A CRITIQUE OF KEITH A. FOURNIER’S
A House United? Evangelicals and
Catholics Together: A Winning
Alliance for the 21st Century1
Robert N. Wilkin
Grace Evangelical Society
I am very interested in this book for a number of reasons. First, the man who assisted in the writing of this book, Bill Watkins, was my contemporary in seminary. Second, recently at a meeting of Bible scholars in Chicago, Bill and I and had a brief conversation about the book. Third, the issue which this book addresses is vital to the clear proclamation of the Gospel. Fourth, this issue is now receiving widespread attention. This is due, in part, to the release in 1992 of a statement entitled “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” (which Fournier includes in full in the appendix). Fifth, and most significant, I believe this book addresses a very important Gospel issue.
The book begins in an arresting way: “I am a Christian. I am a Catholic Christian. I am an evangelical Catholic Christian” (p. 19). A little later, on the same page, Fournier admits that many Protestant Christians2 have a hard time accepting those claims because of their view of the Gospel.3
The critique to follow will attempt to demonstrate that Fournier has not proved that he is an evangelical Christian. However, before beginning this critique, we should note some of the book’s strong points.
The title accurately describes the contents of the book, something which is very helpful to the reader. The cover is attractive. There is an appendix giving the complete 1992 statement entitled, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” Since that document directly relates to the discussion of whether a person can be born again by believing the gospel of Roman Catholicism4, it is very helpful to have it included. The tone of the book is irenic. Fournier comes across as a likable person.
The reports in the book of the author’s efforts on behalf of the Pro-Life Movement are impressive, as are his strong commitment to conservative morality and his drive to make a difference with his life.
The impression the author leaves is that he is someone who might read this review and give it serious consideration. Beyond that, I hope that many Catholics will read and carefully consider this review.
We now turn to a critique of Fournier’s book and of the thesis which it presents.
II. Biblical Argumentation Is Absent
Fournier is a lawyer, not a theologian. However, as no doubt he himself would agree, this does not excuse him from the need to show that what he’s saying is biblical.
Fournier directly quotes 102 passages and refers to another 163 by my count. While that is not a lot of verses to quote or refer to in a book of this size, it certainly seems at first glance to be a sufficient number, depending, of course, on how they are cited. However, when these are examined more carefully, one can easily see that this book never really supports its case from Scripture at all.
First, references to verses are almost always made in footnotes, actually endnotes, which studies show most readers will not read. In addition, these references tend to be grouped together so that in some notes ten or more passages are cited at once. This means that the author rarely even attempts to support his points with the Word of God.
Second, as you read the text of the book, you rarely see verses mentioned, let alone discussed. Less than one page in three has any mention of a text of Scripture.
Third, the author never once explains what a given passage means.5 He merely quotes or refers to passages.
Fourth, when he does quote or cite verses, it is usually to support minor points. We do not find any scriptural support, for example, for the idea that Catholics and evangelical Protestants are both members of God’s household. What passage or passages support such doctrinal diversity in God’s family? Since the book’s main title is the question, “A House United?”, it is vital to establish this point. Yet it is assumed rather than established.
Fifth, passages which clearly require explanation in order to establish the case that Catholics are Christians are not explained. We need explanations of passages like John 5:24; 10:28-29; Acts 10:43-48; Rom 3:21-31; 4:1-8; 8:38-39; Gal 1:8-9; 3:6-14; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; 1 John 5:9-13; and Rev 22:17, to name but a few.
Sixth, when he does actually quote verses, the author switches from version to version as if Bible translations were a kind of smorgasbord. He cites the following versions: the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, the New King James Version, the New American Bible, the New Revised Standard Version, and The Message: The New Testament in Contemporary English(once). This is a questionable practice. It gives the reader the impression that the author will cite whatever version states the text as he sees it.
By comparison with other recent books attempting to prove a theological viewpoint, this book fails to carry its case biblically.6
III. Fournier Relies on Experience to Prove His Case
Instead of establishing his case from the Bible, Fournier uses experience.
Chapter two (pp. 38-49) tells about his lapse from Catholicism as a child and the beginning of his return to Catholicism at age seventeen. In chapter three (pp. 50-61) Fournier reports on his selection of a college. He had a short stint in an Assembly of God Bible College in Lakeland, Florida. While there he decided he wanted to attend a Catholic school. Being from Boston, he went to Boston College to enroll. He only stayed a few days, however. While Boston College is a Catholic school, Fournier felt that at the time it “lacked a strong faith-nurturing environment” (p. 61). He ended up choosing a college recommended by someone he knew and trusted. He chose a Franciscan Catholic college: the College of Steubenville (Ohio).
