Pope’s Call for Unity – Is Protestant Reformation Over?

On February 25, 2014, the Catholic News Agency reported that Pope Francis sent a video message to a gathering of U.S. Pentecostal leaders, voicing his “yearning” that separation between Catholics and other Christians may end.

“We have a lot of cultural riches and religious riches. And we have diverse traditions,” he said. “But we have to encounter one another as brothers.”

“Let’s give each other a spiritual embrace and let God complete the work that He has begun,” he said, adding that “the miracle of unity has begun.”

The message, recorded on an iPhone on January 14, was delivered to a gathering of Pentecostal leaders at Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Fort Worth, Texas, by Pentecostal Bishop, Tony Palmer. Palmer, a good friend of Pope Francis, added to the message, calling for the need for Christian unity.

“I’ve come to understand that diversity is divine. It is division that is diabolic,” he said, saying Christian unity is “the basis of our credibility.”

Bishop Palmer cited the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, saying it “brought an end to the protest” of the Protestant Reformation.

That agreement recognized that “by grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”

“Brothers and sisters, Luther’s protest is over,” Palmer told his audience. “Is yours?”

“We are not protesting the doctrine of salvation (taught) by the Catholic Church anymore,” he said. “We now preach the same Gospel.”

He called on Protestant Evangelical leaders to sign the agreement, also reciting Jesus’ prayer that his disciples “may be one.”

(See http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/we-are-brothers-pope-stresses-in-message-to-pentecostals/ for full story.)

Those who are students of Bible Prophecy will not miss the tremendous significance of this news story.

Traditionally, Protestants have taken the Bible as the rule of faith and practice, a fact that has kept them separate from the Catholic Church for 500 years. Contrary to what some may have thought, the term “protestant” came from the “protest” made by those Princes of Germany who had accepted the Biblical truths of the gospel proclaimed during the 16th century Reformation. In opposition to a decree that would stifle the freedom to preach God’s word throughout their realms, in 1529 they appeared at the Second Diet of Spires (Speyer), and voiced their objection:

“We protest by these presents, before God, our only Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and Saviour, and who will one day be our Judge, as well as before all men and all creatures, that we, for us and for our people, neither consent nor adhere in any manner whatsoever to the proposed decree, in anything that is contrary to God, to His holy word, to our right conscience, to the salvation of our souls.

“What! we ratify this edict! We assert that when Almighty God calls a man to His knowledge, this man nevertheless cannot receive the knowledge of God!” “There is no sure doctrine but such as is conformable to the word of God. . . . The Lord forbids the teaching of any other doctrine. . . . The Holy Scriptures ought to be explained by other and clearer texts; . . . this Holy Book is, in all things necessary for the Christian, easy of understanding, and calculated to scatter the darkness. We are resolved, with the grace of God, to maintain the pure and exclusive preaching of His only word, such as it is contained in the biblical books of the Old and New Testaments, without adding anything thereto that may be contrary to it. This word is the only truth; it is the sure rule of all doctrine and of all life, and can never fail or deceive us. He who builds on this foundation shall stand against all the powers of hell, while all the human vanities that are set up against it shall fall before the face of God.”

“For this reason we reject the yoke that is imposed on us.” (The Great Controversy, p. 202-203.)

D’Aubigne, in his History of the Reformation wrote of this event:

“The principles contained in this celebrated protest of the 19th April 1529, constitute the very essence of Protestantism. Now this protest opposes two abuses of man in matters of faith: the first is the intrusion of the civil magistrate, and the second the arbitrary authority of the Church. Instead of these abuses, Protestantism sets the power of conscience above the magistrate; and the authority of the Word of God above the visible church. In the first place, it rejects the civil power in divine things, and says with the prophets and apostles: We must obey God rather than man. In presence of the crown of Charles the Fifth, it uplifts the crown of Jesus Christ. But it goes farther: it lays down the principle, that all human teaching should be subordinate to the oracles of God. Even the primitive Church, by recognizing the writings of the apostles, had performed an act of submission to this supreme authority, and not an act of authority, as Rome maintains; and the establishment of a tribunal charged with the interpretation of the Bible, had terminated only in slavishly subjecting man to man in what should be the most unfettered—conscience and faith. In this celebrated act of Spires no doctor appears, and the Word of God reigns alone. Never has man exalted himself like the pope; never have men kept in the background like the reformers.” (D’Aubigne., b. 13, ch. 6.)

To hold that the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church has “brought an end to the protest” of the Protestant Reformation is to miss the entire point of the “protest.” The princes of Germany were not protesting against false doctrine. That was to come later in the Augsburg Confession of 1530. What they were protesting against at the 1529 Diet of Spires was the restriction of religious liberty threatened in an edict of the German emperor, at the behest of the Roman Catholic prelates. That edict forbade the further preaching of the reformation teachings beyond those places in Germany where it had already been preached; effectively ensuring no more persons would be converted to the Reformation faith, a faith founded on the Scriptures alone. The German princes recognised the principles at stake in this issue. They deemed that in matters of conscience the traditions and teachings of men are to be subordinated to the Scriptures. They also recognised that neither the visible church, nor the state, nor the majority has any authority to deny men and women the right to follow the dictates of their conscience.

