By Dave Hunt
I have just read a disturbing book, Evangelical Catholics, by Keith A. Fournier—disturbing because it presents a tragically mistaken thesis that will lead many astray. Fournier seems to be a born-again Christian who claims to be both fully evangelical and fully Catholic. The book is a plea for Protestants to join Catholics in a joint evangelization effort. While admitting that "genuine and important theological issues (p 168) which "must be discussed and worked through" (p 191) divide Protestants and Catholics, he pleads for "unity" without dealing with such issues. In fact, his book confronts none of the serious issues that divide us.
Without offering any proof, he calls the belief by Protestants that Catholics have a false gospel "arrogant triumphalism." He trivializes as "a straw man" (p 167) the vital issues of the Reformation—issues so important that Catholics burned hundreds of thousands of Christians at the stake for refusing to violate their consciences. Dismissing it all as a "divorce" due to "misunderstandings" in the family, Fournier fails to deal realistically with the facts of history and insults both the martyrs and their executioners.
Fournier's book calls Protestants to "return home" to Rome. The first chapter ends thus: "I invite you on a journey that will lead us home" (p 23). What he means is quite clear. Chapter 3, the story of his return to the Roman Catholic Church, is titled "There's No Place Like Home." He declares that for anyone "to belong to Christ is to belong to his church" (p 44). He does not mean some Protestant church or the body of Christ composed of all believers, but "the [Catholic] church of my childhood."
Fournier tells of being the target of what he calls "virulent, false and angry anti-Catholic tracts" (p 168) and of vowing, as a result, to fight the battle for unity "at every juncture with truth." Yet he gives us no "truth" about what Catholicism teaches. He denies the charge that Catholics worship Mary and claims that she is only "honored." Then, leaving a false impression, he changes the subject without mentioning that she is "honored" as follows:
Mary is co-redemptrix of the human race...because with Christ she ransomed mankind from the power of Satan. Jesus redeemed us with the blood of His body, Mary with the agonies of her heart....The church and the saints greet her thus: "You, O Mary, together with Jesus Christ, redeemed us."...God has ordained that no grace will be granted to us except through Mary. ....No one will be saved or obtain mercy except through you, O Heavenly Lady....No one will enter heaven without passing through Mary as one would pass through a door....O Mary, our salvation is in your hands. [etc., etc.].
This is not the gospel; it is blasphemy! Yet such are the beliefs of Pope John Paul II, whose theology Fournier says he "does not question" (p 204). Fournier declares that Mary was kept from sin, which denies the gospel that "all have sinned" and that Christ died for all mankind. If God could keep Mary, then He could have kept Eve and all human beings from sin, thus eliminating the need for Christ to die. While agreeing that the Roman Church "is not perfect in practice," Fournier admits no doctrinal error, but writes, "I believe in what the Catholic Church teaches" (p 174). He states that he will not embrace an ecumenism "that harms the purity of Catholic doctrine" (p 157). Rome is never wrong! Is that not the very "arrogant triumphalism" he condemns in Protestants?
Fournier, a lawyer, presents only that part of Roman Catholicism that evangelicals would not find too objectionable. He barely hints at Rome's heresies. For example: "It is not my intention...to explain more fully the Catholic concept of conversion as a continual process that necessarily takes place within the church" (pp 183-84). Why not explain? Obviously because it would shock evangelicals. In the book's 218 pages he carefully avoids explaining Rome's false gospel. Let us, then, in pursuit of truth, consult the most authoritative source of Catholic teaching and practice, The Council of Trent (1545-63), confirmed by Vatican II, to discover what Fournier withholds from his readers.
Fournier's view that "conversion is a continual process" is clearly not the biblical gospel evangelicals preach. How then can Protestants join Catholics in evangelization when each preaches a different evangel? Yes, Catholicism acknowledges that Christ died for our sins and that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works. So far so good. But to that truth Rome adds that Christ's death was not enough. The cross only made possible a process which may lead eventually to heaven—a process involving participation in the seven sacraments which Rome administers.
The first sacrament is baptism, which, for the vast majority of Catholics, takes place in infancy. The Canons and Decrees of The Council of Trent (Tan Books, 1978) declares,...our Lord Jesus Christ...merited for us justification by His...[death upon] the cross...[but] the instrumental cause [of justification] is the sacrament of baptism...without which no man was ever justified...(p. 33). If anyone says that baptism...is not necessary for salvation...or denies that infants newly born...are to be baptized...for the remission of sins...let him be anathema (eternally damned) (pp. 53,20); For by baptism we put on Christ and are made in Him an entirely new creature, receiving full and complete remission of all sins....(p. 90).
Again, this is not the evangelical gospel. Beside baptism there are six more sacraments plus rosaries, alms, Mary's suffering for our sins and her intercession with Christ, the merits of the saints, one's own suffering for one's sins in purgatory, etc. And the role of the Church is vital. Thus the Catholic Church is called "our sacrament of salvation." No evangelical would take that position re a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist or any other church. Yet Trent refers to "our Catholic faith, without which it is impossible to please God" (p 21). More "arrogant triumphalism"?
Christ said, "It is finished." Yet Trent anathematizes all who dare to say that for those who have been justified by grace "no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened" (p 46). Trent insists that "no one can know with the certainty of faith...that he has obtained the grace of God" (p 35)...or that he is among the number...whom God has chosen" (p 38). Anyone who claims to be certain of his salvation is anathematized (pp 43-45).
