Being “Nice” to Catholics

Being “Nice” to Catholics

Back in 1994 I joined a number of other evangelicals in endorsing a document called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” It was a good group with whom to be associated; it included Father Richard Neuhaus and Father (now Cardinal) Avery Dulles on the Catholic side and Bill Bright, Chuck Colson, and J. I. Packer from the evangelical camp. The group has issued some other documents since, and when I have been asked to sign on I have eagerly agreed.

The anti-Catholic crowd in the evangelical world continues to try to get some mileage out of this phenomenon by posting blogs that list the names of those of us who are viewed as culprits who are willing to betray the evangelical cause by trying to be “nice” to Catholics. We are even at times identified as allies of the Anti-Christ.

As my own small contribution to keeping the polemics going, I want to rehearse here two items that I have written about on other occasions, just to keep reminding the critics that those of us who have promoted friendlier relations with Catholics have a pretty good evangelical pedigree.

My first appeal is to the example of the great American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, who in 1875 received a letter from a Catholic monk in Wales. “I must send you one word of affectionate greetings in our Precious Redeemer’s name,” the monk wrote, “to say how rejoiced I am to hear and read of your powerful gifts from ‘The Father of Lights.’” The monk went on to assure Moody that while his community engaged in “the perpetual adoration of the Holy Sacrament”—a practice that he knew would make the evangelist nervous—he and his fellow monks also preached “Jesus only as perfect, finished, and present salvation to all who are willing to receive Him. And the only work of the evangelist is to give knowledge of salvation to His people.”

Moody was pleased to receive this letter; he seemed to have no doubt that the prayers of these monks were offered up by fellow Christians who had a deep commitment to the cause of the gospel. Indeed, as Lyle Dorsett reports in his biography of Moody, while living in New England, the evangelist even made a personal contribution to the building fund in a local Catholic parish.

My other authority is J. Gresham Machen, certainly never one to gloss over important theological differences. In his 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism, surely one of the classics of American evangelical thought, Machen wrote:

How great is the common heritage which unites the Roman Catholic Church, with its maintenance of the authority of Holy Scripture and with its acceptance of the great early creeds, to devout Protestants today! We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church.

Both of these reachings-out to Roman Catholics took place well before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. I can’t imagine that Moody and Machen would take a harder line on the subject today.


  1. I am so grateful for the many Catholic bishops in the United States who are standing up against abortion, and telling politicians that if they don’t uphold Christian teaching, then they can’t receive communion. They are braver about this than many a Protestant pastor.

    There is also Bishop Fred Henry in Calgary, Canada, who has been making a stand for orthodox Christian belief, and who has been receiving death threats for doing so. He is a true witness for Christ. Evangelical Christians can name such a man as a brother.

    Comment by Deborah Milam Berkley — October 8, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

  2. Certainly you know that counting noses (Moody, Machen) is not the way to establish truth. I am surprised that you apparently feel that since two well known believers of yesteryear thought Protestants should be nice to Catholics that the issue, at least for you, is settled. Being nice is a Christian responsibility; so also is contending for he faith. The entire idea of a continuing bloodless sacrifice is so contrary to NT teaching (especially Hebrews) that it needs to be identified as such and rejected. However, and here I agree with you, do it in a nice way

    Comment by Robert Mounce — October 8, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

  3. To these ad hominem arguments you could add Spurgeon (pp 343,344 of the Lewis Drummond biog where he comments positively on certain monks) but no good Protestant denies marks of grace in individual Romanists. The problem is what Machen here calls the profound gulf between Protestant and Roman teaching that we must not obscure.

    Comment by Gary Brady — October 9, 2008 @ 12:25 am

  4. I believe we should be nice to Catholics. God loves them, and so should we. We are called to be Christ-like in character and to love everyone including enemies. We are also called to preach the gospel to all creation.
    Most Catholics are nominal Christians only and it is our duty to evangelize them and attract them to Christ. Then, there are quite a few Catholics who are born -again believers (without knowing it). Those are truly brethren and we should love them as such. As for their problematic teachings, we can find lots of heretical teachings (and a lot of sin,too) even in born -again churches. Here, it is imperative that we demonstrate love to people who hold different religious interpretations. We should love them first, and then try to correct them.
    I believe the only people we should rebuke harshly are the religious hypocrites, those modern day pharisaic leaders who should know better.Jesus and Paul did that, and they were charitable with everyone else. I believe that Jesus would prefer Christians to live the truth than speak it, especially when they would risk to appear self-righteous. And remember, unbelievers are watching and they can spot our hypocrisy from a mile.

    Comment by Konstantinos — October 9, 2008 @ 4:30 am

  5. Trust you’re aware Dulles was baptised as a child at 1st Presbyterian, Watertown, NY. : – )

    Comment by Pastor George McIlrath — October 9, 2008 @ 7:26 am