Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 21, 2005
Evangelicals, RCs drawing closer
Churches united in love of Scripture
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
What unites Catholics and evangelicals is far greater than what divides them, says a Protestant theologian.
"(In fact) many evangelical Christians in mainline churches find that they have more in common with the Catholic Church than with their own brothers and sisters in their own church," Dr. George Vandervelde said Feb. 14 at The King's University College. "The evangelicals see in the Catholics a commitment to the core of the Gospels."
Vandervelde, a member of the Christian Reformed Church and professor emeritus at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, spoke to about 150 people on the prospect for common mission between Catholics and evangelicals.
He is one of a group of theologians responsible for Church, Evangelization and the Bonds of Koinonia, the report of consultations from 1993 to 2002 between the World Evangelical Alliance and the Vatican's Council for Christian Unity.
His talk on the history of the Catholic-Evangelical dialogue was part of a three-day conference of Catholic ecumenical officers, clergy and lay people.
Past relationships between the two groups were cool at their best but have improved since the Second Vatican Council, Vandervelde said.
The two groups still need to work on mission, evangelism and religious freedom.
"One of the huge issues among Christians is: when is evangelism legitimate when you approach people from other churches?" the scholar said. "In places where the Catholic Church is the majority Church or the dominant Church, as in Latin America, this often causes great problems."
Many evangelicals have gone to Russia in recent times under the slogan that they are bringing Christ to Russia, he noted.
But Vandervelde said evangelicals and Catholics work together closely in places like Latin America and Africa, particularly in areas where Christians are in the minority.
Even though there are many differences between the groups, the scholar said Catholics and evangelicals agree that Christians should obey the divinely inspired Scriptures.
"What unites us is far greater than what divides us," he said. "Many people consider ecumenism and dialogue an exercise in the lowest common denominator but ecumenism involves a passion for the truth."
Speaking as part of a four-member panel following Vandervelde's presentation, Tyler Williams, chair of the religious department at Taylor University (Baptist) College, said he has studied the work of many Catholic scholars and his life is better for it.
"The Catholic tradition has enriched my own spirituality in many ways," Williams said. "I don't think it would be surprising for me to confess that the evangelical tradition at times isn't really known for its spiritual depth."
Among the Catholic resources Williams has used in his private and professional life are the Desert Fathers and the works of St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Th‚rŠse of Lisieux and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Archbishop Thomas Collins, also a panelist, acknowledged there are serious disagreements between the two groups but said a lot unites them. He said both groups work well together on moral issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
"There are important things that we do not agree on and by God's grace we will in due time be drawn together," the archbishop said.
"Those areas we disagree on are very real and they are a concern but in all the moral issues we are as one but there are also developments in our various communities that are very fruitful," he said.
He cited an appreciation for Scripture as one area where Catholics and evangelicals are on common ground.
But as Collins noted, full unity is still distant. "There is still a long way to go and I think we always have to keep in mind the very wise words of a child, 'Are we there yet?'
"We are not there yet; we've got a long way. There are many miles to go in the journey toward unity but we are a good way along and we are travelling together."
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