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Signers of evangelical-Catholic accords publicly urged by to repent

SOUTHLAKE, Texas (BP)–Deciding no longer to seek redress on “this very grievous matter” through private means, organizers of a conference critical of the controversial “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” documents took their protest a step further March 27 by issuing a “public call to repentance” to some 20 evangelical ECT signers.
Although it was acknowledged that two prominent Southern Baptist leaders, Richard Land and Larry Lewis, had removed their names from the original ECT document, the signers “have not denied the [ECT] doctrine … publicly,” said conference chairman Tom McMahon in calling on all evangelical signers “to publicly renounce the ECT accords and to ask the church at large for forgiveness for their past participation.”
The call to repent came at the end of “ECT + 5: A Biblical Response,” the annual conference of the “ExCatholics for Christ” organization, March 26-27 at Countryside Bible Church in Southlake, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, marking the fifth anniversary of the signing of ECT.
Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Lewis is the retired president of the SBC’s former Home Mission Board and current national facilitator of the evangelical Mission America movement.
After reading aloud the list of evangelical names on the 1994 and 1997 ECT documents, McMahon asked those at the conference who agreed with the public call to repentance to stand during the official “conference response to ECT,” and most of the audience members stood in support.
McMahon and three other conference organizers then led in prayer for the ECT signers, who also include evangelicals Charles Colson, J.I. Packer and Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Ala., who signed the second ECT document.
“We felt compelled” to do this by “our love for these men and our love for the truth,” McMahon said in closing.
Earlier he had said none of the ECT + 5 conference organizers “in any sense is judging the heart or motivation of any of these ECT signers. That is an issue between them and the Lord. Nor are we questioning their salvation.
“However, our love for them and for the body of Christ compels us to call upon them to publicly renounce the ECT accords and to ask the church at large for forgiveness for their past participation.
“We do this in simple obedience to the Scriptures. We look to the example of Paul, who opposed Peter …” in Galatians 2.
The organizers of the conference, for the most part directors of evangelical ministries dedicated to evangelizing Roman Catholics, view ECT as hurting their cause. ECT is “deceitful at best, destructively heretical at worst” and a compromise of the biblical gospel for the sake of ecumenical unity, said McMahon, executive director of Berean Call Ministries in Portland, Ore., and co-founder of ExCatholics for Christ. He is also co-author with Dave Hunt of the 1980s best-seller, “The Seduction of Christianity.”
Hunt, national television program host and Southern Baptist church member John Ankerberg and Dallas-based Believers Chapel pastor S. Lewis Johnson were the conference’s principal speakers.
Moments before the conference’s climactic end, David Nelson of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C., not speaking for the Southern Baptist Convention but speaking officially on behalf of SBC President Paige Patterson and the boards and agencies he represents, disavowed in no uncertain terms the ECT documents but did not address the issue of calling anyone to account for involvement with ECT.
Nelson, an adjunct professor and doctoral student soon to be on Southeastern’s theology faculty after graduation and a former Roman Catholic, did not take part in the public call to repentance. Nor did Ankerberg, who spoke at the conference the previous night and at a banquet immediately following the conference.
Saying Patterson hopes “to clarify our convention’s position on ECT,” Nelson noted that “most members of our convention are quite unhappy” with ECT and were “relieved when our two official agency representatives, Richard Land and Larry Lewis, removed their names from [the original] document. Charles Colson’s name remains, yet he is not in any official way representing our convention.”
ECT can be interpreted in ways “harmful” to missions, Nelson continued. “We’re not willing in any way to compromise any of the Reformation solas, and we hold to those solas simply because they are expressions of biblical truth, and there we stand,” he said.
Nelson further pointed out that while Southern Baptists associated with ECT were doing so unofficially, there has been an “official dialogue” going on for years between the SBC and Roman Catholics under the auspices of the North American Mission Board’s interfaith witness office. Rather than producing any signed statements, this dialogue has emphasized “the wide gulf that divides us theologically,” Nelson said. The best that this kind of effort can produce is “better understanding of one another perhaps, but no more than that. We have done [so] in the past and are willing to continue to develop co-belligerent stances on certain social issues … but this in no way minimizes substantial doctrinal issues that divide us … .”
