Rev. Stewart is pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. Previous article in this series: February 1, 2009, p. 206.
Having considered Rome’s false ecumenism with Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and Protestantism, as well as the principles of Roman ecumenism, it remains to examine the methods of its ecumenism. For this, the prime source is, once again, the Decree of Ecumenism (1964), produced by Rome’s last “ecumenical” council, Vatican II (1962-1965).1 Some examples shall also be given of the use of these methods (or weapons) in the slaughter of careless, apostatizing Protestants. Remember too that Rome’s labors to bring all of Christendom—indeed those of all religions—under its sway also serve its geopolitical goal to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth with its headquarters in the Vatican.
To those aware of Rome’s persecuting past, the most striking of the various “helps, pathways and methods” (p. 342) of Rome’s ecumenism is the new terminology used for Protestants. Dropping all references to “heretics” or “dogs” and ignoring the dozens of anathemas hurled by the Council of Trent (1545-1563),Unitatis Red-integration refers to Protestants as our “brothers” or “brethren” (pp. 345, 346, 354) or, more frequently, our “separated brethren” (e.g., pp. 342, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 365).2 This change in nomenclature is an important step in Rome’s aggiornamento (Italian for “updating”) and has been eagerly received by liberal Protestants. However, Robert Zins’ warning is appropriate:
This new terminology [of “separated brethren”] is a change, but for the Christian, it is also dreadful and dangerous. It appears that Rome wants to label Christians as brothers in hopes of lending credibility to Romanism. It also appears that Rome wishes to hide or minimize the eternal chasm which separates Rome from the gospel of Christ! Christians need to reject such manipulative language and stick to their faith that Christianity and Romanism are absolutely contradictory…. For Rome to call Christians separated brethren is similar to Mormons or Hindus calling Christians separated brethren. We say, “No thank you!”3
Even Martin Luther has been reevaluated by the modern Roman Church. He is no longer a “wild boar” ravaging the Lord’s “vineyard” (as in Leo X’s famous, 1520 bull Exsurge Domine); he is a “prophet of the [Roman] Catholic Church” with many fine things to say. His breaking with Rome was a “tragedy.”
Whereas those who broke with the papacy used to be viewed and treated by Rome with contempt and mistrust, now the “[Roman] Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers” (p. 345). The order of the day is “mutual respect” (p. 359) and “mutual esteem” (p. 362). According to the Decree of Ecumenism, “every effort [must be made] to eliminate words, judgments, and actions which do not respond to the condition of separated brethren with truth and fairness and so make mutual relations between them more difficult” (p. 347).4 In Rome’s ecumenical endeavors, it realizes that if it wants to have friends, it must show itself friendly (Prov. 18:24). This ploy was enough for Ahab to deceive naÃ¯ve Jehoshaphat (II Chron. 18:1-3). The affability of a priest was a large factor in a formerly Reformed friend of mine “re-evaluating” the mass.
With this Unitatis Redintegratio “facelift,” not only has the old style of dealing with Protestants changed, but even Reformed language has been misappropriated, further to wrong-foot the unwary. Now Rome talks about undertaking “with vigor the task…of reform” (p. 347) and even the need for “continual reformation” (p. 350)!5 Yet Rome’s historic doctrine is that she is unreformable, semper eadem (always the same), whereas the Reformed position is semper reformada(always reforming).
Moreover, the Decree of Ecumenism makes a confession of sin (of sorts): “at times, men of both sides were to blame” (p. 345) and “in humble prayer, we beg pardon of God and of our separated brethren, just as we forgive those who trespass against us” (p. 351). However, “both sides” are said to have sinned and the specific sins, such as Rome’s heretical doctrines and persecution of Christ’s church, are not mentioned. Importantly, it is only “men of both sides” who have trespassed and not the Roman Church itself.
These are all changes in style and tone, but not in substance, for there is no reformation of Rome’s doctrines, sacraments, discipline, government, or worship. But in our age of tolerance, “niceness” is seen as of great value, while biblical truth is little esteemed.
In keeping with Rome’s reevaluation of, and new approach to, (liberal) Protestantism, comes a spirit of cooperation (within limits). Unitatis Redintegratiorecommends “common prayer, where this is permitted” by the Roman hierarchy (pp. 347, 352) and even “common worship” (p. 352), though only “after due regard has been given to all the circumstances of time, place, and personage” and with Roman episcopal authority (pp. 352-353).
Vatican II appreciates the opportunity that “missionary work, in the same territories as other Christians” provides for its false ecumenism (pp. 353-354). Many are the Protestant missionaries who have been seduced by Rome’s wiles while laboring in far-off lands: “Should we not cooperate with Roman Catholics in order to face the common enemy of pagan religion?” This was also the ploy that fooled Jehoshaphat and saw the true church (Judah) teaming up with the false church (Israel) to fight against the pagans (Syria) in II Chronicles 18.
The Decree of Ecumenism puts a lot of hope in “cooperation in social matters” (p. 354) for the “common good” (p. 347), a key concept in Rome’s social teaching. The decree advises to “start” with “discussions concerning the application of the gospel to moral questions” (p. 365). “Social cooperation” between Roman Catholics and Protestants will show “how the road to the unity of Christians may be made smooth” (p. 355)—a “unity” under the pope’s “Petrine office” (pp. 344, 346)!
Here one thinks of the co-belligerency of evangelicals and Romanists in the culture wars with secular humanists in the political realm over, for example, abortion, euthanasia, and sodomy.6 It was out of this milieu, and with these concerns, that Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) was spawned. Amongst the prominent evangelical signers of both ECT I, “The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium” (29 March, 1994),7 and ECT II, “The Gift of Salvation” (12 November, 1997), are Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, Os Guinness, Richard Mouw, Mark Noll, and J. I. Packer.
Underlying all of these activities, and looming large inUnitatis Redintegratio (e.g., pp. 347, 353, and
358, 361, 362, 363, 364), as well as in all Roman Catholic ecumenical directives and dealings, is dialogue. This deserves highlighting. Twenty-first century Romanism does not use interdicts or the stake against the recalcitrant. Nor are preaching or debates its favored methods. Worldly-wise Rome copies the means most favored for conflict resolution in the modern political realm: dialogue.
The Decree of Ecumenism recommends that Roman Catholics take the initiative, “making the first approaches” towards their “separated brethren” (p. 348). Present at Vatican II were some eighty observers invited from Eastern Orthodox and “mainline” Protestant churches. Included were “Mr. Pentecost,” David du Plessis (1905-1987), one of the leading founders of the charismatic movement, and neo-orthodox theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968). Protestant ecumenist Samuel McCrea Cavert enthuses that Paul VI joined with “Protestant and [Eastern] Orthodox participants in a service for prayer for unity in Rome during the last week of the Council” (p. 368). The Roman laity and clergy who have followed the instruction and example of Vatican II have discovered that many Protestants are so ignorant of the gospel and of Roman Catholicism that their advances have been welcomed.
Unitatis Redintegratio emphasizes not only the role of grass-roots Roman Catholics and the priests (pp. 348, 349-350) but also that of Rome’s bishops and theologians in dialogue. The priests and these “heavier guns” must especially be trained in “theological and historical studies” (p. 350) and “other branches of knowledge” (p. 353). This includes “study” in the “distinctive doctrines” of various Protestant churches, “as well as of their own history, spiritual and liturgical life, their religious psychology and cultural background,” so that the Roman apologist is “truly competent” and can engage in theological “dialogue” with those of a particular Protestant tradition on “an equal footing” (p. 353).
Dr. Eduardo J. Echeverria is the sort of man envisaged by Vatican II’s Decree of Ecumenism. He gained his PhD in philosophy from Abraham Kuyper’s Free University, Amsterdam, and is well read in the thought of Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), Professor of Theology at that institution. Invited by John Bolt, Echeverria spoke on “The God of Philosophy and of the Holy Scripture: Herman Bavinck and John Paul II” as part of the conference, “A Pearl and a Leaven: Herman Bavinck for the Twenty-First Century,” at Calvin Theological Seminary (18-20 September, 2008).
The way of Rome’s ecumenical dialogue is carefully stated. There may be “variety” “in the theological elaborations of revealed truth” (p. 349) and “terminology” should be used which is easily understood by the “separated brethren” (p. 354). The “formulation” may be modified, but Rome’s dogmas must be preserved (p. 350). Moreover, it is “highly important” that the clergy present Rome’s theology, especially as it concerns said “separated brethren,” sensitively and “not polemically” (p. 353). One wonders what that bellicose, papal controversialist Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) would have made of this!
The “prudent ecumenical action” (p. 357) advocated by the Decree of Ecumenism is to be characterized by “prudence,” “patience” and “vigilance” (p. 348). It is to be under the “skilful promotion and prudent guidance” of “bishops everywhere in the world” (p. 350), so that “all the Catholic faithful…participate skillfully in the work of ecumenism” (p. 347) and all the clergy have “mastered” their ecumenically sensitive theology (p. 353). Clearly, Rome reckons that “prudence” is the key to its ecumenical dialogue continuing with greater speed and success.
Despite setbacks, Rome is making progress in its false ecumenism through dialogue on every continent with leaders and members of Christian bodies (at varying speeds): Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Waldensian, Pentecostal and Charismatic, as well with as cultists and others. Key to this is the establishment of common ground. For example, with Pentecostals and Charismatics, Rome’s commitment to ongoing revelation, miracles, and mystical experiences is stressed.
This is not to deny that there are some Roman Catholics who take the more traditional approach to converting Protestants. Two examples are Scott Hahn, a former minister in the Presbyterian Church in America who wrote (with his wife) Rome Sweet Home(1993), and Robert Sungenis, author of Not by Faith Alone (1997), attacking sola fide (faith alone); Not by Scripture Alone (1997), attacking sola Scriptura(Scripture alone); and Not by Bread Alone (2000), advocating the mass.8 In our day, Rome’s polemics have slain their thousands, but its false ecumenism has slain its tens of thousands.
Rome sees all this as one of “the signs of the times” (p. 347). In this it is right, but not in the way it thinks. Rome’s false ecumenism is not included in the spread of the gospel (Matt. 24:14); it is part of the rearing up of the abomination of desolation (v. 15). Apostasy features prominently in the signs of the times (e.g., vv. 4-5, 11-12, 24). Increasing unity between (liberal) Protestants and Rome is not the fruit of God’s grace but the mark of His judgment. God sends “strong delusion” upon those who receive “not the love of the truth” so “that they should believe a lie” (II Thess. 2:10-11), including the lie that is the Church of Rome.
Rome has high expectations that more and more Protestants will come under its sway: “it is our hope that the ecumenical spirit and mutual esteem will gradually increase among all men” (p. 362) and “we confidently look to the future” (p. 365). Moreover, Rome anticipates not only further progress in its false ecumenism but also success from its interfaith dialogue with pagan religions, thus further strengthening its hand as a geopolitical power.
Increasing Roman Catholic membership would bring with it greater representation and influence in national and inter-governmental bodies (e.g., US, G8, EU, UN). The kingdom of man (Dan. 2), which is the kingdom of the beast (ch. 7), is drawing nearer. The good news is that Christ will destroy it and give the everlasting kingdom to the saints (vv. 13-14, 22, 27)!
1 This decree (Latin: Unitatis Redintegratio,, “Restoration of Unity”) is found in Walter M. Abbot (gen. ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (USA: The America Press, 1966). Henceforward, pages in parentheses refer to this book.
2 “The Good Pope,” John XXIII (1958-1963), is especially noted for referring to non-Catholics as “our separated brethren.”
3 Robert Zins, Romanism: The Relentless Roman Catholic Assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ!(USA: White Horse Publications, 1994), pp. 198-199.
4 This message is not being heeded, e.g., in the southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, where Evangelicals are being persecuted by Roman Catholics.
5 In his “A Response,” Protestant ecumenist Samuel McCrea Cavert foolishly sees this as “especially gratifying” (p. 368).
6 Co-belligerency with Roman Catholics against humanists proceeds on the fallacy that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
7 Cf. Kevin Reed, Making Shipwreck of the Faith: Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Together(Dallas, TX: Protestant Heritage Press, 1995).
8 Sungenis is a geocentrist, who has persistently been charged with anti-Semitism, one element in his conflict with his bishop.