of Evangelicals and Catholics living together in North America. At the same time, we believe that what we have discovered and resolved is pertinent to the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics in other parts of the world. We therefore commend this statement to their prayerful consideration.

(2) As the Second Millennium draws to a close, the Christian mission in world history faces a moment of daunting opportunity and responsibility. If in the merciful and mysterious ways of God the Second Coming is delayed, we enter upon a Third Millennium that could be, in the words of John Paul II, “a springtime of world missions.” (Redemptoris Missio)

(3) As Christ is one, so the Christian mission is one. That one mission can be and should be advanced in diverse ways. Legitimate diversity, however, should not be confused with existing divisions between Christians that obscure the one Christ and hinder the one mission. There is a necessary connection between the visible unity of Christians and the mission of the one Christ. We together pray for the fulfillment of the prayer of Our Lord: “May they all be one; as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so also may they be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17) We together, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples.

(4) The one Christ and one mission includes many other Christians, notably the Eastern Orthodox and those Protestants not commonly identified as Evangelical. All Christians are encompassed in the prayer, “May they all be one.” Our present statement attends to the specific problems and opportunities in the relationship between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.

(5) As we near the Third Millennium, there are approximately 1.7 billion Christians in the world. About a billion of these are Catholics and more than 300 million are Evangelical Protestants. The century now drawing to a close has been the greatest century of missionary expansion in Christian history. We pray and we believe that this expansion has prepared the way for yet greater missionary endeavor in the first century of the Third Millennium.

(6) The two communities in world Christianity that are most evangelistically assertive and most rapidly growing are Evangelicals and Catholics. In many parts of the world, the relationship between these communities is marked more by conflict than by cooperation, more by animosity than by love, more by suspicion than by trust, more by propaganda and ignorance than by respect for the truth. This is alarmingly the case in Latin America, increasingly the case in Eastern Europe, and too often the case in our own country.

(7) Without ignoring conflicts between and within other Christian communities, we address ourselves to the relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics, who constitute the growing edge of missionary expansion at present and, most likely, in the century ahead. In doing so, we hope that what we have discovered and resolved may be of help in other situations of conflict, such as that among Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Catholics in Eastern Europe. While we are gratefully aware of ongoing efforts to address tensions among these communities, the shameful reality is that, in many places around the world, the scandal of conflict between Christians obscures the scandal of the cross, thus crippling the one mission of the one Christ.

(8) As in times past, so also today and in the future, the Christian mission, which is directed to the entire human community, must be advanced against formidable opposition. In some cultures, that mission encounters resurgent spiritualities and religions that are explicitly hostile to the claims of the Christ. Islam, which in many instances denies the freedom to witness to the Gospel, must be of increasing concern to those who care about religious freedom and the Christian mission. Mutually respectful conversation between Muslims and Christians should be encouraged in the hope that more of the world will, in the oft-repeated words of John Paul II, “open the door to Christ.” At the same time, in our so-called developed societies, a widespread secularization increasingly descends into moral, intellectual, and spiritual nihilism that denies not only the One who is the Truth but the very idea of truth itself.

(9) We enter the twenty-first century without illusions. With Paul and the Christians of the first century, we know that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6) As Evangelicals and Catholics, we dare not by needless and loveless conflict between ourselves give aid and comfort to the enemies of the cause of Christ.

(10) The love of Christ compels us and we are therefore resolved to avoid such conflict between our communities and, where such conflict exists, to do what we can to reduce and eliminate it. Beyond that, we are called and we are therefore resolved to explore patterns of working and witnessing together in order to advance the one mission of Christ. Our common resolve is not based merely on a desire for harmony. We reject any appearance of harmony that is purchased at the price of truth. Our common resolve is made imperative by obedience to the truth of God revealed in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, and by the trust in the promise of the Holy Spirit’s guidance until Our Lord returns in glory to judge the living and the dead.

The mission that we embrace together is the necessary consequence of the faith that we affirm together.

