A group of over 200 Protestant scholars and ministers have signed and published a joint statement called A Reforming Catholic Confession outlining what they are calling "mere Protestantism."
The statement is an attempt to refute the contention that private interpretation of the Bible leads to division, as proven by the history of the Protestant heresy since the revolt, which began 500 years ago in 1517. Jerry Walls, of Houston Baptist University, told the Christian Post, "Despite how some Roman Catholics fasten on the divisions within Protestantism as a case against it, including the joking about there being 33,000 different denominations — as if the entire legacy of the Reformation is endless religious splintering — the confession showcases the extensive agreement on the substance of the historic Christian faith."
The website goes on to report, however, that the confession does not constitute an exhaustive resolution of the differences that exist between the different groups.
"What we offer," according to the site, "is not a harmony of Protestant confessions or an attempt to discover our lowest common doctrinal denominator, much less a charter for a new denominational entity or ecumenical organization. Rather, our statement aims at displaying an interdenominational unity in the essentials of the faith and agreement that the Word of God alone has final jurisdiction — hence 'mere' (focused on the essentials) 'Protestantism' (founded on the Bible)."
The word "Hell" does not occur in the Reforming Catholic Confession, which instead reads, "He will judge the world, consigning any who persist in unbelief to an everlasting fate apart from Him, where His life and light are no more."
One of the signatories of the confession is Peter Grice, president of Rethinking Hell, a website that promotes so-called "evangelical conditionalism" or the denial of the existence of Hell.
Rethinking Hell's statement of faith reads in part, "We affirm the future, bodily resurrection of both the saved and the unsaved; those who are saved, to the resurrection of eternal life in the presence of God; those who are unsaved, to face final punishment, consisting ultimately in the destruction of body and soul, a permanent end to life and conscious existence."
By not addressing the divisions between Protestant groups, many of which touch on the nature of salvation, the confession fails to refute the argument against Protestantism, namely, that private interpretation of the Bible can and has led to endless splintering on doctrinal questions, contrary to the instruction of Saint Paul: "I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment." (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Although leaders in different denominations can agree on a purposely vague and non-comprehensive statement of faith, it remains that Christians who identify as Protestant have widely varying opinions. This wide divergence is not only on the answers to questions of salvific importance. To decide that certain doctrinal questions — about which there is no agreement — are "not essentials" for lack of consensus, amounts to circular reasoning, as well as what is sometimes called the Texas sharpshooter fallacy.
As Church Militant commented in the wake of the Nashville Statement, self-professed Christians who disagree with the statement, in whole or in part, are equally capable of generating their own confession and calling it the true Christian confession. What no group of Protestants can do or profess to do is teach with the authority of Christ, which He transmitted to His Apostles.
For this reason, the contention that Protestants "agree on the essentials" is not only untrue but unfalsifiable. The assertion begs the question as to whether a certain list of doctrines is essential because they are agreed upon or if they are agreed upon because they are essential. Which doctrinal questions constitute the essentials must be established independently of who agrees, but this is impossible without a visible teaching authority on the matter, which Protestantism lacks by definition.
Although the statement is meant to commemorate a revolt, which began by the action of Martin Luther, the denominations which bear his name make a very scarce appearance on the list of signatories. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, is represented by zero of the initial signatories. Among the "additional signatures" are one minister, representing the more conservative Lutheran sect, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and one ELCA minister.
The ELCA is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, which co-signed the 1999 "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Catholic Church." After the declaration was signed, the LCMS president at the time, the Rev. A.L. Barry, called the declaration "a surrender of the most important truth taught in God's word."
The Reforming Catholic Confession also leaves untreated the reality of the Catholic Church's role in defining the canon of Sacred Scripture, which is explained in detail in Church Militant's Premium program, Where Did the Bible Come From?