In chapter four Fournier tells of his experiences at the College of Steubenville, including what he considered to be a revival there. Fournier jumps ahead nearly two decades in chapter five (pp. 76-97), recounting his involvement with Pat Robertson and his working in the newly created Center for Law and Justice in Virginia.
Chapter six ends the first third of the book. In it Fournier moves on to discuss an organization calledLiberty, Life, and Family, which he founded in 1992. Thus the first third of the book is an expanded testimony of the author. A testimony of what? Of the Gospel of the Bible or of some other gospel? We will take up that issue in a moment.
The rest of the book is made up of chapters which explore various themes, such as: unity in history, unity in the face of persecution, the breakdown of the family, barriers to family reunion, our common heritage, a common agenda, and alliance building. While these chapters are not autobiographical, experience is used as the support for points made in these chapters as well. Here, however, Fournier moves beyond his experiences to those of others.
One type of argument from experience is to point out that many well-respected people agree with one’s position (an ad populum argument). At many points Fournier does just that. At times he attempts to make his case by pointing to those who agree with him and saying they all surely can’t be wrong. For example, when discussing Dave Hunt’s critique of the ecumenical accord, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,”7 Fournier says:
Are Protestants as astute in their understanding of theology, history, and culture as J. I. Packer, Charles Colson, Os Guiness, Richard Land, Pat Robertson, John White, and Thomas Oden really that far off base? Are Catholics as devoutly committed to Jesus Christ as Richard John Neuhaus, William Bentley Ball, John Cardinal O’Connor, James Hitchcock, Peter Kreeft, and Ralph Martin really unsaved and deceivers of the faithful?8
This type of argument proves nothing. If God’s Word is against an argument, it doesn’t matter how many “heavyweights” support that argument. The majority is rarely right, anyway. Didn’t the Lord say that “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt 7:14)?
Surely Fournier himself would not be impressed with that same argument applied to the abortion debate. The majority of the Supreme Court decided that abortion was a constitutionally protected “right.” No court since then has overturned that decision. In addition, a host of governors, senators, presidents, CEOs, and even pastors and theologians can be cited who believe that there is nothing morally wrong with abortion (and that forbidding it is actually a grave evil). I gather that Fournier would argue that abortion is wrong even if he were the only person on the planet who believed that way. His use of the ad populum argument is really nothing more than special pleading.
Experience is excellent for illustrations of truth which has been established from Scripture. However, experience is absolutely worthless for establishing truth—especially experience contrary to Scripture.
IV. Catholics Don’t Qualify As Evangelical Christians
Under Fournier’s Own Definition
In addition to the fact that Fournier doesn’t build his case from Scripture and that he argues from experience, his effort to prove that Catholics are Christians fails at the level of definition. Under his own definition, Catholics don’t qualify as evangelical Christians.
Many Evangelicals who approach a book like this one, this reviewer included, do so with a bias. We believe that Catholics who agree with the basic teachings of Rome are not evangelical Christians. The teachings of Rome seem to be clearly antithetical to evangelical Christianity at many key points. Thus Fournier’s claim to be both a practicing Catholic and an evangelical Christian makes many wonder how he could substantiate his claim. If, but only if, he could show from Scripture that the gospel of Rome is the Gospel of the Bible, could he change the opinion of well-grounded Evangelicals. However, on he contrary, he reinforces the belief that the gospel of Rome is not the Gospel at all.
A. Fournier’s Definition of Evangelical Christianity Is Inadequate
Fournier begins his definition of evangelical Christianity in this way:
An evangelical Christian, then, is one who believes the good news about Christ and proclaims it. In other words, an evangelical Christian is a proclaiming Christian. Anyone who knows Christ as Savior and Lord and tells others about Him can legitimately attach the adjective evangelical to the noun Christian. In fact, it’s hard to imagine what a Christian would be without also being evangelical in orientation. Putting the two words together almost results in redundancy. It’s close to talking about buildings that lack structure or ordering a hamburger without the meat. If it’s a building, it has structure. If it’s a hamburger, it has meat. You don’t get one without the other. Likewise, if someone is a Christian, he or she should be an evangelical Christian. One who truly follows Christ not only believes the gospel but shares it.9
In the very next paragraph he adds one additional requirement to being an evangelical Christian—obedience:
“So in the truest sense of the term, I am an evangelical Christian. And if you are evangelical in your relationship, convictions, and obedience to Christ, you are a Christian too.”10
Thus he defines an evangelical Christian as one who (1) believes the gospel, (2) shares the gospel, and (3) obeys Christ.11
Since obedience to Christ is open-ended, it isn’t surprising that, according to Fournier, being an evangelical Christian also requires baptism (p. 35), perseverance in charity (p. 33), thinking, speaking, and acting properly (p. 33), and ongoing church membership (p. 33).