We Affirm Together

(11) Jesus Christ is Lord. That is the first and final affirmation that Christians make about all of reality. He is the One sent by God to be Lord and Savior of all: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4) Christians are people ahead of time, those who proclaim now what will one day be acknowledged by all, that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2)

(12) We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ. Living faith is active in love that is nothing less than the love of Christ, for we together say with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2)

(13) All who accept Christ as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ. Evangelicals and Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ. We have not chosen one another, just as we have not chosen Christ. He has chosen us, and he has chosen us to be his together. (John 15) However imperfect our communion with one another, however deep our disagreements with one another, we recognize that there is but one church of Christ. There is one church because there is one Christ and the church is his body. However difficult the way, we recognize that we are called by God to a fuller realization of our unity in the body of Christ. The only unity to which we would give expression is unity in the truth, and the truth is this: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4).

(14) We affirm together that Christians are to teach and live in obedience to the divinely inspired Scriptures, which are the infallible Word of God. We further affirm together that Christ has promised to his church the gift of the Holy Sprit who will lead us into all truth in discerning and declaring the teaching of Scripture. (John 16) We recognize together that the Holy Spirit has so guided his church in the past. In, for instance, the formation of the canon of the Scriptures, and in the orthodox response to the great Christological and Trinitarian controversies of the early centuries, we confidently acknowledge the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In faithful response to the Spirit’s leading, the church formulated the Apostle’s Creed, which we can and hereby do affirm together as an accurate statement of scriptural truth:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

We Hope Together

(15) We hope together that all people will come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This hope makes necessary the church’s missionary zeal. “But how are they to call upon him in whom the have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10) The church is by nature, in all places and at all times, in mission. Our missionary hope is inspired by the revealed desire of God that “all should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2).

(16) The church lives by and for the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matthew 28)

(17) Unity and love among Christians is an integral part of our missionary witness to the Lord whom we serve. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13) If we do not love one another, we disobey this command and contradict the Gospel we declare.

(18) As Evangelicals and Catholics, we pray that our unity in the love of Christ will become ever more evident as a sign to the world of God’s reconciling power. Our communal and ecclesial separations are deep and long standing. We acknowledge that we do not know the schedule nor do we know the way to the greater visible unity for which we hope. We do know that existing patterns of distrustful polemic and conflict are not the way. We do know that God who has brought us into communion with himself through Christ intends that we also be in communion with one another. We do know that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14) and as we are drawn closer to him--walking in that way, obeying the truth, living that life--we are drawn closer to one another.

(19) Whatever may be the future form of the relationship between our communities, we can, we must, and we will begin now the work required to remedy what we know to be wrong in that relationship. Such work requires trust and understanding, and trust and understanding require an assiduous attention to truth. We do not deny but clearly assert that there are disagreements between us. Misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and caricatures of one another, however, are not disagreements. These distortions must be cleared away if we are to search through our honest differences in a manner consistent with what we affirm and hope together on the basis of God’s Word.

We Search Together

(20) Together we search for a fuller and clearer understanding of God’s revelation of Christ and his will for his disciples. Because of the limitations of human reason and language, which limitations are compounded by sin, we cannot understand completely the transcendent reality of God and his ways. Only in the End Time will we see face to face and know as we are known. (1 Corinthians 13) We now search together in confident reliance upon God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, the sure testimony of Holy Scripture, and the promise of the Spirit to his church. In this search to understand the truth more fully and clearly, we need one another. We are both informed and limited by the histories of our communities and by our own experiences. Across the divides of communities and experiences, we need to challenge one another, always speaking the truth in love, building up the Body. (Ephesians 4)

(21) We do not presume to suggest that we can resolve the deep and long-standing differences between Evangelicals and Catholics. Indeed these differences may never be resolved short of the Kingdom Come. Nonetheless, we are not permitted simply to resign ourselves to differences that divide us from one another. Not all differences are authentic disagreements, nor need all disagreements divide. Differences and disagreements must be tested in disciplined and sustained conversation. In this connection we warmly commend and encourage the formal theological dialogues of recent years between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals.

