Hundreds of Protestant and evangelical scholars, pastors, and theologians have signed a document called “Reforming Catholic Confession” to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which will be commemorated on October 31, 2017. According to Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, who co-chaired the Confession’s steering committee, “a significant motivating factor of the Confession’s participants is to call the Church to spiritual renewal.”1 In reviewing the “Reforming Catholic Confession” and the signatories, Lighthouse Trails has observed a few things, which lead us to ask, “Can the church trust the “Reforming Catholic Confession”?
To begin with, the majority of the hundreds of initial signatories either promote the contemplative prayer movement (a movement that has its roots in Catholic mysticism and panentheism and is drawing Protestants in that direction) directly themselves or represent institutions or denominations that do.
This promotion of contemplative spirituality includes the Confession’s co-chair, Dr. Timothy George. For example, in a 2014 article titled “Not Just For Catholics” on Beeson Divinity School’s website, written by George, he expresses his admiration for Catholic practices such as the contemplative Lectio Divina. George is also the general editor for a series called the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (published by InterVarsity Press) that boasts of including Catholic writers in its collection of commentaries. While the “Reforming Catholic Confession” claims to be trying to strengthen the Protestant church and its unique mission separated from the Catholic Church, how can we trust a document whose co-chairman does not even understand the serious reasons Christians must be separated from the Roman Catholic Church? We know Timothy George cannot understand this for if he did, he would certainly not, as the general editor, allow the writings of Catholic writers in a commentary series on Scripture. On the Beeson Divinity School website, George is described as “active in Evangelical–Roman Catholic Church dialogue.”
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), is another signatory of the “Reforming Catholic Confession.” Anderson was a pioneer of the emerging church movement as described in Roger Oakland’s book Faith Undone, which quotes Anderson saying he is hoping for a paradigm shift within the church:
The only way to cope and be effective during this period of structural change in society is to change some of the ways we view our world and the church. It is what some call a paradigm shift—a new way of looking at something. Such a shift will allow us to view our changing world with new perspective. It is like a map. Old maps from 1950 may have sufficed before the construction of interstate highways and the expansion of major cities, but new maps are needed now. Likewise, we need a paradigm shift for the future.2 (emphasis added)
It was Leith Anderson, Rick Warren, and Bill Hybels who were instrumental in helping Bob Buford (under the inspiration of Peter Drucker) launch the emergent church (then called Terra Nova) around 1998 with a group of young pastors: Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, Mark Driscoll, and Brian McLaren. Things have never been the same since, which leads us to ask the question: Is the “Reforming Catholic Confession” (which uses the word “catholic” over 30 times) another step in this emergent paradigm shift that Leith Anderson longed for twenty years ago where “a new way of looking at something [the church]” comes into play? Those who have studied the emergent/emerging church in the scope of Scripture know it is a definite road to Rome with its ecumenical, interspiritual, and mystical elements leading the way.
Other institutions that are represented in the signatures of the “Reforming Catholic Confession” are some of the most blatant contemplative-promoting Christian colleges and universities out there. And when we say contemplative, remember, we mean on a path to Rome: Wheaton College, Fuller Theological Seminary, Biola University, Bethel College, Regent University, Asbury University, Andrews University, Denver University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Other schools represented in the document are also contemplative promoting: Dallas Theological Seminary, Liberty University, Moody Bible Institute, Baylor University, Cornerstone University, and Westmont College. We’ve only named a few of the institutions that are represented on the signature list that promote contemplative spirituality (i.e., the emergent church). As we stated, it is the majority of them that do.
Several denominations are also represented in the “Reforming Catholic Confession” such as the Evangelical Free Church of America (and as of more recent years is now an advocate for contemplative spirituality). And don’t think that these signatures representing these groups are insignificant non-influential back-room members. For instance, the man from the Evangelical Free Church of America who signed the document is Rev. Greg Strand whose title is the Executive Director of Theology & Credentialing for the denomination. Not to mention that the president of that denomination, Rev. Kevin Kompelien, also signed the Confession.
