It is strange, not to say wasteful, that evangelicals and catholics so often have been more eager to take potshots at one another than to acknowledge the valiant defense which either side can make on behalf of fundamentals acknowledged to be essential to Christianity. Can one side say, for instance, that the other has not staunchly adhered to such beliefs as the divinity of Christ, his virgin birth, his resurrection from the dead, original sin, the necessity of grace and Christ’s atonement for man’s justification and salvation, and the existence of hell? If both sides have been zealous proponents of these tenets, why should not each give the other due credit for its stand? It seems that this could be done much oftener and without prejudice to the important differences which exist between evangelical protestantism and catholicism.

There are two significant areas in which both the evangelical and the catholic are in solid agreement against the ravages of the liberal. (I employ “catholic” in the sense in which I am a catholic—one who tries to adhere to that kind of Christianity which developed and existed during the centuries before, or apart from, later unilateral subtractions from and additions to that tradition. It is the consensus of the Orthodox, the Old Catholics, and Anglo-Catholics.) One of these areas is their mutual adherence (against modernism) to such creedal essentials as those just mentioned, and the other has to do with the ecumenical movement (or their mutual protest against relativism and indifferentism). While it is true that evangelical and catholic approaches to Christianity exhibit vast differences, both at least root themselves in the historic essentials of our Lord’s life as related in the Bible, and both at least acknowledge the nonrelativity of truth. In a word, both are “dogmatic” (here to be clearly distinguished from “doctrinaire”). Moreover, they believe missionary activity to be the primary call of the Church with regard to the unchurched—a stark contrast with the liberal view which holds that Judaism and other religions are good enough for their adherents, and that medical and social missions are quite enough for the more primitive heathens. These agreements are important, and even impressive.

Of course, the very different orientations of evangelicalism and catholicism are not to be overlooked nor disregarded. It will perhaps be worthwhile to mention them. Protestants are more psychologically oriented than catholics, whose thought tends strongly toward the category of substance. The preaching of the evangelical, the sacramental life of the catholic, and the activism of the liberal all stem from their differing orientations.

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Without any intention of committing evangelicalism to the vagaries of Barthianism, I would say it is nonetheless true that Karl Barth’s threefold Word—revealed, written, preached—emphasizes the difference of protestantism, especially evangelicalism, from catholicism, with its emphasis on Christ’s threefold Body—incarnate, eucharistic, and mystical. The focal point of protestant edifices has traditionally been the pulpit, and this has put the emphasis on the parallelism of revelation, Scripture, and proclamation (for the evangelical; moral teaching, for the liberal) centered in Christ crucified. Conversely, the catholic sees incarnation, sacrament, and mystery as synonymous for very real, if paradoxical, marriages of heaven with earth, Spirit with matter, eternity with time: these are central for him, just as the altar is the center of a catholic church.

Naturally, great conflicts arise out of such differing viewpoints. But cannot the honest evangelical view be appreciated by the catholic, and the honest catholic view by the evangelical, in the face of a relativism which would make any dogmatic position meaningless? At least, evangelical and catholic doctrines all trace themselves back to Holy Writ.

The second area, which was mentioned above, wherein evangelicalism and catholicism stand together against liberalism is their common rejection of the heterodox notions that either the largest sum of tenets or the least common denominator of them equals the truth. Thus, while longing passionately for the reunion of Christendom, both groups disdain that kind of ecumenism which is based on such errors. Why, then, should not an evangelical proponent of “faith alone” be just as adamant as the Anglo-Catholic in opposing schemes to ordain clergy who have no intention of fulfilling their vows? There seems, therefore, to be no reason why the true evangelical and the true catholic should completely distrust each other; why they should not respect sincerely held, though incompatible, theories of the ministry. Again, this can be done without abetting views which one holds to be erroneous in the other. At the same time, a vigorous witness is borne to the nonrelativity of religious truth.

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Relativism in the religious field has enervated the United States. This was clear from the reports on the brainwashing of American servicemen captured by the enemy in Korea. Orthodox believers showed a much better record of integrity than those whose steadfastness had been vitiated by inroads of liberalism. Here evangelical and catholic could establish a solid front against liberalism were they to forsake their wasteful attacks on one another in certain areas.

We may summarize the matter by saying that while the catholic agrees with the liberal more than with the evangelical in respect to the place of reason in religious thinking, the catholic’s conclusions and his premises accord far more with those of evangelicalism than liberalism. Evangelical and catholic alike reject the relativism of liberals; they do differ, however, insofar as the former stresses the psychological aspects (“the Word”) of Christianity and the latter stresses the substantial—he would say “the incarnational”—phases of Christianity. Each stands together in his emphasis upon sin, grace, retribution, and Christ’s divinity, humanity, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Charles-James N. Bailey has been Rector of Christ Church, Richmond, Kentucky, and Chaplain of Episcopal students at Berea College and Eastern Kentucky State College since 1956. He holds the A.B. and S.T.B. degrees from Harvard, and has pursued further studies at Basel University and Cambridge. Shortly he expects to leave for Portuguese East Africa where he will serve as missionary in the Diocese of Lebombo.

Final Arbiter

I call on reason but to no avail.
There is no key to fit this lock.
Like Job I seek an answer. There is none.
Thoughts circle endless as a clock.

The will is arbiter of fate, I thought.
Here is man’s glory and his shame.
This sovereign power crowns him as a king.
Sole source of triumph and of blame.

The arrogant delusion is exposed.
The pride expires that made the boast.
God is the final arbiter, not man.
I bow before the Holy Ghost.


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