(22) We note some of the differences and disagreements that must be addressed more fully and candidly in order to strengthen between us a relationship of trust in obedience to truth. Among points of difference in doctrine, worship, practice, and piety that are frequently thought to divide us are these:

* The church as an integral part of the Gospel or the church as communal consequence of the Gospel.
* The church as visible communion or invisible fellowship of true believers.
* The sole authority of Scripture (sola scriptura) or Scripture as authoritatively interpreted in the church.
* The “soul freedom” of the individual Christian or the Magisterium (teaching authority) of community.
* The church as local congregation or universal communion.
* Ministry ordered in apostolic succession or the priesthood of all believers.
* Sacraments and ordinances as symbols of grace or means of grace.
* The Lord’s Supper as eucharistic sacrifice or memorial meal.
* Remembrance of Mary and the saints or devotion to Mary and the saints.
* Baptism as sacrament of regeneration or testimony to regeneration.

(23) This account of differences is by no means complete. Nor is the disparity between positions always so sharp as to warrant the “or” in the above formulations. Moreover, among those recognized as Evangelical Protestants there are significant differences between, for example, Baptist, Pentecostals, and Calvinists on these questions. But the differences mentioned above reflect disputes that are deep and long standing. In at least some instances, they reflect authentic disagreements that have been in the past and are at present barriers to full communion between Christians.

(24) On these questions, and other questions implied by them, Evangelicals hold that the Catholic Church has gone beyond Scripture, adding teachings and practices that detract from or compromise the Gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ. Catholics, in turn, hold that such teaching and practices are grounded in Scripture and belong to the fullness of God’s revelation. Their rejection, Catholics say, results in a truncated and reduced understanding of the Christian reality.

(25) Again, we cannot resolve these disputes here. We can and do affirm together that the entirety of Christian faith, life, and mission finds its source, center, and end in the crucified and risen Lord. We can and do pledge that we will continue to search togetherthrough study, discussion, and prayerfor a better understanding of one another’s convictions and a more adequate comprehension of the truth of God in Christ. We can testify now that in our searching together we have discovered what we can affirm together and what we can hope together and, therefore, how we can contend together.

We Contend Together

(26) As we are bound together by Christ and his cause, so we are bound together in contending against all that opposes Christ and his cause. We are emboldened not by illusions of easy triumph but by faith in his certain triumph. Our Lord wept over Jerusalem, and he now weeps over a world that does not know the time of its visitation. The raging of the principalities and powers may increase as the End Time nears, but the outcome of the contest is assured.

(27) The cause of Christ is the cause and mission of the church, which is, first of all, to proclaim the Good News that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5) To proclaim this Gospel and to sustain the community of faith, worship, and discipleship that is gathered by this Gospel is the first and chief responsibility of the church. All other tasks and responsibilities of the church are derived from and directed toward the mission of the Gospel.

(28) Christians individually and the church corporately also have a responsibility for the right ordering of civil society. We embrace this task soberly; knowing the consequences of human sinfulness, we resist the utopian conceit that it is within our powers to build the Kingdom of God on earth. We embrace this task hopefully; knowing that God has called us to love our neighbor, we seek to secure for all a greater measure of civil righteousness and justice, confident that he will crown our efforts when he rightly orders all things in the coming of his Kingdom.

(29) In the exercise of these public responsibilities there has been in recent years a growing convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics. We thank God for the discovery of one another in contending for a common cause. Much more important, we thank God for the discovery of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our cooperation as citizens is animated by our convergence as Christians. We promise to one another that we will work to deepen, build upon, and expand this pattern of convergence and cooperation.

(30) Together we contend for the truth that politics, law, and culture must be secured by moral truth. With the Founders of the American experiment, we declare, “We hold these truths.” With them, we hold that this constitutional order is composed not just of rules and procedures but is most essentially a moral experiment. With them, we hold that only a virtuous people can be free and just, and that virtue is secured by religion. To propose that securing civil virtue is the purpose of religion is blasphemous. To deny that securing civil virtue is a benefit of religion is blindness.