The expression evangelical Christian doesn’t occur anywhere in Scripture. However, each of those words is found there.12 In light of this, it is surprising to this reviewer that Fournier doesn’t give any discussion of the biblical uses of these words. He simply assumes his own definition of the expression.
The word Christian occurs three times in the NT (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16). In Acts 26:28Christian appears to be used as a synonym for believer. The other two references seem to have a broader usage, referring to believers who are under Christian instruction.
The word evangelical is the adjectival form of the Greek word euangelion, meaning Gospel or Good News.13 It occurs 77 times in the NT. With but a few exceptions,14 euangelion is used in the NT in reference to the Good News of Jesus Christ.
There are three possible ways to define the expression evangelical Christian.
First, an evangelical Christian can be defined simply as one who believes the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Under this definition anyone who is trusting in Christ and Him alone for eternal life is an evangelical Christian.
Second, an evangelical Christian can be defined as one who believes the Gospel of Jesus Christ and all of the other fundamentals of the faith (such as the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and His second coming; cf. Gal 2:11-14ff.; 5:4; Col 2:4-10; 1 Tim 6:3-5; 2 Tim 2:15-18). Under this definition there is a distinction between being a believer and being an evangelical Christian.
Third, the expression evangelical Christian can be used to refer to both one’s beliefs and practices. In this case an evangelical Christian is an orthodox believer who is walking in fellowship with Christ. Under this definition it is proper to discuss one’s works. Is the individual walking in love? Is he giving? Does he attend church regularly? Is he in the Word? Is he a person of prayer? Does he share his faith regularly? According to Scripture, believers are to separate from fellow believers who are not walking with the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 5:9-13).
It has been my experience that the most common use of the expression evangelical Christian today is the second one. Thus a believer not walking in fellowship could still be called an evangelical Christian.
However, even if we accept Fournier’s definition, traditional Catholics are not evangelical Christians. Even under that definition, in order to be considered an evangelical Christian, one must believe the fundamentals of the faith. No amount of piety can overcome unorthodox beliefs, especially concerning the Gospel itself!
It is at this very point that Roman Catholics fail to qualify as evangelical Christians. While devout Catholics believe many of the fundamentals of the faith, they don’t believe the most important one: the true biblical Gospel!15
B. Fournier’s Definition of the Gospel Is Unbiblical
The “gospel” which Fournier and other devout Catholics believe is not the Gospel which Jesus and the apostles taught. It is not the Gospel of the Bible. It is not the message of salvation by grace through faith alone apart from works. It is not a free gift. Instead, it is the gospel of Rome: salvation by grace through faith plus works—including baptism and other sacraments, turning from sins, doing good deeds, attending church, giving money, etc.
While the author never attempts to explain his view of the gospel in detail, he gets his point across here and there throughout the book. Fournier says the following about the gospel:
Conversion is a process (p. 29).
There is an integral place for the deeds of faith (not deeds done apart from or in addition to faith) in the salvation process (p. 208).
Salvation must be sustained, nourished, and deepened (p. 33).
“One who does not however persevere in charity is not saved” (p. 33, citing the Second Vatican Council approvingly).
“All who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ” (p. 29, italics added, citing approvingly the “Decree on Ecumenism” by the bishops of the Catholic Church).
How can a baby be saved without acknowledging Jesus? Obviously, the infant cannot respond by faith. On the other hand, his parents, godparents, other believing relatives, and especially the church in its local expression can respond in his behalf. The faith exercised need not be his (p. 215, italics added).
A Christian [is] a follower of Christ (p. 25).16
The Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper … [is] a source of life to all who will believe (p. 30, italics added).
