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This question is based on my personal experience. Some time ago I had a discussion with a friend of mine who's an evangelical pastor.

In a very subtle way, he was asserting that I actually believe in a false God, and that the only way to the truth is convert myself.

I was quite astonished of such discussion, both because I follow and love ecumenical movements which tends to find common paths rather than deep differences, and because this vision seems to be integralist to me.

Of course the discussion truncated there and I didn't want to take it up again because it was really a sad situation.

So my questions are:

  1. Does evangelicalism really consider all non-evangelicals like pagans, because they are worshiping a false God?
  2. Which other Christian confessions have this vision?
  3. Is evangelicalism really an integralist confession?
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Related: my blog post. (I'll provide an answer here too, if I can find the time.) –  Jon Ericson Jun 6 '12 at 19:09
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In my experience, the answer to this question depends a lot on where you are. In Mexico, for instance, Catholics are generally considered non-Christians (even by the Catholics!), whereas in the U.S., Catholics and Evangelicals generally are much more inclusive of each other. –  Flimzy Jun 6 '12 at 19:11
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@Flimzy: Reminds me of the time I was reading my Bible on a Greyhound in North Florida and a fellow passenger asked if I was Baptist or Christian. –  Jon Ericson Jun 6 '12 at 19:14
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@JonEricson: Queue Presbyterian comeback... –  Caleb Jun 6 '12 at 22:41
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@Mason Wheeler because most Evangelicals are entirely ignorant of their own tradition's doctrines, let alone how they took shape from earlier times. –  San Jacinto Jun 7 '12 at 16:36
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4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

Evangelicalism is not in itself a "confession". It is more of a general grouping of similar confessions. As such, it is a bit hard to pin down on a specific point of doctrine like your question calls for.

That being said, we could paint with a broad brush and describe some of general leanings. Every one of these will be wrong for at least some Evangelicals.

  • There are some evangelical groups that consider some other evangelical groups to be apostate* (not true churches). However, these tend to be exceptions rather than the norm.

  • Most evangelicals tend to hedge salvation more on the basis of belief rather than church membership. In other words, even if they believe the Roman Catholic church to be a bogus organization and many of its doctrines to be false, they will acknowledge that some of its members are legitimately Christian.†

  • Most evangelicals specifically reject many of the doctrines, most of the structure and all of the authority of the Roman Catholic church. Those that do accept any of the above do not recognize it in full, but only in the parts that are in agreement. They would reject almost everything to do with Mary, but might agree one some points about Christ. They will reject the notion that any Pope could ever speak infallibly while agreeing that Scripture invokes a system of appointed leaders over churches.

  • Most evangelicals believe that due to the dangers of the false doctrines woven in among some true ones, it would be a bad idea to place ones self under the sole direction of the Roman Catholic church. As such, people who do are often regarded with much skepticism as the creed they have hence subscribed to is dubiously compatible in any way with their own.

  • The issue of where to draw a line between a "false God" and "the right God not properly understood" is a tricky one to draw. Most evangelical circles would use some of the more basic and early creeds (such as the Apostles & Nicene Creeds) as a measuring stick for whether the right God was being worshiped. A non-triune God or a religion that doesn't recognize Jesus as God's only son for example would be considered to be worshiping a false God, while if those and some other elements were in place but his works and words were badly misinterpreted it may be just a matter of mistaken doctrine without actually being a "false God".

    For an overview of the issues involved here, I highly recommend carefully reading a blog post from my friend Kevin Bywater entitiled Do Muslims, Mormons, and Christians Worship the Same God? in which he works to articulate the core theological problem involved no matter whether the right answer is yes or no. As one of the basic points, he notes that "Worshiping God wrongly is tantamount to worshiping the wrong god(s)."

In light of the previous point, Catholisism started out with some of these same creeds and many participants still hold to them. However evangelicallism would, in general, say that it has wandered very far from them with all the things it has added. In doing so, the waters are so muddy that's its hard to get a pure drink of living water there.

Most Evangelicals also recognize that there are Catholics and there are Catholics. Some in the US might be viewed as partners and there are even major ecumenical talks always going on somewhere or another. On the other hand much of Latin America and Europe are so far gone from even Catholic teaching that it would be impossible for most evangelicals to recognize them as Christian.

One notable reference on this would be the Westminster Confession. While only some subsets of evangelicalism would fully hold to this confession, it is indicative of their varying positions that in it's original format, Chapter XXV Article VI identifies the Pope as the antichrist himself:

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ: nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition, that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ, and all that is called God.

More importantly, it is to be noted that this statement has been removed from the revised version most commonly used in the US and much of the rest of the world in modern Reformed churches. The statement now accepted by most people holding to this particular confession reads simply:

There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ. Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof.

* I have avoided using the term "pagan" because the context of your question indicates we probably don't have a common understanding of what it means.

† My personal stance on this issue is that salvation is a gift from God. Correct belief isn't what saves us. Therefore it is possible for some who believe straight up wrong things about salvation to be saved. However this is no excuse to not seek to learn which doctrines are true, and God uses his word properly preached as an instrument in effecting salvation so we should put high priority on true teaching even though we know it isn't necessarily a matter of salvation whether people believe exactly the right doctrine.

