By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Nov 5, 2008)
Now here is a question that I know bugs a lot of Catholics these days, and I am glad that one of our readers expressed it so well:
I know of quite a few people who are extremely devout Christians and also some people that, through the grace of God, have turned away from VERY VERY bad lives and turned toward Christianity, but to Evangelical Protestantism. Why? Why not Catholicism like He did for Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC? It's just as easy for Him, and if Protestantism contradicts some of the Catholic teachings why would God call somebody to that? I know that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, but it seems like God is working against Himself in calling people to anything other than Catholicism.
Shelly Lubben used to be a serious porn star, and she received the grace of God and is now a devout Christian who talks and acts out against the porn industry and leads with a very strong love for Jesus. This is just one example. Anyway, I know this probably isn't the right e-mail address for this kind of question but whatever ... answer it anyway, cuz it's botherin' me. Thank you.
As a matter of fact, Dysmas, you may indeed have found the right address for this question, since I teach theology courses at a small Catholic College (Redeemer Pacific) that just happens to be the first Catholic College in North American history (as far as we know) that is academically part of an Evangelical University (Trinity Western)! So this is actually one of my favorite topics!
As best I can see, there is a two-part answer to your question, Dysmas. The first part takes some humility from us as Catholics to acknowledge. The sad truth is that God often makes use of Evangelical Protestants these days to rescue lost souls, precisely because Catholics are failing to do that job themselves. There are too many "liberal" Catholic clergy in North America distorting or watering down the gospel message, so that many people can't hear it preached or taught in their parishes. Not only that, but when souls that are lost and seeking for spiritual help come to many of our Catholic parishes, they finds our congregations spiritually dead-as-a-doornail! The liturgy may be in perfect order, but in this life, perfect order can also be found in a graveyard. We don't have space to go into this now in detail; suffice it to say that our Lord Jesus Christ, who loved lost souls at the cost of His life, would rather make use of the best Evangelicals to reach out to them with the basics of the gospel, than see those souls lost forever just because we Catholics are too lazy and compromised to get the job done ourselves.
In other words, I think that bringing souls to a living relationship with Himself, in the Holy Spirit, through the Evangelicals, is our Lord's "Plan B," for North America. "Plan A" was supposed to bring them to the fullness of Catholic truth, and thereby to the fullness of the means of grace. Some of them will get there in the end. But thanks be to God that in His providence He always has contingency plans ready whenever we let Him down!
The second part of the answer to your question, Dysmas, is that despite our doctrinal differences with Evangelicals, (to paraphrase Pope John XXIII) "there is more that unites us than divides us." It has taken Catholics and Evangelicals far too long to acknowledge this about one another. But I believe a new day is dawning on our continent, when the onward march of secularism, moral decay, and "the culture of death" will be throwing Catholics and Evangelicals together "in the trenches" more than ever before. This article will appear on-line after the United States presidential election, but if the polls are correct, we are about to elect a new president whose party in Congress will overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (de facto making gay "marriage" legal in all 50 states) and pass the Freedom of Choice Act (overturning all restrictions on abortion of any kind in all 50 states). The Judeo-Christian roots of our culture are going to be under assault as never before. Critical issues of freedom of religion, the inalienable right-to-life, and social support for the natural family will become battlegrounds, and in these battles we will find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with our Evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to learn more about them, and they need to learn more about us, so that we can work together as much as we can in good conscience.
One way to get a good look at the similarities and differences between the two Christian traditions, and the possibilities for common action, is to consult the statements put out by Catholic-Evangelical ecumenical dialogue groups. "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" has been issuing such statements for more than a decade, and they are well worth reading. For an even quicker, crash-course, I recommend the following statement, put out by a new group called "Catholics and Evangelicals for Christ" that is trying to form at Trinity Western University and Redeemer Pacific College, where I teach. It nicely summarizes our respective positions and the great wisdom of Pope John XXIII's assessment: There really is more that unites us than divides us.
COMMON STATEMENT OF FAITH
WE BELIEVE IN:
The only true God, the almighty Creator of all things, existing eternally in Three Persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — full of love and glory.
The unique divine inspiration and authority of the Bible, the Word of God, entirely trustworthy in all that it affirms and asserts as true and to be believed by all the People of God.
The inherent value and inalienable dignity of every human being, created in God's image to live in love and holiness, but alienated from God because of sin, original and actual, and justly subject to God's wrath.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sent from the Father, fully human and fully divine, born of a virgin through no earthly fatherhood; who lived as our perfect example; who assumed the judgment due to sinners by dying for our sins on the cross, and won for us all the grace of salvation; who was raised from the dead in a glorified body, and ascended into heaven; who saves us now from the guilt and power of sin through the gift of repentance and faith, enabling us to surrender our whole hearts and lives to Him as Savior and Lord.
The indwelling presence and transforming power of the Holy Spirit, who gives to all Christians new life and a calling to obedient service.
The present unity in the Holy Spirit of all baptized Christians, reborn and abiding in the saving, sanctifying grace of Jesus Christ, manifest in worshipping and witnessing churches, making disciples throughout the world.
The duty of all disciples of Jesus Christ to work and pray for the ever closer spiritual and corporate unity of the Body of Christ, that we may be united in the fullness of truth and love, in one Eucharistic communion and fellowship, with one mission to the world, in fulfilment of our Lord's earnest prayer "That they all may be one ... so that the world may believe" (Jn 17:21).
The victorious reign and future personal return of Jesus Christ, who will judge all people with justice and mercy, giving over the unrepentant to conscious, everlasting loss, but receiving His faithful disciples into eternal life, in the communion of the Blessed Trinity.
As Catholic/Evangelical members who accept this common statement of faith, we recognize that some of the statements made above would be understood in slightly different ways by our respective traditions. Moreover, we do NOT intend to imply that what we can at present confess together with our Catholic/Evangelical brothers and sisters represents all divinely revealed truths essential to the Faith of the Church and vital for Christians to believe. For example, we disagree on the number of canonical books that rightly make up the Old Testament in the Holy Scriptures. Evangelical members would certainly wish to say that there is more that is vital for Christians to believe about the Bible, as the sufficient and only infallible reference point of God's revelation to humanity, and about salvation as coming to us through Jesus Christ alone, by His free grace alone, through faith alone. Catholic members, on the other hand, would certainly wish to say that that there is more that is vital for Christians to believe about the One Church, the mystical Body of Christ that Jesus founded; about the unifying hierarchy of the Church in authentic succession from the apostles and in communion with the Petrine Ministry; about the role of Sacred Tradition of the Church, in the Holy Spirit, in unfolding the truth of the Apostolic Faith; about the sacraments as means of grace and the Real Presence of Jesus our Savior in the Eucharist; about The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy and Queen of Heaven, and about our life-giving communion with all the Saints.
We have neither ignored nor underestimated the importance of such differences.
Nevertheless, we affirm that what we can at present confess together includes many of the most central truths of the gospel, and we rejoice that there is "more that unites us than divides us." We believe that this common ground of faith can be the basis for limited but significant, united, public witness, to help draw the world closer to our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory, both now and forever.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.