Justification not only declares me righteous but [also] makes me righteous (p. 212).17
Justification is not the end-all of salvation; rather, it marks the beginning of the salvation process (p. 218).
Fournier didn’t place these statements one after another as I have done. Instead, he sprinkled them throughout the book. It would have been more forthright to have a chapter in which he explained and defended his view of the Gospel.
Fournier’s gospel is unbiblical. First, conversion is not a process. A person is saved the very moment he or she trusts in Christ (John 5:24; Eph 2:8-9).
Second, eternal salvation can’t be lost (John 10:28-29; Rom 8:38-39).
Third, salvation is not conditioned in any way upon deeds done, whether before or after conversion. Eternal salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:9).
Fourth, water baptism is not a condition of being incorporated into Christ (cf. Acts 10:43-48).
Fifth, people can’t be saved on the basis of the faith of their parents, godparents, or the church. People must believe the Gospel for themselves (John 3:16; 5:24).
Sixth, a Christian is not automatically a follower of Christ. A Christian is one who believes in Christ. A disciple is one who follows Christ (whether he or she is a believer or an unbeliever!).18
Seventh, the Lord’s Supper doesn’t convey life to the recipient. The Lord’s Supper is a special meal which is designed only for those who already have life (1 Cor 11:17-34).
Eighth, justification does not make one righteous in his behavior. It is a divine declaration of righteousness (Luke 18:14; Rom 3:24).19 Those whom God has declared righteous don’t always live righteously (cf. 1 Cor 3:1-3; 11:30; Jas 5:19-20).
Anyone who believes the gospel as articulated by Fournier is not trusting in Christ alone to save Him. He is trusting in Christ plus baptism, the Eucharist, and his own works.
C. Fournier’s Attempt to Downplay Protestant/Catholic Differences Is Flawed
On several occasions Fournier does acknowledge in a general way that Roman Catholics have some different views from Protestants regarding salvation, but he attempts to smooth over the differences:
Between our various traditions and confessions, there are numerous differences over God’s role and humanity’s role in the salvation process, but these are Family differences. They are not disagreements between nonChristians and Christians but between committed Christians with different theological and biblical understandings. Our differences are important, but they do not mean that some of us are going to hell while those who are “right” among us are going to Heaven. We are brothers and sisters in Christ…20
Even though the differences between us are still too great for us to fellowship together at the Lord’s Table—the liturgical sign of Christian unity—I do not believe they are so great as to hinder us from making common cause to transform our culture for the sake of our common Savior and Lord.21
Fournier does not state what his areas of difference are. Surely it would be important to explain and discuss differences that he himself considers “numerous,” “important,” and “too great for us to fellowship together at the Lord’s Table.” The reader may be left with the gnawing feeling that the author wants to avoid discussing divisive issues. Of course, that’s the point. If the issues are so divisive that the author decided not to deal with them, then isn’t the thesis of the book overturned by this alone? How can we be part of a “house united” if we have such numerous and important differences that we can’t enjoy table fellowship together at the Lord’s Supper?
Fournier gives no proof, biblical or theological, for his claim that though the differences are “numerous” and “important,” they “do not mean that some of us are going to hell while those who are ‘right’ among us are going to Heaven.” He seems to expect his readers to believe him simply because he makes a dogmatic assertion.
If his claim is true, couldn’t a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness write a book making the same claim?22Don’t they believe the gospel as they perceive it? Haven’t they been baptized? Aren’t they active in the Pro-Life movement and in other charitable outreaches? Don’t they attend church and share their faith regularly?
If Fournier is allowed to sweep under the rug what he calls numerous and important “differences over God’s role and humanity’s role in the salvation process,” then the designation evangelical Christianbecomes primarily a matter of conduct, not belief. Yet Fournier’s own definition indicates that an evangelical Christian must believe the Gospel.