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I finished up what I started using a phone on a metro. The major thing I think is still lacking from this post is a summary of how Evangelicalism is related to Protestantism. Since I don't have time to pull that apart, lets ask about that one in another question. –  Caleb Jun 6 '12 at 22:42
    
Turnabout is fair play. ;-) Have you considered taking on the July blog topic? –  Jon Ericson Jun 6 '12 at 23:02
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@JonEricson: Considering I recently shamelessly made an edit just so I could reverse my vote on whether that blog topic should run, I suppose I should consider it. –  Caleb Jun 6 '12 at 23:17
    
@Caleb, thanks for the high quality answer. To me pagan is somebody who worships an object like if it was God (=idolatrous). That was why I was so upset. Regarding your answer: as usual in my experience, I see that the situation depends heavily on many local-particular aspects, linked to people customs and culture, so that it is difficult to depict a scenario with clear boundaries. It would be great if you could add some referencies to the statements you do in the different bullets (list), just to know were I can read more. –  Daniele B Jun 7 '12 at 12:44
    
Was Luther -- Pope Leo X's "wild pig" ("boar") of Germany -- the first to widely assert that the pontiff was the antichrist? That the Westminster Assembly would draw from Luther would make sense. –  Philip Schaff Jul 29 '12 at 6:52
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My answer to this would be yes. In a Southern Baptist Church (considers themselves to be very evangelical) in Watkinsville, GA several months ago, a visiting “evangelist” trying to form another Southern Baptist Church in the NE made a statement that only about 3% of the people of the NE and particularly in NY were Evangelicals. After a few minutes the pastor began, and as close as I can recall, his opening line was; “Can you believe that only 3% of the citizens of NY are Evangelicals? This means that 97% of the people of NY are going to Hell.” Immediately I thought “wow, I am out of here.” And I believe this is a fairly common belief among Evangelicals. Certainly they would make a bold claim that all Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and main-line Protestant’s are going to hell.

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Welcome to C.SE. This answer does a good job of sourcing its answer, and evidencing the claim. The base of the source is a bit narrow (one church), but in reality is a well sourced answer. Welcome! Please be sure to check out our FAQ –  Affable Geek May 23 '13 at 19:02
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Evangelicals most assuredly do not consider Roman Catholics to be pagans. We realize they worship the same God - we mostly differ over views of church governance (i.e. we don't think the Pope has any primacy) not theology.

One of the most interesting cases in point is Francis Beckwith, one-time president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who, in the middle of his tenure, had been "outed" as an evangelical who had returned to the Roman Catholic church. This caused quite a stir in evangelical circles, and much debate around whether or not a Roman Catholic could be an evangelical. In the end, Beckwith voluntarily resigned, but not before the fact of the debate showed support on both sides of the argument.

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I know many Evangelicals (mostly Mexicans) who consider Catholics to be pagans (and many Mexican Catholics who consider "Christians" to be cult-followers). So I don't believe such an adamant statement to the contrary is really an accurate representation of "Evangelicals" as a whole. Certainly it's fair to say of some Evangelicals, however. –  Flimzy Jun 6 '12 at 20:20
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I think it's fair to use the experience of the president of the National Association of Evangelicsls as a good proxy. –  Affable Geek Jun 6 '12 at 23:23
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At best, that might be appropriate for the NAE membership--although that's a stretch, too, IMO. But clearly that doesn't apply to all evangelicals. –  Flimzy Jun 7 '12 at 1:03
    
I think this comment was disliked more because of the fact that Evangelicals didn't like the fact that Beckwith converted, rather than this being a poor comment in itself. –  LoveTheFaith Jun 7 '12 at 4:11
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@LoveTheFaith That is just wild speculation, I am not even familiar with the Beckwith case :-) The down voter was me, because I don't think any of the three main points made in the first two sentences can be held as broadly true. –  Caleb Jun 7 '12 at 6:49
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I hope that most Evangelicals would reserve such judgements... the general belief is that this is reserved for God alone.

That said, I think most would also consider Catholics to be grossly mislead about the scriptures, relying on traditions that are far removed from the original teachings of Jesus and his Apostles, and relying too much on Priests and Clergy to take responsibility of their Faith and Salvation for them, to the point where their salvation is greatly in danger.

No doubt Catholics have a similar view of Protestants :)

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Yep, too much self reliance and private interpretation of scripture. I think Catholicism has a good balance (it doesn't claim to have one authoritative and absolute interpretation of scripture but doesn't let any individual claim to have one either. If there was such a book that had the authoritative Catholic understanding of everything, I would really like to read it and go answer questions at Biblical Hermeneutics), but then again, I'm a Catholic! –  Peter Turner Jun 8 '12 at 15:52
    
@Joel "No doubt Catholics have a similar view of Protestants"...not really sure about that... –  Daniele B Nov 28 '13 at 23:34
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