Ankerberg, in his first address, titled, “ECT: Its History, Content, Signers and Opposition,” spoke of at least two private meetings between the two sides of the controversy following the release of each ECT document. Ankerberg said although there was never complete agreement between the two sides on either document or even on a further “clarification statement” issued after the original document, “we only agreed that we believed that Colson, [Bill] Bright, and Packer believed in justification by faith alone; we didn’t doubt that.”
In addition, although the opponents of ECT did not do so publicly, they apparently urged ECT proponents privately to “repent and recant of what they had written … ,” Ankerberg said, emphasizing that the problem was with the document and the signing of it, not with the evangelicals themselves and their beliefs. ECT may be “going in the right direction,” he conceded, “but we haven’t gotten there yet.”
Ankerberg also disclosed “there is another document that is in the works right now that you don’t know anything about.” ECT dissenters have decided “what we need is an ‘evangelicals and evangelicals’ statement,” he said, explaining that the new statement is an attempt to get evangelicals to agree among themselves on certain important issues. Planned for a June 1999 public release, Ankerberg said the evangelical statement consists of 14 affirmations and denials and is being circulated privately among 130 evangelical leaders and scholars.
Land, in response to an invitation from Louisiana pastor Jerry Moser to defend his involvement in the ECT process, declined an opportunity to participate in a “point-counterpoint discussion” March 25 prior to the ECT + 5 conference. Moser is the mission pastor of Bayou DuLarge Baptist Mission Church, Theriot, La., who led a 1995 confrontation with Larry Lewis over ECT at an associational missions rally in Louisiana.
In a March 9 letter to Moser, Land recounted that he and Lewis had removed their names from ECT “because it proved to be virtually impossible to separate ourselves as individuals from the impression that our respective agencies were endorsing the document.”
“For me to come to a public forum and defend the document would rekindle that confusion,” Land continued, “and would serve, in my opinion, no productive purpose. In fact, I believe that it would be a distraction from my primary calling of encouraging Southern Baptists to be salt and light for our Lord and Savior.”
Lewis, in a telephone interview March 24, said he stands behind the statement he and Land issued when they formally removed their names from the ECT document, “and as far as I’m concerned, that’s final.”
The ECT was “a good effort” to attempt a “united voice against the moral, social ills of our day,” Lewis said, and for that effort he said he does not feel the need to repent.
Land and Lewis weathered criticism from a number of SBC conservatives and Hispanic Baptists after signing the first ECT document, which critics contend makes compromises to Catholic doctrine. The document, released in March 1994, was signed by 40 evangelicals and Catholic leaders.
In April 1995, ongoing controversy prompted Land and Lewis to announce they were removing their signatures from ECT.
The first formal salvo in the controversy came when trustees of the then-Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) voted unanimously in April 1994 to express concern that the document “is subject to interpretations harmful to the work of foreign missions.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, at its 1994 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., overwhelmingly adopted a resolution which affirmed “the benefit of conversation with any religious group, which is willing objectively and openly to discuss their faith, and to examine it on the basis of Holy Scripture.” The resolution also called on the SBC to continue evangelism and missionary witness among groups “not characterized by genuine faith in Christ alone.” The resolution called for cooperative efforts between Christian organizations on moral concerns, but reiterated the “historic Baptist doctrine” of salvation through grace alone and denied any view of salvation adding or subtracting from “the sole sufficiency of Jesus as redeemer.”
That August, HMB board of directors voted down a proposed resolution rejecting ECT, embracing instead the SBC resolution, although 11 directors signed a “statement of dissent” in September listing six areas of concern over the document.
CLC commissioners unanimously affirmed Land’s signing of the document in their September 1994 meeting.
In February 1995, the controversy sharpened when Lewis was confronted and asked to repent of signing ECT during the associational missions rally in Louisiana. In March, the three top-ranking officers of the Mexican Baptist Convention of Texas issued a statement disassociating themselves from ECT. Additionally, they, along with presidents of 30 regional Hispanic fellowships of Texas, sent a letter to Lewis asking him to rescind his endorsement of the accord.
Land and Lewis, in a joint statement on April 6, 1995, announced they were removing their signatures from ECT, saying in part, “…we believe it is in the best interests of our agencies that we eliminate the persistent perception that our agencies have endorsed ECT. It appears that the only way to do so is to remove our names from the document.”

Art Toalston contributed to this article.

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