Indirectly, Fournier does acknowledge this objection. He cites the view of Reformed theologian R. C. Sproul regarding Catholics and the Catholic church:
If justification by faith alone is an essential doctrine of Christianity, then any church [that denies that truth], no matter how virtuous it is…would have to be viewed as apostate.23
For the most part Fournier doesn’t directly deal with this charge. However, I’ve found five indirect answers which he gives to that charge in the book:
- Catholics are evangelical Christians since some Protestant ministers have converted to Catholicism.24
- Catholics are Christians since some Catholics have also called Protestants unbelievers and apostates.25
- Since Christ never intended His church to be a divided house, Catholics must be Christians.26
- Catholics are evangelical Christians since every Christian’s calling is “unity in diversity and diversity in unity.”27
- Catholics and evangelical Christians have a common book, a common history, a common creed, a common Savior, and a common mission.28
The first argument seems to have some weight. On reflection, however, it is a weak argument. Protestant ministers have indeed become Catholics. Yet haven’t some also become Eastern Orthodox, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, and even atheists? The fact that some Protestants have become Catholics says nothing about whether Catholics are Christians. As a matter of fact, if Protestants have to convert to Catholicism, this suggests exactly the opposite point from the one that Fournier is trying to make: Catholicism and Protestantism don’t share the same fundamental beliefs.29 If they did, Protestants could join Catholic churches without being baptized or undergoing catechism.
The second argument also backfires. The fact that some Catholics call Protestants heretics merely proves that Fournier isn’t speaking for all Catholics when he claims that both Protestants and Catholics are Christians. Some Catholics recognize that the gospel of Catholicism can’t be reconciled with the Gospel of evangelical Christianity. They realize that if Catholics are Christians, then Protestants are not, since they don’t believe the same gospel.
The third argument is flawed on the grounds that only saved people are a part of God’s house. Catholics are not members of God’s household unless they trust in Christ and Him alone for eternal life, contrary to Catholic teaching.
The fourth argument is merely a restatement of the third.
The fifth argument is clever, but false in every particular. The official Roman Catholic Bible differs significantly from any of the versions used by evangelical Christians. In addition, Catholics base their theology on both their Bible and their tradition. The history of Catholicism differs sharply from that of evangelical Christianity. While there are some early creeds that some evangelical Christians may have in common with Catholics, there are many major doctrinal differences which separate us. So, too, while both point to Jesus as Savior, there is a major difference about what that means. And finally, while the mission of both groups is to evangelize, the message (the evangel) proclaimed is radically different, and as a result so is the mission.30
D. Fournier’s Failure to Discuss Key Bible Passages Is a Grave Weakness
A discussion of relevant biblical texts is absolutely essential if Fournier is to establish his point that Catholics and evangelical Christians believe the same gospel. An explanation of what Jesus meant in Matt 7:13-14 regarding the narrow gate that only a few will find seems important. An explanation of Luke 18:9-14, in which the self-righteous Pharisee was condemned and the trusting sinner went away justified without doing any good works, would also seem critical. And what of Gal 1:6-9 and the anathema against those proclaiming a false gospel? Does anyone qualify under that anathema today? If so, who?
It would have helped to see a discussion of passages like Rom 8:38-39 and Eph 2: 8-9 as well.
These passages indicate that what we believe makes all the difference in the world. Yet not even one of these passages is explained by Fournier. In fact, he doesn’t explain any passages at all in defense of his claim that Catholics and evangelical Christians believe the same gospel.
While there is much to object to in R. C. Sproul’s Lordship Salvation theology, he is right in his insistence that the gospel of Rome is not the Gospel of the Bible. (Of course, neither is the gospel of Lordship Salvation biblical!) Catholicism is not Christianity. One cannot be saved by believing Roman Catholic doctrine.
E. Fournier’s Identification of Catholics as Evangelical Christians Is Mistaken
According to Fournier’s own definition, an evangelical Christian must believe the Gospel. Since the gospel of Rome—which Fournier believes—is not the Gospel of the Bible, Catholics are not evangelical Christians.
The logic of this is inescapable.
Major Premise: Evangelical Christians believe the Gospel.
Minor Premise: Catholics don’t believe the Gospel.
Conclusion: Catholics are not evangelical Christians.
Fournier should have attempted to prove that Catholics believe the Gospel of the Bible. However, any such effort is doomed, since the gospel according to Rome is decidedly unbiblical.
V. Fournier Fails to Prove That Evangelicals Should Cooperate with Roman Catholics
Fournier’s main point, as indicated by the title, is that Evangelicals should cooperate with Roman Catholics in evangelism and in social outreach. That thesis is predicated upon his view that traditional Roman Catholics are (evangelical) Christians and hence that Evangelicals and Catholics are both members of the Body of Christ.
In the previous section we saw that Fournier failed to prove that Catholics are Christians. Therefore, unless Fournier were to advance other reasons for Evangelicals to unite with Catholics, there would be no reason to do so. However, Fournier doesn’t advance any other reasons; hence his own case collapses like a house of cards.
