With my two brothers, David and Nathan, I took my Masters of Divinity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an institution bound historically with its sister institution about four miles away, Gordon College. Both schools are on Boston's North Shore. And although no formal ties remain, the two schools have always had plenty of Gospel ties coming out of their mutual Protestant and evangelical commitments, and their common heritage and close proximity.
In 1985, two years after I graduated from Gordon-Conwell, one of the more visible members of Gordon College's academic community, Tom Howard, converted to Roman Catholicism and resigned as a faculty member.
Howard is the younger brother of two prominent evangelicals, Dave Howard and Elisabeth Elliot Gren, but he also was an author with broad name recognition himself. Years earlier, he'd written his angry-young-man book, Christ the Tiger, which was widely read. He'd also done a number of other books, one an extended meditation on the Christian home called Splendor in the Ordinary which I commend to our readers. (Howard continues to write and publishes with the orthodox Roman Catholic publisher, Ignatius Press, one of the most noteworthy Christian publishers today.)
When Howard converted, it hit the evangelical world like a sledgehammer and his departure from Gordon College was not to be taken for granted. A rather typical evangelical institution--big-hearted, broad-minded, but atheological--many of us would not have been surprised for Gordon College to keep Howard on despite his conversion. But they didn't.
Shortly afterward, a document authored by Gordon College's Faculty Senate was released as a partial explanation of the college's decision. The document titled, Explanatory Statement to the Senate's Motions To Affirm the Existing Policy with Respect to the Hiring of Non-Protestants as Faculty Members at Gordon College, circulated broadly. As I've read the discussion surrounding Joshua Hochschild's departure from the faculty of Wheaton College because of his own conversion to Roman Catholicism, I've thought it would be good for those involved in the discussion to have access to this document from Gordon College's past history...
Since the statement was written and released to the public twenty years ago with no warning against circulating it to others, and since it provides some valuable historical context for the present debate, I'm posting it here hoping no one will object.
If I'm in error concerning some aspect of this story, please correct me. All of this is based on my recollection of what happened twenty years ago, so it's likely I've erred in some way. (Some of the footnotes and their numbering are not yet accurate, but should be in the next day or so.)
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To: R. Judson Carlberg
From: Faculty Senate
Date: May 23, 1985
RE: Explanatory statement to the Senate's motions to affirm the existing policy with respect to the hiring of non-Protestants as faculty members at Gordon College.
Introduction to our task
It is important to define the task of the senate in this controversy so that we bear our responsibilities, but at the same time, do not exceed our authority. According to the Administrative/Faculty Handbook, the senate is a committee of the faculty primarily responsible for reviewing faculty candidates prior to their appointment, and the evaluating of all continuing faculty members with regard to such matters as promotion, tenure, and dismissal. After following the defined procedures and criteria of the Handbook in these evaluations, the senate is required "to recommend appropriate action to the academic dean." (III.D.a.2)
From these regulations, it is apparent that the senate can appropriately deal only with the question of whether a faculty member (either as candidate or already appointed) qualifies within the normative framework already established at the College. It is not our responsibility or authority to redefine or reinterpret these criteria or to bring them into line with contemporary ecumenical practices. Equally, it is not our task to propose strategies for reconciling Roman Catholic and Protestant differences, to develop a new vision of Christian education, to encourage or discourage the attendance of Roman Catholic students at Gordon College, nor to attempt to support traditional and renewal movements within the Roman Catholic Church as it faces the likelihood of a Vatican Council III. While we as individual Christians may rejoice in any lessening of the gulf between Roman Catholic and Protestant believers, and in any reform or recovery of the gospel in the Roman Catholic Church of Vatican II, as members of the College senate, our task is limited in scope by the Handbook, the present creedal statement, and the historical nature of the Gordon community. As others will quickly point out, and we must ruefully acknowledge, our recommendation in this matter will have some implications for such wider issues as Roman Catholic dialogue, student recruitment among the various Christian communities, and the ongoing attempts of this community to define the nature and future of Gordon College.