(31) Americans are drifting away from, are often explicitly defying, the constituting truths of this experiment in ordered liberty. Influential sectors of the culture are laid waste by relativism, anti-intellectualism, and nihilism that deny the very idea of truth. Against such influences in both the elite and popular culture, we appeal to reason and religion in contending for the foundational truths of our constitutional order.

(32) More specifically, we contend together for religious freedom. We do so for the sake of religion, but also because religious freedom is the first freedom, the source and shield of all human freedoms. In their relationship to God, persons have a dignity and responsibility that transcends, and thereby limits, the authority of the state and of every other merely human institution.

(33) Religious freedom is itself grounded in and is a product of religious faith, as is evident in the history of Baptists and others in this country. Today we rejoice together that the Roman Catholic Church--as affirmed by the Second Vatican Council and boldly exemplified in the ministry of John Paul II--is strongly committed to religious freedom and, consequently, to the defense of all human rights. Where Evangelicals and Catholics are in severe and sometimes violent conflict, such as parts of Latin America, we urge Christians to embrace and act upon the imperative of religious freedom. Religious freedom will not be respected by the state if it is not respected by Christians or, even worse, if Christians attempt to recruit the state in repressing religious freedom.

(34) In this country, too, freedom of religion cannot be taken for granted but requires constant attention. We strongly affirm the separation of church and state, and just as strongly protest the distortion of that principle to mean the separation of religion from public life. We are deeply concerned by the court’s narrowing of the protections provided by the “free exercise” provision of the First Amendment and by an obsession with “no establishment” that stifles the necessary role of religion in American life. As a consequence of such distortions, it is increasingly the case that wherever government goes religion must retreat, and government increasingly goes almost everywhere. Religion, which was privileged and foundational in our legal order, has in recent years been penalized and made marginal. We contend together for a renewal of the constituting vision of the place of religion in the American experiment.

(35) Religion and religiously grounded moral conviction is not an alien or threatening force in our public life. For the great majority of Americans, morality is derived, however variously and confusedly, from religion. The argument, increasingly voiced in sectors of our political culture, that religion should be excluded from the public square must be recognized as an assault upon the most elementary principles of democratic governance. That argument needs to be exposed and countered by leaders, religious and other, who care about the integrity of our constitutional order.

(36) The pattern of convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics is, in large part, a result of common effort to protect human life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable among us. With the Founders, we hold that all human beings are endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The statement that the unborn child is a human life that--barring natural misfortune or lethal intervention--will become what everyone recognizes as a human baby is not a religious assertion. It is a statement of simple biological fact. That the unborn child has a right to protection, including the protection of law, is a moral statement supported by moral reason and biblical truth.

(37) We, therefore, will persist in contending--we will not be discouraged but will multiply every effort--in order to secure the legal protection of the unborn. Our goals are: to secure due process of law for the unborn, to enact the most protective laws and public policies that are politically possible, and to reduce dramatically the incidence of abortion. We warmly commend those who have established thousands of crisis pregnancy and postnatal care centers across the country, and urge that such efforts be multiplied. As the unborn must be protected, so also must women be protected from their current rampant exploitation by the abortion industry and by fathers who refuse to accept responsibility for mothers and children. Abortion on demand, which is the current rule in America, must be recognized as a massive attack on the dignity, rights, and needs of women.

(38) Abortion is the leading edge of an encroaching culture of death. The helpless old, the radically handicapped, and others who cannot effectively assert their rights are increasingly treated as though they have no rights. These are the powerless who are exposed to the will and whim of those who have power over them. We will do all in our power to resist proposals for euthanasia, eugenics, and popular control that exploit the vulnerable, corrupt the integrity of medicine, deprave our culture, and betray the moral truths of our constitutional order.