Thus we may draw the following conclusions:
A. Cooperation in Evangelism Is Unwise Since Catholics Don’t Believe the Gospel
If Catholics don’t believe the Gospel, evangelical Christians can’t in good conscience cooperate with them in evangelistic outreach. Some evangelical Christians, however, do cooperate with Catholics in evangelistic crusades.
Of course, in light of his view that Catholics and evangelical Christians agree on the fundamentals of the faith, Fournier thinks this is a good practice (cf. pp. 324-28).
But why would Evangelicals themselves wish to unite with Catholics in evangelistic outreach? The probable reason is a desire to increase their influence. Unfortunately, such cooperation leads to compromise and the net effect is not positive.31
Consider a city-wide evangelistic campaign. Let’s suppose that Evangelist Brown is having a crusade in San Diego, California. He contacts all of the Protestant and Catholic churches in the city. His staff signs up as many churches as they can to sponsor the crusade. Sponsoring churches promise to provide counselors, to bring people to attend, and to follow-up individuals in their area who respond at the crusade.
This means that some of the counselors at the crusade will be practicing Catholics who believe their church’s gospel of salvation by faith plus works. This is the “gospel” they will share with those whom they counsel. In addition, some of those who respond to the evangelist’s message will be designated for Catholic churches to follow up!
Worse still, the evangelist must be careful not to say anything to offend the many Catholics who are working in the crusade. If he offends the Catholics, they won’t cooperate with him in his future crusades. The preacher will be tempted to alter his message so that it will be acceptable to Catholics. In that case, then, the evangelist would not be proclaiming the Gospel at all. His proclamation would be an amalgam which Catholics and Protestants would feel comfortable with. His goal would then amount to little more than getting large numbers of people to attend and to come forward.
Theological compromise on a fundamental of the faith is clearly contrary to a commitment to God’s truth.
Evangelicals can’t cooperate with Catholics in evangelism without the likelihood of terrible compromises like these taking place. Of course, it’s true that the crowds may be bigger and that more Catholics are in the audience than there would otherwise be. This does mean that more Catholics are exposed to the message of the Protestant evangelist than would otherwise be the case. However, if the message being preached is not the clear Gospel, the whole procedure is flawed. The results are what we used to call in the campus ministry I once worked with: “evangelastic.” Lots of numbers, yet with few people actually trusting Christ.32
B. Cooperation in Sports, Work, and the Like Is Fine Since No Spiritual Compromise Is Required
While I don’t believe it is wise or biblical to cooperate with Catholics in evangelism, I happen to believe that there is nothing wrong with cooperating with Catholics or Mormons or Buddhists—or even atheists—on some issues.
If I were on a basketball team and a teammate was an atheist who could shoot, I’d still pass him the ball! If I were a supervisor at a secular company in Salt Lake City, I wouldn’t hesitate to delegate projects to a competent Mormon. If I were in Congress, I would freely ask other Congressmen to support my legislation regardless of their religion. If I were on the school board I would welcome the help of like-minded board members, even if they were militant agnostics.
No spiritual compromise is required in cases such as these. We live in the world. We have unbelievers as neighbors and co-workers. By cooperating with them in life, we may be able to share the Gospel with them.
C. Cooperation in Social Outreach Is a Judgment Call
If an evangelical Christian wishes to participate in a Pro-Life march, the presence of Catholics, Mormons, or Buddhists need not stop him. The same is true with other forms of social outreach like feeding the hungry. If the basis of cooperation is not the Gospel, then a believer should be free to cooperate if he wishes (cf. 1 Cor 10:27).
Even so, we should be aware of the fact that many of the people we will work with in the outreach need to hear the Gospel. We may be used of God to share more than physical bread on such occasions.
We must always be aware, as well, that sometimes there is an evangelistic component in social outreach. If evangelism is a part of an outreach we are considering, we will, of course, want to make sure that it is the true biblical Gospel that will be proclaimed before we decide to participate.
VI. Some Catholics Are Christians
While I don’t agree with Fournier’s claim that all devout Catholics are Christians, I do believe thatsome Catholics,33 devout or otherwise, are.
The Lord Jesus said,
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Whoever includes Catholics. There is no suggestion in what I’ve said earlier that there are nopracticing Catholics who are born again. I believe that there are those who are. However, they were not saved by believing the gospel as taught in Catholicism. The only way of salvation is the biblical one of believing in Christ and Him alone for eternal life. That is not what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.
