The following is a response to a question I received about Roman Catholics and Protestants putting aside their differences and standing together as one body in Christ. Can it happen?Hey H-----, good to hear from you. It was great chatting with you the other day in the T.S.C.!
I believe that Catholic/Protestant disagreement on the peripheral issues of unity (ie. not evangelizing each other; evangelizing together, etc.) reveals that there is a far deeper disagreement at a more fundamental level, and until we acknowledge and address that deeper issue we are setting the axe at the branches and not at the root of the disunity. When someone like me reads this article by Beckwith, or better, the article you sent me a while ago on Evangelicals and Catholics standing together in the 21st century, I cannot, on the conviction of my faith, help but have hesitation. And the fact that one person cannot understand why the other person would feel such a way reveals the disconnect at the deepest level. I believe there are two fundamentally (not superficially) different understandings of what Christianity is taking place, and it is for this reason that there really can be no essential unity between Catholics and Protestants until this is settled. Granted, we may experience a superficial unity if we set aside the essential, but what kind of unity is that? And if we set aside the essential do we even have Christianity any more or merely an oyster without it's pearl? Such a unity can be attained with Muslims and Mormons if we really desired it. You know what I mean?
If I can happily do community projects with a Mormon or an atheist I can more so happily do theistic apologetics with a Catholic against the growing tide of secularism. I can even argue for the monotheistic truth of God with a Jew, or the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus with a Catholic, and stand together with them against the blasphemous doctrines of Mormonism; but I cannot stand with any of these as my brother in Christ contending for the gospel of Jesus Christ unless there is a true and essential unity at the deepest level concerning the gospel of Christ as it is in the Bible. In defense of my stringency I can only point to the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians. There, in the most vehement way possible, Paul condemned to hell anyone who preached a gospel other than what he preached, even if they believed in the divinity of Christ, the oneness of God, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, and the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus Christ alone. It was not these things that Paul had a contention with, but it was with any other condition for salvation other than faith alone in Jesus Christ, whatever the addition may be. This doesn't mean that faith doesn't have it in it to produce love, but that even love is no condition to be imposed upon the sinner for salvation, for the forgiveness of sins is freely bestowed by unmerited favor upon the unworthy. In fact, it is only by the comprehension of this grace - that it is totally free and without the condition of works - that we realize the incredible love that God has for us and thus are effected by it to love (1 John 4:19, 10)! True unconditional love is produced only by faith in true unconditional grace.
I hope this makes sense. I would love to continue a dialogue with you about these things as we bump into each from time to time. Your thoughts on things are very important to me. I believe we all need to talk about the gospel, for until there is unity there, there is no unity.
Take care, H-----.