Recently when we discussed whether a faculty member's conversion to the Roman Catholic Church would affect his standing on the Gordon College faculty, we were attracted to the argument that church membership is an individual choice, and that as the faculty presently consists of Baptist, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, ect., a professor was at liberty to join the church of his choice. These impulses to toleration, broad-mindedness and non-meddling in private matters such as religion, were reinforced by the desire to avoid any action that might affect a colleague. However appealing this option has been to us, and however reluctantly we give up the hope that postponing any decision on the hiring of Roman Catholic faculty members would continue the present cycle of growth and peace in the Gordon community, it has been our task to explore the difficult question of whether one can hold to a full and serious Roman Catholic faith and, at the same time, endorse the faith statement of Gordon College as it has been set forth by the College, normally understood by the ongoing faculty and Board members, and supported by the wider evangelical Gordon community.
As Christians living in the modern secular world, we readily affirm that Catholics and Protestants hold much in common within the historic Christian heritage. Nevertheless, it is our view that even after a generation of serious dialogue between Roman Catholics and Protestants, and in spite of the most generous definition of the sometimes popularly used term "evangelical Roman Catholic" and the active use of ecumenical hermeneutics, serious doctrinal differences continue to exist between these confessing communities. To ignore them is neither responsible biblical stewardship nor strategically beneficial to either community in the long range. It is our opinion, which you may wish to examine through active consultation, that the evangelical community which has faithfully supported the college throughout its existence would neither understand nor support such a blending of unreconciled doctrinal differences and its institutional outworking in an ecumenical Christian College.
Our Confessional Statement
Although it is not popular to perceive an educational institution as a confessional community, it is quite clear that we are such and that the confessional statement signed by all faculty members is unmistakably Protestant and Reformational in character. This may be seen in two places in the statement of faith where the use of typical Reformation phraseology indicates a special affirmation of certain biblical teachings and a clear negation of alternate Roman Catholic positions. The first deals with the doctrine of the sufficiency of scripture (the principle of "sola scripture" of the Protestant reformers). "The sixty-six canonical books of the Bible as originally written were inspired of God, hence free from error. They constitute the only infallible guide in faith and practice."
The second statement of Reformation belief as over against traditional Roman Catholic teaching is found in the phrase: From this condition man can be saved only by the grace of God, through faith, on the basis of the work of Christ, and by the agency of the Holy Spirit.
When we consult leading evangelical and Roman Catholic theologians, both sides agree that there exist substantial and serious differences on these issues. Evangelical Anglican theologian, J.I. Packer notes:
A formal statement of the supremacy of scripture as a rule of faith and life appears in the opening sentences of the Lutheran Formula of Concord (1580): 'We believe, confess and teach that the sole rule and standard by which all dogmas and all teachers must be assessed and judged is nothing other than the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments, as it is written: "Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths."'
This principle is in fact implicit, if not explicit, in all Reformation confessional statements; it is the great methodological axiom which gives Reformation theology, Lutheran, and Reformed, Swiss, French, German, Italian, English, Scottish, Spanish and Scandinavian, its impressive unity of substance.
The Anglican Articles develop the principle of biblical authority polemically. Against Rome they affirm the sufficiency of scripture. 'Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not. . . an article of the Faith, or . . . necessary to salvation' (article VI). The first homily draws the moral : 'Let us diligently search for the well of life in the books of the New and Old Testament, and not run to the stinking puddles of men's traditions. . . for our justification and salvation' (The Homilies, p.2). Article XX states, also against Rome, the further principle that the Church must subordinate itself to Scripture in all its enactments. (fn. 2)
Packer also notes the importance of "sola scriptura" if any progress is to be made in contemporary dialogue between Roman Catholics and Protestants.
We need to be clear that the continuing controversies between 'Reformed' and 'Catholic' Christians over such matters as the priesthood of the clergy, the apostolic succession, the authority of the episcopate, the infallibility of the pope, transubstantiation and the 'real presence', the mass-sacrifice, purgatory, indulgences, Mariolatry, and the nature and number of the sacraments, cannot in principle be settled until both sides agree that the appeal to Scripture, interpreted in terms of itself - in this sense, 'sola Scriptura', Scripture 'alone' - is final. (fn. 3)
A similar argument is advanced by Anglican theologian, James Atkinson, in his book, Rome and the Reformation, written after Vatican II.
The differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism are real differences. They concern vital issues in defense of which men have been willing to lay down their lives. Rome and the Reformation still stand over against each other in such a way that, if reunion is to be achieved, either Protestantism must recant the distinctive doctrines of the Reformation, or Roman Catholicism must retract the anathemas of Trent (pronounced against those doctrines) and be open to reform, in root as well as in branches, in submission to the authority of the Word of God.
Our high-church brethren keep up a pretence that Anglicanism is very near to Rome in its theology and practice. There is not a single Roman Catholic scholar who would endorse that view, for they are too well aware of the differences, even the cleavage. They respect an evangelical and understand him; they never can get to grips with the Anglo-Catholic for they cannot accept his position. Logically he belongs to Rome and they cannot see why he has not got the sense to see it. (fn. 4)
Bernard Ramm in his study of The Evangelical Heritage begins his chapter "Evangelical Theology Belongs to Reformation Theology" with the words:
From this point on I shall record the major differences between the Reformers and the Roman Catholic church. In each of these points the evangelical of today is with the Reformers against Roman Catholic theology.
He then deals with the difference in the doctrine of scripture, of canon, of authority of the church, of justification by faith, and the ministry of the church. (fn. 5)
Further evidence in support of the distinctive Reformational and evangelical character of our statement on the scriptures comes from a recent publication called "The Mission of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary." After a two-year study, our faculty colleagues from this sister institution, which shares the Gordon name, history, and identical statement of faith, issued an important amplification of their creedal statement and its academic implications. This statement was approved unanimously by the Seminary Board of Trustees in May 1983 and reads in part as follows:
Inasmuch, then, as God has provided in Holy Scripture all that is indispensable to our understanding of his character, purposes and acts as well as our spiritual welfare, all competing authorities, whether these arise from critical reason , ecclesiastical teaching or the assumed norms of secular society must be treated as invalid for the structuring of our thought and life. Furthermore, it is the text of Scripture which is authoritative; reconstructions of the history behind it, modern systems of thought imposed upon it, or a particular mode of interpreting it, be it devotional or critical, or not. All categories of thought and forms of behavior, all belief and all conduct must be subject to the continuing authority of God's written Word. (fn. 6)In addition to theologians, the evangelical popular press also perceives the basic differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant. In an article in Christianity Today of October 23, 1982, entitled "What Separates Evangelicals and Catholics?", the editor stresses the many common loyalties and then goes on to argue that "traditional Roman Catholics and evangelicals fall apart right at the very heart of the gospel; how can a sinful, guilt-ridden human being find acceptance with a just and holy God?" Later in the article he identifies a second barrier as the related doctrine of the authority of Holy Scripture - - "On these two principles the evangelical cannot budge. With them, his religious life is at stake."