(39) In public education, we contend together for schools that transmit to coming generations our cultural heritage, which is inseparable from the formative influence of religion, especially Judaism and Christianity. Education for responsible citizenship and social behavior is inescapably moral education. Every effort must be made to cultivate the morality of honesty, law observance, work, caring, chastity, mutual respect between the sexes, and readiness for marriage, parenthood, and family. 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. In a democratic society that recognizes that parents have the primary responsibility for the formation of their children, schools are to assist and support, not oppose and undermine, parents in the exercise of their responsibility.

(40) We contend together for comprehensive policy of parental choice in education. This is a moral question of simple justice. Parents are the primary educators of their children; the state and other institutions should be supportive of their exercise of the responsibility. We affirm policies that enable parents to effectively exercise their right and responsibility to choose the schooling that they consider best for their children.

(41) We contend together against the widespread pornography in our society, along with the celebration of violence, sexual depravity, and antireligous bigotry in the entertainment media. In resisting such cultural and moral debasement, we recognize the legitimacy of boycotts and other consumer actions, and urge the enforcement of existing laws against obscenity. We reject the self-serving claim of the peddlers of depravity that this constitutes illegitimate censorship. We reject the assertion of the unimaginative that artistic creativity is to be measured by the capacity to shock or outrage. A people incapable of defending decency invites the rule of viciousness, both public and personal.

(42) We contend for a renewed spirit of acceptance, understanding, and cooperation across lines of religion, race, ethnicity, sex, and class. We are all created in the image of God and are accountable to him. That truth is the basis of individual responsibility and equality before the law. The abandonment of that truth has resulted in a society at war with itself, pitting citizens against one another in bitter conflicts of group grievances and claims to entitlement. Justice and social amity require a redirection of public attitudes and policies so that rights are joined to duties and people are rewarded according to their character and competence.

(43) We contend for a free society, including a vibrant market economy. A free society requires a careful balancing between economics, politics and culture. Christianity is not an ideology and therefore does not prescribe precisely how that balance is to be achieved in every circumstance. We affirm the importance of a free economy not only because it is more efficient but because it accords with a Christian understanding of human freedom. Economic freedom, while subject to grave abuse, makes possible the patterns of creativity, cooperation, and accountability that contribute to the common good.

(44) We contend together for a renewed appreciation of Western culture. In its history and missionary reach, Christianity engages all cultures while being captive to none. We are keenly aware of, and grateful for, the role of Christianity in shaping and sustaining the Western culture of which we are part. As with all of history, that culture is marred by human sinfulness. Alone among world cultures, however, the West has cultivated an attitude of self-criticism and of eagerness to learn from other cultures. What is called multiculturalism can mean respectful attention to human differences. More commonly today, however, multiculturalism means affirming all cultures but our own. Welcoming the contributions of other cultures and being ever alert to the limitations of our own, we receive Western culture as our legacy and embrace it as our task in order to transmit it as a gift to future generations.

(45) We contend for public policies that demonstrate renewed respect for the irreplaceable role of mediating structures in society--notably the family, churches, and myriad voluntary associations. The state is not the society, and many of the most important functions of society are best addressed in independence from the state. The role of churches in responding to a wide variety of human needs, especially among the poor and marginal, needs to be protected and strengthened. Moreover, society is not the aggregate of isolated individuals bearing rights but is composed of communities that inculcate responsibility, sustain shared memory, provide mutual aid, and nurture the habits that contribute to both personal well-being and the common good. Most basic among such communities is the community of the family. Laws and social policies should be designed with particular care for the stability and flourishing of families. While the crisis of the family in America is by no means limited to the poor or the underclass, heightened attention must be paid those who have become, as a result of well-intended but misguided statist policies, virtual wards of the government.

(46) Finally, we contend for a realistic and responsible understanding of America’s part in world affairs. Realism and responsibility require that we avoid both the illusions of unlimited power and righteousness, on the one hand, and the timidity and selfishness of isolationism, on the other. 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.

