Palau and the Roman Catholics?

In the interest of playing well with other churches in Omaha, we at Coram Deo have not said much about the Luis Palau festival which took place last weekend. Though Palau’s methodology is vastly different from ours, it seems that God in his grace often brings good even out of these sorts of events. If there’s one thing we know from Scripture, it’s that God is capable of making himself known through some less-than-orthodox means (see Numbers 22).

However, late last week, I became aware of some troubling developments that have bothered my conscience all weekend – specifically, the fact that the Archdiocese of Omaha was going to have a “confessional tent” at the Palau festival where priests would take confessions from festival-goers. When the Catholic archbishop endorses an evangelistic event, thoughtful Christians should ask why. So it’s time to open Pandora’s box.

According to the Catholic Voice newspaper, Palau reached out to the Roman Catholics and asked them to be involved in the festival. This is apparently a “first” for the Palau organization, and those who agree with it are defending it on the premise of “unity.”

I love my Roman Catholic friends, and we have much to learn from their leadership on social justice and human rights issues. But anyone who has studied Roman Catholic theology should know that the gospel is one thing we do NOT agree on. Unity at the expense of the gospel is not biblical unity. And it’s time someone stood up and said so. What more confusing message could we send to our city than to say, “Luis Palau, Catholics, Evangelicals, and liberal Protestants all agree on the essential message of the gospel?”

My friend in the gospel Erik Reymond did an interview with NPR on this issue last week… they unfairly represented his point of view, but I appreciate him for speaking out and being the “contrarian” on this issue. Read his blog for more. Let us be willing to go against the grain (even disagreeing with our evangelical brethren) when faithfulness to the biblical gospel requires it!


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  1. I just finished reading that part of the OWH article and had some of the same thoughts. My question is “Would a lack of public support from the Archbishop have made any difference to those attending the festival?”


  2. I am going to go against the grain and be a “contrarian” on our blog. I am hesitant to even say this because I am way less versed in theology and the Bible than I should be, and if so, please help me to better understand. One, our core values state first that we are Christian, second that we are Evangelical, third Missional, and fourth Reformed. To me, it is an issue of open and closed hand ideas. The only closed hand idea seems to be the first one, that we are Christian and believe that Christ atoned for our sins and is the only way to the Father. From my understanding, that is also what Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. believe. The fact that we are Evangelical is more open handed, although we will go to bat and argue about many of the theological issues. I know that there is a host of other issues surrounding Catholic doctrine that aren’t Biblically sound, but at the root I still believe they are Christian, and hence have the same Gospel message. Perhaps it would help to clarify what we mean by Biblical gospel. Even more, this festival could have been a missional opportunity. Palaus festival provided a middle space for “sojourners” to hear about Christ. Would we have better served the purpose of helping to clarify the Gospel, if indeed the message being sent was unclear, by backing away and not getting involved, or getting involved and presenting what the Gospel truly is.
    The Catholics seemed to be moving in a divisive direction by opening up a confessional booth, and I don’t agree with that, but couldn’t that have been a missional opportunity? Maybe putting up a reformation booth next door.
    Andy Holz (I couldn’t remember my blogger password)

  3. Andy Holz wrote:
    “The only closed hand idea seems to be the first one, that we are Christian and believe that Christ atoned for our sins and is the only way to the Father. From my understanding, that is also what Catholics… believe.”

    “If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, …let him be anathema.”
    – Council of Trent


  4. Bob,

    Do you happen to have anything from a more recent council (perhaps the first or second vatican councils)? I am curious to know if they have lightened up a bit on this point since the 16th century. I do know that in the council of trent they outlawed several writings, including everything by luther and erasmus’s translation of the bible. On this point, the second vatican council lifted this ban. I am wondering if they have revisited or clarified their statements on justification and remission of sins, either in one of the vatican councils or in an encyclical.


  5. Andy Holz wrote:
    “I am hesitant to even say this because I am way less versed in theology and the Bible than I should be, and if so, please help me to better understand.”
    Thanks Bob, and what does anathema mean?
    Andy Holz

  6. I prayed with 3 different people that encountered Christ for the first time. They began their spiritual journeys with Jesus at the center. They are getting connected to local churches. Perhaps we have some “crossing the lines” in one tent vs. the next tent (catholic vs. protestant), but Mark, Jim, and Paige are unaware of all of those debates and councils and reformations when they were encountering the Spirit.

