SASKATOON — Saskatoon is a leader when it comes to dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals. For the past five years, orchestrated conversations have been taking place between the two groups, and Pastor Harry Strauss has been right in the middle of them.
Strauss, a pastor at Forest Grove Community Church, has prepared a small group resource on the subject entitled Evangelicals and Catholics in Dialogue: A Small Group Discussion Guide. It is intended to bring Catholics and Evangelicals together in small group settings over seven topics of conversation.
Strauss says dialogues are already happening internationally, nationally and locally but the guide is aimed at also involving lay people — Catholics and Evangelicals — in what he calls “living room dialogue.”
“I began working on this project two years ago,” he says. “In the spring of 2016, we field tested it with a small group my wife Judy and I lead. Our group of 10 Evangelicals invited 11 Catholics to join us and work through the resource.”
The guide has raised interest in other circles, including a small local group of four Catholics and four Evangelicals who worked through the material. Another group, six Catholics and six Evangelicals in their 20s spearheaded by Sarah Denis from St. Anne’s Catholic Parish, is also in conversation. Strauss has been involved in those conversations as well.
“I was at a conference in British Columbia recently and met people there who were interested in the resource,” he says. “I spoke about the work in Saskatoon and presented the material, and as a result, a number of groups in B.C. will be testing it.”
Strauss’s goal is to collect responses to the preliminary guide, make the necessary adjustments, then have the guide available as a resource in 2018.
The guide directs discussion to seven topics. Each begins with an introductory overview, then offers seven pertinent questions for discussion.
The first topic is “Revelation” — is it Scripture alone, as Evangelicals believe, or is it Scripture plus tradition, as Catholics believe?
Another topic addresses “The Church,” and explores the different positions between Catholics and Evangelicals.
“The understanding of Catholics is that the church was built on Peter, and authority was granted to Peter and those who followed him over the centuries,” Strauss says. “This is radically different from Evangelicals, who believe our authority comes from Scripture.”
Strauss contends the nature of the church is probably the most critical difference that exists between Catholics and Evangelicals.
The third topic in the guide is “Salvation.”
“Evangelicals have been affected by the influence of Billy Graham and believe that salvation comes at a specific point in time. Catholics believe it is a more progressive journey.”
The two camps also differ on the subject of baptism. Catholics believe salvation is effected through baptism; for Evangelicals, baptism is largely symbolic.
Another topic of discussion is “The Eucharist,” or communion. “There’s a huge difference in understanding here,” Strauss says. “Catholics believe the elements become the very body and blood of Christ, whereas Evangelicals see them more as pointing to the presence of Christ.”
“The ‘Communion of Saints’ is an interesting topic that always generates energetic conversation. For Catholics, the potential is in place for a lively exchange with the saints who have already gone to heaven. They petition those saints (including Mary) to pray for them. This is foreign to Evangelicals, who believe the communion of saints is more about fellowship and interaction with the universal church.”
The final topic in the discussion guide is “Missional Engagement, or Do We Have Sufficient Agreement To Work Together?”
“My answer is yes,” Strauss says. “In light of the secularism that exists and is growing in society today, there is great value in Catholics and Evangelicals working together. We’re already doing that in Saskatoon in initiatives like the Saskatoon Marriage Network and Alpha programs, just to name two.”
Strauss is looking for more groups to test his discussion resource. Anyone interested can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will provide a study guide and be available as a resource person, if desired.
Strauss says he created the discussion guide because he saw a need for something user-friendly that would be suitable for living room dialogue. He hopes the guide will enable the conversations to be multiplied many times over and lead to more dialogue, interaction and fellowship.
“Dialogue adds understanding and accesses the gifts resident within each tradition,” he says. “We can learn from one another, enrich our fellowship, and live in sync with John 17.
“This is a big deal to me. The merit of working together in missional engagement has always been true, but perhaps it is even more important today given the rampant secularization which continues to marginalize the significance of God in our society. Much is to be gained through shared ministry.