by Orrel Steinkamp, The Plumbline, Volume 12, Nov 6, November/December 2007
Words are absolutely wonderful. With words we can convey truth and meaning to one another. The speaker chooses words with the intention to convey the meaning he wishes to convey. But sometimes people who hear our words have already established their own different meaning of that word and so the message of the speaker must then pass through the mental grid of the one receiving the message. Furthermore, human nature being what it is, people can use words to hide and conceive their really meaning. This leads in some cases to where the speaker or the writer is accurate in his meaning, but the receiver has invested a meaning of his own. The speaker feels confident he has communicated clearly, but the one receiving the message has a radically different, albeit related, meaning. Sometimes this process is innocent. But other times the receiver, for his own reasons, hides his meaning to be in apparent agreement. Politicians are always trying to alter meanings and use words and situations to convey a meaning entirely different. These people are called "spin doctors." Unless someone presses for an accurate definition of word meanings, people are allowed to retain their own very different meanings for their own purposes. I have chosen three examples in the current evangelical scene.
Evangelicals and Mormons Together
An "Evening of Friendship" was held in Salt Lake City On November 14, 2004. It featured a number of evangelicals who are making a plea for dialogue with Mormons. The featured invited guest was Ravi Zacharias. Also invited was Fuller Theological Seminary president Richard Mouw. He apologized to Mormons on our behalf for demonizing and distorting Mormon teaching. Craig Hazen a professor at Biola University also attended. Also invited was Greg Johnson (Director of Standing Together Ministries in Utah), Joseph Thack Jr., head of the World Wide Church of God and Michael Card a Catholic contemporary church musician.
It was reported that about 7000 attended the meeting which was held in the prestigious and historic Mormon Tabernacle. The event itself was actually co-sponsored by Greg Johnson and Richard Evans a professor at Brigham Young University. Johnson, apparently, conceived of the meeting and was the one who arranged the invitation of Zacharias and secured the endorsement of the highest Mormon leadership.
I, personally, heard Zacharias refer to his invitation from the LDS leadership. Apparently, after some hesitation, he decided to proceed feeling it was an unusual opportunity. He apparently preached on the person and work of Christ but made no reference of Mormon and Evangelical views. Zacharias received a standing ovation from the mostly Mormon audience. Even in a Q&A session, he assiduously made no attempt to compare official Evangelical views with Mormon teaching. He was asked at the session: "What are the differences between Mormonism and Christianity?" He sidestepped by saying: "I have to keep in mind that I am a guest here." Michael Card the Catholic musician led the Mormons and Catholics in praise to God.
Greg Cantrell, who attended the meeting, remarked: "No one during the entire time spoke of any differences between Mormonism and Christianity." Cantrell them observed, "I will leave you with an analogy about what happened last night: It was the same to me as if I was talking with an English man about football and what a wonderful, exciting sport it is, and how he said he loves that sport; yet we never clarified that he was talking about soccer, and I was talking about American football. We could not understand each other."
"David Cloud makes this point in referring to ecumenical evangelists like Luis Palau, who speak to many Roman Catholics urging them, "You must receive Christ." But the Catholic hearing this thinks, "That's right; I have received Christ many times in the sacraments and now I need to receive Christ AGAIN at this meeting, and hopefully as I continue to go to Mass and spend some time in purgatory after I die, God eventually will receive me." (Evangelicals arid Mormons Together, http:// wayoflife.org).
This is exactly what Catholicism teaches. And most Catholics would respond to "receiving Christ" in this way. In order to communicate you must anticipate the meaning of the terms of your listener and draw a clear contrast. Otherwise the speaker is speaking about apples and the hearer understands oranges. If this is not clearly done, those listening will understand according to what they have been taught.
Rauni Higley who was an active and convinced Mormon for 20 year wrote in a letter to Ravi Zacharias after the evening and shared how she would have understood his words if she was still a Mormon. Higley wrote to Zacharias:
"You failed to declare the truth clearly to those who interpret the words, familiar to Christians, totally differently. I think that is why Biola's Craig Hazen, after the meeting, said in his report that 'rank and file Mormons' would not have found anything controversial in it. The audience could have agreed with just about everything you said, but yet not understood at all. I think how I, if I was still an active and believing Mormon as I once was, would have 'understood' your words. I would have interpreted them, based on what I believed as a Mormon, and what I was taught by the LDS church. When you said 'Jesus,' I would have thought of Him as my brother I lived with in heaven before coming to this world. When you said 'God.' or 'Heavenly Father,' I would have thought of my literal heavenly parents, father and mother gods, in heaven~ When you said 'redemption' or 'payment for our sins,' I would have thought of the conditional salvation Jesus provided for me, and that I must work hard, along with my husband, to earn my real salvation which is exaltation and Godhood... When you said 'cross" I would have acknowledged that Jesus died on the cross, but I also would have thought that He had, before going to the cross, already made an atonement for me and provided resurrection by suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. Like the Mormon leaders on the platform, I too could have said that I 'agree' with your message.. .1 personally know active temple going Mormons here in Utah who regularly listen to Christian speakers on radio and TV... and agree with them all even though with some pity that these great speakers cannot go to the celestial kingdom and become gods because they have not received the 'fullness of the LDS gospel.' Mormons simply interpret the words used differently." (Letter from Mrs. Rauni Higley, former Mormon to Ravi Zacharias, Nov.22, 2004).