Roman Catholic Perspectives
Likewise Roman Catholic scholars recognize the substantial doctrinal differences between evangelicals and Roman Catholics. In the last several years a growing chorus of voices within the Roman Catholic church has been warning against one of the unintentional results of Vatican II - the "protestantizing" of the church. For example, Professor George A. Kelly, Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Catholic Doctrine at St. John's University, notes that:
A guerilla-type warfare is going on inside the Church and its outcome is clearly doubtful. The Pope and Roman Curia are finding off with mixed success the attacks of their own theologians who, in the name of scholarship, demand more radical accommodation with Protestant and secular thought. The issues at stake are the correctness of Catholic doctrine and the survival of the Catholic Church as a significant influence in the life of her own communicants. (fn. 7)
The French Dominican theologian Daniel Ols published an article in march 1985 in the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano in which he declares:
The church of Christ exists in the Catholic Church and the fullness of grace and of truth are the patrimony of the Catholic Church so that only she possesses the complete means for salvation. Reunion cannot occur, he maintained, without other churches' assent to all and every one of the dogmas professed by Rome. (fn. 8)
Christopher Derrick, in an effort to convince the reader that C.S. Lewis was really a Roman Catholic, singles out the distinctive Protestant elements when he refers to the "two great Protestant principles, salvation by faith alone and that Scriptures constitute the sole basis and rule of faith." (fn. 9)
Professor James Hitchcock of St. Louis University, and past president of the Fellowship of Catholic scholars, in a paper presented earlier this year at Hillsdale College on the "New Ecumenism" initially observes that: "Religious differences between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants on one level appear so deep that it scarcely seems necessary to catalog them." After pointing out the broad common ground between "orthodox Catholics" and "orthodox Evangelicals", he attempts to identify the difference,
The most obvious are certain Catholic doctrines such as the authority of the Pope, the sacramental priesthood, and the Mass. However, other, less obvious, differences underlie these. . . The Catholic sense of tradition underlies certain Catholic beliefs not shared by Evangelicals. This goes beyond mere reverence for the past, which is shared by many people who are not Catholics. Catholic traditionalism is the principle that the teachings and practices of the Church over time themselves have normative authority in determining what belongs to the authentic Gospel. This in turn must be contrasted with the Protestant principle of 'sola scriptura.' (fn. 10)
Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Missions
Perhaps the most instructive analysis of the issues that continue to divide Roman Catholics and Evangelicals as confessional communities is the as yet unpublished report of the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Missions. For the past seven years, a group of Vatican and Evangelical scholars have been meeting in three lengthy conferences in Europe to explore the extent of our differences and our common ground.
Evangelicals were represented by leading Protestant scholars such as John R.W. Stott, President David Hubbard of Fuller Seminar, and Professor David Wells of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The report identifies many areas of clarification and agreement on commonly held Biblical teachings but it concludes by pointing out that "serious difficulties and differences remain," and records "the sad fact of our divisions on important questions of faith." (fn. 11) Even though they agreed to disagree, e.g., "each side views the other's view of the gospel as defective," they were able to urge the two confessing communities to undertake certain common political and social tasks and to work toward better understanding by using such devices a : "visiting scholars" between Roman Catholic and Protestant seminaries.
Other Points at Issue
While the doctrinal differences between the orthodox Evangelical and the orthodox Roman Catholic seem to be obvious to most theologians from both communities, the senate has been puzzled by the insistence of some that there are Roman Catholics who can sign our statement of faith and, at the same time, be in good standing in the Roman Catholic church. We cannot see how this is possible, and would argue that, while we as Protestants are encouraged by the many evidences of a renewed interest in the study of the Bible and renewed assertions of the authority of the scriptures in the Roman Catholic Church, we should regard the affirming of the various extra-biblical doctrines associated with Mary (such as her immaculate conception and bodily assumption into heaven) as a serious departure from the Reformation principle of the scriptures as "the only infallible guide in faith and practice."
As David Wells, in his study of the post-Vatican II church, points out about the Catholic effort to support Marian dogma on Luke 1:28:
If we can deduce from Luke 1:28 that Mary was conceived without sin, lived without it and was assumed into heaven, can we not also deduce from Ephesians 1:6 that all Christians have similarly been conceived without sin, live without it and will rise from the grave shortly after being buried? But, of course, this is ridiculous. The Bible teaches that we are conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:23), and Mary was not exempt. If Mary herself needed to be saved from her sins, she could not possibly join wit h Christ as 'Co-redemptrix' to save man. (fn. 12)
In sharp critique of the council's teaching on Mary, Wells quotes Philip Edgcumbe Hughes:
