“An Evangelical Celebration” A Time to Celebrate or a Time to Repent?

Unlike “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT I) and “The Gift of Salvation” (ECT II), a new document entitled “An Evangelical Celebration” (EC) is basically a biblically accurate presentation of the Gospel. In that, EC is eminently commendable and stands in stark contrast to the ECT I and II agreements, which remain under biblical condemnation since those two ecumenical documents give a false gospel.

Nevertheless, it must be questioned by serious Bible believers whether drafting yet another document is the biblical way to address compromise in presenting the Gospel–since following the biblical method is as essential as the Gospel itself. The Apostle Paul’s method in defending the Gospel is like that of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is to lay a charge against those who teach false doctrine, and in so doing to glorify the Father. After the Apostle pronounces the judgement of God on those who continued in a false gospel, he explained his guideline for doing so, “For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Four of the endorsers of ECT II were involved in the actual drafting of this present document. They are J. I. Packer, Timothy George, Thomas Oden, and John Woodbridge. Leading Evangelicals together with these four men have drafted and published EC. It is of the utmost importance to ask if these four signatories to ECT II–men who now have been included as drafters of EC–have repented both privately and publicly of what they had previously signed? If so, to whom was the statement made and where may their public repentance statement be found? Have they formally responded to the resolution passed at the 1999 Ex-Catholics for Christ (ECFC) conference which called for them to “publicly renounce the ECT accords and ask the church at large for forgiveness for their past participation in these accords”?

If they have not repented publicly, then it is necessary to inquire if in confronting the endorsers of ECT I and II regarding their actions, the method adopted, that is, producing a document with them, is the biblical method. Had Paul and the Judiazers decided to solve their conflict by sitting down with one another and declaring that both he and they were “Evangelicals who derive our very name from the Gospel”, the Judiazers could have won the day. The Apostle Paul’s approach was radically different. He rebuked them forthrightly, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you”. He states the issue succinctly, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” Understanding the seriousness of the issue, he declares, “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:9) In actual fact Paul ruled out the tactic of trying to please men. The Gospel was at stake. His desire was to seek repentance from those who were presenting a false gospel, and not to pacify such men by calling them “Evangelicals”. Paul’s severe rebuke is an act of Holy God’s graciousness itself, given the seriousness of the sin which these men have committed–for Paul understood that anyone who embraces a false gospel is under God’s anathema. In the context of Galatians, Paul does not charge the Judiazers with having rejected the Gospel from the outset but rather with not having continued in obedience to the Gospel. This is also precisely the case with the signatories of ECT I and II, so it must be asked if those who initiated EC had used the biblical methodology regarding the ECT signatories prior to the drafting of EC and that EC is therefore the fruit of such change of mind where the ECT signatories are concerned. If this is so, there are many who would greatly desire to hear of the repentance–for since the publication of ECT I and II were public, repentance ought likewise to be public.

If, however, there has been no repentance, then a further question arises: in attempting to address the compromise of J. I. Packer et al. in having signed the false gospel in ECT I and II documents, have the initiators of EC adopted the philosophy of the present time whereby tacit approval is given to the unrepentant signatories by producing with them a biblically watertight document?

Serious disparity in documents

Besides this signal question, if there has been no repentance it must be asked how these same persons who still endorse ECT are able to draft and to endorse EC with any credibility–since the grave contradictions between the ECT documents on the one hand and the EC document on the other are now clearly and formally before the public? For example, in ECT II, Packer et al. affirmed, “…it [justification] is entirely God’s gift, conferred [rather than imputed]…and by virtue of his [God’s] declaration it [justification conferred] is so.” How could these Evangelical men submit to the use of the classic and historic Roman Catholic term, conferred, in place of the biblical term, imputed, which they know so well and as they state so clearly in the EC?

In speaking of justification, instead of using the classic, historic Biblical term, “imputed”, ECT II uses the classic, historic Roman Catholic term, “conferred”. This same term is found consistently in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) when, for example, Rome declares, “Justification is conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who makes us inwardly just by the power of his mercy.” (Para. 1992) This same term, “conferred”, goes consistently back over four centuries to the decrees of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent. For example, Trent decreed,

“If anyone shall say that by the said sacraments of the New Law, grace is not conferred from the work which has been worked [ex opere operato] but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices to obtain grace: let him be anathema.” (Session 7, Canon 8; bolding added.)

Anyone with theological or historical training is quite versed in the crucial distinction and would be aware of the history of the distinction. That these four educated men would agree to use the word “conferred” rather than “imputed” in a document concerning acceptance of Roman Catholics as “brothers and sisters in Christ” is unfathomable. The exact reading of the RCC term, “conferred”, in the classic and historic context of the issue of justification, in ECT II is a lie documented.

Fifteen signers of ECT II have also signed EC–seemingly regardless of the fact that there is a stark, irreconcilable difference between the “conferred” statement of ECT II and the following statement of EC,

“We affirm that the doctrine of the imputation (reckoning or counting) both of our sins to Christ and of his righteousness to us, whereby our sins are fully forgiven and we are fully accepted, is essential to the biblical Gospel (2 Cor. 5:19-21). We deny that we are justified by the righteousness of Christ infused into us or by any righteousness that is thought to inhere within us.”

In this regard, to the fifteen signers of both ECT and EC must be put the words of James 3:11, “Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?” Where do these men stand? Justification is either the doctrine of the imputation (reckoning or counting) or, as the Roman Catholics say, it is conferred justification. There is no “middle” truth.

Towards the end of ECT II, the statement signed by Packer et al. is,

“While we rejoice in the unity we have discovered and are confident of the fundamental truths about the gift of salvation we have affirmed, we recognize that there are necessarily interrelated questions that require further and urgent exploration. Among such questions are these: the meaning of baptismal regeneration, the Eucharist, …diverse understandings of merit, reward, purgatory, and indulgences; Marian devotion and the assistance of the saints in the life of salvation; and the possibility of salvation for those who have not been evangelized.”

