Charles Colson’s “Ecumenism of the Trenches”

Charles Colson

Charles Colson (1931-2012)

This morning in the National Catholic Register, I was saddened to learn of the death of Charles Colson a few days ago. (The NCRegister piece is moving and worth reading.)

Even in the far orbit of the evangelical sphere I’ve been in for so many years, I knew and admired Chuck Colson. He was one of the most vivid examples in our society of the radical, life-changing, revolutionizing power of the Gospel of Christ. Once Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man,” known for his political ruthlessness, and implicated in the Watergate scandal, Colson gave his life to Christ after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. After a term in prison, he devoted the rest of his life to Christian service and advocacy.

A few months ago, in one of my many thrifting runs and book hunts, I picked up a copy of Evangelicals and Catholics Together: Toward a Common Mission, a collection of essays edited by Colson and his friend Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus (who, I see, was also a convert, a former Lutheran pastor). The message of the ecumenical document they together helped draft: that in the face of the challenges of the modern world, Catholics and evangelicals should stand together as witnesses.

I applaud these efforts. Now more than ever, we Christians should strive for cooperation and understanding if not unity. It is my hope that through my conversion and witness, I can reach out especially to my evangelical brothers and sisters to dispel mistaken ideas about Catholics and foster a spirit of acceptance and accord.

Requiescat in pace, Charles Colson. May God guide you to your reward.

4 thoughts on “Charles Colson’s “Ecumenism of the Trenches”

  1. Still working my way through your blog: If you haven’t already read it, I recommend Colson’s The Body (with Ellen Santilli Vaughn), which talks about the Church as the Body of Christ, and what that implies about what the Church looks like (or ought to look like).

  2. The problem isn’t the general tradition of the churches. The problem is what “is written,” as the Living Word of God testified to what “is written.” If Catholics believe the Bible that Christ alone is our salvation and justification before God, then don’t you think some of the declarations and anathemas of the Council of Trent should be revoked? Did the ECT’s officially reverse the anathemas (curses) on the books at the Vatican?

    Here is an exercise: Go read the anathemas the Orthodox Church has against the Catholics, even. You can look them up on YouTube. Do you believe you are damned to Hades and cursed by everything the Orthodox Church declares against you? Of course not! Why? Because it doesn’t match scripture!

    “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”(Romans 10:9-10)

    See if you haven’t read the following canon on Justification from the Council of Trent (which needs revocation to match the ECT’s if the ECT’s be true):

    Canon XXIV. If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof: let him be anathema (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1919 ed.), Decree on Justification, Chapter XVI).

    In Canon X in its Decree on Justification the Council of Trent states:

    If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby he merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just: let him be anathema (The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, in Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1919 ed.), Decree on Justification, Chapter XVI).

    • Hi, thanks for the comment and for stopping by. I might recommend a few of my other articles for you to read:

      “Let him be Anathema”: Not what many Protestants think it means
      Salvation by grace alone
      Why the Catholic understanding of justification is not “faith plus works”

      In short, because I don’t feel like repeating myself: No, “anathema” doesn’t mean that we (or the Orthodox, or anybody else who uses the phrase “anathema sit”) believe that anyone is “damned to Hades” for believing these particular doctrinal statements; neither do we think we are pronouncing that judgment. It’s a legal, disciplinary formula that means excommunication, not really anything more or less.
      Those particular disciplinary formulas at the Council of Trent were finely nuanced to reject very specific doctrinal pronouncements that were deemed heresies. They were pronounced against people who were then formally members of the Catholic Church, who were thus excommunicated from the Church. They do not apply to today’s Protestants or anyone else living today.
      The Catholic Church does not believe that those fine doctrinal nuances necessarily make or break the salvation of Jesus Christ. We believe that His grace is bigger than that. The ecumenical teachings of the Second Vatican Council, of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, and of documents such as Evangelicals and Catholics Together, are neither a contradiction nor a repudiation of the teachings of the Council of Trent. We still believe that those particular formulations are wrong and not fitting with Catholic teaching. But through those declarations, we declare that we, together with many Evangelicals, agree on the essentials of the Christian faith and share a common faith and trust in the Lord’s salvation by grace through faith.

      If you read those articles are still want to talk, I am glad to welcome you as a guest and brother.

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