D’Aubigne writes further, “A Romish historian maintains that the word Protestant signifies enemy of the emperor and of the pope. If he means that Protestantism, in matters of faith, rejects the intervention both of the empire and of the papacy, it is well. But even this explanation does not exhaust the signification of the word, for Protestantism threw off man’s authority solely to place Jesus Christ on the throne of the Church, and his Word in the pulpit. There has never been anything more positive, and at the same time more aggressive, than the position of the Protestants at Spires. By maintaining that their faith alone is capable of saving the world, they defended with intrepid courage the rights of christian proselytism. We cannot abandon this proselytism without deserting the protestant principle.”

What Pope Francis and Bishop Palmer are calling for is effectively the abandoning of Christian proselytism. Regardless of what denomination a person may belong to, they are all to be recognised as brothers and sisters of the one Catholic (Universal) Church.

Bishop Palmer stated in his address, “It’s the glory that glues us together, not the doctrines…If you accept that Christ is living in me and the presence of God is in me and the presence of God is in you, that’s all we need. Because God will sort out all our doctrines when we get upstairs.”

Under this attitude, doctrinal differences and practices, even if they may be deemed unscriptural, are to be tolerated, provided all profess faith in the one triune God and worship the only Lord, Jesus Christ. However, we cannot agree to this position. We should seek for unity of Christ’s body, but that unity must be based upon the platform of truth. The church of God is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the father but by me.” John 14:6. He also prayed, “Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth” (John 17:17). It is this reality that has led Bible- believing Christians to seek for and promote truth, as this is the means by which Christ will sanctify us, thus bringing us into unity. Consequently, if we encounter doctrines that are in conflict with the Word of God, we are not to remain silent. We are to speak up against Scriptural error and promote the truths of the Bible, regardless of consequences. In the past, those consequences often resulted in persecution by the State, at the behest of the established Church of the day. Prophecy declares that such intolerance will again be revived.

The book of Revelation points us to a time when the whole professed Christian world will deny a plain truth of Scripture in regard to the worship of God. Under the symbol of the third angel’s message of Revelation 14:9-12, a warning is given against receiving the mark of the beast. The beast in Revelation is a symbol of the apostate Roman Catholic system of worship. The change from Sabbath to Sunday, as a day of worship, is hailed by her as a “mark” of her authority. Those who follow her example in keeping holy that day, when they know that God’s word says otherwise, pay homage to her. The third angel’s message is a warning against such homage, for it is in direct violation of God’s Ten Commandments.

Based on Revelation 13:14-18, we understand that the mark of the beast will be enforced worldwide, commencing with the USA, the former bastion of religious liberty and the haven of Protestantism. When the USA enforces a Sunday law, in doing so, she will be denying the principle of religious liberty, causing the whole world to worship the beast of Revelation 13:1-8. However, this worldwide homage will require Catholics and Protestants to unite. Prophecy indicates in Revelation 16:12-14 that indeed there will be a spiritual unity between these two bodies, as well as paganism. (In Rev 16:12-14, the Beast is a symbol of Catholicism; the false prophet is a symbol of apostate Protestantism; the dragon is a symbol of Paganism or spiritualism)

Hence this testimony from the pen of E. G. White:

“By the decree enforcing the institution of the papacy in violation of the law of God, our nation will disconnect herself fully from righteousness. When Protestantism shall stretch her hand across the gulf to grasp the hand of the Roman power, when she shall reach over the abyss to clasp hands with spiritualism, when, under the influence of this threefold union, our country shall repudiate every principle of its Constitution as a Protestant and republican government, and shall make provision for the propagation of papal falsehoods and delusions, then we may know that the time has come for the marvelous working of Satan and that the end is near.”  (Testimonies, vol. 5. p. 451.)

By the appeal for unity in Christendom, recognising all as brothers and sisters under the “one church,” the Pope and the Pentecostal Bishop are simply taking another step closer to what prophecy indicates will eventually happen. The professed Christian Church will once more unite with the State and enforce laws against those who refuse to submit to her dogmas, thus violating liberty of conscience.

It is just a reminder to us that we are indeed living in the last days. While we may find this a daunting reality, it should also fill us with great hope and expectation that the coming of Jesus is near. Let us ensure, each moment of each day, that we are in Christ and prepared for the tremendous events before us.

–Paul Chapman.

Bishop Tony Palmer’s official video and his address to the Pentecostal Leaders Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, including the recording of Pope Francis’ message, may be viewed here: http://youtu.be/NHbEWw7l_Ek *

*This video link is provided for information purposes only. We do not endorse the content of the video in any way.