4. Dallas Theological Seminary’s Response to the Discussion of Evangelical/Roman Catholic Cooperation
Religion and Public Life, a research and education institute located in New York City, held a press conference on March 29, 1994, to release a document prepared and signed by a group of Evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. Dallas Seminary was not involved in the formation of this statement or of subsequent documents. However, a growing concern has been expressed by some Dallas Seminary alumni and friends as to the relationship of the Seminary to this declaration. In light of the questions raised, the administration is responding with the following evaluation.
Dallas Seminary recognizes that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics share much in common on moral and social issues and can often cooperate in these areas.
Our society is under assault by the forces of secularism, humanism, and false religions. Catholics and Evangelicals unite in opposition to such evils as abortion on demand and pornography. And we unite in our support for many basic theological truths and biblical values on morality and the family. These (and other) issues are addressed in the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document and are a welcome reminder of the areas where Evangelicals and Catholics agree.
Cooperation in these areas takes the form of political, moral, and social action. Resisting the abortion of the unborn, establishing crisis pregnancy centers, and lobbying for laws that promote moral values and protect abused family members are areas where Evangelicals and Catholics have cooperated in the past. Such cooperation helps Evangelicals fulfill their responsibility as good citizens and, more importantly, as salt and light in a corrupt and dark society.
Dallas Seminary believes the theological differences between Evangelical and Roman Catholics remain significant and must not be minimized.
Though Dallas Seminary affirms areas of agreement in the moral and social arenas, we strongly question whether Evangelicals and Catholics can ever “unite on the great truths of the faith.” Though both groups might use the same words and quote the same Scriptures, at least four fundamental issues separate Evangelical and Catholic doctrine.
1. Evangelicals hold to sola fide (justification by faith only in Christ alone) while official Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that justification also involves human effort and merit.
2. Evangelicals teach that the new birth is not dependent on water baptism while Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that water baptism is a “sacrament of regeneration.”
3. Evangelicals affirm sola scriptura (the Word of God alone is our final authority for doctrine and Christian life) while Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that church tradition and the authority of the pope sustain equal validity with the Bible.
4. Evangelicals hold that all believers are priests with immediate access to God through Jesus Christ while Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that the clergy, saints, and the Virgin Mary are also mediators whom individuals need to approach God.
These doctrinal differences are too significant to ignore. Furthermore, these were major issues at the heart of the Protestant Reformation and cannot be dismissed for the sake of unity. Dallas Seminary therefore cannot in good conscience endorse the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document. However, we will maintain fellowship with those Evangelicals who did sign the document. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we affirm them as friends while disagreeing with this particular action on their part.
We close by noting three specific points made in the document we feel are significant.
1. The document was not a formal agreement between Evangelicals and the Roman Catholic church. It begins by stating unequivocally, “This statement cannot speak officially for our communities.” It is a document representing the views of several Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, but it never intended to speak on behalf of either group as a whole.
2. The document highlights the fact that a number of Roman Catholics are trusting in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation and are truly “born again.”
3. The document does remind Evangelicals that Roman Catholics are our allies in the fight to reclaim the basic moral and spiritual values under assault in our society.
Dallas Seminary will continue to train men and women to take the good news of God’s salvation by grace through faith to all needy people in this world who believe they can somehow earn eternal life by their own merit. To do less is to deny the Great Commission of our Lord.