Nevertheless in EC, these same men claim,

“We affirm that the righteousness of Christ by which we are justified is properly his own, which he achieved apart from us, in and by his perfect obedience. This righteousness is counted, reckoned, or imputed to us by the forensic (that is, legal) declaration of God, as the sole ground of our justification. We deny that any works we perform at any stage of our existence add to the merit of Christ or earn for us any merit that contributes in any way to the ground of our justification (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8,9; Titus 3:5).”

Baptismal regeneration, the Roman Catholic Eucharist, merit, reward, purgatory, and indulgences and Marian devotion are all key Gospel issues, each entailing another gospel. These issues therefore are rightly excluded by EC. They cannot still be held as merely “necessarily interrelated questions” in the terminology of ECT II. The Lord’s question must be put to these four men, “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matthew 7:16) Where do Packer, George, Oden, and Woodbridge stand? In EC, these key gospel issues that were at the heart of the Reformation are clearly ruled out as an attempt to add to the merit of Christ and as an attempt to contribute to the ground of justification. Have these four men who signed ECT II and helped draft EC repented of their endorsing of ECT II? Would that they had, but if they have not then the word of Elijah applies, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.” (I Kings 18:21)

Repentance is fundamental and essential

In the context of repentance, the Prophet Amos asks, “Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey?” (Amos 3:4) Thus also the Prophet Jeremiah, “The LORD shall roar from on high, and utter his voice from his holy habitation.…” (Jeremiah 25:30) Repentance is no secondary matter, there can be no celebration over the Gospel unless first of all there has been a renouncing of that which is false. Some of the drafters and many of the signers of EC endorsed ECT I. In ECT I is stated the following,

“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.” (p. 24).

Baptism or circumcision or any religious work added to the Gospel makes it no gospel at all. Have these men disdained the Holiness of the God who calls for repentance? “… will a young lion cry out of his den, if he have taken nothing?” (Amos 3:4) Again, the same drafters and signers are still on record as declaring in ECT I,

“For Catholics, all who are validly baptized are born again and are truly, however imperfectly, in communion with Christ . . . 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 [church] in which they will live their new life in Christ.” (pp. 23-24)

“…what communion hath light with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14) Is it that now in our time it is more religiously expedient to be “politically correct” than to stand firm on Biblical truth? Has there been a renunciation of the Irish ECT document endorsed by such as J.I. Packer and leading Roman Catholic clergy as well as laity? Have all the translations of ECT I and II been withdrawn? If there have been statements of repentance, have those statements been translated into those languages where ECT I and II have blunted both missionary support and evangelism? “Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. ” (Deuteronomy 22:9)

The Scriptural command for Evangelicals is clear and precise: “Mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine, which ye have learned and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17) ECT I and II were written by an ecumenical committee of Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, and the written products of such collusion are two doctrinally Roman Catholic documents couched in Bible terminology, which the Evangelicals signed. (Sampson and Delilah all over again.) EC is different: it is the work of some strong Evangelicals who know the Scripture and present the Gospel red letter clear. No Roman Catholics were given influence in drafting the document, as the resulting biblically accurate Gospel statement attests.

Biblical methodology

The procedural problem in producing EC is that some of those who helped draft the false gospel of ECT I & II have also had a major part in drafting this exclusively Evangelical document, J. I. Packer and Timothy George in particular. Over the few years, they and others have consistently touted their support of the false gospel as “loving”. Now they have been given a major part in producing yet another agreement while the lies of ECT I and II, which they have consistently espoused, have been left intact. Have they repented? Otherwise, how has biblical methodology been followed?

John N. Akers, John Ankerberg, John Armstrong, D. A. Carson, Keith Davy, Maxie Dunnam, Scott Hafemann, Erwin Lutzer, Harold Myra, David Neff, and R. C. Sproul have composed EC, together with Timothy George, Thomas Oden, J. I. Packer, and John Woodbridge. The EC document is endorsed by a total of fifteen of the signers of ECT I & II. In EC, these same ECT signatories state or endorse the following,

“We know too that as trustees of God’s revealed truth we cannot embrace any form of doctrinal indifferentism, or relativism, or pluralism by which God’s truth is sacrificed for a false peace.”

If there has been no repentance on their part, is this not precisely what has been done by those who signed ECT I and II and, additionally, this EC document?

Have ECT signatories once again taken up the art of theological fence straddling? After ECT I, in January 1995, John Ankerberg, D. James Kennedy, John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul, closeted with ECT signers Charles Colson, J.I. Packer, Kent Hill and Bill Bright. These four ECT signatories then agreed to a biblical sounding statement in which they stood for the Gospel, “Statement by Protestant Signers to ECT” (January 19, 1995). These men did not, however, repent of putting their names to the false gospel of ECT I. The “Statement by Protestant Signers to ECT” has worked well in performing the office of a fig leaf. And while EC is a splendid presentation of the Gospel, if biblical methodology has not been applied, could it be that the fig leaf office will be even more attractively served by this latest document? If public repentance is not insisted upon, will this second chance produce any different results? The first time around, it was made public that a confrontation had taken place. This time, has there been any challenge or contest?

The Lord’s mandate

The Lord Jesus Christ through the Apostle Paul commands His disciples to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27) They are likewise commanded to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11) There can be no denying the clarity of such commands. The major question is this: has there been such reproof followed by renunciation? The Lord through the Apostle Paul commands, “Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear. (1 Timothy 5:20) ¨

Article by Richard Bennett, Richard Knolls, and Cecil Andrew 1999


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