Despite all qualifying clauses, the effect, in both logic and practice, of the Mariology of the Roman church is to rob Christ of the uniqueness of his redemptive and mediatorial office. How can it be otherwise when Christ declares that it is he who gives life to the world (John 6:33), whereas the council, without disputing this, affirms that Mary 'gave Life t the world' (DV II, 86); when the apostles consistently declare that the likeness to which we are to be conformed is that of Christ (Rom. 8:29; IICor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21; I John 3:2), whereas the Council affirms that Mary 'is the Church's model' and that those who 'strove to increase in holiness . . . raise their eyes to Mary who shines forth to the whole community of the elect as a model of virtues' (DV II, 86, 93); when the Scriptures consistently declare that Christ alone was without sin (IICor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15, 7:26; I Pet. 1:19, 2:22; I John 3:5), whereas the Council affirms Mary was 'entirely holy and free from all stain of sin' . . . and when the New Testament consistently declares that Christ is the sole and unique Mediator between God and man and the only Redeemer of our race (I Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15; John 14:6; Acts 4:12; I John 2:1), whereas the Council . . . applies the title of 'Mediatrix' to Mary and affirms that by her 'cooperating in the work of human salvation' there was a 'union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation' (DV II, 84). Despite the biblical testimony against Marian devotion, it is still fostered, not merely be peasants, but preeminently by popes and the Church's most sophisticated theologians. Why? Karl Barth may have the answer although his judgment sounds harsh: In the doctrine and worship of Mary there is disclosed the one heresy of the Roman Catholic Church which explains all the rest. The 'mother of God' of Roman Catholic Marian dogma is quite simply the principle, type and essence of the human creature co-operating servantlike '(ministerialiter)' in its own redemption on the basis of prevenient grace . . . (fn. 13)
While we find it impossible to reconcile Roman Catholic teachings on Mary with the Gordon statement of faith, we are also deeply perplexed as to how one can subscribe both to the Gordon statement and the claims for papal infallibility. If even Roman Catholic theologians such as Hans Kung reject the papal claims to infallibility as a late historical development and see the Roman Catholic "absolutist claims" as responsible for the schism of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Reformation, and argue that it is the reason why many are leaving the Church today, it is difficult to see how Protestants can be asked to approve of the claims of the pope to be the final interpreter of the faith of the Christian Church. (fn. 14)
Justification by Faith
The second place where the Gordon statement of faith specifically affirms the principles of the Reformation as over against traditional Catholic teaching is in the phrase, "From this condition man can be saved only by the grace of God, through faith, on the basis of the work of Christ, and by the agency of the Holy Spirit." In this affirmation of "sola gratia" and "sola fide" the Gordon statement resolutely resists any dilution of Paul's arguments on justification by faith. This dilution has occurred historically by teaching on cooperative grace and sacerdotal-sacramentalism (that saving grace is mediated through the sacraments). The Gordon-Conwell explanation of this phrase in our common statement of belief highlights the major differences between Roman Catholic sacramentalism and the views of the sacraments as held by evangelical Protestants of various denominations.
The relation between justification and the two sacraments or ordinances which Protestantism has recognized, but especially the Lord's Supper, is clearer than the history of debate would suggest. In the Lord's Supper we have a visual representation of the substitutionary work of Christ. What is debated is how this representation effects or imparts spiritual blessing. Some argue that this occurs through Christian memory, prompted by the visual representation, as it recalls the promises of God's Word; others argue that these promises are made effective in the believer's life at the time of the Lord's Supper through the work of the Holy Spirit in the presence of faith; others speak of the spiritual presence of Christ who, on the basis of faith, confirms in the lives of believers the realities symbolized in the bread and wine. These are all legitimate options within evangelicalism. What violates the biblical understanding of justification is to argue that God's grace is conveyed materially through the sacrament so that the sign and that which is signified by it become fused in part or in whole. There is a consensus that runs from the Reformation to the present throughout evangelical theology in all of its phases that this kind of sacramentalism undercuts the gospel and violates the biblical testimony. We are justified by the objective and finished work of Christ and it is upon this that our theology is focused and centered. (fn. 15)
While other serious differences exist between the Roman Catholic and evangelical Protestant communities, we join with the seminary faculty in urging that there be no loosening or weakening of these two major affirmations of the sufficiency and authority of scripture and justification by faith. To effectively expand or redefine the Gordon position on the issue of sacramentalism would be dangerous and unwise.
Earlier in our discussions, several of us expressed the view that the evangelical community which has been a vital part of the Gordon effort over the years would have little interest in (and indeed in most cases would strongly oppose) the creation of a Roman Catholic-Protestant College. It is not enough to dismiss this argument by characterizing it as "fear of losing financial support" or to counter it by saying that Gordon should educate its Protestant support community with a new vision of Christian education.