Worth pointing out, John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview is also a signatory of the Confession. Some may remember when Chuck Colson co-authored the Manhattan Declaration in 2009. Lighthouse Trails wrote about this in our article titled “Manhattan Declaration: ‘Perhaps Millions’ Being Led Toward the New Age/New Spirituality.” Here is a statement from the Manhattan Declaration:
We are seeking to build a movement—hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Catholic, Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox Christians who will stand together.
The connection between the Manhattan Declaration (by the way, Brian McLaren was one of the original signers too) and the “Reforming Catholic Confession” is not just that John Stonestreet is a signer. Timothy George was very involved with the Manhattan Declaration as well. He was one of the four drafters of it!
It stands to reason, based on evidence, that the “Reforming Catholic Confession” is just an extension of the Manhattan Declaration’s goal to “build a movement” of Catholics, Evangelical and Orthodox Christians “who will stand together.” It seems naïve at best, deceiving at worst, to come out with this new document and claim that it is an effort to renew the Christian church, when in fact it has all the earmarks of helping to bring the “lost brethren” back into the fold of the “Mother Church,” whether the drafters or signatories realize it or not.
The “Reforming Catholic Confession” lists several doctrinal characteristics that define Protestantism such as the Trinity, baptism, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ (all of which, incidentally, the Catholic Church would say they believe in too). When it came to the category “the Lord’s Supper,” there was quite a bit of wordage, but the words “do this in remembrance” were not used while the words “the faithful” (the Catholic Church’s name for practicing Catholics) was used twice in that section. This may seem like a moot point to those who may not understand the significant difference between the Catholic Mass with the sacrament of the Eucharist and the Protestant “Lord’s supper” (i.e., communion service), which in Scripture Christians are instructed to “do this in remembrance” of Jesus Christ. We find it troubling that the “Reforming Catholic Confession” presented a vague and obscure description of this practice that has so separated Roman Catholicism from biblical Christianity for so many centuries that those who opposed the idea that Jesus was actually in a wafer were burned at the stake by the Catholic Church (see Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for documentation on papal persecutions).3 In one section of the Confession, it states: “it is particularly to be regretted that the early Protestant Reformers were unable to achieve an altogether common mind, in particular as concerns the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper.” But the Confession, again, is vague and never truly defines the biblical practice of the Lord’s Supper.
We find it a little unnerving when the Confession states that we should go from reformation to “reforming catholic.” Perhaps the authors of the Confession are not implying that Protestants should now call themselves by that name, but vagueness and the oft used word catholic leaves speculation to the imagination. And when the Confession states, “We believe that what unites us is far greater than what divides us,” it is reminiscent of words Pope Francis said less than 12 months ago. In an article titled “Pope Stresses to Lutherans: What Unites Us Far Greater Than What Divides Us,” the Catholic pope told the ecumenical gathering of 1000 Lutherans:
The apostle Paul tells us that, by virtue of our baptism, we all form the single Body of Christ. The various members, in fact, form one body. Therefore, we belong to each other and when one suffers, all suffer; when one rejoices, we all rejoice. We can continue trustfully on our ecumenical path, because we know that despite the many issues that still separate us, we are already united. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. (emphasis added)
According to the article, Pope Francis said, “Lutherans and Catholics are on a journey from conflict to communion.” By the indications of the “Reforming Catholic Confession,” Lutherans may not be the only ones heading into communion with the Catholic Church.
If your denomination or the college that your children or grandchildren attend is represented in the list of signatories of the “Reforming Catholic Confession,” perhaps it’s time to reconsider the direction your family may be getting pulled into. Today, we are witnessing apostasy and delusion on a grand scale. To turn a blind eye to doctrines that were formerly of paramount importance and now waning to insignificance may have disastrous results.
- Leith Anderson, A Church for the 21st Century (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1992), p. 17.
- We recommend the edition by Lighthouse Trails as many of the other editions by other publishers have removed Foxe’s writings on papal persecutions.
Other noteworthy organizations represented in the “Reforming Catholic Confession”:
Calvary Chapel Lexington Kentucky
Calvary Chapel Moreno Valley
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
Grace College and Seminary
The Village Church
Harvest Bible Chapel
Institute on Religion and Democracy
Reformed Theological Seminary
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary