Ecumenism is trying to ensure that every wheel on its vehicle is turning in this Reformation year.
Those who are currently in the front seats of this vehicle – the Roman Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation – seem determined to spend these next 12 months consolidating moves towards greater cooperation and dialogue.
• In Germany, leaders of the Catholic and main Protestant churches have issued a joint text calling for a “healing of memories” of past divisions.
• Ecumenical pilgrimages to the Holy Land aimed at highlighting common roots have been conducted; more are planned.
• And to prove that the 'controller in chief' is fully committed to this ecumenical bandwagon, Pope Francis made the first papal visit to Sweden in more than 25 years in October 2016 – purportedly to mark the beginning of the 500th anniversary of the commencement of the Protestant Reformation.
On this visit the pope offered prayers in Lund asking, “forgiveness for divisions perpetuated by Christians from the two traditions,” celebrated mass in Malmö before around 10,000 people, and was generally greeted and treated as the head of the church of Jesus Christ on earth.
Alexander Lucie-Smith, Catholic priest and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald, gave plenty of hints as to what he hopes will emerge from this exercise in ecumenism. In an article dated 1 November 2016, he stated:
• “For us Catholics, the continuing divisions in Christianity remain a distressing burden. Let’s be clear: schism is the worst of sins, and the existence of schism must surely distress us all, simply because it cannot be for the good of souls. So we must all work our hardest for reconciliation”;
• and he lamented that, due in part to the ordination of women by the Lutheran church, the gulf between Catholicism and Lutheranism had actually widened.
Despite this, he welcomed the sight of the ecumenical bandwagon trundling over this new bridge, and was especially delighted by the prominent role played by the pope:
“The arrival of Pope Francis in Lund alerts all minds to the fact that the Papacy is now more important and central than ever. The Pope is not simply the bishop of Rome, he is the Universal Pastor, the de facto as well as de jure head Christian of the world. If he weren’t this, he would not have been invited to Lund. Indeed the Lund meeting would have been unthinkable without the Pope.”
Then he added, rather ominously (and more than vaguely echoing what Gerry Adams once said about the IRA):
“The Lutheran project of today needs to be rethought in the light of this fact. The Papacy is there; no amount of wishful thinking will make it go away.”
Lucie-Smith’s assessment of the pope’s supremacy sharply contrasts with all historical Protestant statements and confessions:
• Martin Luther, preparing himself for the hearing in Worms in April 1521, declared:
“This shall be my recantation at Worms: ‘Previously I said the pope is the vicar of Christ. I recant. Now I say the pope is the adversary of Christ and the apostle of the Devil’.”
• The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25:6: “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.”
• The Irish Articles of Religion, 79-80: “79. The power which the Bishop of Rome now challengeth, to be Supreme head of the universal Church of Christ, and to be above all Emperors, Kings and Princes, is an usurped power, contrary to the Scriptures and word of God, and contrary to the example of the Primitive Church: and therefore is for most just causes taken away and abolished within the King's Majesty's Realms and Dominions.
80. The Bishop of Rome is so far from being the supreme head of the universal Church of Christ, that his works and doctrine do plainly discover him to be that man of sin, foretold in the holy Scriptures whom the Lord shall consume with the Spirit of His mouth, and abolish with the brightness of His coming.”
The Protestant Reformation took the wheels off the Roman bus in the C16th when it reacted, on scriptural grounds, against the flagrant, foul abuses of the Papal system. 500 years on, with the Roman Catholic Church still showing itself to be irreformable, faithful and biblical opposition is needed to stop this misguided ecumenism in its tracks.
104 Irish Articles: