One of the central events in the joint Protestant and Catholic ecumenical celebration of the anniversary of the Reformation takes place in Hildesheim today, 11 March 2017. Advertised as “A Penance And Reconciliation Service,” it will be conducted by the Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, and the Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Landesbischof Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm.
Under the motto “Healing of Memories,” this service is intended to mark 500 years of the Reformation, “by contemplating the painful impact of the two divided Churches and pray for God’s forgiveness for the failings on both sides. But there will also be expressions of thanks and joy for common ground and aspects the two institutions admire in each other.”
The content of the liturgical blueprint that has been adopted for this central service (“Healing of Memories – Giving Witness to Christ. A Common Address in 2017”) describes, “key theological concepts and spaces of memory impacting on our collective memory to this day; at the same time, it highlights the progress that has been made by the ecumenical movement without ignoring the questions that remain open.”
Nor will this be a stand-alone meeting. “The German Bishop’s Conference and the Council of the EKD have suggested holding similar services on the regional or local level after the central celebration in Hildesheim.”
• Back to pre-Reformation Times: Justification is Again Replaced By Penance
It hardly comes as major surprise that though the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) floated the celebrations of the Reformation under the banner of “Justification and Freedom” as early as 2016, this ecumenical service travels owns no such motto. Rather has been repeatedly described in official literature as, “The Penance and Reconciliation Service.”
This teleports us right back to pre-Reformation times when Erasmus was able to demonstrate that the old Latin Vulgate translation of Matthew 4:17, in which Roman Catholicism had found support for its erroneous doctrine of penance, was inaccurate.
While the Vulgate version reads, “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Do penance’ …,” this it is not what Matthew wrote. Erasmus was able to show that, instead of referring to a sacrament of penance, Jesus was speaking about a radical change of direction. God did not demand outward deeds, but a changed mind and heart; plus man’s “doing” had nothing to do with salvation. “Do penance” should properly be translated “repent”:
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’.”
Luther spotted – and emphasised – the distinction between deeds of penance and a change of heart, because the first point in his 95 Theses (published on 31 October 1517) is this:
“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent ye,’ He intended that the whole life of believers should be penitence.”
However, this ecumenical commemoration catapults us back into pre-Reformation darkness and error.
It is encouraging to note that a few faithful voices have been raised in criticism of this ecumenical focus.
One belongs to the Viennese Evangelical professor of theology Ulrich Körtner who has objected that the ecumenical goal has been put before everything else: “The theological examination of the legacy of the Reformation and its lasting impulses remains superficial,” he wrote on “evangelisch.de,” considering it a “theological nadir.” He pointed to the EKD’s foundational text on the anniversary of the Reformation, “Justification and Freedom,” from 2014, which had been criticised by the Roman Catholic Church. “The project ‘Healing of Memories’ clearly pursues the goal of rendering the unpopular text ‘Justification and Freedom’ forgotten,” wrote Körtner.
• Back to the Bible: False Ecumenism is Still Outlawed
The Roman Catholic Church is not a true Christian church because it denies one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith (this primary truth was rediscovered in Reformation days) – namely, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Roman Catholicism says that heaven is a reward for good works (CCC 1821) and that salvation is obtained through observing the commandments (CCC 2068; 2070, 2036). This is a clear rejection of the teaching of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (cf. Romans 3:28; 4:3, 5; Galatians 3:10). Because of the Roman Catholic church's teaching on salvation by works, which is rejected by Scripture with a warning, Roman Catholicism must be considered a false religion since it clearly contradicts Scripture.
Scripture outlaws any co-operation with those who promote false doctrine (Romans 16:17; Ephesians 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Matthew 7:15-20; Acts 20:29-31).
May the Lord give us grace and grit to resist all wretched attempts to drag us back into the darkness and encourage us to allow the true light of Christ to shine even more brightly across our nation.