    Perhaps not the best venue or strategy or my favorite way of “evangelism” (which is a word that I don’t like a whole lot anyway), but I’ll make the most of the opportunity because the days are definitely evil (Eph 4). More importantly, I’ll be praying and calling Mark, Jim, and Paige.

    I recognize fully that my comment isn’t flowing with the Catholic vs. Protestant thread, but I wanted to remind us all that Christ gets his glory in crazy ways. “He is primary” even outside of our grids of thinking.

  7. I get where you’re coming from 100% Bob. The Roman Catholic view of justification is not biblical. But what about our average evangelical “layman’s” view of justification? The “I decided to let Jesus into my life as my co-pilot when I signed a 3×5 card after an alter call and now my life is little different from before except that I can look down on others who haven’t made that decision too” view of justification?

    I’m sorry if I am being too cynical. I tend to lean that way, especially after being at a Christian college for 4 years. But, these kinds of events always feel a little contrived and fishy to me.

  8. Derrick, great question. Modern Reformation recently interviewed Richard John Neuhaus, a leading Catholic theologian whom I greatly respect, on that very question.

    On the one hand, Neuhaus maintained: “Catholics believe that through the magisterium of the church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit there is a CONSTANT and RELIABLE further unfolding of the truth.” But when pressed as to whether this “unfolding of truth” meant that Trent was wrong and should be recanted, he replied, “…There will never be a recantation of a council statement… You don’t go and say, okay, now we’re going to repudiate this part of our tradition, and change our anathemas and turn them around in the other direction. No, because that would be against the unity of the church.”

    There seem to me to be some very obvious inconsistencies in this statement.

    Derrick, since you study at a Catholic university, perhaps you have some further insight on any changes since Trent. What seems clear from Neuhaus and other Roman Catholics I’ve talked to is that while they might back away from the harsh language of Trent, their view of tradition means they can’t actually change Trent’s anathemas or say the church was wrong.

  9. Trav, good point, and well taken. But my issue is not “does one have to have the right view of justification in order to come to Christ?” Rather, the question I’m raising is: how can two traditions who disagree on the nature of justification be considered “partners” in evangelism? If we disagree on what the gospel IS, how can we get together to preach the gospel?

    Good theology is not necessary for conversion. But it IS necessary for effective discipleship and mission (1 Tim 1:3-7; 1 Tim 4:13-16; Titus 1:9). If you claim to be preaching the gospel, it DOES matter what you say the gospel IS!!

    DWhite, your point is well taken, and that is what I was trying to nuance in my original post… I have no doubts God works in spite of us, and did so last weekend. My question is WHY IN THE WORLD any evangelical, Protestant church would partner evangelistically with Roman Catholics who disagree over the very nature of the gospel we preach – or, for that matter, with liberal Protestants who also disagree over the nature of the gospel.

    I declare again: unity at the expense of the gospel is not biblical unity.

  10. Travis, It is pretty clear that your comment was directed (back) towards Bob, but I had to jump in…

    The “I decided to let Jesus into my life as my co-pilot when I signed a 3×5 card after an alter call and now my life is little different from before except that I can look down on others who haven’t made that decision too” view of justification?

    That person doesn’t understand justification.

  11. Hi all,

    The hard thing for me is that there is alot of diversity in Catholicism on this and many other issues (which, ironically is why some modern evangelicals are attracted to Catholicism, . . becuase of it’s “steadiness” throughout the centuries.)

    Well, I’m not a historical scholar, but for right now. . there are differences among Catholics on how they view these things. So, it depends on whom you’re talking to. (sorry for the grammar)


  12. Aaron,

    I think I understand what you are saying in the last post: there are a lot of differences among individual Catholics about how they view and understand things like justification, and therefore we can’t lump them all together.

    Agreed – to a point.

    However, because of their view of biblical and traditional authority, those who are true adherents of the Catholic religion have to buy into the proclamations of the pope and the magisterium on these doctrines. As I understand it, true Catholicism does not leave you the option of considering what the pope and the magisterium have to say and weighing their words against scripture to determine whether it is true. They view such proclamations as carrying the same authority as scripture, and therefore, you either assent to their teaching or you are anathema (which, by the way, is the CD “word of the week”).

    Therefore, Catholics cannot genuinely say that they have “differing opinions” on such topics or that these issues are really open to compromise or discussion.

  13. Nick-

    “Therefore, Catholics cannot genuinely say that they have “differing opinions” on such topics or that these issues are really open to compromise or discussion.”