(47) The above is a partial list of public responsibilities on which we believe there is a pattern of convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics. We reject the notion that this constitutes a partisan “religious agenda” in American politics. Rather, this is a set of directions oriented to the common good and discussible on the basis of public reason. While our sense of civic responsibility is informed and motivated by Christian faith, our intention is to elevate the level of political and moral discourse in a manner that excludes no one and invites the participation of all people of good will. To that end, Evangelicals and Catholics have made an inestimable contribution in the past and, it is our hope, will contribute even more effectively in the future.

(48) We are profoundly aware that the American experiment has been, all in all, a blessing to the world and a blessing to us as Evangelical and Catholic Christians. We are determined to assume our full share of responsibility for this “one nation under God,” believing it to be a nation under the judgment, mercy, and providential care of the Lord of the nations to whom alone we render unqualified allegiance.

We Witness Together

(49) The question of Christian witness unavoidably returns us to points of serious tension between Evangelicals and Catholics. Bearing witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ and his will for our lives is an integral part of Christian discipleship. The achievement of good will and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics must not be at the price of the urgency and clarity of Christian witness to the gospel. At the same time, and as noted earlier, Our Lord has made clear that the evidence of love among his disciples is an integral part of that Christian witness.

(50) Today, in this country and elsewhere, Evangelicals and Catholics attempt to win “converts” from one another’s folds. In some ways, this is perfectly understandable and perhaps inevitable. In many instances, however, such efforts at recruitment undermine the Christian mission by which we are bound by God’s Word and to which we have recommitted ourselves in this statement. It should be clearly understood between Catholics and Evangelicals that Christian witness is of necessity aimed at conversion. Authentic conversion is--in its beginning, in its end, and all along the way--conversion to God in Christ by the power of the Spirit. In this connection, we embrace as our own the explanation of the Baptist-Roman Catholic International Conversation (1988):

Conversion is turning away from all that is opposed to God, contrary to Christ’s teaching, and turning to God, to Christ, the Son, through the work of the Holy Spirit. It entails a turning from the self-centeredness of sin to faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Conversion is a passing from one way of life to another new one, marked with the newness of Christ. It is a continuing process so that the whole life of a Christian should be a passage from death to life, from error to truth, from sin to grace. Our life in Christ demands continual growth in God’s grace. Conversion is personal but not private. Individuals respond in faith to God’s call but faith comes from hearing the proclamation of the word of God and is to be expressed in the life together in Christ that is the Church.

(51) By preaching, teaching, and life example, Christians witness to Christians and non-Christians alike. We seek and pray for the conversion of others, even as we recognize our own continuing need to be fully converted. As we strive to make Christian faith and life--our own and that of others--ever more intentional rather than nominal, ever more committed rather than apathetic, we also recognize the different forms that authentic discipleship can take. As is evident in the two thousand year history of the church, and in our contemporary experience, there are different ways of being Christian, and some of these ways are distinctively marked by communal patterns of worship, piety, and catechesis. That we are all to be one does not mean that we are all to be identical in our way of following the one Christ. Such distinctive patterns of discipleship, it should be noted, are amply evident within the communion of the Catholic Church as well as within the many worlds of Evangelical Protestantism.

(52) It is understandable that Christians who bear witness to the Gospel try to persuade others that their communities and traditions are more fully in accord with the Gospel. There is a necessary distinction between evangelizing and what it today commonly called proselytizing or “sheep stealing.” We condemn the practice of recruiting people from another community for purposes of denominational or institutional aggrandizement. At the same time, our commitment to full religious freedom compels us to defend the legal freedom to proselytize even as we call upon Christians to refrain from such activity.

(53) Three observations are in order in connection with proselytizing. First, as much as we might believe one community is more fully in accord with the Gospel than another, we as Evangelicals and Catholics affirm that opportunity and means for growth in Christian discipleship are available in our several communities. Second, the decision of the committed Christian with respect to his communal allegiance and participation must be assiduously respected. Third, in view of the large number of non-Christians in the world and the enormous challenge of our common evangelistic task, it is neither theologically legitimate nor a prudent use of resources for one Christian community to proselytize among active adherents of another Christian community.

