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Roman Catholics and Evangelicals

Agreements and Differences

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Last updated Thu Mar 14 16:12:52 EST 2002

     As our age becomes more Godless, Christian unity becomes more and more essential.  But Christian unity must be built on truth held in common.  Unity built by casting truth aside is deception.

     The Catholics and Evangelicals class addresses a sad 500 year division in the Body of Christ.  In class, we will explore the real disagreements between Catholics and Evangelicals, as well as put to rest many tragic and often silly misunderstandings.  You will find that Evangelicals hold far more truth in common with the Catholic Church than with some American Episcopal bishops.

     The purpose of this class is not to debate the disagreements. The purpose is for both sides to first have an accurate understanding of what the other side is saying.  Only then can real debate begin.  There will be short debate periods in class on those occasions when we cover actual disagreements.

     We will review the book Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences by Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie, paying close attention to the chapters on differences.  While this book has some flaws in the way it presents Catholic teaching, it does provide an excellent general analysis of the agreements and differences.  The authors embrace unity based on common truth, and are on the whole sympathetic to the Catholic Church (except for the doctrinal differences).  We will correct any misrepresentations encountered during the class.

Week 1 - Introduction

Catholics, like Protestants, are a mixed lot.  Not all professing Catholics subscribe to the Church's teaching.  The Christian Research Institute has identified six general categories of Roman Catholic.  Several of these categories are in need of evangelization, but our strategy should be to work within Roman Catholic institutions rather than seeking to "convert".  Although Protestants believe the Roman Church to be in error on several points, they are not a cult.  Many deceptions common to individual Roman Catholics can be countered by an understanding of their own Church's teaching.  We will introduce the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" as the official Roman doctrine on almost any theological or ethical issue.  We will introduce Christ-centered Catholic resources and how to steer Catholics toward them.  These include the many conservative parishes in Northern Virginia, and the Catholic Charismatic movement.  We will learn about the importance of learning Catholic "jargon" to avoid misunderstandings.

The Source of our Authority

Week 2 - Magisterium and the Pope

Before coming to class, please read Chapter 1 - Revelation, and Chapter 11 - Infallibility
You may also wish to read James Akin: Scripture and Tradition for a Catholic defense and A.A.Hodge: The Word of God for a Protestant defense.

The most important difference between Protestants and Catholics concerns the authority of Scripture vs. the Magisterium , the Pope, and Tradition. When Catholic apologists ask how Protestants know which books are in the Bible, R.C. Sproul responds that the Bible is a "fallible collection of infallible books". On the other hand, when Protestants ask how Catholics know which Papal dogmas and Church Councils are infallible, we find that they have a "fallible collection of infallible dogmas".

The important thing for Protestants who want to encourage Catholics is to work with Catholic authorities and institutions that are scriptural and Christ centered. There are more agreements than disagreements, especially compared with the heretics and liberals afflicting both sides.

Week 3 - The Apocrypha and Scripture vs. Tradition

Before coming to class, please read Chapter 9 - Apocrypha, and Chapter 10 - Scripture
You may also wish to read James Akin: Defending the Deutorcanonicals for a Catholic defense.

The Apocryphal books are important because they give us the history of the Jews between Malachi and Matthew.  They are called "deuterocanonical" because they were established by the Councils of Rome, Carthage, and Hippo - after the other books.  The Council of Trent (and others) reaffirmed the Deuterocanonical ("other canon") books (the Apocrypha) to be fully inspired and part of Scripture.  Protestants, some Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish canons do not include the Apocrypha.  (But most Eastern Orthodox accept the full Catholic canon and then some.)  The Apocryphal (or Deuterocanonical books, as Catholics prefer to call them) are often quoted to defend prayers for the dead.

Week 4 - The Nature of God and Man

Before coming to class, please read Chapters 2 through 4 - God, Human Beings, and Christ

These are important areas of agreement between all orthodox members of Christ's body. We must all be able to explain and defend these historic doctrines.

The Basis of our Salvation

Week 5 - How are we saved

Before coming to class, please read Chapter 5 - Salvation, Chapter 12 - Justification

We look at the classic dispute. Catholics say we are saved by the kind of works produced by faith.  Protestants say we are saved by the kind of faith that produces works.

"We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone." - Variously attributed to Calvin or Luther

Week 6 - When are we saved

Before coming to class, please read Chapter 13 - Sacramentalism and Chapter 16 - Purgatory

We look at the Catholic and various Protestant views of the sacraments. We also look at the "Once saved, always saved" vs. "Lordship Salvation" dispute among Protestants.  Arminians: "He that perseveres to the end shall be saved." [Matt 10:22; Matt 24:13; Mark 13:13] Calvin: He that is saved shall persevere to the end. [John 10:28,29]

Week 7 - The Church

Before coming to class, please read Chapter 6 - The Church and Chapter 14 - Ecclesiology

Roman teaching on the Church seems to have changed, and not all its members have followed happily. One ultra-traditionalist priest was excommunicated for teaching that we can be saved only in communion with the Roman Church! On the other hand, Vatican II claims to merely clarify what has been the Churches true teaching all along, and early Church documents confirm this.

Other Agreements and Differences

Week 8 - Mariology

Before coming to class, please read Chapter 15 - Mariology

The Dogmas concerning Mary are often problematic to Protestants.  At the time of the Reformation, Protestants and Catholics were agreed on Mariology.  Over time, Protestants began to reject several traditional views of Mary due to a lack of explicit Biblical support.  Rome responded by dogmatizing the Assumption and the Perpetual Virginity of Mary.  Protestants, however, continue to affirm the Marian doctrines established in the early Councils. Protestants see veneration of Mary sometimes becoming idolatry of Mary, and prefer the term "Bearer of God" to "Mother of God".

Week 9 - Last Things

Before coming to class, please read Chapter 7 - Ethics and Chapter 8 - Last Things

Catholic eschatology is amillenial and post trib - the millennium is a symbol of the new heavens and new earth, not a literal 1000 years, and the Rapture occurs after the tribulation. This is not the pre-trib pre-mil fare many Protestants are used to, but is just as orthodox. The chapter on Ethics shows the great debt Protestant thinkers owe to the great Roman Theologians Augustine and Aquinas.  This is a good time to consider the strengths of the Roman Church and what we as Protestants can learn from them.

Week 10 - Ecumenism

Before coming to class, please read Chapters 17 through 20 - common goals.

Ecumenism means different things to Catholics, Protestants, and Liberals.

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