Ecumenicity—RES Style

In recent months two periodicals, Calvinist Contactand The Banner, have carried pictures of Dr. Paul Schrotenboer, General Secretary of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, at his audience with Pope Paul VI, and, along with the pictures, articles about this occasion. In Calvinist Contact an article by Dr. Schrotenboer was entitled “May We Pray for the Pope?” The entire article as well as the affirmative answer to the question in its title ought to constitute a warning to Reformed churches against the kind of ecumenicity for which the RES stands. For not only was Dr. Schrotenboer present in Rome evidently in his official capacity; but even apart from this, his name as General Secretary is automatically associated with the RES. And this article is rather revealing as to the kind of ecumenicity in which the RES General Secretary is interested. 

First of all, the article informs us that Dr. Schrotenboer was in Rome to attend “a gathering of secretaries of world confessional families who meet once a year to consider matters of mutual concern.” Furthermore, this annual meeting “came on invitation from the Roman Catholic secretariat for the Promotion of Christian unity in the Casa International del Clero in Rome.” In this same connection, we are informed: “The world confessional families is a mixed bag, having in it groups as fundamental as the Mennonites and the Seventh Day Adventists (a sect, HCH) and as ecumenical (ecumenical or modernistically heretical and apostate? HCH) as the World Council of Churches. It represents the largest number of Christians on the face of the earth. In it are organizations which represent the international bodies of various ‘confessions,’ such as the Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, and the Reformed. In it are also churches with very high claims about their being the church, such as the Orthodox churches, particularly of eastern Europe, and the Roman Catholic Church.” 

This should be enough already for a truly Reformed man who is genuinely interested in true and Scriptural ecumenicity. What business does the RES have in such an admittedly “mixed bag,” as Dr. Schrotenboer calls it? 

The Secretary of the RES tells us next about the mass which he attended on Sunday morning. Now I don’t know what opportunities there are in Rome for a genuine Protestant to worship; I do know, however, that a Roman Catholic mass is not the place for a Reformed man. To make matters worse, Dr. Schrotenboer even has some good things to say about this mass. “The liturgy was not as objectionable as I had expected,” he writes. There was even something good: “What I liked best was the reading from Scripture (three passages).” And then: “The transubstantiation bit (remember: abominable idolatry, HCH) was not emphasized.” But notice: it was not absent, could not be absent in the mass! And then come some more favorable and impressive elements: “Much was said about love and fellowship. What made the greatest impact on me at the time was the prayer. Besides many other matters, ‘the priest in charge specifically prayed for ‘our Holy Father’ in his awesome responsibilities.” 

All of this, it seems, served to remind the doctor that he had never in his life prayed for the Pope, or any of his predecessors, “the man who is the titular head of many hundreds of millions of Christian people.” Why does he not characterize him as the alleged occupant of the chair of St. Peter and the claimed Vicar of Christ? Or why does he not characterize him as the one who with his predecessors shares corporately the responsibility for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of saints at the time of the Reformation in the Lowlands alone? Or when he speaks of “many hundreds of millions of Christian people,” why does he not refer to the fact that the Pope is responsible for continuing to lead them in ways of apostasy, ways of work-righteousness, ways of idolatry, ways of Mariolatry? If he had thought on these things, it might have been easier for the doctor to arrive at a proper answer to his question. 

Instead he suggests that perhaps because of our “Calvinist tradition” which has said “some unkind things” about the pope, we don’t pray for him. He refers to the fact that John Calvin called the pope a “braying ass” and Westminster Confession identifies he as the anti-Christ. By the way, the Westminster Confession belongs to the confessional basis of the RES. Perhaps it ought to be modified? Then he goes on to suggest that “Perhaps my non-praying for the Pope . . . has been due to the hidden assumption that one does not pray for those who are not of his own fellowship.” Evidently by “fellowship” he has reference to “evangelical Reformed Protestants.” He might, indeed, have pondered that idea of fellowship in terms of “the communion of saints” and asked himself the question what this might have to do with our prayers. That might have been fruitful, and it certainly would have had a radical effect upon the prayer which he proposes. 

But then he goes on to justify prayer for the pope on the specious ground that “The apostle said it (prayer) should go out also to rulers and to all who are in authority.” Having settled that question, he states that the only question is: “what should we say then when we pray for him?” He proposes that “a good place to start would be:

May God bless all his efforts to promote peace and justice in the world in the love of Christ. May God give him grace and light to reform the church according to the Word of God. May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip the Pope with everything good for doing his will and may God work in him what is pleasing to God, through Jesus Christ to whom be the glory forever.”

Horrifying! Have you noticed that the last part of that prayer is the apostolic benediction of Hebrews 13:20, 21—addressed to the saints, the brethren, in Christ Jesus? 

If this is the expression of ecumenicity, RES style, then no truly Reformed man or Reformed church should have anything to do with the RES. 

But what about praying for the pope? 

It ought to be obvious, first of all, that the only thing one could possibly pray for him would be a prayer for hisrepentance, both as an individual and as head of the Roman Catholic Church. In the second’ place, however, one cannot very well be a hypocrite in his prayers. Such a prayer would also imply that one tells Rome and tells the pope to repent. You cannot very well have an audience with the pope, give him a nice smile and a friendly handshake, and then get on your knees before our Father in heaven and pray for his repentance. That would be an abomination in God’s sight. 

For do not forget that such a prayer must be consistent with the principles of true prayer as embodied in the Lord’s Prayer and as explained in our Heidelberg Catechism. Prayer for the pope would have to be consistent with the second petition, for example, about which our Catechism says: “‘Thy kingdom come’; that is, rule us so by thy word and Spirit, that we may submit ourselves more and more to thee; preserve and increase thy church; destroy the works of the devil, and all violence which would exalt itself against thee; and also, all wicked counsels devised against thy holy word; till the full perfection of thy kingdom take place, wherein thou shalt be all in all.”