(54) Christian witness must always be made in a spirit of love and humility. It must not deny but must readily accord to everyone the full freedom to discern and decide what is God’s will for his life. Witness that is in service to the truth is in service to such freedom. Any form of coercion--physical, psychological, legal, economic--corrupts Christian witness and is to be unqualifiedly rejected. Similarly, bearing false witness against other persons and communities, or casting unjust and uncharitable suspicions upon them, is incompatible with the Gospel. Also to be rejected is the practice of comparing the strengths and ideals of one community with the weaknesses and failures of another. In describing the teaching and practices of other Christians, we must strive to do so in a way that they would recognize as fair and accurate.

(55) In considering the many corruptions of Christian witness, we, Evangelicals and Catholics, confess that we have sinned against one another and against God. We most earnestly ask the forgiveness of God and one another, and pray for the grace to amend our own lives and that of our communities.

(56) Repentance and amendment of life do not dissolve remaining differences between us. In the context of evangelization and “reevangelization,” we encounter a major difference in our understanding of the relationship between baptism and the new birth in Christ. For Catholics, all who are validly baptized are born again and are truly, however imperfectly, in communion with Christ. That baptismal grace is to be continually reawakened and revivified through conversion. For most Evangelicals, but not all, the experience of conversion is to be followed by baptism as a sign of the new birth. For Catholics, all the baptized are already members of the church, however dormant their faith and life; for many Evangelicals, the new birth requires baptismal initiation into the community of the born again. These differing beliefs about the relationship between baptism, new birth, and membership in the church should be honestly presented to the Christian who has undergone conversion. But again, his decision regarding communal allegiance and participation must be assiduously respected.

(57) There are, then, differences between us that cannot be resolved here. But on this we are resolved: All authentic witness must be aimed at conversion to God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those converted--whether understood as having received the new birth for the first time or as having experienced the reawakening of the new birth originally bestowed in the sacrament of baptism--must be given full freedom and respect as they discern and decide the community in which they will live their new life in Christ. In such discernment and decision, they are ultimately responsible to God and we dare not interfere with the exercise of that responsibility. Also in our differences and disagreements, we Evangelicals and Catholics commend one another to God “who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” (Ephesians 3)

(58) In this discussion of witnessing together we have touched on difficult and long standing problems. The difficulties must not be permitted to overshadow the truths on which we are, by the grace of God, in firm agreement. As we grow in mutual understanding and trust, it is our hope that our efforts to evangelize will not jeopardize but will reinforce our devotion to the common tasks to which we have pledged ourselves in this statement.


(59) Nearly two thousand years after it began, and nearly five hundred years after the divisions of the Reformation era, the Christian mission to the world is vibrantly alive and assertive. We do not know, we cannot know, what the Lord of history has in store for the Third Millennium. It may be the springtime of world missions and great Christian expansion. It may be the way of the cross marked by persecution and apparent marginalization. In different places and times, it will likely be both. Or it may be that Our Lord will return tomorrow.

(6) We do know that his promise is sure, that we are enlisted for the duration, and that we are in this together. We do know that we must affirm and hope and search and contend and witness together, for we belong not to ourselves but to him who has purchased us by the blood of the cross. We do know that this is a time of opportunity--and, if of opportunity, then of responsibility--for Evangelicals and Catholics to be Christians together in a way that helps prepare the world for the coming of him to whom belongs the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