I am sure that Ravi Zacharias was sincere and spoke clearly the words of the Gospel. But in certain settings the truth must be contrasted with the faulty word understanding of our listeners. Otherwise, first they don't understand and secondly they do not have the truth in their minds necessary for salvation
Evangelicals and Catholics Together
In 1992 Charles Coulson and Richard John Neuhaus entered into a joint project together. Charles Coulson was the well-known political hatchet man for Richard Nixon, who after conviction of crimes and incarceration was converted by reading C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity." He then formed a ministry to prisoners called Prison Fellowship in 976 with a budget of 38 million in 1997. He proceeded to author a number of best selling books and quickly became a recognized spokesman for evangelical Christianity.
Richard John Neuhaus was born in Canada to American parents, educated in Ontario, and graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis. In 1990 with apparent disillusionment with Lutheranism, he converted to Catholicism and in 1991 was ordained a Catholic priest. He formed the Institute of Religion and Public Life and edits the periodical 'First Things."
These two men having birthed together the idea of uniting Evangelicals and Catholics recruited both Evangelical and Catholic signatories to a joint declaration in 1994 called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." It was a call for Evangelicals and Catholics to present a united front against the evils of secular culture. Although it was essentially an appeal to co-belligerency, it designated Catholics and Evangelicals (notice its use of Evangelicals and not Protestants) as brothers and sisters in Christ. Included was a call that neither group should evangelize the other. The document also affirmed that we together are "justified by grace through faith because of Christ." This phrase was hoped to paper over the unresolved centuries old issues of the Reformation. Apparently the many well known evangelical signatories were happy to leave justification in cloudy and vague language. But, thankfully, there were a few well-known Evangelicals who actually understood the issues of justification with reference to the Reformation, who were unsettled by this attempt to pass off justification issues with one ambiguous and vague sentence. Nevertheless, undaunted, the Coulson/Neuhaus Group returned to the drawing board and sharpened their wordsmithing skills for the task of further presenting justification in such a way that all sides would keep in tact their differing views of justification and appear as having found language agreeable to all.
The new document was unveiled in 1998 and it was called "The Gift of Salvation." This document was much more detailed and its stated aim was to solve the centuries old division of the Reformation. In fact, in the preamble of this document, it asserted that henceforth the schism of the Reformation could be considered over. It emphasized the grace of God in salvation, the atonement of Christ and the gift of justification received through faith. In 'The Gilt of Salvation" we are told that we now have common ground in the very nature of the gospel of grace. But! wait a minute. Catholics have always argued that they have a doctrine of grace. The reason some Evangelicals are now apparently prepared to listen is because unknowingly many Evangelicals are actually in certain ways closer to the justification" teaching of Rome than they are to their Protestant forefathers.
Few Protestants have been aware of the fact that Rome has always had its own version of justification by faith. So the wording of this document catches many off guard and with glee they celebrate that Catholics believe the same way we do and hence the centuries old division in no longer necessary.
The Roman church does not overtly teach that a sinner can be justified by his own works. Their position is more nuanced than that. In a nutshell, they teach that at baptism the Holy Spirit enters the child's life sacra mentally. By the grace, mediated by the church solely by its sacraments, original sin is blotted out. Now the Spirit indwells the believer. The believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit and this enables him, through the sacraments, to grow in actual internal righteousness. It is this righteousness, the righteousness of the believer, which results in justification. It's sort of like placing leaven (the Holy Spirit) into a loaf (the sacra mentally baptized believer) and by degrees, the loaf (Catholic believer) becomes leavened with righteousness. The Catholic believer cooperates with the Holy Spirit and becomes more and more righteous justified). All of this is by grace provided in the sacraments and by faith in the efficacy of the sacraments. But, though called grace, it amounts to works in practice. It is taught that the Catholic believer cooperates with the Spirit in sacramental grace. This is the Catholic version of justification by faith through grace. It is salvation by degrees but no one knows if they have sufficiently cooperated with enough grace through the sacraments... Hence the need of perpetually repeating sacramental grace in the sacraments and final justification in purgatory. This Catholic theology is no secret and is taught clearly in their catechism. But with this version of “grace" and “justification" they can agree to the wording in “The Gift of Salvation.” You see it is what a word means. Unless you agree on the meaning you can appear to be in agreement but be in absolute disagreement.
The Gospel that Paul preached was that we are justified by faith completely and instantly at salvation and without degrees. At conversion the Holy Spirit seals us with the Holy Spirit. Our sins, all of them, were placed (imputed) on Jesus and punished by God once and for all at Calvary. Our justification is a completed transaction. Furthermore, the righteousness of Jesus perfect life is credited (imputed) to our account at conversion. Hence we do not increase in our righteous standing before God. Indeed we are new creatures, who grow in grace and we make progress in living new lives in Christ. BUT this growth in grace is not why we are right in Gods sight. Luther used an absolutely great illustration of the righteousness of Christ counted or credited to the believer. In Germany people always kept their livestock under their houses. They then tossed the manure unto an unsightly pile. But when the first snow came it covered it all with an absolutely pure white covering. Luther correctly taught that this glistening pure white snow was as an analogy of the righteousness of Christ covering our sin so that in Christ we are accepted as righteous in God's sight.
Consequently, by the wordsmithing (spin) of the CoulsonJNeuhaus Group, a surprisingly large number of Evangelicals seem only too happy to accept these two versions of salvation covered with a fog of misunderstanding. Could it be in the end, having stripped away the sacamentalism and the Marian theology and penance etc. of Catholicism, there is a somewhat similar view of being justified in practical evangelical understanding? Could this explain the simple ease with which some evangelicals return to Rome Sweet Home?
Note: Pope Benedict XVI on July 07 issued a document with "excathedra" authority stating that "The Roman Catholic Church is the only true Church." The Coulson/Neuhaus Group and its signatories can now devote themselves to other matters.
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