In 1846 – a year after the ex-Evangelical John Henry Newman became Catholic – an Evangelical alliance was founded in London. It was “for the expression of unity amongst Christian individuals belonging to different churches” – and they did not mean Catholics, or for that matter liberal Protestants.
The group, which would become the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), expanded from 10 countries to 129, and claims to embrace 600 million Evangelicals around the world. But they don’t all agree, and it is increasingly difficult for the WEA to hold everyone together.
That is evident from a stinging letter written by the local Evangelical Alliances of Italy, Spain and Malta at the end of last year. There has been “a progressive implementation of an ecumenical agenda in WEA”, they allege, on which local associations have not been consulted. And it is “about to reach a tipping point in 2018”, with a forthcoming statement affirming common ground with Catholics. (The WEA say this statement is not in fact happening.)
The protesting Evangelicals are happy to collaborate with Catholics on protecting unborn babies and persecuted Christians, or on works of social justice. But they do not believe there can be a joint effort in evangelisation, when Catholics and Protestants hold such different beliefs.
For instance – the Italians, Maltese and Spanish Evangelicals say – Catholics have different views of the Bible, justification, Mary and the Eucharist (for Catholics, they observe, the Mass re-presents Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross).
Along with these familiar Protestant objections are concerns which have also been heard among Catholics. Many have been baffled by the cheerful, hail-fellow-well-met tone with which the Reformation was marked – a bafflement shared, if from an opposite direction, by more than a few Protestants.
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