The question is not whether a Roman Catholic believes in the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His death on the cross, and His bodily resurrection. All devout, and even most nominal, Catholics believe these things. While these are all vital truths, God does not offer eternal life on the basis of believing any or all of these things. He promises eternal life on the basis of trusting Christ and Him alone for it.
Also, the question is not whether a Roman Catholic is a moral person who regularly attends church, prays, gives, spends time with his or her spouse and children, and so forth. Many Catholics fit that profile. However, morality does not save.
The question is whether a Roman Catholic has ever placed his or her trust in Christ and Him alone for eternal life.
An active Catholic might come to faith in Christ through the witness of a family member or friend. It is even conceivable that an active Catholic might hear the Scripture in his own church and believe it!34Since not all who come to faith in Christ immediately leave the church in which they grew up,35 it is reasonable to conclude that some practicing Catholics are born again.
It is also possible for a saved individual to convert to Catholicism. I am convinced that the co-author of the book, Bill Watkins, is in danger of doing that. While, to my knowledge, Bill has not converted to Catholicism yet, by his own admission he is, or at least was, seriously contemplating it.36 Christians can become confused and can join groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, that believe and teach a false gospel.
VII. The Gospel Is Under Siege
The issue which this book addresses is, I feel, one which will be the issue over the next five years. It may well become “politically correct” to think of, and to refer to, Catholics as evangelical Christians. However, this is really a subtle attack on the Gospel of Grace.
The message of Fournier’s book is actually dangerous. Untaught believers who read it may be duped into thinking that Catholics are Christians and that the gospel of Catholicism is only cosmetically different from the Gospel of evangelical Christianity. Sadly, some (many?) untaught believers will likely end up converting to Catholicism as a result. Worse still, unsaved Catholics and Protestants who read this book will have their works-salvation thinking reinforced.
This book is must reading for pastors, educators, and well-grounded laypeople. However, those who are not well-grounded in the Scriptures should be encouraged to avoid this book, unless they read it with the help of a mature believer.
The spirit of our age strongly supports tolerance and unity. This book is written in that spirit. While I believe in tolerance in non-essentials, we must not sacrifice an essential point of doctrine, the Gospel, on the altar of tolerance and unity. Some things are worth dividing over. The Gospel is certainly one of those things.
A House United? Evangelicals and Catholics Together: A Winning Alliance for the 21st Century? I think not.
1Keith A. Fournier with William D. Watkins. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1994. 368 pp. Cloth, $18.00. Editor’s note: It has been a surprise, not to say a disappointment, to a number of people I’ve talked to that, the Navigators, an organization that has stressed memorization and meditation on God’s Word, would publish a book that will offend so many conservative, Bible-believing Protestants.
2Since there are so many “protest” groups active today, many people doubtless think our word Protestant merely meansprotesting against Roman Catholicism. The Latin roots of the word suggest bearing witness (see testatio in Cassell’s Latin Dictionary [New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1979], 601-602). In 1529, however, at the Diet of Speier, where the nameProtestant was coined, the Lutheran minority had good reason to protest the unfairness of Rome. The Catholic majority ordered that in Lutheran territories the Catholics should be tolerated, but in Catholic territories Lutherans were to have no freedom of worship. The term Protestant spread to refer to all Western European Christians who rejected Rome. See Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of Christianity (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1953), 727. Ed.
3On the other hand, as this book itself points out in many places, there are also many evangelical Christians who do not have a hard time accepting the idea that traditional Roman Catholics are evangelical Christians.
4The denomination “Roman Catholic” is actually a contradiction in terms. Early Christendom evolved into the “Old Catholic Church.” Five major centers of Christianity had especially powerful bishops (papas, or popes). After the depredations of the Muslim invaders, these eventually narrowed down to two, Rome and Constantinople,. The Eastern wing of the State religion came to be called Orthodox, the Western, Catholic. The word Catholic comes from the Greek kath’holou, “according to the whole,” whence katholikos, “universal.” Roman means restricted to the adherents of the pope of Rome. Hence “Roman Catholic” means “Restricted Universal” or “Exclusive All-Inclusive.” “Roman Catholic” is an oxymoron. Ed.
5A possible exception is note 4 on page 360. There Fournier (or more likely Watkins) argues that death in Rom 5:12 refers to spiritual separation from God, not physical death, because of “the entire context of Paul in Romans 5 and 6.” However, even here we are not given even one piece of evidence to support his point.
