Inside the Vatican Synod on Family: Evangelical Catholics? (Day 10)

Pope Francis talking to delegates at the Vatican Synod on the Family on Friday, October 9, 2015. Fraternal delegate Thomas Schirrmacher, who is reporting daily from the Vatican exclusively for CP, notes how accessible Pope Francis is before and after plenary sessions compared to the previous pope. | (Courtesy of Thomas Schirrmacher)

Editor's note: The Christian Post has arranged with noted evangelical Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, an expert on and friend of The Catholic Church, to provide exclusive and rare coverage of the World Synod of the Catholic Church scheduled for October 3-24.

This Vatican Synod is generating great interest among Catholics and Evangelicals alike as Pope Francis continues to make overtures for increased cooperation with Evangelicals to protect religious freedom in a world of increased persecution of Christians.

Schirrmacher is president of the International Council of the International Society for Human Rights und Ambassador for Human Rights and executive chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, the largest evangelical association in the world.

Only one evangelical was invited to this year's three-week Synod: Dr. Schirrmacher. Below is his exclusive CP blog post from this historic meeting:

October 13, 2015

Today I had the privilege to contribute a paragraph on the covenant character of marriage, showing that God's grace comes always first and that a Christian marriage always relies on the promise and grace given by God, that especially becomes activated when we humans reach our borders, but the Holy Spirit helps us to overcome our weaknesses.

The German group applauded and sent the paragraph together with others to the final editing team. How is this possible? Why is the relationship between Catholics and Evangelicals improving, even though Evangelicals speak out loud when in Rome? Why does the Vatican want to hear the opinion of Evangelicals?

Timothy George once wrote: "Catholics and evangelicals are the two largest faith communities in the body of Christ." (Christianity Today, June 2013, p. 65).

Vatican experts, the most outspoken being John Allen (biographer of all recent popes and seen as one of the best Vatican journalists in the USA), distinguish three wings of Roman Catholic Church, the traditional, the liberal and the evangelical. They say that the latter one grows because the last two popes belong to it and because the majority of people added to RCC by mission work in the Global South belong to it. The traditional wing is stable but not growing, the liberal wing is decreasing. One can disagree here, but this is a matter of research and discussion, again not a matter of dogma.

Of course we Evangelicals might object to the use of "evangelical" here, but it is a fact that Catholics use this term, and Evangelicals have to wrestle with it. And it is beyond doubt, the the present Pope belongs to the evangelical wing.

But you only can understand the Vatican's move towards Evangelicals on the background of a growing worldwide split between conservative Christians, who hold to the historic facts of Christianity and to historic Christian moral standards (especially related to marriage and sexuality), from liberal Christians. Presently any improvement of ecumenical relations globally at the same time is influenced by the debate over homosexuality. It is a split going through the World Council of Churches, the Anglican Church, the Lutherans, and many other groups. It has not really split WEA so far, though this could happen one day.

It is no wonder that Orthodox Churches are loosening their relations to liberal Protestant churches constantly, but at the same time they are meeting more frequently with Evangelical Protestant churches.

There are three global Christian bodies: Catholic Church, World Council of Churches (WCC), World Evangelical Alliance. The Catholic Church has 1.2 billion members, the WCC has 560 million members in its churches, that is Orthodox and mainline Protestant churches, and WEA has 600 million members in its Evangelical and Pentecostal member churches.

It is this backround that explains, for the Vatican, WEA more and more becomes a major body to relate to.

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