Monday, June 06, 2005

Signs of the Reformation's Success?

From Christianity Today: Signs of the Reformation's Success? Reformation scholar Timothy George is interviewed on Pope John Paul II's historical significance and the " 'momentous' era of Catholic-evangelical dialogue." I haven't always understood my pastor's comparision of the many strong similarities between American Evangelicals and Roman Catholics, although articles like this one illustrate his point. Here is a brief excerpt:

Other than Billy Graham, have there been other major evangelical figures who tried to bridge the historic divide with Catholicism?

Chuck Colson has to be put into that category. At another level I would say Francis Schaeffer, though he was a strait-laced Presbyterian. He recognized the importance of an alliance with Catholics on the issue of sanctity of life.

To some extent Carl Henry also fits. He was a member of the editorial board of First Things, for example, which is not strictly a Catholic magazine but has a lot of Catholic influence.

So are we living in historic times then? All these names are contemporary.

When you think back, whom would you think of? In some ways I would say D. L. Moody. Moody is the forerunner. Moody was the first person, in his 1893 Chicago campaign—called campaigns back then because the Civil War had campaigns. He was a chaplain in the Civil War. Billy Graham, coming out of World War II, had crusades.

But in the 1893 campaign in Chicago, Moody was the first evangelical preacher that I know of who invited Roman Catholic prelates, priests, and bishops to share his platform. And they did. This was well before Billy Graham would actually begin to do it in the '50s.

Moody also took up money and helped build a Roman Catholic church in his hometown of Northfield, Massachusetts. So he was very friendly to Catholics. But in some ways Moody was not able to make the kind of sweeping changes that Billy Graham was able to make, because he was limited by the polarized context of his era. Catholicism was so entrenched in his day. We're talking about Vatican I Catholicism. We're talking about Pius IX and those who succeeded him. The doctrine of papal infallibility had just been announced. There was not a good ecumenical spirit flowing back and forth, which in some ways makes Moody all the more interesting in that he stood out against that divide.

We're in the flow and flux of it all. It's really hard to evaluate where we are or how historians will look at our times. But there is a sea change that has happened, particularly among evangelicals and Catholics. I think the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement is evidence of that. Clearly something momentous is afoot. Evangelicals are not Roman Catholics. But we are Catholics in that we affirm the historic orthodox faith. And we want to call the Roman Catholic Church, as we call ourselves, to a further reformation on the basis of the Word of God. That's what we ought to be about.

Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom have just written a book called Is The Reformation Over? In my endorsement I said, "The Reformation is over only in the sense that to some extent it has succeeded." Which is to say that Roman Catholicism has taken on many, but not all, of the main emphases that come out of Luther. There's a clear movement in that direction, and I think evangelicals can celebrate that and see our commonalities.

1 comment:

Bob Waters said...

But we aren't "evangelicals."