6Compare, for example, Zane C. Hodges’s, Absolutely Free! A Biblical Reply to Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1989, and Dallas, TX: Redención Viva, 1989) and Joseph C. Dillow’s, The Reign of the Servant Kings: A Study of Eternal Security and the Final Significance of Man (Miami Spring, FL: Schoettle Publishing Co., 1992).
7Dave Hunt, “The Gospel Betrayed,” Berean Call, May 1994, pp. 1-2ff. Fournier cites this article twice. However, we have been unable to verify the existence of this journal or this article, after repeated calls to three leading theological libraries and even the Library of Congress.
9Ibid., p. 34, italics original. Fournier here confuses evangelical with evangelistic. Some cults are very evangelistic, yet deny even the basic Christian doctrines on which the Gospel rests (e.g., the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth).
11See, however, p. 61, where Fournier cites approvingly this definition by Carl Henry: “[An evangelical Christian is] one who affirms the good news that God forgives sin and gives new life to sinners on the grounds of the substitutionary death of Christ and His bodily resurrection.” There is no mention here of sharing the Gospel or of obeying Christ. In light of earlier quotations that show that an evangelical Christian must also share his or her faith and obey Christ, it appears that Fournier is merely agreeing with Henry that an evangelical Christian includes such faith, not that this is all that is required.
13The first two letters in euangelion, eu, when used as a prefix on a word normally mean “good” or “well.” This prefix has come over into English too. We have words like eulogy, “good things said about a person,” euphony, “good sounds,” andeuphoria, “good feeling.”
17This was a cause célèbre in the Reformation. See, for example, Paul Holloway, “A Return to Rome: Lordship Salvation’s Doctrine of Faith,” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society, Autumn 1991, 13-21.
22In fact, while writing this article it came to my attention that there is a book by professor Stephen E. Robinson of Brigham Young University in which he makes just such a claim. In his book, entitled Are Mormons Christians? (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc., 1991), he declares that Mormons are indeed Christians.
29I became a Christian in college, at which time I joined a General Baptist Church. Several years later when I moved to the South, I joined a Southern Baptist Church. I wasn’t required to convert to the Southern Baptist faith. I was merely transferring my membership from one church to another. The same would not be the case if a Roman Catholic wished to become a Baptist or vice versa.
30Again, we must differentiate between evangelical and evangelistic. The two most “evangelistic” groups today, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, are the least evangelical in doctrine. See also footnote 9. Other key passages could be cited. For example, wouldn’t a discussion of Rom 4:4-5, 8:38-39; Gal 3:6-14; and Eph 2:8-9 have been vitally important?
32I believe there are people who trust Christ in these types of crusades. Some of the counselors and some of the churches which do follow up are clear on the Gospel. And, sometimes people can filter out the errors in what the evangelist is saying and trust in Christ alone in spite of the garbled message. However, the more anyone garbles the Gospel, the harder it is for a listener to see the truth and be saved.
33While I found no direct claims as to what percentage of Roman Catholics are saved, Fournier’s statements about conversion and good works clearly suggest that all practicing Catholics who are doing good works are saved. Of course, Fournier believes that any Catholic could lose his or her salvation by ceasing to do good deeds and by falling away from the Church of Rome.
34Of course, the more the Gospel is garbled, the harder it is for a listener to understand and believe it. However, since the Bible is read in Catholic churches, it is conceivable that a thoughtful, seeking Catholic might come to trust Christ and Him alone for eternal life through what he heard in church. Like Luther, he might become so frustrated in trying to work his way to God that he might begin to contemplate the meaning of Scripture for himself. See also footnote 31 above.
36He wrote an open letter, dated September 24, 1994, in which he indicated: “At one point not too long ago I was prayerfully entertaining that option [to become a Roman Catholic]. I certainly have not ruled it out, and it is still an issue of prayer for me. But at this time I am not ready to make such a commitment… Keith [Fournier] and I have had many conversations about Catholic doctrine and practice, almost all of which have been initiated by me with absolutely no proselytizing pressure from Keith.” He went on to say, “I am also closer to the spirit and many of the conclusions of Catholic thought than I ever have been before. In fact, I prefer to refer to myself as a classical Christian [rather] than as an evangelical Protestant, though I do not disparage the latter label for myself or for others.”