    Yet, that is what I find them doing when I engage most Catholics regarding issues of Church Doctrine. I would have to assume that most “Catholics, Lutherans, etc…” in Omaha find there identity in that religion because of family tradition and upbringing. It rarely seems to have anything to do with church doctrine. I know that is how I was raised, before God placed me into community with people who actually cracked open the bible on their bedstands to hear what it has to say.

    So my question is, how do we then go and engage a culture in Omaha who is seem bound to their family’s religion while at the same time do not care about what their church has to say about justification, salvation, baptism, sacraments, etc…?

    My best answer at this point is to find a way to get into their life, live as the scripture would say “the salt and the light” and when people start to ask questions about the hope that is in a disciples life, point them to the bible. Yeah, that thing on the nightstand that has been collecting dust and has not been opened since last Christmas.

  14. Bob, I have to think good theology is still important in conversion though. I agree that it’s not necessary since it is ultimately God who chooses us for conversion anyway, but I think there are a lot of people out there who are fooled into thinking they’re good with God because of bad “conversion theology” I guess you could call it.

    Wait, ok, I think I’m starting to see the nuancing here. Good theology is not necessary for true conversion, but it is be necessary for discipleship and mission and, we could add, preaching since the reason people are fooled into false self-assurance is most likely due to bad preaching.

    I’m kinda typing out loud here so I may not make any sense. 🙂

  15. Clatterbuck,

    Agreed. . . . But as Justin said, it’s not a current reality everywhere. Even Palau could stand beside some Catholics theologically, while being very far apart with others.

    I wonder how this should speak to us as evangelicals regarding diversity of belief/history? I know there are things in the “open hand” that we can differ on. But, shouldn’t evangelicals as a whole give more importance to the moorings we have in history with the reformers, the fathers, etc. . . ?

    Perhaps having a more “historical” faith is something we can learn from Catholics (ironically, so that we may see less people convert to Catholicism from Christianity because they feel it has more historical weight)

    Just a thought,

  16. “Let him who uses the word Anathema without knowing what it means be an Anathema. . .”

    Now that’s funny right thur!

    Some Catholics don’t always agree with the Church and some Protestants don’t really know what justification by faith really means. I wonder if the bigger problem is that people don’t really know what their church is really teaching. This is one reason (out of many) I appreciate your teaching Bob, Coram Deo, Mark Driscoll, and Acts 29 so much!

  17. Bob said: “I declare again: unity at the expense of the gospel is not biblical unity.”

    I hear ya bro! I like how unity unites and divides. It’s one of the many amazing paradoxes of the faith.

    My next question is “In what circumstances should faith unite us or divide us?”

    In this case we are specifically talking about the festival. I think there are a lot of assumptions we are making without even saying.

    Some people might interpret the idea of Festival people inviting the Catholics as either “Let’s all join up together and be with each other even though we don’t agree theologically” while others might interpret it as “Let’s all join up together because we all believe the same thing anyways.”

    People who assume the second one are probably not in a good camp. We DON’T believe a lot of the same things. Moving on…

    SO, is it OK to have the Catholics coming to the Festival if we all agree on the first assumption above – that we came together even though we disagree?

    I think the problem here is that nothing official was said about the invitation of Catholics (from what I know). We just know that they were invited to participate. So, it seems to me like we are arguing over our assumptions, which could be very futile.

    I disagree with the confession tent thing as well. But I would ask, Can we tolerate the tent thing if it leads to a greater good? If that is the only obstacle to seeing changed lives, can we tolerate it?

    Most of us would say that we know that smoking is not a good thing. It is destructive to the body even. However, right now we DO tolerate smokers who have their smoke outside of the church building for the sake of them going in and having their lives changed.

    Is this not so different than that? The analogy is on a smaller scale, but I think the principle still applies.

    Right now, I’m mentoring a Catholic student who went to the Festival (so it’s easy for me to be on the “festival unification” camp).

    He understands the gospel – I know – but he still clings to the Catholic tradition.

    However, the festival has opened him up to Protestants and now he goes to Christ Community every Sunday AS WELL AS goes to the Catholic church. The door has been cracked open a little more for him to receive better theological teaching.

    So, I’m ASSUMING that there are other stories like this (judging from D White’s post) and so I’m ASSUMING that in the midst of a lot of sin, God did create more good than bad.

    That is arguable though. I don’t know for sure.

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