In its founding and continuing vision, Gordon has deliberately chosen to be free from denominational or ecclesiastical control as in the case of some Roman Catholic and Protestant education institutions, and from state sponsorship, as in public or state colleges, and has courageously asserted that Christian families can bind together to support and maintain an educational effort in which the teaching community places itself under the authority of the Word of God and acknowledges that our lives, our teaching, deepest convictions, and world and life view are to be brought into harmony with the scriptures. It would seem romantic and unrealistic for the teaching community to tell its supporting community of belief that their views are now obsolete. Indeed the burden of proof should be on members of the community who wish to propose a change that they also offer a realistic proposal as to how their new vision of a Christian college is to be supported. It is interesting to read in this connection, Msgr. George Kelly's comment as Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Catholic Doctrine that "evangelical Christianity is the only growing segment of Christianity, while the 'accommodating' churches, including Roman Catholic, continue to decline." (fn. 16)
Recommendations for further action:
1. Our deliberations have taken place in a short span of time and hence may not have taken into account all of the specialized knowledge that is necessary. Therefore you may wish to consult with theologians beyond the immediate community as we have in our deliberations.
2. Several questions have been raised about the recent "Visiting Scholars" statement in the Administrative/Faculty Handbook (Section I, H.4.c.). we would recommend that these guidelines be reviewed by the senate in the fall of 1985 with a view that these Christian scholars may be invited for a shorter or longer period (a week, month, or a school term) in which they would give special lectures to the College on their distinctive insights - rather than becoming part of a departmental faculty handling regular courses of the curriculum.
3. Because some students have alleged that the College does not clearly represent itself as a Protestant evangelical school to people applying for admission, and some faculty have felt confused by the designation of "non-denominational," we urge a review of all of our literature and clarification if that be needed. We further urge that the College continue to welcome Christian students from various non-Protestant traditions and insure to the best of our ability that they are not perceived a second-class citizens of the Gordon community.
4. We would be pleased to have you share our written deliberations on this matter with our colleagues on the faculty. While we recognize that we were unable to reconcile all points of view as represented by faculty position papers, we were deeply gratified by the number of serious presentations made by our colleagues and the maturity and sense of kingdom responsibility continuously expressed throughout this period of community turmoil. While our labors have resulted in a strongly felt position by the majority of the senate on this issue, we do welcome further research and discussion on these complicated questions.
1. Frederick Sontag, The Crisis of Faith (New York: Doubleday, 1969), p. 146. Professor Sontag has recently reminded us that in the process of secularizing of the Protestant colleges and seminaries, in the last fifty years, the confessional requirement for faculty appointment was always loosened or dropped.
2. J.I. Packer, God Has Spoken (London: Hodder and Stoughton, revised ed. 1979), p. 36
3. J.I. Packer God Has Spoken (London: Hodder and Stoughton, revised ed. 1979), p. 124
4. James Atkinson, Rome and the Reformation (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1966), p. 84
5. Bernard Ramm, The Evangelical Heritage (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1973), p. 24
6. The Mission of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 1983), p. 8
7. George A. Kelly, The Battle for the American Church (New York: Doubleday, 1977), p. vii
8. Daniel Ols, "Ecumenical Chill," Time, (March 11, 1985), p. 59
9. Christopher Derrick, C.S. Lewis and the Church of Rome (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981), p. 35
10. James Hitchcock, "Shall Man Unmake God? The New Ecumenism Says No," Imprimis, Vol. 14, No. 2, (February 1985), p. 2
12. David F. Wells, Revolution in Rome (London: Tyndale Press, 1973), p. 17
13. David F. Wells, Revolution in Rome (London: Tyndale Press, 1973), p. 17
14. Hans Kung, The Church-Maintained in Truth (New York: Seabury Pres, 1980), pp.78, 85
15. The Mission of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (South Hamilton, MA: Gordon-Conwell Theological seminary, 1983), p. 7
16. George A. Kelly, The Battle for the American Church (New York: Doubleday, 1977), p. 52.