A Pentecostal RESPONDS

[“Evangelization, Proselytism, and Common Witness” is a 34-page document, the official report from the Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue 90-97. A one-sentence summary: “Pentecostals must no longer evangelize Catholics; to do so is really proselytizing which is wrong. Rather we must join in common witness.”  I do not agree, and I tell why.  A (numeral) indicates the paragraph number in the document.]

Evangelization, Proselytism, and Common Witness (EPCW) states, “Common witness means standing together and sharing together in witness to our common faith” (118).

In my opinion, Catholics and Pentecostals do not “agree on the essential core of the Gospel” (15), which is justification. Pentecostals generally stand with the Reformation doctrine that justification is received by grace through faith in Christ alone. The perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus is imputed to the repentant sinner, apart from works of law (Rom. 3:28). For Catholics there is no justification by Christ alone. “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone (emphasis mine) that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained” (Vatican II, Degree on Ecumenism). They believe Christ makes salvation possible, but He is only one of the means of justification; other essential means of grace include the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, efficacious only when administered by the Roman Church..

For example, the Council of Trent anathematizes all who deny that “the merit of Jesus Christ is applied to infants by the sacrament of baptism” or who deny that by baptism “the guilt of original sin is remitted” (Schroeder, Trent, 22,23,54). The current Catholic Catechism also includes as means of grace: “Mary is truly Mother of God, Mother of the Church, and brings birth of believers” (251); purgatory exists because “the saved must be purged before entering heaven” (268). Paul described such teaching as a “heteros gospel” and pronounced God’s anathema on those who taught it (Gal. 1:6-9). He rebuked Peter for his hypocrisy in compromising with the Judaizers who, like Catholics today, accepted “Jesus as Lord” and then added their own requirements (Gal. 2-3). Paul knew the Gospel was at stake, and Peter acknowledged Paul was right (Ac.15:7-11).

Pentecostals are being asked to regard every person “officially” baptized as regenerate!  Even at the risk of being accused of proselyting, we must, like Paul, evangelize all who are trusting in that false “gospel.” I see the main purpose of this document as being to intimidate Pentecostals–or, better yet, keep them out of countries where there is a Catholic influence. If officially endorsed, this document will take the heart out of Pentecostal Missions. Consider Latin America. The majority (some missiologists say 90-95%) of Pentecostals in Latin America were baptized as infants. Few, if any, testify to having heard the Gospel while in the Catholic Church. I am convinced that is why the Catholic Church is losing 8,000 daily, the majority of them going to Pentecostal churches.

Catholics and Pentecostals have different standards for “an evangelized Christian” (91). Definitions of “evangelization” and “proselytism” (68-97) are stated in such subjective terms they are open to very differing interpretations. Since we cannot always know who is or is not a Christian, the definition of “proselytism” (83) is meaningless. Though we are told that “all Christians have the right to bear witness to the Gospel before all people, including other Christians” (94), the full import of EPCW would discourage Pentecostals from such witness to any baptized Catholic. In addition, we are told we must be respectful to “salvific elements in non-Christian religions” (20)! “The plan of salvation includes those who acknowledge the Creator [Muslims and Orthodox Jews]; together with us they adore the one, merciful God” (Catechism 222-223). Jesus did not accept unbelieving Jews as saved! The Church at first was comprised mainly of Jews “proselyted” from the legalistic deadness of Judaism to life in Christ. .

Is the UNITY of the Church (2) “a concern for Pentecostals and Catholics alike”? I think not. Contrary to the statement in EPCW (2), Catholics have a plan for “structural unity.” In the Decree on Ecumenism, Vatican II, they state their purpose for dialogue: “The results will be that, little by little . . . all Christians will be gathered in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into the unity of the one and only Church. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose.” In a backward move, the Lutheran World Federation (57 million) has recently signed a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” with Catholics. Pope John Paul II said it will encourage “the achievement of visible full unity” (CT6/15/98).

Pentecostals recognize the true Church as already in unity. Jesus’ prayer (Jn. 17:22) was answered (as all His prayers are!) and is a present reality. “For by one Spirit (not by any human agency) we were all baptized into one Body” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). We are admonished to keep the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3), “till we all come to the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:11-13; Jude 3). This faith depends on absolute authority. For Pentecostals, the 66 canonical books of the Bible are the authority; Catholics add Apocryphal books, Church tradition, and papal infallibility. Other areas of disagreement include: transubstantiation, sacramentalism, and Mariology.

Irreconcilable differences have resulted in persecution. Catholics admit that “violence has been used” (81). For the Gospel’s sake, thousands have suffered the wrath and torch of papal inquisitions. The calling for a “truce” (82) is misleading. When have Pentecostals used violence against Catholics? To my knowledge – never!

Any coalition with Catholics for ridding society of such evils as abortion and homosexuality, however well intentioned, is a step toward structural unity. Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever united with any group to change culture. For example, they did not attack the evil of slavery, but the Gospel helped abolish it. Certainly every Christian should vote and be active in combating evil in every possible way, but we do not need a socio-political unity (Rom. 3:8).

There is “one important difference between the Catholic and the Pentecostal teams (3). Unlike Catholics, Pentecostals do not have “an official teaching” that applies to all Pentecostal groups. However, they do know what it means to truly evangelize lost people! Furthermore, each Pentecostal denomination has a Constitution and Statement of Doctrines. For instance, as early as 1962, the General Presbyters of the Assemblies of God unanimously adopted a resolution which was re-emphasized at the General Council in 1995:

The General Council of the Assemblies of God disapproves of ministers or churches participating in any of the modern ecumenical organizations on the local, national, or international level in such a manner as to promote the ecumenical movement… We believe that the combination of many religious organizations into a world super church will culminate in the religious Babylon of Revelation 17 and 18 (Article IX, Section 11).

Officials of the Church also speak out. Reverend James K. Bridges, Treasurer of the General Council of The Assemblies of God, recently addressed a large gathering of leading educators. To this very influential group, he said:

There are many putting down denominations today, but I would rather have the multiple denominations which have emerged out of the Reformation, than to be held in the bondage of a Roman colossus that continues to keep its devotees in superstition, ignorance and spiritual darkness. Beware the ecumenical movement afloat today lest when the new garb is removed it shows itself to be the same old bondage (Personal file).

I believe Dr. Bridges speaks for the overwhelming majority of Pentecostals. We are at a crisis of decision. The goal of Catholics is to gather all who claim to be Christians into the Catholic Church. The goal of Pentecostals is to evangelize the world in New Testament Christianity. These are, in my opinion, radically antithetical goals, based on irreconcilable differences in doctrines and practices. With due regard for those who labored to produce this document, my conclusion is that without a common source of authority and a common Gospel, there can be no common witness.

Respectfully submitted,

 

Opal L. Reddin, D.Min.

Ordained Assemblies of God minister.

Distinguished Professor Emerita in Bible/Theology, Central Bible College.

Editor of Contending for the Faith, CBC Theological Journal.


 

Sources of Notes in

Order of Use in Response Paper

 

Austin P. Flannery, ed., “Decree on Ecumenism,” Documents of Vatican II.

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), 456-7. Pillar Books.

H.J. Schroeder, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (Rockford, IL:

Tan Book and Pub., 1978), 22,23,54.

Catechism of the Catholic Church (New York: Catholic Book Pub. Co., 1994),

pages as indicated in parentheses.

Christianity Today, August 10, 1998, 26.

The General Council of the Assemblies of God, Minutes: Bylaws (Springfield,

MO 65802).