What are the implications of such a “paradigm change” occurring at Vatican II for evangelicals? Massive! Here are three tentative ones.
1. For the time being, Rome will not have an “oppositional” posture in relating to non-Catholics but will always try to find commonalities, underline unity, stress fellowship, and embrace evangelicals as much as possible. Evangelicals need to be aware that if they want to be faithful to the gospel, they need to be “counter-cultural” and talk of gospel distinctives, biblical separation, and convenantal allegiance to the Triune God over idols. Biblical truth always needs to confront and refute error, even when it comes from a traditional institution like the Roman Catholic Church.
2. Even after Vatican II, Rome is not commited to the biblical gospel but is dedicated to the all-embracing gospel of “analogy” and “participation” that is translated into Rome’s ecumenism, mariology, ecclesiology, inter-religious dialogue, mission, etc. Pope Francis may not even use the language of “analogy” and “participation”, but his message of “unity” and “mercy” is steeped in it. Evangelicals need to become more acquainted with the ground motives of present-day Roman Catholicism if they want to understand where Rome stands. The words used may be the same (gospel, grace, faith, conversion, etc.), but their meaning is different because Rome uses them within the theological framework of Thomistic “analogy” and “participation”.
3. Rome changes according to her pattern, which implies degrees of renewal always in the context of substantial continuity with its well-established self-understanding. Evangelicals need to learn to understand the Roman Catholic dynamics of change if they want to account for both continuity and discontinuity in present-day Rome. The Catholic Church may even talk about the need for a “reformation”, but it will always be below the standards of biblical reformation and always in a way that protects the institution. For all these reasons, Guarino’s book on Vatican II is particularly helpful for evangelical readers.
Read it all.