Again, this is not the evangelical gospel, which assures us that we can know [present knowledge] that we have [present possession] eternal life (1 Jn 5:13). For evangelicals, the salvation of the soul for eternity is secure once faith is placed in Christ. From that moment the believer is assured by Christ himself that he "shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life" (Jn 5:24). Those who believe the gospel know for certain on the authority of God's Word that they "shall never come into condemnation" (Jn 5:24) and shall "never perish" (Jn 10:28). Such biblical assurance is denied by Catholicism's false gospel.
When the Philippian jailer asked, "What must I do to be saved," Paul said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved [period!]" (Acts 16:31). He didn't say, "...and thou shalt begin a long process of involvement in sacraments administered by an elite priesthood that, hopefully, will one day get you to heaven." Salvation/justification/redemption take place once and for all when Christ is truly received as Savior and Lord and the sinner is born again of the Holy Spirit into the family of God. Until then one is not in the family of God, no matter to which church one belongs, be it Protestant or Catholic. Yet Fournier insists that all Catholics are "in the family of God" because they have been baptized.
After 160 pages of talk about unity and evangelizing the world together, in Chapter 10 he acknowledges that "real and important" differences exist between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of the Lord's Supper—so much so that he refuses to partake of the bread and wine with Protestants! He continues to plead for "love and unity" as members of the same "family," having "the same Head, the same Savior, the same Elder Brother, and the same Bridegroom—He who is at the heart of our evangelical fervor, Jesus Christ" (p 167). Yet he will not partake of a common loaf and cup in the remembrance of Christ's death with Protestants who are, in fact, all anathematized by the Council of Trent for their beliefs! And he persists in urging Protestants to "accept" Catholics without dealing with these vital issues. A disturbing book indeed!
Obviously the differences in belief just in this one area are major. Catholicism's dogmas of the Mass pervert the gospel. They were repudiated by the Reformers and hundreds of thousands died at the stake rather than embrace such heresy. Trent declares,...in this divine sacrifice...is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner the same Christ who once offered Himself in a bloody manner...this is truly propitiatory....For the victim is one and the same...now offering [Himself] by the ministry of priests...not only for the sins...of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified [i.e., still suffering in purgatory for their sins] (p146).
If anyone says that in the mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God...[by] priests [who] offer His own body and blood...[or] that the sacrifice of the mass is...not a propitiatory one...let him be anathema (p 149).
This blasphemous gospel necessarily alienates evangelicals because it contradicts the specific teaching of Scripture:
Nor yet that he should offer himself often [as Catholicism teaches]...but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself...we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all...for by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified....Now...there is no more offering for sin (Heb 9:25-10:18, and many other verses).
Fournier argues for the "real presence" of Christ on the altar where He is sacrificed again in each Mass. After his "conversion" he attended a Protestant Bible school. There he was taught that when Christ, in John 6, said we must eat His flesh and drink His blood, He meant that He would become a sacrifice for sin. And that just as the priest ate of the Old Testament sacrifices which symbolized Christ (Lev 2:3; 6:16, 18, 26, 29, etc.), so we must believe in Him. Fournier asked his professor "why the same Jesus who literally meant everything else He said spoke figuratively here" (p 42). Fournier's mistake is simple: Christ did not always speak literally. In fact, when He spoke to the multitudes, as He did in John 6, He always spoke in parables: "Without a parable spake he not unto them" (Mt 13:34). He said He was "the light" (Jn. 8:12), "the door," (Jn 10:7), "the vine" (Jn 15:1), etc., yet no one claims He meant this in a literal sense. Nor do we literally eat Him.
In fact, Christ explained that by eating and drinking His flesh and blood He meant believing on Him (Jn 10:29,35,40,47). When He called Himself "the bread" (Jn 6:35) He didn't mean that His body was a literal loaf of bread. So when he said of a loaf of bread, "this is my body," He obviously didn't mean that literally either, since He was present in His physical body and holding the bread in His hands when He said it. Moreover, how can Christ's real body be contained within a wafer and be physically present in its fullness in each of millions of wafers in tens of thousands of Catholic churches around the world at one time? Literally? Even more important, is it not blasphemy for a Catholic priest to claim to have the power to take Christ's resurrected, glorified body in which He lives at the Father's right hand in heaven and reconstitute it into His precrucifixion body to be re-offered again? Literalism, indeed!
Sadly, it was "feeling this Presence" at a Catholic altar that brought Fournier back into the church of his childhood (p 45). Fortunately, he'd already had the advantage of getting away from the Catholic Church long enough to hear the gospel and to receive Christ and to be born again. What of the vast majority of Catholics who have never heard that gospel? Because of the false teaching, that they are receiving eternal life by ingesting into their stomachs Christ's physical body and blood under the form of bread and wine, Catholics by the millions are prevented from receiving the spiritual gift of eternal life through believing in Christ in their hearts. And for centuries Rome did not allow the common people to partake of the wine turned to Christ's "blood" which it said was essential to life!
This false gospel necessarily separates Protestants from Catholics. Love and unity must be based upon truth, not mere sentiment. It is not an act of love for evangelicals to embrace as Christians and overlook the false gospels of all who call themselves "Christians," whether they be Mormons, Catholics, et al. The vital issue, which Fournier never deals with in his entire book, is: What is the gospel, how are we saved, what does the Bible itself teach?
I hope we have clarified why Christ's love compels us not to "accept Catholics," but to inform them where and why Rome's dogmas and traditions contradict God's Word. Until they have seen what is false in their religion, they can hardly embrace the truth, for no matter how clear the gospel is made it will be understood in the context of Catholicism and thus misunderstood.
Fournier names many evangelical leaders who, instead of evangelizing Catholics, are working with them to "evangelize" the world. The ecumenical tide threatens to engulf us all. It grows increasingly unpopular and difficult to sound the warning that God has called us to declare. Your prayers and encouragement are much appreciated. TBC