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

Endorsed by: Dr. William Abraham Perkins School of Theology; Dr. Elizabeth Achtemeier Union Theological Seminary, Virginia; Mr. William Bently Ball Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Dr. Bill Bright Campus Crusade for Christ; Professor Robert Destro Catholic University of America; Fr. Augustine Dinoia, O.P. Dominican House of Studies; Fr. Joseph P. Fitzpatrick, S.J. Fordham University; Mr. Keith Fournier American Center for Law and Justice; Bishop William Frey Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry; Professor Mary Ann Glendon Harvard Law School; Dr. Os Guiness Trinity Forum; Dr. Nathan Hatch University of Notre Dame; Dr. James Hitchcock St. Louis University; Professor Peter Kreeft Boston College; Fr. Matthew Lamb Boston College; Mr. Ralph Martin Renewal Ministries; Dr. Richard Mouw Fuller Theological Seminary; Dr. Mark Knoll Wheaton College; Mr. Michael Novak American Enterprise Institute; John Cardinal O’Conner Archdiocese of New York; Dr. Thomas Oden Drew University; Dr. James I. Packer Regent College, British Columbia; The Rev. Pat Robertson Regent University; Dr. John Rogers Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry; Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla, S.J. Archdiocese of San Francisco.

For Discussion:

    1. Based on the introduction to Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT), what is the documents purpose?

    2. Is it possible for Catholics and Evangelicals to “work and witness together” in the cause of Christ without compromising truth?

    3. In We Affirm Together, the writers affirm justification by grace through faith and the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. Is it possible for Catholics and Evangelicals alike to affirm these statements? Do the statements have the same meaning for both?

    4. Would you agree that as Catholics and Evangelicals “search for a fuller and clearer understanding of God’s revelation of Christ and his will” their disputes will eventually be resolved and they will become united? Why or why not?

    5. One of the assumptions of ECT is that Catholics and Evangelicals are brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you agree? Explain.

    6. On which of the many issues mentioned in We Contend Together could you work alongside Catholics?

    7. Is the usage of the term “conversion” in We Witness Together acceptable to both Catholics and Evangelicals? Is its usage biblical?

    8. What is it that the writers of this document have “discovered and resolved” (1, 7) in the Catholic/Evangelical relationship?

    9. What positive contributions does ECT make?

    10. What are the weaknesses of ECT?

160 Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1988), Trans. by Sister Caridad Inda and John Eagleson, p. 37.

161 Ibid., p. 106.

162 Leonardo Boff and Clodovis Boff, Introducing Liberation Theology, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1987), Trans. by Paul Burns. P. 3.

163 Gutierrez, p. 9.

164 Ibid., p. 7.

165 Ibid., p. 9.

166 Ibid.

167 Ibid.

168 Ibid., p. 8.

169 Boff, p. 4.

170 Ibid., p. 5.

171 Gutierrez, p. 51.

172 Conscientization is the process whereby the oppressed recognize and alter their relational and cultural situation. “They thus make the transfer from a “naive awareness”--which does not deal with problems, gives too much value to the past, tends to accept mythical explanations, and tends toward debate--to a “critical awareness”--which delves into problems, is open to new ideas, replaces magical explanations with real causes, and tends to dialogue. [Gutierrez, p. 57]

173 Boff, p. 5.

174 Gutierrez, p. 25.

175 Ibid., pp. 24-25.

176 Ibid., p. 55.

177 Ibid., p. 65.

178 Ibid., p. 97.

179 Ibid., p. 100.

180 Ibid., p. 102

181 Ibid., p. 103.

182 Ibid.

183 Ibid., quoting Medellin.

184 Ibid., p. 56.

185 Ibid.

186 Ibid., p. 174.

187 Ibid., p. 109.

188 Ibid.

189 Ibid.

190 Ibid., p. 110.

191 Ibid.

192 Ibid.

193 Ibid.

194 Ibid., pp. 110-111.

195 Ibid., p. 116.

196 Ibid., p. 135.

197 Ibid., p. 136.

198 Ibid.

199 Ibid.

200 Ibid.

201 Ibid.

202 Ibid., p. 138.

203 Ibid., p. 139.

204 This document appeared in First Things, May 1994, pages 15-22 without the paragraph numbering. The paragraph numbering follows with that which appears in A House United, by Keith A. Fournier with William D. Watkins, (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1994), pages 337-349.

Related Topics: Reformation, Catholicism, Cultural Issues

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