The fatal compromise of the gospel of grace by Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) is easily demonstrated. For their cooperation in the culture wars, their working together in evangelism, and their realizing of the unity of Christ’s church, ECT needs agreement of evangelicals and Roman Catholics in the faith. Therefore “Evangelicals & Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,” the document that first identified ECT to the world and described its mission, confesses the oneness of evangelicals and Roman Catholics in the Christian faith itself. The last line of the opening section, “Introduction,” reads: “The mission that we embrace together is the necessary consequence of the faith that we affirm together.”

Both the evangelicals and the Roman Catholics who are involved in ECT know that the importance of justification for the faith, or gospel, is such that there must be agreement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics on justification. Accordingly, the section that immediately follows, after a short paragraph stating agreement on the Lordship of Jesus, declares that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in their belief of justification: “We affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.”

These few words are church- and world-shaking.

If the declaration is correct, the 16th century Reformation of the church was a mistake, indeed, the most gigantic mistake made in at least the last 1,000 years of church history. But it was far worse than a huge blunder. It was gross sin: the ripping apart of the blessed body of Christ, just as Rome has always charged.

To a man, the Reformers insisted that the Reformation was not about abuses, whether of immorality on the part of the clergy or of tyranny on the part of popes. Such was the Reformers’ regard for the unity of the church that they freely acknowledged that the Reformation could not be justified on the basis of correcting abuses and improving morals. The Reformation, they maintained, was about the gospel, particularly the doctrine of justification—heart of the gospel.

The Reformation was schism!

For, “we affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.”

The entire history of Protestantism in general since the Reformation, as of every Protestant church in particular, has been vain, an exercise in futility. All the development of distinctive Protestant theology, all the work, all the struggle, all the sacrifice, all the suffering, all the martyrdom has been for nothing. Write “VANITY!” by all means in capital letters, at the beginning and the end of the church-history book of Protestantism.

For, “we affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.”

It is now the solemn duty of all evangelical churches to confess to God and the pope the sin of their separation from Rome and to seek admission into the Roman Catholic Church. They must do so at once. The sin of schism is grievous. It is damning. Evangelicals must not continue in it for a moment. Let all evangelical churches in all the world hold a special synod, or general assembly, or conference as soon as possible. Let them authorize a delegation of leaders, including Billy Graham, Charles Colson, and James I. Packer, to present their confession and supplication to the Vicar of Christ in Rome.

And then, we all troop back. Back to a gospel of Christ and Mary, of grace and free will, of faith and works. Back to uncertainty about final salvation. Back to certainty of hellish agonies at death in purgatory. Back to participation in the sacrificing of Jesus Christ again every day. Back to the worship of a piece of bread. Back to the confessional and its satisfactions. Back to the authority of church and tradition above that of Holy Scripture. Back to an ungracious god of salvation by works of the law.

With our little ones.

For, “we affirm together that we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.”

Only one factor would mitigate somewhat these necessary implications for Protestant churches of ECT’s affirmation of evangelical and Roman Catholic oneness in the gospel-truth of justification. This would be that Rome has changed its doctrine of justification since the time and formulations of the Council of Trent.

I challenge ECT to “affirm together” that the Roman Catholic Church has changed her doctrine of justification since Trent.

In fact, ECT’s affirmation of the fundamental oneness of present-day evangelicals and Roman Catholics as regards justification is merely that: a description of the agreement of present-day evangelicals and Rome. It does not describe any agreement between the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification and the Reformation’s doctrine of justification. ECT’s affirmation is evangelical compromise of the Reformation’s doctrine of justification.

What is missing from ECT’s affirmation?

Only the word that makes all the difference between the truth of the Reformation and the false doctrine of Rome!

Only the word that makes all the difference between the one, only, true gospel of grace and the false gospel of salvation by man’s will, works, and worth!

Only the word “only”!

ECT’s affirmation, grounding the whole enterprise in the gospel, says, “… we are justified by grace through faith because of Christ.”

The confession of the Reformation was, and is: “We are justified by grace only through faith only because of Christ only.” This positive confession necessarily included, and includes, the negative, “We reject as false doctrine the teaching that justification is by grace and merit through faith and works because of Christ and the sinner himself.”

ECT’s affirmation is a compromise, not by Rome but by the evangelicals. As a compromise, it approves the Roman Catholic heresy. The effect is the repudiation of the Reformation doctrine of justification.

James I. Packer, leading evangelical in ECT, openly admits that the statement on justification is deliberate compromise. In his contribution to the book that defends the original ECT document, Packer writes:

Neither evangelicals nor Roman Catholics can stipulate that things they believe, which the other side does not believe, be made foundational to partnership at this point; so ECT lets go Protestant precision on the doctrine of justification … (“Crosscurrents among Evangelicals,” in Evangelicals & Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, ed. Charles Colson and Richard John Neuhaus, Word, 1995, p. 167; emphasis added; hereafter, TCM).

This is bad enough. Sacrificing “Protestant precision” on justification is the same as sacrificing Athanasian precision on the Trinity, or Chalcedonian precision on the person and natures of Christ, or Dordtian precision on total depravity. It is to let go the gospel, Christ, and God.

But Packer, leading representative of the evangelicals, goes further. He denies the fundamental importance of the doctrine of justification by faith alone as the heart of the gospel of grace. He confronts the criticism that points out that the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the doctrine of justification by faith and works “express two different gospels, one of which is not a true gospel.” Packer responds that “evangelicalism seeks to lead people into salvation, and what brings them salvation is not any theory about faith and justification, but trusting Jesus himself as Lord, Master, and divine Savior” (TCM, p. 168).

Of course, it is true that “what brings … salvation is … trusting Jesus himself as Lord, Master, and divine Savior,” except that Packer should say, “trusting Jesus himself only.” Exactly this is the importance, indeed the necessity, of, not a certain “theory” about faith and justification, but God’s own truth about faith and justification.

Proclamation of the gospel-truth that sinners are justified by grace only through faith only because of Christ only is the means by which the Holy Spirit causes elect men and women to trust in Jesus Christ only and thus receive salvation.

On the other hand, proclamation of the lie that sinners are justified by grace and merit through faith and works because of Christ and the sinner himself causes sinners to trust in Jesus and man, whether Mary, some saint, or oneself. All those who trust in someone or something in addition to Jesus Christ will be eternally damned.

As we desire men’s salvation, we will uncompromisingly confess and contend for the pure truth of justification by faith alone. As we desire men’s salvation, we will uncompromisingly condemn and curse the false doctrine of justification by faith and works.

Packer is defending ECT by advocating doctrinal indifference (at which one who has read his introduction to his and Johnston’s translation of Luther’s The Bondage of the Will is astonished). This doctrinal indifference characterizes the other evangelicals in ECT as well. Charles Colson expressed it in his book on the church, which was influential in creating ECT. Commenting on the fact that cooperation in opposing abortion has got Roman Catholic priests and Protestant lay people jailed together, Colson wrote: “Many have been arrested, but I doubt that they’ve sat around in those bleak jail cells debating the Council of Trent” (The Body, Word, 1992, p. 107).

To which the response might be, “Would these Protestants in bleak jails debate with Jewish anti-abortionists the council of the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus?”ECT is evangelical compromise with the Roman heresy on justification.

Thus ECT fatally compromises the Reformation and biblical gospel of grace.

It is a commentary on our age that the question must yet be answered, “Does it matter? Is it serious? Is it intolerable?”

— DJE

(to be concluded)